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Strays

The shoes followed me, wagging their button-heels and giving out high-pitched little whines. I hadn’t called them, I hadn’t made eye contact – I mean, I wasn’t born yesterday – but I heard them back there. Busy rehearsing the next day’s presentation to the city planning board, preparing for the agenda-jumper I knew would derail me. I hadn’t noticed the pile of discards near the bus stop until it was too late. Thrown-out clothes, broken lunch boxes, incomplete board games — there they were, the shoes. And they saw me.

I went straight home. “Alison, you’ve got shoes following you,” my roommate Rhona said. “Should I let them in?”

“God, no.”

She peered out the door. “Wow, those look old, museum-old. Are you sure you–”

“I’m sure.”

I swear I could hear them whining outside while I tried to sleep. I needed a good night’s sleep, dammit; I needed to be primed for Dickson Selfer, self-anointed Expert of Everything, and his interruptions. But I could hear them. They would whine, then they would tap anxiously on the sidewalk outside my window. I couldn’t take any more. I let them in. They trotted into my room and lined up at the end of the bed.

They were pretty. The uppers were cream-colored leather, darkened to pale gold in the creases. Large flowers in blue, gold and brown, outlined with gold embroidery, covered their sides and the large square tongues. Low, tapering heels ended in what looked like rounded buttons. Rhona was right; they were museum-old, shabby and somehow regal. Rich, feminine, nothing like me. I wore neutral colors, kept my hair short, never wanting my appearance to distract from my message. Look-at-me shoes just weren’t, well, me.

I went back to bed.

The next morning I kept tripping over them. They followed me into the kitchen and nudged my feet as I drank my tea. “No begging,” I said.

Rhona, sitting at the table drinking coffee, said, “Someone’s got shoes.”

“No, I don’t. I just didn’t want them to tangle with the ugly Christmas sweaters in the alley,” I said, and it was true. Those sweaters could be mean.

Rhona gave me her polished Skeptical Look, one mouth corner and one eyebrow raised. Rhona’s a feral objects adoption assistant at a local shelter, so she knows a lot. She decided to change the subject though, because she said, “So, how bad is today going to suck?”

“On a scale of one to ten? Ten.” The presentation was for a proposed community park. Selfer, the Deputy Assistant City Planner, was our liaison. “The Dick will interrupt and agenda-jump, and somehow I’ll end up looking like a scatter-brained incompetent.”

“Nah. You’re the Queen of Competence, and everyone knows it.”

The shoes wiggled.

“They’re sure cute,” Rhona said. “Can I try them?”

At her words, they hid behind my legs.

“I guess not,” she said. “You should wear them. Maybe they’ll distract the Dick.”

“They look like they’d fit,” I said. “Is that how some of the things pick people? By size?”

“Usually people pick them.” Rhona stroked the dented stray pocketwatch she’d adopted. It ticked contentedly. Never-late Rhona. “Some objects pick folks, though. Like those shoes. You should wear them.”

“Too fancy.”

I got dressed and stood looking down at my inert, sensible flats. The stray pair stood in the doorway, quivering. They were pretty – more than pretty, they were elegant. Did one of them yip? I beckoned, and they ran over. They did fit, perfectly.

At the corner, a child reached for the blue lunch box in the gutter.

“Sweetie, we’d have to decide what to put inside it all the time.” Her mother, wearing the newest line of yoga gear, steered her away. “It’s too much trouble.”

The bus was delayed because the driver had to shoo off a flock of used coats that had tried to nest on the roof, but sooner than I wanted, I was walking into the conference room. “Great shoes,” a woman said as I headed to the front.

The Dick gulped coffee from his bleeding-edge, self-warming smart coffee cup, texting with his other hand. He didn’t look up.

“Good morning,” I said. “I’ll be presenting the –”

“Is this presentation going to cover the reclaimed water plan?” Dick said.

Wow, not even through my introductory sentence. I paused, my chest tightening. My feet suddenly vibrated. People in the front row looked up. Were the shoes growling? My toes tingled. “You have the agenda on your devices,” I said. “That should answer your question. The Lee Community Park–”

“I hope you’ve made some better decisions about the sports fields.”

Strength bubbled up through the soles of my feet like water from a spring. Without willing it, I straightened my spine. “Mr. Selfer, your board invited me to present the overview. I’d like to get on with it. You have details in your materials, and I’ve set aside time for questions and comments. Why don’t you try holding yours until then?”

“The sports fields–”

StraysA chorus of shhh rose from around the room. “Stop interrupting all the time,” a woman from the city said. Was it the same woman who had commented on the shoes? I couldn’t tell.

“Yeah,” said a man near the back. “Just shut up, Dick.”

The Dick chugged a mouthful of coffee and scrunched down in his chair. After a second, I said, “Let me share our vision of the Lee Community Park,” and led them through the presentation. I did it elegantly.

The shoes sleep by my bed. I wear them out to walk around the block two or three times a week. And I wear them to certain meetings. The other day, at Rhona’s shelter, I adopted an old silk jacket, cream-colored with embroidered blue and gold flowers. It makes the shoes happy. And I’m happy. They’re good shoes.

Marion Deeds

Marion Deeds, author photo

After a long career in public service, Marion Deeds retired in 2012 to devote more time to writing. In over thirty years of working with the public in a large bureaucracy, she has enough crazy stories to fill an epic fantasy trilogy easily; only she thinks people would find the work implausible. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction and is forthcoming in Podcastle and the anthology Strange California. She reviews and writes a weekly column for the speculative fiction review site www.Fantasyliterature.com.

Deeds likes reading good fantasy, good science fiction and good writing in general. In her own work, she loves to explore the junction of the everyday weird and the otherworldly. Deeds lives with her husband in Northern California, which she believes is the most beautiful place in the world and she is completely unbiased. She tends several birdfeeders and pays protection to the local gang of squirrels. You can read her blog at www.deedsandwords.com or find her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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