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Field of Shoes

Steve Rasnic Tem is a past winner of the World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, and British Fantasy Awards. He has published over 430 short stories. Some of his best stories are collected in Figures Unseen: Selected Stories, published in April by Valancourt Books. A handbook on writing, Yours To Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Writing, written with his late wife Melanie, appeared from Apex Books last year. Also appearing last year was his science fiction horror novel Ubo (Solaris Books), a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award.
He stumbled into the field a little past midnight after taking a wrong turn off the lane. He'd been at the local bar, and stayed later than intended. All his old friends had stories to tell about when they were young and walked easily about the planet. They'd asked him how he was doing now that his family was gone. He'd said fine, fine, as if saying it twice made it more true.
He didn't notice the shoes at first, until he tripped over the first one or two. He gazed out over the field with his failing eyesight, saw all the variegated forms, the rough shapes like clods of plowed ground. Then the moon slipped out of the clouds and he could see them: row after row of them, hundreds in no particular order, spreads and piles of shoes as far as he could see.
He staggered out into the middle of them. He couldn't help himself even though it didn't seem the safest thing to do. His arthritis was bad and his crippled legs didn't move so well, but how could he witness such a thing and not be drawn into its center?
There'd been a little girl in his life once, and back then she's been obsessed with shoes. She'd slip into her mother's or her daddy's and trudge around the house that way, and if she saw either of her parents barefoot she'd chase them down with their shoes in hand, shouting "where's your shoes?"
These shoes also had no feet attached, no legs, no body of any kind. They were entirely separated, lost, unowned. There was quite the variety of them on display: pumps and flats, brogues, Oxfords, loafers, high-heel sandals and rain boots, every possible variety of sneaker and athletic shoe, ancient cowboy boots in leathers domestic to exotic.
But none of them came in pairs. As much as he looked he couldn't find a single mate.
That little girl had been his granddaughter, and she was the first one lost to him: disappeared into the streets when she reached a certain age, and her mind ventured down a certain mysterious path. That had been decades ago, and he had no knowledge of her final destination.
Her parents eventually decided to go swimming in the ocean, choosing to leave their shoes behind on the rocky shore. He'd kept those shoes a long time and through a series of moves until finally losing track. He wondered if he might find them here, if he cared to search that long.
As the clouds changed there was a great reshuffling in the balance of dark and light, some shadows disintegrating into a burning brightness even as other shadows spread and consumed. This brought a shimmer of illusion into the field, a phantasma of movement as footwear stirred to attention, becoming upright as they began to search for their owners.
The old man stumbled to get out of their way, wanting no part of this dance or ritual or whatever it might be. Experience had taught him long ago that nothing good ever came out of imagining.
His wife had kept hundreds of pairs in closets and cupboards. She'd joke and declare it her only sin. It went without saying that if he only had her back he'd buy her hundreds more.
But before he could explore that tired subject he stumbled out of the field as quickly as he'd stumbled in. He turned around and turned around again, but the only field visible was a field of houses, packed wall to wall and porch to porch, a hundred shuttered doors and a thousand windows staring back at him.
He might have said something then if he'd had anything left to say. Instead he listened for the wind, and the stream of distant traffic, and that multitude of shoes endlessly walking away.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 28th, 2018

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