The Red Shoes

A short story I wrote for creative writing class a while back.


The first thing he saw when he walked in through those ornate wooden doors were the shoes—they were red, bright red. Tapping, dancing, flying across the stage. The raucous cheers from the men that crowded the hall almost drowned out the music that was playing from the speakers, but still the shoes kept dancing.

“First time, kiddo?” a deep voice bellowed from behind him, and someone patted him patronisingly on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, there’s always a first for everything.”

Mingyang slowly inched his way forward, weaving his way in between the crowded tables with his sweaty palms clutching on to his camera. He was supposed to be looking for a good position to start filming some footage for his documentary, but his eyes just couldn’t help but be glued to those red shoes. How high were those heels exactly? One inch maybe? And were those sequins lining the buckle? Or perhaps just glitter that had been sprinkled on?

“Sorry, sorry,” he mumbled when he accidentally crashed into a waiter coming the other way, almost causing the poor man’s tray to go flying. The waiter gave him the once over before rolling his eyes in disdain—they were letting almost anyone into this place nowadays.

Eventually, he parked himself in a dim, inconspicuous corner from which he had a clear view of everything that was going on in the place—from the bartenders who were busy mixing their cocktails to the loud, inebriated businessmen who were making catcalls to the girls on stage, and of course, the dancing red shoes. Sucking in his breath, he raised the camera up and began to let the tape roll.

Later that night (or perhaps morning), when the place had finally shut its doors to its well-heeled clientele, Mingyang heaved a sigh of relief as he wiped the sweat off his brows. Stuffing his camera into his tattered messenger bag, he hurriedly walked towards the door, praying that he had enough footage to complete his project.

“Get me a gin and tonic,” he suddenly heard, and there she was—the red shoes—sliding onto a barstool across the hall.

He stood there for a moment, his clammy hands clutching on to the sling of his bag, then his feet carried him over. “Excuse me,” Mingyang asked, his voice barely audible above the silence.

The red shoes turned to look at him, arching an eyebrow. “We’re closed,” she said.

“I know, I know,” he replied quickly, cursing himself for having walked over. He stared down at the brown shoes on his feet—they were once grey, but the mud caked all over had transformed them into something else. “I got permission from the manager to do some filming here tonight,” he explained, digging into his pocket and fishing out the last of his dingy namecards. “I’m from the local TV station, working on a documentary about the Shanghai nightlife.”

“I said, we’re closed.”

“Ok, ok, I got it.” Mingyang immediately took a couple of steps back, his gaze shifting from his own shoes to her dazzling red ones.

“You like the shoes?” she asked, cocking her head curiously.

“Huh?”

“You keep staring at them.”

Mingyang felt the back of his throat getting drier by the second, and he quickly took a gulp of whatever saliva he could muster. “I— They’re b-b-beautiful shoes,” he stammered, almost choking on his own words.

“They are, aren’t they?” Reaching down, she ran fingers over the sequined buckle, her equally red lips curling upwards bitterly. “Say, have you heard of the story of the red shoes?”

Mingyang shook his head.

“My mother told me this story a long time ago, that once upon a time there used to be a vain little girl who insisted on putting on a pair of beautiful red shoes even though she was told not to. But the shoes were cursed, so once she put them on, she couldn’t stop dancing, dancing, dancing, all through the day and night.”

“What happened to the little girl?” Mingyang asked, his eyes still fixated upon those shiny red shoes.

“Well she eventually grew so tired that she asked for someone to chop… Nevermind. That’s too morbid a story for little boys.” She picked up her gin and tonic and finished the glass in one gulp. Lifting herself off the stool, the red shoes made two loud clicks as they landed against the wooden floorboards.

Then, to Mingyang’s surprise, the red shoes came off.

Walking barefoot towards one of the exits, she gave him a casual wave, saying, “If you like them so much, you can keep them.”

Still staring at the abandoned shoes in front of him, Mingyang blurted, “B-b-but how can you dance without the shoes?”

“The curse doesn’t lie in the shoes, darling.”

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