RED SHOES AND OTHER SHORT STORIES is an eclectic mix of entertaining and interesting tales, some based on fact and others entirely on imagination…
Here is one of the short stories from the book:
WELL – TRAINED (a shaggy dog’s story)
Sally Poole was asleep when the doorbell rang. Her body jolted awake. She was disorientated and wondered where she was. She had been dreaming of Jack. Dreaming he was still alive. She half expected to see him trotting between the kitchen and the lounge. He had always been highly strung, always to-ing and fro-ing, in the house and outside in the garden, fetching tools out of the shed and putting them back again. His behaviour had been comical, especially since the size of their garden patio was as big as a dog kennel, but she still missed him. She missed him each day and each year that he had been gone, and she had been left a widow.
The doorbell chimed again.
She had always called him her little Scottish terrier because he had been stocky, bandy-legged with short grey hair and an intense nervousness about him. Had he been there now he would have been at the door, alert and filled with curiosity.
The sound of the afternoon quiz show echoed loudly in the room. The people on the screen were exceptionally colourful, the clapping more enthusiastic and the host smiling more than normal.
She looked at her watch, taking the dial between her thumb and forefinger, and squinted hard. The rings on her fingers glistened in the half light and she shook the gold bracelets so they rested farther up her wrist.
In the hallway the bell chimed persistently.
She struggled out of the armchair, her joints creaking, back sore and her head aching. She turned off the television and snapped on a lamp. The evenings were drawing in, it wasn’t yet tea time.
In the hallway she checked her reflection. She patted her grey hair into place, straightened the yellow and blue Hermes scarf at her neck, and tugged the hem of her brown cardigan.
Smart enough. She would do.
There had been warnings recently; local television campaigns, leaflets through the post and the stern reminder from her neighbour Edna Stevens. Never answer the door to strangers. Never let anyone inside. Never tell them you live alone.
Remembering Jack’s steadfast training, Sally Poole unlocked the door. She opened it cautiously with the chain still on, and peered anxiously into the darkness of the street.
Standing on her front step was a thick-set man with black eyes. He had curly dark hair and shaggiest beard she’d ever seen. He was a doppelgänger for a black Alsatian.
Although the light was fading, and her eyes weren’t as good as they used to be, she saw a clipboard in his hand. It was a big hairy hand and it reminded her of a paw. It made him look clumsy and inept.
Unlike an Alsatian he didn’t snarl. Instead he smiled with a row of white canine teeth, held out an official badge and spoke softly. His voice was a low growl and she leaned forward to hear him speak.
“Sorry love, the electricity’s about to go off in the street.” He pointed down the dimly-lit road. “I finish at five and I’ll not be back ‘til Monday. You could be without electricity for the weekend. I could come in and fix a new switch to your socket and it’ll all be done in a few minutes.” He shook his head. “It’s up to you, love.” He rubbed his arms and stamped his feet. He wore a red cotton scarf tied at his neck and it contrasted with the blackness of his beard.
“Is it everywhere? In the whole street?”
“Yes love. Cable replacement. Choice is yours.” He shrugged but his eyes smiled. “I can fix it now or leave it.”
Sally had always classed herself as an elegant poodle. At seventy-five she was squarely built, well-proportioned and well-dressed. Reaching her hand to the scarf at her neck she was comforted by the silk against her fingers and she smiled. She wasn’t adverse to a handsome face even at her age.
“I suppose the food in the freezer would melt?” she said, thinking aloud.
The doppelgänger revealed a row of large white teeth. His eyes were docile and pleading. “I’ll leave it if you prefer, the choice is yours.”
She leaned out of the door and looked down the street. It was a nice neighbourhood set in a quiet part of the town, her house set back from the road with a private garden. Darkness had descended quickly. Yellow street lamps were creating a misty and mysterious glow and it was foggier than she thought. Across the road a white van was parked, but elsewhere it was silent and deserted.
A biting cold November wind blew in around her legs, tugging and shaking her skirt at her knees. She was conscious of Jack’s constant admonishment that all the heat would be escaping – and did she intend heating the whole street – so she smoothed her skirt against her legs, patted her hair and straightened the scarf. She wished she’d had time to put on some lipstick, and against all Jack’s good advice, she unhooked the chain and let the stranger inside.
He looked relieved to be out of the cold and he stood on the mat shaking as if his eyes needed to adjust to the light, and his body shuddered as if adjusting to the warmth. He smiled gratefully and wiped his boots.
He is well-trained, Sally Poole thought appreciatively. “It’s a filthy day,” she said, pleased to have company.
“It is,” he growled in agreement. “Where’s the junction box? Under the stairs?”
He reminded her of Billie. Her son was a big soft-hearted boxer with a square face and strong legs. He didn’t visit her often but when he did, she found him so handsome she just wanted to stare at his velvety face and big brown trusting eyes.
“Yes!” Sally pointed to the cupboard.
She wondered if she should offer him a cup of tea. Instead she asked, “Is there a problem in the whole street?”
But he didn’t reply. He didn’t hear her. He was already rummaging, a flashlight in his hands, between the coats.
Sally turned her back and walked along the hallway, her footsteps sounding hollow on the parquet floor. She switched on a small lamp. “I think I’ll call my friend Edna who lives next door,” she added aloud. “She will know what’s going on.”
She was trying to remember Edna’s telephone number when she heard a sound behind her. She half-turned as the Alsatian moved with lightning speed and in one bounding leap, he was behind her growling. It was a low, rumbling, primeval sound that reverberated throughout his body. His chest was shaking and his big paw grabbed her by the throat. He lifted her off her feet and slammed her to the wall. The back of her skull cracked and her head banged against his fist.
“Stay quiet bitch,” he barked, saliva drooled from his mouth. His spittle landed on her cheeks. His breath was rancid. His eyes fiery red.
She was trapped under the weight of his body. Her hands dangled uselessly at her side, and her thoughts collided like a cosmic explosion; burglar, money, jewellery…rape?
She had to concentrate. She had to fight back. She was suffocating. She reached up and grabbed his jacket, his red neckerchief was blazing bright red like silk blood. She pushed against his chest but his grip tightened harder than cement, more solid than gold. The harder she fought, the more aroused he became, he pushed his lips against hers, panting and biting her mouth. Then he pulled the silk scarf at her neck tugging it tighter, strangling her senses and all her reason.
“You like it rough?” he hissed.
She couldn’t believe this was happening. Seconds seemed like minutes. It was as if it was happening to someone else and she was a bystander and would not be affected. There was a cobweb beside the crystal lampshade. It dangled in the air, decorated with a multitude of hues: blues, violets, purples and pinks. It was magnificent then it faded, losing its vibrancy and turned grey, then greyer then black.
His fingers gripped and tugged her skirt. He shoved it roughly above her waist and she felt his hardness and her own naked vulnerability.
She wanted to scream but instead Jack’s training kicked in and with one final effort she reached out her right hand and thumped her fist, hard, on the lounge door.
The Alsatian barked at her, baring fanged teeth, saliva drooling down his chin, leaving wet damp patches on his red scarf. He fumbled roughly at his belt yelping with excitement.
Sally heard, before she saw, the pounding of paws, and an avalanche of legs, chasing and crashing down the stairs.
Barking. Shouting. Barking. Squealing. Barking. Howling. Barking.
Then she felt a release of pressure from her throat.
His hands flailed in the air. His eyes turned from animalistic pleasure to disbelief as he was dragged roughly from her and onto the floor. The Alsatian began sobbing, whimpering like a baby puppy as his legs thrashed and his body writhed and contorted in pain. He tried to use his arms to protect his face but it was a useless action.
Kurt and Fritz were merciless. Their bloody broad noses snorted as they tore at their prey, their black lips stained red, eyes closed and forehead wrinkled in concentration. Bite by bite they tore his clothes. His hair and his face. Then eventually he stopped whimpering. He didn’t scream. He didn’t cry out. Only the hammering of his arms against the floor broke their greedy attack. They continued their bloody meal, gnawing, tearing and swallowing. They licked, sucked and chewed; lying on their haunches, indulging in their kill. He lay motionless, curled up like a foetus, hunched against the wall as they ate him, morsel by morsel until the dead carcass was gone.
Sally leaned weakly against the wall rubbing her bruised neck. She gazed at the ceiling hardly daring to look at the gruesome scene on the floor. Her heart was pumping, her mouth, dry and sore. She coughed and wiped his taste from her lips and spat onto the floor.
In the kitchen she took a bucket from under the sink and poured in a large quantity of bleach and hot water. It was fortunate she didn’t have a carpet in the hallway. That would be such a mess to roll up and very difficult to dispose of without getting caught. Carrying the bucket Sally walked cautiously. She squeezed the mop and began to wipe the floor. She mustn’t be too hard on herself. It hadn’t been her fault.
Kurt and Fritz lay looking at her.
“Oh, you were hungry boys,” she said.
The dogs licked their lips. They wrinkled their nose at the disinfectant and Fritz sneezed. She banged the wall twice and they sat obediently like two marble fireside statues at the foot of the stairs. Their brown and black coats now splashed and tainted red, their heads raised high and proud.
“You’ll need a bath,” she said.
She finished mopping the hallway removing all traces of blood and bone, humming as she worked. She imagined Jack, too-ing and fro-ing, his inquisitive little legs taking him from the hallway to the kitchen and back, carrying fresh buckets of hot soapy water. She really felt quite lonely without her little Scottish terrier.
Afterwards, she wiped the vibrant cobweb from the wall, and brushed her hand on her skirt. She squeezed the mop into the bucket. All that remained of the doppelgänger was a small remnant of his red cotton scarf. She held it to the light and twisted it in her fingers. Perhaps she would keep it as a souvenir. A reminder of her victory. A trophy that she could wash and iron and wear like a medal for bravery. Her fight against adversity.
Jack had been right all along. It’s just a matter of time. They’ll get you in the end, he had said, and he was right.
Just like the burglar who shot him in a robbery two weeks before his sixtieth birthday. A month before he retired. Shot dead. Two days after the funeral Jack’s partner in the police force had brought Kurt and Fritz to her house. There was a note and instructions from her dead husband. He knew all about training and self-defence. He had been training the dogs in secret.
One knock was to call the Rottweilers
Two knocks to sit as still as statues.
She had experimented with them both.
The third knock was the killer.
Sally Poole checked her reflection in the hall mirror, smoothed her clothes, patted her hair and retied her Hermes scarf.
All her friends and neighbours had said they were frightened. There had been a spate of illegal acts in the area, muggings, robberies and rapes, and the police could do nothing. Crimes went unreported and unsolved. No-one had time. Too much paperwork. Too few police. Too many drugs. Too many criminals. No time or resources. You couldn’t rely on the Government or law and order. He would probably have been on parole in three months, and ready to attack someone else, Sally reasoned. She couldn’t take that risk. What if it happened to someone who couldn’t defend themselves like her neighbour and best friend Edna who was eighty-nine?
It was one honest citizen’s stance against crime.
One woman’s defence.
Kurt and Fritz sat motionless and silent at the bottom of the stairs.
They were well-trained.
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