I must have run a quarter of a mile, maybe more, when I first realized that it was nearly nightfall, that I was running against a full-blown icy wind, and that raindrops were beginning to hit me in the face.
A bat flew at my head just as I entered some dark wwoods ahead; to this day, I’m still not sure which of us was more terrified by the encounter, but I ducked, swung at him reflexively and missed, and he flew on.
Seconds later, lightening flashed, followed by a clap of thunder some ten seconds or so after that. Rain began to pelt me in the face, but the lightening had revealed the silhouette of what looked like it might be shelter, possibly another quarter of a mile or so away. Lightening continued to flash every 15 to 20 seconds – enough to give me an inkling of where the road was, and to help me avoid the larger, more treacherous tree roots stretched across that road – the kind that could break an ankle if a foot were to become entangled in them. I still tripped and fell on my face a few times from the smaller, less dangerous ones, but managed to find my way to the shelter – which turned out to be a gigantic shoe, flanked by a pair of even more massive oaks.
The shoe was about 30 meters high, as least at the back, and 80 meters long. Both heel and toe had merged with the respective adjoining tree; from numerous tiny chimneys protruding from each of the trees, it was clear the shoe simply served as some sort of “common area” and that the actual sleeping quarters were not in the shoe itself, but in dormitories inside the trees, accessed and connected by the shoe. Just then, a pair of boys, the elder about five years old, the younger three, clearly terrified by the thunder and lightning, ran from the shoe screaming. I caught them both and took them back inside, where I was not surprised to find kids about my age ladling hot but clear, insubstantial broth, under supervision of a rather formidable elderly lady – the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. In my head, I could hear:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed
I delivered the two small culprits to her care, explaining that they’d acted from fear, not mischief, and asking her to go easy on them. She smiled grimly, and thanked me, offering a cup of broth.
Having already had a full dinner and no desire to strain her meager resources more than they already were, I declined, but did ask if she had some place I could stay for the night. She nodded, saying there was an empty bed behind the second door on the third floor of the boys’ side.
This, I learned, was accessed from the toe of the shoe, the girls’ side was more gracefully accessed from the heel; the Old Woman herself – the only person who actually lived in the shoe – did so in the back end, in the upstairs “boot” portion.
Older boys had to crouch, in a few instances even crawl, to enter through the toe, but I was still lucky to be small enough to need to only duck slightly as I entered.
The stairs were rather narrow, but in surprisingly good repair; it was a safe and easy climb to the third floor. The candle I’d taken provided sufficient light to easily find the second door,
© 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available shortly. The next novel of the series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018