Footwhere

Emily had bought the shoes on sale, and was very pleased with herself about it even before she knew they were magic. When she tried them on at the store, nothing had happened. She’d just noticed that they were a bit tight, but the kind that you knew would be fine once broken in, especially for 40% off. So she’d bought them and brought them home and the moment she put them on and twirled to show herself off in the mirror, her twirl had hurled her miles around the country. One half-spin and Emily was in Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota, and then back home. Not that she knew where she was any of those times, of course, she’d just flashed in and out of a few places and then ended up in Chicago again with her heart pounding against her ribs and her toes beginning to ache.

She took the shoes off very carefully and examined them to make sure that no dirt or dust from the fields had clung to their shiny red surface, and then she put them on the carpet and stepped back in. Emily shuffled forward, just slightly, and inhaled water. She choked and kicked and coughed and spluttered, but her shoes weren’t touching ground so she stayed in the lake. Once she had caught her breath and kept her head above water for long enough to sight the shore, she swam to land where she could take a tiny step back to the city. From there it was an easy walk in socks back home, where she threw the shoes under the bed, took a long shower, and had some dinner.

Seven leagues is approximately twenty-four miles. Emily ascertained, after a great deal of careful and methodical testing, that her new shoes only traveled about six and a half leagues. She thought the difference was likely due to the fact that they were not boots, and nobody ever heard of seven-league high-heeled pumps. She spent her weekends traveling now. She visited three cities in California during the month of February, when the Chicago air was so bitter cold that it hurt to breathe. If everything could be a day trip because it was only a few steps to get home, she found, you could save a lot on hotels.

It was a little lonely, sometimes, to explore all on her own. She packed a neat little bag with necessities and an extra pair of shoes so that she could walk once she got where she was going, and she took pictures with her phone. In the photos, Emily is in front of a monument or a skyline or a really good food truck, but her smile is tentative, as if she’s not sure what to look at.

One day, Emily put on an ordinary pair of flats and went to the store where she had bought the shoes, 40% off. They were having another sale. She was idly contemplating a pair of wedges when the shoe salesman walked up to her.

“Those won’t suit you,” he said. Emily raised her eyebrows at him, confused. “I mean, that is, you can’t get that far in heels like that.” He winked.

“I don’t need to,” she said, “I’ve already got good shoes.”

“I know,” he said, “I have a pair just like the ones you bought, last time you were here.”

Emily’s brows ascended yet further. “Red heels?”

“Not what I meant.”

“Oh,” she said, and smiled. “I see. Hi. I’m Emily. Would you like to take a walk with me sometime?”

Broken and Buried

Yvonne left her heart, at last, under the willow tree in the park one night. The park closed at dusk, but she slid over the fence in the dark, pulse thrumming and the cold air stroking shivers across her skin. She had used to do this with someone else. They had helped one another over the fence, landing in one another’s arms. They had laughed as quietly as they could. Now she picked her way through the park alone, toward the tree where they had sat together, backs against the bark. She leaned against it and closed her eyes. For a moment, she could almost imagine skin against her skin, warmth against her warmth. Then it was gone, and she opened her eyes to see the empty park. The streets and cars winked from beyond the fence, but within the trees and grass were still and silent.

Yvonne stood and bent down, splaying fingers out on the grass. The earth was soft, and she burrowed with one hand until she had made a dent in the ground. She placed her heart in the hollow at the willow’s roots, and then she left. The fence was easier to jump on the way out. She felt lighter. The glare of headlights and the glow of windows seemed distant and calm as she walked home.

For a while, she could not even notice a difference in herself. She wondered absently how many people did just the same and wander through the world, heartless. Perhaps nobody could ever tell. The only thing that seemed to have changed was that she did not hurt, and she was glad of that. There was no ache that bloomed when she opened her eyes in the morning, and that she curled around when she fell asleep. She had no bad dreams. Her sleep was smooth and dark, and when she awoke she did not shudder with the memory of the night. She barely dreamed at all anymore.

If anyone else could see that something had shifted in Yvonne, nobody told her so. Her work colleagues treated her with the same mild politeness. Her friends met her and chattered and teased just as they always had, and she was able to smile and tease back. Her life was a comfortable habit, and its touch did not chafe. It was even easier, now that she could follow those rote patterns. Some of it was interesting, some of the time. She observed herself living with detached curiosity. She did not remember what it had been like to live with her heart trembling inside her all the time. When she realized that she had forgotten, she thought she might revisit the park to see if anything had changed. And, after all, she wanted to check that her heart was still there. She didn’t want to carry it around, for it was heavy, but she didn’t want it nibbled by squirrels and buried somewhere unknown, either.

That night she climbed over the fence and into the park, as she had done so many times before. The metal of the fence was cold on her skin and the darkness deepened as she walked, but she was not frightened. The elm tree twined up toward the sky in a familiar shape, and she nodded when she recognized it. There among its roots was the hole she had made, and her heart nestled inside just where she had left it. Old leaves and twigs had cluttered and crowded it, so she moved to brush them away. When she touched her heart, just for an instant, she could see all her ghosts ranged around her. They looked at her with solemn eyes, and she shivered. Her heart beat under her fingers. She closed her eyes against the dark, knowing that the ghosts were there. They moved forward, gathering, and Yvonne snatched her hand up. The pain ebbed and disappeared. The ghosts were gone from her eyes. She shook her head to clear it of cobwebs, and then she turned to leave. The ghosts were left there, watching her go, wishing for her to take back her heart and to bring them with her once more. They called, but she could not hear. They scrabbled at the leaves and could not move them. They tugged on her heart, but she could not feel.

Off the Edge

Before the bridge, Jesse had not thought much about the solidity of air. In his high school physics class, he had pictured it as a fluid that filled up the atmosphere, moving in and out of bodies and leaves and air conditioning units with ease. It didn’t get stuck and it was heavy enough that it didn’t reach the tops of mountains enough to puff up lungs all the way. When he found the bridge, he didn’t believe it was air at all that stretched out above the river.

He’d been exploring with his friend Nina one sticky hot afternoon in the summer. They walked out to the bridge, where cool floated up from the water and lightened the air amidst the suffocating heat, and they climbed over the fence. They laughed at each other and their shared bravado. Nina grabbed his hand and wound her fingers around his. The two friends sat on the concrete ledge, legs swinging over the emptiness, hands entwined, and watched the water. Their hearts slowed from their foolish gallop, and they leaned toward each other enough to feel the warmth between their bodies.

After a while, Jesse stood up and walked with arms outstretched across the ledge. He wobbled a bit, exaggerating for Nina, and she shrieked and scolded him, laughing and breathy with fear. When he stopped, he reached a foot out over the edge as if about to step off and tapped it against the air. Nina called after him, but he paused and reached back and threaded his fingers through the wire of the fence. He stretched a cautious foot before him again and pressed it down against the air, which didn’t move out of the way. Nina stood, shaky, and walked over to her friend as he stepped off the bridge and into thin air. He didn’t fall.

They stood there for a long silent minute, she on the concrete edge of the bridge and he standing a foot away from it on solid air. They gaped at each other. Jesse bounced up and down on the balls of his feet –“Don’t!” Nina burst out when he moved– but the air held firm beneath him. He traced his toe against the air under him, trying to find its edges. It was a narrow outcropping from the bridge, but it extended out past where he was standing in a strip of solid air. When he reached the end on either side he swayed, and fumbled for Nina’s hand again. He shuffled back to the bridge and the friends walked home, shivering and quiet.

The next week, Nina called Jesse. She had been doing research, she said. “There aren’t any stories about the bridge. I mean, like about it being haunted or anything. Which is kind of weird, because it’s super old and even if there weren’t anything strange about it, there should be a story or two by now about something that has lasted that long, you know, over a river, where people jump off and stuff. There are a bunch more suicides there than most places, though.”

Jesse didn’t answer for a minute, and then he said, “I guess they fell off.”

“Of the bridge?”

“No.”

He went back without her the next time. She was afraid. Jesse didn’t let himself be afraid. He was excited instead. His heart drummed as he walked to the bridge, and he barely hesitated to step over the fence and off the ledge. He tested the air and found it there, supporting his feet. He followed the corridor of air for a few more feet away from the bridge, until he looked down and was dizzy at the water glittering so far below him. He backed up, slowly, and sat on the bridge again with his feet propped up on the air for a while before he left the river.

He told Nina about it.

“Don’t go back,” she said.

He didn’t answer.

The next week, Nina called him and he didn’t pick up. She took a long shuddering breath, listening to his voicemail message, and then hung up without speaking. She knows where he went, because when she climbed over the fence she saw the note he left her. It read, “N, went to see where it goes. I’ll be back. Love, J”

She can’t follow him. When she stepped tentatively off the edge, the air wouldn’t take her weight. She fell back against the fence and wondered how far he had gotten.