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?”

Bad Timing

What he saw was so out of place that for a moment he questioned whether he had jumped through time. There somebody was, right in front of him, talking on a cellphone! It was pressed to her face hard enough to leave lines on her face, if she ever peeled it off. He definitely was not in 1814 anymore. What was happening?

“Harold,” he said to himself, “Don’t be ridiculous. Take a breath.” He took a long, steadying breath. He blew out, lips pursed, and shook himself. Of course he had jumped through time. He couldn’t very well have stayed in 1814 forever. It was simply too difficult, tripping over ladies’ hoop skirts all day and having to worry about tuberculosis and such. Not to mention the cows. Centuries ago, there were entirely too many cows all over the place. And then there were horses, too. It was just not to be borne, and so Harold would be very glad to be back, once he got over the shock.

It was always a jolt to his system every time that the time changed. The jump wasn’t a choice, exactly. Once, he had been able to control it. With just a squint of his eyes and a moment of concentration, he could skip back to the Jurassic Period and run from some dinosaurs until he got bored and decided to come back. He had done that, and some other epochs as well, until once in the early Middle Ages he had gotten stuck. He had lived among the filthiest people for a full year before he was able to pull himself back to the present. That seemed like a good time for a break, and several hot baths in a row. Eight of them, actually. Luckily, nothing bubonic had happened yet when he had been, or anything else that came back with him. It was, in a manner of speaking, a clean break.

Eventually the skips had just started happening, dragging him along without his doing anything and certainly without his consent. There really is only so much time one person can spend in the past. Before too long, you get bogged down, held back, tied up, and entirely irritated. All in all, Harold was relieved to see a cell phone, though he’d been in the nineteenth century for such a time that it took him a full ten minutes for figure out what had happened.

“Well, I supposed I’d better get out of these clothes,” he muttered, tugging at the cravat. Once he had untucked his blouse from his pants and disposed of the frock coat, he felt almost normal. At least when he traveled, he stayed in approximately the same place. This had been awkward for a while until he figured out that he’d better make sure the heights matched. He’d gotten quite good at doing research on past architecture and geology. This meant that he wasn’t far from home, now that he was back to his time. He could walk, and he did.

When he got home, the door was locked. Nineteenth-century gentlemen don’t carry around twenty-first-century house keys, so of course he didn’t have one with him. There should have been one under the frog statue, but he couldn’t even find the frog. “Bloody hell,” he said to himself, and pounded on the door in frustration. He sagged.

“Yes?” Harold almost fell into the hallway when the door swung open. A young woman was looking at him, a phone in one hand and a sponge in the other. Her eyes narrowed to see a disheveled man in a blouse with sideburns falling down. He looked up at her.

“Cecilia?” He was flabbergasted. His mouth hung open.

“Yes, Harold?” She was impatient, and fit herself into the crack between the door and the frame so that he couldn’t see past her.

“What on earth are you doing here? You, um, you died. You died in 1813. A year ago. I mean, two hundred and two years ago. What? What.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re such a man. My goodness. You think you’re the only person in the universe, the only person like you, and the rest of the humans are all just little ants or something, don’t you?”

“What. What? What?”

She slapped him across the face. Gently. “Well, you couldn’t expect everyone to live like that forever, right? I was quite fond of you, but my God, embroidery gets very boring. And I didn’t know you could time travel too. I’d just gone on little trips before, ones that I could get away with.”

“What?” Harold scrunched up his face and opened his eyes wide. He was definitely awake. “You’re a, I mean, you time traveled?”

Cecilia sighed. “Yes, I did. And do. And I came here because I thought two hundred years would make a nice change. I looked up your last name, on a whim, and was very surprised when I found you. There can’t be that many Harold Edgartonvilles in the world, so I lied to a locksmith and got into your house. I’ve been living here ever since. I didn’t expect you back, honestly.”

Harold stared at her. It was like a fairy story. “It’s like a fairy story,” he said.

“Why?”

Suddenly he was nervous. “I mean, because I liked you. Um, I loved you. And then you died? But now you’re here.”

She smiled. He had missed that dimple in her cheek, and the way she glanced down when she was happy about something. “So my parents said I’d died, huh? Of course they did. They probably assumed I’d run away or something. Can’t have that. How weird.”

“Cee, uh, what about me though? You’re living in my house. I need to live here. And you could, you know, say something back about how I feel. How you feel. We’re not in the nineteenth century anymore.”

“Oh,” she said, her dimple deepening. “I can answer you.” She tilted her face up and looked him in the eyes.

He blinked and the world wrenched itself around his body. When his eyes opened again, he was in the countryside. In a field, far off, he could see a peasant girl bent to the ground. He was surrounded. He sighed. Cows again. So many cows.

One-Sided

Mr. Murray Mendels was having a difficult conversation with his father. It was difficult because it was entirely one-sided, and Murray wanted advice. He wasn’t getting any. He could feel the anger hot behind his eyes and tight in his clenched hands, but he tried to keep his frustration under control. Of course, showing that he was angry wouldn’t help a bit. Nothing would, really, but he kept talking anyway. He was very determined about it, and had been having one-sided conversations with his father for quite a long time. He had a lot of practice by now.

He tried again. “Listen, Papa, I just want to know what you think I should do. I’m at my wit’s end here, I really am, and there’s nothing I would love more than to hear your opinion. It’s about to get serious.”

His father stayed silent.

“Oh, for goodness’s sake, Papa, I know this is practically the same problem I’ve had for ages, and it’s probably very dull to hear me talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about it. But all that talking isn’t getting me anywhere, and I’m supposed to pay the rent last Saturday, and it’s a big problem! Big! I just don’t know. That woman at the shop, she must know that I’m not going to do anything about it, but I should. I have to. If she just gave me some of what she owes me, I mean never mind that, if she just gave me the interest I’m owed and I’d have half my rent already, I mean really.”

Still, his father was quiet. He spoke no words of counsel or reassurance.

“But what should I do? That’s the question. I mean, do I write her a letter? A strongly worded one. Dear Madam, To Whom It May Concern, You have owed me seven hundred dollars for the last two years and I need some of it back now, please. If you don’t mind, you see it’s important, in that I’m broke. Flat-out couldn’t-be-broker broke. The brokest of broke. I’m not asking because I’m impatient, really I’m not, I wouldn’t even care, it’s just that I need to pay rent by a week ago and would you please. Oh, God almighty I’m no good at strongly worded, this is the kind of thing you should help me with, Papa. You were always very good at getting people to listen to, your whole life. and I haven’t got that kind of facility with persuasion, I’m more of a wheedle and plead kind of guy. Not very convincing unless you’ve got some extra pity to use up and I’m the closest one around. What should I say, how should I say it?”

Murray’s father did not speak.

“And you know that the landlord’s not going to give me much longer. So what am I going to do, get evicted out of this crappy place because I can’t talk to the pretty girl down the street? I’m a pushover, I really am, she asks me for hundreds of dollars as a quick loan, she’ll get it right back to me, aren’t I a dear. And then nothing! Not for ages. Not a word to me, barely an acknowledgement. Maybe she’s embarrassed. No, that’s silly, because she smiles at me every time she sees me.” Murray stood up, pushing the chair back, where it hit his pile of cleanish laundry. “She knows exactly what she’s doing, the minx! Oh for heaven’s sake. This is ridiculous.”

His father probably agreed, but did not say so.

“Come on, Papa, just tell me. What if I tell the landlord that she owes the money? No, he would never buy that, not for a minute. It’s my responsibility. That’s what you always told me, you do what you gotta do, right? This is what I gotta do. I have to march right in there and say— well, something. What?”

Murray’s father offered no helpful words here either.

“This is the least helpful conversation I think I’ve ever had. I’m trying to talk myself into solving my own problems, for all the good you’re doing me. This is useless. You’re not telling me anything, I’m going to have to figure it out for myself just like I did my whole life, same as always. I mean, I didn’t exactly expect you to be there for me. You’re not here, you know, and you never were there for me at all anyway. Even when you were alive, nothing. Why should I expect any different from you now?”

His father did not answer.

The Missing Self

In his eighteenth year, Ben’s self went missing. He didn’t realize for a long time. Perhaps, he realized later, it had been missing for years. One day he woke, stretched from his bed, and realized that it was gone. His shadow on the wall was motionless, crooked across the corner, somehow emptier than he thought it was.

His parents didn’t act like anything was different. They were sitting at the kitchen table. His mother bent over the newspaper sprawling on the table, and his dad was already making Ben a bowl of cereal. They always kept to their morning routine. His dad used to say that it kept them stable. Ben hadn’t understood it for a long time because he thought the word only had something to do with horses. He ate his cornflakes just like he did every day. They crunched in his mouth the same way. The tinny edge of his mother’s hum of interest still bit into his nerves just as they always did. He couldn’t explain why everything was different. It wasn’t even something that he could put into words. It was just that suddenly, with no warning, his self was gone. He barely knew what that meant, but he felt the gape in his chest where his self wasn’t.

School didn’t change. His teachers didn’t care if Ben had his self with him, or if he was conscious. He got through his classes and nodded through lunch just like always. High school was almost over, and nobody really noticed any of the seniors anyway. After school he caught up with Vanessa, his girlfriend. She always waited for him at the next corner. Her face held a worried sort of hope until she saw him. She was relieved he was there, every single day. He still marveled at that.

They held hands and walked down the street, bumping shoulders. Vanessa talked for a little while about her science teacher who was a jerk, and about her best friend, who was also a jerk. She asked him how his day was and then got anxious when he waited to answer. Finally, Ben said, “I don’t know, babe. Something’s weird today. I don’t know. I woke up feeling really funny, like I was all screwed up. I don’t know why though.”

She asked him a lot of questions, and he struggled to answer her. When it started to get dark he kissed her goodbye and went home. His parents talked about the news at dinner, and he thought dimly about how he would sort of miss tuning them out when he left next year. When he brushed his teeth, he stared at himself in the mirror and wondered what was missing. His eyes were the same brown eyes as always, but he didn’t recognize them. It was like he was looking at a photograph of somebody he didn’t know very well instead of his own reflection.

When he woke up in the morning, his self was still gone. The next morning, too. It came to feel like a little numb patch in his chest where the flesh had healed over until you could barely tell that anything was wrong. Ben was quiet normally, but he was silent now. His parents worried that he was having second thoughts about his future. Vanessa worried that she’d done something wrong. Ben worried that he’d never get his self back.

After a month of missing self, Ben’s grandfather slipped and fell. He was okay, but Ben’s mom freaked out. Both his parents left for a night, and Vanessa took the opportunity to come over and sleep in his bed. She stroked his skin and whispered to him, trying to get him to respond, but he didn’t know what she wanted. She clung to him, so he held her. In the morning when he woke next to her, he didn’t feel anything. His self was still gone and the middle of his chest was numb. He put some of his clothes in a duffel bag and wrote an email to his parents that he was going to go camping with his friend Trevor and they shouldn’t worry. He made breakfast for Vanessa.

His girlfriend came downstairs and kissed his neck. He gave her eggs and toast. They sat and ate, and finally Ben said, “I want to talk to you.” She knew enough to be afraid, and she looked at him with fear. He said, “I don’t think we should, I mean, can we? I want to, we should, break up be friends stop seeing each other.”

She started crying at once, and he got up from the table to grab his duffel bag. “Why?” she said. “What did I do?”

He shook his head. “Nothing. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I need to go find my self.” And he left.

The Gremlin

The gremlins always come in the morning. They like the early hours, when the sun is so timid a suggestion in the sky that everything is barely touched with light. They can creep about then, and sneak under hedges and through windows. That’s when Jenna found one, at five in the morning in her kitchen. It was eating her cereal straight out of the box.

She assumed she was dreaming, all alone in her quiet kitchen as a little furry creature with stubby horns froze and stared at her, paw half out of the box with a handful of Raisin Bran. They looked at each other and then the gremlin raised the waiting hand to its mouth. When it bared a bristling row of teeth, Jenna’s throat caught around a sound — not a word, not a cry, just half a startled “oh!’ The gremlin hurled the cereal, scattering flakes and raisins across the counter, and bounded out the window. Jenna went back to bed and dreamed strange dreams.

A week later, it occurred to her that all her Raisin Bran was gone, though the box still sat empty on the shelf. It must have started on the corn flakes too, because the top of the box was a ragged mess of cardboard. She poured some carefully into a bowl and left it out on the counter. She left a spoon next to it, just in case. Gremlins probably didn’t use spoons, but if they did then this one would have one. She left the window open, afraid that the gremlin’s long-fingered paws might break it. The gremlin was so quiet coming in that it didn’t wake her at all, but in the morning the bowl was clean and empty.

Over the next couple of weeks, Jenna learned some lessons. She discovered that if she woke up and went for a snack, she could sit quietly with the gremlin and eat cereal side by side. As long as she didn’t make any noise, it didn’t flee her. Sometimes it sidled up to her, scooping cereal into its mouth and nibbling on the ends of her hair.

She discovered that the gremlin absolutely refused milk in its cereal, dumping the bowl upside down on the floor in disgust. She discovered, too, that if she gave it Cocoa Pops it tore around the kitchen and knocked over everything that wasn’t fastened down. The sugary cereal went right in the trash after that night.

Jenna is cautiously friends with the gremlin now. She’d never been able to sleep once the sun pushed through the windows, so she gets up at five. It comes in a bit after that and crouches expectantly on the counter while she pours it Raisin Bran (still its favorite.) She makes herself a bowl of Cheerios. Sometimes they split a piece of toast.

The Bottom of the Mug

The fairground had been bustling, teeming, crawling with people. Now they trickled, bouncing from stand to tent like pinballs. There were barely any of them left, and they were outnumbered by the bottles and cups and straws and plates and napkins and balloon animals littering the ground, tossed and crumpled on the withered grass. Penelope was walking, staring at nothing in particular, down a path trodden between games and tents. She was walking toward the tent at the end.

Her day had been a long crowd of bewildering events with strange faces. She’d only just gotten to the fair after missing two trains and losing her phone. Now she walked with purpose toward the gray tent, the plain one with scarves for a door and a solemn sign outside. It read, “MadamE Clara’s TEa REadings” in a blue scrawl. She kicked aside paper cups and empty bottles as she walked.

Once Penelope reached the tent, she hesitated. One hand paused at the scarves. Even barely touching, they whispered against her skin. She took in a breath, pushed them aside, and stepped in.

Inside the tent, she blinked with surprise. She had been expecting MadamE Clara to be something else. The picture in her head of a tea leaf reader was that of an old woman, perhaps with a turban. Knowing this, she’d expected MadamE Clara to be very young, or a man maybe. The inside of the tent was dim, a lantern scattering yellow light onto the dark colorful walls of cloth. In this sparse light she could see a wrinkled face, lines etched around blue eyes, and indeed there was a turban threatening to fall off the wispy white hair. She opened her mouth to speak, and MadamE Clara handed her a mug without a word.

It was a mug, not a proper teacup at all, and she sipped without thinking. The tea was sweet, lemony and strong. It must have been made a minute ago, for in the chill night air it had already cooled to the solid warmth that didn’t burn her tongue at all. She drank, looking over the rim of the mug at MadamE Clara, who nodded at her. Penelope drained the mug, feeling the leaves float over to tickle her lips, and then she handed it to the old woman.

MadamE Clara took it, folded her hands around it, and looked inside. She stayed like that for a while, making a moue with her mouth and squinting this way and that. Then she spoke, in a startling gravelly voice.

“Try to avoid strong brews, my dear. You’re probably more of a mint sort of person, perhaps chai? Certainly not assam, I’m sorry to say.” She said this in a kind way, her eyebrows stretching up as if trying to soften the blow.

Penelope stared at her. “Pardon. What? What are you talking about?”

MadamE Clara shook her head, seeming impatient. Her turban swung back and forth, but clung on despite all odds. “Tea, dear. You ought always to add milk, but you could probably really do without lemon, and I get the sense you don’t like too much sugar. Just do, for the love of all that is holy, do avoid awful bagged tea and make it the proper way with a strainer.

Penelope nodded, her mind tumbling. She must have looked as bewildered as she felt, for MadamE Clara patted her shoulder with a gentle wrinkled hand before pulling the scarves aside to let her out of the tent. Penelope walked through, somewhat numb and very confused.

She half-turned when the old woman called out after her, “And you should really put the milk in first, then pour the tea. It’s not how it’s meant to be done but it’s more sensible. Otherwise you scald the milk.”

Penelope managed a smile and walked with her head down until she reached the edge of the fairground. It had been a very long day. Perhaps she just needed a drink. Not a hot one.

Noisy Boots

The boots clattered down the stairs with a brisk knocking noise and, when they reached the bottom, paused as if deciding where to go next. Lisa looked up expectantly at Kat, who said, “Those are the ones you just bought today?” Lisa nodded and Kat smiled. “They’re really cute. Definitely have a personality to them.”

“They do, don’t they?” said Lisa. She pried them off her feet and tossed them at the foot of the stairs. Her feet in their polka-dotted socks made no sound as she led Kat into the kitchen. They were there for quite a while. They talked about shopping, and what to do for dinner, and other sundry bits and pieces. From where the boots lay, splayed on the floor, their voices rose and fell like strange low music.

Eventually the two women returned to go back up the stairs. Lisa frowned. “Huh,” she said. “Weren’t those tipped over or something?” Kat looked too at the boots, tidily lined up against the wall, and shrugged. They went upstairs, their toes slipping with little whispers on the wood of the steps. Several minutes passed, and then the music of their voices drifted downstairs. They stayed hidden upstairs until nearly seven, and then they slipped and slid down the stairs again, talking.

Kat arrayed herself on one of the kitchen stools, her skirt tucked neatly under her. Lisa opened the refrigerator. Her eyes grew wide, and she stopped speaking mid-sentence.

“What is it, hon?” Kat asked.

Lisa shook her head, and pointed. “How did they get there?” Kat leaned to look, and her eyes widened too. Crowded on the middle shelf were the boots. One had a carrot sticking out its top. Kat jumped to her feet and went to stand next to Lisa, who said, “Do you think someone’s in the house?” Her voice quavered, but then steadied. “I mean, though, why would someone put my boots in the fridge?” She maneuvered them off the shelf and put them down, letting them drop gently onto the floor.

“You know what?” said Kat. “I think I’m going to run upstairs, bathroom. Be right back.” Lisa nodded and sank into a chair, her head propped on a hand. After a minute, there was a faint thud. She started, but she didn’t see anything.

Kat walked out of the bathroom, smoothing her hair, and almost tripped. There on the floor, entirely innocently, sat the boots. She backed away from them and called downstairs, “Hey, Lisa, want to just go out for dinner?”

Lisa nodded, her gaze fixed at the spot on the kitchen floor where the boots weren’t. Then she coughed and yelled back, “Yeah, sure. I’ll just grab my coat and heels.” Behind Kat, the boots stood taller, relieved, but she was already starting for the stairs and didn’t see anything. Another minute later, the slam of the door echoed through the house and reverberated in the empty rooms.

The boots clattered down the stairs with a brisk knocking noise and, when they reached the bottom, paused as if deciding where to go next.