Free Short Story - Red Shoes, Bloody Dress

Free Short Story - Red Shoes, Bloody Dress


Jonie Slay carried the bloody clothing in the vintage suitcase that travelled with her. The suitcase was battered and looked heavy and old. Jonie made a display of struggling with it as she walked to the check-in desk at the Sardis Inn. She rang the bell and waited. Her legs felt stiff. She had only recently re-stitched herself and she hoped her legs would hold her for the next few hours.    

Presently, a smiling woman appeared from a closed door back room.  Jonie took note of the wideness of the woman’s smile, of the sugary voice she used as she asked Jonie her polite questions. 

“Have you come to stay for a while or are you just passing through?” 

Jonie knew she had to present herself as the doll she’d just created in her own image. Jonie smiled as widely as the front desk woman had smiled. 

She was just passing through, she said.    

Jonie could pass for a girl in her twenties. The smiling woman was old enough to have children close to Jonie’s real age.  As the smiling woman bent over the large check-in book, Jonie scanned the walls behind the front desk.  There was a picture there, slightly sepia, of a much younger smiling woman with her thin arms around the shoulders of two young girls. 

“You must be in town for the Sayre wedding,” the smiling woman said. Jonie nodded absently. She was studying the photograph of the woman and her daughters. “The Sayres rented the old Magnolia Hill place for the wedding.  It’s a beautifully maintained house but it’s not a home, not like the Sardis. We offer a more intimate kind of experience here.” 

Jonie shifted her weight and, lifting an arm, tucked a rope of hair behind her right ear in a calculatedly girlish gesture. “Yes, ma’am. That’s why I decided to stay here for the weekend and not somewhere else.  I wanted to have the feeling of a home, if only for a little while.” 

“Well, of course you did, honey.  Tell me, are you a friend of the bride’s?”

“Yes, we became friends on Facebook a while back and she invited me to her wedding.”    

One of the daughters in the photograph was standing with her hands behind her back, shoulders slumped, as if she were afraid that someone might notice her.  Her smile was girlish and hesitant.  Jonie wondered if the girl in the picture had ever married. 

“We were friends when we were real little but then I moved away.  We lost touch a bit for one reason or another.  We reconnected on Facebook and here I am.” 

“I bet you’re just thrilled. Lemme get my husband to help you with that old suitcase.”  The woman turned to half-yell through the door. “I haven’t seen a suitcase like that in a coon’s age.  It reminds me of my grandfather.  He was a travelling salesman, you know, then he decided to be a travelling preacher and we never saw his sorry old ass again.  You know how some of these men are.” 

“Yes, ma’am, I sure do,” Jonie whispered.   

While the woman went in search of her husband, Jonie looked around at the room’s furnishings, all of them old, all of them restored to a glow. 

“I really like antiques,” Jonie said, when the woman returned. “I just love to learn about history, about the old days that were simpler and more godly. I often feel like maybe I should have been born back then when people knew right from wrong.”

“You are a girl after my own heart,” the smiling woman said. 

She turned the check-in book towards Jonie and handed the girl a pen. Jonie signed her name Amanda Quitt. “I wish my daughters had taken an interest in the old ways of doing things but they run around like these young women do now, making displays of themselves.”  The smiling woman came around the desk and picked up Jonie’s suitcase herself. “We don’t have to wait for my husband, I guess.  He’s deaf anyway and a narcoleptic, at least he pretends to be. You are such a charming young woman that I am going to give you our Magnolia Suite at the Honeysuckle Room price.”

In the Magnolia Suite, magnolias floated inside antique china bowls, filling the room with a vaguely funereal sweetness.  It smelled strongly of an embalmed old woman on a slab, coated in her favorite perfume. Jonie flung her suitcase on the bed and fingered the latch.  She pulled her iphone out of the suitcase and plugged it in.  She’d received one mass text from Zoe Sayre, the bride-to-be. 

“I cannot wait!!!  This is really happening.  Pinch me, please!” 

There were several more texts along the same lines.  Jonie smiled to herself and shook her head. They all started out this way, all the silly brides with their dreams of love. 

Jonie began to pull dresses from the old suitcase.  She unfolded a white chiffon dress and, holding it under her chin, regarded herself in the mirror.  The blood stains were nearly invisible.  A person would have to stand in a particular kind of light for them to be visible.  Jonie slipped a hanger underneath the sleeves of the dress and hung it in the closet. 

“Poor little Ginny Without a Penny, left at the altar by her very own Walter.  What could she have done?”

Jonie hung the dress in the closet.  She pulled another dress, a faded floral georgette, from her suitcase and threaded a hanger through it.  She sang a different song.     

“Prepare the rope.

 Abandon all hope.

 Oh, Miss Ellis, why have you left us?”    

Jonie hung the dress next to the first one. She pulled another dress, white chiffon with beading on the bosom, from her suitcase and regarded it. The stains on this dress were visible to the eye in rusted red smears, faded but in candlelight barely so. It was a tiny dress, fit for a girl still a teenager. Jonie held the bone-white fabric up to her face and sniffed the fabric.  She began to dance with it. 

“Ring around the roses

Smells assault the noses

Burn the house

Poison the mouse

They all fall down” 

Jonie’s phone beeped a text alert. Jonie didn’t look at the text. She flopped onto the bed and began to hum a different tune. 

She couldn’t remember where she’d heard this particular tune.  Had it been at the wedding in Birmingham, the one where the bride had worn a pale pink that clashed with her orange-red hair?  That bride’s dark orange curls had rippled within the clouded water of the creek where they’d found her body.    

Jonie turned over onto her stomach and cupped her chin in her hands.  Or had she heard the song at the dark-haired girl’s wedding, the one who was found facedown on a hotel bed, her throat cut from ear to ear? 

Jonie tried to remember them all, all the poor lost brides but their faces all melted into the same face, a featureless mass, bland and smooth, eyeless and mouthless, obscured behind a white wedding veil. 

Jonie stood up again and, resuming her tuneless humming, idly touched the fabric of the three dresses hanging in the closet.  This wedding was an evening event, with white tents festooned with soft led lights.  The light would soften the angular edges of her face, obscure the pale grey of her skin, and if she pinned her hair very carefully, no one would notice that it had begun to fall out. 

Jonie applied her makeup in the manner of someone embalming a freshly dead corpse.  She pinned a daisy into the place where a clump of hair had fallen out the day before.  Or had that been the week before? She couldn’t remember. 

She had begun to lose weight but maybe her skin had just shrunk. At any rate, it had tightened against her bones but it had also started to hang in places, between her collarbones and across her hips.  Still, she felt she could wear the beaded white chiffon.  She was so tiny now that the small dress would practically hang from her.

Before appearing at a wedding, Jonie liked to dance with her imaginary date for the evening.  This night, she chose Bad Man Bill as her escort.  She walked to the door and mimed opening it, spread her face with another wide smile and let Bad Man Bill into her room.

How beautiful you look

Thank you, Bad Man Bill

How beautiful you look

We can only dance for a moment - I can’t be late

Bad Man Bill slipped his large hand around her vanishing waist and lead her in a stumbling lurching waltz. 

I think my ankles are buckling.  I wonder if I’ve broken the bones?  You mustn’t dance me too close to the dresser, Bad Man, I might break against it.    

How beautiful you look

Do not lift me.  My skin will slough right off. 

How beautiful you look

They spun around a few times and then Bad Man Bill was gone.  He had always been a good dancer. The dance over, Jonie pulled a pair of red shoes from her suitcase and slipped them over her feet.  The shoes were highly heeled and dyed an arterial blood red.  She refreshed her red lipstick, patted at her hair and hoped that her capsizing ankles would hold her until the reception.

The smiling woman was not at the front desk when Jonie passed by.  Jonie walked to her car gingerly.  She was pleased that her ankles seemed to hold.  As she slipped her feet inside the car, she admired the lovely deep red of the shoes.  There had been a girl once – Jonie could hardly remember her name – who’d disappeared from her own kitchen, leaving only blood stains on the kitchen floor and a bloodied towel.  She was never found.  The shoes were the color of that girl’s blood. 

Jonie drove to the wedding reception slowly.  It was a lovely evening in April.  All the dogwoods were blooming into a white foam, much like the foam that bubbles from the mouth of a poisoned bride. 

The wedding reception twinkled at the top of a hill.  Inside the white tents were the usual tables and tablecloths, with bunches of standing flower arrangements here and there.  Jonie hoped the scent would mask the odor of her decaying body. 

She had only a few moments left. 

Any minute now, her body would begin to collapse, perhaps her limbs would even fall off. 

Wouldn’t that be something? 

She accepted a glass of champagne and laughed when one of her teeth fell into the golden liquid. She slunk inside whatever shadows she could find and waited for the dancing to begin. Her eyes searched the guests. The bride had stacked her hair on her head like the layers of a wedding cake. The husband looked like a frat boy who’d climbed inside a suit that was slightly too large for him.  

Then the newlyweds were dancing in the spot of light, flower petals drifting around their feet. Jonie felt her eyes pool with tears. 

How sweet she looked in her silly white dress.

When the dance was over, the other guests took to the floor. Jonie noticed Bad Man Bill standing beside her. 

How beautiful you look

Dance with me, Bad Bill. 

Jonie led Bad Man Bill to the dance floor and together they began to sweep across the floor. The other guests kindly made room for the elegant couple, in fact, they stood at the edges of the circle of light and stared. She swept around with Bad Man Bill. He had always had such strong hands. One night, they’d closed over her throat. It had taken her nearly five minutes to die. The music ended. Bad Man Bill melted away. Then Jonie felt someone place their hands upon her. Her skin moved beneath the pressure of the fingers gripping her forearm. 

If only she’d never married Bad Man Bill.

If only she’d refused him, she wouldn’t have to forever dance this death dance.  She wouldn’t have to put on the red shoes and dance these poor girls to their deaths. She wouldn’t have to dance her own death, again and again.

The man, a groomsman, pulled his hand away from Jonie and wiped it against his trouser leg. He took several steps away from her. 

Jonie smiled, revealing a row of grey-black teeth. 

If only she could tell them.

If only they would believe her this time.

She looked at all the guests through the grey cataracts forming over her eyes.  She sought out the white form of the bride before the cataracts on her eyes obscured her vision completely. The poor girl, the sad bride in her sad white dress. She didn’t know what was going to happen to her. Jonie began to hum and dance, as everyone watched. 

I’ll be long gone with my red shoes on

You and me and the devil makes three

He won’t leave no room for the baby

Jonie wanted to tell the bride that the child she was carrying would never leave her body alive but the rot was creeping inside her again and her tongue wouldn’t form the words. Still, she tried. The poor girl had to know what was going to happen to her in just a few short years, what the man she’d just married would do to her. Jonie pointed at her mouth but when she opened it a thick black viscous liquid poured through her lips and down the front of her dress. 

She was too late. Again. It was the same every time. 

The bad men would come for her, put her again inside small rooms, where she hardly had any room to dance with her male companions, where the only songs she could sing were the ones she created herself. 

And this latest bride, the girl who was crying into the folds of her new husband’s tuxedo would be found in the woods a few months from this day, her throat slashed and the child inside her quiet and dead. 

Bad Man Bill was leading her away again.  She would go willingly to the small rooms this time.  There she would knit herself back together again.  She would assemble an acceptable version of her once-living self, like a doll that had been restuffed and repaired and placed back on the shelf for purchase.  Then she would say the things she was supposed to say, convince those she met that she was the doll she pretended to be. 

She would continue to try to warn them.

She must spread the word until they all knew the danger they were in.   

Bad Man Bill was leading her away again, away from the twinkling white party on the hill. 

Jonie smiled, even as her neck broke and she could no longer hold up her head. 


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