THE UNTIMELY DEMISE OF DANFORTH ELLORY
Not so long ago, a comic shop owner named Danforth Ellory awoke to find a man dead in his shop doorway. The corpse was prone, its arms bent at an unnatural angle. Danforth knew that no living person would be able to withstand the pain such an uncomfortable position afforded.
The body was dressed in a shabby brown overcoat, fraying at the edges with holes starting to creep in at the elbows and across the shoulders. He guessed the garment was near enough his own age and felt repulsed at the thought. He edged his foot close to the man’s face and considered nudging his cheek just to make doubly sure that he was dead and not punch drunk. But no, the man had to be, his posture told him so.
Danforth was about to go back inside and inform the police of his unsavoury discovery, outlining how it was incredibly bad for business if one was to find a corpse on one’s doorstep as way of greeting, when he noticed the dead man’s shoes.
Except they weren’t shoes, they were slippers.
Why was he wearing slippers? And not just any old slippers but resplendent ones complete with an ornate pattern of star-white feathers. On closer inspection, Danforth was surprised to find that the slippers were made from luxurious midnight-blue velvet. He felt a frisson descend his spine. The slippers appeared to be brand new and much too expensive to be wasted on this vagabond.
He quickly surveyed the street making sure there was nobody about. Luckily, it was deserted. Without the scrutinizing eyes on him, Danforth Ellory set to work removing the slippers from the dead man’s feet. One minute they were on the corpse, the next they were safely in his hands.
All that remained now was for Danforth Ellory to call the police, answer a few questions, and oversee that his business wasn’t affected by the recent events.
The whole affair didn’t take too long which meant Danforth Ellory had plenty of time to spend on cleaning the slippers. He wiped them over several times, amazed at how the cloth remained unsullied after being found on the vagrant’s feet.
Afterwards, he inspected them in the light, loving the way the sheen appeared to spill before his eyes like the bluest curtain. He slipped his feet into them and at once felt his body grow light. His steps were fluid and graceful, the footsteps of angels.
‘What an exquisite delight!’ he cried to the empty space. ‘They’re a dream come true. They’re magic.’
Just before opening time, Danforth made a decision to remove the slippers. If any of his customers saw them they would undoubtedly ask him where he got them and why he was wearing them in his shop. This, he decided, was definitely not good for business.
In the back office, he sat down and struggled to remove them. He tugged and tugged but the slippers would not come off. Danforth cursed under his breath. He stared at his feet, checking them for visible changes. No, everything looked the same. There must be some other, more logical explanation
Danforth struggled for another five minutes before giving up. It was futile; the damn slippers would not come off regardless of how hard he tugged.
There were no marks on his feet, no stinging sensations, nothing unpleasant to suggest these slippers were out of the ordinary. But they were. Apart from their ornate appearance, there was something peculiar and downright wrong about them.
The day passed quickly and many transactions took place. Danforth smiled to himself; today had been a good day despite the unexpected arrival of a corpse this morning. He had quite forgotten about the slippers, although he had noticed the lightness of his footsteps despite being on them for nearly eight hours.
A few of the more discerning customers noticed the finely-embellished slippers but no-one had questioned him on them, and for that he was extremely grateful.
Having closed for the day, Danforth mounted the stairs to his bedroom. Here, he once again failed to remove the slippers.
‘Goddamn it,’ he spat. ‘What the hell is wrong with these blasted things?’
He continued to tug away at the slippers until tiredness crept in and dragged him off to sleep.
After five days of consecutive wear, Danforth Ellory was a considerably changed man. Where before he stood tall and erect he now stooped over with his shoulders hunched. His face was visibly drawn and ravaged. His feet throbbed and ached as though he had been walking miles, and occasionally an angry burst of pain shot through them as if nails had been driven into his soles.
Each day was an extension of his misery and secretly he prayed that either the slippers would come off or he wouldn’t wake up in the morning. Such thoughts continued to plague his mind over the upcoming days and as one week bled into another, even his customers kept their distance.
Another three days passed and with it Danforth Ellory’s sanity. It dawned on him that the slippers were indeed cursed. They had to be. The slippers were now more firm than ever. It was as if someone had super glued them on. The more he tugged at them, the more resolute they became.
His nightmares focused on the slippers and how they were actively eating his feet, his skin sticking to them and peeling away from the bone. In his nightmares, Danforth cried and screamed like a little girl, his face soaked with tears and covered in ugly claret blotches.
He awoke sweating, his heart jack-hammering away beneath a brittle ribcage, which, until a fortnight ago, had been as strong and solid as steel.
The next morning a discovery was made.
Danforth Ellory was visited by a distinguished-looking gentleman with a well-groomed moustache and horn-rimmed spectacles. Mr Roger Norbert immediately noticed the comic shop owner’s wan and sickly appearance.
‘You, Sir, are ill. Gravely ill. It’s written all over you. What was it? Something you drank? Ate?’
‘No…no…no,’ was all Danforth Ellory could muster. He found it was too much of an effort to say any more.
Mr Norbert studied the shrunken man currently in the chair for some time before looking him up and down. And there, lo and behold, was the reason for this unfortunate man’s diminishing health. The slippers, of course!
Roger Norbert started. There was no mistaking the infamous pattern – star-white feathers embellished on midnight-blue velvet.
‘My God, that’s them. Where the devil did you get those slippers?’
His voice shook as he spoke. Danforth looked at Norbert with some curiosity. After a brief hesitation he said, ‘I…found them.’
‘Found them… where?’
Danforth Ellory felt his heartbeat slow, his pulse coming to a gradual standstill. The look of pure horror on Mr Norbert’s face confirmed that the man knew the truth about the cursed slippers.
‘Damn it, man. Spit it out!’
It was no use camouflaging the truth any longer, whatever Mr Norbert knew about the slippers, Danforth Ellory had to know too.
‘I…took…them…from a dead man…who was…lying in the…doorway.’
With a wiry arm, he gestured to the place where the corpse had been found less than a fortnight ago.
‘So you stole the slippers, then?’
Reluctantly, Danforth Ellory acquiesced.
‘Oh dear. Dear God. You should not have done that, Sir.’
Roger Norbert sighed.
‘The slippers you wear, the ones you stole from the dead man, are cursed. They bear a terrible history and anyone who wears them…’
He broke off, not knowing how to continue. Danforth’s face was as white as milk, his eyes dark currants which bore no light. With a heavy heart, Mr Norbert continued.
‘Those slippers have an awful legacy attached to them. They were made by a poor tradesman in the Far East called Mustafa Kadi who lived with his wife, Laila, and their three children in a small ramshackle on the edge of town. They lived on meagre handouts and scraped a living, selling footwear to locals and travellers.
His wife, however, had different ideas, and although she had had three children of her own, still retained her good looks, and was always on the lookout for a better life. This went on for quite some time with local villagers gossiping until Mustafa himself heard these rumours and decided something needed to be done.
He followed her one day and caught her in the arms of another. The rage that flew through him was immeasurable, and he drew from his pocket the only tool he ever carried – his precious slipper scissors.
While his wife and her lover’s death screams could be heard in the little village, so too could her husband’s rants, cursing life’s chancers, risk takers, criminals.
He was found a day later with his throat cut in a shallow grave, wearing the very same slippers you have upon your feet. Only, they didn’t look quite like that back then. They weren’t as elaborate as they are now. They were rather…well, plain; simple dark blue with a bit of silver on them. You see, those very same scissors were used to cut out the fabric of the slippers, and were cursed from the very beginning. Legend has it that whoever wears the slippers has his or her soul taken, and with each soul collected, the brighter and more ornate they become.’
He paused and looked around the empty store. He leaned in closer so that his face was inches away from Danforth Ellory’s.
‘The slippers are usually found by miscreants; people who are on the lookout for something for nothing. They don’t often realise though that if something is too good to be true, it often is. I dare say the man who was found in your shop doorway was one of those types, whose unsavoury designs led him into obtaining the slippers.’
Now that everything was out in the open and the true history of the slippers revealed, Danforth Ellory found he was crying. Roger Norbert offered him a handkerchief. It was the very least he could do.
That night, Danforth Ellory made a slow and painful ascent to his bedroom knowing that this would be the last time he walked his carpeted stairway.
Come morning, he was dead.