Boots and All

Karen Zipslicer Stories

On her first night in Lundern, Karen fell asleep in the attic of Winton, the cobbler. What would she discover on her first morning in Lundern?

Karen woke with a start. It was black. She did not know where she was. Worried, she sat up, and cracked her forehead against the low-hung ceiling. “Ow!” she squealed, and Karen lay straight back down again, vigorously rubbing her head with her hand. Karen was frightened, or would have been frightened, but for the distraction of pain. Was it still night time? Then the events of yesterday came back to her, in scrambled order. Cecilia the stork-obstetrician had taken her to Winton the cobbler. Winton had danced and sung in celebration of the arrival of his cat’s kittens. He let her stay in his son’s room. Karen had been stolen away by that ridiculous tube ride. This was Lundern, and it had wonky streets and talking animals. There was no way back, not anytime soon. Dad and James were… probably at home, or maybe looking for her. But they had not found her.

Glum. As Karen’s nervousness and her pain subsided, another emotion washed over her. Glum. That was the word for it. Karen was glum. She kept on with the anodyne rubbing of her head, though slowed it to a gentle massage. Karen was remembering where she was, or at least where she thought she was. Wherever she was, it was quite cold and perfectly dark. It was impossible for Karen to be sure about her current location, although she knew she was in bed. Wherever she was, Karen reasoned she was better off getting out of bed and on with things. Karen took her palliative hand from her forehead and reached up with it, towards the ceiling. She did not have to reach far. The ceiling sloped and she brushed her palm across it. She turned over and her fingers scouted the floor. Her folded clothes were within reach. She dragged them back under the blankets, and got dressed whilst keeping as warm as she could. Clothed, Karen reached up to the ceiling once again, and eased her way out of bed, standing as upright as she could within this angular attic. Now her stockinged feet turned hunters, inching their way forward, looking for her shoes. A little toe brushed a metal ring that jutted up from the floor. Karen pondered a moment, then knelt and took the ring in her hand. It turned anticlockwise, and a quarter turn was enough to release the hatch. She let the ring slip from her fingers, and the hatch swung down and open, at last allowing some light, and air, into the stuffy attic.

Turning back, Karen sought her shoes once more. It was still dark, but light enough for the task. Karen could dimly make out the bed, the walls, even the candle that she had forgotten about. She reached under the bed and felt on the floor all around her, but she could not locate her shoes. Shoes or no shoes, she was going to get on with her day, and with getting home to dad. Turning around to the hatch again, she was relieved to see the ladder was still beneath, so she cautiously stretched out one leg, and stepped down upon it. Karen was careful not to slip as she climbed down. The parlour was empty, as was the sherry bottle left in the middle of its table. Looking out of the window, Karen judged from the quality of the light that it was still early morning. Animals and people had begun to bustle backwards and forwards on the street below. Mostly they went on foot, though sometimes a horse carriage would go by. When she stepped out to the landing, a loud snoring emanated from the room next door to the parlour. Karen surmised that it was Winton’s bedroom. She was intent on progressing her day, but not keen to wake her host. The floors were bare and wooden. It occurred to Karen that there was something ridiculous about being shoeless in a shoemaker’s house, so she quietly descended to the shop-cum-workshop beneath, intending to borrow a pair for the moment.

Before Karen had reached the bottom of the stairs, she had found her missing Heelys. Spying them, she let out a little yelp of delight. One was held in a vice on a workbench, the sole facing upwards. The other was perched on the bench alongside. Winton’s spectacles lay on the bench, by Karen’s shoe. She scurried to the bench, happily retrieving her Heelys and putting them on. Though a little bit peeved that Winton had taken them without asking, Karen could see why they would interest a cobbler. As she slipped them on, Karen idly thought about trying on some of the cobbler’s work, stacked on the shelves around her. Winton evidently made them for all types of people. Some came in bright colours that caught the eye. Karen walked around the shelves and imagined herself wearing them. She looked past the silken ballet slippers, and elegant evening pairs with their high heels. Karen thought neither very suited to Lundern’s cobbled streets. A pair of bright red and very sturdy lace-up boots caught her eye more than the others. She held its sole to the sole of the Heely on her foot, comparing their length. They seemed to be the same length, though the materials could not have been more different. Whilst Karen’s Heelys were synthetic, the red boots were made solely of leather. People on the street were passing by in front of the shop window, so Karen furtively took the red boots behind the shop counter, where nobody could see what she was doing. There she slipped off her Heelys again, finished off the threading of the boot’s rainbow-patterned laces, and put them on. They were stiff, like the toughest new boots always are, but they felt good, and Karen danced an eccentric stomp, or stomped an eccentric dance, in delight.

Feeling hungry, Karen finished her tour of the property with the last remaining room. On the ground floor, behind the shop, Karen found the kitchen. It was larger than she had anticipated. Two iron doors in the walls opened to the baker’s ovens. Around its circumference, the kitchen wore a necklace of hanging pots, pans and utensils. But looking in the pantry, Karen found it unexpectedly bare. A half loaf of bread seemed stale, but it was still edible. A hunk of cheese smelled ripe, but sitting down to combine the two, Karen found her meal to be satisfactory, if a little dry. She took another big mouthful of bread and cheese. “Help yourself to my food, will you?” boomed Winton, who had stalked up behind Karen, as she sat with her back to the door. The surprise caused Karen to spray little morsels of bread and cheese about the place, though Winton had only meant a little harmless prankery. He immediately felt, and looked, sorry for giving Karen such a shock. When she had chewed and swallowed what food was still left in her mouth, Karen responded in kind. “Help yourself to my shoes, will you?”
“Yes, I’m sorry about that. I couldn’t get to sleep so I thought I’d take a look at how they were made. Coffee?” Winton had already lit the fire in the kitchen range and proceeded to boil a kettle. “Anyhow, it looks like I’m not the only one who helps themselves to shoes left lying around.”
“Yes, I’ll have some coffee,” Karen replied, ignoring Winton’s very pertinent jibe, before saying, “my shoes weren’t lying around. They were on the floor of my bedroom. But I suppose no harm was done.” Karen became more demure, realizing that she was depending on Winton not just for shelter, but for help with finding her way back home. She lifted up one boot, as if to examine it and show it off to Winton, “and I was just trying them on because they are so eye-catching.”
“I’m glad they caught somebody’s eye. I’ve had that pair on the shelves for a few years now. Nobody else wants to wear them.”
“Then let me walk around town and advertise them for you.”
“If you walk around town with them, I won’t be able to sell them second-hand… or rather second-foot. But I will let you wear them, if you let me take a closer look at those shoes of yours.”
“A closer look? You’ve seen them once already, so how close do you need to look?”
“Erm… I’d like to cut them open.”
“No!” insisted Karen, sternly.
“What if I just cut one open?”
“No. I need both.”
“I just want to see how they are made.”
“See as much as you like – from the outside.”
The coffee was made and Winton poured two cups, “alright then, but at least let me examine your shoes as long as you are staying here.”
“I’m not staying here. Today I’m going to get on one of those airships and go home.” Once again Karen realized she was being a little bit too feisty, so she was quite a bit sweeter when she asked: “do you have milk and sugar?”
“No milk, but…” Winton paused, opening a cupboard, “no sugar either. Good luck with finding the passage you want, but it may be harder than you expect. I wish you a bon voyage, but you’re welcome to stay as long as you need to.”
“I’ll be on my way today.”
“I hope you are, but if you and those boots want to be on their merry way, first I need to take you somewhere.”

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