here it was - a
tiny shop hidden away at the back corner of one of those streets. One of
those streets, Myrtle thought to herself, one of those streets that
sometimes disappear among the many streets that populate the town, there when
you wish not for it and missing when you want it.
Myrtle had hunted for this street in the past few months but had been
disappointed time and again. The search had been inspired by a sudden tumble
into this same street some five months ago when chased by the bully next door, a
boy of age twelve who enjoyed exhibiting his age by tormenting those younger
than him. She had been surprised for she had never seen this part of town. It
was quiet even though it was broad daylight and there was something strange
about finding an empty street in the heart of a usually busy town. She stared at
the row of shops that lined the narrow street trying to figure out what it was
that left her unsettled. On one hand they looked like ordinary shops but on the
other, they seemed untouched for years. She pressed her face against the thick
glass windows of the first shop and found herself staring at jars of herbs and
spices, nothing too unusual there. But as she removed her face she only
found her nose coated with dust. She sneezed. The next shop contained an
assortment of figurines and charms; the third shop had clothing, mostly cloaks;
the fourth had lovely wands delicately placed on display stands - wands? That
is strange. I did not know they sold wands in this town. But it was the last
shop that caught her attention. All that was placed on the window sill was a
pair of dancing wooden shoes. It was exquisite, made of wood but crafted so
ingeniously it glowed like silk. The thickness of its sides measured equivalent
to a shoe made out of cloth. She knew it was wood by the grain that was
reflected along the sides. There were cravings on the shoe but the window had
obscured her vision. Myrtle wanted to go into the shop to take a closer look but
the door was closed. There seemed to be light somewhere within but the main door
would not open and neither was there any response when she knocked.
Myrtle was sorely
upset. The sun was setting and she could not linger around much longer. Every
child knew it was a silly thing to loiter in empty streets after dark. The town
belonged to those who lead darker lives when the townfolk rested in the comfort
of their homes in the after hours. She left the street reluctantly, her heart
lost to a pair shoes. It was as if those shoes called out to her and in the days
that followed, captured her waking thoughts so much so she found herself hunting
for that same street day after day, facing disappointment that was becoming
increasingly unbearable. She did not forget the shoes in time but found herself
longing for them with an intensity that caused her to lose track of the present.
She found the shop again five months later.
She treaded gently on the cobblestone path, fearing to punctuate the silence.
She went straight to last shop, the tiniest in the corner. She pressed her face
against the window and there it was, those wooden dancing shoes. Like a starving
child who finally had its hunger appeased, Myrtle felt a rush of sensation, an
overdose of pleasure from satisfaction that soon gave way to a kind of
mysterious horror, the realization that the shoes had held her in its thrall.
She stumbled along the window and pushed the door open. She fell through. The
door had opened with just the slightest push, as if touch was a cue for an
action it took into its own hands. Myrtle found herself on her knees but soon
got up and swept the dust off her skirt. There was no one in the shop but that
was not her concern. She ran straight to the display window and picked up the
right half of the shoe. Cool to the touch, she traced the patterns that ran
along the wood grains. There were carvings but they were not painted. She found
herself looking at a series of tiny dancing figures etched into the fine wood.
The harder she looked, the larger the figures became, until they enveloped her
whole field of vision. She saw herself a part of them, dancing beneath the eves
of summer bloom. Wood folk, maybe druids, were dancing oblivious to her
presence, only listening to the wind which gave them rhythm to the dance. She
was mesmerized and for a moment, lost herself completely… until a jolt back into
reality by a cold wind that blew in her face. She blinked, momentarily displaced
by a sudden change in consciousness, and found herself staring at the wooden
shoe. The cold wind was a draught that came through the open door. It chilled
the interior of the shop immediately and brought her back to her senses.
For the first time she noticed the rest of the shop. There were all kinds of
shoes lining the shelves. Shoes of all shapes and colours, sizes and patterns,
some beautiful, some plain but nothing that caught her attention the way the
wooden shoe she was holding did. She picked up the other half of the shoe and
looked around for the owner of the shop. No one was in sight. She placed the
shoes on the wooden floor and slipped her feet into them - hey fitted perfectly.
It did not feel as if she was wearing shoes made of wood for it was impossible
for hard wood to be kind on dancing feet. She looked around again but there was
no one. She wanted to call out but found her voice lost in her throat. She knew
deep inside that calling out would mean returning the shoes to the shelf. There
was no way she could pay for such exquisite shoes but at that moment, she
decided to do what children are taught never to do. She ran with the shoes
without paying for them.
She ran past the streets she knew and past her home. When she tried to stop she
found that her feet denied her - what have I done? - her feet now had a life of
their own and it danced her out of town and into woods, away from her home and
lost to the world. What Myrtle did not know was that she was not the first of
children to have gone missing this way. Not many did. She was believed to have
been lost to crooks and bandits and her disappearance, while bringing sorrow to
her family, was accepted into the normal humdrum of life. Some however, knew of
the girl who danced out of town and there were those who knew she was another
victim of the hidden street. There were not many who ventured into that street.
Those who did either disappeared or went mad but some had managed to avoid its
lure and lived to tell the tale. These were the people who knew the truth about
Myrtle and how she was one of those who failed to keep herself in the face of
temptation. They would caution those who would stop to listen, their words - be
weary of the eyes for it can deceive, be weary of the heart for it can enslave,
be weary of the mind for it can be lost and be weary of beauty when enchantment
is its source.
Editor's Note. This simplified version of
this story has often been told as a caution against stealing - a girl who stole
a pair of enchanted shoes and ended up lost to the world. Others have used it as
caution against venturing into unfamiliar streets or picking up strange objects
without knowing its source. Due to many different retellings, the original story
is but a skeleton which this edition has pieced together using various different
accounts, the editor taking the liberty to write it into a coherent form. Other
points of interest scholars have picked out would be the use of the number five
- the fifth shop, five months; the wood of the shoe which some have theorized as
coming from the wood of a druid’s tree, taken without permission; and the
paranoia about big towns and losing children.