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Roadside Shoes

Late autumn weather was always unpredictable; each day was a roll of the dice as to whether it would be a warm echo of the summer, or instead bring the chill of winter howling hungrily down through the streets. That day, in particular, the sky was clear and it had all the visual aspects of a perfect midsummer day, but there was a strong wind battering anyone in its path that betrayed the true nature of the season. Jenny braced herself against the cold as she ventured down the quiet street on her way home. There was a quiet calm hanging in the air; there were no sounds of vehicles, no sign of anyone else wandering the village, not even the trill of a solitary bird. As Jenny turned the corner that led down towards the old church, she saw it; the roadside shoe.

Most people would see that shoe and assume a drunken partygoer had forgotten it somehow, or that perhaps even a car had driven past and it had possibly fallen from the window unknowingly. But Jenny knew better. Whenever she saw an inexplicably discarded item alongside roads, paths or anywhere they shouldn't be, she knew. Somewhere in between lay in that spot; an unseen hole that fed into the other world and lay in wait like a predatory trap awaiting its unsuspecting prey. The portal-like occurrences were random, they appeared and disappeared without any reason or warning. Jenny didn't believe that any of the beings that used them had any control over them. They just took advantage of them.

Jenny moved closer to the shoe but kept a safe distance. She moved slightly from side to side, swaying on the spot until she saw the tell-tale faint shimmer hanging in the air that was normally invisible to the human eye. For some reason, though Jenny had never figured out why, she had always been able to spot these strange veils of mist for as long as she could remember.

The first creature she had seen had been enough to scare her into a lifetime of caution around the anomalies. Spirits, demons, yokai; they went by many names, but not a single one of them was trustworthy. Many were happy to simply cause mischief when they visited the human world, but some of the more dangerous creatures tore people from the world with such a ferocity that sometimes an item of their clothing was left behind. Jenny dreaded to consider what horrible fate befell them on the other side of that mysterious window.

The hairs rose on Jenny's neck, a strange unsettling sensation that caused her to shudder all over. The unmistakable feeling of someone watching her, or more accurately something was watching her. Jenny took a wary step away from the shimmering air before her. A low throaty chuckle whispered out from the space in front of her, but the speaker remained hidden.

"Little girl, little girl," the raspy voice spoke, "Come with me."

"No, thank you," Jenny responded flatly.

Out of the flickering air, a face leaned out. It had dark red skin and its face was twisted into a ghastly grin that bordered on the edge of being a grimace. The large white eyes with their tiny pupils were unblinking; leaving Jenny to wonder if the macabre face was, in fact, a mask that hid the true identity of its wearer. Horns protruded from a swathe of white tangled hair that fell around its face in a wild manner. The creature sucked its teeth before flicking its tongue out and licking its thin lips slowly.

"What if I said please?" the voice groaned sarcastically, though its mouth was unmoving as the words reached Jenny's ears.

"No," Jenny said even more defiantly.

"Such a pity," the creature sighed as it slid back into the portal and out of view.

Jenny could still feel its presence there, unseen but unmistakably still there. Like a spider waiting for the fly. She knew that if she stupidly ventured too close, it would undoubtedly strike and she would find herself on the other side. Though she often wondered what the other world was like, Jenny didn't want to find out first hand. Giving the dangerous patch of air a wide berth, Jenny hurried past and continued on her way.

The sky was beginning to darken as Jenny rushed home. She was desperate to be safely inside before dusk fell. But first, she had to face another hurdle, the front door. She unlocked it with bated breath before quickly opening it and jumping backward. She studied the air in the doorway, once satisfied it was as it should be, she passed the threshold and closed the door behind her. Jenny had learned that anything that counted as an "in-between" could also spawn a passage to the other world, though these gateways were smaller and seldom saw the more dangerous creatures. Normally it was mischievous gremlin-like spirits that came through these gaps between worlds, the types that hid your belongings, switched your appliances on and off without warning, or plagued you with insomnia or nightmares during the night.

Jenny went to the window and peered out from behind the curtain at the greying world before her. Dusk acted as a filter over the human world, the eerie lighting gave way to ominous shapes and shadows as the whole world became an in-between for a short time. Unlike the portals that hung in the air or hid in doorways, dusk and dawn were distinctively different. The creatures that came during these times almost seemed oblivious to the humans around them. They could be large hulking creatures that slowly moved through the streets, but they didn't react to anything around them and humans were still oblivious of them. It was almost as if for those moments in time, the two worlds overlapped and you could see a mixture of the two joined together, but they remained separated enough as to not disturb the other. Even still, Jenny didn't like to be out during those times of the day. She didn't want to risk that her theory was incorrect and tempt fate by venturing amongst the unnatural shades.

As she was just about to turn away from her vigil of the strange world, something caught her eye; flash of red and white moving ever closer. A chill ran down her back like a cold finger tracing every bone in her spine. The demonic-looking creature had followed her home. She ducked out of sight, peering around the thick drapes to see the stranger as it approached. Hiding was of no use. She could see it lifting its face to the air, following her scent. It was tall, its muscly body seemed strangely out of proportion, it had large thick arms with claw-like fingers, but it's even thicker legs were shorter, giving it an ape-like stance. It wore dark leathers and fur, but the red skin that wasn't covered by clothing was adorned with a myriad of silvery scars. The demon stopped just shy of her front door, cocked its head like a dog would do when it didn't understand something, before turning its unblinking gaze on her hiding spot.

"Little girl, little girl," it called out, its voice hissing through the air, "Let me come in."

Jenny dropped down out of sight, though she knew it was too late. The creature knew she was there. Her heart was hammering in her chest as she considered her options. Never had she been followed home by one of them. What could she do? Her mind was racing to think of a solution.

"Little girl, little girl," the voice came, more impatiently this time, "Let me come in."

Jenny looked around in a panic, wondering what she could do to rid herself of her unwelcome visitor. As her eyes caught sight of something in the hallway, a plan rapidly began to form in her mind and she sprang into action. The sound of claws grating against the front of her door resounded loudly as the demon moved ever closer to its prey.

"Let me in…" it hissed loudly, its voice rattling through the letterbox.

Jenny dragged a chair in front of the door to set her trap and she prayed that it would be successful as she answered the beast at the door, "I'm coming!"

Checking that everything was in place, Jenny took a deep breath before she opened the front door. She locked eyes with the ghastly creature as it stood in the doorway, unsure what to do as it faced the image placed before it. In the large mirror that Jenny had borrowed from the wall and propped against the chair, the demon could see itself and also see the small girl as she hid behind the door. In the reflection, they stared each other down. It tilted its head once more as it contemplated this new development. Jenny saw her face pale in the mirror; the otherworldly creature was still there, mere inches from where she stood.

Pulling its shoulders inwards to fit between the small frame of the doorway, the demon took a step forward into the house. Jenny didn't dare take her eyes from the mirror as she watched it move closer, but surprisingly she didn't see its large form in her peripheral vision. In the mirror, the demon was hesitating. It could have been reaching for her, it was so close, but for some reason, it wasn't. Jenny couldn't help herself, curiosity had gotten the better of her and she turned to view the demon… but nothing was there. The doorway was empty. She turned back to the mirror; there it was, stood exactly where she had expected it to be. Jenny had decided to take advantage of the "in-between" and the mirror, both an image of what was real and what was not, had worked well. Before the demon could realize it had stepped into a trap, Jenny sprang forward and knocked the mirror to the floor, smashing it into a thousand pieces that scattered across the hardwood flooring like spilled sugar grains.

With her homemade gateway to the other world now destroyed, Jenny quickly closed her front door and locked it behind her. She retrieved her dustpan and brush from the kitchen and knelt to begin clearing up the mess she had made. The small pieces scraped against the floor as she brushed them into the pan. For a split second, Jenny thought she saw a flash of red in the sparkle of a particularly large shard, but it was gone as soon as she blinked. She stared at the rest of the broken mirror for a while longer, but saw nothing more and so continued to clean it away.