The Girl Who Lived in a Shoe by Hari Navarro

Vanessa feels wettened fingers in her ears as they snap at the knuckles, and then, slowly, she closes her eyes. 

It is suddenly so deliciously hot as the clenching billowing maw above opens, and plastic scented light pours over her, gathering and pulling at her skin.

This artificial aroma; she remembers it as the cheap sun lotion she’d once lathered into her pores. Those dreamy chemicals that stuck in the grooves of her lips. That so filled her nostrils with memories of sand and bearded, moated boulders, and dunes that unraveled as skinny legs plowed through and up to their peaks.

And again, just now, the ground beneath suddenly tips as one foot slumps lower than the other. There is screaming, but it is not human. It is a wail that sucks into itself, and then something cool and sharp plays and runs through her hair.

She needs to be in the pit.

She feels safe in the pit.


Vanessa stands on the shore and contracts her feet into the strata lines of ruddied foam, sighing into its cooling swallow. This is a memory of teenage toes and grains that fouled sandwiches that cracked between the, then, effortless twitch of her smile. But, this is now, and her dry lips thin and split as she pulls them back against her teeth. Her mind leaching, bleeding them of any part of joy.

She stands alone with her eyes closed so tightly she can feel them beat, and she plugs her toes ever deeper, down and into the sand.

“I am Drowner of the incessant silences. Drowner of the septic naked thing that purged from the ragged canal in a gush of amniotic roadside wash.”

In this fuddled moment she feels intimately connected to this far beginning, and just short of the end of many a thing. The sand; it has changed its counsel over these long years, she thinks.

In her youth, its rub was a soothing and searing balm to the soles of her feet. But now, it offers only abrasion. Painful mutterings that echo of the very Earth’s approaching demise. Its slow remorse as the moving water forever scratches and wears away at its skin.


Vanessa opens her eyes, and for a moment, everything is blue. The sky is ripped of its clouds, and the sea is calmed and without its white-licked peaks. Above and below merge into something terrifying and lovely, and infinite and connected, and so very blue.

“How am I here?”

She loses herself sometimes. She gets lost amid sentences, and on familiar streets, and in the ramping beat of her panting as she claws randomly found flesh into her zenith release.

She gets lost in the question of whether she is cold or hot. A God or not. Sick or not. She gets lost in the not knowing if she is bad or if, indeed, she is good.

She hears sea birds, and she opens her eyes and marvels at how freely they drop and bounce through the currents. To fly.

Vanessa has to work today so surely she didn’t abuse the boys, she wonders. The boys is the name she has given to the capsules that bustle and ruminate in the shoebox beneath her bed—the team she is on as she tries to neatly fold her past. An attempt, of a night, to put it all most soundly to sleep.

Spittle crests and runs the edge of her lip, and her head falls away to the side and bits of shell between her toes poke at her eyes as they play in the sun, and the world pulls back into step.

The ancient sand. Wet cement fragments in time copied so perfectly her feet as she ran.


Vanessa is standing naked with her skin torn and rubbed raw at the points where her clothes were torqued and drawn until they snapped and raped from her flesh.

“What am I?”

She knows this place—this bent scoop cove with thrusting walls of failing rock and dripping clay that pantomime at her back. Cliffs that fold to the ever-angered, and at once, so very meek waves that bite and chew. An incessant hunger that crumbles the farmland splaying out from and cowering at its very top.

She knows it well.

There is a ladder of sorts leading down from this top. Not all the way, as it stops twice on little ledges that allow her to swivel and adjust her stance. The ladder is formed from found things. Its main poles are mill-shaved lumber, but the struts are nailed branches of manuka and parts of window frames and such—an old street sign, that even now, as the salt picks and plays at her bare eyes, she wishes the name would thicken, and spill from her throat.

But it doesn’t. Her past does so lock itself in corridors of identical rooms.


Before her now, a beautiful ghost wades into the waves with a towering fishing rod in his grasp. This, she knows at once, is her grandfather, the massive height of the rod playing in his hand, begging only to be cast.

She struggles to grasp just how she is here. How she now sees this rod, or still just how the mangled line, wound within its long-neglected reel, passes so perfectly up through its guides and now hangs before him and her, replete with sinker and lavishly baited hook.

She would have thought an apparition such as this would weld his rod in the pristine condition he always maintained it in life. Not projecting it, as it now sits, neglected in the rafters of her grandfather’s long-since visited shed.

He seems full of tiny holes that allow the wave-spun breeze easy passage as it passes through him and beats against her skin.

The old man flips the bar that locks his reel in place and secures his finger to hold the nylon just so against the pole. Then he steps one foot forward, to widen and steady his stance, and arches backward, and with his other hand gripping firmly at the rod’s base, he heaves it backward over his head.

She is sad as the line passes through her mind, and even sadder that she doesn’t flinch in the slightest as it does.

Nothing now is tactile. Everything is hollowed, and she cannot clutch nor caress the form of most anything. Just wisps of husk and shell remain.

“Please don’t speak,” she begs silently of the old man’s back. “Please, I don’t think I can bear it after all this time you’ve been gone.”

“Come now, little whip. What is it that you hope to catch?”

“Myself. As always, Grandad, you know. Always there to wordlessly syphon off my self-pity and loathing with one of these dear trips to the beach.”

The old man smiles as he violently lurches forward, thrusting his bottom hand down to cast his line out. And the lead at its end pours into the ascendant before then falling, the dive probing the farthest distant swell.


She thinks she is mad.

She thinks she is mad, as she can feel, again, hands at her back, shuddering as they continue to flail the clothes from her body.

There is a threadbare waterfall that excretes from the cliff behind her. It forms a small pool at its base, and then dribbles down between her parted legs. A stream that splits at the base of the pole she now holds, and then deltas through the sand before her, spilling the clay’s rusty tint further down, veining into the sea.

“So that’s why the foam is red.” She sighs through a briefest smile of relief.

Her hooked finger feels a tug on the line. Then nothing. This pull it is that thing. That thing she tried so hard to ignore as she slipped into the bath with lipstick smiles at her wrists.

It tugs again, and the reel hisses as it plays out. She cranks the handle at its side, and the guide bar flicks back into place. She stops and she waits, and then again it tugs and runs off to the left. She winds again, heaving back the rod, and then stops and locks the line, and heaves it back again.

Time now races, and she can see but flashes of the moon and the sun as they chop and change in the sky. Her name is Vanessa, and she wants to carve it into a sea log so that it might float away, and when found, someone could care to wonder just what it was she was for.

The tip of the rod bows and it whips from side to side. She can see it now; this gathered floundering thing, fighting in the nearby roll, and she wades into the waves and winds and winds and winds.

It flaps and it screams, and then, this mass, it distills in the splaying foam. A great hook scooped into the corner of her scream, and torn out through the puff of her cheek.

She is human. Black hair shaved back to her scalp. Her face pulled apart and leaking like fruit torn to its pith.

Vanessa falls heavily at her side. Guilt throbs in her fingers as she holds the poor girl’s head and, with a long ago practiced twist of her wrist, she removes the hook from her face.

“I’m so sorry, look how I have ruined you,” Vanessa pleads as her voice bends and cracks against the gutted ripped flap of flesh that now slides beneath her hand as she tries to hold it in place. “I so wanted to catch you, but now I have, all I want is to throw you back,” she says to herself as she cups her own head, running her hand across the crust at its fire-scorched brow.


She’s seen wonderful things. With her job, she has visited the world entire. She has sat alone in empty bars at dawn and sucked the head off fizzing amber shafts of filthy glass. She has marveled at the flustered faces of commuting crowds packed into trains, and wept as they looked so happy.

Grooves within a lock, clicking and clicking and clicking into place.

“I am a pilot, and I need to get back to the pit. The pews which sit behind me there, worshiped my invisible power to give them all wings to skirt the globe. To find safe passage. My sermon gave them comfort, and now look at the harvest I’ve lost.”

You were in the sky, and you left the cockpit, and as the switches passed above your head, you thought of nothing. Nothing.


It is now late afternoon, but still the sun, it reaps. Vanessa lies naked and jagged and dead as the returning tide pushes and pulls at the holes in her body.

The bay is strewn with bomb-gouged bodies, and bits of headrests and plastic cups, and private things that float.

Her right leg floats atop the gentle surge of the tide. Its foot remains bound and safe in a shoe—it now the only thing that holds her in place.

The sea sways and sauces the sand, and the sand, it grates and parts and parts again. Smaller and smaller, until finally Vanessa becomes nothing at all.

Nothing but a single shoe to be found on a beach by a stranger.

Picture of Hari Navarro

Hari Navarro

Hari Navarro has, for many years now, been locked in his neighbour’s cellar. He survives due to an intravenous feed of puréed extreme horror and Absinthe-infused sticky-spiced unicorn wings. His anguished cries for more dip can be found via Black Hare Press, Black Ink Fiction, Hellbound Books, 365 Tomorrows, Breachzine, AntipodeanSF and Horror Without Borders.

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