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Weird Tales JUNE, 1937

Clicking Red Heels

By PAUL ERNST

 Nobody knew that Grain had killed his sweetheart, but her little red heels, 
tapped a march of death wherever he went, driving
him to a desperate resolve

THERE are two kinds of fear. There is fear of the known—terror of death or disease or accident, or of social consequences of wrong actions. This is bad enough, but it is a little thing compared to fear of the unknown. That is the horror that freezes your brain and stops your breath in your throat; that is the terror that wrings sweat in icy drops from your clammy skin. Somewhere near you a black force lurks, some shadow from a hell incomprehensible to mortal mind, some thing from another world which looms over you and threatens you with a menace all the more awful for being unguessable. It is then that you go mad and babble in your frightful torment of danger—and cannot even say what that danger is...

Eldon Gruin was in the grip of the first fear. He was to know the second, too; but at the time he knew only the first, and thought that bad enough. His fear was of the consequences of a wrong act, and it was embodied in a girl.

The name of Gruin's fear was Maria José, whose father cut and stitched leather in the repair of shoes in a dingy basement shop on Eighth Avenue in New York. Her father was a gargoyle of a man, alone in the world save for his Maria. But Maria—ah, she was a throwback to some Castilian ancestress who supplied inspiration for the fiery men who made Spain unconquerable.

Maria had great black eyes with ridiculously long lashes, and a perfect, dainty oval of a face, and red, red lips, and a body that sculptors in old Greece would have loved, and tiny feet on which—as a sort of symbol of her mercurial temperament and gayety—were always red-heeled shoes. They danced, those red-heeled small shoes, in a sort of gay, mad rhythm of their own as Maria clicked down the street in them. They had danced into hearts and out again, with an unsatisfying trill of laughter before they carried their shapely, tempestuous young owner into Gruin's life.

It was all inconsequential, a thing no sane person should have built hopes on, Gruin often reflected irritably.

He was thirty-one, fairly wealthy, single, and out for fun. He had met her at a night club where—till the fat proprietor had tried to mix intimacy with managership—Maria had danced for a little while professionally, in twinkling white satin pumps with red heels.

Gruin had made her a few promises, perhaps. A man does when he is captivated. And Maria had begun to cling. At first it had been exhilarating. Men looked after her when she clicked up the sidewalk on those ridiculous, pathetic, appropriate little red heels to meet him. Gruin, who was not bad-looking, knew that he and Maria made a striking pair together.

Nice to have a girl like that live only for your whims. Intoxicating to have such beauty almost abjectly at your command. Exhilarating to the ego to know that you can turn on such a love-stream. Natural to forget that it might be difficult to turn that love-stream off again.

It wasn't long before Gruin had found that he was driving a force that could not be controlled much longer. And then it was annoying. No, more than that—it was rather terrifying!

So he sat in the Lance Club lounge the afternoon of the evening which was to be the turning-point in his not very useful young life, and condemned Maria José.

Any girl with any sense would have known that the affair must be transient She was a garlic-eating cobbler's daughter. He was heir to a modest fortune and owned an old name. Had she seriously thought he meant to—marry her? She couldn't have! Yet she was certainly acting like it now.

Gruin shifted in the leather club chair and sipped some of his cocktail. And he felt faint perspiration steal out on the palms of his hands as he reviewed Maria's recent conduct.

When she clicked up on her red heels to meet him now, it was more often than not to burst into tears because she hadn't seen him last night or the night before—she demanded all of his time. When he talked of taking a trip, she stared deep into his eyes, tearful no longer, and advised him not to. There had been a newspaper rumor of his engagement to a debutante in New York, and——

GRUIN sipped his cocktail again. Rath...

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