The red and purple gleam of dusk fell through the hole in the wall and it broke itself into a million colors through his body, drawing arcane shapes onto the paper-strewn floor. Pipes rimmed the hole, covered every inch of its fringes. They went everywhere in the house, carrying their precious, manifold juices, making things go. They made things go, everywhere. She sometimes wondered what it would be like to be in the pipes, to travel all across the endless city, finding her way into everyone's home...
"They won't see you. You'll be a drop in a never-ending flood. No one will see you once you are in the pipes." That is what father had said to her.
She had asked him: "But I'd be there! Is it really so bad if they don't see me? There are so many of them, I am sure some of them will!"
He had sighed then. "The factories say what the people get in their pipes. They won't see you. And if they don't see you long enough, you'll be forgotten."
She looked at him. He looked so brittle now... Always, there had been the cracks, ever since he had made her, before that even. But when she had been a tiny world, there hadn't been nearly as many, and there had been more color in him. He had looked like... someone. Now, he was almost as clear as glass. She could see the emptiness inside him as the fading like broke inside him, casting rainbow shards everywhere.
When he fed her, things were worse. He would turn to the pipes and fill himself up to the top, the myriad worlds inside him forming a maelstrom of creation. He'd painstakingly file one of his cracks until he had broken a shard off his being to give to her.
It wasn't the mutilation that upset her. No, that was an act of giving, pure and beautiful, and never had she seen a shimmer of anguish in his eyes when the time came. However, the cracks... the worlds he gorged himself on leaked out quickly now, quicker every time he did it. And as he quickly turned hollow again, she could see his suffering plainly etched into his being.
She grabbed a blanket and draped it over him, keeping the light out, leaving him to dream of his own light. Only in his dreams, could he still fill himself, for a moment.
Looking around, she saw stacks of shoes and shoe boxes hiding much of the walls. She picked up one of the shoes to inspect but dropped it when she heard him stir. When the sun's last light had disappeared behind the monolithic towers of the city, she was gone.
By now, she knew many of the small alleys around the apartment. The pipes that lined the streets and walls were labyrinthine, winding their way across the city like metal serpents, iron worms digging down into the roots. But the Hollow Man's daughter had learned to tell them apart, and she skipped across the curved tin and lead and iron with her bare feet, following the flow lives beneath her.
Tonight, there was a special place she wanted to see. The Paper Man had made her think, and she had decided to go to the Shoe Maker.
The journey took her through the jungle of pipes that made up their block and along one of the major pipe-lines to the rim of the city. She would have to skip swiftly to return before day-break. As she moved with swift steps and hops, the moon's light began to strike her tiny form and mighty shadows emerged behind her like ink in water, growing into ephemeral castles and forests with gargantuan trees. Rainbow-colored birds materialized from the monochromatic shade until–
"Huh?" She breathed in, surprised. A cloaked figure with a bird-beaked mask had skated past her. Then, another. And another.
The masked men had nets on poles, and they used them to catch the birds.
"Wait!" She exclaimed, turning around. The inky forests and castles flickered and shifted, but her birds were still there, and the men were catching them quickly. She reached her hand out towards them: "No, wait, you can have them! Just–"
They took their haul and dashed away, vanishing into the pipe-covered alleys.
"Just let me tell you their story..." she said quietly. A cloud had passed over the moon and the places and creatures spilling out of her had vanished with the light. She turned back around and ran across the large pipeline and did not stop until she could see it: A tiny, run-down shop, framed in thick pipes that went around it. Only the door and the display window still remained unobstructed. It was the Shoe Maker's workshop.
Slowly, she stepped towards it, lifting her hand to the door, but then she stopped. A large sign behind the glass read "Closed." She stepped to the side to look through the display window. There, on little pedestals were the most intricate and beautiful shoes she had ever seen, set in front of their colorful shoe boxes. Trying to get a close look, she pressed her nose against the glass until, suddenly, a clanking noise from around the corner startled her away. Uncertainly, she shuffled to the edge of the building and peeked into the alleyway.
There, atop the pipes, stood a couple of trash cans. The lid had fallen of one, and inside of it were shoes, nothing but shoes to the brim. She hurried over and looked at them. Most were quite ordinary-looking, nothing like the artful designs she had seen in the window. Though, unlike the window shoes, these looked like they would keep through long treks and stormy weather. Peering around furtively, she lifted a pair of brown boots out of the can and inspected it. They were roughly her father's shoe size. In fact, looking into the can, all of the shoes seemed like they might fit him.
She held her breath and, sitting down, pulled them over her tiny feet.
Suddenly, the world was different: There were no more pipes, no more featureless towers and building complexes. She was on the beach, and the moon looked fuller than ever. Great whales were gently drifting across the sky, diving into clouds and spewing steam from their mighty blowholes as their beautiful, booming song echoed eerily across the gentle waves below. She took in the scenery, awestruck. But her curiosity was too great to resist, so she took the boots off, finding herself back in the cold alleyway, the only song in her ears the churning of the pipes below her.
She sprung up, reached into the can and liberated another pair of boots, putting them on her feet. Now, she was standing on the moon itself, looking down onto the planet. Strange people with long legs and arms were converging on her from all sides, parting their hands wide as if to embrace her. Another pair of shoes: A tree so tall it's canopy was beyond the clouds, and a case of ivory stairs wound around its inconceivably broad trunk, leading upwards to the heavens. And another: A wedding, held in a beautiful clearing with little girls running about, garlands of fragrant flowers and foliage streaming behind them as they raised them up.
The girl ripped the shoes from her feet and tossed them haphazardly at the trash can. Her breathing was heavy now. The people... all the people that had owned these shows... all of them had seen worlds like her. And now their shoes were here, in the garbage...
She moved back slowly, not sure what to do next. Bump. She felt herself bumping into someone tall. Turning around, she saw an old man with white hair and a wizened face.
He was wearing a leather apron and looked down at her thoughtfully. "Oh my. I'm afraid those shoes won't fit your bare feet, little world. Those feet are not made for shoeing."
"Are you... the Shoe Maker?"
He lifted a sack he had brought with him and tossed it over to the trash cans. There were shoes inside. "I haven't made shoes in a while. They have factories for that now. But yes."
She looked around uncertainly; then took heart. "W-would you like to hear a story?" she asked hopefully.
The Shoe Maker sighed. "So it isn't shoes you want, it's a shoe box..."
She balled her little fists in frustration. "I just want to tell a story."
He shook his head sadly. "Store's closed. Come back tomorrow if you want to look at boxes, little world. You shouldn't be scurrying around this late. Someone might snatch you up. Shoo now, back to whoever made you..."
She watched him walk away and open a small door by one of the walls, vanishing inside. Slowly, her gaze turned back to the fresh sack of shoes. They have factories for that now. There were a million like her. Millions like her father. Why hadn't she seen anyone like herself at night. Where had they all gone? She looked down below her feet. The pipes were murmuring. What were they murmuring about...