Thursday, January 25, 2018

"Walk A Mile In Dead Man's Shoes"...A Short Story

Dan Jessop kicked the front driver's-side tire on his '97 Subaru and cursed. His usually-reliable car now sat immobile on the side of a two-lane road that linked the small town of Alta Wyoming to the rest of the world.

"You picked a fine time to die, little car." Dan said, his breath shown in the full moonlight then immediately vanished in a gust of cold winter wind. He zipped the zipper on his heavy down coat as high as it would go until the fabric covered his mouth and nose as another gust of wind hit him. He turned so the back of his head took the brunt of the bone-chilling cold.

To make matters worse, Dan left his cell phone at his sister's house. He thought he wouldn't need it. After all, he was just driving the five miles into Driggs Idaho to pick up more ice cream for their mini family reunion. Why his sister decided to move from Malibu California to one of the coldest places on Earth, he'd never know. And why he chose to leave his relatively warm apartment in St. George Utah to visit his sister in the middle of January, he'd also never know.

The twenty-seven year old stood by his car. He thought of trying to get it started one more time, but he somehow knew his latest attempt would yield the same result as the past twenty--no good. He looked at the frozen vista before him and contemplated his choices--stay with the car and hope someone at his sister's house would go searching for him, go back to the road and try and flag down a ride, or walk the mile and a half up to his sister's house.

He chose the latter. Leaving the newly-bought ice cream behind, he started out. 

After all, it wasn't as if he'd never been cold. He'd grown up in Salt Lake and it got cold there. But there was something about this cold, like a physical manifestation of death reaching out to claim its latest victim, it bore into him. The thought made him walk a little quicker.

A few feet into his hike, Dan saw something at the side of the road. At first he thought it was a dead animal. Strange, though,  a dead animal would be a top a foot of hardened snow. Curiosity caused him to deviate a few feet until he stood directly over the thing that caught his eye.

"Strange," Dan said to the lonely night. "I wonder how these got here." Dan looked down at a pair of dress shoes, brown Oxfords. He bent down, picked up the right one, and held it up to the moonlight to get a better look. The shoe was scuffed, the leather on one side scraped as if dragged along the pavement. He turned it over to check the tread life. After all, it's not everyday you find a nice pair of shoes, Dan thought. Written on the bottom of the shoe in black ink, Dan read, "Property of Allen Edmond, Alta WY."

"Hmmmm," a sound came from Dan's throat. "Well Al, hope you find your shoes," Dan said as he dropped the shoe next to its mate. The wind convinced him he ought to pick up his pace before he died of exposure on the state line between Idaho and Wyoming.

Dan tried whistling to break up the boredom, but any sound he produced died in the goose feathers of his coat. The howl of the wind and his own boots crunching on the frozen road kept him company. The unfamiliarity of the area made Dan wonder on more than one occasion if he was truly alone. He turned and looked on more than one occasion to see if he was being followed, or if some animal were tracking him. Each time he look, he saw nothing but darkness and lights from distant homes.

The walk continued. Dan calculated he'd walked about a mile--he used to run cross country in high school. He even spotted his sister's house in the distance and a strange thought crept into his head. Was the ice cream sitting on the passenger seat in the Subaru colder in the car than it would be with him?. Either way, it'd be okay. They'd go get it when he reached the house. Or someone would--all he wanted to do was sit by the roaring fire in the fireplace.

The moonlight cast a shadow on the road before him, only this time it wasn't a telephone pole, power pole, or fence. The shadow formed a cross. Dan looked and saw a marker to his right at the side of the road. Poking up a foot above the snow was a wooden cross. Dan knew instantly what it was. As he traveled north--not just on this trip, but on several occasions--Dan noticed white crosses sometimes adorned with flowers or candles. He knew this very spot was a place someone died. 

The practice of honoring the dead this way wasn't as popular in his home state of Utah, but in the smaller towns in the adjoining states, he noticed these memorials more and more. Knowing how close he was to reaching his goal, Dan walked over to the monument. Though hard to see, he bent down to read the words etched into the wood.

"R.I.P Allen Edmonds who was hit by a car and died at this very spot. Your loving family."

"What...?" Dan said. He read the name twice, then again to make sure. "Well, ain't that a kick in the teeth. I know it's not going to do you any good, Al, but your shoes are about a mile down this road. They're next to a piece of crap Subaru, if you need help finding them."

Dan chuckled, then turned to go. He took three steps forward then stop dead. Ten feet in front of him, in the frozen moonlight Dan saw two shoes, brown Oxfords. If it were possible for shoes to have eyes, they'd be staring directly at him.

"What the..." Dan let his words escape into the night. He slowly walked toward the shoes, unearthly light seemed to shine down on them, making the objects brighter than anything else. He drew nearer, almost expecting the shoes to suddenly attack him.

They didn't move.

Dan crept closer until he stood almost directly over the pair. He recognized the scuff marks on the right shoe. He looked up and saw his sister's house. The urge to leave the shoes behind and run overcame him, but he beat it down.

He had to know.

Dan bent down. He extended his right hand, not knowing if the shaking was due to fear or the freezing wind. His skin touched the leather of the shoe. He picked it up and slowly tuned it over.

""Property of Allen Edmond, Alta WY." The words seemed to blaze in the moonlight.

Dan dropped the shoe. It bounced once then came to rest directly next to the other, landing in the exact position it was before Dan picked it up.

The urge to run returned. This time Dan answered it. He ran to his sister's house faster than he had run since high school.

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