Along southbound I-35, a shoe found itself stuck right beside a dashed lane line during the afternoon rush. Marie Wingo saw the shoe from at least a dozen yards away. The shoe was black, or maybe dark brown. A leather shoe. Maybe size ten. Definitely a man's shoe.
In her distracted state, Marie's car drifted to the right and almost clipped the abandoned loafer. Swerving hard, she managed to spare the shoe while eliciting an angry honk from the next lane.
"Eat shit," she said as she straightened her wheel. She pulled out her phone, even though she had once pledged not to use it while driving. Some things were more important than pledges. There was no time to pull over now. She dialed 9-1-1 and frantically looked for the nearest mile marker while waiting for the operator.
"9-1-1 dispatch, what's your emergency?" came a voice neither friendly nor urgent. This dispatcher expected no emergency.
"There's a shoe in the middle of the interstate. A very nice shoe. Not like a ratty old shoe," Marie blabbered.
"Come again?" the voice even less urgent than before.
"I just drove past an abandoned shoe in the middle of the interstate. I almost hit it!"
"I'm sorry, but that's not an emergency."
"Sure it is. It's rush hour, and this is a really nice shoe. Someone is going to notice it's missing and come back for it. The shoe could be run over and ruin that person's day. Or even worse, the owner of the shoe could be run over."
"M'am, I assure you that this is not an emergency. People lose shoes all the time. Please hang up and focus on your driving. Talking on the phone while driving is much more likely to cause a death than a shoe in the middle of the road."
Frustrated, Marie closed her flip phone--the one her coworkers made fun of for being "archaic"--and tossed it on the passenger seat. This was an emergency. Any imbecile could see that. She glanced in the rearview to try to spot the shoe, but she had driven too far since the encounter. There was no shoe and no sign of shoe-related traffic problems behind her. She squeezed the wheel with her hands positioned at ten and two even though someone had recently told her that doing so was no longer considered safe. Old habits died hard for Marie Wingo.
She would have stopped and rescued the shoe herself, but she was running late for dinner. Her husband hated having dinner late.
At home, she told her husband about the shoe.
"What's the big deal?" Frank asked. "I see shoes on the road all the time." He shrugged and rummaged through the fridge, his back turned to Marie like he didn't care.
"But this wasn't just any shoe. It was a really nice shoe. The type someone will go back for. Someone is going to die on that road looking for that shoe."
Marie flipped on the news to watch for shoe-related tragedies. Nothing. Not even a mention of I-35 or a lost shoe. She must have missed that segment.
"Can we have dinner already?" Frank asked. "It's already 5:47."
For a moment, she ignored Frank. She thought about posting an ad on Craigslist, but then it occurred to her that this would cause a frenzy of crazed shoe hunters to abandon their vehicles and dodge traffic for the fine leather shoe. Before she could post on ad, she would need to recover the shoe herself. Then she could help find the rightful owner. Only someone who described the shoe in great detail would be worthy of taking it home.
After dinner, dishes, and her favorite 30-minute sitcom, Marie told Frank she was off to the grocery store for a couple quick things.
"We just went shopping yesterday," Frank said.
"This is an emergency. There's a potluck tomorrow and I need to pick up some things."
Frank shrugged. "Whatever. Just don't go spending a fortune. It's funny that you women spend twice as much on one dish for a potluck as you would on a nice home-cooked meal."
Marie left without responding. It angered her that Frank didn't understand the camaraderie of the potluck. It boosted office morale and separated the quality humans from the garbage. Hell, Frank didn't even bring anything when his office had a potluck, and she knew for a fact that he ate more than his fair share.
Of course, Marie had no intention of going to the grocery store. There was no potluck. Instead, she headed straight for I-35, driving north first and then exiting about two miles past where she thought she had seen the shoe. Her memory sometimes failed her, so she wanted to make sure she had plenty of chance to find the shoe. Her eyes had mostly adjusted to the darkening skies, so the shoe wouldn't be that hard to find. The contrast of the white lane line and the black leather would surely help. The lie she had told her husband about the grocery store invigorated her. She felt like an important detective, or maybe even a secret agent, and this feeling gave sudden clarity to her less-than-perfect vision.
She traveled four miles southbound without seeing the shoe. She exited and went back, this time ten miles past where she knew she had seen the shoe. Again she traveled south, but there was nothing. Once more she repeated this routine, this time giving herself fifteen extra miles, just in case she had really forgotten. During rush hour, everything looks the same.
On her third and final trip, Marie spotted something unusual, but it wasn't a shoe. She saw a chalk outline in an oval shape hugging the corner of her lane. Traffic was fairly light, so she pulled onto the shoulder and flipped on her hazards. She shook her head, wondering if she had really seen this bizarre sight. Marie stepped out of the car and made her way to the trunk, keeping both hands on the vehicle as she scuttled along the side of the highway. After rummaging through the trunk for a moment, she pulled out a flashlight. She slammed the lid and faced the roadway and the mysterious chalk outline.
Two cars whizzed by. Marie began to doubt whether or not she should venture onto the road. A large gap in the traffic gave her the confidence to leap out onto the road, her flashlight pointing at the spot she believed the shoe had formerly occupied.
She was halfway into the second lane of traffic when she knew with certainty that the chalk outline was a perfect match for the shoe that had been there a few hours prior. Glancing down the highway, she spotted a few cars in the distance, and she knew she had to act fast. She jogged over to the outline and touched it to make sure it was real. No chalky substance rubbed off on her finger, and she realized that chalk outlines weren't actually made of regular old chalk.
An oncoming vehicle closed in on her. Marie rose and prepared to exit the roadway. Just as she reached her car, a swirl of red and blue lights pulled up behind her.
"It's okay," she said aloud. "He just wants to help me because I broke down."
Marie began shaking and the still-lit flashlight slipped from her hands. She had no explanation behind this sudden nervousness, other than the fact that she had never been confronted by a police officer before.
The cop emerged from his vehicle with his firearm drawn. "Hands in the air!"
Marie's hands flew up.
"I said hands in the fucking air!"
"They are in the air," Marie blurted.
The officer approached and pushed her body against the car. He pressed the gun into her side. She expected him to feel her breasts and hips, but he kept his hands mostly to himself. Any contact he made carried no lust behind it, which disappointed Marie just a little.
"What were you doing out there?"
"Looking for a shoe," she whimpered.
"That's not what I saw." He pressed the gun deeper into her flabby gut.
"I swear, officer. I was just checking up on a shoe I saw earlier. I thought if I recovered it that I could maybe save someone the trouble."
The officer grabbed her arms and wrestled them behind her back. He slapped a pair of handcuffs on her and began to mumble something about her rights.
"What are you doing?" she asked, interrupting his spiel.
"Like you don't know. There's a warrant out for your arrest. Your car was implicated in a heinous crime that occurred on this very road earlier today."
"Heinous crime? What happened?"
The officer pressed hard against her, pinching her body on the car. "I'm asking the questions here. You know what you did."
"I didn't do anything, I swear. I was just here to help."
"More like here to cover up the tracks."
The officer dragged her to the police cruiser and shoved her in the back, her head grazing the doorframe on her way inside. The bump wasn't much, but combined with the sudden anxiety of a wrongful arrest, it was enough to knock her unconscious.
When Marie awoke, she was chained to the wall of a damp dungeon prison. Her head throbbed and it took several minutes for the black spots to fade from her line of sight. When clarity returned, she noticed she was not alone in the cell.
"What are you in for?" the grizzly-haired man said to her.
"Nothing. I didn't do anything. I swear I'm not guilty."
"You know, Peter denied being friends with Jesus thrice." The man shifted his position and the creaking and clanking chains made Marie shiver.
"Yes, I'm aware of that," she said.
"Will you still deny it then?"
Marie tugged at the chains, desperate to move around the cell, to move to the man. Although she found the man repulsive, she wanted to be in his arms, with his hands as the shackles around her.
"Yes, I do deny it."
"Then they will have no mercy on you."
The man closed his eyes and his head collapsed against the concrete wall.
"Who will have no mercy on me? What are you talking about? What do you know? Where are we?"
The grizzled man did not speak. She watched his stomach for heaves of breath, but the man remained completely still.
Marie waited for someone to check on her, but no one came. She wished she could at least see outside to gauge how much time had elapsed since her arrest. It could have been years. She longed to see her face, wondering if she had a similar appearance to the unkempt man who now seemed dead before her eyes. It wasn't the first death she had witnessed.
Marie's stomach howled, and in spite of a suffocating thirst, her bladder ached for relief. When she couldn't keep her muscles clenched any longer, she allowed the bladder to empty itself. The urine soaked through her clothing and dripped onto the musty floor. She tried to sleep, but could find no comfort in her soiled position. She stared at the man, wondering how long he had been there, wondering what had driven him to such despair.
As she stared, her eyes drifted down to his feet. The left was swollen and blistered, a foot that had traversed hundreds of brutal miles. The right still bore a shoe of deep leather. Maybe size 10. Definitely a man's shoe.
Nathaniel Tower lives in Minnesota with his wife and two daughters. He writes weird fiction, juggles, and manages the online lit mag Bartleby Snopes. His short story collection Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands is out now through Martian Lit. Find out more about Nathaniel athttp://nathanieltower.com