Walk a Mile
Walk a Mile. The odd name sparked Mike's curiosity, and he wandered over to the small shop's window. Once he saw the merchandise, he had to groan. Used shoes. The owner had a sense of humor, at least. Walk a mile in another man's shoes, as the old saying went. The proprietor had even carried the theme over to his warranty. A small sign proclaimed "Walk a mile in a pair of our shoes, and return for full refund if not satisfied.'
Although he hadn't ever bought used clothing before, Mike found himself looking over the selection. The variety was surprising. Everything from military dress shoes to high-tech athletic sneakers were lined up on the rack, with slippers, sandals, and even a pair of ballerina's slippers. Just above the slippers was a nail holding four metal ovals. He had to laugh.
What the Hell? He had some time to kill. Mike went inside for a better look. A rather frumpy-looking woman of indeterminate age was sorting through a pile of shoes, apparently trying to match up pairs.
She smiled at him without pausing in her work. "I'll be with you in a minute, dear. Feel free to look around. Try on anything you like."
Unlike most shoe stores, there didn't seem to be any order to her selections.
Children's sneakers sat amongst spike heels and penny loafers. Well, maybe she'd know what she had off the top of her head. He moved back to the counter. "Excuse me? Do you have anything in size 9?"
The woman clucked her tongue. "Don't fret about sizes, dear. Whatever you see that you like, I'll have it to fit you."
Smirking, Mike hefted one of the horseshoes. "Anything?"
Instead of laughing at his attempted joke, she shrugged. "I have those available in pony, mule, riding horse, and draft sizes. Oh, and of course, jackass."
Ouch! "Touche." Mike grinned and put the horseshoe back. "How about some boots?"
She gestured towards the far wall, and went back to sorting again. Sure enough, there were several pairs of dress and work boots on the shelves.
Some were like new, but he found himself attracted to a rather worn, but sturdy pair of cowboy boots near the bottom. Silver spurs jingled on the heels, and the dark brown leather was embossed with bucking broncos and cattle.
Picking one up, he was disappointed to see they were far too big. 13EEE. He could get both feet into one of these. Still, she'd said she had other sizes. Hefting the boot into the air, he gave her a hopeful look. "Got anything like this in a smaller size?"
Putting down what looked like a pair of baseball spikes, the woman came over with a somewhat annoyed expression. "I told you I can fit you with anything you like. Those what you want?" He nodded. "Then sit down over there and take off the shoes you have on."
Mike did as he was told, expecting her to go into the back for another pair.
Instead, she simply took the matching boot from the rack and brought the monstrously large ones over for him to try on. He didn't know if he should laugh or not. "Uh, those are way too big. Do you have anything smaller?"
"Nonsense!" The woman grabbed his foot and slipped one of the boots on.
"There! See? It fits perfectly."
He started to tell her that it most certainly did NOT fit, only to stop when he realized the boot was snug. Weird. It must have been mismarked. They still looked huge, though. Curious, he slipped the other boot on. Like the first, it seemed like it would have to be way too big, yet it felt like it had been made for him.
"Go ahead. Try them out." The woman pointed towards the door. "Like the sign says, you can walk up to a mile in them and still bring them back. But if you walk any further than that, they're yours."
Mike stood uncertainly, not used to the restrictive leather around his ankle.
The boots did feel wonderful. After a couple of cautious steps, he quickly adjusted and found himself almost swaggering as he strode out the door.
And was suddenly sprawled face down in hard-packed dirt. Funny. He didn't remember falling. Shouldn't the sidewalk outside the store be concrete? He pushed himself off the reddish clay, feeling somewhat dazed. Other hands helped him up, and he found himself looking at a couple of characters out of a Western movie.
"You OK, Jake?" A weathered-looking cowpoke with a bushy, salt-and-pepper mustache gave him a worried look. The other man, also dressed like a refugee from Gunsmoke, brushed off Mike's shirt. "You had us worried, boy! The way you hit the ground, I was sure you'd broke yore fool neck!"
More than a little confused, Mike looked around and discovered that he was in what appeared to be a large corral. A huge black stallion was stomping around on the far side, reins swinging in front of it. Beyond the corral, grassy plains stretched out as far as the eye could see. Oh, there was a barn, and a big, old-fashioned ranch house in the distance. But no sign of the city he had lived in for the past 10 years.
As his head cleared, Mike also realized that both men a little shorter than him. At several inches shy of six feet, , he wasn't used to looking down on anyone except children and women. And what was this guy calling him ‘boy' for? At best, the man wasn't more than a few years older than Mike's 34.
"Where am I? And who are you?" His questions brought renewed concern to the two men.
"I tol' you that he hit his head!" The mustached fellow held up his hand.
"How many fingers do you see?"
Annoyed, Mike grabbed the man's wrist firmly. "I Just walked out of a shoe store, and somehow I ended up here. Where is this place? And what the Hell am I doing here?" There was real concern in the man's eyes, and Mike let go in sudden embarrassment. "You have two fingers up. Please, could one of you tell me where I am, and why you keep calling me Jake?"
The other man shook his head and sighed. "You're on the Pearson Ranch, in the Montana territory. And ‘cept for a couple trips into town every now and then, you've lived here since you was born near 20 years ago. Yer name is Jake Tucker. Yer Daddy's worked here ever since he came West in '88."
That was a big help. These cowboys thought he was some 19 year-old kid named Jake. But if this Jake's father had come in 1988, how could he have a son who'd lived here for almost 20 years? He shook his head. This was crazy.
Maybe he had fallen and hit his head. That would explain a lot. Yeah, that was it. He'd fallen and gotten some sort of concussion, and all this was just a delusion.
A pretty realistic delusion. He could smell a powerful odor which must be coming from the two men. Old sweat, horses, and dirt. Like they hadn't bathed for days. Maybe weeks. Worse, part of that smell was also coming from him. He ran his hand over his head to check for a bruise, and found a mass of long, thick, hair. His cheeks were completely free of his normal coarse stubble, and a glance down confirmed that his body was leaner and taller than it should be. And younger.
Everything had changed. Except the boots. They were unchanged. No, they looked just a bit different. Under the dust, the leather seemed shinier, less scuffed. Newer. He stared at them for a moment. Walk a mile in another man's shoes? Nah, it couldn't be. Yet, here he was in a place he'd never been before, wearing somebody else's body. Something else the man had mentioned suddenly struck home. "What year is it?"
Another concerned look from the mustached man. "Nineteen hundred and fifteen. May 18th. Why? What year did you think it was, Jake?"
1915? World War One was just starting up in Europe. Cars and planes were still almost unknown, especially in this part of the country. And Mike wouldn't even be born for almost fifty years. The idea was terrifying and intriguing at the same time. If he wasn't hallucinating all of this.
"Come on, boy." The mustached man gently tugged at Mike's sleeve. "I want yer momma to check you out. I tol' yer Pa that ol' Thunderbolt was too ornery for you, Jake. If yer Paw hadn't OK's it, I'd never have let you try that monster."
Mike was being guided towards the farmhouse. As they walked across the field, he was struck by the incredible clearness of the sky, and the unbroken expanse of land. How could he be hallucinating this? He'd never even imagined anything so beautiful. Another tug on the sleeve made him pull his arm away. "I'm OK, Sam. It wasn't anything to get all worked up about."
Sam? Where had that name come from? Yet he knew that the mustached man's name really was Sam, Sam Bennings. And the other was Josh Blake. Friends.
As they got closer to the house, Mike suddenly realized that they had walked a good distance. Stopping suddenly, he sat down on the ground and began tugging at the right boot, trying to pull it off. As it slid off, the two men and the rolling fields seemed to blur and shift, overlaid by the shadowy image of a familiar-looking shopping center sidewalk.
It really was the boots! All he had to do to go back was pull off the shoes.
Before he walked a full mile. The image of the shopping center cleared a bit as he got the boot halfway off. And then he stopped. Did he really want to go back? Not that his old one had anything wrong with it. He liked his job as a computer systems analyst, he had friends, and a nice place to live.
But as Jake, he could try a whole new way of life. Or old way, depending on how you looked at it. No computers, or TVs, or nuclear weapons. Just horses, open land, and clean air.
He tugged the boot back on suddenly and scrambled up. "Race you to the house!" And he took off running. Josh and Sam shouted and cursed, falling quickly behind as Mike stretched his legs. There was a bit of confusion about what had gone on back in the corral, but he was feeling really great now. The closer he got to the ranch house, the clearer things got. And by the time Jake got to the front porch, he wasn't confused at all.
Back at "Walk a Mile," the woman saw the black leather walking shoes suddenly vanish from the chair where Mike had left them, and reappear on the shelf where the boots had been. Nice merchandise. Healthy, successful professional, mid-thirties. She wouldn't have any trouble passing them on to someone looking to be re-souled
Walk a Mile copyright 1997 by Bob Stein.
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