The thunderheads were rolling westward, chuckling loudly to each other about which one of them had pelted the Walking Man with the largest raindrops or had battered him with the strongest gusts of wind.

The Walking Man now had two shoes that made sickening suction noises with every step. His pace had slowed considerably because of the irritating blisters forming on his achilles tendon. The water had softened his calloused feet to the point where they were swollen, and his shoes no longer fit properly. He had paused occasionally to retie his wingtips, but the overworked leather refused to readjust to the feet now occupying them.


The Walking Man paused again, allowing his blisters to become more familiar with the nerve endings that signalled pain. Off to the west were multicolored lights, briefly outshined by the quarreling thunderheads. He hadn't seen a single vehicle in over four hours, and the dusky sky didn't want to promise him any more company except more storms.

He turned up the dirt road towards the lights. By the time he arrived at Boris's Tradin' Post, his feet had become numb. The rain soaked clothes stuck to his body like paper mache, and he picked at them as he entered the diner portion of the establishment.

"Lordy, has your car brokin' down?" asked the brassy-tressed waitress. "You been walkin' in those storms, honey?"

"Coffee, oatmeal," croaked the Walking Man. He hadn't spoken in days, and he could feel his bodily defenses losing the battle with an invading flu virus. He squitch-FWOPPed to a booth which faced the road he had been traveling.

He had no choice but to remove the shoes. They were business shoes, brown and expensive. He remembered dropping two hundred-dollar bills on the counter when the salesman had rung up the purchase. If he could only have those two bills now...

He forced himself to look at the damage. His socks were clinging to him with water, blood and puss-coated tendrils. He peeled the socks off with a grimace and put them inside his ruined footwear. He could hear the bustling waitress approaching, so he slid them further under the table.

She put a large mug of hot coffee and a bowl of oatmeal in front of the man. His quick glance upwards towards her face revealed that she was much older than he had first assumed. Wrinkles had settled in around her eyes, wrinkles that told of her life wishing, wanting yet never receiving what she yearned for when she was young, when men courted her and ached for her. Her escape had run off with her opportunity, leaving her older and married to someone who could provide her with everything but what what was needed to fill the void in her heart.

She gingerly placed two Tylenols down by his hand. "Them's ain't no good shoes for traveling. What's your name, if you don't mind my askin'?"

He swept the two pills up in his hand and placed them in his mouth. "I'm walking," he mumbled as he washed the pills down with the hot coffee. He could feel the caffeine almost immediately, causing his body and face to flush.

"Well, Mr. Walker, you need some shoes that won't cause your feet to git hurt. My husband Earl has some shoes in the tradin' post, if you'd want to buy some." Her tone showed her intentions were honorable; she was genuinely concerned about the welfare of the stranger.

He shook his head, his money had almost become extinct. She stood up and patted his hand, and as she turned he could hear her whisper, "Poor dear."

She went around the counter to talk to the stocky man in the kitchen. The Walking Man caught occasional glimpses of a man who knew better than to argue with a wife he was lucky to have landed. He grunted back at her a few times as she talked in hushed tones, then left out a side door towards the closed-for-business trading post.

A few minutes later, as the Walking Man swallowed the last glob of mushy oatmeal, she returned with a shoebox, a tube of ointment and three pairs of thick socks. The box contained a pair of name-brand hiking boots. A large price tag loudly proclaimed $175.00. "Don't you worry about that, that's a tourist price. Anyway, it's actually a factory second, but it don't bother the wearing any, just the looks."

The Walking Man was unaccustomed to kindness. He looked at the box for a few minutes, wondering what to say or do. She saw the hesitation and thought for a minute herself. "Here's Earl's information, dear. When you can, you just send what you think they're worth to him."

Again, her hand patted his. The caffeine and the warm oatmeal were nothing compared to the warmth of the contact of her work-worn hand on his. His eyes misted up, and she excused herself. He stuck his hands inside his coat pocket to touch the two cold metal rings that were contained within.

She went to talk to Earl, who was closing up the trading post. He knew she was going to give away those god-damned shoes. She was a soft-hearted fool who treated every lost soul who traveled the highway as if they were a two week old puppy.

When she came back into the diner, the stranger was gone. Next to the empty coffee mug was a napkin with the words Thank You scrawled across it. On top of the napkin was a man's wedding ring, made of two ounces of thick platinum.

The ointment was having a positive reaction on the Walking Man's feet. His left hand played with the now-single metal ring in his pocket, one normally worn by a woman. The specialized weatherproof hiking boots, coupled with the thick cotton socks, eased the pain in his soles and in his soul.


The Past ::: The Future

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