I lived and worked in a town where ‘horse sense’ was still a commonly used and understood phrase. People still sat out in front of a store that was still called Nelson’s Mercantile, “Ayup” was an accepted answer, and most discussion about town residents involved a short genealogy report along with the news.
It suited me fine. After the ugly and well publicized divorce (You’ve not truly felt like a slug until you’ve heard Nancy Grace sneer your name…), the fiasco that was the Jonsenberg case, and the equally publicized drunken soiree though Macy’s, I wanted nothing to do with cities, or anything remotely resembling them. So I’d sold off everything, packed my bags, and relocated (eventually) to Monville, KY. While it was named after the founder of the nearby sawmill, one Willhelm Mondowski, I liked to spell it “MONville” in my head, for Middle Of Nowhere-ville.
Monville sported the aforementioned mercantile, an honest-to-God one room schoolhouse, a joint doctor and dentist office, three churches of indeterminate denomination, a small beauty parlour (“Marleen’s Hair n’ Nails”) attached to Dylan’s Auto Body, and the town newspaper, where I held sway.
Like I said, it suited me.
I’d stumbled across the “Newspaper Business For Sale” advertisement in the regional paper while driving aimlessly cross country trying to escape. I’d pulled over at the next pay phone (having tossed my phone into the Hudson), and bought it on the spot. Now I lived in the apartments upstairs, and printed out a small weekly newspaper on the ancient printing press in the back room. Nothing too fancy; birth and deaths and weddings as they happened, news from the few other towns in the area, a smattering of sporting events, and the ever popular gossip and advice column, written by the mysterious ‘Ms. X’.
Mostly Ms. X’s bits were gleaned from the latest chatter from outside Nelson’s, or from a cordial discussion with Marleen while her husband Dylan was occupied fixing some beater. The usual small town gossip; ‘So-and-so had been seen talking with that person.’, ‘Unnamed someone had special ordered fancy French perfume from New York.’, ‘Young man & girl spotted holding hands.’. Nothing shocking, although I occasionally had the urge to inflict full NYC style society page drivel on my readers.
My usual routine involved walking out in the afternoon, making a slow circuit around town, down one of the dusty lanes a ways, then back into town where I’d filter through the chatter for next Sunday’s column over a bottle of soda. Same old, but comforting. I’d developed the routine of making up little stories about the scenery I passed- That gnarled old oak by the Henson place was really a portal to the underworld, and that’s why Mr. Henson was such a cranky bastard…The boarded up Jones’ place was a secret mob hideout… That big brown stallion over off of Main wanted to eat me (I could tell by the way he looked at me.)…
I’d been out for my usual walk, pondering the mystery of ‘shoes hanging on the power line’-Why is there always some hanging off the wires, no matter where you go? Urban wisdom was that they marked the location of drug houses, but out here that was unlikely. Maybe there was a story in there somewhere…, when it came to me that there was a lot more noise in town than usual. Coming out of my budding novelist fog, I hurried over to Nelson’s, where a respectable sized crowd had gathered around a breathlessly hysterical Maureen.
“I’m telling you, he’s gone!” Maureen was screeching “And if he’s not over at that…that… blonde hussy’s house, then where is he?!”
‘That blonde hussy’ was Annabelle Taylor, Maureen’s arch rival. They’d been in competition for darn near everything since they both flounced into kindergarten- from who got to say the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning, to who was class president, to homecoming queen, coming to a head in the five years they were eligible for the Miss Monroe County crown, which Annabelle won 3 years, and Maureen 2. Maureen had her revenge by romancing Dylan right out from Annabelle’s nose. Local scuttlebutt had it that Dylan had never quite taken to married life, and dallied with Annabelle on a regular basis, although no one had ever been able to prove it, really.
Miss Annabelle, for her part, was sitting over on a chair someone had pulled out of Nelson’s, sobbing denials, and holding a rag to the nasty nail scratches down her face. A small gaggle of supporters were clustered around her, glaring at Maureen.
Maureen had paused in her diatribe, and blew her nose noisily into a hankie as I approached. I followed up her honk with a throat clearing of my own, and everyone turned to look at me.
“I hesitate to bring it up, but I did do some investigative work before I arrived here. Perhaps if someone could bring me up to speed, we could figure out what’s happened?”
I waited a bit, while the assembled translated city talk into local, and Maureen waved the hankie at me in distress.
“Dylan, well, he’s been comin’ home late all week long. Says he’s been working on Bobby’s roadster, but everyone knows he runs off to be with her, right under my nose, I don’t know why I put up with it!” she started to sob again, and I had to prompt her to keep going.
“Well, last night we finally had words about it, yellin’ back and forth. He grabbed his keys, and I said if he walked out that door to go soothe hisself on that woman’s shoulder, he might as well forget ever coming back in that door! He stomped out anyhow, and I heard him rev his truck engine and take off down the road! And now no one can find him!”
I turned to Joe Roy, the closest thing town had for a sheriff. He shrugged “Maureen called me this morning; she’d marched over to Annabelle’s to demand her husband back, but they weren’t there. She she figured they were in town, so when she got to Nelson’s and Annabelle was there, they got into a cat fight. But Annabelle says she doesn’t know where Dylan is, either. And his truck isn’t in town. As far as I’m concerned, he’s probably just gone for a long drive to get over being hen-pecked.” He gave Maureen a Look. Joe’s always been in the Annabelle camp.
I patted Maureen awkwardly on the shoulder. “He probably did go for a drive to cool down some, Maureen. You know how men get sometimes, we need our space.”
She snorted loudly into her hankie and nodded. Figuring the whole thing was settled, but the work day pretty much shot, I grabbed a beer from Nelson’s and decided I needed some space, myself.
So I set off down Crabapple Lane, figuring that I’d walk by Dylan & Maureen’s place; and if I took that route, and maybe I’d see Dylan driving back. It was a nice walk, scenic in that way that only random country lanes can be. There was even a pair of sneakers hanging off the wires, a worn pair with a big logo on the side, so I could get back to my wondering about the phenomenon. About ten minutes later, the penny dropped and I stopped in the middle of the road, trying to parse the detail my brain had just noticed.
Confused, I jogged back to where the shoes dangled off the middle of the power line, and just stared at them. Sure enough, they were a pair of standard issue high-top sneakers, nothing special. What was different, was the logo patch on the side of one of the shoes. Not the shoe brand, but a custom patch reading “DYLAN’S AUTO BODY-MONVILLE”.
What the hell were Dylan’s shoes doing hanging off of a power line? And if his shoes where there, where was Dylan? He didn’t seem the type to go driving an old truck barefoot.
The question dogged me all the way back to town, and was still bugging me when I saw Joe outside Nelson’s. This gave me an idea.
“Hey Joe?” I called at him.
He waved, and started towards me. “Ayup?”
“Do you know how they get shoes off the power line around here?”
He skritched his beard while thinking about it. “Well, over by the city, they get one of the power trucks out to do it. But ‘round here, I’m thinking Manny does it with his cherry picker. Manny’s a bit of an odd duck, hmm?”
“MMhmm. Thanks, Joe”
Manny was an odd duck, about as odd as this city boy out in the middle of farmland, but he made me look fairly normal. Reclusive, skittish, lots of odd deliveries. I suspected some sort of PTSD. Something was making my Spidey Sense twitch, though- so I was off to talk to him.
Manny’s place was about a mile outta town, and I was walked out for the day, so I hopped in my car and headed over. Despite him being a recluse, you couldn’t miss the place if you tried. He’d managed to get broadband cable wired out this far, and he had a couple satellite dishes in the yard. Add in a few HAM radio antennae, and the place looked more like a bunker than a farmhouse. Then again, if it was PTSD, that might not be far off.
I parked just outside the gate, got out of the car, and hollered. “Hellooo the house! Hey Manny!”
A balding guy with glasses poked his head out of the door, looking startled at having a visitor. At least he wasn’t aiming a gun at me. That could happen out here, if you didn’t introduce yourself to homeowners properly.
“Oh! Hi! Come on in!” Manny chirped, and his head disappeared back inside. Figuring that was as much welcome as I was going to get, I slipped passed the gate, and into the house.
It was not what I was expecting. The front room seemed normal enough- sofa, coffee table, tv, a couple of lamps; but Manny hollered “I’m in here!” from another room, and that room was…different. It looked like a scene from The X-Files. You know, the episode with the Lone Gunmen, and the charts on the wall and all? Yeah, like that. There were maps of the area with pins, and string from those to newspaper clippings, and file folders stacked on everything. Manny was hunched over a computer, typitytyping away at the keyboard. He completely ignored me for a minute, until he hit ‘ENTER’ with a decisive click, and turned to face me.
“Sorry about that, I really needed to get the scope configured for the night, otherwise I’ll get all distracted and the data will be full of holes.” He lead me back out to the living room as he spoke, and flopped in a chair, sending up a small cloud of dust. “Now, what can I do for you?”
I sat more gingerly in my chair, not wanting to send up my own cloud, and noting that this room really didn’t get used much.
“Joe said you’re the one who collects shoes from the power lines around here. You work for the power company or something?”
Manny cocked his head to one side, looking like a bald puppy. “No, nothing like that. I just…think things look nicer without them hanging there.” He narrowed his eyes, now looking like a slightly suspicious bald puppy. “Why, did you find some?”
I nodded “As a matter of fact, I did. Just over on Crabapple.”
He jumped from his seat, all out of proportion to an announcement about lost shoes
“Crabapple?! Crabapple! Really?”
He raced back to his…operations… room. By the time I got there he was frantically ruffling through papers.
“There was a spike in the gravity field last night, but I couldn’t localize it! Crabapple! Why, that means it might have happened right in front of me, and I wasn’t watching!” He let out a dismayed groan, and spun around to look at me. “I have to get those shoes!”
He dashed back past me, and out a side door, grabbing a set of keys on the way. I went out the front door to my own car, and when I saw the old cherry picker pull out of a side driveway, I pulled in front of it, and drove to where I’d seen the shoes.
Pulling over to the side of the road, I watched as he parked the picker, pulled on what looked like a hazmat suit of all things, and loaded a wooden, rubber tipped pole into the basket. The with the remote in one hand, and the pole in the other, he raised the basket to the level of the shoes- and carefully, slowly, lifted the shoes from the high-voltage wire. I resisted the urge to shot “Be careful!” at him. He’d obviously done this before, even if it would make any real lineman scream in horror.
The basket lowered, and he hopped out. Lowering the hood of his suit, he stared at me accusingly. “These are Dylan’s shoes!”, like he was sure I’d put them up there myself.
“Yeah, they are. And he’s missing.”
“You’d better come back to the house and tell me everything.”
Over a pot of very nice pu erh tea we chatted. I filled him in on the drama of the morning, he filled me in on the purpose of all his equipment. Or, well, he tried to fill me in- he quickly got far too technical for me; but what I gathered was that he was a UFO hunter (he did glare at me when I’d gone “What? Like the X-Files?”), and he’d been trying to prove a connection between electromagnetic disturbances and UFO sightings and/or abductions.
“So where…”I asked around a sip of tea “…do the shoes come in?”
He pulled up a map on his laptop. “I don’t know, actually. Dylan’s shoes are the first time I’ve been able to prove a pair of shoes, found at the sight of a geomagnetic fluctuation, also belong to someone that’s gone missing.” He turned the screen towards me “But here’s where, in this county alone, there’s been pairs of shoes found near the site of unusual activity.”
I peered at the screen, there were ten bright red pins on the map. “All these had shoes hanging off the power lines?”
He shook his head and jabbed his finger at the screen. “Only these four. The other six the shoe, or shoes, were just laying on the ground.” His fingers typed out a rapid tattoo of commands, and another set of pins appeared on the map, some of these with bright blue arrows pointing to the red pins. “And here’s disappearances, and their distance to shoe-and-anomaly locations of the same gender.”
I pondered this new set of data. As weird as it all sounded, there were several shoes and missing person pairings. “Have you ever talked to the authorities about this?”
Suddenly, his cup of tea was very interesting, and he stared at it. I waited patiently until he looked up and said “Once. I did once. When a pair of shoes showed up right around the time that girl from Lee Junior High went missing. The shoes were hers, her parents ID’ed them. I said I’d found them on the wires. But then she showed up dead, all those weird marks on her body, and suddenly everyone really wanted to know where I’d really found the shoes, and no one believed me that I was just watching for anomalies…” he grew very silent again “…they couldn’t prove anything, so they let me go. I don’t ask for help from the police, anymore.”
Well, I suppose being a UFO hunter and being accused of murder would make one a recluse, so the mystery of Manny was solved, but not the mystery of Dylan. Wracking my brain for possibilities, I lit on something that might be useful. “Manny, you said you couldn’t prove a connection between the shoes and the disappearances, right?”
“And you can’t go asking for help identifying the shoe owners, because that would be risking police involvement?”
“Ayup. I’d rather not sit in a cell for weeks on end again, thank you very much.”
“No doubt. But Manny, do you still have those shoes?”
He did, and they were all carefully ziplocked individually with dates, times and GPS coordinates on them. After much persuading, he let me take the box home with me- where I photographed each bag for continuity, rebagged them with generic ID numbers, and packed them carefully for shipment to NYC.
Three weeks later, my buddy George called… “Maaannn, I do not know where you got those shoes, but I ran DNA on all of them like you asked- get this, all but two of them are from people in Kentucky who went missing. Three of those people have never been found, but five of them? Those five people all were found, anywhere from days to months later, and all of them claim to have been abducted by aliens. What the heck are you sitting on, dude?”
“Hang tight George, and you’ll see.” I chuckled as I hung up the phone.
Now… Manny is famous. Seems an anonymous story went out on the wire about the mysterious connection between found shoes, and stories of alien abduction, and the fearless researcher who pursued the Truth, even in the face of false accusations of murder. TV crews came out, interviews were done, even that Ancient Aliens guy with the Babylon 5 Centauri haircut got in on the act. All sorts of weird theories are going around about why abductees lose their shoes as they are beamed up into the spaceship- my favorite has to do with rubber’s natural affinity for Mother Earth and thus it has spiritual resistance to the force of the beam. Or some such BS.
Oh, and the mystery of Dylan? Not abducted by aliens, more’s the pity. He’d gone and pulled his sneakers off in a fit of pique and chucked them at the sky, because they’d been a present from Maureen- only to be unable to find them on the ground, because they never made it there. Not the brightest crayon, our Dylan.
He actually had driven barefoot over to Hamston, gotten rip-roaring drunk, tried to drive home but ended up in a ditch. He was too damn embarrassed to walk barefoot all the way home, so he’d just passed out there in the field and slept for 18 hours. Joe Roy found him and dragged his sorry ass back to town.
George sent me a bottle of 20 year old whisky and begged me to come back to New York. I told him no way in hell, life was much more interesting in the Middle of Nowhere.