I scanned the distant patrons of the park, searching for her misshapen hat and baggy, drab clothing. Finding nothing but the usual mix of brightly colored spandex and fashionably layered earth-tones, I turned my gaze to the shadows, peering in both directions just to be sure. Only the darker green shade of the trees and the dull glint of metal from the trash cans stared back at me. Breathing a sigh of relief, I collapsed onto the park bench. She was gone.
Emotional control regained, I bent down to inspect my shoes. Maybe now I could figure out why I was stuck without panic-laden adrenaline clouding my thoughts. The broken-in canvas appeared the same as always, no signs of obvious tampering. But I still couldn’t pry them from the pavement.
“What’d you do, old woman? Pour Super Glue on the ground?” I mumbled, searching for clear residue around the edges of my soles. When I came up empty, I tried using the pencil to leverage the outer sole of my right shoe off the sidewalk. But the sharp tip wouldn’t even wedge between the cement and the hard, rubber tread, breaking off with a vicious crack.
Frustrated, I threw the worthless pencil at the river and sat, glaring at my unmoving feet. Faced with the possibility of walking home barefoot, two miles suddenly seemed incredibly daunting and I tried one last time to wrench my shoes free of their prison.
“Fine!” I snarled and started to untie the laces. “You win. Barefoot it is!”
Bracing myself for the walk home in soon-to-be wet socks, I lifted my right foot. Nothing. It remained solidly inside the shoe. I stared at it, uncomprehending, and tried again. Still nothing. I tried the left foot — same result. I could feel the ever waiting panic licking its chops, getting ready to pounce and tried wiggling my toes. They scraped against the inside of my shoes right on cue. Okay, so not paralyzed then. The disappointed panic retreated a little, but I knew it was pacing eagerly off-stage, ready to take control at the first crack in my composure. Determined this time, I pulled up on my feet as hard as I could.
No response. Again.
“Come on!” I cried, flailing like a four-year-old in a temper tantrum. “This isn’t even possible!”
Rational explanations were rapidly disappearing and the waiting panic was coiling, gearing up to strike. I didn’t understand. How were my feet stuck inside my shoes? There was no glue on earth capable of seeping through thick rubber soles!
Maybe I just hadn’t loosened the laces enough? Trying hard to convince myself that I wasn’t quickly joining the ranks of the insane, I bent down and pulled the laces as far out as they would go. I tugged on the tongues of the sneakers until they weren’t touching my socks at all. There was absolutely no way my feet could remain stuck.
And yet they were.
I stared at my shoes. For fifteen heartbeats, confused silence numbed my brain. The only sound was the progressively advancing rhythm of my heart, seconds ticking away on a bomb. Each one pounded through my head like an echo through a canyon, and I counted them to keep from spiraling into complete panic mode.
“What is that?” I leaned over to get a closer look. All around the edges of my soles, the white rubber was laced with grey. It was moving, creeping up the sides of the shoes like possessed paint. Cautiously, I reached out and touched it. There was no moisture, and it wouldn’t brush off no matter how hard I scraped at it. If anything, the afflicted surfaces felt harder, colder.
The grey was quickly devouring my shoes, it’s sinuous lines running over the canvas like poisonous veins. Already, the white of my soles were completely grey, the black canvas succumbing fast as the substance rounded over the edge of my toes. I had to do something, to get my feet out before whatever this was reached my skin.
Frantically, I searched the ground, wishing I hadn’t thrown away the pencil so quickly. There was a small stick under the bench, but it was almost outside my reach. I stretched as far as I could, twisting until I could feel its rough bark graze the tips of my fingers. “Just a little more,” I grunted, straining against the metal of the bench. Finally, I felt the edge of the stick roll into my grip. Victorious, I brandished it in front of me like a magic wand.
The grey had completely engulfed my shoes during my quest for a make-shift pry-bar, and I hurriedly shoved the stick between the top of my right foot and the tongue of the sneaker. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and pushed down on the stick, pulling back with my foot, praying that it would work. There was a sharp crack, and I felt the stick gouge into my skin.
“Ow! Son of a bitch!” I yelled, my eyes flying open. The sting was quickly forgotten though, and I stared, horrified, at the ground next to my foot. The stick had done it’s job, but not the way I’d expected. Instead of prying my foot out of the sneaker, it had broken off an entire chunk. There, on the pavement, lay a portion of the tongue and sidewall of my shoe, shattered like a piece from a statue. Dumbfounded, I picked it up, inspecting it from all angles until I was sure there was no other way to describe it.
The piece from my shoe was stone.