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Writer’s Digest Your Story #68

Beach swim shoes drying on wood fence on Florida Beach

Writer’s Digest Your Story #68

Disappeared

It started off as a joke, those bright pink water shoes on an abandoned part of the fence post. There were six of us – we were spending a week at the outer banks, splitting the cost of one of those houses on the almost abandoned shoreline. We all laughed at her when she came out with that absurd bright footwear. She protested against our laughs, claiming avidly that once we felt the shore’s sharp rocks on our feet, we would wish for some ourselves. By the end of the day, we had come up with the idea – hanging the shoes on the old decaying fence post. Half of us bet someone would pluck them from the fence post, the other half that they would only point and laugh. In the end it wasn’t either of those.

We waited nearly the rest of the evening for someone to pass by that little quiet stretch of beach, drinking, laughing. All but Christy, who sat silently in the corner, watching her pink shoes resentfully. We teased her for that unmercifully, not knowing it would be the last evening spent with her. Eventually, a man came meandering down the beach – an older man, moving slowly, eyes sweeping from side to side. We shushed each other, watching eagerly for the reaction of our first contestant. But his eyes met with the pink shoes and he neither laughed nor took them down. He studied them, and then turned his eyes to us, huddled on the porch a ways beyond them. He studied us, slowly but surely stilling our chuckles. His eyes settled on Christy, staring until she lowered her own. Then he smiled, ever so slightly, and walked on. We argued about whether that counted as laughing or was only a smirk and went to bed that night, most dissatisfied with our experiment.

The next morning, she was gone. The remaining five of us argued on whether to report her missing or wait for her to come back. Surely she was only angry, had gone to cool off, and would be back soon. Would to God we had just gone home and reported her missing. Instead we went down to the beach, laughed, and fooled around as though nothing were awry, with an occasional nervous glance toward the pink shoes still flapping against the fence.

A couple hours later, Steven went in to get a snack. And never came out. A couple of us went looking for him but found no trace. Perhaps he had gone down the street to get more beer? We went back out to the beach while we waited for his return. An hour after, Maggie ran into the house to grab another towel. A thorough search of the house turned up nothing. The remaining three of us got together to discuss what to do, concluding we were paranoid, that the other three were grown-ups, and fully capable of deciding to go somewhere without telling us. Nonetheless, we didn’t stray too far from each other after that. And we didn’t go into the house. But it didn’t matter. Paige ran down the beach to get a better picture of a dolphin. One minute she was there, the next she wasn’t.

The remaining two of us went to find her, meeting in front of the pink shoes after a fruitless search. I tried to tell Chad everything was fine, but he wasn’t listening. I followed his gaze to the back of the shoes, where four neat holes had been punched. Three in the back of one, one in the back of another. I know we should have taken them down, but something made us scared to touch them.

We soberly went and sat on the porch steps, afraid to go inside, afraid to go to the beach, not sure what we were afraid of. We sat there two hours before Chad implored me to go in with him so he could use the bathroom. Reluctantly, I obeyed, waiting right outside the closed door. Only a few minutes after he entered, the lights turned off. In vain did I call his name, and bang on the locked door.

Then I went outside. Another notch had appeared in the back of the shoe. I sat down next to it and waited. I was the last to go. The last thing I remember is Christy’s face. “You should have let me be.” And one last notch was carved in the back of those pink shoes.

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