In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the land of the vehicleless, the shoemaker is king.
With the complete exhaustion of oil resources and the death of horses in the great horse plague, humanity took to its feet in earnest. Folks hadn’t done this much walking since the invention of the ox cart in Mesopotamia three thousand years in the past. Now, everybody walked. In the small town of Legume, Kansas, Jack made their shoes.
Jack liked to say that he knew twice as much as anybody else in town, because he knew all the right feet as well as all of the left. The doctors sent their foot patients to Jack. He could cure a foot with a shoe.
Jack wasn’t married, but he was secretly in love with Lorrie, because of her right foot. There was something about it. He couldn’t put his finger on exactly what. He hadn’t told anybody, not even her left foot, but when he had that right foot in his hands, he dreamed of getting together with Lorrie. Maybe going for a walk with her. Jack’s thoughts along these lines, while intense and exciting, did exhibit a modicum of sexual confusion.
Life was good in Legume until war broke out with Nebraska. Suddenly, everybody wanted army boots. Even Lorrie’s delicious right foot was to be covered with hobnailed leather. Herds of cows were slaughtered for their hides. The situation made a mockery of cobblery. Even as Jack fumed, army officers arrived to draft, or dragoon, him into service. Shoemakers were needed at the front.
The front was a nightmare. Soldiers with severely injured feet were stretchered in to Jack’s MASH tent in droves. It was his job to remove the feet and try to save the boots. He worked day and night but he could never catch up. Too many feet. Too many boots.
He stuck it out until a truce was called. Then he staggered out of his tent, took off his own army boots, and announced that he was a pacifist. He would wear no more shoes forever. Then he walked out of camp, the skin of the soles of his feet pressing into the earth.
“Oo. Ow. Ouch,” he said as he made his way down the rocky road before him. He turned his back on Legume and headed south, where, he had heard, cowboys rode their cows.
In the old days, Jack had laughed at men who had no shoes. After walking a mile barefoot, he knew that he wouldn’t do so again. He thought for a moment about laughing at men who had no feet, but then realized he could end up that way himself someday, so he wouldn’t laugh at them either. Coincidentally, later that day as he passed through old farmland that was reverting to its original state as prairie, he came upon a man with no feet, sitting under an oak tree eating fried squirrel.
“A guy was giving me a ride back from the war in his dog cart,” the fellow said, “but the dog got tired so the man put me out. Did give me this squirrel, though.”
The man’s name was John Brown.
Jack constructed a primitive travois using dead branches from the line of elms in a dessicated windbreak beyond the field, and strips of cloth from his shirt and trousers. While he was at it, he caught another squirrel. The two men cooked and ate it.
Jack dragged John for miles on the travois, until they came to the abandoned farming town of Norbert on the Smoky Hill river. There they set up camp, with no intention of going farther.
When John Brown’s ankle stumps had healed sufficiently, Jack crafted a pair of boots for him, with artificial wood feet inside them, and straps to hold them to Brown’s calves after he pulled them halfway up to his knees. Although Jack had foresworn shoes and their making, he felt that fabricating artificial feet was another matter entirely, even if they were pre-shod in shoes that he had cobbled.
The two men moved into a ramshackle farmhouse and fixed it up. They lived off the land and the river. With the depopulation of the area, and of the state generally, waterfowl and other wildlife abounded. The men did a little trading with folks trekking through on the road. Jack’s abilities as a maker of false feet was remarked upon and in due course, amputees began showing up to take advantage of his skills. In some cases, they stayed on and the town became something of a haven for the variously limbless.
These arriving included a young woman named Samantha. She was a lovely young thing, save for her feet, which were missing. Jack fell for her and she for him. However, in intimate moments together, when Jack’s hands slipped down Samantha’s only-too-willing body, perhaps unconsciously, Jack would be jolted back to reality when his paws reached “paydirt,” only to discover that the paydirt, or feet, was gone.
“Hey, I’m up here,” Samantha would say jocosely.
Jack had to learn that even when your beloved is missing her most exciting part, or parts, it is still possible to have a deep and mostly satisfying relationship with her, notwithstanding. The couple married.
Jack became Norbert’s first mayor, or first in a very long time, at any rate. He founded a company, Jackboot, which first fulfilled the needs of the town and then exported replacement feet around the country. What with the frequent little wars across the continent, which were a symptom of the dissatisfaction of a pedestrian populace, business boomed. “Jackboot” became synonymous with the pacifist spirit. Samantha managed the finances and advertising. John Brown retired to a sod dugout on the prairie.
The army passed through, seeking cannon fodder for a flareup with Missouri. The citizens of the town were mustered out, so that likely candidates could be pressed into service forthwith. Everyone without exception removed their Jack parts and lined up on their crutches and stumps. The soldiers forebore to reenlist those who had already lost one or more limbs in the cause of Kansasonian freedom and now represented a potential impediment to rapid action.
Norbert became a town known for its stumped residents and known for Jack, the man who kept it on its feet, figuratively speaking. In a world that, with the passing of mechanized vehicles and Equus ferus, depended absolutely on its feet, Norbert became a shining symbol of Man’s unquenchable spirit and determination not to take adversity lying down.
Humans across the country and the world seemed to keep whittling away at themselves. On a trip up to Sampson on the Victoria, Jack and Samantha noticed that, in addition to a decline in population, there was a corresponding decline in the number of domesticated animals – cats, dogs, cows, and chickens. At the same time, wildlife thrived.
The short grass and long grass prairies returned and with them, the buffalo. Apparently, towns were emptying out their zoos and garden parks, because it wasn’t unusual for travellers to spot elephants and giraffes out on the Prairie. Hippos abode in the Platte.
Jack and his footless bride strode into the future unafraid. Whenever they came to a metaphorical patch of pricklers or bullheads, Samantha would take Jack onto her back and lug him across it, since he was barefoot and she, of course, wasn’t.