“Jason’s Shoes” by Richard Bist

My name is Robert and I have a problem with my roommate.

At first it was kinda funny, ya’ know? He’d come in and pull his shoes off and after a few minutes this smell would just overwhelm you. It was really funny when someone was over, like one of our buds or some chick that one of us was seeing, then you could split your side watching those poor saps turn green. The smell even made this one girl puke. Oh man, I almost peed in my pants that night. Jason was sitting on the other couch, kinda giving me the eye while he slowly eased those sneakers off. A couple of minutes later she got this weird look on her face, then all of a sudden she tries to break for the bathroom with a hand over her mouth. The puke couldn’t wait, and came spurting out between her fingers and out her nose. Jeez, that shit was funny.

I mean, you know how it is with guys. We were just screwing around. After a while, though, it started to get annoying. It was like, you know, wash your friggin’ feet. But that wasn’t it, because Jason is a clean guy. Me, I think it’s the shoes. There is something wrong with those things, man, something bad wrong.

So you’re wanting to know, what’s the deal with the shoes already? I’ll tell you, to look at them you wouldn’t think nothing. I mean, shoes are shoes, right? These things, they’re just an old pair of canvas high-tops. I think they used to be white, but Jason’s had them for so long they’re now a non-color. Hell, all the labels and tread have worn to the point where you can’t even tell what brand they are. He doesn’t even remember where he bought them. They don’t look like any particular make, but they aren’t too generic, ya’ know. Even all beat up they still have a certain style. What’s weird, now that I think about it, is that no matter what kind of clothes Jason wears they always seem to match. Shit, he could wear those worn out high-tops with a tux and they wouldn’t look that out of place. Chances are that no one would even notice.

Anyway, the shoes are starting to drive me nuts. This shit goes on day after day and never gets any better. Jason just laughs when I mention anything about it, but it’s a nervous laugh and I think it’s starting to bother him, too. I figure that we need to have one of those sit-down discussions, ya’ know, to clear the air (no pun intended). We’ve got to figure out what to do about his shoes, because sooner or later something it going to break.

***

So me and Jason were sitting around last night drinking beer and watching sumo wrestling on cable when I noticed that he was getting ready to kick off his shoes. I figured it was time for us to have our talk. Two quick moves and the shoes hit the floor with a double clunk, and of course it didn’t take long for that odor to start filling the room like a green haze. By now I had pretty much gotten used to it. I mean, it still stunk like an open sewer in August, but I guess I was building up a tolerance.

I cleared my throat and asked Jason if he’d ever thought about getting a new pair of shoes. I mention that the ones he had were pretty damn ragged and that I’d seen a place down the street that was having a sale. He sorta looked at me with this blank face for a minute, like he was lost or something, then he smiled and said nah, these still had some life left in them. I took a pull of my beer and said that from the way they smelled I thought they were dead and decomposing. I said it with a laugh so he wouldn’t be offended, but from the look he gave me I guess it didn’t work.

We sat there staring at each other for probably a full minute before he asked me if there was a problem, all serious and shit. I said no, man, but you gotta admit those shoes have seen better days. I wanted to say more, but I could tell he was getting pissed off. I figured I better diffuse the situation in a hurry, so I lifted my leg, let go with a mighty rip, and told him his shoes had some competition from the burrito I had for lunch. That seemed to break him out of his zone and he started laughing, but it wasn’t an easy laugh. He took a swig off his beer and shook his head, then started telling me that he wants to get rid of the shoes, he has for a while, but when he tries he can’t do it. I told him he was full of shit and to just throw the damn things out the window. There’s an alley three floors down, they’d fit right in with all the other crap we’ve thrown down there. When I said that his face got all pale and he slowly shook his head from side to side.

Now by then I was buzzing pretty good from the beer and his story was sounding like a load of horse shit, ya’ know what I mean? So I said the hell with it and got up to throw the shoes out the window myself. I started to walk over to his side of the room when I noticed that the smell was getting stronger. I mean, it had been stinking for a while, but it was beginning to make my eyes water. I stopped and looked at Jason, and he’s staring at me all wide-eyed. I can barely hear him whisper don’t do it, can’t you see? I got nervous for a moment there, but the alcohol was making me brave, so I said fuck it and walked on over. Just as I reached the shoes, a wave of odor seemed to wash over me, making me dizzy and nauseous. I could almost see the stink radiating off those nasty things. I pulled my shirt up over my nose as I reached down for them, but by then I could hardly see because my vision was blurred and I swore I was going to puke.

As I was feeling around for the shoes I heard a loud thump and glanced over to see Jason sprawled out on the floor. I couldn’t tell if he was faking or not because my eyes were burning from the smell, so I tried to call his name, but when I took a breath the odor of a thousand dirty diapers filled my lungs and everything went black.

***

When I opened my eyes again I saw sunlight streaming through the windows and I knew I’d been out cold for the whole night. I shook my head to clear out the fog and looked around for Jason, but I couldn’t find him anywhere. The shoes were gone, too. A chill ran down my back and I knew I was dealing with shit I did not understand. There was still a shelf full of cold beer in the fridge, so I popped one open and sat down on the couch to try and figure out what to do about this fucked-up situation.

It only took about five minutes of thinking before my head started to hurt, so I reached for the remote control to do a little aimless channel surfing. For some reason those flickering images were a Zen-thing for me, ya’ know? Sort of putting me in a meditative state. After thirty minutes and four more beers, I realized that I had stopped clicking on one of the religious channels. There’s this woman with a thick black uni-brow and purple hair reading passages out of the Bible and spouting off about demons and shit. Man, she was yelling at the audience, pounding the podium, and crying like a school girl who’d just lost her puppy. Hell, it looked as if she was going to start foaming at the mouth. I was getting ready to change the channel when I caught something she was saying about demon possession. She said that evil spirits were everywhere and they would possess anything in order to trick a human into losing their soul. Then she started talking about the signs of possession: friends turning against each other, making their victims do and say things they wouldn’t normally do, disfigurement, and foul odors. I know I’m not the brightest guy in the world, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that Jason’s shoes were possessed by an evil spirit.

It took me another hour and another three beers to come up with a plan to deal with those damned sneakers. I glanced at the clock and saw it was four-thirty. I didn’t have much time to get everything together before Jason got home at six. I dug through the cushions of each and every piece of furniture scraping up change, then grabbed my coat and raced for the street. Jason was my roomie and he needed my help. I was gonna give it to him whether he wanted it or not.

***

I got back home at five forty-five and got everything ready. By the time Jason walked in the door I was chilling on the couch, nursing a cold brew and flipping through television land. He didn’t say a word to me, just went to the fridge to get himself a beer, then dropped down on the other couch to zone on the TV screen. I figured the best thing to do was keep quiet like nothing was happening and bide my time. I made myself comfortable and waited.

Despite Jason and I not speaking, everything else ran pretty much as usual. We watched the same shows, drank our beers, and did a whole lot of nothing. Around nine o’clock I saw Jason glance at me out of the corner of his eye and slip off his sneakers. I kept my cool because I knew he and the sneakers would be watching me and I didn’t want them to suspect anything was going on. I noticed that the stench was a little bit stronger than usual, but I figured it was the shoes just giving me a warning. I allowed myself a small smile and took another sip of beer.

About an hour later I heard a soft snore coming from across the room and decided it was time to act. I reached behind the couch and grabbed the bag I had stashed there earlier. I had gone to the army surplus and picked up a gas mask for cheap, as well as a rain poncho and heavy rubber gloves in case things got messy. I hung a large plastic crucifix around my neck that I got from a guy that was selling them out of a briefcase on 33rd street, and I had two sets of cooking tongs I stole from my mother’s house. In my right hand was my only real weapon. It was a bottle of foot powder I had gotten blessed by an ex-preacher and full-time wino that hung out near the warehouse where I work. He’s out there almost every day, drunk as hell and hollering that the end of the world is near. I gave him a bottle of cheap wine and he put what he called a “serious mojo blessing” on the powder. Then he wished me luck, turned, and fell over a garbage can.

I kicked off my own shoes, tossed them under my bed, and shimmied across the floor like I was walking on thin ice. I knew I would have to act fast, because Jason was sure to wake up and try to stop me. About half-way across the floor I noticed that the room was getting hazy. The shoes were on to me and were trying to overpower me again, but I was prepared. I could tell the air was getting thicker as the shoes vainly threw an all-out assault against me. I finally reached them and glanced up at Jason to make sure he wasn’t awake, but instead I saw that he wasn’t looking too good. He had no protection from the odor and it looked like he was suffocating.

I fumbled with the top of the powder bottle, trying to get a grip with the rubber gloves, but the damn things were so slick it was like trying to open a condom wrapper with your hands covered in baby oil. In frustration, I ripped the top off the bottle and began shaking the glowing white dust over the shoes like a holy snowstorm. As soon as the stuff hit the shoes they started smoking like they were burning or something, then the room started shaking. Empty beer bottles were falling off the kitchen counter and shattering on the floor, the windows were cracking, and stuff was flying off the walls just like in one of those horror movies. I knew that the shit was about to hit the fan with hurricane force. As quick as I could, I spun and jumped behind the couch. No sooner had I hit the floor than I heard these two loud pops, like champagne bottles uncorking, and the sound of something splattering.

I kept my head down for a few more minutes until I heard Jason coughing on the couch and decided I was probably safe. I peeked over the back of the couch and saw him sitting up and gasping for breath. He was gonna be all right. When I looked around the apartment I saw that the shit had indeed hit the fan. Crap was all over the damn place: on the ceiling, the walls, the floors, Jason, and pretty much everywhere in between. I guess that’s what was making the shoes smell so bad. I pulled my gas-mask off and took a deep breath. Then I started dry heaving. Yeah, it smelled bad, but it wasn’t as bad as Jason’s shoes. That’s when I noticed that they were nowhere to be seen.

***

It took us a couple of hours to clean up the apartment, but by the time the sun started coming up the place was cleaner than it had been in years. When I explained what had happened to Jason, he was pretty pissed off at first, but he’s a cool guy and it didn’t take him long to get over it, especially after I told him I’d pay for a new pair of shoes. Hell, I knew a place down the street that had them on sale.


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About the Author

Richard Bist lives in the wilds of north Florida, where he spends his days swatting mosquitoes and working in the exciting world of insurance copywriting. In his free time he writes fiction, cultivates carnivorous plants, and fondly remembers old roommates. You can read his rants at http://riksinkstainedhands.blogspot.com.