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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Shoes Left Behind

NOTE:  For those of you familiar with my writing, this is 100% purely a work of fiction.  Just paying some love to /r/nosleep.  I think I wrote this last October.  


**************


"Are you sure you want to go with that?" asks the female detective frowning at me.

"It's what the man wrote" chimes in the other cop leaning towards me.  "Plus we got the tapes.  Playing the crazy card."

"What?" I ask confused.

The female detective shoves something in front of me.  I look up from my hands and see a crumpled yellow notepad with pages upon pages of meaningless gibberish scribbled in ink.  My guts are twisting and the sweat is pouring from my face.  I must look horrible but they won't let me have my medicine.  I am already an hour late.  I just want to go home.

"Alright.  Let's start again.  Where is your wife?" the detective asks again softly.

"Please let me go" I beg.  "I'm sick.  I need my medicine."

They look at each other.  The detective narrows her eyes and the other cop nods.

"Do you want to get out of here buddy?" asks the cop.

"Yes" I answer in a far away voice.

"Then just answer a few more questions ok?"

And I start to cry.


***************  


"How can anyone leave there shoes here?" scoffs little Dalton.

A pair of slightly worn, blue Nike boy's shoes lay there discarded.  My wife looks over and shrugs.  "With all the kids playing in the sprinkler...Some kid just left them.  I'm sure the owner will claim them someday."

"Yeah or the owner's angry mom" I say rubbing my face.  

The house is still a mess from Dalton's 6th birthday.  Wrapping present trash, toys, balls, a half assembled bike, empty pizza boxes, ribbons, gift bags and many, many empty beer bottles.  My wife Evita's family is from Mexico.  Every single one of Dalton's milestones from baptism to his sixth birthday is a party.  The family is always present.  I never knew I had so many cousins, aunts, uncles until I said, 'I do'.  Every weekend some kid named Jose or Maria has a party and I'll meet a bunch of new cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

"Hey they fit me!" exclaims Dalton jumping up and down in the shoes.

"Please don't" I moan waving my hand like my son is a fly that will buzz away.  "Take them off.  They're not your shoes."

By the time I crawled out of bed, Evita had enjoyed two cups of coffee and fed Dalton breakfast.  I pop in some toast and munch the cold eggs and sausage.  I swallow three painkillers and my wife notices.

"How many did you take Joel?" she demands quietly but Dalton pops up to listen.  I shrug and make sure my son knows this no big deal.

"Don't worry.  Just a little something for my back.  You know" I stop by Evita and whisper growl, "my fucking chronically crushed spine discs."

I walk to the table pour some coffee.  Evita has been taking issue with my painkillers lately.  I've used them for three months and no longer care how long tests take or how difficult it is to schedule MRIs.  I'm pretty patient and really fucking high.  Mixed with weed and a few beers, my back if fine.  I can lift the couch over my head and march around the room.  No pain.  It's beautiful.  But Evita says they make me lazy and stupid.  Kinda true.

"How about we clean this pigsty up, put your bike together and go for a ride?" I ask Dalton who grins.  "Get my tools and find your pads and helmet."

"Yay!" he yells scampering off.  I sip my coffee and ignore my wife's stare.

"Don't forget we gotta go to church later Dalton!" threatens my wife.


"Yeah, yeah!  God!" yells Dalton disappearing into the garage to get my tools.

*****

I take Monday off work and start the paperwork for disability.  Though my back is tweaked, I take enough pills to stand outside while Dalton rides his bike up and down the street.  Mostly I play with my phone but I keep an eye out for cars.  And if he is down the block, I'll take a little hit of weed.  Makes me more amicable when the neighbors walk by.  Dalton comes back on his bike.  His tiny, round face is flushed.  


"I'm done dad." he says.

"Really?" I ask.  He barely made twenty minutes and this kid usually goes nonstop on the bike for forty.  Then you have to yell at him to get him to stop.  "You feelin' ok Dalt?" I touch his forehead but it's not hot.

"I'm just sleepy dad."

I have a vague memory of Evita talking about Dalton's nightmares.  He woke up crying and tried to crawl into our bed.  I don't care.  I like his tiny little hugs but Evita always gets him back to his bed.

"You didn't sleep good?" I ask.

"Yeah.  I heard it again.  The boy that cries all night.  The one that says 'Please.'"

And I feel cold.  This sentence snaps me out of my haze and I think of cats.  Those fucking neighborhood cats making all that noise.  It was so cold last night I refused to sneak outside to smoke weed.  Evita hates this but she was taking a bath so I pushed open the bedroom window for a few hits.  Just enough to make the pills hit harder.  And I heard those fucking cats.  Moaning, deranged, unearthly yowls.  But at one point I thought I heard a cat say 'Please.'  It was so odd, I leaned out the window.  But I heard nothing else.

"It's ok son" I say to Dalton.  "You'll sleep better tonight.  I promise ok?"

"Ok dad" he says.

On Tuesday I call in my pill refills.  To be honest, I don't even take the prescription strength ibuprofens anymore but I dutifully refill them with my narcotic one for appearance sake.   It was a nice night and I feel good on the way to pick up my pills.  No getting awoken by Evita or Dalton.  Just uninterrupted sleep.  The house was still last night.  On the way home I stock up on beer.  My new cousins, uncles and aunts emptied my beer fridge in the garage for Dalton's birthday.  I replenish it with a case of Fat Tire Ale.  In the garage, I can smell my lawnmower and the rotting garbage from the party.  It almost smells like freshly turned soil...Oh yeah!  Spring is coming.  It is nearly time to start my tomato and pepper plants.  I fill the fridge with beer and slip inside as I hear Evita pull into the driveway from her job.

Evita is pissed because she is doing all the childcare stuff from dropping off Dalton, picking him up and helping him with his homework.  I don't go to work or do very much at all since my back went out.  But I do play video games with Dalton and listen to his stories about TV shows.  Also I read to him which makes Evita happy.  On Wednesday morning, it's garbage day and I have another doctor appointment.  Evita drags out the garbage while cursing and grumbling.  I sip coffee and eat an extra pill.  At 10:30 am, I drive myself to the doctor office.  Man, the wind is screaming today.  A bone cold furious breeze.  I'm so relaxed from the pills that the moment I open my door, a cruel gust rips it from my hand and smashes it into the Mercedes next to me.  I get back in my car and find a new spot.  Fucking pills.

"Your MRI came back Mr. Stanton" say Dr. Li staring at a ghostly black and white glowing image of my skeleton.  "Are you in a considerable amount of pain?"

"Yeah.  Especially at night" I answer.  The 'especially at night' part has become my mantra.  As long as I mention the night, they never talk about taking away my pills.

"I am going to recommend you for surgery.  But I'd like a second opinion.  My colleague Dr. Grossmen is an expert in the field and will evaluate.  However, Dr. Grossmen is away on personal leave until the end of the month.  But we can keep you comfortable.  I'm recommending a few changes in your pain maintenance.  I'm prescribing both a long term opioid and an instant release opioid.  The combo should make life bearable until Dr. Grossmen can see you.  Any questions?"

"No.  And thank you doctor" I answer politely.

I hit up the pharmacy excited.  I'm so fucking high and now they are going to make me higher!  I pick up my bottles, pop one of each and drive home.  The garbage cans still linger by the curb so I drag them in.  Fuck these pills are the shit.  I'm all smiles and loosey goosey.  I mean I totally believe the doctors.  My spine is tweaked but I feel GOOOOOOD.  I toss in the garbage cans and Jesus fucking Christ the garage still reeks.  Smells...weird.  Like shit mixed with cut grass and a little...alcohol?  Man I hope it's not a toilet again.  When we moved to this house, we had a loose toilet seal and sewage water bubbled up.  $500 bucks later I can still remember that sweet stink.  This smells like that kind of funk.  I see nothing gross and open the garage door to let the stench air out.  Then I open the fridge and get a beer.  I sip it and have a cigarette.  Fuck, it is cold today.  I go back inside.


*************

"Joel! Wake up!" says Evita shaking me.

"Wha-" I grumble.  The pill crush is on me big time.  I can close my eyes and go byebye...

"I heard something!  Joel!  Get the fuck up!" hisses Evita thumping me.

"Ok!" I say through closed eyes.  "Ok what?"

"I heard bare feet in the hall.  Please wake up!" she says shaking me.

"What?  You mean Dalton is in the hall?" I ask groggily.

"Dalton is right next to you!" my wife whispers.

My eyes open.  I look down.  Dalton is nestled against me.  He is awake.

"Hey kid" I fake yawn.  "Having another nightmare?"

"Yeah daddy" he says snuggling into me.  "I woke up because my room smelled like grandpa's flowers."

"Grandpa's flowers?" I ask stroking his head.  The clock says it is 4:44 am.  "What do you mean?"

"You know what he means" says Evita staring at me.  And I do.  Her father passed away two months ago.  Open casket and way too many flowers.  The tide of floral scent was overwhelming and suffocating.  Poor kid has that burned in his brain.

"Ok, so you had a bad dream."

"Yeah" yawns Dalton.

"Get up and go look" says Evita.  "He was sleeping when I heard it."

"Heard what?" I answer annoyed.

"Bare feet running down the hall" snarls Evita.

"Ok" I groan and get up.  


I walk outside the bedroom and tread across the wooden floors.  The house is chilly because we set the heater at 65.  But still, it feels really, really cold.  I see my breath in the slanted beams of light from the bedroom behind me.  What the fuck?  The thermostat must be broken too.  I listen.  But nothing.  No noise.  But I dutifully check all the doors.  All is well.  I take another pill for my troubles and settle back into our crowded bed.  I stroke my son's head and read my phone until the pills carry me away.

Another weekend comes.  We go to the cliffs to go fishing.  The walk down is long and treacherous but I love this area.  No one ever comes here.  Makes hauling down all of the stuff we need for a beautiful day worth it.  Evita relaxes motionless in the shade while the boy explores tide pools.  I unpack the gear and dig for sand crabs.  I look over at the boy who's peering down into the opening of a sea cave.  It is low tide right now but at high tide, the ocean swell can crash through the hole and fountain into the sky.  It is a dangerous spot.  


"Dalton!  Get away from there!  You know those holes are dangerous.  We lose a tourist every year to a blowhole.  They get knocked over and sucked in.  No one ever finds them."

"Sorry dad" he grins not sorry at all.

"Come here and help me dig for sand crabs.  We need some bait if we're gonna fish."

We fish all afternoon while my wife naps.  I chew on painkillers and drink beer.  We never catch any fish but it is such a beautiful day.  The trip back up to the car is lighter.  I shouldn't be straining my back but man, these pills.  I can do anything.  Evita wants Chinese food for dinner so I stop on the way home and order takeout. When we get home, Dalton rushes in to play video games and I trip over the unclaimed blue Nike shoes.

"Damn these shoes!  Should we throw them away?  Or give them to Dalton?" I mumble as my wife unpacks the Chinese food.

"No.  Someone will claim them" Evita responds.  

And she was right.

***************

When the police came I was paranoid about weed but so high on my pills I was able to look the detective in her eye.  My wife and kid crowded behind me.  We all looked at the picture.  Some kid we are vaguely related to.

"Do you remember when you last saw him?" asks Detective Madison while her partner looks into our home.

"No" I shrug.  But there were like 30 - 40 kids in our house on Dalton's birthday.

"You know who he is" says my wife staring hard at the picture.  "You know too, right Dalton?"

"Right" says Dalton shyly.  "That's why the shoes are still there."


"Oh yeah the shoes!" I exclaim.

"Shoes?" asks the detective tilting her head.

My wife steps forward and points at the blue Nikes.  "Yes these shoes were left here.  We have no idea who's shoes they are."

"Bag them" says Detective Madison as her partner takes a plastic bag from his jacket.

"May we search your house?" asks the other detective.

"Search?" I ask.  "Really?  Who's kid is this?  How could someone lose a kid?  Sorry but I don't-"

"The father has drug issues" shrugs the unnamed detective bagging the blue shoes. "Are you on any substances right now Mr. Stanton?"


What?"

"Have you been drinking?" asks the female detective.

"Who are you talking to?" I ask confused.  

"Do you mind if we have a quick look around?" asks the other detective.

I look at Evita and she shrugs.  


"Go ahead" I answer.

Two thoughts go through my head.  My four grams of weed I bought from a friend and my beer fridge. That smell.

"You go upstairs" says the female detective.


"Why is this happening?" I ask Evita who shakes her head sadly at me.

"We'll just have a quick look, sir" responds the detective.  


I rush past him towards the garage.

"Sir!  Where are you going?"

But I am already through the garage door.  Now it smells like flowers on a summer day.  A hot, humid cloying sweetness.  Like perfume with the taint of spoiled meat and blossoms.  A sickly, sepulchral smell.  I walk to the fridge and open it.  Just beer.  But the smell is like a presence pressed up against me.  I gag and look behind the fridge.  The child stands perfectly still.  A small boy wedged between the refrigerator and the garage wall.  A perfect hiding spot for hide and seek.  I reach out and touch his shoulder.  The meat is rigid like he is muscular.  And clay cold.  He does not move and I stumble back repulsed.  But the child stares at me.  Vacant eyes sunken into the face.  Eyes that beg.  Eyes that say, please...