Be Careful what you choose to purchase at those Yard Sales...You never know, do you?
The scar battered door of his apartment was ajar as I cautiously descended the spiral staircase from my third floor apartment. From years of neglect by the absentee landlord, the stairs were worn and sagged. Some of them creaked their timely warning of approaching visitors to his ever attentive ears. I jumped back away from his doorway as I stood upon the landing, fearful that he may hear my carefully placed footsteps attempting to slip by his doorway unnoticed without uttering some form of pleasant greeting.
Alex Keverton was a stickler on greetings. He purposely left his door ajar so he could view the resident traffic of the building and summon them into his urine stenched apartment. On this particular morning, there was no avenue of escape from his beckoning cry to enter his catacomb-like apartment.
“Eddie, Eddie my boy,” he caterwauled from his rocking chair. The dagger like sound of his voice was sharp, piercing through me like fingernails being raked across a blackboard.
“I know you're out there hiding from me, Eddie!” His voice was riddled by a hacking smokers cough. “Would you come in and visit a sick old man a while? Where are you running off to so early today? I’ve made up some of that pink lemonade you said you were so fond of. You'll have to pour yourself a glass. I am much too old to be up often and shuffling my weary feet anymore around the place.”
I closed my eyes as I pressed my back against the
hallway wall and moaned a deep sigh of anguished bitterness. I dreaded another morning of being in the displeasurable company of that white haired old man and listening to his rambling silly stories through emphysema diseased lungs wheezing and struggling to breathe clean air.
“I wish this damn apartment building had elevators so I wouldn’t have to sneak out of my own damn place every single day,” I growled in disgust through clenched teeth.
I gently pushed his apartment door open a bit wider and viewed the jaundiced skin of a dying old man with a patch work comforter over his delicately thin legs. It appeared he had been thumbing through an album of old photographs prior to my entering.
"Excuse me for not shaving today Eddie, but
my hands are kinda shaky,” Alex said weakly summoning me into his apartment. He trembled as he raised his arm as a signal for me to shut the door behind me.
“I can only stay a moment because I have to get to the office,” I replied with a ringing note of apology and leaving the door partially open.
His apartment was grey and dim, similar to the inside a dirty glass bottle, and absent of the dazzling outdoor morning sunshine.
“You young fellows are always in a rush to go to work or something,” he complained. He tried to continue speaking but a mucous filled coughing spell bent him forward to the point I took a step toward him. He raised a hand to discourage me that he was quite alright, and nodded appreciatively.
“Eddie, now I want you to do something for me.” He pointed and waved his painfully swollen finger at me.
"Alex, please. I'd love to stay and chat but I really must be going and I don’t really have time this morning,” I objected backing away from him and placing my hand on the doorknob.
"No No. Not yet, please. I have something really special to give to you. It is a gift of sorts,” said Alex smiling through a half set of lower yellowed teeth. "For all the time we have been friends."
I rolled my eyes and sighed. “That's very kind of you. But really Alex, I don’t have the time right now. We will do it soon though." I lied and started to leave the apartment, but he called out once again disregarding my rebuttal.
“There’s a box in the bedroom I want you to
have.” He barely raised his hand to direct me.
He looked at me with pleading puffy wet eyes which were red and bloodshot from his chronic insomnia. His eyes darted from me to his bedroom several times before I took a step toward the room.
“Go on into my bedroom Eddie. Do not be afraid.”
But I was afraid. The goosebumps were already forming on my arms and the tiny hairs on the back of my neck tingled.
“On the dresser Eddie, there is a shoe box.
Would you please bring it into me?”
I cringed as I looked upon the litter strewn dresser. The brown and tan shoe box was just behind a stack of seemingly unread newspapers still wrapped in their plastic jackets.
Two youngsters laughed as they ran past the open
apartment door and down the flight of stairs.
“The energy these young kids have,” Alex commented as he shook his head. "There was a time when.." He stopped before completing his sentence.
I emerged from the dreadfully dank mildew room with the box and shuddered as I attempted to hand it to him. With both his palms facing outward toward me, he rejected it and chuckled.
“Open it Eddie. I know you like to wear fancy clothes. I see you have a few lady visitors calling on you at night.” He smiled displaying his grossly neglected gums. “When I was a young man like yourself, I wore those same shoes and could dance to the big bands sounds all evening with any lady I wanted. I was looking at the photos here of myself dancing back then. I want you to have those shoes, Eddie. Try them on." He encouraged and prompted me incessantly with a motion of his hands.
"Really, Alex, I don’t think I need another pair of shoes. In fact I doubt they would even fit me. We aren't even the same size!” I objected with a faint smile.
"Nonsense,” he said quietly and rocked at a quicker pace and adjusted his quilt. I sensed he was becoming irritated and taut at my continued procrastination. It appeared my fabrication of a alibi to escape this bizarre gift was too late on coming. Nervously, I opened the box. The contents revealed a brightly polished pair of brown leather shoes. I lifted them from the box and examined them a moment. From appearances they seemed to be practically new. It was almost as if they had never been worn before. I couldn't detect a scratch or a scuff mark anywhere on them.
“I use to have a carrying case for them Eddie, but over the years and just sitting on a shelf, it has vanished or been misplaced,” he said regretfully. "As you can see, I took very good care of them. Try them on, Eddie. Please just humor an old man for a moment!”
I bit the inside of my cheek in frustration. "Alex, I really appreciate the gift but I don’t have time to model these for you because I really have to get to my office.” I placed the shoes back in the box and licked my lips nervously.
Alex Keverton smirked and rocked in his chair. "In due time then. In due time," he said with a slight nod. He started to thumb through the photo album and ignored me. Although I was definitely uncomfortable, I removed the shoes once again and studied them more closely.
“Like them Eddie?" He coldly stared at me from the corner of his eye as he continued to flip the pages the photo album. "I always wanted you to be a close friend.” He smiled a queer smile. "When you wear those shoes we will always be like friends together forever."
"Yeah right. Friends.” I snapped back hurriedly replacing them in the box once again without trying them on. “Listen Alex, thanks again for the shoes. I’ll try them on later when I get home. Well I better get to my office." I stood and quickly made my way to the door.
He was still talking, wheezing, sputtering incoherently as I slammed his apartment door and hurried down the stairs out to the main street. I breathed a sigh of complete relief and embraced the welcoming freedom that came with being out of his nauseating company. I thanked god my job was a means of escape away from that miserable old man.
I was in need of burning some midnight oil on a few of the budget proposal bids we were working on in the engineering department. I brought home some of the pertinent files and data I required for later that evening. Upon exiting my vehicle at my apartment complex, I noticed the shoe box on the back seat. I shook my head and decided I may as well bring them in and stick them in a closet somewhere. The apartment building where I resided was not exactly in the high rent district and the last thing I needed was someone breaking into my vehicle.
I was surprised to see Alex Keverton’s apartment in complete darkness as I approached my building. I glanced at my watch. It was only a little after six o'clock.
“That is strange," I mumbled. "He always leaves his lights on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week." I chuckled aloud at my exaggeration a bit and shook my head at the foolishness of the senile frail old man.
Annoyed that I would have to run the perpetual gauntlet once again to go by his door undetected to ascend to my third floor dwelling, I tip-toed up the stairs and found that my clandestine style efforts were futile and unnecessary. Alex Keverton's apartment door was closed. I whistled a happy tune as I ascended the remaining stairs two at a time to the third floor. Judith Bombeck was just closing her apartment door adjacent to mine when she asked if I had heard the news of what happened.
“Took him out on a stretcher, they did now,” she said in an English accent. She folded her arms in front of her. “The white sheet was pulled up tight over his head.” Judith spoke with body language in dramatic fashion. “I assume that means they have passed on when they do that to a dead body.” She leaned closer toward me and whispered her message so no one else could hear our conversation. “At least that's what they did when Mr. Hickey passed on last year. He was down in apartment 6B before that nice Mr. Remington moved in.” She pressed her lips together again to form a pencil thin line and nodded.
I knew she had a ever present tendency to magnify the actual truth on occasion but this time she was truly convincing. Maybe the old geezer finally did do all of us a favor and croak. And from his craggy facial features this morning, it didn’t require a medical doctor to offer a prognosis that he wouldn’t to be a part of the living populace too much longer.
It wasn’t long after Alex Keverton’s body was interred into the Gates of Heaven cemetery that I finally opened the shoe box containing the
dead man's shoes. They were quite striking in appearance as I admired them once again in the light. Beautifully designed hand stitched leather and as I placed them on my feet, I found them to be enchantingly comfortable. I stood and pretended I was in a brightly lit gala ballroom as I magically glided around the living room waltzing with my escorted lady. I pictured in my imagination, old man Keverton waltzing with his partner back during the time of World War II to the sounds of Tommy Dorsey and the Glenn Miller Orchestras. I smiled warmly as I sat on my recliner and found myself a bit out of breath momentarily as I laughed.
"Thank you Alex. I know it's hard to believe but these shoes are wonderful. But I got news for you, old man," I snickered. "These shoes are going to dance to music of my era now! Damn. Would you just listen to me? I am actually talking to myself just like that farts for brains old man. You wanted me to be your friend, Alex? Get bent, you fool! I can’t wait to show these shoes off, even if they did belong to a dead man. With all those stupid, agonizing and boring stories of what he did when he was young, I'm surprised he didn’t want to be buried in these suckers! Hey, maybe this is kind of like a stipend of payment for me for putting up with and tolerating his monotonous humor and being in his hideous company for all this time."
The doorbell rang twice as I continued to admire and model the almost bewitching shoes upon my feet.
“It’s open! Come on in if you're good looking!" I shouted in a cheerful tone.
“Hi There! Did you miss me?” Denise asked walking toward me. She kissed me lightly on the mouth and tossed her pocketbook on the couch. "What's up for tonight? Still going to meet Janet and Tucker?"
“Hey hun, before we head out, check out what that old man downstairs gave me before he kicked the bucket,” I said modeling the shoes in front of her.
"Shoes? That old bum from downstairs gave you a pair of antique dilapidated looking shoes? Throw those ugly looking things in the trash. I'm not going anywhere with you wearing somebody elses shoes. Especially if they belonged to some old dead person. They give me the creeps just being in the same room with them.” Denise shivered and wrinkled her nose in disgust.
“Come on, Babe. Don't be silly. Just turn on the overhead light a second and take a look at these things. They're pure leather and as soft and comfortable as any shoes or boots I have ever worn in my life! It's like I don't even have shoes on my feet when I'm walking. I can't believe the old man actually took the same size shoe as me. I mean I have to be at least four or five inches taller than he was and maybe even fifty or sixty pounds heavier.”
Denise stood and walked to the wall switch. She switched on the four lights suspended from the ceiling fan for a closer inspection.
“What the hell did you do to yourself? She said furrowing her forehead. "Did you dye your hair?” She stepped back in amazement and shook her head and frowned. "I must say you did a hell of a piss poor job if you did. You look at least ten years older with your hair that way."
"What the hell are you talking about, Denise?” I rebuffed her question and narrowed my eyes. “Hell no, I didn’t dye my hair.”
"Well, it sure as heck looks like you either had it streaked with white or you're going grey early, Honey!” Denise laughed and kicked off her shoes and plopped down on the couch once again. I hurried into the bathroom and looked in the vanity mirror, parting my dark brown hair with my fingers. Denise was right. My hair was grey in several areas and along the temples. I went to call out to her but a sudden restricting cough exploded from my lungs which caused me to grab each side of the vanity sink. I felt a strange tickling sensation deep in my throat as I exhaled a labored breath. It grew steadily until I recognized the wheezing sound of it. A familiar cough. A hacking disease cough... a smokers cough... like the kind of cough rising from Alex Keverton's lungs as he tried to speak. I was becoming panic stricken. I tried to swallow into a frozen throat. I stared in horror at myself in the mirror. My skin color had taken on a pallid look and the whites of my eyes were now a pus filled yellow.
I attempted to clear my throat and swallowed hard. My vocal chords seemed to have become rigid. It felt as if something had become lodged in my throated passageway. A constricting and choking object which prevented the air from entering my lungs. I reached for my throat and turned my head from side struggling to inhale deeply.
“What's wrong, Babe? Are you ok?" Denise asked from the next room. She rose from the couch. A note of worry and fear laced her words.
“I don’t know," I gasped. A glint of terror shadowed my face. "It's as if my lungs are filled with something. I felt fine a few minutes ago. I was just walking and dancing across the floor when....” I didn't get a chance to finish the sentence.
"Your hair!” she screamed placing her hands over her face in shocked astonishment. “It’s completely white!” A sudden rough, hacking cough interrupted my sentence as I tried to raise my voice. Denise slapped me repeatedly on the back. Crying hysterically, she repeated her attempts to dislodge any mysterious foreign object. I stooped over the bathroom sink, falling to one knee. I shook my head as my hand clutched at my own throat.
“Can’t breathe,” I gasped. The stabbing words of my voice were raspy now, wheezing like an accordion, forcing my vocal cords to vibrate with air to no avail.
"You're turning blue!” Denise screamed in a panic. She ran to the telephone to call for help.
“Shoes, get the shoes off,” I pleaded in a soft whisper. I struggled to tear them from my feet with my trembling fingers.
But the shoes had found their new permanent host and had become an added appendage of my body. I weakly stood and looked into the vanity mirror to see the decaying face of Alex Keverton smiling back at me. As the room began to spin around me and grow dim, I thought I could hear his failing voice reminding me once again that he always wanted us to be friends. Now we would be friends together. Forever.
© Copyright 2001
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|Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner
damn, this is scary--effectively, powerfully told--well done!
(((HUGS))) and love, karla. :)
|Reviewed by Shirley Cheng
|Oh, wow, that is really a good read! Truly enjoyed it. :) I'll read your other stories...as you can tell, I'm a fan of horror. LOL|