by Bill Whitcomb
I had this squeak in my shoe that really drove me insane.
At first, I didn't notice it much. Maybe I'd be walking down an echoing hallway or passing though some quiet area. Suddenly, I'd become aware of the squeak. It was a squelching, squishy sort of squeak, not overly loud, but subtly invasive. On carpet, it sometimes sounded as if the rug’s fabric was soaked through with some viscous or unclean liquid, making me want to see if I needed to clean the bottom of my shoe.
After the first few months, I began to notice the squeak more and more frequently. It didn't so much worsen as achieve a new quality of omnipresence, so that the silences between each squeak could not be perceived in isolation. I bought a new pair of shoes, but somehow the squeak was able to transfer itself to the new shoe. I went back to the store and exchanged the shoes for another pair, but it made no difference. I tried loafers, cross-trainers, boots, moccasins, and wingtips, even sandals. Each time, the squeak lay dormant until I bought the new shoes and left the store.
Slowly, other people began associating me with the squeak. Its unwholesome rhythm, suggestive of deformity or crippling injury, could be heard well ahead of me as I walked. I suspected that people I knew heard the squeak as I approached and extinguished the lights in their houses or quickly turned the corner onto another street. People gestured as I passed. I could imagine them pointing me out as they identified other oddities of the neighborhood: "See, that's the woman with all those cats, the one who talks to the lawn ornaments, and... oh, look, there's that guy with the squeak." It was during this period that I began to spend as much time barefooted as possible.
I devised various plans to nullify or combat the squeak. I tried gluing foam to the bottom of my shoes, but it made me more likely to trip and the squeak sounded little different. If anything, the squeak sounded worse with the foam padding – it sounded more surreptitious. I began to realize that there was nothing I could do to my shoes that would prevent the squeak. I didn’t need to change what I wore when I walked; I needed to change how I walked.
Studying the specialized steps and movements of the Japanese ninja, I developed a walk that did not produce the hated noise, but it was painful, so very painful. I persevered, but the strange and unnatural motions required by the special walk strangely affected the muscles and bones of my leg. Certain muscles became hyper-developed, bulging outward in new and alien configurations, while other muscles atrophied to the point of nearly vanishing. Some bones became more massive; others curved and thinned, bending to conform to the anatomy of some other species. It was as if the squeak was so firmly established that the vacuum left by its absence somehow communicated the squeak's malignant influence to my flesh.
I abandoned the special walk. My leg slowly returned to normal, but the squeak was more penetrating, more obscenely suggestive than ever. I became haunted by the fear that my leg was becoming habituated to the squeak. What if I began to need the squeak just to be able to walk? I finally resorted to crutches in an effort to avoid walking on the afflicted foot altogether. Perhaps I could somehow destroy the squeak by starving it.
I successfully avoided the squeak over the next several weeks, but my sleep began to suffer. I had a recurring dream where I could see myself sleeping, tossing fitfully. My view moved back and I saw the dreaded shoe sitting on the floor next to my bed. With glacial slowness, the toe of the shoe began to flex. The squeak, when it finally began, seemed to last forever. Many nights, I'd wake up and stare into the darkness, unable to return to sleep, looking for any signs of movement near the bed.
After nearly a month of increasing sleeplessness and anxiety, I lost control in the food court of a shopping mall and began stomping on the floor in a futile attempt to hurt the squeak. I was restrained before I injured myself. A link to a video of the event was posted to social media, however, and inspired a short-lived dance fad in Southeast Asia.
Shortly after being admitted for psychiatric observation, I began regular sessions of analysis and therapy. I was asked how I felt about the squeak, what I thought the squeak represented, and whether the squeak reminded me of any incidents from my childhood. The sessions were getting nowhere until one day the analyst realized that he also had the squeak. A syndrome was named after us. My case was widely publicized as the discovery of the first transmissible mental illness. Despite the professional acclaim, the analyst was overcome by revulsion for the squeak and committed suicide. The tape recordings of our sessions were confiscated by an unnamed government agency. Eventually, my insurance company ruled that my condition was not covered by the existing policy and I was released. Dismissed? Disenrolled?
I began my motion studies again. Inspired by my mental collapse at the shopping mall, I studied martial arts from around the world, concentrating on those forms that emphasized using the feet. I learned to extend my life-force, my chi, so that I could kick with ever greater power and precision. Finally, I sought out one of the rare masters of dim mak, the "Chinese Death Touch," to complete my training. As my mastery grew, I allowed myself to hope that my growing control over subtle energies might allow me to nullify the squeak or that a perfectly-timed blow might somehow catch the squeak by surprise. I retired to the hills and lived for months on roots and berries while I practiced my martial arts in preparation for the coming showdown.
Coming down from the hills, I was surprised to learn that my story had been made into a major motion picture. In the movie, my character is portrayed as a scientist tortured by the need to know the secrets of creation. Despite the warnings of my colleagues and considerable foreshadowing, I continue my research into realms best left unexplored, heedless of the danger. The squeak is created in a paroxysm of special effects. Repenting my meddling with nature, I try to destroy the squeak, but it is too late. My foot and shoe have merged into an unspeakable new being that has outgrown its symbiotic relationship with its host. I am consumed in a scene described by most film critics as "excessive." The foot/shoe creature breaks out of the lab and gratuitously kills a variety of unsympathetically-depicted morons. Finally, a broadly-muscled heroine in torn clothing shoots the creature to pieces. It comes back repeatedly, but is eventually obliterated… or is it? As the credits begin to roll down the screen, part of a shoelace slithers into the underbrush to lick its wounds before the inevitable sequel. The film was mildly successful and received an Oscar nomination for best post-production sound effects.
My mastery of martial arts proved fruitless. I met the squeak in an abandoned industrial park outside of town. After a brief bow, I unleashed the full fury of my flashing feet. I split concrete sidewalks with a single stomp, but the squeak seemed unaffected. The squeak defeated me easily, openly displaying its contempt for my martial arts skills.
I was plunged into despair as the squeak began to receive offers of representation and late-night talk show appearances. Tabloids began reporting rumors that the squeak was buying luxury properties in several different countries. I attempted to capitalize on the media attention, but with little success. Television shots and newspaper photos typically showed closeups of my shoe. People now pointed at me constantly on the street, but in the way that bystanders point at the cars of passing celebrities: "Do you think the squeak might be in there?" In one magazine article, I was mentioned in passing as the squeak's "long-time acquaintance." I received incessant requests for money from my relatives who were convinced that the squeak was supporting me.
Unable to tolerate the squeak's growing fame, I faked my own death by rolling my car off a cliff into the ocean. The squeak's funeral and retrospectives of its career were televised worldwide. I grew a beard and went underground. I lived for a while as a lifeguard, but I made the mistake of wearing a pair of flip-flops to work one day and the squeak was recognized. I was arrested and charged with kidnapping the squeak. An outraged public demanded swift justice. After a brief trial, I was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Suddenly, the squeak was gone. I paced the exercise yard with tentative steps, each moment expecting to hear it, but there was nothing. Newspapers in the prison library occasionally reported the squeak's appearance at a party or a charity function with some celebrity date. The squeak now sat on the boards of several Fortune 500 corporations and was active in political fundraising. Commentators speculated on an eventual bid for a congressional seat or even the presidency.
I volunteered to work in the prison library, where I work to this day. I read everything I can get about sound and vibration, about the manufacture of shoes, and about the anatomy of feet. I study types of soil, stone, and pavement. I study fashion. I examine the history and philosophy of annoying noises. I delve deeply into the occult practices of binding and exorcism. I research civil law covering cases where a spouse or family member has supported another’s career and later sues for a percentage of net worth. I am eligible for parole in twenty years and I must be ready.
About the Creator
Bill Whitcomb was born a typical child of the 20th century until contracting semiotic fever, an imaginary disease characterized by oneirodynia, mythopoetic swelling, and hermeneutic convulsions, resulting in chronic obsession with symbols and language. Whitcomb is best known for his books on magical symbolism and practices, The Magician’s Companion and The Magician’s Reflection, though he has written less categorizable works, such as Selections from the Dream Manual (with Michael Skrtic). Bill Whitcomb is widely believed to be living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States where he researches the practices of non-existent secret societies.
World's Shortest Creator Interview
If, due to some very poor logistics, you had to survive several days in some random tropical wilderness, what would you do to find food, and what species would your imaginary companion be?
I’m not proud, but survival knows no rules…I would create multiple Instagram and Pinterest accounts and immediately begin hyping the local eco-tourism and prestige destination potential using clips from National Geographic Specials and old episodes of Life-Styles of the Rich and Famous run through Google’s Deep Dream Generator linked to vague, two part headline click-bait advertising; “He Found Himself in a Random Tropical Wilderness. You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!” While I was doing this, I would imagine being accompanied by a gigantic floating siphonophore or maybe a game-show host.
If you could change one thing from your childhood, what would it be and why? (Please include the phrase "hot pink orangutan" in your answer.)
There are many parts of my childhood that I would change if I could, such as the constant relocation. I hated having to get used to the new gravity all the time and the way those different gases smelled. I would never, however, change even one tiny incandescent hair of the hot pink orangutan incident. Heh. Thanks for reminding me of that one.
About the Artists
jplenio is a visual artist on Pixabay.