Tony tried the second key in the lock, and it worked. The heavy front door swung open to reveal a dark, dank corridor. He peered in. Was there anyone here? Shit, he should have knocked. What an idiot. He clicked the door shut and walked down the corridor, heading for the stairs at the end. The old floorboards beneath the revolting, smelly, stained brown carpet creaked beneath his feet. He walked slowly, expecting someone to jump out at any moment.
A man jumped out at him.
“What the fuck are you doing in my house?”
Tony held up his arms in self-defence. “Amy asked me to come and get her sneakers!”
“Amy. She gave me her key. She needs her sneakers.”
The man stared at him for a moment in the dark, then turned on a weak, yellow hall lamp and stared at him a moment longer.
“Why didn’t you knock on the front door first? Or at least call out?”
“I don’t know. I guess because I had the key.”
“Hmmmm… whatever.” The man started to walk away.
Tony stood for a moment. He figured this guy must be Amy’s housemate. Or was he? He knew he wasn’t robbing the house… but perhaps this guy was.
“Who are you?” Tony called after him. The man turned back, walked up to Tony, put his face close up to Tony’s and opened his eyes wide.
“I’m you worst nightmare.”
“Nah, just kidding, mate. I’m Evan, Amy’s housemate.” Evan stuck out his hand. Tony shook it, suddenly remembering all of the psycho things Amy had said about Evan. Apparently, he’d shaved his eyebrows last week in honour of the Pink Floyd film The Wall and had left the eyebrow hair and blood all over the downstairs sink.
“Uh, Tony. Amy’s room’s upstairs, yeah?”
“Yeah, but come have a cup of tea.” Evan started to guide him toward the kitchen.
“Nah, thanks. I, uh, the game starts in half an hour. Amy still had some work on her assignment, so I, uh, I’m just grabbing her sneakers.”
Evan looked at him again. “You’re not the boyfriend.”
“Nah, that’s Dave. My housemate.”
“Why isn’t Dave picking up Amy’s sneakers?”
“He wasn’t home from work yet.”
“Hmmmm…. Whatever.” Evan walked off. Tony made it to the stairs, and then remembered that Amy said that a few months ago, Evan arranged himself on the stairs with a fake knife sticking out from his chest and fake blood all over him, just to see how Amy and their other housemate, Tom, would react. Amy had screamed and cried for three hours, even after Evan had showered and cleaned up and given her a Valium. She still wouldn’t walk through the house without all the lights on.
He looked back toward the kitchen to make sure than Evan wasn’t following him, then went upstairs. Amy’s room was the only upstairs, and she hadn’t been joking when she said it was a mess. Tony had thought that this was just a way to put him off getting her shoes because she didn’t want to play tonight. Tony had also seen this as a great chance to see her room. He told himself that he wasn’t going to cut his mate’s lunch, but thinking about Amy before he went to bed (and sometimes in the morning, and sometimes in the shower) wasn’t harming anyone. And now he’d have a new real setting – or so he thought. Tony wasn’t a totally neat freak, but he did like his things in their place, clean and tidy. This was not what he expected. He almost held his nose as he entered – there were piles of filthy clothes everywhere. In fact, they almost weren’t piles, they were almost another carpet. He saw the first shoe by the end of her bed. He negotiated footsteps across, and nearly gagged onto a pile of jumpers when he picked up the shoe and found a used condom hanging off the toe. He flicked the shoe a couple of times and the condom flew off and onto the foot of the bed. Better. He looked around, disgusted, for shoe number two. He figured it would probably be near the first. She had he clarinet set up on a stand a couple of steps away, so he reached it and used it to disperse the clothes and stuff until he found the shoe. At least, that was how long he thought he’d be doing it. After a few minutes, he sighed and stretched. Nothing. He looked around the room. No sign of anything until he spotted the window. The other shoe was holding open the window. His triumph at spying it turning quickly to dismay as he realised that he was going to have to walk across the filth again, then lean over the desk which was stacked high with fruit peel, empty bowls and also some identifiable something which possibly had once been edible to reach it. He threw the first shoe into the hallway, flung the clarinet onto the bed and looked for a path across. He immediately regretted throwing the clarinet away – this was his one ally, the single tool he could use to complete the mission. Now, it lay, just out of reach, on the bedspread. He could lean to get it, but the risk of upsetting that bowl of yoghurt (he guessed yoghurt… in here you couldn’t be sure) was too great. He turned and stared at the task ahead.
Suddenly, from downstairs, he heard Evan’s voice start counting backwards. “Twenty… nineteen… eighteen…” He recalled another Evan story – that when he was a kids, apparently he didn’t like to play ‘Hide and Seek’ but ‘Hide and Punch’. Or another alternative – ‘Hide and Punch Lots’. Tony looked at the floor, then the shoe, then, keeping his eyes on the prize, he walked across the room without looking down. He felt a crunch underfoot, but did not stop. “… fourteen… thirteen… twelve…” He grabbed the shoe, the window slammed shut and he turned. His foot slipped on something gooey, but he quickly regained his balance and ran for the door. “… seven… six… five…” he snatched the first shoe, pulled the door shut and ran down the stairs. “…three … two…” he ran to the front door. Evan was standing, holding the door open. Tony didn’t hesitate, he ran through and straight off to his car. “… one… coming ready or not!”
Tony pressed the remote lock as he ran to the car, opened the door, threw himself inside, started the engine and reversed without looking for traffic. He slammed on his brakes as a VW swerved and beeped him. He was sweating, he waved an apology to the driver. He finally looked back to the house. Evan was standing at the letterbox, and waved a handful of mail at Tony. Tony gulped, then, checking his mirror, reversed carefully.
Later, Amy would tell him that Evan always did a countdown to getting the mail. When Tony would ask about “Hide and Punch Lots” Amy would laugh as she pulled on her shoe. “Did you believe that? Ha! Tony, you believe anything! Hang on, Tony, this is my old shoe. I can’t believe you got the wrong shoe! Can you go back?”