It was all Mister Dowland’s fault. Maybe he hadn’t realised the precise consequences of his actions (though Conny had his doubts) but he should have at least known where something like this could lead.
It may have been good intentions that led him to say he would change the assessment system for PE. Many students in class, he said, pointedly not looking at anyone, fall far short of the fitness standards appropriate to your age, and far too many are overweight. Until then, PE had been easy to pass: make an obvious effort and it was done. The new system, though, meant that students would only pass if they were at a pretty high level of fitness, assessed by endurance, strength, flexibility and speed tests. Recognising that some would never manage it, Mister Dowland would allow people to pass if they accepted to be mentored by the football team. In that case, their grade would be half the fitness tests, and half what the team assessed them, which he said wasn’t up to him.
Football team members were smiling, and the obvious victims of the new policy had faces expressing emotions from outrage to fear. Mister Dowland concluded saying if people didn’t want to be in that situation, they could simply take training seriously and pass the tests. The next day he’d let the football team take applications for mentorship at his office.
That’s how Conny found himself alone with Alfred, Ron and Daniel, at Mister Dowland’s office, a tiny space by the gym that always smelled faintly of sweat, filled with training equipment. None of the three football players was Conny’s friend. Still, Ron had mostly ignored him, beyond the minimum necessary to assert his superiority over the little nerd, while Alfred had gone out of his way to insult him, call him names, trip him in the corridors and make fun of him whenever the opportunity arose. Daniel seemed to be more of a follower, and would go along with Alfred when he toyed with Conny, but at least didn’t really start it himself. The three strong, tall, lean and muscular students who led the team sat around a cheap table full of papers, with no chair left for the hopeful applicants, so Conny stood there, as they looked at him smirking.
“Why are you here?” said Alfred, growling with his deep voice.
“I’m hoping you will mentor me”, said Conny, trembling. “So I can pass this class. It’s really important for me to get good grades.”
“Yeah, we know that, you idiot”, said Alfred. “What I mean is what are you willing to do for us to agree.”
“Do?” asked Conny. “I don’t know. I am willing to help the team, of course. I’ll take training so I can get better on the tests. Hopefully it won’t take up too much effort?” he said.
“If we’re going to mentor you we want you to respect us”, said Alfred. “We want to see it’s not going to be a waste of our time to shelter a little nerdling like you. So how about you get on your knees and call us sir, for a start?”
“Are you serious? asked Conny, looking at Daniel and Ron, who had kept out of the conversation so far.
“He speaks for us”, said Ron. “I’d love to see you on your knees where you belong. After all you’re asking us for a favour. Show us it matters to you.”
Conny hesitated, on the edge of turning away and taking whatever consequences came out of this. He’d talked to his parents and explained to them the PE grade was going to be assessed differently, and they reminded him they wanted him to pass everything, whatever it took. If those football players get you fitter, it won’t be such a bad thing, added his mother, who always kept nagging him to exercise and play outside. It had been made clear that failing any subject, even something as pointless as PE, would not be tolerated. So in the end, Conny knelt, and tried to get the hateful words out.
“Please, will you take the time to mentor me, sir?” he asked looking at Ron, hoping he would be kinder. Oddly, he seemed to see disappointment on Ron’s face.
Alfred looked pleased, though, and placed his feet on the table. He wore a pair of old, dirty sneakers. The table held them up about face-height for poor, kneeling Conny, and their dusty soles were only a short distance away. Conny wanted to step back but felt pinned to his place on his knees as Alfred looked into his eyes. He lost his nerve and looked down at the shoes right in front of his nose.
“If we do I’m going to be in charge of you, so stop begging Ron to help you. He agreed you’d be mine, isn’t that right, Ron?” said Alfred, smirking, and looking at his friend.
“That’s right”, replied Ron. “The three of us are going to be in charge of mentoring, and we divided you up amongst us. You belong to Alfred and it’s entirely up to him what to do with you, since no-one else wants you”, he said, looking disdainfully at Conny, who felt somehow betrayed.
“So, why don’t you kiss my shoes?” asked Alfred, with a mischievous smile. “That way we’ll get to a good start: you get to learn your place at my feet and practice showing me the respect I’m owed.”
“Is that absolutely necessary, sir?” asked Conny, embarrassed to have to answer so meekly when all he wanted was to fight back or run away. He knew fighting back would only result in a beating, though, and running away would not solve his problem and be almost as humiliating. Doubtless Alfred would make him pay for it in a more public setting, too.
“No. Get the fuck out, twerp”, Alfred said. “I don’t have time for bullshit.”
Conny blushed and looked pleadingly into Alfred’s eyes. Swallowing his pride, he tried one last time.
“Please, sir, may I kiss your shoes?” he asked, with a tremor in his voice.
Alfred laughed, and both Ron and Daniel looked disgusted.
“Get the fuck out, I said. Try next month after your failing grade and maybe if I’m kind and you’re a good obedient little nerd and grovel low enough I’ll take you on.”
Conny spent his next month in fear of the tests and of the football team. Oddly, the team seemed to have left him alone. While he could see them giving shit to some of his fellow nerds, and forcing them to train up, they acted as if he didn’t exist. Of course this meant he had to get out of the way if he didn’t want to be shoved, but in some ways it was an improvement, though being treated as if he were invisible got to him a little.
Worse, his friends also stopped hanging around with him. They still talked to him in class and didn’t actively ignore him, but refused to spend time with him during breaks, and it quickly became clear to him the team must have given them orders to stay away. He was used to being not very popular and spending a lot of time alone, reading or daydreaming, but he felt more isolated than ever. He tried to train some by himself to build up his endurance, but he knew deep down he wouldn’t manage it, and fear of failing kept growing inside him with no-one to help him out.
He started having nightmares. Mister Dowland’s office became a dungeon or a torture chamber. He dreamt he was forced to crawl on the floor licking and kissing shoes as they kicked him and beat him. He even had dreams where he started to shrink as soon as he entered the office, and the three players turned giants played with him like a doll, passed him around tossing him from hand to hand and kicked him like a football. Those dreams made him wake up breathing hard, with his heart racing, and a strange kind of excitement and restlessness, probably from the fear and desire to fight back, didn’t let him fall back to sleep.
The isolation and fear made his training half-hearted and erratic, and so it was no surprise that when the day came, he failed three of the four components of the test (endurance, speed and strength) barely passing on flexibility. It made him feel even worse to know the only thing he was any good at was allowing his body to be twisted around, rather than any active capacity.
Mister Dowland took him aside, reminded him of the need to improve his fitness, and suggested him to seek mentorship from the football team.
“I know you may not get along, and you may think they’re not the sharpest kids around, but they know how to deal with their bodies, and it’s clear you don’t. Maybe you should admit you have something to learn from them and ask them for help”, he said. “In the meantime, I’m afraid I’m going to have to fail you. If it’s any consolation, you’re not the only student with good grades that’s going to fail PE this month. I’d strongly advise you to sort things out. A bunch of the people I expected to be failing managed to get a bare pass thanks to the team, and I’m sure so could you, if you try as hard as you do in your other subjects.”
Conny hated being lectured, and more so when there were some hard truths in what Mister Dowland was saying. Maybe if he had managed to get himself to take training seriously ... But it was too late now. Of course he wanted to explain to Mister Dowland he had tried to get mentored, but then he would have to recount one of the most humiliating experiences of his life, and how he knelt at the feet of his fellow students and fruitlessly begged to kiss their shoes. He just couldn’t do it.
When he got home and told his parents, things only got worse. Conny had two younger siblings, very close in age: in the middle, his sister Emma, who was the only girl in the family and allowed to do all sorts of things neither brother could get away with; and about a year younger than her, his brother Sam, who got a lot of leeway for being the youngest. In fact the three of them did pretty well in school. Emma got along with everyone, and Sam managed to keep up his grades as well as good relations inside and outside the nerd ghetto. So when his parents found out their oldest son had failed a subject, they did not take it at all well.
“You know how important it is to get good grades”, said his mother, looking disappointed. “I know you don’t like exercise and you think it’s a waste of time. We’re not saying you have to spend all your time at the gym, but you need to at least do enough of it you can manage a pass.”
“The football team was offering help”, said Sam. “Conny didn’t take it though. I saw a lot of his friends exercising with them, but not him.”
“You didn’t even try?” asked his mother.
Conny remembered that day, blushed, and look into his mother’s eyes. Something in his gaze alerted her.
“Did something happen? Did they do anything to you?” she asked. Her intuition told her something was terribly wrong. Her son didn’t behave like this normally.
Things may have been very different if Conny had admitted what had happened. He just couldn’t, though. If he hadn’t told his teacher, how could he admit to his mum the sort of spineless wimp he was? He’d told her before some of the minor things they had done to him. She’d taken it as mere childish teasing and told him to ignore them and they would get tired of it eventually. Somehow they never did, though, and things only got worse; but he’d stopped talking about it, and now he couldn’t. He was too ashamed, and afraid she wouldn’t believe him even if he tried.
“No”, he said.
“Well then get on it!” said his father. “You have to set an example for your siblings. Surely you don’t want to muck up your record and miss out on future opportunities just because you were shy”, he added.
“No, dad”, was Conny’s inevitable reply. Deep down he didn’t think failing PE would make that much of a difference in ten years, but there wasn’t any point in saying that.
“We’re ungrounding you for the month”, said his mother.
“What? Unground?” asked Conny, confused.
“There’s no point in sending you to your room or keeping you inside. That’s what you do anyway. What you need is to go out more and change your habits. So you’re locked out of your room for the month”, she replied.
“But what about my things? My computer, my books, my clothes...”, he asked.
“You can ask us or one of your siblings to get what you need. Clothes, textbooks, school supplies ... No computer. In fact, no video games at all this month”, she said.
“Hey, that’s punishing us too!” said Sam, unexpectedly defending his brother after telling on him. “What about multiplayer games? The three of us play together now and then.”
“Ok”, said their mother. “You can play at the living room on the console, but only when one of your siblings asks you. No asking yourself, and no playing alone.”
“Is that all?” asked Conny, sarcastically. It was going to be an awful month.
“Your siblings chores. You do them this month, too”, said Conny’s dad. “And don’t even think of complaining about it.”
“What? That’s really unfair and harsh”, Conny said, with a whine in his voice that even he hated.
“Your computer is going to your brother, forever”, said his father. “We were thinking about it a lot. Your brother needs a computer at this point, but you’re abusing it. We thought it would be going too far but it’s clear you don’t understand how seriously we’re taking this.”
“Dad! Please?” Conny regretted his outburst, but it was too late. His parents’ minds were made up, and he’d only get in more trouble if he kept complaining. though it was hard to think what more trouble he could be in, he didn’t want to find out.
The next day, the terrible trio from the football team were holding court and reminded everyone they’d be taking further applications. Conny didn’t waste any time and made sure to be there early, but they kept him waiting until everyone else had gone through. He didn’t know if they had been treated the same way, though he suspected, from the look on their faces, that it hadn’t been pleasant for them either, at least.
At last, when everyone else had finished, he knocked on the door and was called into the little office again. It smelled of sweat even more than before. Alfred sat on the centre, with Ron and Daniel by his sides. The three of them had their shoes on the table and a smile on their faces.
As Conny was about to speak, Alfred pointed at his shoes. It was clear he wanted to go on from where they had left it. It seemed they hadn’t changed their mind in the meantime.
Conny knelt on the floor, with the soles of Alfred’s shoes very close to his face again. He could see the mud stuck to the rubber, and the number 48 reminded him Alfred was a much bigger guy than him, who wore an almost feminine 38.
Feeling he had no choice, he took a breath to steady himself, and got ready to grovel as low as it took.
“Please, may I kiss your shoes, sir?” he said, echoing the last words he had exchanged with Alfred.
Alfred kept smiling, but didn’t answer. The silence and waiting was making Conny more and more nervous. Now he had made up his mind he wanted to be done with the humiliation as quickly as possible.
“Did you hear anything?” asked Alfred.
“Maybe it was a dog barking”, said Daniel.
“But then we should see a dog somewhere”, said Ron.
“True, and dogs walk on all fours, don’t they?” asked Alfred, briefly looking at Conny.
He didn’t want to do it, but he felt he had no choice, after the way his parents had treated him. It would be hard enough to bear their punishment for a month. He couldn’t imagine having to do so for longer. So he backed up on his knees, and went on all fours, blushing.
“Please, sir, may I kiss your shoes now?” he begged.
“Dogs bark, don’t they?” asked Daniel, laughing.
Conny looked at the three of them, asking for mercy, but he saw nothing but amusement and contempt reflected back. He lowered his head and barked like a dog.
“You know,” said Alfred, “dogs are really focused on smells. They are comforted by the scent of their masters. Especially strong smells people may find disgusting. They can get lost sniffing around their sweaty feet, or digging their noses into their worn shoes and dirty socks.”
Conny couldn’t believe what he was hearing, or rather, what it suggested they wanted him to do.
“Good thing we have a bunch of dirty socks for our pet to enjoy and get familiar with, isn’t it?” said Daniel, grabbing a closed backpack by his feet and throwing it at Conny. “It’s got a good mix of dirty socks from everyone in the team so we can train our pet to recognise and enjoy the smell of its masters”, he added, laughing.
“Conny’s a clever dog and I’m sure he is just looking forward to this”, said Ron. “Open the bag and get a sock out with your teeth. Then drop it on the floor and sniff it like a faithful obedient little lapdog.”
Conny opened the backpack, stuffed to its fullest. As he slowly worked the zipper, a disgusting, thick, cheesy and sour smell, worse than he could have imagined, from the stale sweat of many different feet crusted up in fabric and left to build up for days, crashed into Conny’s nose like a fist, making him cough and recoil.
“No no no”, said Alfred. “Good dogs don’t draw away from the delicious smell of their masters’ socks. Don’t make us have to punish you.”
Conny felt completely worthless. He was standing on all fours, on the floor, at the feet of three people who seemed to all hate him and who could do anything they liked to him. He was helpless before them, and he was handling a backpack filled with dirty socks he was going to have to smell. He had come into their power by his own stupid decisions, and he had no choice but to obey.
He placed his head at the backpack’s opening, and grabbed one of the many worn, old, crusty, sweaty, stinking socks with his mouth, trying his best not to breathe in the overpowering smell and to touch the soiled fabric as little as possible, though he knew he wouldn’t be able to avoid smelling it up close. Still, he tried to postpone it for as long as he could. Then he dropped it on the floor and began to sniff it.
Oddly it was a bit of a relief after having his face surrounded by dirty socks releasing their combined stench right into his nose. This was at least one single smell. He heard his tormentors laugh at him and comment on what a worthless wimp he was and how much he deserved to be treated like the dog he was. He couldn’t follow them that closely though, as his senses were overwhelmed by the situation. He couldn’t see much beyond the floor and the sock he was nuzzling, and his nose was filled with the penetrating smell of cured cheese and spoiled milk, as well as the unpleasant touch of the fabric, stiff with dried up sweat.
Even distracted by the unbearable sensations he was being made to endure, he could hear the sound of mobile phones taking pictures. He raised his head from the floor in alarm, and got a clear picture taken of his face, stupidly looking up.
“Don’t worry”, said Ron, smiling at Conny. “You only have to be our pet in private. If you’re an obedient and fun puppy we won’t have to tell anyone else, or show them these delicious pictures of doggy Conny nuzzling dirty socks on the floor. Anyway, we’ve been recording everything since you came in, and I can tell you, it makes for some amazing video. You come into the room, and without us saying a single word you fall on your knees and beg us to let you kiss our shoes. How do you think that would make you look?” he asked.
He blushed, realising how it all looked and what a mess he was in. They had gone from having some leverage on him to being able to destroy his reputation with everyone forever, and all because of his own actions and readiness to comply. They said it would remain private but he could never be sure: they could change their mind any time, and the temptation to brag about it would keep growing. He was fucked, completely fucked, and he could do nothing about it but continue to allow himself to fall deeper and deeper into their control, letting himself be further debased. That’s when he began to cry, and Ron made him look at the camera, with tears in his eyes, and thank them for teaching him a lesson in humility and respect.
Alfred, who looked a bit annoyed at how Ron had taken over, snapped his fingers.
“When any of us snaps our fingers you come crawling to our feet, got it, pet?” he asked. His tone was demanding and impatient. “And pick that sock up in your mouth. Bring it to us”, he added.
Conny used his mouth to grab the sock, avoiding the worst parts (the frayed heel and hardened fabric on the toe) and crawled on all fours around the table to Alfred’s feet. There, he raised his head offering the sock with his mouth.
“You got him trained already”, said Daniel, flattering Alfred.
“Let’s play fetch”, said Alfred, taking the sock from Conny’s mouth and throwing it to the other side of the room.
Conny, knowing what was expected, did his best to crawl to it fast, picked it up with his mouth, and brought it back to Alfred. He tried to do everything quickly and couldn’t be so careful, so he ended up holding a mouthful of crusty sock toe that he couldn’t avoid. When Alfred noticed it, he began to laugh.
“Looks like you’re enjoying this, pet. Let’s do it again!”, he said.
After a couple more rounds, they made him go back to the backpack and pick up a few more smelly socks so that the three of them could participate. They kept throwing socks around the room, making him crawl everywhere, and give each one back to the right guy or get slapped. Then they began to time him. If he failed to fetch them all in time, he had to whine like a dog and kiss their shoes as they laughed at him. On top of it all, crawling on the hard floor soon became painful, and doing so at the speed they demanded of him got him tired and panting, which only made Alfred point out how much like a dog he was.
In spite of it all, there was something exciting about the game: focusing on his body, obeying clear instructions, playing hard and moving fast somehow quieted Conny’s mind. So he unexpectedly caught himself breathing hard, with aching knees, resting his chin on Ron’s leg, offering him the unwashed sock in his mouth, and smiling with joy. He suddenly realised what he was doing and blushed, as Ron stroked his hair and called him “good boy”. Without intending it, they had all been having fun like little kids.
They all suddenly noticed the mood had changed. Ron and Daniel were smiling and didn’t seem to mind. Conny was embarrassed at how much he had got into the game, and the role of sock-fetching dog, but still enjoyed the change from being bullied and humiliated to being treated playfully, as undignified as it all was. Alfred didn’t like it though. He snapped his fingers and scowled. Conny sighed quietly, and crawled to Alfred’s feet. The pleasant feeling of lightness had gone.
“Enough fun and games. Open your mouth wide, doggy. Wider ... Wider ... Like that”, said Alfred.
Then he turned the smelly sock he held inside out and shoved it into Conny’s mouth, making him suck on the soiled fabric that had been directly trodden on by the foot, and making him wince.
“That’ll give the puppy something to entertain itself while we do our business”, he said looking at Daniel.
Alfred and Daniel stood up, and this time it was Ron who snapped his fingers, making Conny crawl to him. He covered Conny’s eyes with the dirty sock he had in hand, wiping the heel of it on his nose and making him smell it. Alfred and Daniel moved around the room for a bit, and soon left. Ron stood up, letting the sock fall from Conny’s face, told him to stay put, and quickly locked the door.
“Ok”, said Ron. “We have about ten minutes to talk until those two come back.” He stroked Conny’s hair and placed his head on his lap.
Ron pulled the dirty sock out of Conny’s mouth, letting him talk.
“W-what do you want to talk about, sir?” asked Conny, confused.
“Forget about the sir nonsense. This is serious”, said Ron. “How are you doing?”
“This is so hard. Si-Ron ... why are you doing this to me? I never did anything to you. Are you going to help me, if you don’t want to be called sir?” asked Conny.
“You’re wrong”, said Ron. “You made me lose a bet. But that’s another story. Suck on my fingers”, he said, shoving the fingers of one hand into Conny’s mouth while he stroked his hair with the other. “Good boy”, he said. “Good practice for when we make you suck other things”, he chuckled.
“Other things?” asked Conny, his words muffled by Ron’s fingers going in and out of his mouth.
“Toes, balls, anything we like. We’re going to be using your mouth like a wash basin”, said Ron, wiping his fingers on Conny’s hair.
“Please, Ron. Haven’t you humiliated me enough?” asked Conny, a bit confused by the mixture of dominant and caring behaviour.
“We don’t have a lot of time, and I can’t explain everything”, said Ron. “What you need to know is that I can guarantee this will all stay private if you keep your shit together. Alfred and Daniel went to store the videos we took with you grovelling, and we’ve agreed this isn’t going to come out. In the team we all have shit on each other so we’d rather keep everything private. But that doesn’t mean it won’t come out if you are not careful and you let them trick you.”
“Trick me how?” asked Conny, increasingly puzzled.
“Alfred is probably going to call you names and make threats. He really has it in for you. You see, you’re a little nerd and you don’t really admire him the way he thinks he deserves. You just try to ignore him. So he’s probably going to tell people you’re his shoe kissing bitch and order you to do it in public, or something like that. Well, if you obey him, you’re fucked then. But though he may threaten you he won’t go through with it. We’ve agreed about this.”
“You make it sound all like some weird game, with rules and everything”, said Conny.
“Not a bad way to think about it”, said Ron.”
“Is that it? Can I count on you to save me?” asked Conny, hoping for an ally.