1. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.

    Past Contest Submissions CLOSED for contest #182, theme: "Muscular"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Nov 10, 2015.

    Short Story Contest #182
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "Muscular" courtesy of @BookLover

    Submissions will be open for 2 more weeks.


    To enter the contest, post the story here in this thread. It will show up as an anonymous author.

    The contest is open to all writingforums.org members, newbies and the established alike. At the deadline I will link to this thread from the voting thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. As always, the winner may PM me to request the theme of the subsequent contest if he/she wishes.

    Entries do not have to follow the themes explicitly, but off-topic entries may not be entered into the voting.

    Word limit: 500-3000 words
    Deadline for entries: Sunday the 22nd of Nov, 2015 1600 (4:00 pm) US Pacific time.

    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. Any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    If we reach 20 entries, the maximum number of stories for any one contest, I will consider splitting the contest into two. Only one entry per contest per contestant is permitted.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece basis to decide its legitimacy for the contest.

    A story entered into the contest may not be one that has been posted anywhere** on the internet, not just anywhere on this site. A story may not be posted for review until the contest ends, but authors may seek critiques after voting closes for the contest. Members may also not repost a story anywhere, or bring attention to the contest in any way, until the voting has closed.
    (**We tried one that had been posted for critique before entering but it defeated the anonymity so I've gone back to no stories perviously posted here in the forum.)

    PLEASE use this title format for all stories: Title bolded [word count in brackets]

    If there are any questions, please send me a PM (Conversation).

    After the voting ends, posting in the thread will re-open for comments.

    ***And thanks to even more long hours put in by our very special mod/member @Wreybies, winners are now awarded with olympic style medals displayed under their avatars.

    Be sure to preview your entry before you hit 'reply'.
    Check italics and bolding as sometimes the end code for bold or italics doesn't copy/paste affecting large stretches of text.
    If you need to fix the formatting, hit 'control a' to 'select all' and clear all bold and italics code. Then re-add it back in using the board's font controls before you hit 'post reply'. Watch those extra line spaces. PLEASE delete them directly from the post before hitting 'post reply'.

    The point of consistent titles and line spacing is to avoid having those things influence votes, sometimes for worse.

    Thanks, and good luck!
  2. Fernando.C

    Fernando.C Active Member

    Jul 26, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Lands Beyond the Wall
    Musings of a Broken Soul [2022]

    The photo placed on the nightstand served more as a mockery of his current state than an object of comfort. In it a young, proud man sat casually on a bar stool in a beautiful yacht. A gorgeous girl, barely twenty years of age, sat in his lap. Her hands all over his firm, muscular chest; her lips caressing his neck, one playful eye glancing at the camera as she did so.

    The young man himself was grinning with the calm, victorious expression of one who had it all. He was handsome with his bright green eyes and blond hair which was messy in a stylish kind of way. He looked every bit the arrogant bad boy that seemed to be so irresistible to women.

    The man in the picture bore no resemblance to the sickly, barely human-looking creature lying on the bed. Bald, shrivelled, his skin so ill-fitting on his bones it looked as though it might fall off at any second.

    No…this could not be the same man.

    The man in the photo was fit, healthy; he was an athlete. His gold Olympic medal shone on his chest as bright as his smile.

    No…nobody could suffer such decay in five short months; it was not humanly possible.

    And yet there he was. Looking more and more like a corpse in an advanced stage of decomposition with each passing day. He even smelled the part, which was why his family and friends where downstairs in the living room seeking comfort in glass after glass of expensive wine while discussing his fate rather than being with him. He did not judge them though, he had insisted they leave him alone.

    It was better this way. He could not stand the pity and sorrow in their eyes, could not bear to listen to their hollow words of comfort. They knew what was to happen, he knew it too. It was inevitable.

    He was beyond the hope of a cure. Even the pleasure of a temporary relief of his constant pain was denied him at this point. He was dead in all but the most basic biological terms. He had lost the use of his legs within the first two months of his illness leaving him bound to a wheelchair. Oh how he hated being pushed on that stupid thing like a baby on a stroller.

    At least he still had his arms, even if it had become a struggle working them properly. He could not even move his head without assistance anymore and his vision grew blurrier by each second. Each breath raspier and more laborious than the last, every pulse of the heart fainter…weaker…

    Why didn’t he just die then? He had wished for it every moment of every day in the last several weeks. His health had worsened, every bit of his body kept rotting away and yet he lingered on. It was as if some primal part of him deep, deep inside – one born of pure instinct – refused to acknowledge the inescapable fate that approached him with every ticking of the clock. This illogical and stubborn part of him seemed to continue on fighting for survival like a shipwrecked soul struggling against the violent ocean currents even while sinking farther and farther underwater.

    A fit of coughing took hold of him. It felt as though a thousand daggers were hacking at his throat each time he coughed, which was becoming more and more frequent.

    He reached a thin, weak hand grabbing the half empty glass of water sitting on the night stand. His hand shook so wildly that most of the water spilled out of the glass, leaving him with some few drops that did little to quench his burning thirst and wet his dry lips.

    He felt like crying except his extreme dehydration had rendered him incapable of producing tears. God! How weak could someone possibly get for such mundane a task to be beyond them?

    The sheer pitifulness of his situation made him laugh; dark, bitter laughs that brought even more agony to his tortured throat and culminated in yet another coughing fit. A strange taste filled his mouth. He reached a hand to touch the inside of his lips, it came out red. He was coughing up blood.

    It did not surprise him, it seemed like a logical thing to happen in this stage of his illness. Another stop towards death. Maybe this was a good sign, it could mean that his time was nigh. Oh how he hoped for it! How he desired it! At this point death would be a happy ending.

    He tried to grab a tissue to wipe his bloody lips and managed to knock both the tissue box and the photo sitting in front of it to the floor. The impact cracked the glass frame; the man in the photo grinned still.

    Clueless, arrogant bastard.

    What a fool he had been then. Blind by his power and wealth, lost in the glamour his celebrity status had brought him. So drunk on empty luxuries that he had come to believe himself above health problems; invincible against sickness, against the Virus. The Virus; that was what they called it, the cause of this nightmarish disease.

    He had laughed at and mocked those that had fallen prey to this illness, calling them weak and worthless. The world a better place for being rid of them. He had had no sympathy for their pain, or for the grief of their loved ones. It was their own faults after all that they succumbed so easily to a silly virus, they were all a bunch of pathetic wusses.

    When someone protested his remarks – and it happened often – calling him cruel and insensitive, he pointed out that it was always the poor and the lower class that fell victim to the Virus. He argued that it was the filth these people grew up and lived in that caused their illnesses, that if they made any effort to improve their miserable hygiene then issues like the Virus could be avoided. Then, when he had first contracted the virus he had been angry at the ‘low-level scums’ as he called them, accusing them of spreading their filth; even though it had already been proven that the Virus wasn’t contagious.

    What a blind fool he had been…the Virus did not care about social class, it hit at random and every one was in danger of it. The doctors and the scientist had not been able to determine the source of the virus, or even a pattern in the victims it claimed. It seemed that anyone of any age, gender and race; weak or strong, fat or fit, with or without previous medical condition was at its mercy. It was unlike anything the experts had ever seen. It did not behave like any other virus and the speed with which it progressed once inside a human’s body, was frightening.

    So many had fallen to it before him…so many more would after him. There was no cure, no hope of fighting it or even hindering its progress.

    More coughs…more blood coming up, this time thicker than before. He remembered the tissue in his hand but found that he could not raise his arm to wipe the blood, in fact he could not feel his arms at all. He was thoroughly paralysed now.

    The coughs did not cease this time. The blood in his throat was beginning to block his airway…

    …He was suffocating.

    His vision drew darker and fuzzier to the point that he could see nothing but vague shapes. He was dying, he knew it; felt it.

    And he was all alone.

    He opened his mouth to call to those he loved, he needed to see them one last time, he had been wrong to send them way. But no sound came out of his mouth… his voice had left him as well.

    Soon, the world went dark. He could feel his awareness leaving him, fading away. Bit by bit, piece by piece like flour falling through a sieve his consciousness was erased from the existence…

    Then, he was no more.


    “…What did you see?”


    Sunlight hit him full in the face, momentarily blinding him. When his eyes finally adjusted he couldn’t process what he was seeing.

    He was on the yacht once more, sitting on the bar stool. And that gorgeous girl was in his lap rubbing her hand all over his strong, firm chest. His right arm was wrapped around her. His arm? His chest?

    He examined his body with a look of wonder. His body, his muscles… all was back to normal. He was healthy again, strong, handsome.

    And he could move his limbs.


    “What did you see?” the girl asked again, “You were phased out there for a while”.

    He looked around him, the photographer who had taken their picture was gone. They were all alone in the lower deck.

    “I…I don’t…I’m not sure” he managed to say. What had happened? Had it all been in his mind?

    “But you saw something, didn’t you?” she pressed on.

    “Yeah…ah, am I alive?”

    “Of course you are honey, what kind of question is that?”

    He didn’t answer.

    “Now tell me” the girl continued, “What did you see?”

    After a moment’s hesitation, he told her all that had happened to him in his harrowing...nightmare?...Vision? Whatever it was. How he had contracted the virus, his months of pain and deteriorating health, all climaxing in his death.

    “My God” she said when he was finished, an expression of exaggerated horror on her face. “I can’t imagine how scared you must’ve been…poor baby!”

    She proceeded to give him a half hug without changing her position.

    “You have no idea” he said. “So it was all a…nightmare?”

    A smile crept over her lips. It was not the pleasant kind. He did not like the gleam that had appeared in her eyes.

    “Oh it was absolutely a nightmare” she said with a sweetness that couldn’t be more fake, “but that doesn’t make it any less real”.

    She raised the little finger of her left hand within inches of his eyes. The nail on this finger began a rapid growth into a sharp claw of sickly yellowish color. She ran her claw across his lower abdomen. He stiffened.

    “What are…”

    She cut him off. “One cut. One small cut and it’ll all happen again”.

    Her claw travelled upward, brushing his skin but not breaking it. It felt cold on his skin like a piece of metal which he was sure it could cut through with ease.

    “So what do you say?” she asked him.

    “What do you mean it’ll happen again?” he said trying to squeeze the confidence he didn’t feel into his voice.

    “Where do you think the Virus’s coming from?” she said then winked.

    Surprise... horror... shock, he was not sure which emotion to pick, they all seemed appropriate for the occasion.

    “You’re causing…I mean… all this...” he found it hard to think straight through all this. “You’re not human are you?” he finally said.

    “What was you first clue?”

    “What do you want?”

    “Why, to spare you a terrible fate of course!”

    “A terrible fate that you’ll be the cause of”

    She rolled her eyes at him in response. “Do you want my help?”

    Like I have any choice.

    She didn’t wait for his answer. “Submit or die…in agony”


    “Yes, submit, give in, to me, and you’ll live forever. Refuse and your nightmare becomes your reality. And this time there will be no reverse”.

    He wished against wish that this was a nightmare too; that soon he would wake up in his bed at his house – he had had enough of the yacht – and find everything was back to normal. He knew that to be a vain hope. Against all human logic, this was the reality. And his choice was already made for him.

    “Who are you?” he didn’t need to tell her yes, the tone of his voice, his sad, resigned expression, did all the work.

    “Henceforth…your master”.
    LauraF likes this.
  3. Kalleth Bright-Talon

    Kalleth Bright-Talon Member

    Nov 7, 2015
    Likes Received:
    The Weight of Guilt [1606]

    Weighing the scales, balancing a flat piece of silver. Adjusting for equilibrium, planting a small shard on the other plate. A beat passed while I watched the instrument quiver and calibrate appropriately. The flap of tanned leather parted to let in a sliver of moonlight and the scent of jasmine wafted into my vicinity.

    "You know, I understand that this toy is fascinating, but your wife is feeling neglected. Darling, please come to bed." Relai's arms wrapped around my shoulders and I flinched away from the table careful not to disturb the balance. Relai sighed and squeezed me tightly.

    "Don't stay up too late alright love?"

    I nodded and continued to stare at the scale intently, wondering if the measurements could possibly be true. If they were, which this scale undoubtedly proved to be so, the metal was even more valuable than at first glance. Something spectacular. Something...

    Snap. Crack. Pop. Crunch.

    "Relai, get back." I warned, whispering gently. My wife slipped off of the cushions and curled up in a corner, clutching a knife. Her face was stoic, but I saw the way her hands shook. Grim thoughts overrode the philosophical ones of moments ago and I retrieved my spear. Hafted in rosewood with a barbed tip of carven bone, it was effective against animals. The roiling twist of my gut led me to believe that this was no mere animal. A head, no, a hand! A hand which dwarfed my own skull for size parted the flap of our tent and I couldn't see the stars or the moon outside. Almost too late, I remembered the precious scales and that which I was measuring. Skipping forward I managed to drag the table back to my side of the tent as the hulking form outside bent down to gain entry.

    "Irnak, you said you found that thing in the market. Where exactly did you find it?" My wife asked, her voice high with a mix of fear and fury. I didn't have a problem with theft. It was a necessity. Yesterday, I found this metal by the river in a smoking pit. It weighed next to nothing but gleamed with a lustrous sheen like gold. When I discovered that it would not yield before my hammer, I was almost giddy with glee at the prices I could find for this material. At the time I didn't know that the smith needed a certain amount of this magic metal in weight. So I had searched for a way to measure out what he'd asked for and the scale... Well the scale was unattended, and I assumed nobody would mind if I borrowed it. I certainly didn't know that it could possibly threaten my wife.

    "Relai, when I say the word, you run. You run across the pasture to my uncle's tent. Don't mind me. This brute won't take long." I was quite candid with my bravado, since I was a strong young man. And my spear was razor sharp. Meanwhile, the titanic form outside was now mostly within my tent, raising his boulder of a head to tower near the tent's peak. Stepping in completely, I saw the largest man I had ever seen in my life. Tanner than the darkest of men, his skin was darker than the shadows which played at the edges of my vision. In the torchlight, it was plain to tell that he had fought before. Long rows of scars ran all over his bulging chest and tree trunk arms. This man was muscular to the point of seeming otherworldly.

    "My master desires his scale to be returned." A chill ran down my spine, when this man (beast?)'s voice echoed through the tent. It sounded as though the earth had split open and the rift was grating with the upheaval of molten rock.

    "Go on, take the scale. It's yours." I held out the instrument and shook it lightly, inviting him to take it. It was a risk letting my spear trail on the ground. My bravado had deserted me the second he spoke.

    "My master requires additional repayment." The mountain's dull eyes shifted to eye my magic metal.

    "No! You can't have it! I won't let you take it! Here, the scales!" I tossed him the instrument, and he caught it without dexterity. The valuable measuring tool tinkled in just his palm, where my whole hand had gripped the middle rod. This man could crush my head like a grape.

    "Master needs payment." The brute shrugged, which resulted in a powerful rolling of sinew and muscle. His gaze rolled across the tent to Relai in the corner. She whimpered fearfully and my mind snapped. He couldn't, wouldn't get her. Not because of me!

    "Run Relai!" I yelled, stepping forward. The monster stepped forward in kind, and the ground quaked. Relai screamed. No time to think, and no time to waste. I lunged and my spear dug into his thigh. I twisted the barbs in, feeling flesh give way and hot blood wash my cheeks in crimson. Roaring, I pushed as hard as I could and the point ripped through muscle and tore out the bottom of his leg. I fell to my knees, hands shaking on the red-soaked shaft of my spear. He hadn't moved. Not a movement.

    "Your choice." The thunder rumbled above and in front of me. The air itself quivered in his presence. I felt his hand wrap around my chest. Lifting me with the ease of a small baby he threw me. I twisted in the air, felt heavy leather yield to my weight before I tumbled into the dirt. The stars twinkled above me, and a bloody glow rose up beside me. The tent was burning... I heard a grunt from him, like a tree bending in a hurricane. In my peripheral vision, his silhouette snapped both ends of the spear into kindling. He left the wound with rosewood still blocking both holes in his leg. If nothing else, he'd been stabbed before. In the haze of the flames, everything started to blur...

    "Irnak, take this." Relai whispered, and my vision refocused. My wife, beautiful as the day she came to the market with her father, was kneeling above me with something in her hand. She cupped my cheek, and tears dripped onto my cheeks, mixing with the blood of my rebellion. I felt her soft hands tie something around my neck, and then her shape became indistinct among the other fuzzy lines of the night.

    "Goodbye my love, and stay safe." I mouthed, before closing my eyes.

    When I opened them again, he was there. A shadow against shadows, a foreboding peak and an insurmountable obstacle. He stood holding the gleaming scale, the magic metal, and the shards of my spear all in his one hand. From the broadness of his shoulders, wide as an oxen's antlers to his limbs like logs, this creature was made to kill. Faintly, I moved an arm to try and drag myself away. He took the spear point and loosely poked it down into my wrist, as one might plant a stake to pitch a tent. The point drove home through my wrist. I couldn't feel my fingers, only searing pain running up my arm like lightning.

    "Do you know why I kill? Why I am so clearly gifted in my profession, and you so riddled by misfortune Irnak?" The rider asked me, as he drove the spear head into the ground. "It is because a thief who doubts himself is as honest as a murderer who cries for those he has slain. If a robber gives away his coin, he is nothing. I have come for you as I have come for so many before. The metal you measure cannot be valued in any human price. Its value is not for mortal men to determine!" My torturer flexed his muscles and they rippled with power, and he made a show of flexing them in different positions. My other unharmed hand drifted to my neck, and I fingered a small talisman rough against my thumb.

    "Relai, you are the blessing in my curse of death..." I spoke softly, or perhaps thought to myself. My mouth was dry as a bone. There was one other thing I had found with much trepidation in my experiments. When the metal was hot, it was highly volatile. It produced extremely powerful explosions when it came into contact with...salt. Around my neck was a clay jar of salt, often placed on the bodies of great warriors for the afterlife. Who could imagine that it might help me reach the afterlife instead?

    "Killer," I croaked, "You may know my name but you do not know my mind!" And I ripped the jar from my neck, and my wrist from the spear with my last reserve of strength to lurch against the brute's face. I smashed the jar into his nose and it shattered. Shards of clay embedded in his face, the monster roared and tossed me aside. Dropping his prizes, he gingerly reached up to his face...


    During my many careful experiments, I had created very specific amounts of the metal, covering the table with shavings. Relai had immediately relocated our salts outside of the tent. As I lay mere footsteps from the brute, I made out the ruin of his face. Soon I could hear the sounds of my uncle and wife rushing back to our still burning tent. For all the murderer's talk of me being a poor thief, he lost his life. I only lost a hand.
    LauraF likes this.
  4. Haze-world

    Haze-world Senior Member Supporter

    Oct 31, 2015
    Likes Received:
    More than One Way to be Strong (Swearing 2983 words)

    The thieves were bolder. Gamel scanned the field but only a scattering of his father’s black sheep remained, a broken flock of lone grazers too canny to be caught, left wild eyed from the night raid. Missing a few sheep in a harsh winter was one thing, losing a flock in the summer was troubling.

    A small voice tugged him from his thoughts. “Gamel, look.”

    His little brother staggered, holding a young goat in his arms. “I’m getting stronger, aren’t I?” Letting the animal run free he picked up his crossbow.

    “You are. You can help shift those sacks of wheat when we get back.” Gamel shifted his bow on his shoulder.


    “Oh, you’re strong in other ways, your muscles will soon catch up.”

    “I can shoot quarrels as good as you.”

    “That, you can.”

    They carried on walking back to their home after a morning spent on target practice then a search for the missing flock.

    He squinted against the morning sun looking thoughtfully at the farm buildings curled sleepily within the shadow of a mountain ridge that sliced across rich arable flatland. Birds screeched above. The mountain had grown ugly now the thieves hid there. Trees were severely thinned from all the building and burning, revealing a harsh angular rock face which pierced the sky.

    When they neared the farm, a few goats pressed close, one chewed at Terric’s hair. Gamel brushed it away. Seeing the boy’s feet drag he lifted him onto his shoulders, carrying the boy’s crossbow, glancing up at the gathering clouds.

    He wiped his hot face with his sleeve as he walked through the trees and stopped in surprise, seeing his mother with the handcart, digging next to a large pile of soil.

    Walking towards her, his stomach chilled. The sudden stench of death hit him. Flies bothered an arm which lay outstretched on the ground.

    His pace quickened, drawn towards her seeing that the hand belonged to a man. His nails dug into his palms as he recognised his father’s shirt.

    He stood to her side feeling strangely numb, realising his father could be sleeping if it wasn’t for the blood in his hair and what was pouring out of his middle. He turned away. It would have been an agonising death from that type of wound, he realised.

    Terric cried, jolting him from his thoughts and he dropped the crossbow into the grass, snatching him down close to his chest.

    His Mother’s eyes were glazed, tear tracks down her face. Her skirt was thick with dirt and smeared with blood.

    “What happened?” His voice was hoarse.

    “I found him dead by the ford.” She continued digging his grave. “Get a shovel and help.”

    Clutching his brother his eyes moved from her to his father’s body as he backed away. “In a moment. I need to see to Terric.”

    “He’ll be fine. Put him down and help,” she snapped.

    “No. I won’t be long. He’s seen too much already.” Gamel stepped back carrying Terric towards the milking shed.

    “Do it now!” Her voice was shrill.

    He left her. Seeing his father’s dead face as he walked, squinting into the low light of the shed.

    He stopped with a dull sense of surprise. A massive slab of a man with a flat nose appeared from the shadows. Two smaller men followed.

    Gamel leaped back. One of the smaller men blocked his escape and towered over Gamel with a lazy grin, knife glinting. Ready.

    Flat Nose watched him through cold eyes over a scowl, meaty fists to his side, the scent of death clung to him as he lumbered closer. The knife was long. A decorative handle glinted from a scrolled curved sheath to Flat Nose’s belt, Gamel felt the menace of that too.

    “Did you kill our Father?” Gamel’s voice was meant to sound tough, but it came out flat and weak. He didn’t know why he asked and somewhere deep down, he wished he hadn’t.

    “None of us did.” Flat Nose grinned, eyes gleaming with apparent amusement.

    Gamel reckoned the flies fussing over Flat Nose’s sleeve told a different tale.

    “This is our place now. Tell your mother to leave by tomorrow night.”

    Gamel fixed a stare on him, trying to feel anger, something… He tightened his hold around his brother.

    “Do as I say and you’ll live.” Flat Nose strode outside and stood looking purposefully at Gamel’s mother then walked back towards the mountain.

    Gamel watched them leave beneath the darkening skies, wondering why the mountain thief lied about killing his father. His hands shook. He had to get the army to help, they wouldn’t like the thieves taking good farmland with all the talk of a war coming soldiers had to be fed after all.

    Kneeling down by Terric, Gamel spoke in soothing tones. “We’ll sort it out, don’t worry.”

    Terric looked up at him and nodded in silence, eyes filled with tears.

    He ruffled the small boy’s hair. “Go in the house and pack up your stuff. We’ll say our goodbyes to Father on our own.”

    They dug his grave in silence. The cloud of flies provided an easy excuse not to talk, tapping annoyingly into his face, but he knew it was the shock and grief that really held their tongues. The sky darkened.

    Gamel’s thoughts drifted. The squawk of a hen or the call of a goat would jolt his mind back to the stench and her haunted expression, but the soothing memories soon returned.

    The blood snagged his eyes. At first, he hardly noticed the handprints in blood and dirt on her shoulders, then the significance slowly sank in, his father was dead when she found him. He realised then, seeing mud caked on her back that they had attacked her too and stopped shovelling the dirt. Sickened. He wanted to say something but was lost for words, more used to comforting Terric with a hug, he glanced uneasily at her grim face and turned back to shovelling soil.

    The rain drizzled. Most of the afternoon was spent with his mother laying his father to rest, then he washed and changed. Gamel’s mind clawed with questions that he couldn’t ask, but feared the answers to most of them, so was almost relieved when they didn’t find their way to his lips.

    Water trickled off the stones spread over the grave. She was a lone figure. Gamel found it painful to see his mother so haunted, especially now, but worse was his brother’s fear and loss. Gamel stood with a heavy heart holding Terric’s hand, too old for tears. He would never hear his father’s laugh again. It would be too soft to say out loud, but his father had been his hero, he loved him, he knew it was the same for his brother.

    They heaved the wagon out ready to load up.

    She turned to Gamel. “You need to hurry, get packed, you’re both leaving before dark.”

    She chose to die. He stared after her in disbelief as she marched off to the kitchen, the door banged in his ears.

    He slowly shook his head. They had to get the army to deal with the thieves and Terric needed her. Her lack of spirit shocked him and he realising how unlike his father she was. His face burned as he reminded himself she’d been through a lot, the attack had sent her mad. Or the grief.


    However hard he tried, she was deaf to his increasingly desperate attempts to reason with her. She avoided him and shrank away from Terric’s pleading arms. The rain continued. Trailed by their goats, he drove the wagon away from their farm, water dripped off his hair.

    The further he drove the wagon the more determined he became. His father would never have let her be so foolish, or weak and neither would he. She will leave. He set up camp a safe distance away from the thieves in the heart of a wood.

    Gamel saddled up the carthorse and headed off back to the farm with Terric sitting in front, he didn’t like it, but he knew he could force her to leave. The rain hammered. Terric’s crossbow tapped with the rain against the pommel of the saddle in the fading light. The route seemed endless.

    Eventually he drew the horse to a halt under the cover of the orchard. Shouts rang out. A cold feeling began in his stomach, the mountain thieves were there too soon, then Gamel realised they had seen the wagon leave and assumed they had all gone. Campfires littered the yard. Thinking of Flat Nose, his hand went to the pouch of poison fixed to his belt. He slid off the carthorse.

    With his bow slung over his shoulder, Gamel’s hand went nervously to the poison. He whispered. “If there’s any trouble, leave. I’ll catch up.”

    Terric nodded then spoke in a hushed voice. “Promise?”

    “I promise I will try.” Gamel crept through the trees. He slipped into the quiet at the back of the house, angry with her for being so weak. Terric needed her.

    Laughter exploded from the yard at the front of the house as he sneaked round to the side, hearing her shout at the men from the kitchen. Something crashed within.

    Keeping to the shadows Gamel crept slowly beneath the roof of the open hay barn, brushing up against the hay as he worked his way towards an abandoned smouldering fire. He went rigid.

    His father’s words shot into his mind. ‘Lie like shit and be ready with a knife.’

    A blade nipped at his throat.

    “What yer doing spying on me?”

    He put everything into sounding convincing. “He told me I was to fetch you, but I can tell him you’re busy.”

    He caught his breath as the knife dug deeper and blood oozed down his neck. This was it. His heart pounded in his ears, the rain pattered gently on the roof. He waited, wondering if it would take long to die. The blade fell away with a muttered curse and he took in a deep breath, shaking, stunned.

    The man turned to leave. He followed. Slammed his knife in the man’s back.

    His throat burned while he dragged the body into the hay.

    ‘They’d do it to you, son, only faster.’ His father’s voice had sounded sad.

    He wiped the blood from his neck then cautiously felt the ground for the fallen pipe. Drunken arguments sounded from the yard.

    Coaxing flames in the hay around two planks, he waited until they set light, then snatched them up and slipped away through bushes to the back of the house. Black smoke billowed. A few shouts sounded from the yard and boots clumped and scraped drunkenly over towards the hay barn.

    The smoke made his eyes smart. Gamel quietly slid his bedroom window open, lowering the flaming plank onto his bed, then flinched as it burned his hand. The room blazed. Her shrill laugh sliced through him from the living room. Silence.

    The living room was empty, apart from the bodies of two men sprawled over the floor. She killed them! He stepped quietly away as the flames consumed their home, slinking off amongst the fruit bushes realising she hadn’t given up, she was fighting them. Still bloody stupid though, they will only guard you closer now.

    Keeping to the shadows, Gamel worked his way silently through the orchard, watching the thieves in the yard, some fighting, others sitting around, or sleeping by fires.

    He gasped. She hung by her wrists from a tree. His stomach chilled as he saw a large mound of branches stacked up beneath her and men dragging a partially flaming beam as they cheered.

    He ran through the trees to fetch his horse, his legs slipped in the mud. Horrified by the image of her hanging from the tree. Lungs tight.

    He breathed in acrid smoke as he pressed on through the trees in the firelight, eventually finding Terric on his horse.

    Leaving his brother behind, Gamel slung his bow over his shoulder and urged his horse into powerful bounds towards the light, mud flying in their wake. She screamed.

    He winced as Flat Nose pulled his knife out of her guts and the fire started. He crashed through.

    Panicked drunks ran wild, giving him time to stand the huge horse near her, against the fire, he caught hold of her trying to cut the rope. It remained stubborn.

    Bastard of a thing, cut damn you! The words screamed louder, over again in his head. His horse edged away from the heat stamping its feet.

    “They’ve already killed me. Let me go.” Teeth clenched, eyes closed. Blood dripped horribly from her mouth and her middle, death’s stench had taken its hold.

    “No! I’m not leaving you.” His voice was raw.

    The heat of the fire was building, sparks made his horse flinch.

    Hands began to haul and thump at his ankles. His wrist jarred as he slashed low at them with his knife.

    The horse took off and his mother slipped from his arms. He snatched at the mane to catch his balance and they came to a stop in the centre of a field cloaked in smoke, his heart pounded in his ears at her screams. It was hopeless.

    His chest ached as he opened the leather pouch and carefully dipped quarrels in the poison. Sickened.

    It was what his father would expect of him. He had told him he did it when he was a soldier, they all did, to help the seriously wounded die peacefully. His mind numbed.

    He moved the horse swiftly towards her screams, an unbearable weight pressed at his chest as he aimed the poisoned quarrel at her, hoping Terric would forgive him. She went silent. In that moment as her head sank to one side, he understood why she chose death.

    He jumped, seeing Flat Nose go down, a quarrel in his back.

    A shrill scream cut through him from the roof of the milking shed.

    Terric’s voice roared. “You bloody bastard!”

    Trying to ignore the smell of her burning flesh he shot a poisoned quarrel at Flat Nose, who was on his knees then fell.

    Men ran towards Terric’s screams, some stumbling then flopping down in a drunken stupor.

    Gamel had to get to Terric before they did.

    His horse plunged awkwardly in an arc through the bushes, keeping away from the men. He picking up speed with long strides as Gamel strained to see men run across the roof of the barn in the grey light.

    Mud flew. Gamel caught his breath seeing a small figure move nimbly ahead of them, through the smoke. Terric.

    His brother dropped from the barn onto the roof of the sty. Pigs squealed. Heavy forms crashed through the roof then agonised screams and vicious squeals sounded from the heart of the building. Terric tripped.

    Men ran at the fallen boy, climbing up to him.

    Gamel’s heart thumped in his ears, his breath tight. Shit! Get up! I’m nearly there.

    The old horse heaved, bellowed and grunted with the effort as they neared the sty.

    Arms reached up for Terric but he slid back, stood up and aimed the crossbow at the man on the roof. Fired.

    The quarrel dropped the man.

    Hooves thrashed at the grass, Gamel slid Terric off the roof as he passed, holding him tight, face wet with rain and if he was going to be honest, there could be a tear.

    They left their home. Thick grey smoke covered them as they moved across the fields, the sounds of the men faded in the distance, relief slowly sunk in and he slowed his horse. Terric was alive.


    He stood outside the wagon. Dusk fell as he shuffled his feet trying to find the courage to go inside. Terric’s legs had been wounded in his fall on the roof and they had to be cleaned, but he hadn’t spoken to him since it happened. It was only the second day of travelling north to fetch the army.

    What if he wakes? I can’t face him. I’m a bloody coward and a baby with it. He scrubbed miserably at his wet face, now sore.

    A weight pressed hard on Gamel’s chest. He eyed the failing light, it would soon be the time when he would be forced to kill her all over again… if he slept, it would be best if he didn’t.

    He sighed loudly. Climbing wearily into the back of the wagon, he looked down at Terric’s bandaged legs as he lay on the floor and knelt heavily, slouching over him.

    He had to do it. When he was around Terric, he clung to those words like a drowning man grasping at a passing branch.

    Eyes down, he removed a bandage from Terric’s leg, wishing he wasn’t so angry with himself, with everyone, even with his father for being attacked in the first place. His face streamed. After cleaning the wound and putting a fresh bandage on, he decided to go out for a bit. Thirteen was too old for tears.

    Terric clutched at his sleeve and spoke softly. “I’m sorry I called you a bloody Bastard.”

    Unable to see anything, Gamel felt Terric’s small hands pulling his head close. He wrapped his arms around the little boy.

    Terric whispered. “I would have done it too.”

    Gamel pulled the little boy on his lap, they both clung to each other and wept, the weight on his chest eased knowing Terric didn’t hate him as much as he hated himself. He missed his mother. Although he understood why she wanted to die he wished she had found the strength to live. They would have understood what she did.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 14, 2015
  5. DueNorth

    DueNorth Active Member

    Jan 7, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Weakling (1490 words)

    Some days have more growing up in them than others. This day had a lot, even though it started plain as most. It began with Tommy teasing and picking and me crying and doing my best to hide those tears that it was best not to let him see. It was what happened after school that day that changed things forever.

    Mom said that some kids, like me, just weren’t born to be muscular like my brother Tommy. She told me not to let Tommy get to me with all the bullying he did. She said that someday he would stop, when we were both more grown up. Besides, he is two years older. He is 13, and I am only 11.

    The names he called me did bother me, though, a lot really. I got pretty good at pretending that I didn’t much care, but he always seemed to know that I did. He said so many mean things. The kids at school heard it. I wished the other kids wouldn’t have gone along with him as often as they did, but I suppose some figured that as long as he was picking on me he wasn’t picking on them. He called me names like wimp and weakling and a lot much worse that I don’t even want to write down. Sometimes he pushed me down in front of the girls just to get the older boys to laugh.

    It was that February day on the way home that changed things. It wasn’t like I planned it. You couldn’t really plan such a thing. It is not something I would do again, not for a million dollars…well maybe for a million if I knew how it would turn out I might. I just never figured he would follow me out on the ice like he did. All the grown-ups had been warning us to stay off that pond. There had just been too many warm nights and the sun had its way with that ice on too many days.

    I guess Tommy was just too heavy for following with all those muscles he was always showing off. I yelled at him to stop. I heard the ice cracking even when I scooted across way ahead of his running after me. He just kept coming, running and calling names, saying he was going to get me good.

    He started after me as soon as we got out of school. He yelled from the doorway that he was going to wash my face with snow for snitching on him to Mom before we left the house that morning. But I had a good head start so I ran towards the pond knowing that I could get across quick-like, being lighter than him, and never figuring he’d be fool enough to follow. The pond was the shortest way home. Tommy was yelling in his usual way, calling me a skinny wimp, throwing snowballs at my head as we ran. I ran fast as I could. You woulda too.

    I was all the way across before he broke through. Near the middle, didn’t make much of a crashing sound, that ice breaking, more of a splashing sound like I didn’t expect hearing in the wintertime. I never would have known he was in the water except when I looked back because of his yelling so. I never heard him scream so like he did then, never heard him sound so scared. I looked back and seen him hanging on the side of a jagged hole in the ice. Only his red stocking cap and the blaze orange sleeves and shoulders of his hunting jacket were above the ice. Tommy was trying to pull himself out, but he kept slipping back when the ice broke where he was trying to climb out. He was shouting a lot of words that Mom doesn’t want us saying.

    I started to go back towards him, towards the water where he was splashing and cussing. The ice made awful loud noises so I turned around real quick and ran for home.

    I’m not proud for thinking it, but I did. Right then I knew that if Tommy died in that pond that would be the end to the teasing. So while I ran towards our house I thought about not going back, I did. I heard his screaming from the icy water. He surely thought I was leaving him, paying him back for all he’d done. I knew I was doing right. His voice got weaker, desperate. Soon I couldn’t hear it at all because our house was two blocks away. I never heard Tommy be scared at all before. He always acted like nothing scared him even when we watched scary movies or heard sounds at night.

    Even with him screaming as he was I had to leave him like I did. It was the only way. I knew it. Dad kept a old tall wood ladder by the back of the house. I tried to pick it up. I couldn’t. I could drag it, only barely. My sled lay against the side of the garage for sledding on Billy Johnson’s hill. I ran to the garage for bungee cords. I got the ladder balanced on the sled and ran cords around the slats of the sled to hold it. I pushed the ladder on the sled back to the pond, fast as I could. Tommy was leaning in all that blaze orange and red cap, head, shoulders, and arms, onto the ice.

    “Tommy,” I yelled to him. He did not answer. “Tommy! Tommy!” I kept yelling as I unfastened the ladder from the sled and eased it onto the ice in front of me. He lifted his head and looked towards me but did not speak.

    I pushed the ladder to Tommy until one end of it touched him and the other end lay about five feet off the frozen shore. I hollered at him to grab the end of the ladder so he could pull himself out with those strong muscles. He did not move. He looked at me like he did not know who I was. I did not want to go out there. I didn’t want to fall in. Tommy mostly had been really mean to me. He was my brother.

    I crawled out on the ladder. A man yelled from a distance, something about getting the heck off the ice. I screamed back, “Help, help.” I kept on going, crawling on the ladder, crawling on my stomach. I stayed on the ladder. I was afraid, so afraid. The ice could break any second. I would be in the water like Tommy. We would both die. Mom would cry. My eyes were on my brother. Please don’t slip all the way into the water. I would not be able to lift him. I am weak, just a wimp. “Help, help,” I kept screaming.

    There were noises behind me. I did not look back. I couldn’t Too scared. What if I slipped? It sounded like men behind me. Were there two? Talking to me now. Shouting. I tried to listen. They yelled to be careful. I was. I got to Tommy. I grabbed his jacket. Slippery. He was heavy. Somebody else please do this. Not me. The men yelled for me to put my arms under Tommy’s armpits and lock my hands together behind his back. I did. I am not strong though. They didn’t know that. My hands were in the water. So cold. So scared. They yelled to hang on. I did. Tommy’s eyes were open. Looking at me. Not seeing. He was breathing. Barely breathing. I smelled the tuna fish sandwich he had for lunch. I held on. The men yelled for me to hook my feet around the ladder. That’s it. Hold on! The ladder moved backward. Slowly. I moved. Tommy moved. The men yelled. Don’t let go. Don’t let go. He is my brother. I couldn’t let go. The ladder kept moving. I moved with the ladder. Tommy started coming out of the water. Slowly. My hands tried to let go. Wanted to. They hurt. Arms hurt. Sirens. More yelling. Don’t let go. Don’t let go. I couldn’t let go. I would not. Tommy was coming out. He was heavy. Too heavy for a weakling with no muscles. My arms were going to break. My hands were freezing. I had to let go. I didn’t. Backwards. They pulled me. Slowly. I hung on. Tommy out to his waist. The men kept yelling. Kept pulling. I hurt. My skinny, weak muscles held on. Tommy’s legs were out. Hands gripped my legs. Strong hands. Almost out. His feet next. The men pulled harder. Done. I was on shore. Then Tommy. I let go of my brother. There were blankets, an ambulance.

    He used to tease me. No more. I am stronger now.
    uncephalized likes this.
  6. qWirtzy

    qWirtzy Member

    Oct 22, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Portland, OR
    Millennial Fitness [2812]

    I’m laughing out loud in the grocery store. Laughing so hard that I have to keep laughing, so hard I sit down for a split second before I pull myself together and use the cart handle to pull my feet back under me.

    “Say it again,” I sigh, pretending to wipe a tear away and finding one’s actually there. “Say that word that you just called it?”

    “Swole,” says Kyle again. “Nobody calls it…whatever you said.”

    “Yoked. Yeah, you know, yoked out, like ‘He’s yoked across the shoulders.’” I strut in place for effect, dipping my own skinny frame in a way I think looks burly, flexing until my muscles shake, which is after about a second. “I, uh, I think I might have made that slang up.” I know I did. Sounds literary.

    Somebody wants to use the bulk bins and I’m quick to get out of their way. I flip my hoodie back around myself, put the hood on, then take it off again. Usually I keep my head down at this particular store. Used to work here. I know for sure that when I suddenly quit three months in nobody gave it a second thought, unless they’re all thinking that I couldn’t hack it cutting up vegetables for the salad bar. I remember all their names and faces and when my old work mates pass me in the aisles, I prepare my speech about the hospital and how I’d got so sick so fast that I really couldn’t handle it. About how I’d almost died one day after my shift and I didn’t think I was better than them and that’s not why I’d left. Even though they never recognize me and they were never going to ask. I did look different now, I guess.

    Somehow I find it in myself to say it again. “Okay, so I wanna get swole. I want to get abs and arms, get toned and stuff.”

    Kyle shrugs, meandering past the jam and the bagels with me. In my flight from the scene of my outburst, I’ve steered us to the wrong place. Which Kyle doesn’t know, since I have the list, which I also made, for the meals I’ve planned and I’ll cook. I have one fucking job and I’m wandering around by the fancy breakfast bars, wasting our time. “You weight like five pounds,” he teases. “You could get toned in a day, just do some push ups or something.”

    “No, not toned, then.” Vocabulary matters and I’m going to need a new one. In the mean time I cast around for a prop. Since Avengers 2 came out, they’re pretty much everywhere. I snatch up a lurid package and wave it at him. “Like Chris Evans.”

    “Oh,” he frowns, teasing me. “You mean puffy.”

    “What?” I yelp.

    Puffy does not sound good. It sounds demeaning, and how could you demean an accomplishment like that? I put Cap back on the shelf without looking at him. I haven’t touched the printed image on the box either. It’s embarrassing, how instantly I will mentally undress those cartoonish dot matrixes, stripping off the layers to get to the god beneath. I wonder if he’s glad to wear that doofy helmet in all the marketing so he’s got some protection from getting stared at. And I wonder if he looks at himself and how he does; how I would, if I had those thighs, that back, a chest like a marble carving. It’s not easy to want what you can’t have—full-priced English muffins, wildflower honey, two hundred pounds of muscle and a career in lights. Maybe it’s easier to call it names if it’s closer to hand.

    “No, man, I want to look awesome.” I correct my little brother who I’m never going to be bigger than. I was never going to be a football player, or a body builder, childhood desires that seem grossly telling now, discarded with the less bizarre fixations on marine biology and becoming a pastry chef. Hey, I learned to cook, so who’s laughing? I get myself together for real this time, moseying forward to the bargain bread bin on the end-cap like I’d meant to go there all along. Maybe thirty frittered seconds, that was all I’d spent. “We should work out together. Be gym buddies, without, you know, the gym.”

    He hassles me all the time about the things I want: I’m the junior man in lots of ways. But not when he can see I really mean it. I didn’t go shopping by myself. Couldn’t, not yet. He’s just out of college, a little softer than when he went in, which I know he’s noticed. Which is beside the point, because I’ve asked about three times now and he loves me, so he says, “Yeah. Let’s get swole.”

    There’s barely room enough for us both on the condo’s patio balcony. Good thing our middle sister, Sher—Scheherazade, because our parents are a special kind of crazy—turned our offer down flat. She works full time, hustling out of the basement apartment like a real adult before we’re even awake upstairs.

    “The kind of real adult who rents from her parents,” she’d snorted when I had let her off the hook with the praise.

    Josh had said he wasn’t interested. He’s busy, too, and since his business pays our portion of the charitably low monthly dues, I let it go.

    “You’ve got a degree in sports medicine, right?” I cajole, rolling out the cheap camping pad that is my ersatz workout mat. I’d been on the sofa for the entire season, but at least it’d see some use this year.

    “Absolutely,” Kyle yawns. It’s computer science, actually, which means he’d move across the country in a heartbeat for any job that isn’t IT for online gambling or designing Farmville re-skins. He did run track for three years, though, and I’m kind of counting on him to know what he’s doing.

    We stretch for a long time, do whatever exercise he knows for any area I hesitantly suggest: We stand on the railing and flex our calves; we kneel and do doggy kicks for our glutes. There’s squats and planks and “dynamic abs” and we pass a box of his old textbooks back and forth, so they’re still good for something. I’ve sworn up and down to Josh that I won’t overdo it. Seven months of resting on the sofa and a couple of surgeries keep me honest: I’m exhausted by the end and I can only do mermaid push ups, my noodly legs straggling behind me on my raft of cushioned foam. I don’t have any pride left to swallow.

    “Merman,” I wail plaintively, doing my best Zoolander, “Merman!”

    My degree’s in cinema studies, so I practically owe it to myself to make film references whenever possible. I owe it to our parents that I’m not drowning in student debt, and to state Medicaid that I’m finally not in pain today after all that awful time. Nine thirty becomes swole o’clock, Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. It takes us a few weeks to refine the workout—stretchercise we call it between us, and body weight conditioning when our jiu jitsu black belt cousin comes to visit. It’s a couple months before I’m stronger. Kyle gets a freelance gig, but he makes the time for it. The weather goes grey and the leaves fall with the rain.

    I go to sleep before Josh does most nights, a habit I’ve kept even though I’m not sick anymore, just tired. He works harder than I’d ever claim to, sneaks in around midnight and kisses me to see if I’m still up. I almost never am. It’s four AM when I roll over again, reaching out to make sure he’s there. I grab a handful of his butt and squeeze it. I’m glad he didn’t get into our routine, because I wouldn’t change a thing about the way he looks. Especially not his fabulous ass, big and luxurious, like a bowl of yeasted dough.

    Josh spent his starving artist years fighting for elbowroom in the cutthroat world of artisanal dollhouse furniture under the cozy eves of my career. I spent four-plus years writing copy at a boutique marketing agency that went bankrupt and laid me off almost two years back. Josh has been bread winner ever since, doing what he loves until he can’t stand the thought of it and then doing it some more. He’s got a tidy income, a blog that’s turning advertising profit of its own, and me bringing up the rear as his manager, proofing his posts and crafting subject lines. I don’t even know sometimes if I’m any good at marketing: The agency failed and it had just been my boss and me, so it only followed that it was half my fault at least.

    “Hey, there,” he murmurs. I’m grabbing all of him now, a koala bear, the littlest Big Spoon. “Something I can do for you?”

    My whole body is hard, heavier with muscle than it’s been in the eight years we’ve been together, maybe heavier than it’s ever been. It’s the middle of the night and he wants to be nice to me: I haven’t wanted sex since I got sick. How can I say yes to taking more than I have already? We’re talking about him going back to school, about moving overseas to put one of the languages he speaks to use. I cling to him like I have been this whole year. I shake my head no.

    He notices I’m shaking—of course he does—and turns me in his arms. “Bad dreams?”

    I nod. I’ve been driving him up the wall with my vanity these past few weeks, posing in every reflective surface, yanking up my shirt to tease him with my daily quest for the illusive ab. It’s all a funhouse mirror, this new pride of mine. I look so much stronger than I am, even to him when I say that I’m in trouble. I’m not looking for work. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I close my eyes. Tomorrow’s Wednesday, so I won’t be sleeping in.

    It’s gotten darker out earlier, but swole thirty still seems the same. We get too strong for our own bodies, and even with Kyle’s gig, we can’t afford more food to fuel a more intensive workout. In other words, we’ve plateau’d. We decide to add in jogging on Fridays. It’s cold and shitty out, with winter coming on, but we do it anyway. I’m breathless and pink all over after about a block, slipping fit to break my ankle in my treadless sneakers that I’ve had since high school. But I don’t fall down and take it as a sign. We point ourselves at New Years and run for it once a week. It gets easier faster than I thought it might, so we just keep making it harder. At first we don’t say anything, mostly because we can’t, but we go another block or two every time, until we’re not walking for part of it anymore.

    “First you stretch, then you work out. Then you run,” Kyle intones, fussing with his shoelace. “Then you die. Then you do abs.”

    So we decide to skip the workout and the dying and call it good on Jogging Fridays. By Thanksgiving, we can half-chat, half-pant our way to the foot of Mount Bertram, more of a glorified urban hill than anything resembling a real mountain. Might as well be on the fucking moon for all I could actually do to run up it after already having run to it. When I get home—after planks!—I straggle upstairs to take a shower. When I get undressed I see the definition in my traps, the long teardrops for my quads bulging tight over my knees. And I see the bags under my eyes, still there just like the side effects of the drug therapy. There are lines around my mouth and I pull a few faces to figure out which expression is giving me the wrinkles. I end up on a sort of hesitating squint, a disbelieving look like I’ve just gotten such bad news that I’m at a loss for words. Is this as good as it’s going to get? I’ve got my health back; I’m looking great, though you can tell at a glance that the change is fairly recent.

    “You should be grateful,” I remind myself.

    It’s a good thing to do. Because I don’t have leprosy and no one beats me and I don’t have to take the bus, even, when I skulk across town to a cheaper grocery store where I can hold my head up and feed my house for thirty-five bucks a week. I am thankful that I didn’t die. But something doesn’t sit right about being so glad just to be breathing, to live in a world that’s safe as compared to a nightmare of starvation and debt and abuse.

    My mom tells me about every We’re Hiring sign she sees. “PetSmart takes good care of their people,” she insists, something she’s read.

    Just get a job. Then think of all the things I could have to be thankful for. My framed BA never made it into the box of books Kyle and I heft to and fro, not worth the weight of the paper it’s printed on. I’m tighter and tougher, with definition and endurance to boast about. But I’m not swole. I know I’m not, and I don’t know if it’s not yet or not ever. Can’t be, will be, maybe. The mirror’s fogging up: I’m wasting water, wasting time.

    We’re at the foot of Mt. Bert, stretching to keep moving while we catch our breath. It’s rained harder these last few weeks and the holidays are almost here. We’re waiting for the snow, our last test to see if our hearts are really in it. Hasn’t happened yet. I’ve stopped actually stretching. I’m just standing there with one leg hugged against my chest in a half-baked upright fetal position, staring up at the mountain. The closer you get, the taller it seems.

    “Just think,” Kyle pants. “Pretty soon… we’ll be jogging straight up it.”

    “Pretty soon…relative to what?” I gasp back exaggeratedly, making it into a joke.

    “Eh, call it two years,” he smiles, wandering up the trail a little ways to drink some rusty water at the fountain.

    I keep staring. Two years is so long from today that I can’t imagine it. I used to have a whole pile of plans, a list of steps I would take to achieve my dreams and goals. I would tell anyone who asked—my professors, my parents, myself—an ambitious tale of what I wanted and how I was going to get it, with such confidence that we all believed it. It was mathematically precise, this story of my future, the multiplication of hope and education set against the odds of hitting it big. I’m awful at math and I should have known better: Everything sounded great until none of it actually happened.

    Back then, I knew exactly where I was going to be right now. I had no idea the economy was going to tank the year I graduated, or what it would mean once I did know. I was too afraid to do anything but wait until the ladder I’d climbed up at the agency was kicked out from under me, terrified that I’d have no luck left and would end up groveling for minimum wage. Which I did. Two face-to-face interviews and a college degree earned me the earliest shift at the local grocery, chopping up lettuce. That had never been part of the plan, a desperation move I couldn’t believe I’d made even while I was making it. Even while I was trying to feel fortunate to have anything at all. And sure as hell I never thought I’d be quitting a part-time gig at the IGA and watching the world turn black from an ER gurney while Josh shook my shoulder crying “wake up, wake up” over the whine of the heart alarm. How did I end up standing here stupefied in the rain, and not in Hollywood, name-in-lights? I know. I know everything I did and didn’t do. I ran here, didn’t I? Was there ever any other place that I was going to end up?

    Kyle comes back and we jog home again. In two years I’ll be looking down from the top of the mountain, maybe, but it’s really just a hill and I’ll be thirty then. Thirty years old! I can’t picture it. Other than to know I’ll be looking pretty fit—though never swole. I’m not sure I’m built for it.
    uncephalized likes this.
  7. Lifeline

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

    Oct 12, 2015
    Likes Received:
    UK - the place betwixt and between
    God's Will [782]

    The patient was carried into hospital around lunchtime. Word was that he would die soon despite all they could do for him there, his wounds were so fearsome. The whole of the skin on his back had been burnt away, leaving only bare and scarred musles sticking out, leaking fluid. Down both arms the fire had also licked and tasted the strong, once healthy body. Now all anyone could see were bloody bubbles which got worse even by the minute, the doctors hadn't even dared cover them with gaze. Curious, that he had been there in the garden it was whispered, even more curious because the nurse who should have attended on the baby had left her sleeping charge in the garden cradle, surrounded by the slow, rythmic chirring of crickets in the Greek macchia.
    The rambling, old house had stood alone on a smooth hillside, surrounded only by the low dry scrub and a crumbling wall of stone. It was rumored that the wife had left the husband after the birth, or maybe she had died of cancer, nobody was quite sure. In any case the husband was providing good care for his daughter, attended church services regularly and donated to the public good. A model citizen it was whispered. It was quite unfair of God to punish him so. He surely couldn't have sinned to deserve it!
    The fire had broken out at the other side of the hill. Some careless camper probably had left a shard of glass behind, and the sun had taken up the invitation. It had spread too fast for anyone to do anything about it, and, as no one answered the doorbell, the watch had assumed that the house would be deserted and commenced to warn other, inhabitated buildings nearby of the threat. By the time the father had returned and discovered that the estate had been consumed by the flames it had been far too late for the girl, or so everyone had thought.
    Alerted by the distraught father the fire brigade had searched, and found, the remains of the cradle among the smoldering ashes of the garden. Yet, it had been empty, no bones had been found. But beside it there a body had lain, belonging to the man now resting in one bright upstairs room, the cooling breeze from outside gently turning the white curtains. When the stranger was found he was curled around the small body of the living girl, who was tightly wrapped in a fire blanket. She lived still and would go on living, and that was a small miracle. They did not even know the name of her saviour, only tattered remains of clothing had survived. No identification, no possibility of getting even fingerprints. They had also been burned to crisps.
    Now the father stood beside the bed, had sent the nurses away. He wanted some time alone with the unconscious man, even while he died, to say his farewells and pray for him. Or so everyone thought. He had asked for the alarms to be disconnected.
    Every so often the man on the bed twitched, his scarred hand trying to rise. Tears were running down the father's face, silently. Then he bent forward to be near, whispered, too low to be heard by anyone watching the sickroom, only meant for the one dying.
    "I know why you did it. And God help me, I understand. I will do what you wanted me to do, ever since you showed me the coffins and told me of your charge in eternity. Your work will go on, and you are also a child of God, no spawn of Satan could have done what you did. You saved my daughter, going forth of your own volition into the killing sunlight and for that you surely will be not be denied God's Garden. I do not doubt any longer."
    He took the hand which had stilled on the bed, the machines had fallen silent some time ago. Only the wind sang quietly his sorrow.
    "It took me too long for us to be together in this world, but now I am here and you will not be alone in eternity, this I promise."
    He bent deeper, lifted the hand where remnants of what once had been fingernails still clung to the tatters. Came nearer to the bare and bloody throat, braced one last time, a lingering kiss. No one would see that his lips were open, that he hesitatingly took the blood, took it for his own. A slight shudder travelled through him at the metallic taste. For a moment more he stayed bent forward, felt the changes as they started.
    "Wait for me at God's Garden."
  8. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

    Mar 21, 2012
    Likes Received:
    Brighton Heights
    School Run
    740 words

    I see those moms at the gate, mommas all waiting for their precious childrens, they’re squawking. Sparrowhawk squawk, mommas as usual – squawking in a language no man understand: woman talking, the talk about certificate this and achievement that, that pride, and fuck ‘em I say, in my meaning. Exactly. I pull up the convertible, red, smoking red thunder among these ladies on the sidewalk. They push chairs. You get the picture? I do hope you do, so:

    ‘Make way,’ I say, and ‘Howdi,’ I say, ‘ladies, it is home time.’ I scratch out my Marlboro, I holler,

    ‘Bronson, Bronson, Daddy’s here, little fucker,’

    And wait in leather upholstery. My engine rests before them all, throbs under pressure, like a man. My snakeskin boot taps on throttle.

    ‘Hey Wolfdance,’ says the old mother hen, hips held under her lamp post.

    ‘Mister Wolfdance to you honeys,’ I says.

    She says amidst her hen brood, or rather she says now leaning them milkies on my windscreen , she says,

    ‘It ain’t right your cussing, cursing, smoking ciggies in front of children..and your vehicle is obscene, ’ she says this, but she don’t mean that.

    I give a charm reaction, my teeth is messengers.

    ‘Ah shut it, you cow chow,’ I say, and wink manly ways. Bronson, my chunky little fella is kind of slow coming up behind of her, he straps into the passenger seat.

    ‘Get your saddle on, boy,’ I tell him, ‘get you home to television, and away thunder, ya ya....’ I don’t say that, of course, just kind of thinking it. Hi ho silver I am thinking.

    Cowboy lifestyle, infuriating logistic nightmare here on the fringes of Canterbury in England. Relatives way back, they were Wayne and Custer. I am one of the good ole boys, just can’t proves it as yet. Have paid ancestor researchers hundreds of dollars: the quest to prove my true heritage.

    Bronson turns to me in the vehicle:

    ‘I done a picture Daddy.’ He shows me his painting, the smudges of blue and grey paint. It is crap. Anyway, I encourage on a constructive length of finger.

    ‘Dammit, you little prick,’ I say, and looking I say ‘What have I told you about historical accuracy? No Indians at Gettysburg, no, no. What were you thinking?’ We pull up to a trash can, I nudge tiny buddy, ‘scrunch it,’ I say, ‘discard this poorly work in progress.’

    ‘Next time, sonny,’ I repeat. ‘ History remember.’ I rub on his badge of deputy.

    Those moms at the gatehouse, they do get me down inside my ways, suggesting their boys and girls are better than my boy. My boy, our caravan, we step inside. I sit him down and on the rug, pass his tea-time treat of weetabix in the bowl, mixed a little powder, people call it whey, whey powder cause my boy is gonna be whey strong and if he is strong he can dispense authority down the playground, way his daddy once did, shut those tomahawk mommas up once and for all, momma. I mean if daddy can do it why cannot junior?

    ‘Time for injection, boy.’

    ‘Oh daddy,’he says.

    ‘You’re in training little fool, pass me your shoulder.’

    ‘Ow…’he cries.

    ‘Now, do them 200 push-ups, then you get your Teletubbies, then to bed, a Christian bible on your pillow.’

    That next morning we gets to school, and the ratbags are bitchin, they surround the gates. I gotta tell you, Bronson shapes up at three foot eight, rippled stomach, twelve pack, arms thick as beer keg companions. But there she goes again, that old hen peck, charm won’t do, and I hear her insult:

    ‘Size of that boy, you’d think he was on steroids,’ she says.

    I look to Bronson, ‘do it, boy, ’ I say, and seven year old he grabs lady by the ankle, swings her lasso overhead. She flies, lands in nettle bushes.

    ‘You shut your big mouth, darling, ‘ I says, a ladies’ man, she’ll come round to my chuck wagon. I can feel it in my waters. ‘Go to school, Bronson,’ I say, ‘nothing to see here.’

    ‘Daddy?’ he says,

    ‘I know son, ‘ I reply, ‘what does Daddy always say at school time?’

    ‘A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do?’ he replies, a tear in that little eye.

    ‘Exactly, ‘ I say, and tearful too. We are all misunderstood loners out on our plains of Canterbury, ‘get to school,’ I say, 'bye bye my boy.’
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2015
  9. BookLover

    BookLover Contributing Member

    Mar 31, 2014
    Likes Received:
    The Power of Lust [934]

    I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror that sits atop his dresser across the room. I look pale and thin. For all the working out I do, my pecks are barely contoured. Then I look at all the other crap sitting on his dresser. An antique clock with brass horses flanking both sides, just like the one in my grandmother's house. A wooden back scratcher with a tiny hand on the end, exactly like my dad's. A deck of nude playing cards from the seventies, just like my grandpa's. For the first time the thought really worms it's way into my brain - I'm dating an old man.

    I pick up the cards and start flipping through the deck. I don't see any of the naked women though. My focus is still on the room. Shag green carpet. Peeling yellow wallpaper. Camo shit everywhere. A pair of his dirty briefs are hanging on the closet doorknob. A box of bullets has busted open and lay scattered in the corner. There is more than one shot gun haphazardly piled on a shelf. Am I dating my dad?

    I feel a little queasy. He's told me a dozen times over that he's too old for me, but it's only when I'm left alone in his bedroom that the evidence becomes clear. When I'm with him he seems ageless. Maybe my nausea is from drinking too much last night. Yeah, that must be it. It has nothing to do with that confederate flag hanging on his wall...

    If I don't think about his age or his love for hunting or... I hear the opening music for Fox News blare from the television in the next room. He's watching Fox News!

    I sit on the edge of the bed and press the nudey cards into my forehead. I'm fucking a conservative, right wing, closeted, old man. What is wrong with me? What the hell am I doing?

    The door suddenly bursts open, and there he is again, all grins and muscles. His shirt is off and abs exposed. I look over his sculpted body, starting at his bulked up shoulders and chiseled chest, down the line between his cut up abs, right to his happy trail that disappears into his briefs. Oh, yeah, that's what I'm doing.

    “Hey, whatchya doing?” He messes with my hair.

    I lower my eyes and stare at the cards in my hand. “Found these lovely things on your dresser. So I guess you're into women after all.”

    He laughs that deep, manly laugh that instantly relaxes me. Three weeks of dating him and my nervous system has already undergone Pavlovian conditioning. “Someone gave me those a long time ago. Forgot I had them. Hey, my buddy George down the road took down a buck. Needs some help loading it. Come on.”

    “What? Oh, no, I'm heading out.” I stand up and look around the shag carpet for my skinny jeans. I see them on the floor sitting between an empty beer bottle and some crumpled camouflaged overalls. This place is gross. Is there a hamp – No, there's no hamper. Of course not. Why contain your clothing in one spot when the floor is an all-in-one hamper/trash can?

    I shake my head and walk toward my jeans. As I bend to scoop them up, his strong, thick arm wraps firmly around my waist. He spins me around, picks me up, and throws me onto his bed.

    “It's too early to head out. If you don't want to see the buck, that's okay. You can stay in bed, and buck me instead.”

    I laugh. God, he's sexy standing over me. Why is he so sexy? Why can't my brain and my penis be in agreement on him? I try to stand back up but he pins me down, bulging biceps and all. There's something secure and anchoring about it. I feel my muscles relax and yet my heart quickens at the same time. I kiss him passionately. This is so wrong. He is all wrong for me.

    I turn my head, trying to ignore my body's reactions to him. I need to use my brain, dammit! “I really gotta go, Bo. Have fun helping your friend.”

    “Come on. Meet my buddies. Have a few beers with us. Shoot the shit. It'll be good.” He rustles my hair again. “Spend the day with me. Later this eve I can teach you how to deer hunt. You don't have to shoot nothing. Just sit in a tree stand with me.”

    His voice is deep and raspy. It's sexy as hell. Every line in his face suggests a man who's smoked too much and partied too long, but that naughty smile of his is hypnotizing. I can't help it. I do want to sit all day in a tree stand with him. I've somehow managed to fall under his redneck spell. I know exactly why all the girls giggle whenever he walks into the room, why every straight woman wants him. He's so. Fucking. Hot. There's no logical explanation for it. I should not find this man attractive whatsoever, but I've never been this turned on by anyone.

    I couldn't get up now if I wanted to. His knees are on both sides of my body, pressing me into the mattress, fixing me in place. I let him kiss me. At some point I will have to tell him I'm vegan, and I voted for Obama. Twice. Today though? Well, today I guess I'm deer hunting. So much for principles...
  10. edamame

    edamame Contributing Member Contributor

    Apr 5, 2013
    Likes Received:
    The Debt [1,527]

    I knew Steven McOllan since second grade and he’d always been a wheezy asthmatic. He was cursed with the distinctive pallor of an albino and the long thin build of rail. In the winter, he could be heard coughing before you saw him, and he was always wiping his snot on his sleeve. He gasped to death every time the coach made him run a lap during gym class. So the summer after sophomore year, I didn’t recognize the guy who walked into remedial English class and leaned nonchalantly on the locker next to mine.

    “Hey, Charlie,” the guy said. He was about 6’2” with a healthy brown tan and freckles running down one side of the neck. The spots made it look as if he’d been sucking face with a miniature girl and she’d given him hickeys. I wracked my brain, but couldn’t place him. Strange. Even though schoolwork wasn’t my strong point, I had a good memory for faces.

    “Hey, um...”

    The guy smiled and reached out to tousle my hair. I tried to swat him away. I was an only child and here this stranger was treating me like a little brother. “It’s Wheezy Stevie, Charlie. You gave me that name. Remember?” The tug on my hair became vicious.

    “Let go,” I gritted out. I didn’t want to yelp in front of Stephanie, but I could see our exchange had caught her attention from the other side of the classroom. She raised an eyebrow at me, shifted her cat-eye glasses by the bridge above her nose, and walked over from where she had been chatting with Mr. Kerowitz.

    “A problem, gentlemen?”

    “No problem.” Stevie let go of my hair. He smiled at my stepmom, giving her the polite “Who? Me?” grin that some guys reserve for adults to deflect themselves from suspicion. The grin fooled dummies, but not Steph. Stephanie shot me a look but I shook my head and she left and returned to talking with the teacher about my chances of passing which were shaky at best.

    “So,” Stevie said, starting with me again. “I heard you had to stop wrestling.”

    “Yeah, I got injured. Hospitalized for weeks. I can’t make up the weight fast enough this summer to get back into my division by fall.” I shrugged, then glanced at Stevie’s impressive biceps meaningfully. “But it looks like you’ve done something special. You should try out.” I grinned. “Of course, I doubt you’d pass the drug tests.”

    Stevie laughed, high and sort of crazily.

    “You think I’m on steroids?” He smirked. He made me feel about two feet tall. “I’ve got something much better,” he said softly and crowded close to me. He dipped his head, his eyelashes shuttering his gaze, and brought out a small vial of green liquid from his jeans’ pocket. “It’s rare and untraceable. My uncle works for big Pharm. Experimental stuff. I’m a case study.”

    I touched the vial with a fingertip. It was cool to the touch and immediately leeched my body warmth. Pinpricks stabbed me at first, then a numbness that was symptomatic of frostbite. I jerked my finger away.

    “What the fuck?!”

    “It’s okay. It doesn’t understand yet, who it’s supposed to help. But you carry it around with you long enough and it learns.” Stevie slipped it into my jacket’s breast pocket. “I’ll give this one to you.” He smirked. “Just wait until morning.”


    I admit, I was curious, so I took the vial home with me and peered through it using the lamp in my room. It was a pretty emerald green, odorless, and viscous. Wherever my skin touched the tube, it tended to congeal into a more intense shade. The vial was made of a clear plastic. It was soft and flexible to the touch and I practiced squeezing it and rolling it around on my desk. I didn’t feel cold anymore but warm. The liquid seemed to emit a low level vibration that sent a pleasant buzz through wherever we had contact.

    “Well, I guess I’m supposed to keep you close.”

    I emptied a pouch I had used to store dad’s old heirloom marbles and pushed the vial into the bag. Then I fished out an old shoelace to use as string for a necklace. I secured it around the pouch and went to bed with the vial slung around my neck.

    In the morning, I woke up energized. I kissed Steph on the cheek while she mumbled about catching a bug while percolating her coffee and took a jog around the neighborhood. My calves didn’t start burning until the sixth mile. That was twice as long as usual. I smiled and rolled up my track pants and felt myself up. The sunlight wasn’t playing tricks. My legs were definitely more defined and muscular.

    I whistled to class and Stevie was there waiting by my locker.

    “How’d you feel?”


    He smirked and fist-bumped me.

    For the next few weeks, I continued to crow from the top of the world, gaining weight effortlessly. My good mood must have helped in class because lessons were easier to remember. Steph’s bug, a nagging cough, kept her tired through the month even though the doctor was sending her home with armloads of medicine, but luckily, it finally seemed to wear itself out when Dad called to say his fishing boat was finally going to make land on Saturday.

    A few days later, I did my morning run and was out of breath three blocks down the road. I cursed and pulled the vial out of my pouch. Only a few drops of the liquid remained.

    After English class, I threw the nearly empty vial at Stevie in the school bathroom.

    “What the hell, man?! I’m worse off than I was before.”

    “Sucks, I know.” Stevie picked up the vial. “But it’s experimental, like I said. It can’t stay in a liquid state for long. After a while it turns gaseous and degrades, goes ‘poof!’” He emphasized with his hands.

    “But you’re fine.” I crowded Stevie near a urinal. “And I don’t see a vial on you anywhere.”

    “That’s because I don’t need one.”

    “What’d you do?”

    Stevie licked his lips.

    “Ugh. Really? Don’t your parents have something against your uncle using you as a guinea pig?”

    “No.” He did that thing with his eyes again, hiding them behind a curtain of lashes. “Can’t say that they do.”

    “Can you get me another vial?”

    “Not for a while, but I can do this.” He leaned over.

    At home, I checked myself in the mirror, touched my lips and the side of my neck where a line of freckles fell down to my collarbone as naturally as if they had always been there. I was weirded out and I didn’t want to be alone, so I left my room and vegged out on South Park in front of the television set in the living room while listening to Steph make dinner. She started coughing and hacking.

    “Steph? You okay?” I yelled from the sofa.

    I jumped when I heard a plate shatter and rushed into the kitchen. Steph was on the floor on her hands and knees. She was coughing so badly she was unable to get up.

    “Jesus Christ!” I knelt down and put my hand on her left shoulder but she collapsed and started convulsing. I retreated, grabbed the kitchen phone and dialed 911. As I withdrew, she seemed to get better. The twitches lessened. By time the ambulance arrived, I didn’t dare touch her.

    “You coming, son?” One of the paramedics asked.

    I shook my head, numb, and they closed the back of the vehicle and drove away. My nerves were shot. I didn’t trust myself with the car, so I grabbed my bike instead and pedaled down to Stevie’s house which was about half an hour away. I hadn’t gone to his house since his eleventh birthday party when Steph made me go so that somebody from class would show up. Back then, the house was well cared for, but now it was dilapidated and needed a new paint job. The front lawn was overgrown with weeds. But Stevie was out front on the porch, gazing glassily at the sky and lounging with a can of Budweiser by his elbow.

    I jumped his house gate and grabbed his collar. I pulled back my right fist to strike him.

    “You son of a –”

    “You just have to kiss her,” he said abruptly. The moon was liquid in his eyes. “And then she’ll kiss your father and then you better make sure he kisses someone else. It’s a sacrifice and someone always pays unless you pass the debt on. Uncle John thinks he can still get around it, find a manipulation of the formula that works.” He cracked a smile. “You can’t.”

    “Stevie…where are your parents?”


    I loosened my fist. Steven McOllan, 6’2,” tanned, and scarily buff, had deflated in front of my eyes. When he stared at me, he was that frail, sickly kid I knew in second grade again, and just like before, I pitied him.
  11. datahound2u

    datahound2u Member

    Nov 15, 2015
    Likes Received:
    The Formula [3060]

    Being of reasonably sound mind and puny body, I hereby offer this last will and testament. As insignificant as it may seem, it is the only thing I can think of to help explain what happened, and why it happened. It was all an error in judgement, you see. It was my misguided attempt to right personal wrongs. To those bodybuilders and to my wife, I apologize. I’m so very sorry. Please let me try and explain. I should probably start at the beginning.

    My mother always told me that I was going to be “different” from other boys. Rather than playing sports, playing with toys, or even making friends, I was content and quite happy to be by myself, surrounded by books. I loved books. I would read anything I could get my hands on.

    When my classmates wished for toys on their birthdays and at Christmas, I always wished for books. My mother was a single mom, and she had to work several jobs to support the two of us. She did the best she could. She told me that she barely finished high school, and she encouraged me to read my books, saying that they would enrich my life and lead me on a journey much different than hers. My mother had no idea just how right she was.

    One of the jobs she worked when I was in the fourth grade was cleaning apartments after tenants moved out. Shortly before Christmas that year, she was cleaning out an apartment and discovered a huge cache of books that was left by the newly-deceased tenant. I’m guessing he was a chemist or something, because all of the books I got for Christmas that year involved the sciences, mainly chemistry. I remember having to look up most of words in the scientific dictionary that luckily was included, but I just ate up all that knowledge.

    That windfall of scientific books set the direction for my life. By the time I started fifth grade, I was already on my second reading of the books. I became fascinated with chemistry. I started conducting my own simple experiments to try and prove some of the theories I was learning. My teacher and the principal were so startled with my advanced knowledge that I was quickly moved up to the sixth grade. As I kept getting bumped up the educational ladder, the few friends I did have were quickly left behind. When I graduated high school at the tender age of fourteen, I had no friends, only impressed teachers.

    I was very happy to get out of high school as soon as possible. Starting in grade school, the other boys seemed to zero in on the fact that I was quite frail. No matter how much my mother fed me, I remained very thin and bony. They started to make fun of me, pushing me down to the ground, knowing that when I got up, they could do it again with no resistance from me, and with no remorse for them. In high school, that harassment just got worse. By then, those boys started developing muscles. It seemed that the more muscles they had, the more they would torment me. My mother always told me to turn the other cheek. And I did. And then they’d hit that cheek, too.

    As bad as those years were me, they were worse for my mother.

    While I was learning and experimenting, and trying to dodge the torment of the muscle heads, as I now called them, my mother continued to do her best to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table. I did most of my experimenting in the late afternoon, between the time I got home from school and when my mother got home from work. Yes, I was unsupervised, but I usually cleaned up any mess that I made. I rarely had the proper lab equipment, so I had to make do with what was available. I used the smallest heating element on the stove as my Bunsen burner, coffee cups for beakers, my mother’s kitchen tongs for forceps, and cheap wine glasses for my test tubes. Sometimes, the experiments didn't go so well. Mom and I got evicted from more places than I care to count. If the neighbors weren't complaining about bad smells, they blamed whatever they could on me. As it turned out, it was those muscle heads from school that complained to their parents about me and my experiments. They had been verbally and physically scourging me for so long that they no longer got the effect that they were after. They needed to attack me in a way that would really get to my spirit. They found it. It was about this time that I began to loathe the muscle heads, having surpassed the dislike that I previously had of them.

    I gladly graduated from high school at the age of fourteen. I had a number of scholarship offers that came in. My mother tried to encourage me to avoid the universities close to home. I guess she thought that moving away would rid me of the muscle heads. Little did she know that there were muscle heads everywhere. However, I did not let my mother or the muscle heads influence my decision. I made sure to pick a university that offered good science programs. The one I settled on was about a twelve hour drive from where I lived, and my mother was delighted. Since my scholarship included room and board in addition to tuition, I didn't have any out of pocket costs. I'm sure my mother was grateful for that, but all in all, I suspect she was pretty happy to see me go.

    With the university labs being as good as they were, I was like a kid in a candy store. I continued to spend most of my waking hours studying and experimenting. Even in the summers, I took extra classes and spent any free time in the lab doing my own research and experiments.

    I also learned that in higher education, I did not have to associate with the muscle heads, who I now called neanderthals, after taking a class about the origin of man. However, even though there was less association, punishments were more severe. One of my classmates, Bernard LeCroix, a very promising chemist, was shoved by a neanderthal as he was hurrying to class from the parking lot. He tripped and lost hold of the package he was bringing to class. Several vials of acidic samples broke on a nearby sports car. The car happened to belong to a neanderthal. Bernard was in the hospital for three weeks recovering from the beating. No charges were filed, and Bernard quietly dropped out of school. My abomination of the neanderthals continued to grow.

    It was no surprise to me or my professors that I received my masters in chemistry shortly after my eighteenth birthday. I was nicknamed the “prodigal chemist” at my university, and shortly before graduation the job offers started to roll in.

    I was heavily recruited by DuLong Chemical, a drug manufacturer. They offered me a near six-figure salary to start and their benefits package was unbelievable. In additional to the usual pension, 401k and life insurance benefits, they offered free health and dental (and I do mean free - I wouldn't have to pay as much as a co-pay or a deductible), as well as a free membership to a local fitness center. I somewhat scoffed at the fitness center membership, little did I know that it would be my doom. I signed on. I was now gainfully employed.

    For as much as I learned in academia, my social skills were almost non-existent. I always had a hard time making friends, and by the time I started with DuLong, I'm embarrassed to say that I was still a virgin. I attributed some of this to the fact that most of my peers were significantly older than I.

    I met Harriet at my first company Christmas party, a required event. She was the cousin of Doug Fester, a mid-level accountant at the company. When Doug saw me standing alone in the corner sipping on my egg nog, he hurried over with Harriet and made the introductions.

    My colleagues warned me that I was likely to meet Harriet at the party. She attended all the parties. She started with the sales team, since they were the highest paid, but after a few flings with some of the unhappily married guys, she moved down the food chain to the chemists. I was the only single chemist at DuLong.

    Harriet was not much to look at. She was decidedly overweight, she smoked like a chimney, and she was constantly talking. Ironically, for as much as she used it, her mouth was quite small. It was the one feature about her that I found endearing. It’s too bad that I rarely got to see it that way. Even when she slept, she kept her mouth open and snored profusely.

    We married quickly. Harriet told me where and when to show up, and I did. The reception was a fairly large affair. Harriet took it upon herself, as her first marital duty, to help me spend my money. She did that job very well.

    In the months that followed the wedding, I learned a good number of things about Harriet. Although no one really said anything, I deduced that Harriet had been with a number of my colleagues. In addition to knowing their names, she knew peculiar things about them - a tattoo here, a birth mark there - that one would not normally know unless seeing them naked. After being with Harriet in the physical sense, I decided that sex was entirely overrated. It also came out, rather accidentally, that Harriet had an affinity for one night stands with muscle heads.

    Thankfully, I didn’t have a lot of free time to begin with, volunteering for every special project that DuLong could throw at me. Anything to keep me out of Harriet’s wake. With the free time I did have, I decided to take advantage of my free membership at the local fitness center. That was one place where I was sure Harriet would not follow. She may have liked the neanderthals, but she didn’t like doing anything physical that did not provide immediate pleasure.

    I was back in the arena of the muscle heads. In the cave of the neanderthals. They pranced and they grunted, lifting so much weight that the stainless steel bar bent under its burden. I felt like an outcast, and I was. I was ostracized. Whenever I tried to lift some weights, in a meager attempt to put some mass on my body frame, I would hear the snickering in the background. The air was thick with innuendo. I did my best to ignore it, trying to turn the proverbial cheek, but they were relentless. The locker room was the worst.

    One night, when I was sitting in my car fuming after coming out of the fitness center with an over abundance of neanderthals, it occurred to me that not only were these muscle heads in dire need of a lesson, but that I was just the one to teach it to them. And then it hit me. Bam!

    What if I could make a formula that would cause their endless muscles to temporarily swell, similar to the way that Sildenafil treats erectile dysfunction? What a concept! I was completely delighted with myself. I could perfectly imagine the ridicule the neanderthals would have to suffer when their biceps, triceps, deltoids, and pectorales swelled to the point of making them freaks.

    I had such a cacophony of possibilities dancing through my head that I actually felt tingles and chills throughout my body. After all these years of endless bullying, I felt that revenge would finally be mine, and in grandiose style. I couldn’t wait to get started.

    As I stood in the lab that first night, after everyone else had gone home, I felt like a conductor before an orchestra, like a chef in a richly stocked kitchen. I had everything I needed right here. All I had to do was engineer the correct combination of chemicals and measures, and then test. My testing would be confined to rodents. A few missing rodents would not be noticed by my colleagues, but a missing dog or monkey, that would raise an eyebrow. Besides, in the hierarchy of things that I like and care about, dogs and monkeys rank much higher than the neanderthals.

    Finally, after three months of working late in the lab, I had a formula that I thought would do the job. My next challenge would be to distribute the formula without their knowledge, without infecting anyone else.

    I was only aware of four ways that the formula could enter the body: injection, inhalation, digestion, and direct contact with the skin.

    Injection would have been the most direct route, but dumb as they were, I doubted that the muscle heads would allow me to stick a needle in their butts. That was out.

    Having the neanderthals inhale the formula would be the easiest, but also the riskiest. I would have to remove any odor, use aerosol canisters, and spray it around the gym. But this option would also infect the innocent, so it was out.

    Ingestion was another possibility. I could use a hypodermic needle to shoot the formula into their water bottles and snack bars. However, I felt that there was too great a risk of getting caught in the act, and then they would know exactly who to blame when the formula blossomed.

    Thus, I was left with direct skin contact. It would be pretty easy to wipe down all of the barbells and dumbbells with the formula. I had observed how the neanderthals ritualistically wiped their equipment down after using it. Some of them also wore gloves when they worked out. I could do the same thing: I could soak towels with the formula to wipe the equipment with, and the gloves would protect my own skin.

    This last option would have to do, but there were some loose ends that I would need to tie up first.

    After another month of late nights in the lab, loose ends mostly tied up, I was ready to go. The day had finally come for retribution. The end of my torment was nye.

    Over the course of four workouts that weekend, I had wiped down not only the weights, but as much of the cardio equipment as I thought I could get away with. I had used up almost the entire batch of formula that I created. Now came the really hard part. Waiting.

    I wasn’t sure how long it would take for the formula to take effect on the muscle tissue, since I had to use skin absorption as the only delivery method. My results with the lab rodents were inconclusive. That was a loose end that I had to leave untied.

    It took about two more days before the first signs of the formula were noticed. I could overhear some of the neanderthals talking about how they seemed to pump up just overnight, and I could see that it was true. There was a noticeable difference in the size of the muscles. It only took two additional days for all hell to break loose.

    The neanderthals were no longer coming to the gym for workouts. A news story broke about people, mostly men with considerable muscle mass, who seemed to swell up so severely that they could no longer move. Their arms, legs and chest were so large that they could no longer wear clothing. Their chunks of manhood became so swollen that they could no longer urinate and had to be catheterized. Doctors were clueless about this new disease that seemed centralized to patrons of a particular fitness center.

    After a few more days, additional stories came out about other people that were infected. Doctors concluded that the disease targeted the muscles that the infected people used the most. I was a little put off that I could no longer witness this delightful tragedy personally, since the neanderthals were bedridden. At least that was the case until Harriet became infected. In a matter of days, Harriet’s mouth swelled to the point that she could no longer talk or eat. Her only other muscle group that was affected was the gluteal group. Her bottom. Poor Harriet. Her backside swelled to the point that she could no longer sit on a toilet without sliding off. I was at first very confused about how Harriet got infected. However, before I could figure out how non-neanderthals were subjected to the formula, I heard it on the news.

    Slowly, the civil authorities began to unravel the mystery. The epidemic, as they were now calling it, started when patrons of a particular fitness center became exposed to a yet-to-be identified substance. Test results showed that the substance was not inhaled or ingested. However, significant amounts of the substance were present in secretions from the eccrine glands. It was in their sweat.

    I never really considered it, but one other activity where the neanderthals really worked up a good sweat was during sex. Thus, the mates of the neanderthals also became infected. Poor Harriet. It turned out that she was having a fling with one of the neanderthals.

    I have called the authorities and turned myself in. I felt like my life was over, but at least I was going out happy, probably the happiest I’ve ever been. They told me that as soon as they could find a police officer that could still function, they would send him over to arrest me. I didn’t know it, but most of the neanderthals at my gym were cops.

    As I wait to be taken into custody, I will finish this last will and testament by bequeathing all of my possessions, including the very swollen bank accounts that Harriet knows nothing about, to my mother. I asked Harriet if she wanted any of my possessions or money, but, poor thing, she couldn’t even nod her head.

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