Gains

It's just one little pill. What's the worst that could happen?

You could work hard, put the time and effort in, or you could take the pill from the man outside the gym. He’s leaned right up by the front door, smiling in full sunlight. He’s well-dressed. More importantly, he’s charismatic. He understands that you’ve been coming in for months without results, that members of the opposite sex aren’t giving you the attention—the respect—you deserve. And members of the same sex? They treat you even worse.

Most importantly, this guy is huge. Muscles like he’s smuggling full-grown pythons under his suit. Hems down to the wrists and ankles—not showing off, like you’d expect from someone selling you a product. And that’s what decides you, in the end: he’s not asking for anything. He’s promising. All you have to do is take the little round pill from his open hand.

All you have to do is swallow it. Once.

You could call the doctor when you start to feel sick, or you could blame the squirming in your gut on the extra scoop of protein in your morning shake. It’s probably nothing, the sweating. The thirst. Your water bottle’s empty before you get to work. You spend lunch with your head in the sink, gulping straight from the tap. It’s probably just dehydration from the low-grade fever you’re running. Your shirt is soaked, plastered to your chest and back, but you can’t afford to go home. That gym membership won’t pay for itself. Your sweaty toes squelch in your shoes as you shuffle back to your desk.

More concerning is the hunger gnawing at your insides. A hardbody could stay grounded, but you—you’re feather-light. Head spinning, you’re barely there. Like air. Invisible. Would anyone notice if you floated away? You don’t think so.

Most concerning is the sickening roll you feel when you press your hand to your gut, like you’re incubating an octopus in there. It’s growing. Swelling. Spreading its tentacles to fill the spaces it’s hollowing. Yet you still feel empty. Starving.

Because empty is your default setting. Hollow is your bread and butter. You just want to be substantial, to be seen and weighed, instead of looked over. Tossed away.

Maybe that’s why you slip the staple into your mouth. It’s just lying there—a crimped, rejected sliver of metal. And then it’s scratching over your tongue, there and gone. You feel a bit heavier. You’re smiling back at the coworker who’s taking notice of you for the first time. You feel solid.

You could stick your fingers down your throat, try to throw up the staples, paperclips, and loose change you devoured, or you could shop for something more substantial. You leave work and drive to the sporting goods store. You’re pacing the aisles with your fists clenched at your sides, salivating over forbidden bells—bar and dumb and kettle—too large to swallow (for now). The metallic odor floods your nostrils and your stomach twists, untucking your shirt. Your eyes fall upon a row of fishing rods poking up in the distance.

The clerk doesn’t ask why you’re filling bags with sinkers and weights like they’re candy. He doesn’t laugh when you toss a pack of fishing hooks into your cart and call it an impulse buy, but that’s okay. You weren’t really joking. All this shiny metal, it’s beckoning. Begging to be inside you. You’ve never felt so aroused. And at least the clerk is looking at you.

Really looking, now.

You can feel the difference already. Gone is the buffer of fat around your middle, that bumper-boat tube, repelling anyone you approach. Forget washboard abs. Your abdomen is rock hard—a slab of iron. But is that blood on your shirt? Underneath, hooks sprout like needle-teeth around your navel. You force them back through, grimacing. You’ll avoid the barbed ones in the future. You devour another handful of lead fishing weights, then step onto the scale. The numbers climb. You’ll need new clothes. Something fitted—tight and clinging—to showcase the new angles pushing their way to the surface.

Except you can’t seem to look away from the racks and coat hangers long enough to pick anything out. Fortunately, the salesclerk is more than willing to help. Grazing skin turns to lingering caresses. Trying you on for size. And now the clerk is your first date in years, nibbling breadsticks across the table while you eye the candlesticks. Your mouth waters. The fever is now a bone-deep chill. Your date shivers on contact, asking if you’re cold. You’re not cold, you’re hungry. But you don’t want anything on the menu. You want the cookware—serrated knives, heavy steel pots, cast-iron pans.

You slip a fork under the table and tweak the tines. They bend easily. You’re too strong to resist. The host bites his lip, watching you roll the fork’s handle up like a piece of chewing gum. You pop it into your mouth and wink at the waitress; she drops an armload of dirty dishes. By the time you’ve finished helping her pick up the pieces, your date is gone. But there will be others. The room is a glittering buffet of jewelry and watches and belt buckles. And when you check your reflection in the big glass mirror above the bar, you’re towering. Big enough to house them all.

With enough olive oil, or Vaseline, you can swallow just about anything.

You could hang back at the gym, avoid the mirrors like you used to—or you could bask center-stage like an idol, let them circle round. Let them watch. Rippling with every lift and press, you only have eyes for yourself. Your reflection is your god, this wall of mirrors your temple. And you have come to worship.

Stretch marks stripe the skin you’re outgrowing. You’re a monument to change, a skyscraper, turning heads and tilting them back.

More impressive than your height are the muscles that shift and squirm, even when you’re sleeping. Your shape is not quite human but something more—superhuman, perhaps. You like that. You like the numbers on the scale even better.

Most impressive is the way you’ve learned to listen to the voice, the constant whisper that’s not strictly—not quite—in your mind, though it is inner. Elsewhere, but inside. The low rumble of your growling stomach tells you anything is possible. You could always be bigger.

Stronger.

Hungry for more.

You don’t think about where it’s all going, because nothing ever passes through. And you love how busy your flesh looks, rearranging itself to make room. Still, it hurts when the metal surfaces, poking and prodding. When you can’t ignore the tickle in your nose any longer, you spend an hour unspooling copper wire from your left nostril. You wind it into a tight ball and hold your throat to make sure it’s going down, not up, as you swallow. Certain metals behave and others don’t.

Maybe your body is working against you—your skin, especially. Rejecting fine filaments like splinters, pushing them out through your pores, tiny silver hairs you collect in a glass before returning them to your gut. You don’t want to feel lighter, not by a hair or an ounce. You can’t go back to who you were, not now. You’ve been stitching your skin together for weeks, when you can manage to avoid eating the carpet needle. Inside, you’re unbendable. Unbreakable. But your skin is pliant—your one remaining weakness. Unsightly blemishes are your kryptonite.

And so you outsource.

It’s not so difficult. Like shopping for new clothes, but instead of tight and clinging, you’re searching for the opposite. You’re stalking the people you used to be. They’re invisible, like you were, so you know they won’t be missed. You take what you need. You push out the chipped, cracked nubs of your remaining teeth with your tongue and shove used teeth into your gums. They’re mostly for show. Your jaw can crush cars, but enamel is no match for steel.

You could stop at any time, or you could continue to obey the inner whispers as if you have a choice. As if your limbs won’t lock up like rusted hinges if you don’t do exactly as you’re told.

More painful are the headaches that double and triple your vision, a rainbow nightmare haze. The distended lump at the back of your skull is soft to the touch, squishy, like a yolk slipping free of a cracked egg. But you couldn’t see a doctor, even if you wanted to. They’d try to put you in an MRI machine. And then all the work you’ve put into your body would come tearing out.

Most painful are the gut cramps that clench like a fist around your intestines anytime you aren’t feeding. Every time you try to stop.

The thing inside you, it’s giving you a pep talk. It’s telling you how the world works. There are certain rules. If you listen, don’t fight, if you do what it wants, then you can have anything—be anything or anyone. To show you it means business, it knits your messy seams together, healing them over and smoothing them down. It regrows your teeth, pushing them out like clean white pickets from your lacerated gums. Until you look human again. Beautiful, even.

Appearances are important.

Because the lumbering meat sacks that populate this fragile world crave perfection. They need a god. And the thing curled beneath your skin intends to give them one. But you must be willing. You must be able.

You need to suck it up.

When you wake the next morning, your bedsheets are wet. It’s been so long since your flesh has parted to reveal anything but metal that you almost don’t recognize the stains. You’re too surprised by your capacity to bleed to question where it came from. But the answer’s as obvious as the red soaking your underwear, slicking your thighs from the waist down. The answer’s inside. And out.

The sculptor, the architect, the mastermind…it’s left you a present. A sign of good faith.

You could go to the hospital, or you could go back to the gym. But a headache is such a small price to pay for being able to bench three times your own body weight. And the tingling in your hands makes you feel powerful, even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts. You can’t remember what you had for breakfast, or the last time you shit, or—when you really think about it—most of the last year. It’s all a blur of winking metal and flexing muscle.

More worrisome is the bluish-black color lining your gums when you grin, telling yourself you look fucking phenomenal. You could look even better. You could be better.

You will BE, soon.

Most worrisome is the wrenching abdominal agony that sends you stumbling off the scale and into the bathroom. You’re panicking. Because you’ve worked so hard to put weight on, you can’t bear to lose a single pound. You don’t sit on the toilet, you collapse. You unload.

The tail end of the thing responsible for your transformation, it’s dangling into the bowl. Out of you. In you, still. A quick clench—suck it up!—and by the time you’ve flushed, the true nature of the muscle coiled in your arms and legs, across your chest and back, is forgotten.

You go back to lifting, sweating, grunting and grinding. They all see you now, and they want you.

They want to know your secret even more.

You could keep the secret to yourself, or you could offer them one of the little round pills you found in your bloody underwear. Standing beside the front door of the gym, you’re well-dressed and smiling. Charismatic. You’re holding out your hand. Not asking, promising.

It’s just one little pill.

What’s the worst that could happen?

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Issue 3.1 Paperback

Pay tribute to your ancestors sleeping between worlds, stay at a time-travel hotel, visit the winter graveyard, face Azathoth, purchase a strange device from a door-to-door salesman, and do your best to keep a puppet child from unraveling. Oh, and your DoorDasher Astrid has accidentally awakened the Crawling Chaos, so don’t expect your Taco Pup order any time soon.
$12.00

Featured In

Issue 3.1 Paperback

Amelia suffers from The Vanishing, a disease caused by unrooted immigrant identity, while Beulah Khware longs to become a Celeronian but faces a daunting citizenship test.

Pay tribute to your ancestors sleeping between worlds, stay at a time-travel hotel, visit the winter graveyard, face Azathoth, purchase a strange device from a door-to-door salesman, and do your best to keep a puppet child from unraveling.

Oh, and your DoorDasher Astrid has accidentally awakened the Crawling Chaos, so don’t expect your Taco Pup order any time soon.

$12.00

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It's just one little pill. What's the worst that could happen?

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