The story below was my entry in the NYC Midnight 2014 Short Story competition. My genre was Science Fiction, my subject was Obesity, and my character was… well, I’ll tell you after you read the story, because otherwise it’s a big spoiler!
INDIVIDUAL RESULTS MAY VARYSynopsis: Brian thought anything was better than going through life fat and alone. That is, until an experimental weight-loss program left him with more than just a bad taste in his mouth.
For the third time in as many hours, Brian thought about killing Eve. Not whether or not to do it – that decision was made long ago. What he thought about these days was how. There was only a slim chance of killing her and living to tell about it, but on a day like this, nearly any consequence was worth the thought of just shutting her up.
“You can’t eat that,” Eve shrieked as Brian reached for a cracker. “You’re already over your carb limit for the day. How many times do I have to tell you the same thing? Do you want to get fat again? How selfish can you be?”
On and on she droned, the same broken record that began playing the day they came home from the treatment center, and on a constant loop ever since.
“Yeah, I’d love to be fat again,” Brian thought, reaching for a goddamn celery stick. “Because when I was fat, I was alone.” Alone. The very thought transformed the celery into double chocolate cheesecake.
Having temporarily silenced Eve with an acceptable snack choice, Brian reveled in the silence and let his mind wander back to the day that changed his life forever.
One year ago, 2057. Technology had advanced to a realm that made science fiction writers look like historians. Every day brought new advances in science and medicine; people now associated the word extinct with diseases, not animals. But one chronic condition stumped the doctors and refused to be eradicated.
Americans were still fat. No, not fat. Obese.
And while 200-plus was the new thin, that weight was a spec in Brian’s rear view mirror. At 500-plus pounds and counting, Brian was grossly obese. Morbidly obese, according to his doctor.
Just like every fat person, he had his story of how he got to this point. Through college, he was in great shape; an athlete who scored regularly, on and off the field. That is, until his senior year, when Brian met Joan. Chemistry turned to passion in an instant, and they planned to combine their graduation party with a wedding reception.
All that changed as Brian stood at the front of the campus chapel, waiting for a bride who never came. He likely would have stood there forever, in a fog of embarrassment and confusion, if not for his best man, who not only led him away, but also invited the guests to stay for the reception anyway, because, well, what the hell, it was paid for and there was beer.
Brian would tell anybody that would listen that he just pulled up a chair to the buffet table that night and hadn’t stopped eating since. A fantastic job and enormous salary only heightened all of his appetites, and made it easier for him to become a big man in every way.
Of course, that didn’t mean that Brian didn’t want to lose weight. It had been years since a woman had shown any interest in him, and even a steady diet of hookers had proved unsatisfying. So he tried all the magic cures, the pills, the fad diets, the miracle creams. Each left him angrier, more desperate, and fatter.
Fast forward to a year ago. Brian had long since sworn off the “cures,” resigning himself to being fat and alone for the rest of his life. Then he saw the ad.
Surely they couldn’t really deliver on what they were promising. Alright, it was the second half of the 21st century – barely – but still. It was absurd. No person with half a brain would even consider it.
For the first time in years, Brian felt hope. He read the ad again.
“Are you morbidly obese? Are you alone? Let the doctors at the Meiosis Transformation Clinic solve both of your problems! Send a transmission today to apply to be part of our revolutionary program which will end obesity while providing companionship. You deserve to be happy. Come join us today.”
Brian asked few questions and eagerly signed on the dotted line when told he was an ideal candidate for the program. So what if it was an experimental study involving new surgery. What did he have to lose, except this goddamn weight?
And they promised he would also be leaving the facility with a woman! And not just any woman – they assured him that their scientific process would produce a match for him that was as close as humanly possible, and guaranteed that she would go home with him without an argument. Brian didn’t care if they were going to pick her at random from a cargo hold full of broads bought on the open market – he was going home thin and with a woman. And it only took a week!
The day of the procedure came. Brian had already wired the million dollars, and showed up as instructed with just the fat clothes on his back. The clinic would provide his new wardrobe as part of its services, since none of his old clothes would fit anymore. After signing a thick stack of forms, he watched as a nurse put a needle in his arm and started the anesthetic.
“See you in a week,” he remembers her saying, as he drifted off.
“Why the hell did you buy two percent milk?”
Eve’s condescending shout snapped Brian out of his daydream.
“You were right there with me, Eve,” he responded through clenched teeth. “If you wanted skim, why didn’t you say something then?”
“You know I can’t see what you’re doing on that side,” she snapped back. “That’s probably how you snuck the cookies into the house, isn’t it? You’re trying to kill us both!”
“I don’t know where this paranoia is coming from, Eve, but you must know that it’s in my best interest to take care of both of us,” Brian replied. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get something from the desk.”
Eve grunted in response, but nonetheless lifted herself up so that she and Brian could walk across the room in unison, as they had done for the past year since emerging from the Meiosis Transformation Clinic as conjoined twins.
“What’s so important you have to read it now?” she barked.
“The juicer isn’t working right,” Brian replied as he rifled through the desk drawer. “I want to find the manual and the warranty. Here it is.”
As Brian angled to pull the manual out of the bottom drawer, several other papers fell to the floor, including a long-forgotten pamphlet. Brian picked it up.
“You better get that juicer working right!” Eve shrieked. “We can’t go without our healthy smoothies!”
“Don’t worry, Eve, I will,” he muttered automatically. “OK, I have what I need, we can sit down.”
They clumsily plopped down on the couch and Eve grabbed the remote for the screen in the wall. As she became engrossed in the transmission, Brian opened the pamphlet, and began reading:
MEIOSIS TRANSFORMATION CLINIC: PRECAUTIONS AFTER SURGERY
Under no circumstances should you consume any type of alcoholic beverages post-surgery. Because of the complexity of your procedure, this could cause an imbalance of the dual chemistry, likely resulting in the death, and eventual surgical removal, of your companion. Should you accidentally ingest alcohol, please report back to the clinic at once for emergency treatment.
Brian looked up from the brochure and smiled at Eve.
“You know, Eve, it’s been a year since we’ve been together,” he said sweetly. “I think that calls for a drink.”
As you undoubtedly figured out, my character prompt was conjoined twins. Amazing what you can come up with under a deadline! I got great feedback on the review forum from my fellow writers (and revised slightly from my original entry based on some of those suggestions), and came in sixth in my heat (of 25). Alas, only the top five in each heat advance to the next round, so this competition ended here for me. I took solace in one colleague’s comment – the judges wanted Asimov, and you gave them Serling. Yup.