Right. I clicked the ‘ignore’ button to kill the message and then continued with my morning routine.
As soon as I brought up Outlook, though, the message returned: this time in red, and with a flag. It was on my calendar. At the top of my To-Do Bar. Waiting in my email inbox and claiming to be “Urgent.”
I had just about enough time to sigh and swear, and then my phone chirped. It was Heather, from HR.
I cut her off. “Heather, how many times do we have to go through this? I am six-foot-four. I weigh 165 pounds. My doctor says I’m skinny as a rail but healthy as a horse. I do not want to work out, I do not want to weight-train, I do not want to join the company’s charity plod-a-thon team, and above all I do not want to take some idiotic fitness test first thing this morning and then spend the rest of the day smelling like a sweaty goat. I have a meeting with—”
This time it was her turn to cut me off. “Sorry,” she said, “but Frank set this appointment up for you personally.”
Oh, great. Frank DeStefano, the company president and my boss’s boss, was a late-life convert to the Church of Serious Running, and since it made him feel so blasted good, he’d decided to zealously inflict healthiness on the rest of us.
Wondering what I’d done to draw his attention this time—was it that Kit Kat bar I’d sneaked during the PMT meeting last week?—I changed my status to “in a meeting,” loosened my tie, and reported to the conference room-turned-gym.
The moment I saw the fitness consultant, I hated him. Too many memories of my being the tallest, skinniest, and least-coordinated guy in my high school, I guess; too many memories of basketball and volleyball games that ended in broken eyeglasses and a bloody nose. I hated his little blue shorts and his white polo shirt. I hated the clipboard in his hands and the stopwatch on a lanyard around his thick neck. Most of all I hated his broad hairy chest, his thick hairy arms and legs, his prognathous jaw, and his five-o’clock shadow at 9 in the morning. His eyes were too close together, I decided; his nose was almost a snout, and his teeth were too big, straight, and white for any normal man. “Good morning, Dave,” he said cheerily. I hated the way he presumed familiarity.
“Can we just get this over with?” I asked. “I’ve got a lot to do today.”
He tsk-tsked and made a little mark on his clipboard. “That’s a Type A high-stress attitude you’ve got going there, Dave. Bad for the heart, bad for the nerves, and symptomatic of repressed—”
“If you’re going to talk symptoms, I want to see your medical degree.” We were off to a rotten start.
The evaluation was long and tedious. He asked me a battery of questions about my diet and family medical history. He made me take off my shirt and then poked, prodded, and pinched me with a dial calipers. He plastered a bunch of electrodes to my back and chest and made me trot on the treadmill for twenty minutes. When we were finished, I was wheezing and drenched in sweat, and he told me I was—
“Ten pounds overweight?”
“Going strictly by your fat-to-muscle ratio, yes,” he said. “Not that I’d advise you to try to lose ten pounds. No, what you need to do is build your upper-body strength and endurance. Do that, and cut out the salt, sugar, caffeine, and saturated fats, and your weight won’t be a problem. Here’s the exercise regimen I recommend.”
Regimen was the wrong word. He should have said ordeal. Two half-hour sessions of calisthenics and weight-lifting daily, plus rowing and stair-stepper sessions every other day; I tried it for a week, and then said to hell with it and dropped out of the fitness class.
Which put me in a very awkward position. For as Spring grew into Summer, DeStefano got more and more converts to the company fitness program, and the lunchroom became a rigidly segregated place. By the time July rolled around the place was completely dominated by Healthies, grazing on their avocado salads and constantly guzzling from their omnipresent filtered-water bottles, and we poor benighted Flabbies were relegated to a few battered old tables back in one corner. By the beginning of August they’d taken the Twinkies, potato chips, and Coca-Cola out of the vending machines, and by the end of August, the vending machines themselves were gone, along with the salt packets and the unlimited free coffee. By Labor Day we were down to just four holdouts: myself; majestic Lorenz and his equally majestic stomach; Bill from IT, who claimed an allergy to sweat socks; and grizzled old Stinson, who’d been chain-smoking for thirty years and wasn’t about to quit now, even if the designated smoking area was now on the other side of the parking lot, next to the dumpster.
We had to put up with a lot, in that last month. For example, I love a good ham-and-cheese sandwich, but no matter how I timed it, there was always some sanctimonious jackass looking over my shoulder when I took my sandwich out of the microwave, and he or she never failed to say, “How can you eat that? Don’t you know what that cholesterol is doing to your arteries?” Lorenz, Bill, and Stinson got about the same treatment. We were getting very discouraged.
At first it was just a few amateur athletes, here and there. Runners, cyclists, triathletes; people who tended to work-out alone. It wasn’t until entire Jazzercise classes began disappearing that people began to take notice. Then, when half the runners in the Seattle Marathon simply vanished right before the TV cameras, it became an international crisis that had to be dealt with.
About the same time, a confidential FBI report was leaked to the press. It seems that along with the athletes, thousands of private trainers and coaches were also disappearing. And when investigators began looking into the histories of the missing trainers, they found that 95-percent of them could not be accounted for before 1999.
The same 95-percent who were described by the people who’d known them as “thick, hairy, and prognathous.”
There are theories, rumors, and urban legends, of course. The most popular one holds that the Trainers—yes, they capitalize it, now—were transcendent beings of some sort, and the missing athletes were spirited away as a reward for their excellence, strength, winning attitude, et cetera, et cetera…
I never once heard our fitness consultant talk about any of that. What he wanted us to develop was lots of lean red meat.
It’s lucky there are four of us Flabbies left, now. Most of the card games we know work best four-handed. I spend most of my time in the lunchroom these days, drinking beer, playing cards, and smoking. I’ve gained fifteen pounds of pure flab and have developed a real fondness for H. Upmann Cameroon Robustos. Things are very relaxed at our company these days, now that all the Healthies are gone.
We don’t miss them one bit.
When asked to supply an author’s bio, S. TRAVIS BROWN declined, saying only, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” In response to our request for an author’s photo, he did send a photo, albeit of a dog. We briefly considered asking him to explain his exact relationship to the dog, then decided it was better not to ask.
“In Fall, After the Harvest” first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Stupefying Stories. We’re re-running it now (with the author’s gracious permission) because this issue has reached the end of its contract life and will be going out-of-print at the end of this month. Therefore, for the remainder of this month, it’s on sale for the reduced price of $0.99, and available for the Amazon Kindle and Kindle Reader app at these links: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, India, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Australia.
- FIRST IMPRESSIONS, by Aaron Bradford Starr
- THE BAMBOO GARDEN, by Clare L. Deming
- HOME SECURITY, by Gary McKenzie
- BORROWED FEATHERS, by Sarah Frost
- IF THIS BE MAGIC, by Anatoly Belilovsky
- THE OILY, by E. A. Black
- IN FALL, AFTER THE HARVEST, by S. Travis Brown
- THE KING OF ASH AND BONES, by Rebecca Roland
- WATCH THIS!, by Henry Vogel
But remember: at the stroke of midnight on November 30, it goes out-of-print, never to be re-released.