Nick was pretty tired of his day job. Well… night job, too. He was a server at The Ruby Steakhouse, one of the trendiest and most expensive restaurants in town. Sure, he could get down with the vibe, and the food was pretty great (if he could afford it even with his discount), but the customers were some of the most obnoxious and superficial people he’d ever encountered. Nick was from LA, where looks were king, and conversations about “which kale recipes keep the most water weight off” was as common a topic as anything. In fact it was almost in his job description to take away the small-portioned plates before the patrons were done, lest they actually get full and complain to management about breaking their diets.
Of course Nick wasn’t immune to the hype, either. He went to the gym three times a week and counted carbs. The gay dating scene in Los Angeles was a shark’s game, and to catch a shark you had to be a slim and toned piece of bait. Nick enjoyed the club scene, and loved the exhilarating rush he’d get from hooking up with the entertainment elite. Just last week he slept with the PR guy of that one Korean/American crossover boy band. You know the one. The week before he fooled around with a dev from Snapchat in the bathroom of some Malibu dude’s mansion! Still though, Nic found the LA lifestyle to be frustratingly difficult to keep up. He felt like his heart wasn’t in it for the right reasons, and like it was some kind of game he had no intent on winning. He kept afloat by keeping up appearances with people: people that in a town so large and diverse seemed to be all… just like him.
Nick rolled out of bed at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and pulled out his uniform. He buttoned up his shirt, put on his tie, and headed for the bus. On his way to work he scrolled through the Kindle Store looking for something interesting to keep his attention. He saw Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis as a featured “classic.” He thought about how funny it would be to just wake up in modern LA as something completely hideous. He wondered how he’d react in that situation, but moved onto YouTube instead. Too much thinking for one bus ride.
That night at work started pretty standard. There were a few fast talking executives talking to dressed to the nines parents and annoyed little brats. Must be new teen pop “sensations” in the negotiating. He laughed at a few of the Silicon Valley players he heard pitching their app ideas to one another. They venture down here for the weekends, he noticed. Nick figures that waiting tables was the perfect job for someone that actually applied themselves in school and knew how to run a business. He’s heard just about every idea in the book at this point, ripe for the underhanded taking.
One table caught his eye that night, however. The main demographic were what you would call engineers. Far from attractive but wealthy enough to afford nice dates. One of the men, however, was an absolute blonde bombshell. He looked like he stepped right off of the beach and not out of the boardroom, and seemed to have an almost electric energy around him. Of course Nick kept his eyes on Blondie Boy for his physical beauty, but he was also extremely curious as to what they did. What put this guy at the table with them? He must be a founder, Nick thought.
“Karen, please let me take over table ten,” Nick pleaded as the table’s current server walked past him.”
“I know who you’re thinking of Nick, and the answer is no. A dude that hot is already taken. Even if he’s single… already taken. Sorry buddy.” She grabbed their trays and headed back out.
Nick tried to focus on his own tables, but their conversation seemed to get louder and louder, carrying the whole restaurant. They were laughing and writing down notes and consuming steak and shrimp in a way that only tech professionals can. Thomas, he heard at one point. A name to go off of! He snuck around their area like a gay spy gathering intel. It’s the little things that keep work interesting. All good times come to an end, however, and eventually they all stood up and began to say their goodbyes. Nick was bussing the table across the aisle from them when he noticed one of the men left a loose leaf paper stuck under his plate. Once the party was out of the restaurant Nick snuck over, picked up the paper, and shoved it into his pocket before Karen arrived.
“So, any luck with that boy number?”
Nick just smirked.
Back at the house Nick fished for his keys when the door opened right in front of him. That’s right, the neighbors were over for Criterion night with his roommates. They all exchanged pleasantries while the neighbors were leaving and Nick was assuming their place. Nick thought he could do with less faux arty friends that do nothing but talk about the health benefits of red wine and Kubrick movies. However, he couldn’t be too mad because this is exactly the life he signed up for. He always found it so strange that two years ago this was the life of his dreams. He was obsessed with status and culture and the party that never stopped, and here he is grumbling home from work just trying to sit in his room completely isolated from all of the modern chic furniture and artisan designed decor.
Once he was all alone Nick looked at the paper. As much as he was hoping for something interesting it just seemed to be a bunch of codes and arrows drawn around to various formulas and code-snippets. The only part that seemed to make sense was the word “FAILURE” in bold lettering and what looked like a URL. Because he had absolutely nothing better to do and thought maybe their website could trace him back to Blondie Boy Thomas’ full name, hopefully providing ample evidence to Facebook stalk.
The url took him to a site titled Rebod, but the layout looked as if it were a backend server for some 1990s university. It had some documents laid out in ugly and boring plain text form and some citations to weird topics like body modifications and alternate universes. Instead of being turned off by the poor quality of the site Nick seemed to become more and more fascinated. There were pages about designing the perfect man and tests on swapping animal brains and all sorts of wacky stuff. On the bottom of the page there was a lone link entitled “Create.” Why the hell not, he thought? Click.
The page was as underwhelming as could be. It was a little java applet visualizer of a human body with some sliders for height and weight, like those old BMI calculator things he remembered from when he was in school. He punched in his height and weight and looked at the little computerized version of himself. The sliders were placed under the curious header: “Ideal,” which seemed to really awaken something strange within Nick. He thought about his job, his coworkers, his roommates, and how everything that seemed ideal to a 17 year old gay boy is now exhausting and soul crushing to a 25 year old counterpart. Was this ideal? He played with the knobs like he was designing a gaming avatar. He tried versions with a lot of hair, no hair, taller, skinnier, shorter or fatter. It was the last two that started to get his blood pumping. While he still can’t explain exactly what woke from within him, he started sliding the weight up to 240, height down a few inches, and body hair up to near max. The idea of being shorter, fatter, and hairier seemed to fly right in the face of everyone he knew in such a taboo way. He thought about what his roommates would say, or ex boyfriends. He thought about how he probably couldn’t even squeeze through the tables at work if he looked like his little creation. Wouldn’t that be ideal, he thought, as he impulsively clicked “Ok.”
A funny thing happened, though. The 3D model suddenly changed from grayscale to full color, and started filling in more and more like a real person. A familiar person. it had the same colored hair and eyes as Nick. In fact its face even started to look like Nick. But just as fast as it morphed, the screen went blank, and Nick assumed it was a bug in the site. It must be what they were talking about being a failure in the document. Nick decided to go to bed and find a new boy toy tomorrow, or at least wait for Blondie Boy’s next visit. As he laid down and pulled the covers tight he thought about his life without a care in the world as a jolly fat man. He thought about how he’d tell his boss off right before tomorrow night’s dinner rush and how he’d tear up his fitted shirt and tie right then and there in place of a wifebeater. As comical as the notion was, it sort of made him hard…
Nick awoke with a pounding in his head and a general sluggishness. He thought he must be coming down with something because he usually doesn’t wake up after 8 hours of sleep feeling so tired and heavy. He tried to push the sheets off of him but it got caught on something taking up a ton of room in his bed. It felt like it was on top of his stomach, whatever it was. As he rolled over, however, he realized something. It WAS his stomach. He strained himself to sit up then stand, and feel all around his body. Everything was different.
Well, not everything. His room was still generally the same, it was just a lot messier. There were empty pizza boxes lying around and clothes all over the floor. Large clothes, if not extra large, but not a tailored dress shirt uniform to be found. What was perhaps weirder than finding out he’d gained over 125 pounds in one night, however (if there can be such a thing), was that it seemed like there were two sets of memories inside his head. He had a full vivid recollection of the last night that brought him here: of his life as a skinny Malibu server that socialized with the Hollywood elite. Yet he also knew things he couldn’t explain about this life, such as an upcoming shift at 11 o’clock. It took him opening his closet and sliding through the oversized wardrobe to see the occupational bombshell, though. Burger Barn? He worked at Burger Barn?
Nick pulled out the large polo shirt and put it over the new massive protrusion that was his body. He could barely move his arms in the sleeves and his belly hung below the bottom of the shirt quite visibly. He had a flash of a memory. He outgrew this shirt two months ago and that’s why the X-Large was at the other end of the closet? He wondered how he knew that, but put on that shirt and it seemed to fit much better.
In the bathroom Nick seemed even more disoriented. He reached for his toothbrush instinctually but realized he was three or four inches shorter than he remembered and had to really reach to grab it. Damn, he was never that tall to begin with, but now this seemed really ridiculous. This would all take some work, he thought.
He walked out to the kitchen, each footstep slapping the floor in somewhat of a waddle. He started fixing himself a large breakfast because boy was he hungry. Sausage, egg, French toast sticks, and cereal to top it all off. He downed it like there was no tomorrow. He stopped, though. Why was he going about this so calm? Shouldn’t he be freaking out that yesterday he could barely finish a breakfast smoothie and now he was downing half the pantry? Why was half of his brain in routine when the other half was in a completely different body not 12 hours ago? Was it that site? Did that weird “Rebod” site do this? And how does he change back? Nick ran (walked) back to his room to try and find that piece of paper with the URL on it. He looked high and low, but eventually came to a chilling conclusion. There’s no way he’ll find that piece of paper in this life because he doesn’t work at that restaurant, so he never would’ve encountered that table, or Thomas’ secret site. Damn.
He approached Burger Barn apprehensively. Nick 1.0 hadn’t been to one in years, and would always use it as the butt of every foodie joke in the book. There were his kinds of people… and Burger Barn people. Nobody in between. He started thinking about going to his old restaurant instead and asking for an application, but suddenly the whiff of fried, greasy food came over him. Something deep within him knew this smell and like a moth to a flame he was dangerously attracted.
Inside he performed as if in a play he never knew he rehearsed. Whether it was saying “hi” to his coworkers by name or working the register, Nick was a burger slinging pro. Weirder still was his attitude. Unlike his old job where every day was spiralling more and more into being displeased with his job and life, Nick seemed downright happy taking people’s orders and calling them up for their meals. He enjoyed seeing the smiles on their faces when they smelled the freshly salted fries, when someone came back to proudly order an ice cream cone after they finished their whole meal, or when they last minute upgrade their meal and make a comment on their own figure, giving a wink knowing a fellow fatty got where they were coming from. In fact the old part of Nick’s brain that constantly worried over ambition and success and keeping up appearances seemed downright inconsequential now. These people seemed happy spending their meal hour here, why did he look down on them so much before? He thought about that over his own lunch break as he savored his free meal.
After work Nick stopped at the candy store across the street for an afternoon pick-me-up. The extra weight put a considerable strain on his body so he had to reward himself for a long day of standing and walking around. He thought about how yesterday the idea of standing for long periods wasn’t a second thought. But at that instant yesterday already seemed like a lifetime ago.
As the week progressed Nick became more and more familiar with his newly hefty lifestyle. He ate at work, ate with his chubby guy roommates, ate with his friends, drank with his friends, ate and drank while watching TV before bed, and slept. He sometimes thought back to his life before, but it started becoming more and more of a fog. Culture, ambition, class and style all seemed to take a backseat to his new priority: keeping that grumbling tank clinging to the front of his body happy. The more he ate, the more Nick 1.0 became a character in a dream. His life story was a strange fiction where he found things like art and partying more enjoyable than food. It was as “out there” as Peter Pan! Nick’s head told him the true story: he’d always been this big, he’d always been this hungry, and always been content with a beer in his left hand and bag of chips in his right.
It wasn’t until four months later that things got weird. Nick was shopping for larger clothes when he saw his old Nick 1.0 roommates. Karen and Abby were looking at cute summer dresses, giggling and taking selfies. Nick tried to position himself closer and make eye contact but they looked away nervously. In fact if he didn’t know better he’d say they were a little creeped out by him. Suddenly those 1.0 memories came rushing back, fighting with his new self image. His life was pathetic. He had a dead end job, no boyfriend prospects in sight, and he had no money because every paycheck went right back into his increasingly unwieldy stomach. He was the kind of guy he would’ve positively shunned in his past life.
Nick set a goal that he would get in better shape over the next few months and then at least apply for his job back at The Ruby, if not an even better job. He bought some XL gym shorts and a tank top as a symbol of his commitment, and lasted… one day. Even a simple power walk around the block absolutely floored him. Every step was like being caught in a thunderstorm at sea, with his body heaving and ho-ing out of control and ready to capsize. He started to feel lightheaded. While he wanted to go home and the park around his neighborhood was exceedingly busy, he knew he needed to sit down. He looked and looked to try and find an empty bench, but there were kids and families everywhere. What an embarrassment, he thought. Everyone knows that he’s a complete and utter fat failure. He sat at the one open bench and splashed water all over his face to cool down.
“Hey!” he heard from behind the bench. He turned around to see another man standing right behind him that is now all wet as well. He was a fairly wide man in his late 20s, with more blonde hair on his chin than his head and a face round like a bowling ball. He was certainly a peculiar looking man, but for some reason he seemed extraordinarily familiar to Nick. Nick scanned him up and down a few times and thought about how much this man had let himself go, which was unconsciously making him just a little horny.
“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean I…”
“Relax. I’m a pretty big guy, I needed a cool down too.”
Nick couldn’t help but think back to Nick 1.0’s idea of attractive and all of the boxes this man didn’t check. He had acne scars, glasses, and armpit stains on his too-tight t-shirt, and yet he seemed calm and strangely confident. Nick started feeling anxious about his own appearance and tried to not sound like a fool in conversation.
“I was just, you know, trying to lose a few pounds but that’s not working so well anymore,” Nick sighed.
“I know what you mean. I spent quite a bit of time frustrated with how I looked, and I tried some crazy, crazy things to fix it.”
“I… accepted that we can’t just jump into some alternative universe. This is my body and this is how I’m gonna look for the rest of my life, like it or not. You know?”
“I… do.” Nick squirmed, but the more he thought about it the more the idea of being thin in some past life was ridiculous. Fiction.
“I mean sure we can try to change to fit some arbitrary standard, right? Or we can drink a milkshake.”
“Damn, that sounds SO good right now. I’m Nick, by the way.”
“Thomas, pleasure to meet you! What do you say we satisfy our stomach’s callings?”
“My stomach thought you’d never ask!” They both smile at each other and walk away together, and for the first time in Nick’s life, he didn’t have a care in the world.