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June 27, 2022

Rhopatrim

By Richard Sanders

Two Weeks Prior

It's the usual Tuesday night. Randall sits on the couch and scrolls through his phone while YouTube plays random algorithmic videos. His best friend from college recently got engaged. He's really happy for him, but his own jealousy clouds his support. Randall is only twenty-nine, but the ticking clock becomes louder and louder in his mind. His dreams have evolved over the years, but the one constant is his desire for fatherhood; and he fears that it will never come to fruition.

Randall gained close to 75 pounds during his four years at college. His self-esteem took a hit, making him more of a recluse. Throughout his Facebook feed he sees friend after friend with their significant others. What's wrong with me? That question pops up from time to time. He always goes back to his weight, because that's the first thing he sees. It's a simple answer to a dissertation.

A louder than usual commercial takes him out of his tunnel vision. The setting of the ad is a TV studio gym with three treadmills on the left and a group of people lifting weights on the right. A cocoon is visible over the right shoulder of a very fit man with athletic clothing standing in the foreground. A smile is fixed on him, staring at the camera without blinking. The blood orange chyron below him reads Douglas Michaels.

"Hey! Are you ready for a change? Tired of being overweight? Disgusting? Unlovable? Ready to spread your wings? We are here for you!"

Douglas pulls a bottle from behind his back.

"You need Rhopatrim!"

The people on the treadmills have the same expression as Douglas. Their smiles might as well be carved. They look attached to the equipment, unable to leave.

"Rhopatrim is designed to boost energy, cut cravings, and bring out the best version of you!"

Randall rolls his eyes watching the commercial. He's heard these pitches before. The only thing that keeps him from skipping the ad is the cocoon behind Douglas. It appears to move slightly.

"Don't believe me, hear from a user," Douglas yells.

The cocoon behind Douglas develops a tear. Hands widen the hole, and a woman in spanx jumps out. A blood orange chyron appears below her. It reads Shanna Amber.

"Hey Shanna! How are you?"

"Doing great, Doug!"

Shanna turns her attention to the camera, staring into eyes of the viewer. Randall hates commercials, he usually skips them when he can. He could have skipped this from the start. He saw what was in the cocoon, but he kept watching.

"Guys, Rhopatrim changed my life. I feel better, more active, confident, and I get all the attention I want!"

A photo of Shanna appears with her holding pants about five sizes too big. That's twelve weeks of using Rhopatrim, according to the picture. The people are running faster on their respective treadmills. The weightlifters haven't stopped their bicep curls. No facial expression has changed. Douglas continues the pitch.

"Still on the fence? Hear from our medical expert!"

The commercial cuts to a doctor's office. We see a man with slicked back white hair and a finely trimmed goatee staring off camera. The chyron reads Dr. Bateman.

"I would recommend this product to all of my patients wanting to seriously lose weight. It is an intense option; a lot of commitment is required, but it is safe, and it will all be worth it in the end."

The commercial returns to Douglas and Shanna.

"What are you waiting for? Call us or go online and order a month supply now!" Douglas yells. A chyron appears with the website url glowup.com and the phone number 1-800-343-8446. The ending lasts five seconds to burn the chyron into memory. Shanna and Douglas do not break their expressions. Randall returns the stare, afraid to look away.

* * *

It's 9:10 am, Randall clocks into work. Traffic was problematic this morning, making him late for the first time since he was hired. Randall called his boss Sarah to warn her, all she said was "fine." He walks past the coworkers he barely speaks to. Randall doesn't have a relationship with any of them. They mostly just talk about sports, their guilt for having ice cream the night before, and commenting how so-and-so looked fat on Fallon. There tends to be a pause and glance towards Randall to see if he heard them. Of course, he heard it, but he keeps to himself.

Randall works at a TV station. He majored in film production in college, but he never imagined himself to be a traffic coordinator. Kids dream of being Spielberg, not scheduling commercials for Slimfast. Outside of scheduling promos for the channel, he also watches the shows to make sure nothing catastrophic happens on air. Then again, what can he do if something bad did happen? That goes through his mind about twice a week. There's this one show that always airs at 9:30 called New Body, New You. It specializes in advertising lemon and snake oil to people desperate for change. They bring "experts" and "doctors" to tell you why you should feel bad for how you look. Randall watches but never pays attention. He just puts on his headphones to listen to his favorite movie podcasts, and glances at the TV once in a while. Before he can put on his headphones however, Randall gets an instant message from Sarah.

"Come to my office."

He lets out a sigh and gets up from his desk. Sarah hired him about two years ago, but they've barely spoken to each other after his first day. He does his job well enough and is always on time, what more do they need to discuss? They'll usually exchange a head nod when Sarah walks by his cubicle during her lunch time power walk.

Randall makes his way to her office. He opens the door to find her typing. She doesn't look up at him.

"Shut the door behind you."

Randall does and walks toward Sarah; she finally looks at him.

"You're certainly on a roll," she tells him.

Randall is standing in front of her desk awkwardly in khakis too tight, and a polo that barely makes it past his gut. He hasn't had the chance to go to the laundry mat, so his wardrobe is limited.

"I don't understand," Randall says.

"You've been coming in later and later these past two weeks."

Randall's silent. He maybe came in 1-2 minutes late twice these past couple of weeks.

"Anything you want to say?"

Randall tries to find the words, but all he could muster were confused facial expressions.

"This is your only warning."

Randall gives a nod.

"I'll do better," he says before turning around to leave. Sarah gets the last word.

"And get some clothes that actually fit you."

Sarah's loud typing on the keyboard adds the exclamation point to the conversation. He walks slowly back to his desk. He could feel the eyes from his co-workers dart away from him as he walks by them. He's used to being stared at. Even in college he's always observed people loudly ignoring fat people when they walked by. Eyes always turned to him whenever he would walk to class, only to look away quickly when Randall reciprocated the attention. He thought that would change in the professional world, but it's worse. The only person to look at him with some semblance of pity is Michelle. Randall really wants to be friends with her. That was especially clear when she wore a Godzilla shirt to work one day. He just wants to talk movies with her, but she probably doesn't want to be bothered by him. He hasn't spoken to his friends or family for the past few months. Between 75 - 90 miles separate him from his loved ones, plus he doesn't want to be "that friend" who always complains about his life. Randall knows he's depressed, but he doesn't think it warrants therapy, or a doctor's visit, so he mostly turns to food for healing.

He sits in his cubicle. New Body, New You is still on. He recognizes the next guest from a commercial he's seen before. Douglas, from the company Glow Up, comes in to advertise their latest diet pill, Rhopatrim. This is usually when Randall would put back on his headphones, but this time he gives the show his attention. He couldn't take his eyes off of him. There was just something about him that he wanted to emulate. The muscles, the confidence, just the sheer willingness to live drew Randal in. The website is shown on the chyron; Randall picks up his phone to take a photo of the TV. At the corner of his eye, Randall sees Matthew stroll in to work about forty-five minutes late. He has a look and confidence similar to Douglas. He passes by Sarah. They high five each other.

Not wanting to go back home, Randall heads to Strecker Park to clear his head. It's fine when Matthew is regularly thirty minutes late, but not him. He gets reprimanded for arriving ten minutes late once. Randall plays in his head what he should have done.

I should have stood up for myself.
Why didn't I go to HR?
I should quit.

One thought always has a retort for these statements, however.

Who would hire me?

Jobs in television are not robust.

He puts on his headphones as soon as he parks. He shuffles his playlist; Billy Corgan is the first voice he hears. The World is a Vampire.

He lazily follows the concrete path lined with milkweed and roses. Herds of joggers blow by him as he merely glances at the passing trees. The pavement he follows leads to a pond, surrounded by bushes, flowers, and couples. Lots, and lots of couples holding hands and enjoying each other's company. He passes one pair pushing a baby stroller and feels an extra tinge of envy. He turns around to get one last look of the budding family, hoping to one day have that.

He makes it back to his apartment with a family size pack of fried chicken under his right arm. He turns on the TV and reaches for his phone to scroll through Facebook. This is his nightly ritual. The same posts keep popping up: so-and-so got a new job, new engagements, new baby, it all just blends together. He comes across a photo that catches his eye. His ex-girlfriend from three years ago recently got married. Randall hasn't spoken to her since they broke-up. He didn't know that she was even engaged. She looks absolutely elated, smiling from ear to ear. He quickly puts his phone away.

Randall looks at himself in the mirror before he heads to bed. He stares for about five minutes. His love handles, double chin, and gut don't escape his critical eye.

Randall grabs his phone to look up the company website, glowup.com, and proceeds to order a one-month supply of Rhopatrim.

Day 1

After Randall signed up for a month supply, he was invited to a Facebook group curated by Glow Up. The main takeaway he gets from a quick observation is that you have to be completely committed from the start. There's no easing into it, either you're in or out. Randall accepts this task. The pills came in only a few days after he purchased them. Every morning before work, he takes two pills and goes for a jog. The pills give him a jolt that he suspects is similar to a nine-volt battery. It was probably high school since he last felt this energetic. He makes it down to Strecker park, where a handful of joggers are also present. He makes it down to the pond and sees an old man sitting on a bench and sipping coffee. In his fedora and leather jacket, he looks absolutely at peace. Randall gives him a wave, which is returned. When he finishes and takes a quick shower, he makes himself a breakfast of a single egg. Gone were the days of bacon, toast, and butter. The only thing that occupies his fridge are fruits, vegetables, and eggs. It's only been a week and it's by far the healthiest he's been in years. This new routine has already made him lose five pounds.

Randall now eats his lunch at his cubicle. If he eats while he works, that means he has more time to work out. Besides, it wasn't like anyone is going to miss him. No one made an effort to befriend him before. After a couple of days sitting in his cubicle during lunch, he notices a change in his colleagues. More coworkers are making direct eye contact with him. They're now waving and saying hi to him.

Randall is already noticing a difference in his body. Two weeks down and he's already twelve pounds lighter. He feels an extra sense of pride when he has to go to the last notch on his belt. It's been a long time since he's actually accomplishing a goal he set out for himself. Randall's confidence has increased, his posture has improved when he sits at his cubicle. He's even taken the time to make a little small talk with Michelle about Universal horror movies. Overall, he just feels happier. He grabs his phone to order another supply of Rhopatrim.

Day 15

Randall's body is beginning to feel a little different. As he makes it to the pond during his jog, he feels a tinge of pain in his lower stomach. Nothing too serious, but it was present. It's not a big deal he would tell himself. This is bound to happen since his body is going through major changes. Nevertheless, he emails Glow Up about this issue.

"Hey, I've been taking these pills for over two weeks now. I've lost a lot of weight already, but now I'm starting to feel some cramps. Is that normal?"

He goes into the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. His face looks a little smaller as well as his stomach. There are circles of black surrounding his eyes; he maybe gets four hours of sleep per night now. Slight insomnia was listed as a side effect for the pills. He decided that he could live with that. Besides, he still felt energetic enough to exercise. His decrease in sleep didn't concern him as much as the double chin, love handles, and gut he perceived in the mirror. There were more positives than negatives in his mind. His phone vibrates; Glow Up emails him back.

"Hey Randall, that is absolutely normal. It's only for a temporary amount of time. At most maybe two weeks of slight cramps before they subside. Please let us know if you have any more questions! We want to hear more about your journey. We're positive it will all be worth it in the end."

The promptness was appreciated.

* * *

Randall is at his cubicle scheduling promos. There have been more purchased spots for Glow Up. The pills have really taken off. New Body, New You has a special episode on how new mothers can most effectively lose baby weight. Dr. Bateman is on the show today.

"Now this is really important in order for you to lose the baby weight, you might notice some cram --"

Matthew approaches his desk.

"Dude, why don't we hang?" Matthew asks.

"You mean in the break room?" Randall asks.

"Nah, man. We should go out this weekend for some drinks."

Randall stares at Matthew. He's heard numerous comments from him making fun of fat people that work or have worked at the office. He always talks about having to go to the gym afterwards to work off the burger from earlier. Matthew has never said more than a sentence to Randall before today, but now he wants to hang out. Before Randall could think of an excuse to avoid him, Matthew interjects again.

"I can bring Michelle with us."

This gives Randall pause. He and Michelle have been talking more in the office recently. She got an Edgar Allen Poe tattoo on her wrist that she had been telling Randall about for weeks. This would be the first time they actually hang out outside of work.

"Come on, bro. I'll be your wingman," Matthew continues to pitch.

Sarah approaches his desk before he could respond.

"I see you're actually coming to work on time," Sarah says.

"It looks like it," Randall replies

"Well, your work has vastly improved since your change, which hasn't gone unnoticed by the way."

Randall's work hasn't changed.

"Thank you," He replies.

"I'll find you later," Matthew says before leaving his cubicle. Matthew mouths the words "I got you" to Randall and points at him while walking away.

"Now, we're in sweeps this month. Keep up the good work, and higher ups will notice," Sarah says before walking off. The only thing that he's done differently in the past few weeks is eat at his cubicle. Besides New Body, New You, Randall barely pays attention to what the station is airing.

While trying to analyze his interaction with Sarah, Randall glances at Michelle. She looks just the same as always. He hair falls effortlessly, touching her shoulders. Her glasses reflect her emails and a game of solitaire. Randall sees that she's just her normal, beautiful self. He gets up and walks toward Matthew's cubicle.

"I'm down to hang this weekend."

"Hell yeah!"

Matthew throws up his hand for a high five, Randall returns about 25 of that energy to his palm.

Day 21

Randall, Matthew, and Michelle go to this dingy dive bar downtown. The kind of bar where you feel like you're constantly stepping on gum. Matthew is loud, obnoxious, and really drunk. He leaves Randall and Michelle alone to hit on a poor bartender. The two of them talk Poe, movies, childhood, dreams, and favorite Chinese restaurants. Randall loves the way Michelle's chestnut eyes light up when she talks about her passions. It's an aura he wants to be around. He's sometimes distracted by Matthew's pelvic thrusts behind Michelle, making eye contact with him. Their conversation was interrupted by the overhead lights. It was time to go. Randall drops Matthew off first. He then takes Michelle to her apartment complex. He walks her to her front door. They share a close hug. Goosebumps go up Randall's spine, he feels like he can breathe again.

It's about two in the morning, Randall is lying in bed, unable to sleep. His mind races between thoughts of Michelle, and work. He wouldn't have been surprised if he had a shot of espresso earlier. The last time he felt this excited was maybe some Christmas morning from his childhood. This feeling of adulation is interrupted however by a stabbing pain. Randall is both concerned, and confused. This is the first time he feels this pain while sedentary. He changes his position from sideways to stomach, hoping to find some relief. Another minute passes when he feels another cramp in his abdomen. Wide awake, he jumps out of bed and goes into the bathroom to examine himself. Randall is down thirty pounds. His shorts barely fit. His shirts are a size too big. The skin on his torso is starting to droop. His fridge once filled with fruits, eggs, and vegetables is now empty. He hasn't felt hungry in a couple of days. He barely touched his drink at the bar earlier, which is probably a good thing. He might have been drunker than Matthew. Randall stares blankly at his stomach, studying the stretch marks on his loose skin, appreciating how far he's come but thinking he has a lot longer to go. An angular outline pushes out from his stomach. Randall rubs his eyes to try to clear his vision. He stares at his stomach for a couple of minutes more. Nothing happens. Thinking that he's just delirious from the lack of sleep, he heads back to bed.

Four hours later with zero sleep, Randall gets up and prepares for his jog. Before leaving his apartment, he lifts up his shirt and looks at his stomach one last time. Nothing happens. Convinced he was just seeing things; Randall turns away from the mirror. He puts on his headphones and heads out the door. The first song: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

Day 28

It's been a week since Randall last ate. He doesn't bother to pack his lunch anymore. He just stays in his cubicle to do his work. Randall is down forty pounds. The energy that he gets from taking the pills is lessened, but it's still there. The group he interacts with on Facebook has seen similar concerns from others. The people who run the page usually provide the same answer for each post: keep pushing through, no pain no gain. Randall didn't want to be on the other end of that response.

His change in appearance hasn't gone unnoticed by coworkers. Comments pour in:

"I'm so proud of you."
"You're a real inspiration."
"Are you free Saturday?"

The only person to not have a positive comment is Michelle. She has more of a concerned reaction when she sees him.

"You didn't pack again?"

"I didn't feel hungry."

Michelle looks at Randall with almost an annoyed expression. He fully understands that he sounds ridiculous considering he hasn't eaten in a week.

"You know that's not normal, right?"

"Apparently it's a common side effect for the pills."

"To not eat for a week?"

Randall thought about Michelle's response. On the surface it is alarming to not be eating. All Randall could do was fall back to the canned response from the Facebook group.

"Dr. Bateman swears that it's a temporary side effect."

Michelle furrows her brow.

"Randall, could you do me a favor? See another doctor. They can provide a second opinion on what's going on with you."

Randall looks down at the ground. It's been years since he last visited a doctor.

"I really don't think that's necessary."

"Please."

Michelle's face is painted with concern. Randall didn't want to mess up a good thing with his weight loss, but he didn't want to mess up a good thing with Michelle. He was touched by the worry in Michelle's voice. It's something that's been foreign to his ears.

"Ok, I'll see a doctor."

"Promise?"

"I promise."

Sarah approaches Randall.

"Hey Randall, can I see you in my office really quick?"

Randall nods and walks with Sarah. He's been arriving late to work recently. His lack of sleep makes him slower in the morning. The cramps are still in his stomach, but he continues his jogs. The Facebook group also suggested that the jogs can help ease the cramps. They may have numbed, but they were still present. It's been the best relief Randall has had from the pain. Because of these slower jogs, he's coming into work late during sweeps, even Matthew is on time during this period. They enter her office. Sarah sits on her desk.

"Could you shut the door behind you?" Sarah asks.

Randall closes the door. He has been preparing for this moment. Excuses pop up in his mind as he tries to pull himself out of bed in the morning the past few days. He'll need all the ammunition he can get for his defense.

"Hey, I know I've been late recen -- "

"That's what I wanted to ask about. Is everything ok?" Sarah asks.

Randall is caught off guard.

"Oh, yeah I'm well enough. I've mostly just been dealing with insomnia and cramps."

"That sounds awful. Listen, if you need any help you can always go to HR and they can direct you to any specialists that can assist you."

Randall takes a few seconds to respond.

"Wow, I really appreciate that."

"We appreciate you! I'm so proud of what you have been able to accomplish over the past month. Please let me know if I can help in any way."

"I will. Thank you."

* * *

Randall was able to schedule a doctor's appointment a few days later. He's sitting in his own corner of the waiting room. A recent post he made on the Glow Up group page is getting a lot of responses. He voiced concern about his pain, and lack of appetite. The comments are filled with hostility.

"I mean, you're losing weight, right?"

"Are you sure it hurts that bad?

"Do you really need to see a doctor?"

Truth be told, Randall didn't want to be here. He's only here because Michelle wanted him to go. She was worried about his overall health. Insomnia and a lack of hunger sound bad on paper, but in his mind, if it weren't for the pills, Michelle wouldn't even know of he exists. He is down a lot of weight because of Rhopatrim; the pills are the only thing keeping him upright. How much worse off would be if it weren't for the pills? A nurse enters the lobby.

"Randall Hurst," she yells at the room.

Randall stands up and walks toward her. They enter the back; and she has him take his shoes off to weigh himself. Randall steps on the scale to see that he is down forty-seven pounds. He used to be excited by any amount of weight loss, he was overjoyed to see the first five pounds come off. Now, it's not enough. He weighed himself earlier before entering the doctor's office, that scale said he lost forty-eight pounds. His mind is racing as to how he gained a pound between then and now.

The nurse takes him to a room and has him sit on a table to wait for the doctor.

"Dr. Louise will be in shortly," the nurse says before walking away.

Randall looks around the room. It's no different from any hospital room you would see anywhere else. An EKG machine, computer, and sink all lie there listless. What catches Randall's attention is the scale. Did he really gain a pound in one day? Maybe his jeans are too heavy? Maybe his posture was wrong. Randall jumps off the table, takes his shoes off and walks toward the scale. The door opens while he's unbuttoning his pants. Dr. Louise walks in.

"Afternoon, Randall."

She looks at him next to the scale.

"We weighed you earlier, right?"

"Oh, yeah, I just wanted to see if this scale said anything different," Randall responds.

Dr. Louise raises her eyebrow with an inquisitive look.

"It's highly unlikely that anything would have changed within the past five minutes," she says.

Not wanting to argue, Randall heads back to the table.

"Now, I've heard that you've been experiencing some cramps recently, is that true?"

That and a few other things. Randall only mentioned the cramps over the phone. One issue at a time, if the other things are even issues.

"Yes."

"When did you first start noticing them?"

"A few weeks ago when I started taking some diet pills."

"What diet pills?"

"Rhopatrim." Dr. Louise stares at him for a few seconds. A look of judgment pierces through Randall, or so he thinks.

"How long have you been taking these pills?"

"A few weeks."

"Can I get a specific amount of time?"

Randall did not appreciate the interrogation. It's the same third degree he received from past doctors when they would question and condescend his diet and exercise routine. First it's not enough, now this doctor is saying his one solution is a problem. Nothing is ever right for them.

"Maybe a little over a month ago."

Dr. Louise is typing these notes on the computer.

"And when did you first start feeling these cramps?"

"A little over two weeks ago."

"Have you had any trouble sleeping, or eating?"

It's like she's watched him the past few weeks. In Randall's mind this was all performance; she knows he's had these issues. Her mind is already made up. He could be honest, but what's the point.

"I'm sleeping and eating just fine."

"Really?"

"Yes."

The doctor types her notes. She sits there for a few seconds, thinking of what to say next. Randall leans his head to see the notes in the monitor.

"Randall, you know that Rhopatrim is not FDA approved, right? I've had a lot of my colleagues tell me about the issues their patients have had with this drug. Loss of appetite, insomnia, and painful cramps are not just simple side effects. They could be spelling out a bigger problem."

Randall doesn't respond.

"This is a very dangerous drug. We just want you to be healthy, and safe."

Randall tries to hide his annoyance. This is the healthiest he's looked in years. He's been told to get control of his appetite, to exercise more. Now all of that is unhealthy?

"Like I said, I've just felt mild cramps."

Randall knew he sounded annoyed with that last statement. He's finally standing up for himself. Unconvinced, the doctor sighs.

"I'm going to write you prescription for Tylenol, but I honestly think the best solution is to stop taking the pills. I do have one more question, however. How much weight have you lost?"

This is usually a question he's eager to answer. Randall just wants to leave.

"Maybe fifteen pounds?"

* * *

Randall heads into the garage. He texts Michelle.

"Everything went well! Nothing to worry about."

Randall puts his phone in his front pocket as he enters his car. After he closes the door, his pocket vibrates.

"Is that what the doctor said?"

He knew it wouldn't be this easy. The dismissiveness from the doctor irritated him, but he didn't want to leave Michelle worried.

"Yeah, she shockingly seemed supportive of my routine. She said the same thing that Dr. Bateman said before," Randall lied.

Randall hasn't started the car yet. He wants to reach a finished point with this conversation.

Three dots appear, then disappear.

She's not buying it. Oh shit. Randall only did this for her, wasn't that enough?

Three dots appear, then disappear.

What is she thinking? Randall's eyes are glued to his phone. Not knowing what else to do, he clicks on five or six different apps to kill time before Michelle's response. Anxiousness, and dread are waging an all-out assault on his conscious. His phone vibrates, Michelle responds.

"Ok."

That's it? All that typing for that?

Three dots appear, then disappear.

Randall lets out a sigh. Those three minutes sapped the energy out of him. He turns on his engine; and puts his car in reverse. His phone vibrates.

"Call me when you get the chance," Michelle says.

A new wave of dread washes over him. He pulls out of the garage, calling Michelle.

* * *

It's been 39 days since he started taking the pills. Throughout all that time exercising, lifting weights, jogging for miles and miles, his strength and endurance have only gotten worse. He's gone down to lighter weights, and he's been jogging fewer miles in the same amount of time. Randall staggers through the days. He continues to lose weight, over fifty-five pounds to be exact. His misery is made worse after Michelle broke-up with him. She told him that she didn't want to be around his toxic obsession with his body. Body issues are nothing new to her, and she just can't be with him for her own sake. Randall was devastated. All he did was go to the doctor for her, and that ruined everything. Not knowing how else to cope, he goes out for a jog.

In the middle of his innocuous jog, as he reaches the pond, seeing the same old man on the park bench sipping his coffee, Randall abruptly falls over. It's the most painful cramp he's felt yet. He grabs his lower stomach, hoping against hope that it just stops. The old man lifts himself up from the park bench, rushing to Randall as fast as he can.

"Son, are you ok?"

He extends his hand to Randall, but Randall is unable to reach. He has a vice grip on his lower stomach. The old man tries to find a spot to lift Randall up, but Randall is in a curled position.

"Can you try to straighten yourself?" The old man asks, not knowing what else to do.

Randall straightens his legs, but that extends the pain throughout his whole midsection. His screams shatter the quiet mist of the morning. Randall relinquishes his left hand from his stomach to shield his eyes from the sun. The old man takes that opportunity to grab it and help lift Randall up. The knots in Randall's stomach ceases when he's off the ground. The pain is gone. He lets out a huge sigh of relief.

"Are you ok?" The old man asks.

Randall is breathing heavily, his left hand guarding his stomach.

"I think I'm fine now."

The old man has a concerned look on his face. He just observed a young man screaming like he was going to die, only to act like it was nothing.

"Do you need a ride back home or to the hospital? I'm parked just a few feet away."

"Nah, I should be good."

Randall stretches his quads and twists his torso. An unsettled look with hints of confusion occupies the old man's face. Not wanting to argue with him that he actually feels fine, Randall quickly wraps up this exchange.

"Thank you for your help, sir," Randall tells him before continuing his jog. All the old man can do is watch.

Day 40

Randall is in his cubicle, staring at his computer. He's not doing any work; he's not paying attention to the TV in front of him. The last thing he read was an email from Sarah congratulating him on his hard work, and that next week they'll discuss a promotion. It's been six weeks. He still can't sleep. His appetite hasn't improved. His cramps, and pushing stomach are still present. Randall continues to reach out to Glow Up about these side effects, but they respond like a skipping record.

"This side effect is only temporary."
"It should only last a week."
"It will all be worth it in the end."

Randall tried to reach out to the Facebook group this morning to make these concerns known, but it was no longer there. It was shut down.

It was a miracle he got himself out of bed. He's dropped sixty pounds in six weeks. He hasn't eaten anything in two weeks. Randall had zero energy to go for a jog this morning. He even skipped taking his pills for the first time. His coworkers continue to shower praise in his direction about his weight loss. He glances towards Michelle's desk; she's focused on her work. They've only exchanged awkward looks since their phone conversation. Matthew walks to his cubicle.

"Hey," he said, "the boss is throwing a party to celebrate July sweeps. There's going to be cake. I think she's going to shout you out."

"Cool cool, I'll be down in a minute."

"I'll save us a seat."

Matthew walks away. Randall doesn't want to get up. The pain in his stomach has glued him to his chair. It's not comfortable, but it's the most comfort he's felt all day. Besides, he's busier than usual. The station had to recently pull all the promos for Glow Up. No reason was given. Randall's phone vibrates, Dr. Louise is trying to contact him for the fifth time today. Randall is too sick and tired to deal with a phone call right now. A notification from Twitter does pop up on Randall's phone:

Dr. Bateman arrested today.

Before he could click on the notification, Randall is forced to finally get out of his cubicle. He desperately needs to use the bathroom. Each step stabs his stomach, but he manages to make it to the toilet to throw up. It's mostly just blood, there's nothing else to expel.

Randall does make it down to the conference hall. He is standing in the back, sunken cheeks, vacant stare, and a flat stomach. A long sleeve shirt about three sizes too big drapes over his frame. Sarah is talking to the room, boasting about the incredible sweeps period they had. The whole office is there except Michelle. She usually says that it's because she has a lot of work to do, but really she likes to keep away from coworkers. Randall is part of that group now.

It looks like a celebratory mood; smiles are plastered on various faces. That's all Randall has to judge by because he can't hear a single word Sarah is saying. He's blacking in and out. Matthew strolls over to him.

"Do you know any of the people she's mentioning? I've been here for two years, and I feel like it's my first day," Matthew says.

"I can't hear her," Randall replies.

Matthew chuckles.

"Can't blame you for not listening."

Randall doesn't reply. Matthew looks at him, his eyes pan up and down on Randall's body.

"Dude, have I told you how good you look? You gotta tell me your -- "

Randall's screams cut off Matthew. His agony draws the room's attention, and he falls to the floor. People begin to surround him, seeing if they can help him. His screams could be heard from miles away. The only being that couldn't hear them is Randall. The pain has gone into his head, canceling out any noise. The crowd begins to yell indiscriminately.

"Randall, what's wrong?" somebody asks.

"Somebody help him!" another person screams.

This catches Sarah's attention mid-speech.

"Randall, what the hell is going on?"

Randall's stomach begins to push out farther than before. There is a visible outline of a wing. Whatever is in there is now trying to escape.

"Holy shit, dude. What did you eat?" Matthew asks.

Blood explodes out of Randall's stomach. crimson arcs spray around everyone within two feet. More screams fill the room, but none from Randall. He is lying motionless. No one takes note of Randall's unconscious body. Everyone's focus is slowly turning to the figure that burst out of him and is presently floating above the crowd. A giant butterfly about the size of a three-year-old hovers over the room. Its blood orange wings and ink black border dripping red is a sight to behold. The screams die down as everyone observes this giant monarch. The tone is shifting as the people have time to study the butterfly. The terror and chaos that previously filled the room has now turned to wonderment and admiration. A few people even take out their phones for this Instagram opportunity, Matthew included.

"Bro, are you seeing this?" Matthew asks Randall. Randall doesn't respond.

The occupants are transfixed, taken aback by its beauty.






Article © Richard Sanders. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-12-27
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
Marsha Sanders-Bettasso
12/27/2021
05:57:21 PM
I could not stop reading this. Loved Loved Loved!!!!!!!
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