Ralph Patrick was forty-four years old, bald, pudgy, pale, and depressed, so the spam, titled “LOOK PERFECT & FEEL FANTASTIC”, called to him.
What the hell, Ralph thought as he clicked. What have I got to lose?
Five days later, a small black box arrived wrapped in plain brown butcher paper. Return address: BZ LIFE IMPROVEMENT, PO BOX 213354, STULL, KANSAS. Inside were three oval pills colored dark crimson.
The first pill tasted like a penny. Ralph washed it down with Budweiser. One hour later, his stomach rumbled like a thousand summer thunderstorms and he ran to the bathroom.
When Ralph was forty, he had a colonoscopy due to a family history of cancer. That was a gallon jug full of pond water and a day spent on the couch, on the toilet, or in the shower.
But this? This was much, much worse. This was his body taking off like a rocket ship with his ass the exit thruster, firing high-velocity bursts on two-minute intervals for a 60-minute burn. There was barely enough time to flush before the next firing sequence began.
At the end of an hour, he struggled to his feet, stumbled to the sink to wash his hands. The mirror held a changed Ralph. Stunned, he stared in confusion. Thinner. More muscular. The once-bald ocean of his head dotted by a few hair islands.
He poked and prodded, made sure it really was his body.
Astonished, thrilled, he grabbed the second pill and downed it with cheap red wine straight from the bottle.
Thirty minutes later it was crap-o-lopolis again, but Ralph welcomed it. Laughing non-stop, he flushed away the last twenty years of his pitiful life: unfulfilling jobs, poor health, unrequited love, all swirling down the white porcelain drain.
At the end of the ordeal, he had tanned pecs like the Terminator and hair like Fabio. His underwear bulged.
But still. Faint lines lingered around his eyes. His teeth weren’t precisely aligned. At his waist was a sliver of fat that he could just barely squeeze and pinch.
Not good enough.
He wanted it all.
He wanted perfect.
He dry-swallowed the last pill.
Out it all went, the aching loneliness, the deepest fears, the bitter memories, the years of hurt; a toxic fetid sludge of expelled pain. Light-headed, he could barely flush it away.
Even then, there was a mass inside that still remained. He pushed and strained, the constipation of the century, like pooping a pineapple. The mass moved, slow and brutal, from the center of his chest, through his body, and finally, out. He screamed as it left him. A soft clink echoed from the bowl. Ralph’s vision swam and he collapsed onto the cold tile of the bathroom floor, exhausted.
Time passed. How much, he couldn’t say. Ralph couldn’t move, couldn’t talk. Chills of fear slowly crept through his body and set him shivering.
Suddenly, a soft tapping whispered from the front door. The knob rattled. The door creaked open, then closed. Ralph strained his eyes up and saw a man dressed in an immaculate, tailored pinstripe suit, with dark crimson skin and goatee trimmed to a fine point, enter the bathroom.
Ralph’s perfectly chiseled, terror-stricken face was reflected in the man’s polished shoes as he stepped over Ralph and reached into the toilet. Water splish-splashed against the sides of the bowl.
“A-ha!”. The man’s voice was deep and smooth and frightening. “There it is.”
The man extracted his hand, washed off in the sink and dried himself with Ralph’s one good towel.
A small silver crystal glistened between the man’s fingers. Catching the bathroom light, it danced rainbows across the mildew-speckled walls and across Ralph’s vision.
“A little tarnished. But it will do just fine.” The deep voice rumbled Ralph’s bones, as the man tucked the crystal into a blood-red padded box and slipped the box into his left-hand suit pocket.
“I’ll be seeing you, Ralph Patrick.” A long, slow, laugh lingered in Ralph’s ears after the front door slammed hard.
Ralph became aware of his own body again. Dull prickles of sensation returned to his limbs. Even then, he didn’t want to move. His breath flowed in spite of his wishes.
Face smashed into the cold tile of the bathroom floor, Ralph Patrick lay there. He was a beautiful, worthless, slab of meat and bones, doomed to spend the rest of his days shuffling through the remains of his existence with a small hole in his heart, a hole once occupied by his shining, silver, gem of a soul.
When Jeff Soesbe isn’t writing stories, he writes software and simulations for subsea robots, runs math contests for students, coaches math teams, and gets in a bike ride now and then. Jeff’s stories have appeared in Abyss & Apex (upcoming), Diabolical Plots (upcoming), Factor Four, Andromeda Spaceways, and Flash Fiction Online. Jeff is a graduate of the Viable Paradise Writing Workshop (Elevensies!) and a member of the Codex Writers Group. He lives in Northern California with his family and Taz the dog.