Aaron shuddered against the cool touch of the antibacterial wipe on the back of his neck. 

            “Sorry. I should’ve warned you it’d be cold,” the nurse said. Her voice was light and airy in a way that reminded Aaron of his mom. It made him a little sad. 

            “It’s fine.” Aaron tensed in anticipation because he knew the needle would penetrate his skin at any moment.

            The nurse rested her hand on his shoulder. “Hey. You know you can still back out. You’d still get a full refund.” 

            For the briefest of seconds, Aaron considered this. He could save the money, maybe buy a new car instead or pay off some of his student loans. It would probably be a better use of the money his mom had left for him in her will. Would she even approve of this decision? She’d nearly had a heart attack over the tattoo he’d gotten on his left forearm two years ago. What he was doing now was insane—a literal body modification lifted from the pages of one of the science-fiction novels Aaron spent most of his time reading. 

            It’s probably why he was in this room. He was always sitting around. Reading. Gaming. Snacking. Chugging copious amounts of Mountain Dew and alcohol to escape from his feelings. It was no wonder he weighed over three-hundred pounds. But this? This would change everything. Helix Industries, Bay Rock’s high-tech corporation, would be seeing to that with a small needle in the back of his neck. 

            Well, he hoped it was small. He refused to look back at the nurse in the off chance he’d see the needle. Instead, he nodded his head. “I’m ready.” 

            “Okay. You’ll feel a little pinch…” Her voice trailed off and the needle bit into the back of his neck.

            A cool sensation rippled through his chest, almost instantly replaced by a blanket of warmth. Aaron swore he could feel the FitChip grate into his neckbone. He almost screamed but then all the sensations ended. 

            “There. Not so bad, right?” the nurse said. 

            “Not really, no.” Aaron eyed the machine that rested next to his right arm. An arm-sized maw filtered out an array of blue lights. “But I’m worried about that.” 

            The nurse walked around the chair Aaron was in and began fidgeting with the machine. “It’s not as bad as you’d think. It’ll be a little more painful, but what is it they say at the gym? No pain, no gain!” 

            “Right.” Aaron was certain people at the gym would be very insulted at what he was about to do. 

            The nurse rolled the machine toward him, the glowing blue hole encompassing his arm. She spent a few minutes checking an LCD screen hanging above the device, typing in a few things here and there, and then flicked a button on the side of the machine. It whirred to life with a loud thrum

            Aaron’s anxiety seeped out of his body, heart pounding against his chest like machine gun bullets. He braced himself against the pain he knew was coming. No pain, no gain and all that, right? 

            Searing heat burned around his wrist and it felt like thousands of needles tore in this his flesh, shredding and flaying. He gritted his teeth against the pain, his muscles tensing. The nurse’s voices was distant as she reassured him he was doing great and that it was almost over. He was about to scream when the blue light of the machine turned green. All the pain ceased, leaving a dull throb in his right wrist. 

            “Congratulations, Aaron.” The nurse pulled the machine away from him. “It appears the FitChip integration was successful.” 

            Aaron brought his arm before his face. A ring of black wrapped around his wrist, seamlessly fused with his flesh. He gingerly ran a finger along the grafted bracelet. It was smooth to the touch, almost spongy. But there was a gentle thrum emanating from it.

            The nurse handed Aaron a folder and pulled out a pamphlet. “You need to let the FitChip fully acclimate to your body for the next 24 hours. This means you should not, under any circumstances, program your body until then. It could cause irreversible damage to you. I will remind you that you did acknowledge this on the consent from you signed upon arriving today. Helix Industries cannot be held viable if you disregard this.” 

            “How often does that happen?”

            The nurse snorted. “Oh, more than I’d care to admit. People are so impatient these days.” 

            Aaron was silent. He knew the FitChip app he’d downloaded on his phone would connect to the chips in his body within seconds if he pulled his phone out. And he really wanted to. He was tired of his weight and chubby form being a deal ender for the guys he talked to on the gay-hookup app, Talon. Nobody wanted anything to do with him once they saw how fat he was. If you didn’t have a six-pack or look like the latest Hollywood actor, you were cut off from a chance of something more. Frankly, Aaron didn’t want anything to do with himself either. 

            A day later, after hours of apprehension and agonizing that the procedure wouldn’t work, Aaron stood naked in front of his body-length bedroom mirror. His chubby, scruffy face stared back, taking in the heavy rolls and thick legs. If it weren’t for the mirror, he wouldn’t even be able to see his average-sized dick between his legs. The fat made sure to hide that. 

            But that was all about to change, wasn’t it?

He held up his phone, opening the FitChip app, and programmed the job for the nanites to carry out in his body. With a sigh to reassure himself, Aaron hit the button. There was no going back.

            Fire raged through his body, extending through every fiber. Both his neck and right wrist tingled—no doubt the nanites doing their job. He stumbled forward, bracing himself against the wall. Muscles spasmed and tensed and chills raced down his spine. What felt like an eternity was only mere minutes. The flash of sensation and pain ceased and Aaron felt… different. 

            He stepped away from the wall to study himself in the mirror. There was a stranger staring back at him. Lean, chiseled, and somewhat gangly. Abs had been carved into his abdomen like he was some sort of Greek deity. He had a perfect V-line that seemed to highlight the appendage between his legs. His high cheekbones were more prominent. He ran a hand through his sweaty blonde hair—a surreal feeling considering he barely recognized the person staring back at him. 

            Of course, it was Aaron without all the fat and rolls. This is what he would probably look like without the throes of depression and anxiety that had taken over him the past few years. This would’ve been him if his brother hadn’t been killed in a drunk driving accident three years ago. It would’ve been him before his boyfriend had cheated on him with his best friend. This would’ve been Aaron before life it hard.

            But it wouldn’t have been him when his mom died of cancer six months ago. No, that was Fat Aaron. His mom had died knowing Fat Aaron.

            And now? Fat Aaron was gone. Replaced with a gay man’s fantasy. 

            But why didn’t he feel happy?  

            Why did he hate himself even more?



(Trigger Warning: Depression/Anxiety and suicidal elements)

Justin watched the drop of water on the windowpane make its erratic descent. He was that drop of water. Falling. Descending. Taking everything down with him in his wake. Anybody who dared to get close to him were pulled deep into the pits with him. He was a cloud, dark and grey. 

            “Did you hear me?” 

            Justin jerked his head away from the window and looked at his best friend Charlie who sat across the table. The low light of the coffee shop was warm and sharpened Charlie’s narrow face. Between them were two ceramic mugs. Charlie had already downed most of his latte. Justin’s was mostly untouched. It was probably cold. Why had he even ordered it?

            “So, you didn’t hear me?” Charlie’s scratchy voice took an edge. 

            Justin resisted the urge to look back out the window and simply stared at the mottled latte art in his mug. What could he really say at this point? That Charlie was wrong? Or right? Either way it would hurt, and Justin wasn’t entirely sure which statement would be the truth. 

            “I don’t know how to respond,” Justin muttered, hating how weak his voice sounded.

            “That’s half the problem, man. You’re in this spot because you can’t figure out how to move forward.” Charlie paused. “You been seeing your therapist?”

            Justin nodded. “My parents take me every week.” 


            “And what?”
            “I thought therapists were supposed to help.” 

            Justin gnawed at his tongue, trying to decipher which words to roll out. “You do know a therapist isn’t like a genie or something, right?” 

            “Not what I meant.” Charlie leaned forward. “But you’ve been seeing this lady for weeks and you’re still…”

            Justin tore his eyes away from his cold latte and looked at Charlie. His friend’s green eyes were full of concern but also, it seemed, resignation. “I’m still what?” 

            Charlie shook his head. 

            “No, say it. I’m still what?” 

            Charlie pinched the bridge of his wide nose. 

            “Fucking say it,” Justin growled, feeding into the angry bubble rising in his chest. 

            “Like this!” Charlie gestured at Justin as if that should say it all. “Combative. Stubborn. People try to help you, to listen to you, but you go deep inside your mind and shut everybody out. I mean do you even want to be better? Because, man, you are pushing everybody away. Don’t you see that?” 

            “Right. Okay. So, I’m a burden, is that it? My depression is just too much for you to handle?” 

            Charlie sighed and rolled his eyes. “That is not what I meant, Justin. You’re not a burden, but I’m burned out. This is a cycle. You do good for a month or two. And then? You descend into the pits. And I’ve told you before how hard it is to talk to you when you’re like this. It’s like you surround yourself with eggshells. I say or do one wrong thing and you erupt. You throw things in my face. You attack our friendship, you attack me. Your words can be so harsh. And I don’t think I have it in me to care anymore. It’s exhausting. It sucks. Are you taking your meds?” 

            Justin recoiled and hated the way his surroundings blurred. How could Charlie say this? Yeah, he struggled with major depression. It didn’t help he had high anxiety on top of it. The anxiety fed off his depression. Justin couldn’t help but analyze comments or texts or actions for a deeper meaning as if they were clues to a treasure chest of dark emotions. He questioned his place in the world, questioned who would really be there for him, and he’d make assumptions based off his surroundings. He knew it wasn’t fair or right, but he didn’t know how to process his internal battles any other way. Maybe he was just born to be broken. To be enslaved to mental illness, cursed to push others away from him.

            And, no, he stopped taking his medicine two weeks ago after Maya, a girl in their senior class, hung herself from her ceiling fan because, according to her final note, the meds she was taking robbed her of feeling anything. Justin didn’t want to end up like Maya. 

            But maybe Maya had been right. Maybe that was the only way to escape from these curses. 

            “Justin. Jesus Christ. Did you hear me?” 

            Justin blinked back his tears, set his jaw, and said, “I fucking heard you. I’m exhausting. I burn people out, right? You just said you don’t care anymore. We’ve been friends since elementary school. And now? It doesn’t matter.” 

            Charlie shook his head. “Dude, I’ve been trying. I’ve been there for you. But our friendship is not the same as it once was. You’re different.” He leaned back. “We’re different. We have three months of high school left. College is on the horizon, and I have a lot going for me. I can’t… I can’t keep going down this path with you, Justin.” 

            Justin wanted to scream. To curl into the fetal position. To throw his mocha through the window. How could any friend, any true friend, say stuff like that? How was it possible for people to just flip a switch and not care anymore? To say, “Fuck it. This person is no longer worth it.” It wasn’t fair. He was trying. It was just taking time. That’s all. He didn’t want to be like this, to be a devastating cloud. He wanted to be better. But how could he be better if there was nobody left to support him? 

            Justin swallowed the lump in his throat, grabbed his keys and wallet, and stood up. 

            “Justin, where are you going?” 

            He ignored Charlie. Charlie didn’t care anymore, so why tell him anything? Feeling alone and abandoned, Justin left Shasta Beans, his favorite spot in town. He stepped out into the rain and knew it would be the last time he ever left this place. 

            Maya had been right.