Mr. Lee watched with amusement through the front window of his shop. How many customers had he seen over the years exhibiting exactly the same behavior?
First, there was the double-checking of the address. Mr. Lee’s shop was on the fringes of Chinatown in San Francisco. Mr. Lee should have relocated somewhere nearer the Castro years ago if he’d been thinking about his primary clientele. But money had never been a major concern for Mr. Lee and, by the time he seriously considered a move, real-estate prices were beyond absurd. Fortunately, he had already made a mutually beneficial arrangement with his current landlord and was now guaranteed occupancy of this tiny shop for the rest of his life.
Tell-tale sign number two of a new customer: the furtive glancing through the window while trying to make it look like you weren’t. Today’s young man was less adept than some, as he let his eyes linger for several moments, hoping to see exactly what was inside. But not much could be seen through the dirt-streaked window, and no sign or window painting identified the business within. This was intentional on Mr. Lee’s part. He hoped to attract only those people who sought out his services due to word-of-mouth. If his shop looked run-down or even out of business, it was less likely to lure in the tourist crowd. Someone whose idea of vacation fun was riding a cable car likely wasn’t prepared for what Mr. Lee had to offer.
Third came the dithering, at which the current resident of the sidewalk was excelling. The more fantastical the stories they had heard, the more hesitant new clients were to go through with the experience, yet they wouldn’t have made it all the way to Mr. Lee’s doorstep if something deep down weren’t compelling them to come here. As a result, Mr. Lee didn’t see many people who walked in the door confident and content with their lives.
Finally came the moment of decision. Mr. Lee estimated that sixty percent of those who made it this far “chickened out”, at least on their first visit. One gentleman executed steps one through three every lunch hour for two months before finally crossing Mr. Lee’s threshold, but, like most people, when he finally got the courage to go inside, the move was quick and decisive, like a skydiver committing to take that long and risky step out of a perfectly safe airplane.
Mr. Lee had this kid pegged as one of the sixty percent who walk away. A snarl of red curls, untrimmed in months, dwarfed his pallid, gaunt face. A beaky nose protruded below close-set pale green eyes. His thin lips were held in a tight grimace between his sunken cheeks. His chin was little more than a speed bump on the receding slope from his lips to his neck where his prominent Adam’s apple formed a giant outcropping. His slim shoulders provided a barely adequate coat hanger for his sagging gray hoodie. The hoodie offered some illusion of bulk on his sickly frame, but the truth was revealed by the spindly twigs extending below his khaki shorts. His bony hands seemed disproportionately large, as if they might make up a third of his weight, with the big feet in his Birkenstocks making up a further third. As he continued to hem and haw, the young man pretended to make a call on his iPhone, but even someone as lacking in tech savvy as the ancient Mr. Lee knew the ear hole went up by the ear.
But the kid surprised Mr. Lee by lowering his head and making a beeline toward the door. He grabbed the knob and tried pulling several times, growing more and more exasperated until he noticed the word “push” on the dusty door. As he swung the creaking door open, the breeze triggered a delicate clinking from a set of wind chimes. Once inside, the kid glanced back outside to make sure no one had seen him enter, then quickly slammed the door behind him. Mr. Lee tucked his lunch of a Whopper Jr. and a Mello Yello underneath the counter, to preserve his “old world” mystique.
“Welcome, young man,” said Mr. Lee, playing up the remnants of his accent for effect. “How can I help you today?”
The young man swallowed, drawing Mr. Lee’s eyes to the gigantic bobbing Adam’s apple. His skin was so pale that Mr. Lee imagined that, if he handed his soda to the kid, you could actually watch the yellow liquid as it passed through his throat. Mr. Lee realized that this boy must be older than he originally thought, probably in his late twenties, but with his spindly frame and awkward body language, he seemed like a fifteen-year-old who’d been stretched out on a rack.
The newcomer cleared his throat and rambled. “I, uh, a friend told me…well, not really a friend, but this guy…I mean, hopefully he’ll be my friend, but that’s not…what he said was that you…helped him to, um…you gave him…”
“I do makeovers,” said Mr. Lee, exuding serenity.
The young man relaxed a tiny bit, his shoulders sagging even further. “Oh, cool, so this is the right place.”
Mr. Lee pointed to a stack of business cards on his countertop. They read “MR. LEE, X-DREAM MAKEOVERS”, followed by the equivalent in Cantonese.
“So, um, exactly how does this work…exactly?”
“You tell me what you want to change, and we agree on a price you are willing to pay.”
“Oh, well, the price shouldn’t be a problem. I work for this tech company…well, worked…I just cashed out my stocks and…” He blushed with embarrassment and disbelief. “I kinda got a lot of money now.”
“And you find that money is not enough to solve your problems.”
“Yeah, no. There’s only so much shit…I mean, stuff you can buy. Sorry”
“Relax, David, I have heard ‘shit’ before.”
“Oh, yeah, I suppose…” The young man stopped suddenly. “How did you know my name was David?”
Mr. Lee just grinned. “A lucky guess. So what is it you wish to have that your money cannot buy you?”
David paused, fearing that what he was about to say would sound incredibly shallow and stupid. “I just want…to be cool.”
“But with your money, surely you could buy a beautiful house and an expensive car and fine clothes. My understanding is that such things can do wonders to make one appear ‘cool’ to the ladies.”
David’s eyes looked to the dusty floor. Crossing one ankle behind the other and digging his hands deep into the pockets of his khakis, David spoke bashfully. “I’m not really trying to look cool for the ladies.”
Mr. Lee said, “Ahhh”, as if this were a revelation. The less comfortable the new customer, the more it seemed to help if Mr. Lee acted like their sexual orientation was not blatantly obvious from the moment they appeared outside his window. In fact, Mr. Lee had many special gifts of perception, such as knowing without asking that the young man’s name was David. But if he displayed too much intimate knowledge about the customer, it sometimes spooked them. He tried to reveal just enough of his power to establish his bona fides as a worker of wonders without creeping out potential customers.
“Men do not also like your cool things?”
“Oh, they like my stuff okay. They’re just not too thrilled about this.” He made a flailing gesture to indicate everything about himself.
“So what would it take for you to be ‘cool’?”
David stuck a hand into the front pocket of his hoodie and nervously handed a folded and wrinkly piece of paper. Mr. Lee gently unfolded this piece of shoddy origami. The paper had been folded and unfolded so many times that it threatened to fall apart at the creases, and the rumpled texture suggested that it had often been crumpled up and hidden in a hurry. Mr. Lee found himself staring at a magazine page full of advertisements for dildos, lube and butt plugs. He handed the paper back to David.
“I am sorry. I do not sell these here.”
David looked at the ads and, red-faced, turned the sheet over and laid it on the countertop, smoothing out the creases.
Mr. Lee had known he was looking at the wrong side of the page the whole time. When you’ve been doing something as long as Mr. Lee, it becomes inevitable that you start to fuck around with the clientele, just to keep it interesting for yourself. Mr. Lee took a good look at the full-color photo which filled the proper side of the paper. A stunningly handsome and musclebound man stood in a garage wearing nothing but a fireman’s hat cocked on his head, a firehose slung over one shoulder and unbuckled rubber boots on his feet. His body was tanned over its entire surface, with soot marks on his cheek and torso. His skin appeared to be slick with oil, which would seem to be a hazard in the middle of a fire. So would the man’s flaccid ten-inch cock dangling between his legs, although, in an emergency, at least that could function as a back-up hose.
“You wish to look like this man?”
David nodded. The way he was shaking with nerves, it’s almost like his whole body was nodding.
Behind Mr. Lee, shelves from floor to ceiling held glass jars full of mysterious substances and labeled in Chinese. Mr. Lee gestured to his inventory. “But unfortunately for you, I do not have this man’s body to sell you.”
“Oh. Okay, then. Well, thank you.” David meekly took the paper back, stuffed it in his pocket and started to walk back to the door.
David’s body stopped abruptly, nearly toppling forward, as if Mr. Lee’s very word had caused his body to halt mid-motion. He regained his balance and looked back as the elderly man brushed his fingers through his mustache.
“I only said I could not give you that body. I did not say I could not make you, as you say, ‘cool’.”
David walked tentatively back toward the counter. “So I could look kinda like that?”
“I will give you a new body. I can even give you clothes, which the man in your magazine seemingly cannot afford to buy.”
David laughed, covering his mouth to contain his joy. “That would be excellent. So how much money will it cost?”
“I have no need for your money.”
“Holy shit, you mean it’s free?”
“No, David. In exchange for what you want, you must give me something I need.”
David pondered the possibilities. “Let’s see. I’ve got a 70-inch 3D HDTV with the latest XBox, but I don’t suppose…”
Mr. Lee shook his head.
“Yeah, I didn’t figure you were into that. Solar car?”
Mr. Lee dismissed this suggestion. “And pay to park it in San Francisco? David, I do not need your material possessions. What I need are raw materials!” He gestured to the wall of glass jars again. “These are the ingredients for my transformations, and they are always in need of replenishment.” He pulled one jar down from a shelf and set it on the countertop.
David peered through the glass at a reddish powder. “What is that?”
“That is strength. Previous customers have given me some of their strength in exchange for whatever quality they needed more. You want me to give you strength, of which you feel you do not have enough, so you must give me something of which you have too much.”
With a hopeful half-smile, David remarked, “I don’t suppose you have a lotta people coming in here saying they need more insecurity. I got tons of that.”
Mr. Lee grinned sympathetically and pondered the matter. “You say you are not working?”
“Yeah, I sold all my stock. I can probably live off it the rest of my life, unless I get really stupid.”
“Then we will not make you really stupid. Perhaps just a little.”
David didn’t like the sound of this. “Wait a minute. You want to make me dumb?”
Mr. Lee spoke soothingly. “No, not dumb. But if you are not working any longer, perhaps you do not need as much of your intellect as you did before? Your naked fireman, you wished to be like him, yet he probably does not have a PhD from Stanford, am I right?”
“How did you know I have a PhD from…?” David was finding all of this seriously eerie, but the thought of becoming a stud like “Smokin’ Joe” from “Bros Before Hose” magazine had hardened his cock to its full four inches. David’s long fingers idly stroked his penis through the cloth of his pants pocket as he mulled this decision. “I’m not gonna drool or forget how to count or something?”
“Not unless that is what you want,” said Mr. Lee. He walked to the shelves and brought over two more jars. He opened the lid of one which seemed to contain potpourri. David found its floral scent entrancing. “That is for beauty. I will use that to refashion your face.” He closed the lid quickly so it wouldn’t lose its potency. The other jar was nearly empty. Circling around its base was a thick silvery substance, clinging together like drops of mercury. “And this is intelligence. As you can see, my supply is low, so I would be very eager to restock with some of your surplus.”
David started to reason out loud. “Well, I do tend to overthink things. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to not be so ‘inside my head’ all the time.”
Feeling he was close to a sale, Mr. Lee reached back for another container, this one half-full with a dark brown powder, like instant coffee. “Self-confidence. I will throw it in for free.”
David took a deep breath and said, “It’s a deal.” He offered his hand to Mr. Lee, who merely raised his palms into the air. Mysteriously, the room dimmed. Light even stopped streaming through the front door and window, as if the grime on the glass had suddenly become opaque. The only illumination came from a spotlight behind Mr. Lee which lit David’s entire body. David looked around uneasily. “Uh, what do I do now?”
“First I must take my payment. I learned long ago that if I wait until after I have given you what you want, you might resist giving me what I want.”
“That makes sense. But how can I be sure you’ll give me what I want after you’ve taken what you want?”
“You are so full of questions, young David. You won’t have to worry about that much longer.”
Suddenly, David felt a suction that made his ears pop, as if his brain had been hooked to a vacuum cleaner. He clutched the sides of his head in agony, grit his teeth and slammed his eyes shut. If his eyes had been open, he could have noticed tiny particles, like specks of dust, floating through the air in the spotlight, en route to the jar Mr. Lee was holding open. Upon reaching the jar, they condensed into liquid form and the level of the contents of the jar started to rise.
David felt light-headed, like after a few beers. Hang on. Beers? He never drank. Drinking was a stupid waste of time and brain cells. Ha! Like he had brain cells to waste. He struggled to remember: had he even gone to college?
Dave heard a friendly voice. “How are you feeling, David?”
“Awesome, dude. How’re you?”
“I’m fine. Just keep your eyes closed.”
Mr. Lee looked at the jar of intelligence, which was now nearly half-full, and worried that he might have taken too much. Well, he thought, I can always give some back if I need to. He put on leather gloves and dug a scoop into the jar of strength. He walked from behind the counter, dragging a stepladder behind him.
“I need you to take off your shirt and drop your pants, okay?”
With a dopey smile, David pulled the hoodie over his head, tangling his arms in the sleeves before eventually extricating himself. He unbuckled his belt and let his shorts fall to the floor with a thud. His frail body seemed at odds with the doofusy voice with which he was now speaking. His right hand absent-mindedly latched onto the short but rigid lump in his underpants.
The ladder squeaked against the floor as Mr. Lee pulled it into position beside David. Mr. Lee climbed to the top step and began to sprinkle the red strength powder onto David’s shoulders. It cascaded downward, covering his sunken chest, his small flabby belly, his starkly visible ribcage. David let out a throaty guffaw. “Tickles!”, he said with a shiver.
Mr. Lee stepped down from the ladder and tossed powder against David’s legs until they were covered, then pulled on the elastic at the front of David’s underwear and dumped in half a scoop. Mr. Lee walked back to the counter, studied the photo of the fireman, then walked over and gave David’s crotch another half scoop for good measure. One final dusting down the rear of his underpants and phase two was complete.
“You still doing okay, David?”
“Sure thing, bro-seph. And call me Dave.”
That kicked in fast, thought Mr. Lee. He quickly grabbed the jar of beauty potpourri and held it beneath Dave’s nose to give him a whiff. Dave’s nose twitched. He tried to resist but finally unleashed a massive sneeze, which stirred up the potpourri, enveloping Dave’s face in the wondrous scent. Mr. Lee ducked to avoid the cloud of dust that the sneeze had stirred up. He set the jar on the counter and stood back to watch what happened next.
Dave’s shoulders began to ache. His right hand stayed wrapped around his cock, but he reached up his left hand to rub his shoulder. Damn, his arms were hurting too. Did he push himself too hard at the gym? He rubbed his eyes and opened them, noticing a full-length mirror of the otherwise darkened room. He felt sad upon seeing his reflection and its evidence that he was just a dumb scrawny geek who never worked out. He was pretty sure he didn’t work either, but his memories were fuzzy. He vaguely remembered quitting a job, and it seemed like he had some money in the bank, but beyond that it was all a blur. No wonder he didn’t have a job, he thought to himself, if he was too dumb to remember if he even had one.
He glanced down at his body and wondered why it was covered with red shit. He saw some on his fingers and dabbed it to his tongue for a taste. Mr. Lee felt like rushing forward and telling him to stop, but he didn’t want to distract Dave during this critical phase of the process.
When Dave tasted the powder, it was disgusting, but it caused a tingling in his tongue, not unlike the one that was now spreading through the rest of his body. It was like he had a generator in his heart that was sending electricity out to his limbs. He rolled his neck and could hear bones crunching against each other. With each breath, he felt more pumped. Glancing down, he saw pancake-sized pecs and a slight groove leading down from them toward his crotch. His lanky arms still hung feebly at his side, but he bunched his fists together as a growing intensity overtook him.
The pounding he had felt in his head was gone, but now his bones began to throb, like a toothache, only everywhere. He pressed his teeth together and let out a fierce growl, hoping it would ease his pain, but a fire continued in his muscles and joints and now his face was becoming numb. He looked across the room at another guy in his underwear going through similar agony. Wait, it was that mirror again. Shit, that dude is me! Hadn’t he been a geek the last time he looked? He was still coated with that weird red shit, but he looked more pumped. His shoulder muscles definitely bulged out, narrowing to sleek biceps, but his forearms were still scrawny. Similarly, his quads broadened impressively out of his tighter-than-usual tighty whities, but his calves remained twiglike. He rubbed his fingers across welts on his stomach, only to find them hard to the touch. Was he getting honest-to-god abs? The thought made him smile, and the gleam of this teeth in the mirror caught his notice. He didn’t remember getting a haircut lately, but his bush of hair looked a lot shorter now, and darker too.
One more wave of energy rippled through him, knocking him to his knees. His shoulders stretched outward and his torso thickened, until only a pleasing trace of his ribs was visible and his proportions took on a defined V. He could feel his suddenly rounded calves pop against the back of his thighs, and a rush of pleasure spread through him as his cock almost instantaneously doubled in size. His hands were now sinewy at the end of beefy forearms. Oddly, even his tongue felt fatter. He didn’t know that was a muscle you could build. He wondered how much he could tongue-press. As the wave of euphoria subsided, Dave slumped onto the floor.
“How do you feel, Dave?” came a voice from the darkness. Shit, Dave suddenly remembered that there was somebody else here, but he couldn’t remember who it was. Dave realized he couldn’t even remember exactly where he was.
“Look in the mirror and tell me what you think,” said the voice.
Dave found it impossible to ignore the voice. He struggled to his hands and knees, then stood up fully on his legs, kicking his feet free of the khakis wrapped around his feet and leaving his tattered sandals behind.
Mr. Lee was pleased with the wonders his magic had worked. If anything, David would now be the firefighter’s wet dream. His frail body hadn’t grown more than a couple inches in height, but his bones and muscles had gained in size to turn him into a flawless physical specimen. His legs were thick with hair, as was his pubic region, but his chest, abs and back were vast expanses of tanned and hairless skin. His tight curly hair was trimmed close on the sides over smouldering heavy-lidded eyes. His nose was now sleek yet masculine, and plump wide lips were surrounded by a dusting of stubble on his chiseled cheeks and jaw.
Yet Dave was looking into the mirror critically, with a look of disappointment. “Fuck, who’s ever gonna date a guy who looks like me?”
Mr. Lee was taken aback by the absurdity of this remark, then had a sudden realization. “I forgot the self-confidence!” He rushed to the counter, inserted a spoon into the dark crystals, then carried it across the room. He held it up to Dave’s mouth, but Dave held his lips tightly closed and backed away. “Just try it,” urged Mr. Lee. “You’ll like it, I promise.”
Dave held his mouth shut stubbornly, like a three-year-old, so Mr. Lee commanded him, “Open your mouth.”
Mr. Lee’s powers of mind control overcame Dave’s resistance. His mouth dropped open and Mr. Lee shoveled in the potent granules. Dave thought they tasted nasty, clinging to his pumped tongue, but as they began to trickle down his throat, he had a sense of calm and well-being.
Mr. Lee waited a minute, then told Dave, “Look in the mirror now.”
Dave turned back to his reflection. He loved what he saw. He turned in profile to check out his firm rounded ass which his briefs were straining to contain. He raised his arms in a double-biceps pose and smiled fiercely. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Fuckin’ A!”
Mr. Lee stepped behind the counter and began reshelving his inventory. As Dave continued to pose delightedly for himself, Mr. Lee decided that any more intelligence would probably just get in the way. The silvery liquid sloshed inside its jar as Mr. Lee replaced it on the shelf.
The lights in the shop rose and sunlight began to seep through the windows again. Mr. Lee pushed the mirror aside and parted a curtain leading into a back room with racks and racks of clothes. Mr. Lee gestured to a specific area which had clothes in Dave’s size. “Pick out a free set of clothes to get you started. And don’t go too crazy buying new clothes after you leave here.” Mr. Lee carefully hung David’s old hoodie and khaki shorts on hangers. Someday, they would be the right size for a future customer, just as all the clothes now hanging in the dressing room were left behind after previous transformations.
Dave’s eyes lit up at the options hanging before him. At first he was drawn to a simple pair of ripped jeans and a white t-shirt. Maybe paired with the letter jacket hanging nearby. Nah, he didn’t want to cover up his guns like that. Why hide a body as awesome as his? He squeezed into some black leather pants with a matching vest. Damn, the outline of his nine-inch cock looked great, but wouldn’t it be too much of a hassle to get them on and off quickly? Maybe just a tank and some shorts. Wait…was that an SFFD uniform? He reached over and held a t-shirt bearing the logo of the San Francisco Fire Department in front of him. He pulled on the shirt, then checked himself out in the mirror. The shirt was a size too small for him, which just made the heft of his muscles look that much more impressive. The ends of the sleeves were pushed up by his bulging biceps.
Something stirred in him. “Am I a fireman?” he wondered. He couldn’t say he remembered ever fighting a fire, and yet the idea felt somehow right. His confidence swelled as he thought about saving people’s lives for a living. Better than just sitting around doing nothing.
The tinkling of chimes by the front door caught Mr. Lee’s attention. He instructed Dave that, whenever he found the outfit he liked, he could just let himself out the back. As Dave pulled on the fireman’s jacket, he became so enamored with himself that he barely heard Mr. Lee. He just mumbled a dull “Thanks” and yanked on a pair of fireman’s pants. He could already envision himself with some smudges of soot on his face. Body covered in sweat. Taking a shower with the other firemen. Dave grinned at his reflection. “Shit,” he thought, “I’d fuck me.”
Mr. Lee closed the curtain, moved the mirror back into place and turned his attention to the new customer, who was pacing nervously inside the doorway.
Damn, Mr. Lee thought, the way today was going, he would never finish his lunch.
Mike had become very worried. It had been two weeks since his ex-co-worker David had made his presence known anywhere on social media. What made this so worrisome was that social media was the only place that David actually was social. Extremely shy and lacking in self-confidence in person, David would only dare to offer his opinions online, whether griping on Facebook about the casting of the latest comic-book movie or posting on gamer message boards the latest video-game cheat codes he had figured out.
David had been one of the earliest employees of DigiWarp, the software company for which Mike worked, while Mike had only been hired a year ago, straight out of college. He admired David, who was a brilliant coder, while Mike considered himself adequate at best. Mike’s brains were never going to stumble upon a game-changing breakthrough the way David had a few years back. The best Mike could hope was that he’d be on a development team with people far brighter than he was and reap some of the benefits of their success simply through proximity.
Mike didn’t know if he had the right to call David his friend, but he might be the closest David had to one. Given David’s seniority and Mike’s lack of it, there were few reasons for the two men to cross paths at work. But at a lavish party for all of the company’s employees at the CEO’s mansion overlooking San Francisco Bay, Mike and David found themselves isolated from the rest of the crowd, standing nervously beside each other in a tight corner of the room. Neither man said anything for the first ten minutes. Mike tilted his head to read the spines of the books the host owned, realizing that not only had he never read any of them, he had never heard of most of them. David fixed his attention on his shoes, which he must have tied and retied eight times in those ten minutes, and kept running his fingers down the crease in his chinos, in a futile attempt to make it stay at a perfect 90-degree angle to the floor.
They first bonded over their shared allergy to seafood, which they announced simultaneously to the waitress carrying a tray of crab puffs. This led to a twenty-minute discussion of various foods that disagreed with them, a conversation which, if you boiled away the awkward silences, would have amounted to about three minutes of actual conversation.
To look at him, you wouldn’t think any food disagreed with Mike. Although he and David were both about five-foot-eleven, Mike was easily 200 pounds heavier. Every part of his body weighed too much. His eyelids looked like they could lose a few pounds. His wide head seemed to melt directly into a wider neck. His torso was nearly spherical, and was largely unchanged since childhood when his classmates had dubbed him “Frosty” due to his snowman-like contours. His legs were bulbous and knock-kneed. In an attempt to outwit the male-pattern baldness that ran in his family, he had been shaving his head since college. He comforted himself by thinking of all the celebrities who managed to maintain their sexiness or even become hotter when they went full-cueball; unfortunately, the only celebrity Mike resembled was the Michelin Man. He was also apparently the only invitee to this party who had not noticed the request to dress fashionably. Even if he could afford to buy fashionable clothes, he had no idea what would make his body look in any way fashionable, so here he stood, not eating crab puffs, in a polo with wide red and white stripes providing lines of longitude across his surface area, and cargos which ended about an inch above his black plastic sandals.
Aside from their similar heights, David’s body was a contrast to Mike’s in nearly every way. David was worryingly gaunt, all straight lines and sharp angles. He had a Zuckerbergian head of unruly red curls, which he never thought to get cut until someone pointed out that they could no longer see his eyes. A Wicked-Witch nose dominated his pale sunken face, with an Adam’s apple that echoed the nose’s shape and prominence. David had no more natural fashion sense than Mike, but he did have a high enough salary that he could walk into an expensive store and ask what he should buy. The only thing he liked about the experience was going home and devising a color-coded program which would tell him, based on the personal shopper’s advice, what items should be worn with what other items, which is how he arrived looking positively preppy in his navy-blue sweater vest, pale-blue Oxford shirt, chinos and deck shoes. In a rare oversight, he had neglected to include socks in the program, which explained the green argyles covering his ankles. David always had problems knowing what to do with his large bony hands, which tended to flutter on uncharted courses when he spoke, so he mostly kept his hands buried deeply in his pants pockets.
Standing beside each other, rotund Mike looked like a big zero and spindly David looked like a big one. Depending on one’s era, this juxtaposition might call to mind Laurel and Hardy, Mutt and Jeff, Mama Michelle and Mama Cass, or Steve Martin and John Candy as the mismatched travelers in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. But to a roomful of Silicon Valley techies, whose entire lives revolved around manipulations of ones and zeroes, they suggested only one thing. “Hey look,” shouted one of their inebriated colleagues, “it’s the Binary Brothers!” The initial comment got a few chuckles, but the hilarity grew as more and more partygoers passed along the remark and created a wave of laughter and pointing through the crowd. Mike attempted to join in the laughter, under the flawed theory that they can’t be laughing at you if you’re laughing with them. David stood uneasily, then decided his shoes needed to be retied.
From that point onward, David and Mike found themselves hanging out with each other from time to time, eating together in the company cafeteria, occasionally getting together after work to play video games. Perhaps it was only the gravitational field of Mike’s greater body mass pulling anemic David into his orbit. Mainly it was that, even within the hive of worker geeks where they worked, David and Mike were still the last two likely to be picked for a hypothetical game of dodgeball. They were the nerds who even embarrassed the nerds. In the Binary Brothers, Mike might be the zero, but David felt like a zero too.
Mike sensed they had another shared interest, although the two men never discussed it. Even at that first party, when David seemed to be averting his eyes completely from the other guests, Mike noticed that David’s head would swivel ever so slightly but involuntarily whenever one of the handsome waiters walked past. Mike hoped that his own sampling of the beefcake was more subtle, and he made exaggerated efforts to more blatantly ogle the waitresses, avoiding taunts by maintaining a facade of heterosexuality. The sad fact was that none of the other guests were paying enough attention to David and Mike to give a shit who they were mentally undressing. The pickings were slimmer at the office where few had gotten ahead on their looks, but Mike did notice David leaving his corner cubicle more frequently when a copier repairman or the UPS guy dropped by. And when the two played video games, Mike noticed how muscular David’s avatars always were. Then again, it wasn’t like Mike was exactly opting to look like Jonah Hill onscreen.
When David took the company buyout and put an absurd number of zeroes in his bank account, he did invite Mike over to his new house once to play games on his sweet seventy-inch HDTV and back him up and down the driveway in his new solar car. But the evening was uncomfortable for both of them. For Mike, he felt inadequate in the presence of such pricey playthings and could sense David’s general malaise, which Mike took to be boredom from having to hang around with his sad, fat and broke former colleague. In fact, David disliked the feeling that he was flaunting his obscene wealth which he felt he didn’t deserve, despite being the primary brain behind the software that led to the buyout, and he felt disillusioned that all of this money had failed to make him any less dissatisfied with his life.
When Mike left the house that night, he vowed not to bother David, not wishing to seem like a pathetic hanger-on. But after two weeks with no trace of David online, Mike was concerned. Maybe David had decided to go on a cross-country drive, or take a cruise, or do something else totally unlike him. Maybe David had met someone. Guys might find him more attractive now that he had such girth in his wallet. Mike wondered whether David was the type to resort to suicide, but considered that unlikely, as it would require physical effort of some sort. He had left voicemail messages and texted David, but never heard back. Finally, he decided he would just go to David’s house after work and drop in unexpectedly, in hopes of discovering a simple, logical reason for David’s silence. They’d both have a laugh and maybe even get a little drunk on the couch together and, who knows… Mike shook off this scenario for a multitude of reasons, not least of which was that neither of them was likely to make the first move. Besides, it was hard to envision a comfortable way for the Binary Brothers’ bodies to mesh sexually. It’s not easy to make a one and a zero add up to sixty-nine.
Mike trudged up the driveway to David’s house with a copy of the latest “Call of Duty” and a sixer of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Despite dismissing his earlier fleeting fantasy, he discovered he was actually nervous about the prospect of meeting David tonight. He had already sweated thoroughly through his black Astro Boy t-shirt and baggy purple shorts, and his calves were chafing from rubbing against each other on the walk here. He noticed that David’s solar car was still in the driveway, which he took as a good sign, although fallen leaves and dust were coating it. Mike leaned a beefy arm against the front door and rang the doorbell, but heard no noises from inside. He knocked, first timidly, then more loudly, but still got no response. Too winded to walk back downhill right away, he took a seat on the stone steps and cracked open a bottle to refresh himself.
The bottle was half-empty when Mike felt he was seeing a vision. A heavily-muscled shirtless dreamboat jogged from the sidewalk up the driveway. His artistically-carved abs were heaving with each breath and his taut hairless torso was covered in a layer of glistening sweat which reflected the setting sun. His dark hair was trimmed close on the sides and hung in limp, curly, sweat-beaded strands on the top. He was more thickly muscled than the stereotypical runner, with his meaty quads and glutes threatening to widen the slit that went up the side of his skimpy royal-blue running shorts. His tanned calves bulged, forming powerful masses above his matching blue Reeboks. The man was clearly at the end of a lengthy run, while Mike had worked himself into a similar state of exhaustion and perspiration by walking the one block from his bus stop to David’s door. Mike gulped a swig from his bottle of alcoholic lemonade as he drank in the runner’s body. Mike’s hard, indeed.
The new arrival wiped a heavy forearm across his brows to shake the sweat from his eyes. His eyelids parted, revealing pale green pupils that seemed somehow familiar to Mike. The man was startled to see someone seated on the steps. “Can I help you, dude?”, came a resonant voice that also vaguely rang a bell.
Embarrassed, Mike hoisted himself to his feet, grappling with the video game and his drinks. “Sorry, maybe I’m in the wrong place,” he said, feeling he must have screwed up somehow, even though he knew this was David’s house, and David’s solar car was right there in the driveway. Maybe this stud was some rentboy that David had hired with his new wealth…and who could blame him? “I was trying to find David Tanner.”
As Mike brushed past the hunky jock, pausing just slightly to take a deep whiff of his masculine musk, the runner said, “I’m Dave Tanner.” Mike stopped dead in his tracks and turned around slowly. He studied the man before him. It couldn’t be. Sure, this guy did have the same color eyes as David. And the voice did sound a lot like David’s, only slightly slower and with all the anxiety drained away. And if you dyed David’s hair black and trimmed it nicely, it could look like this guy’s. And if you put a team of plastic surgeons to work for a couple of years, and piled on the protein shakes and steroids…maybe. But he’d only seen David two weeks ago. This was clearly impossible. Maybe David had a studly cousin named Dave who he’d never mentioned. Not impossible, since Mike and David’s conversations never veered near personal topics.
“David and I used to work together. Are you maybe a relative of David’s?”, Mike asked.
“Nope, I’m me,” the other man said, followed by a throaty chortle. “You okay, buddy? Looks like you’re gonna barf.”
“My head’s spinning a little. I think I just need to sit down.”
The alluring young man studied Mike’s face curiously. “I could swear I seen you somewhere before. You work out at Gold’s?”
Now it was Mike’s turn to chortle. He lifted up his bottles of alcohol and said, “This is the only six-pack I’m working on.”
Looking with confusion at Mike, the man entwined his arms behind his tilted head, his stony biceps seeming to stretch his skin to its limit. Unconsciously, he was alternately flexing his left and right biceps to make them pop, and Mike’s eyes were automatically drawn from arm to arm as they peaked. The guy shook his head. “Now it’s totally buggin’ me. I know I know you from somewhere.” He reached into his shorts and extracted a house key. He opened the door and gestured for Mike to follow him. “Come in and cool off before you stroke out.”
Mike hauled himself up the steps, gripping the railing for support. The inside of the house was largely as Mike remembered it from his single previous visit. For the living room, David had not purchased much furniture beyond the jumbo television and a single gaming chair. When they had played games, David had graciously allowed Mike to use the chair as David sat cross-legged on the floor. To these items had been added a beanbag chair, a wooden dining tray and a couple of bar stools, suggesting that this mansion’s interior designer was Pier One. The guy calling himself Dave kicked off his running shoes and peeled off his sweaty ankle socks, which he tossed onto the hardwood floor, joining previously discarded items of athletic clothing scattered around the room. He pointed toward the drinks Mike was holding and asked, “You mind?”
Mike handed him the whole six-pack. The dude laughed and said, “I only need one.” He uncapped it with his bare hands and slammed down the contents in a single uninterrupted chug. He ripped a belch that echoed on the house’s hard surfaces and yelled, “Fuck, I needed that. Thanks!” He clapped a sweaty palm on Mike’s shoulder, then flung himself into the beanbag chair, legs unapologetically spread wide, allowing Mike a clear view of the thin white lining of his running shorts and, beneath that, a jockstrap that was working overtime to hold in something major.
Mike had to get to the meat of this (so to speak). “So you’re sure we never worked together?”
“Dude, I can’t remember the last time I had a job. But I swear I’m motivated now. I’m trying to get in shape to take the fire department’s entry exam.”
Mike gaped at the body sprawled in front of him. “You aren’t in shape?”
“I gotta work on my stamina. Bein’ a fireman, there’s no fuckin’ around. Lives are on the line and shit. But I think my cardio’s coming along pretty excellently. I only been at it for two weeks.”
Mike’s legs got a bit wobbly. David had been missing for two weeks. “Two weeks? So, what were you doing before that?”
The guy in the beanbag casually scratched his balls as he thought. Nothing was coming. “Fuck if I know, dude. Just livin’, I guess.” Mike took a seat in the video-game chair and tried to make sense of this.
“Hey, I’m gonna grab a quick shower, but you’re welcome to play a video game or whatever. I can trust you not to steal my shit, right?” Mike nodded as the guy called Dave leapt energetically from the beanbag chair, his big bare feet slapping hard against the wooden floor. Without a thought, he pulled his nylon running shorts down the full length of his legs and kicked the shorts through the door into his bedroom. He paused in the doorway to wriggle free from his jockstrap, which he dropped with a soggy flop onto the floor. Mike stared in awe at the exquisite symmetry of the ass cheeks across the room, and was tantalized by the glimpse of a cock head he could see in the narrow gap between Dave’s brawny thighs.
Once he heard the water running in the bathroom, Mike rose and began to search the house for any clues about what might have happened to David Tanner. He found no obvious hints in the living room. The kitchen was even more barren of furniture aside from appliances. A dietary chart was Scotch-taped to the wall, with fresh fruits and oatmeal containers on the counter top and a fridge full of steaks, chicken breasts, yogurt, eggs and veggies.
Mike crept into the bedroom, careful to avoid being seen by Dave in the adjoining bathroom. Mike had only gotten a brief tour of the house on his previous visit, but from what he remembered, not much had changed. The king-size bed was unmade, which the anal David would never have allowed. More clothes were strewn about, along with the bags from the stores where they were purchased. Mike rifled through the empty bags and found receipts for the items purchased, all within the past two weeks. A cheap cellphone rested on the floor next to the bed. Mike checked it and saw it was not David’s old number and that only a few calls had been made on it, also in the last two weeks, with no text messages.
Then Mike noticed the one strange item that would differentiate this from any average sloppy bachelor’s bedroom. Hanging on the door to the closet was a San Francisco fireman’s uniform. It seemed bizarre to Mike that the fire department would give a uniform to someone who wasn’t a member of the force. Maybe this Dave guy was fucking a fireman who had left his uniform behind. Mike tiptoed across the room, flinching when the floorboards squeaked under his weight. He reached the closet and began to rifle through the pockets with his stubby hands. Nothing in the jacket pockets, but in the pants pockets he felt something. He reached in and pulled out two items. One was a business card that he couldn’t read in the unlit room, the other was another cell phone. Mike attempted to switch on the phone, but it was drained of juice. His eyes scanned the room until he saw a charging cord plugged in the wall behind the closet door. As he plugged the phone into the charger, he heard a voice behind him.
“I toldja not to steal nothin’.”
Mike spun around, terrified at being caught, dropping the phone and stuffing the business card into the pocket of his shorts. He’d been so caught up in his snooping that he hadn’t heard the shower stop. He attempted to look nonchalant, but was stunned to see Dave standing in silhouette in the bathroom doorway, towel draped casually around his shoulders, his skin slicked with water and backlit. “I’m sorry, I was just…my cell phone…”
Dave laughed and waved an arm dismissively. “I’m just fuckin’ with you, man. C’mon, you hungry?” He slapped his hand over his firm abs and motioned for Mike to follow him to the kitchen. Mike would have felt foolish to do anything other than what this dude requested. He walked several steps behind, admiring how Dave’s bare ass shifted with each stride. Goddamn, this guy had absolutely no self-consciousness about his body. He was walking fully nude in front of some fat slob he only kind of thought he might know, and it didn’t bother him a bit. This cat was cool.
Dave set about making his supper, grilling a steak and whipping up a spinach salad. Despite repeated inquiries, Mike insisted that he wasn’t hungry (not for food, at least). He pulled up a bar stool and downed more hard lemonade as he watched the naked chef go about his business.
Dave stuffed a spinach leaf in his mouth. “So what’s your name? Maybe that’ll jog my…ya know…”
“Mike. I work at DigiWarp.”
The word “DigiWarp” did seem to ignite a spark in Dave’s eyes, but the spark dulled by the time it reached his brain. “You look so fuckin’ familiar, dude. I feel like I should remember you from somewhere. I mean, you’re a lot to forget.” He gestured toward Mike’s gut.
Mike smiled weakly, as always trying not to be overly sensitive. Dave detected this and looked immediately apologetic. “Sorry, that was a real fucked-up thing to say. I didn’t mean nothin’. You seem like a cool guy.”
No one had ever said that to Mike before.
“Well, we can’t all have a body like yours,” Mike said, quickly plugging a bottle of booze in his mouth to prevent drooling.
“All you need is a good diet and discipline, man. You think I always looked like this?”
“I don’t know,” Mike said. “Did you?”
Dave had to consider that. His memory was so shitty lately, like part of his brain was just plain gone. He sure hoped there wasn’t gonna be a lot of math on the fire department exam. He dodged the question and pointed toward Mike’s bottle. “Ya know, that shit fucks up your body. Lemme have another one, ‘kay?”
Mike playfully pulled the remaining bottles out of Dave’s reach. “No. Maybe I don’t want you fucking up your bod.” Did he actually say “bod”? Was he seriously flirting with this man who was so far out of his league? Even if somehow that really was David inside that cocoon of beautiful muscle, he sure wasn’t acting like it. Mike hardly felt like he belonged to the same species as the gorgeous specimen standing naked before him.
Dave sauntered across the kitchen and stretched an arm around Mike to grab a bottle. “I just ran ten miles. I think I deserve a treat, don’t you?” As Dave’s cock grazed against Mike’s arm, it jolted and rose slightly. Dave noticed as Mike’s eyes dropped down to gaze at his dick. “Unless you can think of a better treat.”
Mike became short of breath again and looked at Dave to see if this was a gag, but Dave was staring back through half-closed eyes that radiated sincerity. “You serious?”
“Serious as the heart attack you’re having, dude.” He grabbed Mike’s pudgy hand and led him back to the living room. Dave flopped into the leather gaming chair, his damp, bare skin clinging to the upholstery. He leaned back and stroked himself lazily while waiting for Mike, who was frantically trying to pull himself free from his stupid, sopping-wet XXXL shirt. He clumsily lowered himself to the floor, kneeling before Dave in his leather throne, and wrapped his lips around the head of Dave’s glorious cock. It was already semi-hard and leaking cum, but grew dramatically as soon as Mike’s tongue made contact.
Dave leaned his head back and let the sensation rush through his body. He didn’t know why he’d been so sex-crazy lately. He didn’t remember always being so willing to fuck any guy he met. Then again, he didn’t remember not being that way either. This Mike guy might be a tub of goo, but he seemed harmless and it was obvious from the way he’d been staring that it would be a major “Dear Diary” moment in this guy’s life if he could just polish Dave’s knob once. Even though he had whacked off in the shower, Dave still needed more release after that long run. A mouth is a mouth, thought Dave, and this guy seems to be eager. Why wouldn’t he be eager? Just fuckin’ look at me!
Mike was so thrilled by what was happening that he had already shot a load in his pants, but he didn’t let on to Dave. He continued sucking and licking, trying to remember any move he’d seen in the videos he had watched in college while his roommates were out banging cheerleaders and poetry majors (of both genders). He had always thought himself so undesirable that he had never found himself in a situation that even offered him the opportunity for sex. To be deep-throating this stud, however strange the circumstances, was a chance he could not pass up. He started to wheeze as Dave’s cock swelled to its full nine inches, but he refused to gag. Dave’s cock fired, launching clots of thick cream so far down Mike’s throat that, only as Dave pulled out, dragging his still pulsating head across Mike’s tongue, did Mike get a full sense of the flavor of Dave’s cum.
Exhausted, Mike flopped shirtless onto the floor, smiling euphorically. Dave waited a respectful fifteen seconds before loping back into the kitchen. It was all over so quickly that his steak was still rare.
The next thing Mike heard was gunfire. It startled him awake and he lifted his bulky shoulders off the floor. Propped up on his elbows, he looked beside him and saw Dave seated in his gamer chair and lost in a ferocious gunfight on the massive video screen. Dave’s empty plate, salad bowl, and three more empties of Mike’s Hard rested by his bare feet. While Mike was dozing, Dave had gotten dressed…to an extent. He wore a black Under Armour sleeveless and skintight black compression leggings which clung so tightly to every contour of Dave’s body that he may as well have been spray-painted black.
Mike smiled up at Dave, who glanced down for a millisecond to smile back and inform Mike, “You fuckin’ snore, dude.”
Mike rolled his substantial frame on its side and watched the action on the screen. Dave was slaughtering anyone who came in his path. His reflexes were astounding. His long-fingered hands masterfully worked the controls in a frenzy…just like David’s had.
“This game is great for hand-eye coordination. I am gonna fuckin’ ace the firefighting exam.”
Mike turned back to Dave, smirking. “Just because you’re good in a firefight doesn’t mean you’re good at firefighting. You do know that you don’t actually fight fires with guns, right?”
“Yes, I know. You think I’m an idiot or something?” Dave said, laughing and pushing a bare smelly foot into Mike’s face.
Mike squirmed away, yelling, “Gross,” but he secretly loved it. His cock was semi-hard again. “I gotta take a leak.”
“Go ahead. Piss your heart out.”
Mike waddled through the bedroom and into the bathroom. He didn’t want to break the awesome mood he was in, so tried to avoid catching a reflection of his flab in the mirror. But reality hit home when he needed to pull out his penis and, as usual, had to fumble around under his enormous overhanging gut to extract it from his shorts. He had come to think of his cock like a black hole: he couldn’t actually see it, but based on the evidence, he was convinced that it must exist. He was tempted to jerk off, but his bladder was shouting more urgently to his brain, and maybe if he was lucky, he’d get Dave to jack him off or blow him or… “Stop it,” yelled Mike’s bladder, “I’ll never get to piss if you keep thinking about things like that.”
Mike sighed with relief and unleashed perhaps the longest piss of his life. After a few final afterthought squirts, he pulled his baggy shorts up to what technically qualified as his waist. As he dragged the shorts up his thigh, he remembered there was something extra in his pocket. He dug in and pulled out the dog-eared business card he had found earlier. He examined it in the fluorescent light of the bathroom. It read, “MR. LEE, X-DREAM MAKEOVERS”, followed by some Chinese symbols. “X-Dream Makeovers,” Mike thought. Could this be the explanation for how shy, nerdy David had seemingly been transformed into the musclehead currently racking up kills in the living room? There was no address on either side of the card. Mike remembered the cell phone he had found along with the card and tiptoed into the bedroom. The phone was still recharging but had enough juice that Mike could boot it up. A quick look at the phone showed that the ringer had been turned to vibrate and that all of Mike’s texts and voicemails had come through, but none seemed to have been read or listened to. As he scrolled around, he noticed that the last message received and read two weeks ago was from someone named Kenneth. It gave a street address that Mike knew was on the fringes of Chinatown, followed by “IT’LL BE THE BEST INVESTMENT OF YOUR LIFE. CALL ME AFTER. ;)”
Could whatever had happened to David have been so dramatic that it wiped out his memory to the point that he didn’t even remember where his phone was? Did he even remember to get back in touch with whoever sent him to get the makeover? Mike forwarded the text to his own phone, so he would have the address, and stuffed the business card back into his pocket.
Returning to the living room, Mike held the cell phone in front of Dave’s face. “Is this your cell?”
Dave shoved the phone out of his face and continued with his game. “Could be. I couldn’t find my phone, so I just bought a new one. You know what’s nuts? Turns out I got like crazy amounts of money in the bank.”
Of course he does, thought Mike. He’s David Tanner, tech wizard and multi-millionaire, only he’s oblivious to those facts. Now he’s Dave Tanner, Mike’s dream boy, with nothing on his mind beyond getting in shape, becoming a fireman, and laying waste to whatever videogame character pops up around the next corner.
Dave addressed Mike without ever turning his attention from the screen. “Listen, I gotta get to bed so I can hit the gym at five a.m. It was great to meet you and all. I hope you find that guy you were looking for.”
“Thanks. I think I did.” Dave was already lost in the game again. Mike pulled his Astro Boy shirt back on and made his way to the front door. He sneaked back into the living room, grabbed one of Dave’s used ankle socks from the floor, took a whiff and stuck it in his pocket. Whatever happened next, at least he would have a souvenir of tonight.
Mike went directly from Dave’s house to the address in the text message, so jazzed by the evening’s events that he walked a full three blocks before getting too tired and riding a bus the remainder of the way. When he reached the address, he was disappointed. It was a tiny shop with dingy windows. Mike attempted to look inside, but the streetlamps barely penetrated the grime on the glass and revealed almost nothing of the interior. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep or be able to focus on his job tomorrow morning, so he faked a convincingly scratchy throat and left a message on his supervisor’s voicemail that he would not be in to work.
Mike did indeed stay awake all night, surfing the web. He could find no references anywhere to “X-Dream Makeovers”, which seemed impossible. If someone could indeed change David the dud into Dave the stud, how could that ever remain a secret? Why wouldn’t everyone one earth be storming the place? Maybe they wiped David’s memories to keep him from revealing the details of his transformation? But then who was this Kenneth who told David this would be “the best investment of his life” and that he should “call me after semicolon end-parenthesis”? So many questions, so many hours until daylight. Mike tried to pass the time by watching porn, but he kept closing his eyes and fantasizing about Dave instead.
As dawn broke, Mike headed back towards the address he had found, wearing a long-sleeved sweatshirt and cut-off sweat pants. The shop was not open and looked no more like a going concern than it had in the dead of night. Mike decided to grab breakfast across the street. He headed to a 7-Eleven but, rather than his typical Diet Coke Double Gulp and a couple of donuts, he decided to try yogurt and a banana this morning. If the day went as he hoped, he might be eating more healthy from now on. Regardless, the creamy texture of the yogurt and the long firm slope of the banana in his mouth brought back pleasant memories of last night.
Mike hiked back to the shop, amazed by how much energy he had exerted in the past twelve hours. He still saw no lights or activity inside, but he finally decided to try the door. When he pushed the handle, the door swung open and an elderly Chinese man with a mustache was seated calmly behind a counter. He looked like he had been expecting Mike.
Mike had no idea how well the man spoke English, so he pulled out the business card and pointed to it, asking, “This. You?”
The man smiled serenely. “This, me. You may call me Mr. Lee.”
Mike took a few steps forward but realized he had left the door open. As he was turning back to close the door, Mr. Lee raised a hand and the door seemed to close on its own. The dim light which seeped through the dirty windows gave the room a feeling of foreboding.
“Hi, Mr. Lee, my name is…”
Mr. Lee raised a hand to stop him. “I do not need to know names.” Besides, the gifted Mr. Lee already sensed that the man was named Mike and had discerned several other details about the new customer. “What can I do for you today?”
“I think you helped a friend of mine a couple weeks ago. His name was… Well, his name doesn’t matter. But maybe you remember him. He was a skinny quiet guy who designed brilliant software. Only now I went to his house last night and there’s this big hunky guy living there who wants to be a fireman.”
Mr. Lee showed no outward sign of it, but he indeed remembered the one who left dressed as a fireman. He also remembered the fireman who had left behind the uniform in the first place. Mr. Lee remembered many things.
“You are sure it is the same man. Perhaps the first man moved away and the fireman moved in.”
“No, no, no, they’ve got the same name. They’ve got the same eyes. They’ve got the same voice…sorta. I mean, that’s about it, but I’m still sure it’s the same guy.”
“So what is it you wish from me? You also wish to be a fireman?”
Mike realized that he had not planned an answer for this question, even though it was the one he hoped he would be asked. “Well, I dunno. What exactly do you do here?”
“You tell me what you want to change about yourself, and we agree on a price you are willing to pay for that change.”
“Oh, man. I don’t have anything like the money Da… my friend has. No wonder you don’t have lines around the block. You must charge like a billion dollars.”
“I do not charge money. I ask you to give me something of yours in exchange for what you wish. From this, I replenish my stock of ingredients.” He gestured with a practiced flourish to indicate the multi-colored jars on the shelves behind him. “What do you wish to change about yourself?”
Mike looked down at his body, then back at Mr. Lee. “Isn’t it kinda obvious?”
“I never assume. Unfortunately, to be blunt, I do not need more fat in my inventory. There is not much call for it, except the occasional gentleman who wishes to be…what is they call it… a grizzly?”
“You mean a bear?”, offered Mike. Mr. Lee nodded. “Yeah, I’ve been carting around this lard for years. I can understand why no one else would want it.” Mike looked ready to give up.
Compassion was Mr. Lee’s greatest flaw. He couldn’t bear to see a potential customer disappointed, even if it meant stockpiling ingredients that he would never use. How many times had he removed a customer’s acne, knowing that no one would ever enter his shop and ask to have more zits? “I will not have much use for it, but better in my store room than on your body.”
Mike was getting seriously excited now. “You mean it? Great!”
“But you have still not told me what you can give to me in exchange.”
Mike thought it over seriously. He felt he wasn’t being falsely modest or brutally self-critical when he said, “I can’t think of anything about me that’s special that anyone else would want.” As he heard those words out loud, Mike realized he had just stated his entire philosophy about romance.
“Perhaps I could take some of your intelligence?” After all, that is what his friend had sacrificed for his new body.
Mike laughed heartily. “I do not have a drop of intelligence to waste.”
“That is too bad. I can always use brains.” Mr. Lee placed his fingertips together and hinted, “Surely a young man like yourself can think of something else.”
It took a moment for the suggestion to sink in. Young man? “You want…my age?”
“To be accurate, what I want is your youth.” In most cases, Mr. Lee discouraged people if they asked him to make them older. Those who ask for it usually regret the years they have skipped over and quickly ask for their youth back. But this young man seemed to be carrying so much weight, not just physically but emotionally, that he already seemed ready to be old. “I sense you have been worn down by life, despite your young age. You do not even have your hair.”
“Maybe you could give me some?”, Mike said, raising his eyebrows hopefully.
“I could. But only in exchange for something else.”
Mike had not anticipated this complication. What would he be willing to give up to gain what he wanted? It made him question the entire concept of who he was. If he was miraculously thin all of a sudden, how would that affect the way he acted and the way others acted toward him? If he showed up at work and was twenty years older, would he get newfound respect or would he be thrown out by security as a crazy person?
“If I go through with this, will I still remember who I am?”, Mike asked.
“You should.” Sometimes, when he drained off someone’s intelligence, memories got lost in the process. Mr. Lee was sure that was what had happened to Mike’s friend, David, but he had seemed so delighted in his new fireman’s uniform, and all of the innate wisdom and common sense he would need as a firefighter were still intact. Mr. Lee never wanted there to be negative consequences from the changes he made. He didn’t want to read in the newspaper one day that someone had died in a blaze because their fireman was an idiot.
“And will other people still remember who I am?”
“Depends on how much you change. Big change, more problems. How you explain is up to you. If you need new name, new driver’s license, new Social Security, that up to you. I do not handle paperwork.” Raising his voice for the first time since Mike entered, Mr. Lee thundered, “But the one thing you must never do is tell anyone about this store!”
“Oh, right, absolutely, my lips are sealed.”
Of course, Mr. Lee depended on customers breaking this vow in order to bring in new business. But he figured it didn’t hurt to spook them with a little threat, so they would only mention the store confidentially to those who could truly benefit most from Mr. Lee’s services.
Mike couldn’t believe he was negotiating this. “How many years are we talking about?”
“Depends on how skinny you want to be.”
“Let’s say I lost 180 pounds.”
Mr. Lee pulled a wooden abacus from under the counter, slid the beads around in a way he had never learned to understand but gave his presentation a certain level of showmanship, and declared, “Eighteen years.”
“Whoa,” said Mike, contemplating walking out of this store as a 40-year-old, albeit a skinny 40-year-old. “Can we make it fifteen?” Somehow the notion of being 37 was slightly easier to stomach.
“We can make it whatever you want. It is your decision.”
“Would that mean I’ll live fifteen years less? That I’ll die sooner?”
“You could live to 115. You could be hit by a truck tomorrow. The question: how do you want to live whatever time you have?”
Mike looked down at his bulbous body. He definitely didn’t want to be carrying around this load for the rest of his life. But wasn’t he crazy to be considering something this weird and drastic? Maybe he should just grow some balls and join a gym. Oh, who was he kidding? That would never happen. Whereas what Mr. Lee was offering was immediate, and he’d already seen the results it had on David.
Mr. Lee was already getting jars off his shelves, as if he knew that Mike had made his decision. Which, in fact, he had. “Okay, fifteen years.”
Mr. Lee raised his hands and the room became dark, except for a single spotlight shining on Mike. Showmanship again.
“If you are ready, I will take your fifteen years from you.”
Mike braced himself, not knowing how you prepare to lose fifteen years of your life. He tensed up, closed his eyes and nodded. Mr. Lee opened a jar with a small amount of yellow powder at the bottom. It had been so long since he had persuaded anyone to sacrifice their youth that his supply was nearly gone. He watched as Mike’s large body began to sag even more than usual. Light yellow particles, like clumps of pollen, began to seep out of Mike’s pores and float across the room into the open jar. Mike’s head remained bald, his eyebrows became flecked with gray, and the spotlight even caught the emergence of small hairs from his ears and nostrils.
“Can I look yet?”, asked Mike. It felt to him like his body was melting.
“No, keep your eyes closed please.” Mr. Lee didn’t think Mike would like what he saw if he opened his eyes now. If he was unhappy with his hefty body as a 22-year-old, seeing that same body at 37 might be a devastating shock that could damage him permanently.
To remove Mike’s fat cells, Mr. Lee used a jerry-rigged device with ropes, a funnel and a hose. It looked like the sort of thing the Amish might use to perform liposuction. He pulled up Mike’s sweatshirt to reveal his enormous belly and positioned the funnel at Mike’s navel, tying it in place with ropes stretched around his back. The hose fed from the funnel into an underground tank where the fat was collected after removal. Mr. Lee always had such an excess of his customers’ fat in the tank that he was forced to sell it, just to get it off his hands. He knew never to eat fried food from any of the restaurants who purchased it.
Mr. Lee clapped his hands twice, which somehow activated this non-mechanical device. Immediately, Mike could feel the fat cells from throughout his body being drawn toward his belly button like iron filings toward a magnet. Clots of liquid lard began to ooze through the hose and under the floorboards. As the body fat shrank, Mike’s skin began to tingle as it contracted. Untoned muscles which had been camouflaged for years by thick layers of obesity were revealed. The viscous stream from Mike’s navel slowed and eventually stopped. Mr. Lee removed the device and declared, “Now you can look.”
Mike grimaced in the glare of the spotlight, then caught his reflection in a mirror on the wall. The man looking back at him was startlingly unrecognizable, but at the same time familiar, and Mike suddenly realized that it was like looking at a tweaked version of his own father. He stroked his newly slender fingers across his cheek, stunned to discover cheekbones and an elegant nose that had been lurking unseen on his face all these years. He found his chrome-dome look was considerably more bad-ass on this less bloated head. Crows’ feet by his eyes and wrinkles on his forehead provided evidence of the years he had lost, but also suggested the wisdom of age. All Mike was missing was the actual wisdom.
His cut-off sweats and boxer underwear had dropped to the floor once his waistline receded, revealing knobby but not unattractive legs. His sweatshirt now felt like a circus tent draped over his shoulders. He essentially climbed out of the shirt, tossing it aside so he could take in his fully naked body. No question, he looked middle-aged, but he now had the slim build of someone who was generally healthy but didn’t exercise much. Maybe he could whip himself into better shape with a hand from Dave. Mike’s mind toyed with the vision of Dave whipping him with his hands, and Mike’s cock stirred to arousal. He was glad that he hadn’t aged further, as his cock was still spry enough to spring into action after a single fleeting horny thought. Seeing his cock and balls on full display in the mirror, Mike realized they looked pretty much the way he’d remembered, but they looked bigger now that the body surrounding them was so much smaller. He hadn’t turned into a traffic-stopper like Dave, but given how little he had to barter with, he was pleased with his new body overall. And somehow, with age, he felt less agitated and more serene, less self-doubting and more self-assured. It certainly didn’t hurt his self image that he could finally see his toes again.
“Are you pleased, Mr. Mike?”, asked Mr. Lee.
“I’m amazed,” responded Mike, not realizing he had never told Mr. Lee his name.
Mr. Lee pushed the mirror aside, revealing a room filled with clothes. “Please choose some clothing that suits the new you. I will give you some privacy.”
Mr. Lee went back behind his counter while Mike entered the room and evaluated his options. He felt like he’d wandered into a thrift shop where clothes of different styles and even from different eras hung side by side. Mike had no idea what size clothes would even fit this new body, so he tried on several items, all of which he discovered were too roomy for him. He strolled down to the smaller sizes and spotted a gray hoodie and khaki shorts which looked very familiar. They were practically a uniform for David when he worked at DigiWarp, at least on the days when he didn’t need to use his color-coordinated system to look more put together for visiting clients. Curious, Mike attempted to slip on the shorts, but even after all this weight loss, Mike was still heavier than the old stick-thin David had been. He did, however, discover something folded in one of the pockets of the shorts. He pulled it out and noticed that it was an envelope from a law office: “Mr. Kenneth Donnelly, Attorney At Law.” Could this be the Kenneth who had directed David to Mr. Lee’s store? He pulled out the letter, which was about provisions for David’s post-buyout investments, not life-altering body changes. Still, Mike kept the letter, as it provided him with Kenneth’s work address and phone number.
Mike was still completely naked with no clue what he could wear when he spied a pin-striped black suit, white shirt and red tie. He tried the pants first and they fit his new measurements almost perfectly. The whole suit couldn’t have been a better fit if it had been tailored. He rummaged around the piles on the floor until he found socks and shoes that matched, then emerged into the store, modeling his new look for Mr. Lee, who nodded approvingly. Mike admired himself in the mirror, amazed by the trim figure he cut. As the front of his slacks bent outward, he realized that he was becoming aroused by his reflection, another new phenomenon for Mike.
As Mr. Lee was placing his magic substances back on the shelves, he dipped a tablespoon into the yellow powder of youth and swallowed it down. A small dose like that didn’t produce any major changes, maybe a few darker hairs in his mustache. Mostly, it gave Mr. Lee the quick jolt of energy he sometimes needed in the morning ever since he had given up coffee.
Mr. Donnelly, there’s a gentleman here to see you,” came the voice over the intercom.
Kenneth Donnelly looked annoyed. He had taken off his jacket and was loosening his tie, preparing to take his midday exercise break. “I was just about to head out.”
The assistant’s voice squawked again. “He says it’s regarding David Tanner.”
Kenneth stopped suddenly, leaving one end of the tie dangling much further from his collar than the other. “Send him in please.”
The door opened and Mike strode in with a sense of confidence and purpose he had rarely felt, still wearing his new suit from Mr. Lee’s store. He made a quick evaluation of Kenneth Donnelly. Based on his wavy graying hair, Mike would peg him in his early forties, although his blue eyes were bright, penetrating and youthful. At first, he appeared stocky, but on closer inspection, his dress shirt was simply loose to accommodate the impressive arms and torso underneath. Through the shirt, one could clearly see the outlines of a ribbed white tank tightly caressing Kenneth’s curves.
Donnelly was used to making quick judgments about people as well, and he was immediately curious to hear what the man in the pin-striped suit had to say. “You have information about David Tanner?” He gestured for the man to take a seat, but Mike remained standing.
“I’m a friend of David’s and I believe you have information about what happened to him two weeks ago.”
Donnelly looked alarmed. “What do you think ‘happened’ to him?”
Mike thought Donnelly seemed genuinely concerned, but he could just be a lawyer who was good at feigning emotions when required. Mike pulled Mr. Lee’s business card from his pocket and showed it to Donnelly. “Do you know anything about this?”
Donnelly kept his hands in his pockets and studied Mike. “What do you know about it?”
“Can you give me any answers that aren’t in the form of a question?”
Donnelly pondered what he should tell this stranger. “Can I at least know who I’m talking to?”
“My name’s Mike. I worked with David at DigiWarp. And I’m pretty sure you’re the person who sent David to see Mr. Lee.”
Donnelly motioned for Mike to lower his voice and crossed the office to shut the door so they wouldn’t be overheard. He gestured again for Mike to take a seat, but he found that he preferred to remain standing, eye to eye with Donnelly, alpha male to alpha male. Although they were roughly the same height, Donnelly seemed to shrink a bit under Mike’s glare.
“I knew I shouldn’t be spreading the word about Mr. Lee. Are you telling me David actually went?”
“Didn’t you tell him to?”
“I…mentioned it. He was such a mess when we were working on his buyout, so lacking in self-worth despite all his success. I thought it might be a good idea for him to see a shrink. When he shot that down, I told him about Mr. Lee. But I never heard another word from him, so I figured he had ignored my suggestion and was just sulking around in that new mansion of his. So…” Donnelly paused before asking, “How does he look?”
Mike could tell from the glint in Donnelly’s eye that the lawyer was very curious to hear a detailed description, with exact measurements if possible. “He looks amazing. Keeps saying he wants to be a fireman, but I get the feeling he’d settle for exotic dancer. Anything that involves sliding on poles.”
Donnelly grinned, tantalized. “So if you already knew about Mr. Lee and what he had done to David, why are you here?”
Mike put his cards on the table. “Because he’s dumb as a bag of hammers now. He’s like this big, lovable, well-hung puppy dog.”
“And, what, you want me to take him back to Mr. Lee and make him smart again?”
Mike hesitated. “No, I don’t think I want that. I mean, I’ve never seen him so happy. It’s probably good for him that he doesn’t have a care in the world. I’m just worried that someone will come along and take advantage of his good nature and rob him blind.”
“Not a problem. I will personally look after all of his interests and will not let him sign anything that is against his interests.”
Mike nodded, but didn’t say anything. Donnelly could sense what was bothering Mike.
Donnelly ponted at Mike and said, “You want to be the one who makes sure he’s taken care of.”
Mike nodded, feeling a bit foolish.
Donnelly smiled more broadly. “You’re in love with him.”
Mike took a long time before he was able to say a simple “Yeah.”
“If I’m honest, probably since I met him. He was such a special person, and not just because of his mind. And, now, I swear to god, it’s not just because of his body. I think I always saw something sweet in him that nobody else did. Look at me. I’m just a nobody. I’m not special at anything and I’m never gonna be. But if I can be the person looking out for someone special, maybe that’s special enough.”
Donnelly was not immune to sentiment. He knew the man before him was being genuine. “If David looks as good as you say he does, there will be a lot of people trying to get between you and him.”
Mike looked up with determination. “Let ‘em try.”
Donnelly was impressed. He cast a lingering glance at Mike’s body and asked, “So what did Mr. Lee do for you?”
He’d never met Donnelly before. Donnelly had no idea how Mike had looked before this morning. “How do you know he did anything?”
Donnelly smirked as he pointed to Mike’s wardrobe. “Because that’s my old suit.”
Dave was doing crunches on a yoga mat when a faint pounding seeped through the earbuds that were cranking house music. He finished his set of one-hundred before popping out the earbuds. Yup, somebody was beating on his door. He shouted, “Who is it?”
“It’s Kenneth Donnelly, your lawyer.”
Dave tried to remember if he had a lawyer. And what exactly a lawyer was. He walked to the door and opened it without checking the peephole.
Donnelly stood on the front stoop with his briefcase, dressed casually in his after-work wardrobe of a polo shirt and white slacks, the shirt’s elastic cuffs riding high on his ripped biceps, exposing his Celtic tattoos. If anything, Mike had undersold his description of Dave, who was bathed in sweat and wearing only a pair of soaked olive-green boxer briefs. Donnelly would have loved to get a court order to poke through those briefs, but he firmly believed that the only time you should fuck your client is when you send them your bill. Donnelly set aside prurient thoughts and got to business. “I’ve got some papers I want you to look over, so I thought I’d swing by on my way home, rather than making you come into the office.”
“Cool,” Dave said, waving the man inside. He had no clue what this was about, but the guy seemed to know what he was doing. Dave took the video game chair, leaving Donnelly the option of a sweaty yoga mat or a beanbag chair. He opted for squatting in the beanbag.
“First, just for official identification purposes, can I ask what is your name?”
“Sure you can.” Dave waited for another question. Even Donnelly was surprised just how precipitously David’s IQ had fallen. But Mike had been right, all traces of David’s crippling anxiety and lack of confidence were absent in the dude seated across from him.
“Okay. What is your name?”
“Good, Dave. Now you might not remember it, but you recently came into a lot of money. And you hired me to help safeguard it. But you have a friend who, if you agree to it, would like to help you on a more day-to-day basis. Does that sound good?”
“You bet! Who’s the friend?”
“Do you have a friend named Mike?”
Dave scratched his tangle of curly hair vigorously, as if he were trying to scratch all the way through to the brain. Finally, it hit him. “Oh, you mean the fat dude from last night?”
Donnelly smirked and shouted through the still-open front door. “Hey, fat dude, come on in.”
Dave swiveled his chair around and watched as a man in his mid-to-late thirties stepped through the doorway. The bald head and slightly wrinkled face were recognizable from this morning’s visit to Mr. Lee, but from the chin down, this was Mike 3.0. If the first transformation had changed Mike into the equivalent of a middle-aged accountant, he would now be more firmly typecast as a gay-bar bouncer or motorcycle-gang member. Much of his bulk was back, but in the form of enormous muscles. His traps strained the straps of his black stringer tank, which was stretched tight across his solid shelf of pecs. Veins leapt out in sharp relief against the mighty curves of his arm muscles. Black denim shorts hung down to his knees, exposing calves which were once again the size of piano legs, just more elegantly carved. He exuded confidence as he nodded, “Hey, Dave.”
Dave crossed the room to get a better look at Mike’s body. If Dave had become an ideally sculpted David, Mike was now a crushingly powerful Goliath. “Dude, you gotta tell me what gym you go to!”
Mike grinned. “Same place as you.”
After Mike’s visit to Donnelly’s office, they decided another trip to Mr. Lee’s shop would be necessary if Mike were ever going to have a shot at competing for Dave’s attention among the sea of well-built men surrounding them. Mr. Lee broke his primary rule by not giving Mike muscles in exchange for some other attribute. Instead, he agreed to accept free legal counsel from Donnelly for the next year. As careful and selective as Mr. Lee tried to be, there were always disgruntled customers threatening to sue, so having a powerful attorney – legally and physically – could come in handy. Donnelly was willing to make such a deal because he felt guilty that he hadn’t accompanied David to Mr. Lee’s shop to keep him from making any ill-advised choices, although seeing the joy on Dave’s face right now, he wasn’t sure that Dave hadn’t gotten exactly the body and mind he wanted and needed.
“So,” Dave asked Mike, “how was your day?”
Mike shot a glance at Donnelly. “Eventful.”
Donnelly left a sheaf of papers on one of the barstools. “I’ll just leave these here for Mike to explain to you. They’ll allow Mike to make routine purchasing and investment decisions for the two of you. If you agree to it, you two can just sign the documents where the flags are and get the originals back to my office. You can keep the second copies for yourselves.”
Donnelly may as well have been speaking to an empty room, as Mike and Dave were now kissing hungrily. Mike’s meaty hand was palming Dave’s firm ass, and Dave was frantically unbuckling Mike’s belt. Donnelly had to squeeze his own substantial body past them to get to the door. “Okay, you two have a good night. I’m sure you will.”
Donnelly headed down the sidewalk, smiling with certainty that at least two of Mr. Lee’s customers wouldn’t be suing him in disappointment. As Donnelly reached his Tesla double-parked in the street, he realized he’d forgotten to remind Mike of something. He jogged back to the front door and said, “Mike, don’t forget to call DigiWarp and tell them you quit.”
Mike and Dave were both now naked on the yoga mat, grunting and moaning, with Mike taking his new eleven-inch cock for a test piledrive up Dave’s tight ass. Donnelly smirked. Mr. Lee had resisted throwing in that cock for free, but Donnelly talked him into it.
“Tell them you got a better offer.”
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