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|It was the kind of gym you found tucked away somewhere, below street level --
you'd have to descend a flight of stairs, and that's only if you knew which door
to go into, because it's not really clearly marked. You'd refer to it vaguely
as "that place up on 64th, or 92nd, or 101st" when you'd speak of it at all -- a
virtual Nirvana of bodybuilding, the Xanadu of gyms -- where only the most
serious trained, the most hard-core, members who would dedicate their lives to
lifting and muscle-growth. You would join, transform into one of these
obsessive gym-rats, then disappear completely as you became too freakishly big
to interact with society.
That was the urban legend anyway, or perhaps the collective hopes of the fitness community, certainly nothing more than a fantasy to those of us who were frustrated with our progress in the gym. Don't get me wrong, I'm six-one, two-hundred pounds and in very good shape, but I'm just not making any progress. Of course, I'm natural, which doesn't help, but I really just can't afford to do anything -- steroids, I mean -- and I don't just mean "afford" financially, I mean health-wise, too. I oppose steroids.
Anyway, I live modestly, as living alone in a city forces one to be, I work out in a fairly nice gym, even if it is a chain, and I fantasize about being a muscle-freak, like every other red-blooded American man. There. I've described myself in less than two paragraphs -- I should think that's something of a record.
So, I got this postcard in the mail today -- which is what's causing me to write this instead of working on my column -- I "won" a contest that I'd entered last month on one of my gym's many open-house/ member-appreciation days. I'd completely forgotten about it until I received the postcard. I think I filled it out because I wanted to get a free bagel. I certainly never expected to hear anything from it again.
Very mysterious. "Congratulations! You -- (insert my name here in bold type) -- have won a free year-long membership to the most exclusive bodybuilder's gym in the city! Call the number below to claim your muscle! This is your fantasy come true (my name here), so don't delay!"
They knew their marketing, because call I did -- and without delay -- and surprisingly enough, with an erection, too. Ah, fantasies.
Continuing in that vein, the guy who answered had a voice like a football coach the morning after the championship game -- husky and hoarse, but strong from victory. "Yeah?" he said. "'tsup?"
"This is (insert my name here)" -- okay, okay, enough of that joke. My name is Jeff Strong; that's what I told him. I told him about the postcard and the contest. I fear I babbled a bit much, because he interrupted me.
"Listen, when can we get this done? I'm here today until five if you wanna come by now. Otherwise, I get in tomorrow around ten-thirty."
All business - I like that.
I'm a professional writer, so re-arranging my schedule takes little effort, especially if I'm beating my deadline - which I usually am. Within the hour, I was on my way to the gym -- up on 64th, or 92nd, or 101st. (The truth is, I promised not to reveal the address to non-members. It was in the contract I signed with them -- I'll tell you more about that later.) The building itself was a modest affair, eight stories, looked like apartments on top, but there didn't seem to be any entry-way easily visible. Occupying the main level, half a flight up from the street was a Vitamin/ Supplement store. Half a flight down was a darkened door with a small, conservative sign that read "Apollyon - Private" -- next to it, a key-code pad, like at the bank.
I pushed the button that said "Call."
A voice came from a speaker mounted just under the eave. I looked up when I heard it, and saw a little camera inconspicuously mounted in there, too. I hadn't seen them when I came down the stairs. "Yeah?" said the voice.
"I'm Jeff Strong," I said, leaning forward a little. "I have an appointment?"
A slight pause, then the heavy buzz of the door being unlocked -- instinctively, I pulled it open before the noise stopped, then stepped inside to a tight hallway, dimly lit, a sharp right leading to another door at the other end, and this one with a security station, too. The right wall of the tight hall was mirrored, the left, painted black with a Day-Glo slogan that read: "The games are over -- time to train!"
When I got to the second door, I studied the security station -- pretty damn fancy for a gym, I thought. It was more like an ATM machine. There was a keypad, like outside, but with a small computer screen, and what looked like the bottom of a periscope -- you know, like in a submarine? -- mounted next to it.
"It's a retinal scanner," said a voice, and I almost jumped out of my skin.
There was no one there, but I soon found the source: another security camera mounted high in the far corner of the hallway, a speaker just below it. "It's a what?" I asked.
The voice came again. "A retinal scanner -- for security."
"Isn't that overdoing it a little?"
"I'll buzz you in."
When the sound came, I yanked the frosted-glass door open. Rather than appear timid or even the slightest bit apprehensive -- (after all, even in my fantasies, there was always this air of mystery) -- I stepped through and found myself on the top landing of a staircase that descended to the left. Like the hallway outside, the walls were painted black -- the neon-colored message was on the wall across from me. "Where you work for the worship" it said, with an arrow pointing down the stairs.
Steep steps, barely wider than the hallway outside, black rubber flooring -- this time, the mirrors were on the ceiling, so I could watch myself walk down. Now I could smell a gym, the musky odor of sweat mixed with the sanitized scent of cleaning liquids -- I could hear the clang of weights, the sounds of working out.
Whatever apprehension I had slid away as I descended the stairs. Just a private gym hidden in the middle of the city. Nothing to worry about.
Kind of a fantasy come true.
At the base of the stairs, an small, un-manned juice bar, a glass cabinet -- stuffed with trophies and medals and ribbons of every sort -- so many trophies, in fact, that they lined the top of the molding, as well. Some serious competitors, if the cheaply-framed pics that covered the rest of the walls -- the ones that weren't mirrored -- were any indication.
The juice bar/ trophy case was on a platform itself. Another few steps down led to the workout area, but with the low ceiling, I couldn't get a good look at it. I could hear guys working out though -- and the drive of the hard rock music that was blasting from deep within. The place had amazing energy -- electric, almost.
Behind the juice bar was an office, apparently. Through a door I hadn't really noted before entered this -- well, EXTRAORDINARY man. A bodybuilder in the peak of condition, radiating health and vitality, impeccably groomed -- a high-and-tight so perfect as to have just stepped out of the barber's chair. A red-head, so not as tan as ruddy, not as handsome as rugged -- as a matter of fact, without his body, he'd be easily overlooked.
But there was no overlooking his body. I only started with his face because I knew that if I'd started with his body, you wouldn't want to read about his face -- and even bodybuilders have identities. He didn't break six-feet, but he was darn close. I'd say about two-fifty, two-sixty, somewhere in there. A baggy tee, but there was no hiding the veins in his arms, the overall lack of bodyfat, even his face was angular and cut.
The tee was red, sleeves rolled up, with the word "STAFF" over the mound of his left pec, and it hung low enough to just barely cover his package -- he wore black spandex shorts with the confidence of a man who should. His legs were beastly and burdensome, clearly a point of pride, the way they were presented, smooth and clean. His hamstrings were carved by the gods.
"Jeff Strong?" he asked, like he hadn't watched me the entire time on the surveillance video. His voice was rough, as heavy as his legs.
I gave him a quick nod. "Yeah."
"I'm Brad," he said, and we shook hands -- not surprisingly, he had a firm, strong grip. "Welcome to Apollyon."
"Thanks," I said. "I had no idea this gym was here."
"Few do," he said. "It's private. We take that very seriously. Let's go in the office."
Small, Spartan -- a desk, a cabinet, a couple of chairs, a computer terminal -- the wall behind the desk was glass, tinted, overlooking the workout floor -- the wall across from the desk was mirrored. Though there was another door on the far wall, it was closed -- I guessed security or storage. Didn't matter.
"So, Jeff Strong," he said as he sat down behind the desk, motioning me to the chair before him. With his width, I couldn't see the workout floor behind him. "That's a good name. Your buddies call you 'Strong'?"
"No," I said, sitting.
He chuckled, and said. "They will. Let me tell you what we got here, Strong." He suddenly smiled. "I kinda like that - 'Strong.' It works. What we got here Strong, is the most exclusive training facility in the world. It's Muscle-head Nirvana. A lotta guys would kill to be members here, or to get the offer I'm makin' you."
I was confused. "I thought I won a raffle...?"
"Dude," he said, leaning forward, "there's no such thing as chance. We screen for members very carefully. You fit our profile."
"Really?" I asked, genuinely curious, not so much suspicious. "What's the profile?"
He smiled -- that cocky smile of a salesman who knew you'd bitten the hook, a little too triumphant. "All your life, you've fantasized about being a bodybuilder."
"That hardly makes me part of a select group."
"Intensely fantasized about it," he continued, looking me dead in the eye. "Even taken steps to make it come true: got a gym membership, worked out, ate right, supplements -- you've been doin' that now for what, seven, eight years?"
I nodded -- maybe becoming a little suspicious. "Yeah," I said quietly. "Eight."
He shrugged. "And you look great," he said, "for a guy who's natural -- and... stuck on a plateau, I'm guessing?"
I broke eye contact, looking down. "Yeah," I finally admitted. "I broke two-hundred, but I can't get any further than that. It's been like, a year."
He stood, and I looked up at him again -- I was distracted by the size of his legs -- Jesus! Then he spoke, "Dude, we're gonna get you past that. WAY past it." Then he smiled, and nodded for me to stand up. "I'm tellin' ya, we're your fantasy come true. You're no different from any other guy in here."
I smirked and said, "Actually, we're about fifty... sixty pounds different."
He put his strong paw on my shoulder and turned me around, leading me out of the office. "That's ALL the different we are," he said confidentially. He winked. "Trust me."
So, he showed me the place -- and though I really want to go into a detailed description, I think it might be a waste of prose, especially given the way the plot develops. Let me just say, in an effort to conserve space, it blew me away!
A basement training facility, low ceilings, mirrors everywhere, every angle, even above -- no matter where you were, you could see yourself, often from many views. The lighting was almost theatrical, and the shadows always seemed to fall just right. There was everything ever needed, machine, free weight, cardio piece, the most modern of equipment -- everything.
The few guys who were working out while I was taking the tour were no less spectacular than Brad. Though they varied in weight -- one looked like a light-heavy, the others were both heavyweights -- they were all three in incredible shape. And so focused on their training that they didn't even look up as we passed, or make any communication with Brad -- they were busy squatting (and five plates, at that!).
The locker room was small, but the showers were spacious. There was no women's locker room. "Men only," Brad said when I questioned him about it. "That's another reason we're quiet about ourselves -- to avoid what happened at the Master's Golf Tourney."
Several posing rooms, a tanning bed. "How do you afford this space?" I asked. "This is huge!"
He shrugged. "We're got some private funding. We own this building."
"You own a building - in downtown?"
"Oh, yeah. We were able to buy it within the first five years we were open. Buddy, we sell fantasies here -- do you know how much people are willing to pay to have their fantasies come true?" He smiled and made a gesture to encompass the whole gym. "Enough for us to buy this prime piece of real estate in the middle of the city -- and a hell of a lot more than that -- that's how much!"
Back in his office, as we sat back down, he said, "So, Jeff Strong, congratulations. You're being offered a chance to join us, to lift with us here at our private gym, and to maximize your bodybuilding potential. That's your fantasy come true, isn't it?"
The erection I was trying -- and failing -- to hide was answer enough for us both.
He motioned to it! "Dude, I can see that it is." Then he smiled, and said, "Don't worry about it -- it happens to all of us. Hell, selling you on a membership turns ME on. I told ya, bro, we all have the same fantasy. It's cool."
He already had all my information -- more, he already had all the paperwork drawn up. A couple of John Hancocks and it was done -- probably as fast as it took you to read those two sentences. (And he was right; selling me the membership DID turn him on. I caught a glimpse of his chubby more than once as he stood to put the paperwork away and retrieve the Device.) "Congratulations," he said, shaking my hand, and then pulling the contract away that quickly and filing it. "You made the right choice."
Out of the bottom drawer of the desk, he pulled something that looked like a cross between a VR-helmet and a periscope sight. He sat it on the desk so that it faced me and connected it to his computer terminal with a cable. (As he made adjustments, THAT'S when I saw his hard-on.)
"What's this?" I asked as he plugged it in.
"It's exactly what you think it is," he said, standing there across from me, not even embarrassed at how plainly I could see his erection. "It's the device that's gonna brainwash you into becoming a monster bodybuilder."
When he saw my reaction, he laughed -- hale and hearty. "Dude, it's a retinal scanner," he said, "for the security system."
"Oh." Did I betray any disappointment?
"But if you want to pretend it's a brainwashing device -- well, like I said, we ALL have the same turn-ons. It takes about ten minutes for it to record your retinal pattern, so you might as well keep yourself busy with a good gym fantasy."
I smiled, maybe nervously, even if I didn't want to betray that. "You keep saying that," I said. "I have to tell you, I'm surprised that A) so many people besides myself have that fantasy, and B) you're so casual about it."
He shrugged, his mighty traps rising and falling. "I've seen guys in your position over and over again," he said. "And I've come to learn that EVERY man wants to be a fuckin' gigantic bodybuilder, wants to know this POWER, but most men are afraid of the reality. If you plan to succeed here, you've got to take responsibility for your fantasies, because they're going to become real -- and the first step is admitting you have them. Do you understand me?"
I nodded. "Yeah."
Brad smiled again. "Good," he said, then he indicated the device. "Now, this is gonna take about ten minutes, so I suggest you get over yourself and do it. Don't be scared, Strong -- this is gonna be the best thing that's ever happened to you." Then he winked -- again! I hate winkers -- and he tapped the device, indicating to me to start.
Like a motorcycle helmet, I slipped it on over my head, where it cut out the light and most of the room's ambient sound -- though I could hear Brad typing at the computer. "Ready?" he asked.
I gave him a big thumbs-up and a dopey grin. "Bring it on," I said. "Make me a monster bodybuilder."
You know, you have these fantasies -- these mind-control fantasies, these muscle-growth fantasies -- or you read these stories, however well-written, and part of the fantasy is imagining that SOMEWHERE out there, these things are real. In a universe of limitless possibilities, you believe, there's truth in everything.
Who hasn't read a story about a VR-helmet mind-control device that turns the wearer into some submissive little sex-robot, or some super-jock muscle-slave? See, that's my point. When the laser light came on, flashing this repetitive red beam across my vision, scanning back and forth -- I could actually see the veins along the back of my retina -- and I couldn't help but think of those stories. Brad had already planted the seed with his comment about brain-washing and monster-bodybuilding.
Was I being hypnotized? Would I know if I was? Did I really want to? I WAS getting a hard-on -- I mean, the IDEA...
Red sweeps across my vision. I found myself leaning back -- relaxed -- but rock hard, my erection battling the confines of my pants, rubbing against the stubborn material. Was it re-programming me even now? Was I in the middle of a fantasy-turned-real?
I mean, I knew Brad was there, but I didn't care. He TOLD me to confront my fantasies, after all. He'd had them, too.
Or maybe the device was releasing my inhibitions.
What was happening to me? WAS it happening to me?
What if it were true?
And then I orgasmed. I shot, right there in my pants, sitting there in Brad's office -- with Brad not two-feet away -- I came, this monstrously huge climax, it pumped out of me. I was caught in this weird mix of surprise, embarrassment, and ecstasy -- it was the best orgasm of my entire life. The most powerful.
And the device turned off as soon as it happened.
I sat there panting for a second, the only sound in the room, unsure about moving until Brad said, "You can take it off, you know -- it's over now."
From inside the helmet, I replied, "I'm a little embarrassed." (I felt like Charlie Brown.)
"Dude," he said, "when are you gonna believe me? Every one of us..."
I removed the helmet. "I know. I know." Though now I could see the wet stain on the crotch of my pants.
As he took the helmet from me, he said, "So then, I woulda thought it was weird if you HADN'T cum." As he disconnected the device from the computer terminal, he continued talking. I was only half-listening, trying to figure out what to do about my pants. "Now, lemme show you how to sign-in and get you a locker."
I followed him when he left the room, deciding not to worry about it. Something inside me told me I could trust Brad. He was right - I had nothing to fear. The same thing had happened to all of them.
And if that were true, everything might be.
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