No Pain, No Gain
By Jeff Baker
It was never a good thing when someone called your name in this place.
Jim had been sitting on the weight bench after his morning workout, rubbing his aching arms and wiping his face with a towel, watching this huge dude lift who-knows-how-much in front of a bunch of the guys in the gym when he heard the voice: “Jim Yee. You are wanted. Immediately.”
There was no intercom but Jim heard the voice clearly. The small weight room was hot and sweaty but it could be a lot worse. He stood up and glanced out the big front windows. The usual. Fire in the sky, brimstone on the ground, the stench of death everywhere.
Jim showed up at the door to the back room. It opened and a shadowy figure stood in the doorway and grinned. The teeth glistened and hurt Jim’s eyes to look at.
“We have a client for you, Mister Yee,” it said in a voice like breaking bones. “He wants much the same deal we gave you. Good looks, muscular build. You merely have to get him to sign this.” The figure held out a printed one-page contract.
“In blood.” Jim said.
“Ballpoint pen will suffice,” the figure said.
“I better get some clothes,” Jim said.
“Unnecessary,” the figure said. “Your client will like you just the way you are. You’re his type.” It grinned broader. Jim felt cold. He glanced at one of the mirrored walls of the gym. He was young, dark, lean and muscular and perpetually 23.
“When do I leave?” Jim asked folding the paper in the pocket of his black workout shorts which were the only thing he was wearing.
“Immediately,” the figure said, gesturing at him to enter the office. Jim stepped through the door.
It felt cold, the cold of hopelessness.
When Jim had first arrived there decades ago, he had expected to see cavern walls everywhere. Instead it looked like downtown Jakarta. He was usually in the weight room or in the dorm on the other side of the gym, catching a couple hours sleep. Jim was flying upward through a stone tunnel with sweltering heat. A moment later he was somewhere dark and temperate, standing on a wooden floor.
His eyes adjusted to the dim light. He was in a bedroom with a small desk lamp on a table at one side. There was a set of barbells on the floor and a calendar with a hunky model flexing and showing his muscular build. A young man was sitting cross-legged on the floor. He was skinny with thick glasses. There was an open book to one side and a pentagram drawn on the wooden floor. He stared at Jim. Jim faked a smile.
“I’m here in answer to your summons,” Jim said. “You want what I have; a body like this.” Jim tensed his muscles and showed his abs and pecs. “You can instantly be as good looking as I am.”
“Yeah?” The young man’s eyes were wide but he wasn’t scared. He reached out and touched Jim’s abs with his hand.
“Yeah,” Jim said. “I’m real. And you can be like this, but you pay…” Jim swallowed. “You pay a big price.”
“What do I do?” the young man said. “Sign my name? Dennis Scorley?”
“Yeah,” Jim said. “You just have to sign this contract.” Jim unfolded the paper from his pocket. “But you have to read through it first, or it won’t work.”
“Lemmie see,” Dennis said taking the contract over by the light. “I make this deal and I’m a hunk muscle boy immediately?”
“Immediately,” Jim said. He smiled. This was going better than he expected. And the room was nice and cool. And not humid.
Dennis looked up. “And when my, well time is up, you come collect me? Take me to…”
“Someone else collects,” Jim said. “It is a steep price.”
“Worth it,” Dennis said. “All those guys would be looking at me, wanting me. I’m signing.”
As Dennis fumbled around in a drawer for a pen, Jim took some time to look around the room. It looked familiar. Things hadn’t changed that much since he’d been living. He remembered having his whole future ahead of him.
Jim took a deep breath and grabbed the contract, tearing it up in his hands and stuffing the pieces back into his pocket. He felt a tugging at his gut.
“You don’t want a deal like this,” Jim said quickly. “It’s bad from start to finish. And you’ll be stuck in someplace with no hope, nothing but pain and hard work. Forever.”
Dennis stared openmouthed as Jim stepped backwards. A moment later, Jim was in the tunnel again, this time hurtling downward. He closed his eyes, remembering how cool the bedroom had been. How warm and wonderful life had been.
Jim stood in front of the figure at the office door. He was scared but he knew he’d made the right decision.
“Jim Yee, we misjudged you,” the figure said. “You will require more training before you are sent on assignment.” The figure’s eyes blazed a dull red.
“For now, as our usual holding area is filled, we will keep you occupied.” The figure smiled broadly, its teeth were sharp. Jim stared even though his eyes began to sting. “You will return to the weight bench and do reps. Nine-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand, nine-hundred and-ninety-nine reps to be exact.”
“Yessir,” Jim mumbled as he walked resignedly to the weight bench. He lay down, gripped the barbell with both hands and started lifting. He thought of Dennis, maybe getting a grip on his life and felt a little better.
“One,” he counted. “Two…Three…”
After the first hour, his arms began to ache.