This is Carl's Brain
Pounds Off by Carl Alves

Pounds Off

Wayne Helms looked at himself in the mirror and was disgusted with what he saw.  He was eighty, no ninety pounds overweight.  He had been fat for most of his life.  He remembered a period between ages ten and twelve when he was lean, but that ended after he stopped getting taller.  He wanted to do something about his weight problem, but he never had the will power to follow a diet.  He tried working out—once.  It was not for him.  And because of that, his waistline continued to expand.
In high school Wayne dated infrequently.  He occasionally found someone who would go out with him, and therefore there was no incentive for him to lose weight.  In college, he put on more pounds as a result of late night snacking.  It was not uncommon for him and his roommates to go on a midnight pizza run.
In his senior year of college, he met the woman who would later become his wife.  Sally was a pleasant enough looking woman with no distinguishing features.  She was, however, considerably slimmer than Wayne.  Sally exercised regularly and frequently dieted.  She hoped that at some point this would rub off on her husband, but it never did.  Even after their two children were born, she managed to maintain her figure.
During the ten years of their marriage, Sally made occasional comments about her husband no longer being able to fit into his old pants.  Sometimes she suggested that it would be a good idea for Wayne to join a gym, or that they convert their basement into a workout area.  But these suggestions did not sink into Wayne’s head.  He never seriously thought about reducing his waistline, until one evening when Wayne came on to his wife.  He made numerous attempts to be amorous, but she continually rejected him.  When he asked her what was wrong, she told him that she still loved him, but was no longer attracted to him.
Those words crushed him.  He finally became serious about shedding some pounds.  He tried numerous diet plans, but after fifteen months he was still at his original weight.  He had occasional success, losing a few pounds here and there, but he invariably put them back on.  He tried all of the major weight-loss programs, the Atkins diet, and numerous crash diets, but they did not work for one reason:  he lacked will power.  After not having sex with his wife for over six months, Wayne was desperate.
One day he heard an advertisement on the Howard Stern radio show and knew that it was for him.  Pounds Off.  It was such an inviting name.  They absolutely guaranteed that you would lose your desired weight if you followed their program or you would get a full refund.  They offered a hands-on approach with constant supervision.  “If you are frustrated with other diet programs, then it’s time you call us and take those pounds off.”  Wayne scrambled to find a pen and paper.  He wrote down the phone number.
Wayne called the number after devouring an Italian hoagie during his lunch break.  The receptionist asked when he would like to make an appointment to meet a weight-loss consultant.  The sooner the better, she urged.  Wayne had almost an hour after he was finished work and before he was supposed to take his oldest son for a dental appointment.  The receptionist told him that would be enough time.  It was set.
He had some difficulty concentrating during the afternoon.  He constantly thought about the promises made by Pounds Off.  He was confident that this program would work.  He would lose the weight and then his wife would once again be attracted to him.
Wayne worked as a computer analyst at an insurance company.  He had very little physical activity at work, mostly just sitting in front of the computer all day long.  In addition to the healthy lunch that Sally packed for him, he snacked frequently at work.  Sometimes he would snack on a bag of chips, a large bag not a snack pack.  Other times he would eat a hoagie or a cheesesteak or an order of hot wings.  It occurred to him that this unhealthy eating would have to come to a halt once he joined Pounds Off.
As he drove to the Pounds Off campus using the directions that the receptionist provided, he was excited about how much better his relationship with Sally would be after he lost the weight.  But he also felt trepidation.  Would he really be able to go through with this?  His will was weak; there was no doubt in his mind about that.  But he was running out of options.  If it were not for the kids, he wondered if Sally would have left him by now.
Wayne pulled into the parking lot.  The building looked almost too cheerful with its bright blue and green colors.  But Wayne had gone this far and he was not about to turn back now.
He walked into the building unsure of himself.  Once inside he saw numerous smiling faces and physically fit people.  He was immediately greeted by a cheery young woman wearing a denim shirt and short skirt.  “Hi.  I am Michelle Billick.  You must by Wayne Helms.”  She extended her hand.
Reluctantly he shook it.  “How do you know my name?” he asked.
Not phased by the question, Michelle replied, “I could tell by your voice.  We spoke earlier.”
“Oh,” said Wayne.
“Welcome to Pounds Off,” said Michelle.  “Let me tell you, Mr. Helms, you are making the best decision of your life by going on the Pounds Off plan.”
Wayne stepped back and put his right hand up.  “Hey, I haven’t signed up for anything, yet.”
“You will,” said Michelle, maintaining her beaming smile.  “After you hear what we have to offer, I am sure you will join.  We are like a family here.  I was once a customer just like you.”  Michelle reached into her purse and pulled out a picture.   “This is what I looked like before Pounds Off.”  She showed him a picture of what she looked like seventy-five pounds ago.
“Hmm,” said Wayne.  “That’s pretty impressive.”
“And we can do the same for you,” said Michelle.  “Now if you follow me, I will introduce you to one of our lifestyle consultants.”
Wayne followed her looking around the suite in wonder.  It was lavishly decorated.  Numerous paintings and sculptures adorned the hallways.  All were bright and full of life.  Breakout rooms lined the hallway.  Each had a desk, a table, and a physician’s weight scale.   Some rooms had tread mills linked to monitoring equipment.  They passed by a large room with glass windows.  Inside people were working out in an impressive looking gym.  It contained treadmills, rowing machines, exercise bikes, stair climbers and a variety of weight lifting equipment.
He followed Michelle past the gym through a long hallway and then turned right.  There were more breakout rooms lining the hall.  She led Wayne to one at the far end of the building.  Inside was a man wearing a pin stripe shirt and a red tie.
“Mr. Helms, this is your lifestyle coordinator Tom Baxter.”
“Hello, Mr. Helms,” said Baxter.  “I am glad that you will be joining the Pounds Off family.”
“Wow, you guys are awfully presumptuous,” said Wayne.
“Not presumptuous,” said Baxter.  “Just confident.  You see, at Pounds Off we can do what others can not do.  We deliver results, guaranteed.  Knowing that, why would you not want to join?”
Wayne’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.  He had no reply.
“Let us commence,” said Tom.  Michelle Billick said goodbye to Wayne.  He smiled as she walked away, imagining what was underneath her short skirt.  As if reading his mind, Tom Baxter said, “That is what Pounds Off is capable of doing.  Now Wayne, I would like you to remove your shoes and step on the scale.”   Wayne did as he was told.  He was almost shocked when the scale read two hundred sixty five pounds.
He scratched his head.  “Damn.  I didn’t think I was that heavy.”  Baxter next measured Wayne’s height.  It was five feet, nine inches.
“What would you say is your ideal weight, Mr. Helms?”
Wayne stepped off of the scale, looking down at the floor.  He shook his head dejectedly and shrugged.  “I don’t know.  What would you say?”
“I would suggest one hundred seventy pounds.  Now that number could vary depending upon how much muscle mass you obtain.”
“Muscle mass?”  Wayne laughed.  “I don’t think I have any.”
“Perhaps not now,” said Baxter assuringly.  “But under our plan you will, if you so desire.”
“You think so?” asked Wayne
“Sure.  Many of our clients start off with physiques similar to yours, but wind up with a well-chiseled frame.”
“Yeah, I think I would like that.”
“Then, that is the type of plan we will gear you towards,” said Baxter.  “I need to know what your diet consists of.   Take me through what you would eat during a typical day.”
Wayne did not see the point of lying if he was going to make this plan work.  So he told Tom that he normally started off with coffee and donuts unless he could coax his wife into making him bacon and scrambled eggs.  Wayne told him how he would eat the sandwich that his wife packed, but also frequently ate cheesesteaks, hamburgers or pizza in addition to the sandwich.  Wayne could see Baxter frown.  Dinner was often a substantial meal.  His wife was a good cook and he often had seconds.  Finally Wayne said that it was common for him to eat a candy bar or a bag of chips during the course of the day.  Cheetos were his favorites.
“Well, Mr. Helms, that will have to change.  We have a strict diet regimen that you will have to follow religiously.  The diet consists of very lean foods and there is absolutely no snacking permitted. “
Wayne grimaced as if he were being whipped.  This was worse than he thought.  It was going to be difficult for him to give up some of the fatty, greasy foods that he craved.  How much was that worth to him?
“We will start you off on a diet plan on your next visit.  An important component of the plan is frequent exercise.  In order to enroll you have to maintain a regimented exercise program.  Do you currently own exercise equipment such as a treadmill or an exercise bike?”
“No,” replied Wayne.
“Are you currently a member of a gym?”
“We have several options for individuals in your situation,” said Baxter in a businesslike tone.  “You must either own your own equipment or have a membership at a gym.  We sell equipment at wholesale cost.  We also have our own gym at this facility, which you probably noticed on the way over here.”
“Yes, I saw it,” said Wayne.  “It looked pretty impressive.  But look, I really don’t like working out that much.”
“You’ll learn to like it.  Many members of the Pounds Off family have similar feelings when they first start, but exercise becomes a part of their life blood.  I think many of your attitudes will change after you join.   Follow me.  I will give you a tour.”
Wayne followed Tom Baxter.  He saw people sweating profusely on the elliptical trainers and grunting with effort as they pumped iron.  He wondered if this could be him.  He could not picture it, but Baxter seemed so confident.  His wife would be impressed if they could get him to work out, something that she was never able to do.
When they returned to the breakout room, Wayne looked at his watch.  He would have to leave soon, but did not want to leave until he made a decision.   As if he could sense Wayne’s consternation, Baxter produced a series of documents.
“This is the contract that we make all of our customers sign when they join,” said Baxter.   “I will be right up front with you.  Our program is probably the most expensive in the market.  But we offer what no other company can offer and that is absolutely guaranteed results.  We charge forty dollars for each pound that you drop.  There is also a four hundred dollar, one time administrative fee.  But we offer a very hands on approach that no one else can match.  If you would like to join our gym, the cost is forty dollars a month.  Most participants go for this option because besides our state of the art equipment, they also enjoy the camaraderie of working out in our facility.  We view ourselves at Pounds Off as a family and emotional support is part of what will get you to your weight loss goals.  I’m not going to lie to you, the process is not easy.  But we only produce satisfied customers.  We have meetings twice a week.  One is a group session where you can share your experiences with the others.  And the other is one on one with me.  At this meeting, you will be weighed and your progress evaluated.”
“Wow, that is kind of steep,” said Wayne.
“I’ll give you a few minutes to think about it.”  Tom Baxter left the room.
Wayne skimmed the contract.  Forty dollars per pound was a lot of money, but if they could do what they claimed then it would be worth it.  Even the new wardrobe that he would have to buy would be worth it.   He wanted to be close to his wife again.  He wanted to be able to play with his children for more than a couple of minutes before getting tired.  It did not take him long to decide.
Almost as if reading his thoughts, Baxter walked back into the room and said, “So Mr. Helms have you made your decision?”
“Yes,” replied Wayne.  “I’m going for it.”
“This is perhaps the best decision that you have ever made.”  Baxter produced a pen and Wayne signed the documents in the appropriate locations.  He left feeling better about himself than he had in quite some time.

“Can you believe this?” asked Wayne.
Sally Helms smiled and kissed her husband on the cheek as he showed her old pants that were now too big.  After one month, Wayne dropped twenty five pounds.  His waist line dropped from a forty one inch to a thirty nine.
“This Pounds Off things is awesome,” said Wayne.  “I can’t believe how much weight I have already lost.  I’m ahead of schedule, you know.”
“I know,” said Sally matching her husband’s enthusiasm.  “I really had my doubts when you first started.  I thought that this was going to be like all of the other diets that you have tried in the past.  It was frustrating to see you lose a couple pounds and then put it right back on.  But I think I’m starting to believe in this one.”
“And the Pounds Off people are great.  They have been nothing but supportive.”
Sally hugged her husband and kissed him.  “I have an idea, Wayne.  Why don’t we go shop for some new clothes?”
“New clothes, hmm?  Do you think that might be too soon?  I wouldn’t want to jinx this.”
“You have to be confident.  It will work this time,” said Sally.
Wayne gave in.  “I could probably use a few pairs of pants for work.  Maybe I will buy some jeans as well.”
Wayne and Sally went to the mall that afternoon.  He bought a pair of Tommy Hilfiger pants that he would not have been able to fit into since he was in college.  He was getting compliments at work.  He felt better about himself, but he knew that he was still overweight and had a long road to travel before reaching his ideal weight.

Three weeks after Wayne’s jubilant trip to the mall with his wife, he nervously went to work.  The entire day he was on edge.  Today he was going to be officially weighed at Pounds Off.  They were adamant that weight targets had to be met at each weigh-in.  And he was sure that he was not going to meet this one.
The first month was fairly easy for him.  He had a great deal of excess weight to lose and was energized by the people at Pounds Off.  He joined the Pounds Off gym and actually worked out regularly.  He wanted to quit working out initially.  The first time he was on a stair climber, he had to stop after five minutes.  He felt like he was going to die.  Tom Baxter walked into the gym, sat Wayne down and gave him a pep talk.  Wayne did another fifteen minutes on the stair climber with Baxter at his side giving him occasional words of encouragement.
With his wife’s help he was able to stick to his diet.  Even his kids thought that it was neat that their dad was losing weight.
But the second month proved to be considerably more difficult.  His old lack of will power problem began to creep up on him.  He was so hungry all of the time and began to eat snacks at work.  He would make an excuse to leave the house so he could pass by the nearest convenience store and grab a candy bar or a bag of Combos.  In the past three weeks he lost two pounds.  He lied to his wife about the progress or lack thereof that he was making, while she continued to encourage him.
Throughout the weigh-in day, Wayne frequently snapped at his co-workers.  Normally he joked around at work, but today his tension was apparent to everybody around him.  His department’s secretary asked if something was bothering him, but he rudely blew her off.
He considered not showing up at Pounds Off weigh-in.  He did not want to disappoint Tom and the others. What were they going to do, yell at him?  He was the one who was paying for the program.  He could understand that they would be annoyed since he was paying by the pound which meant that there profit would be less.  But they were the ones who guaranteed results and right now it was not happening.
When he arrived at the facility, he was greeted by Michelle the receptionist.  She told him to wait until Baxter was ready to meet with him.  Wayne’s stomach was undergoing a revolution while he waited.
He smiled nervously when Baxter greeted him.  “How are you doing Wayne?”
“Uh, I’ve been better.   I think I’m feeling a little ill.”  He was hoping that feigning illness would be enough to get him out of going on the scale.
“Sorry to hear that.  Maybe you should rest when you go home.”  Baxter flipped Wayne’s chart.  “Okay, Wayne, after week seven your targeted weight is two hundred thirty two pounds.  So far you have met all of your targets.  Please step on the scale.”  He was actually starting to feel sick over the dread that he was feeling.  “Is there a problem?”
“Um, no,” said Wayne.  He took off his shoes and was about to step on the scale when it occurred to him that if he took off his shirt and socks, he would weigh even less.  He was not sure that this would be enough to make weight, but felt it was worth a try.
Wayne stepped on the scale.  Tom set the balance moving the fifty pound weight block four times so that it was set to two hundred.  He then moved the smaller weight.  Wayne’s heart raced as it moved up the scale, fifteen, twenty, twenty five, thirty and still going.  He gulped when he saw it hit thirty five before finally settling at thirty six and a half.
“Step down,” said Baxter.  His voice was icy.  “Mr. Helms, I can not express to you how disappointed I am.  Four and a half pounds over.  Very disappointing.  As per the terms of your contract, we will have to take measures.”
“Huh?  What are you talking about?”
“In the contract it clearly states that Pounds Off will take measures to help you lose weight if you do not hit your targets.  It is further delineated in the Pounds Off manual.”
Wayne was left speechless as Baxter picked up the phone and dialed a number.  He did not remember reading anything like this in the contract.  Then again he did not read the contract very carefully.
In less than a minute, two very large men entered the room.  Wayne was immediately frightened.  They looked like two mafia enforcers.  “Can you please escort Mr. Helms to the containment facility?”
“Yes, sir,” said the man with the black hair.  Each grabbed one of Wayne’s arms and dragged him out of the room.
“Containment facility?” he shrieked.  “Let me go.”
Baxter walked behind Wayne and his escorts.  One of the men opened a door which led down a long, narrow hallway.  Halfway down, they opened another door.  Wayne looked in horror at a suite that contained nine feet by twelve feet cells.  It looked like a prison.
One of his captors opened up the doors to one of the cells while the other held his right arm.
“What are you guys doing?” Wayne asked helplessly.
They rudely shoved him into the cell and locked the door.  The two large men left the containment facility leaving Tom Baxter behind.  “You will be kept inside of this faculty until you meet your designated weight,” said Baxter in a measured voice.  “During this time you will be given water and a minimal of provisions.  Mr. Helms, we take these weigh-ins very seriously and hope that you will to.  Hopefully this will serve as a lesson as you continue on the program.”
Wayne grabbed the iron bars and yelled, “You can’t keep me here.  This isn’t a jail and I didn’t break any law.  You people are crazy, that’s it.”
Baxter smiled politely.  “I assure you that we are not crazy.  And the actions that we are taking are completely within our rights.”
“But I have a wife and kids,” Wayne protested.  “When I don’t show up they’re going to worry their heads off.”
“We will contact your wife and explain the situation.  I am sure she will understand.”
“What about my work?” questioned Wayne.  “I need to go to work.”
“If you are not prepared to leave by tomorrow, then we will contact them as well.  We deal with a variety of employers and they are usually quite understanding.”
Wayne shook his head.  “This is nuts.”
“Mr. Helms, it is time to get serious about your diet.  If you will not do so on your own, then we will help you.  Now, I must be leaving.  Good day.”
Wayne was alone.  He shouted for help, but there was no one else in the containment facility to hear his call.  He had no television or radio or anything else to divert his attention.  Wayne wondered how he got stuck in this trap.  He should have read the contract’s fine print.
Fifteen minutes after Baxter left, he heard a voice coming from speakers located throughout the containment facility.  It was  a soothing female voice.  He was glad to have this voice keep him company.  But when he heard what the voice was saying, he changed his mind.  The woman’s voice started naming foods, both brand names and generic items.  And for each food item she stated the amount of calories, fat and cholesterol that it had.
The voice went on for hours.  It began to drive him crazy.  There was no way for him to tune out the voice that was droning from up above.
Some time later on Tom Baxter entered the containment facility.  Wayne drank four glasses of water from the water cooler in his cell, but still had not eaten anything.  It was well past the time that he would have eaten dinner under normal circumstances and he was famished.
“We have contacted your wife to inform her of the situation,” said Baxter.
“What did Sally say?”
“She seemed somewhat distraught, but I am sure she will understand,” Tom replied.  “If you will, please step on the metal platform at the far left corner of your unit.”
“What’s that?” asked Wayne.
“It is a scale.”
Wayne stepped on the platform and Baxter read the digital readout at the front of the cell.  “Two hundred and thirty four.  You are still two pounds over.”
“That’s not bad,” said Wayne.  “Now let me the hell out of here.”
“I am afraid that I can not do that yet until you have reached your target.  Good day, Mr. Helms.”
Wayne looked in despair as Baxter walked away.  He could not believe that they were leaving him here.  He looked at his watch.  It was now nine thirty.  He was hungry and he wanted to leave and see his family.
Shortly after Baxter left, he heard the same female voice giving off the fat content of various food.
Three hours later an unnamed guard walked into his cell and brought him a granola bar.  “Can you bring me something else?” Wayne pleaded with the guard.  “Can you get me a sandwich or a slice of pizza.”
“Sorry, sir, these are the rules.”
The guard left and Wayne greedily ate the granola bar as his stomach growled for more food.  He couldn’t ever remember being this hungry.
He slept fitfully on the cot located in his cell.  It was difficult to ignore the protests from his stomach.  At three in the morning, he opened his left eye to see a woman with short brown hair and glasses standing outside.
“Good morning, Mr. Helms,” she said.
He grunted something incomprehensible.
“If you are feeling up to it, I would like to ask you to step onto the platform.”
Groggily, Wayne rose from the cot.  “I wasn’t sleeping well anyway.”  Wayne stepped on the metal scale.  His shoulders slumped and his eyes closed.  The woman’s voice woke him up.
“It appears that you have reached your target and you are free to go.”
“Really?  That’s great.  Thank God.”
She opened the door and he left the facility as quickly as possible.  Fifteen minutes later, he was never so happy to be home.

“Why are you still going through with this?” asked Sally as Wayne stepped off of the scale in their bathroom.  He did this frequently during the course of a day.
Wayne shrugged.  “I didn’t like being put in that jail cell either, but I am getting results.  You have to admit that.”
“Yeah, but at what cost?” asked Sally.
Wayne had been following the diet and exercise program closely since spending the night in the Pounds Off containment facility.  He did not want that to happen again.  The following week, he hit his target and exceeded it by a pound.  Wayne had five more days before the next weigh-in and was already fretting over it.
“Well, these people are serious.  They demand results.  You have to admit that I look a lot better than I have in a long time.”
Sally gave a shy smile.  “You do.  I just worry what’s going to happen if you don’t hit their target again.”
“I’m sure that first time was just to scare me,” said Wayne.  “And believe me, it did.  Now, everything will be fine.”
But on the day of the next checkpoint, Wayne was keeping his fingers crossed.  Two days earlier he was at an office party where he gorged on six slices of pepperoni pizza.  Since then he tried to exercise hard and eat little, but as of that morning he still had not undone the damage.
He jogged during his lunch break, but was so hungry that he could not stop himself from buying a sausage sandwich from a street vendor.  With every bite he took, he knew that he was hurting his chances.
His hands were shaking when he arrived at Pounds Off.  He had to be at two hundred twenty three pounds.  Tom Baxter told him to step on the scale and Wayne groaned when it balanced two pounds higher than his target.  “Shit!” Wayne shouted.
“Mr. Helms, this is a serious violation,” said Baxter sternly.  “I hoped that you would have learned the last time, but unfortunately you continue to be weak.  And for that we must discipline you.”
Wayne’s eyes were wide with terror.  “Not the containment facility.”
“No,” said Baxter.  “Apparently that does not work with you.  We will try something different.”
Wayne gulped.  He hoped that this punishment would be less severe.
The same two large men that escorted Wayne previously, appeared.  As they led him away, he wondered if they ever smiled.  They led him to a room that had exercise equipment hooked up to so many wires that they looked like spaghetti.
Wayne was relieved.  “You’re going to make me workout?”
“It is not so simple,” said Baxter.  “You are going to work out on each of them, five in all, for a period of a half hour.  You will have a five minute rest in between.  Each of these machines is linked to an electrical generator.  If you drop below a certain speed it will provide a low level of voltage that will surge throughout your body.  You will feel pain and discomfort, but no real harm.”
“You guys are all heart,” said Wayne.
“Good luck,” said Baxter.  “We will notify your wife that you will be coming home late.”
A petite woman standing behind Tom told Wayne to step on the treadmill.  “No way,” said Wayne.
“I would do as she suggests,” said Baxter.  “Otherwise you will breach your contract.  It is for your own good Mr. Helms.  We all have the same goals and that is to help you achieve a healthy body and lifestyle.
Wayne shook his head and stepped onto the treadmill, considering the possibility of quitting Pounds Off.
The woman connected wires to his wrist, chest, neck and other body parts.  “We are starting…now,” she said.
This surprised Wayne and before he was able to start running on the treadmill, he let out a yelp as a surge of electricity went through his body.  “What the hell was that?”  he asked.
“As I explained to you before, Mr. Helms, low levels of voltage will be sent into your body if you do not maintain a minimal velocity level on the machines,” said Baxter.
“Ahh,” yelled Wayne as he got shocked again.
“If I were you, I would worry less about the mechanics of the system and start moving quickly.”
Wayne glared at him but ran faster.  He had already been shocked twice and did not want it to happen again.
“After you complete this workout,” said Baxter, “I have little doubt that you will be well below your target that you failed to meet today.”
“We don’t have to go to these extremes for me to lose…Ahh,” said Wayne.  As he was talking to Baxter, his speed dropped and he was shocked.
“Pay attention to what you are doing, Mr. Helms.  Do not pay attention to me.”
“You guys are friggin’ crazy,” said Wayne.  “You know that.  You’re nuts.   You can’t do this to people.”
“We can and do.  And after you are finished with our program, you will be thankful for what we have done.  Most members of the Pounds Off family join our maintenance program after they have reached their ideal weight.”
Wayne continued bickering with Tom.  He would stop talking whenever he got shocked.  Baxter stayed with him until he was finished his thirty minutes on the treadmill.  He was sweating profusely and breathing heavily.  After the woman took off the wires, he dropped his hands to his knees and sucked in air.
Wayne started to approach Baxter with a scowl, when he said, “I would conserve your energy, Mr. Helms.  You have a five minute rest period.  Use it wisely.  This will be the most rigorous workout that you have ever endured.”
Wayne plopped himself onto a nearby bench.   He was already exhausted.  How was he going to finish?  He leaned his head against the wall and breathed deeply.
Baxter handed him a glass of water.  Wayne drank it quickly.  “Can I have another?” he asked.  Tom nodded and got him another glass of water.
The five minutes were over quickly.  The petite woman grabbed him by the wrist and took him to the exercise bike.  She attached the wires and probes and said, “Start peddling.”
Wayne did not want to get caught unprepared and peddled hard immediately.  “I will see you later, Mr. Helms,” said Baxter walking out of the room.  “At Pounds Off we teach difficult lessons.  Please remember this the next time you want to eat six slices of pepperoni pizza.”
“How did you know…” Wayne stopped short when he was hit by a shot of electricity.  He had to stay focused.  By the time he looked up again, Baxter was gone.
Wayne wanted to conserve his energy, so he slowed down.  He was already tired.  If he was going to finish this exercise routine, he would have to go slower.  Since he did not want to get shocked, he reduced his pace to its lowest level before he felt the surge of electricity.  This was the minimum speed that he would have to maintain.
Wayne kept steady until the last five minutes.  Towards the end, he began to huff and puff and gasp for air.  His face was an ugly shade of purple.
Wayne was shocked three times near the end of the bike workout.  He barely had enough energy to get off the seat when he was done.  The woman handling the wires gave him a bottle of Gatorade.  He drank slowly, but still spilled most of it onto his shirt.
His next apparatus was the rowing machine.  Wayne tried to concentrate on using his arms for this exercise.  For the first time in his life, he had built some strength in his arms.  He was shocked only a few times.
Within minutes of his stair climber work out, Wayne thought he was going to pass out.  He was zapped regularly.  He could barely achieve the minimum speed.  His body was numb from pain and exertion.  Several times he nearly stopped, but as he came close to stopping, the amount of voltage supplied by the wires increased.  The pain and threat of pain was the only thing that kept him going.
When Wayne was finished with the stair climber, he fell to the floor and vomited.  The woman monitoring him helped him sit on a stool.  She allowed him a few extra minutes of rest, helping him sip Gatorade every few seconds.
On the final apparatus, the elliptical trainer, Wayne thought that he was going to die.  He was not being melodramatic and really thought this.  His face and body felt like they were on fire.  His lips and cheeks were swollen.  His eyes were bloodshot.  His legs throbbed and his feet no longer had sensation.
He could not keep track of how many times he had been shocked.  His mind was as frazzled as his body.  Twice more he vomited, however, he did not stop.
The last thing that Wayne remembered was the woman telling him that he needed two more minutes to complete the exercise.
Hours later he woke up in the hospital.  He had been severely dehydrated.  He woke up and saw Sally.  He could barely make out the words that she was saying.  His body still throbbed.  Wayne tried to elevate his head, but lapsed into unconsciousness.
A couple hours later, Wayne woke up.  He was feeling better.  “How are you?” his wife asked.
“Better I guess,” he replied.  “I still feel like hell.”
She handed him a cup of water and he sipped it slowly.  “Wayne, you have to quit this program.  It’s not worth it if you’re going to wind up in the hospital.”
“I guess not,” said Wayne.  “They practice tough love at that place.  But I bet I lost a lot of weight tonight.”
“Wayne, you had to go to the hospital, for Christ’s sakes.  Is it supposed to be some consolation that you lost weight?  There are easier ways to do this.”
“But I’m actually losing weight,” said Wayne.
Sally started losing her temper.  “I want you to quit.”
“I don’t know.  They keep on bringing up this contract.  It might not be easy.”
“Screw their contract, I want you to quit.”

A week later, Wayne still was on the program.  For one thing, it would be easy to meet the target at the next weigh-in since he lost ten pounds during the evening of his hospital stay.  And despite all of this turmoil, he still enjoyed the fact that he was much slimmer than he had been in a long time.  He would have to be diligent about meeting the weekly targets.  He was sure that he could do that after last week’s episode.  So despite his wife’s protest, he did not quit.
He made two hundred twenty pounds easily the next week and was on pace to reach two sixteen the following week.  But Wayne’s hunger was constant and the meager portions of food that he ate never satisfied him.
It was a Saturday afternoon and Wayne was starving.  He told Sally that he was going to buy an ink cartridge for their computer.  But instead he stopped at Vinnie’s Pizza and bought an Italian hoagie.  It was okay, since he was ahead of schedule.
Wayne drove to the back of the shopping center.  He could not bring the food home or Sally would yell at him.   He did not want to eat the hoagie where people could see him.  Wayne closed his eyes and took a big bite into the bread, lettuce, tomato, salami and ham that made up the sandwich.   He took another bite savoring every second of it.  When he was this hungry, eating food was better than sex for him.
After his third bite, he was startled by a high pitched screech.  It was an SUV driving right at him.  It stopped just in front of his car.  Two men with rifles jumped out.
“Put the hoagie down, Mr. Helms,” yelled one of the men.
“What the hell?” he muttered.  Wayne recognized the two men as employees at Pounds Off.
The first gunman, a tall black man, walked towards Wayne’s vehicle with his gun pointed at Wayne.  The second gunman, a stocky red haired man wearing sunglasses, stood near the SUV.  “Put the sandwich down,” said the black man calmly.
“Fine,” said Wayne.  “I will.  Just relax.  Man, you guys are totally out of control.  I was just eating a hoagie.  There’s no need to shoot me.”  Wayne placed the hoagie on the passenger side of the car.
“Now step out of the vehicle,” the first man shouted.
Wayne opened up the driver’s side door and walked onto the asphalt.  “Is all of this necessary?”
“Yes it is, sir,” replied the red-haired gunman.  He opened up the rear door of the SUV.  “Please step inside of our vehicle.”
“Why?” asked Wayne.  “Where are you taking me?”
“We are taking you to see Mr. Baxter,” said the second man.
They drove to the Pounds Off headquarters where Baxter was waiting in his office.  The two men escorted Wayne into the office.  The red head placed the partially eaten hoagie on the desk.
“Mr. Helms, why must you persist on testing our patience?  You agreed to follow the diet plan that we set for you.  Nowhere on the diet does it say that you can eat a fatty, greasy Italian hoagie.”
“I know,” said Wayne.  “But I was ahead…”
“No buts,” said Baxter cutting him off.  “We have set your diet the way we have for a reason.  I was hoping that you would get serious and that we wouldn’t have to resort to punishment.”
Wayne’s face turned red.  “Well fuck your plan.  I quit.”
“I would not advise that, Mr. Helms,” said Tom.  “Surely you have read the stipulation in your contract regarding prematurely failing to meet the agreements set forth in the document.”
“Well, let me educate you.  In the event that you do not fulfill your part of the bargain, you owe Pounds Off a sum of fifty thousand dollars.  In the event that you do not have this money, and I know that you do not, we will seize your bank accounts and garnish your wages until you can pay off the sum.”
“You bastards,” said Wayne.  “Let me see this contract.”
Baxter reached into a drawer and pulled out the document.  Wayne looked at it.  Carefully and saw the small print.
“Are you satisfied?” asked Baxter.
“Good.”  Tom gestured to the two men.  “Put him in the containment facility.”

Five hours later, Wayne was released and taken to his car.  When he explained to his wife what had happened, she was livid.
“They come after you with guns and drag you out of your car,” she said frantically.  “And now you tell me that if you do not finish the plan, we have to pay them fifty grand.  Well let me tell you Wayne, I have had enough.  You’re going to meet all of their weight requirements and follow this thing through or we’re done.  With all that is riding on this thing, if you don’t have the will power to stick to your diet, then I’m taking the kids and leaving.  Got it?”
“But Sally,” said Wayne near tears.
“No buts.  You either do this thing or I’m out of here.”

Wayne could not believe his wife’s threat.  She wouldn’t really leave him, would she?  He was trying really hard and had already come so far.   He expected support and leniency from Sally and was not getting any.
Four days after he was held at gunpoint, he successfully made weight, with two pounds to spare.  The following week he barely hit two hundred seven pounds, which was his target.  It was getting increasingly difficult for Wayne to lose those extra pounds as he got closer to his ideal weight.
One thing that helped him was that he was in much better shape now.  Before, he had a very difficult time doing a complete workout.  Now he was able to go for an hour without over-exerting himself.  He was much stronger than he had been.  His bench press increased from a pathetic seventy five pounds to one hundred forty five pounds.  When he flexed in the mirror, he was actually able to see muscles.
But eating…that was another story.  Every night, he lay awake thinking about food.  On a couple of occasions, he snacked at work.  But now he stuck to pretzels instead of chips.  He had not eaten a cheese steak for nearly a month, which was the longest stretch in his adult life.
Three weeks after the gun incident, Wayne thought that he would be fine.  But he ate too much salt on the day of his weigh-in.  He was shocked to see the scale at two hundred and three, one pound over his target weight.  His heart nearly dropped to the floor.
He looked at Baxter pleadingly, but Tom returned a cold glare.  “Mr. Helms, why must you force us to go down this road again?  I figured the threat that your wife would end your marriage would have been sufficient, but you still persist in trying our patience.”
“How do you know about that?” Wayne asked furiously.
“That is not relevant,” said Baxter.  “What is relevant is that you have failed once more.”
Wayne hung his head in shame.  Meanwhile Baxter picked up the phone.  He spoke into the receiver, but Wayne could not hear what he said.
“W-what are you going to do to me?” asked Wayne.
“Nothing to you, Mr. Helms.  However, your kids will have to pay the price this time.”
Wayne lifted his head suddenly.  “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Relax, Mr. Helms.  No harm will come to them.  However, they will be attending a boot camp for the next two weeks.”
“What?” asked Wayne.  He got the keys out of his pocket and reached for his jacket.
“Don’t bother,” said Baxter.  “They have already been picked up.  I anticipated that you would fail again and made the necessary preparations.  Your children have already been picked up.”
“You son of a bitch,” said Wayne.  He shook violently and spit came out of his mouth as he spoke.  “I hope you burn in hell.”
Wayne started crying as he left the office.  He felt like ripping Baxter’s throat out when he saw the man’s look of pity.  Instead Wayne went home, defeated.

The reason that he joined Pounds Off was so that he could get intimate with his wife again.  And now she and the kids were gone.  Sally would not speak to him after they had been taken away to boot camp.  She packed her bags and left that night.  He was all alone, his life in shambles.
After his children returned from boot camp, they were so angry that they would not speak with him either.  Baxter was right, they were unharmed, but their resentment would take a long time to mend.
Wayne continued with the program because of the fifty thousand that he would owe Pounds Off and the hope that if he finished, Sally would take him back.  He thought this was his best chance for reconciliation.
The first week after Sally left, he was too depressed to eat and reached his target easily.  In the second week, he started eating again.  With his wife no longer home, his eating habits got worse.  He did not know how to cook and therefore relied on frozen dinners, or eating out, which did not help his cause.  It should not have come as a surprise to Wayne when he was over his target weight of one hundred ninety four pounds.
Tom Baxter told him to get off of the scale after the weigh-in.  He paced around the room with a snarl on his face.
“I have never had to go to such extreme measures with another customer.  You are a disgrace, Mr. Helms.  I can see why your wife left you.  I tried to be civil with you, but you leave me with no option.   Today, Mr. Helms, you have missed your target for the last time.”
Wayne’s mouth hung open as he shook his head desperately.  “You’re not going to kill me?”
“No, I am not.  But after what I am going to do, you might wish you were dead.”
Wayne rushed to the door, but was intercepted by four men.  They tackled him to the floor.  One of the men produced a pair of handcuffs and apprehended Wayne.
They took him through the rear exit of the building and into another building located across the street.  They brought him inside of a damp room.
“You love to eat,” said Baxter, “and you can not seem to control yourself.  Well, in that case, I am going to make you do what you love so much.  I am going to make you eat more food than you can handle.”
They tied Wayne to a chair with a rope and then left him.  Nearly an hour later, Baxter and his entourage returned.  Wayne’s senses were alerted when he smelled greasy food.  He could smell pizza and hamburgers, maybe even a steak.
“Mr. Helms, we have brought some food with us,” said Baxter.  “And you are going to eat it—all of it.”
“Look, I’m really not that hungry,” said Wayne.
They started Wayne off with a roast beef sandwich which he finished easily.  They provided him with a liter bottle of soda to drink with his food.  After this they produced a sausage, meatball, and pepperoni pizza.  By the third slice, he was slowing down.  After finishing the fourth slice he was stuffed.
“Look, guys I can’t eat any more.”
“What’s wrong, Mr. Helms,” said Baxter.  “This is the food that you love.  You sneak it whenever you can.  You eat it at work even though it goes against your diet.  And you will eat it now.”
One of the men gripped Wayne’s shoulder tightly and suggested that he continue eating.  So Wayne dug into the next slice and the next and the next.  By the time he was finished, Wayne was feeling ill.
He groaned when Baxter put a hamburger in front of him.  “Look I can’t eat that.  I’m going to get sick.”
“Well, perhaps you should have thought about that before you showed up overweight, again.  Eat it.”
A man with a large scar on his cheek stood in front of Wayne.  He pounded his fist into his hand.  Wayne did not want to find out what would happen if he refused.  Wayne bit into the all beef hamburger.  It was loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, mustard and ketchup.  His hands shook as he ate and his face turned an unhealthy shade of green.  He shoved the last bite into his mouth but could not put it down.  His jaws were sore from chewing.
“Finish it,” said Baxter.
Wayne shook his head.
One of the men grabbed Wayne’s face and forced his jaws to move up and down in a chewing motion.  “Swallow,” he yelled at Wayne.  Wayne swallowed and shortly thereafter threw up what he just ate.
“That’s disgusting,” said Baxter.
“Please let me go,” said Wayne.
“I’m afraid not.  You’re not done yet.”  Baxter produced a plate of fries.  After the first few it was obvious that Wayne physically could no longer eat.  Baxter took away the fries.
One of the men said, “Open your mouth.”
Still in fear, Wayne did what he was told.  Baxter placed a large funnel into Wayne’s mouth.  Two minutes later one of his captors brought a heated can of soup.  He poured the contents into Wayne’s mouth slowly so that he would not choke.  After the soup, they poured soda into the funnel.  This was followed by another can of soup.  When they were finished, they removed the funnel and Wayne fell to the floor.

Wayne turned his body around so that he could tan his back.  Before Pounds Off, he rarely went to the beach.  He was self-conscious because he was so overweight and being in the hot sun made him uncomfortable.  But now he had no problem taking off his shirt and displaying his new slim, trim, rock hard body.  He weighed a lean and muscular one hundred sixty two pounds.  Every day he spent a few minutes looking at himself in the mirror.  He had even developed an impressive six pack.  Pounds Off changed his life and this was the beginning of a new chapter.
Wayne could barely even look at food for the next few weeks after Baxter forced him to eat as punishment.  The scent of it made him feel ill.  He ate sparingly since then.  He had no problem meeting the requirements at any of the other weigh-ins and finished the program two weeks ahead of schedule.
He called Sally after graduating from Pounds Off.  She seemed unimpressed.  When he suggested that they get together, she flatly refused him.  He could visit the children when he wanted to, but she was not interested in rekindling their relationship.  She told him to get on with his life because she already had.  She suggested that he get a divorce lawyer, because she had already contacted one.
Although deeply hurt, Wayne decided to take her advice.  If she was no longer interested in him, then he was left with little choice but to move on.  He began to go out with co-workers for happy hour and out to bars and night clubs on the weekend.  He was amazed that women were actually interested in talking to him.
“Excuse me,” Wayne heard a female voice.  Wayne rose from the towel he had been laying on.  He saw an attractive blond woman in her early thirties wearing a string bikini.  “Would you mind put some sun block on my back?”
“Sure thing,” replied Wayne.  Wayne gently applied the lotion.  Nobody had ever asked him to do this before.
When he was done the woman turned around and thanked him.  “You know, you look really familiar.  I can’t quite place it, but I know you.”  Since his look had changed so dramatically, he expressed his doubt.  “Did you go to Rockwell High?”  Wayne told her that he did.  “What year did you graduate?”
“1990,” said Wayne.
“So did I,” she said.  “Wait I know who you are.  You’re that guy Wayne.  People used to…”
She stopped herself, but Wayne finished her thought.  “Make fun of me.”
“Yeah, they were a bunch of assholes anyway,” she said.  “I’m Stacy Egan.”  She extended her hand and he shook it.  Wayne now remembered her.  She had been homely looking in high school.  “Wow, you look so different.  I can’t believe it.”
“Well, I’ve lost about sixty pounds since then,” said Wayne.
“Really?  Well you look great.  How did you do it?”
“I joined a program called Pounds Off.  The best diet system in the world.”

The End