Far away in the mountains, the helicopter weaves amongst peaks without regard to physics. As non-aerodynamic as a bumblebee or dragonfly, it lifts on pockets of wind and drops without warning. To the millionaires strapped into the seats, it is a terrifying experience.
They all wear tight, white bodysuits, designed to display and enhance every bodily imperfection. Soon they will fit badly. This is progress.
Maury, a middle-aged housewife from Grand Rapids, has a window seat. She moans loudly, vibrato wails rising above the drone of the engine. She is scared to fly—this is her first time above the ground, excluding the Gravitron at the county fair when she was thirteen—but not so scared that she won’t endure it for the body she wants. After a winning lotto ticket appeared in her family’s Quick Stop trash, the first thing she did was apply for The Resort online.
"Can she stop that?" Harriet asks no one in particular.
She wears furs over her uniform. If she didn’t take herself so seriously, she would have been less of a joke to the others.
"We’re almost there," the co-pilot answers, addressing what he assesses as the root of the question and not the words themselves.
But as they come in sight of a wonder, Maury stops her moaning anyway. A building buttresses outward from a great height. It’s almost at the peak, and it looks like the mountain was designed around the white and gold structure, and not the other way around. The large windows catch the earliest morning light and reflect it straight into the helicopter. The eight passengers stare in wonder.
The bird touches down on one of three helo-pads. One of the others has an ambulance helicopter on it. Jake wonders how bad this experience will be if they have to keep a helo on deck.
They go inside. They suddenly remember how ridiculous they must look in those stupid white jumpsuits. They try to hide themselves like Eden, each forgetting that the other person cares more about his own appearance than that of the others. One woman, Marv can’t remember her name but thinks that she looks like a Janet, tries to mask her considerable heft behind the scant plastic leaves of a ficus.
A doctor with a fake smile, bad jokes, and eyebrows like a lynx enters and gives a short orientation. Everyone is so self-conscious that he has to ask “are there any questions?” twice before they respond. He pronounces them ready.
A cadre of nurses enter, all gray-skinned and tall, with the proportions of models and joylessness to match. The heaviest of them is a man with perhaps 3% body fat. The females have similar percentages.
"The nurses will show you where to go," the doctor says.
The average-looking millionaires shuffle towards their halls.
"One more thing," the huge-eyebrowed doctor says, "Welcome to The Resort." His smile is something Marv can’t place, not fully ominous, not fully condescending, not fully warning, but an overlap diagram with each idea well-represented.
Jake follows his nurse, the one with a massive 3% fat percentage—he’s a full 8 inches taller than Jake.
"So how did you come to work here?" Jake asks.
"They offer free treatments to staff," the man responds, his voice blank, as if the soulless stare of a corpse at an open casket had been turned into sound.
"Have you done it yet yourself?"
"Staff at the resort must undergo a minimum six treatments a year. If an employee remains fit to work at least six months out of a twelve-month period, there is no maximum limit to the number of treatments available to the staff," the nurse recites, probably verbatim from some human resources handbook.
Maury talks about herself as she follows her nurse down the hall. She never asks questions. The nurse only grunts noises, the lowest way to communicate the idea "yes, I’m listening" without words.
They arrive at a room. The nurse lets Maury enter first then begins to close the door between them.
Maury stops the door. There’s fear in her eyes, and she suddenly looks very small. She asks the caregiver, "will this hurt?"
The nurse doesn’t speak, but something in her eyes, now full of self-pity and trauma and...Her eyes look as if they wanted to cry, but they can’t find the moisture. Her eyes scream, "yes."
She closes the door.
Jake looks around. The short walk from the reception to his room has him breathless. He leans against the sink, his mind dark, mocking himself for being this out of shape. He remembers that it’s difficult to breathe at altitude, and that makes him feel a little better.
Marv inspects the room. A king-sized bed. Television. Games. Sink. Toilet. Vomit bags. Conspicuous lack of mirrors. Everything a sterile white. No window—people might sneak a reflection. Marv smiles. No screaming grandchildren. No phone ringing off the hook. No distractions.
The nurse comes back twice. The first time to take a reference photo. The second to take vitals: heart rate, weight, BP. Then there’s a wait of two hours. Marv figures the nurses have to go through some red tape each time they draw the strains from the dispensary.
Harriet means to give the nurse an earful about quality of service the next time she sees her. The woman returns to Harriet’s room. She lifts a flap on the jumpsuit, exposing the skin of Harriet’s inner forearm. She brings a needle towards it, and Harriet forgets her original complaint.
"Can we be sedated?" Harriet asks.
"Comatose states reduce metabolic activity," the nurse chants in monotone.
"I suppose we want the metabolism as active as possible?"
The only answer she receives is a needle in her arm.
The first day is fine. Only a little scratching in the throat and light, temporary nausea. Some fare better than others.
You can have any entertainment you want. Marv compares the financial sections of three newspapers. Janet had originally requested a guitar, but she leaves it in the corner without touching it for her entire stay. Jake watches Dirty Dozen twice then tries out the gaming console. Maury finishes two seasons of Gilmore Girls in the first 24 hours. In the video observation room, the doctor chuckles, his fake tooth caps the color of new golf balls. He says "pace yourself" to Maury’s screen as if she can hear him.
The second day, Janet still feels all right. When the nurse does the once-every-six-hour check, Janet shyly requests to walk around the facility so she can enjoy view.
"Patients are asked to stay in their rooms," the nurse answers curtly.
"Oh," Janet says, her small voice barely above a whisper. "I thought someone said we’d have the option to stretch our legs a bit," she says without making eye contact.
"Patients are asked to stay in their rooms," the nurse repeats before closing the door behind her. This time Janet hears the lock click.
The symptoms take hold of the others. Harriet can’t sit up. Standing is out of the question. Two patients begin vomiting.
The nurse reports it.
"Interesting," the doctor says in the control room as he leans lazily back in a chair. "Let me know if it worsens." He places a magazine over his eyes. "Usually doesn’t start ’til day three," he mumbles before fading back into his nap.
Day three. Jake sits on the porcelain. His body compresses like the grips of pliers. "No, no, no," he moans, just before voiding from top and bottom at the same time. He realizes why they placed the vomit bags next to the toilet, but he doesn’t grab the bag in time. He finishes and falls back in bed. He presses the Call button.
"How can I help you?" The dead-professional voice of the nurse asks instantly.
"Clean up on aisle five," Jake mumbles weakly.
He continues to be sick every 35-50 minutes for the entire night.
Marv suffers silently.
In the sound-treated room next door, Maury holds her stomach and cries enough for both of them. Maybe her nerve endings are more sensitive and she truly endures more pain than the others. She would be the first to tell you that’s the case. But she still groans a little louder when the nurse is around.
None of the eight patients have gotten more than 4 hours of sleep in total since arriving 96 hours before.
Jake uses the toilet thirteen times before noon. He thinks he has nothing left to vomit out, no fluid left to lose. Then he has to use the toilet again. He has bouts of diarrhea more than nausea, but he has them at the same time twice today.
Maury used to sleep on her side. Now she stays on her back, telling herself she doesn’t have the strength to roll over. She can’t remember when she started sweating, but she knows it hasn’t stopped in days. She feels disgusting, but knows she’s not allowed to shower and she coudn’t stand anyway.
Marv speaks for the first time since arriving.
"Can I get an IV? I’m so thirsty."
"Patients may not receive intravenous fluids," the solemn nurse answers.
"How about a glass of water? I know they want us to lose water weight so we look better at the end. I don’t care about that now. I need to wash the acid from my throat. He doesn’t have to know."
The nurse blinks like a stupid fish.
"I’m a very rich man, you know," Marv says.
The nurse closes the door.
On the sixth day, Jake has the strength to prop himself up in bed. He does this twice for a ten-minute then fifteen-minute stretch. He still has to vomit, but he has a little more strength. He uses the toilet just as much as before. It becomes mechanical: void, clean, lay down. In bed, his hand grazes his waistline. He smiles to himself. Slimmer.
Maury turns on an episode of Gilmore Girls. She closes her eyes and listens to it like a radio program. The pace is too much, and she turns it off after only two minutes. She can hear raindrops plinking above her somewhere.
Harriet imagines her favorite fast food chicken sandwich, a craving she hasn’t had in decades. This is the first time in her life she hasn’t eaten in six days.
Marv has no concept of time. He tries to read the paper but can’t force the little black lines on gray paper to make sense. He closes his eyes and clutches his knees.
A nurse on night shift watches the screen. He calls the doctor’s room and says, "Room 12 is reacting badly."
The doctor snaps back, unhappy to be awoken, "they’re supposed to get sick. Call me if something real happens."
Minutes later, Marv’s seizures begin.
A distant buzz awakens Jake. "Helicopter engine starting," he slurs out loud before falling back asleep.
The flight nurse radios the doctor from the helicopter. "I don’t know if he’s gonna make it."
"Then it’s a good thing he signed a waiver," the doctor says.
The nurse comes into Jake’s room, wearing no face mask for the first time since injecting him. He hands Jake a plain white cracker.
Jake eyes it suspiciously. He waits until the nurse leaves and eventually gives the cracker a scientific nibble. An hour later, he hasn’t spewn it out, so he takes a larger bite. Now ravenous, he waits only thirty minutes before eating the whole thing. He thinks how good it tastes, even though it’s a flavorless cracker, probably no more than twenty Calories. "The energy required to raise one kilogram of water twenty degrees or to raise twenty kilograms of water one degree," Jake says to the empty room, thinking himself very clever.
He walks around his prison once. He feels well enough to watch some television, but not energetic enough for comedy.
Seven days and seven nights have passed.
The nurses summon the patients to the doctor’s office, one by one.
The doctor places Janet in front of a curtain. It’s so theatrical. Counting down from three, he pulls the sheets apart. She sees herself in the mirror for the first time. Projected on a panel is the photograph from a week ago. She admires her current body in the mirror: twenty pounds lighter. Her face is thinner, her hips are trim, less boxy than before.
"We asked your husband to send something from the house," the doctor says.
He hands Janet a package. "Put it on," he says before leaving the room.
She takes out her prom dress from twelve years ago, the same year her father bought her a second car. She gasps, thinking how impossible it will be to wear it. She tries it on. It fits.
She can’t suppress her joy when she sees herself. She actually twirls in the mirror like a little ballerina. She thinks how pleasant it is that the room is lit sparsely with soft fairy lights.
After each person has a similar interview with the doctor, he assembles them in the foyer.
"You are all recovered," the doctor says, his eyebrows wagging in time with the words. "You will regain your strength slowly over the next few days, but your visit to our facility is unfortunately over for now."
Maury the Moaner makes a regretful sound, like she enjoyed every minute here and is sorry to leave.
"Remember, speaking reductively," the doctor said, "we have seven hundred proprietary strains, all slightly different, so that when you develop immunity to one, we can administer another. Our critics have called the process a simple use of gastro-intestinal influenza, but it’s a little more complicated than that. As you have seen with yourself as testament, the Gecker method works. Thank you for trusting us. We hope you will choose The Resort for your future body-imaging needs. If you refer a friend, you will receive 20% off your next treatment."
As they make their way out from reception to the launch pad, Jake studies the other patients. They all have waxy gray skin and sunken eyes. "They look terrible," he chuckles. As he boards the helicopter he notices that the ambulance is missing. He suddenly remembers hearing it in the night. He catches the reflection of his waist in the helicopter’s polished carbon blades. "I haven’t been this trim since I got married." He laughs to himself and lifts his new, lighter body into his chair with less effort than the week before.
As the helicopter rises, Janet points to the empty seat. "That quiet man is gone," she whispers to Jake.
"Who knows," Jake says, craning to catch his reflection in the captain’s mirrors.
Back home at girl’s night, Harriet describes her experience like a jungle explorer. Her head is raised with a confidence she hasn’t had since high school. "You’re in this room for a week straight and they go to every length to make you comfortable. You come out totally renewed."
"How did you even hear about it?" One of her friends asks with a note of suspicion in her eyes.
"Evyl Beechtree lost twenty-five pounds in a week, all from her waist!" Harriet answers, enjoying being the one with information.
"But why?" The only friend with an honest face asks.
"If you tried every practical diet and never lost weight and had money to spare and were guaranteed a loss of 15-30 pounds in a week, wouldn’t you?"
Two of her three friends slowly nod.
Three weeks later.
Harriet pinches her underarms near the tricep. They hang low, perhaps lower than before.
"I look terrible," she admits.
Since coming back, she has made up for lost time, recovering the lost calories and water weight quickly with an unrestrained diet. In the past weeks, her body stacked the weight on so quickly, it filled her out disproportionately.
She scrutinizes her body in the mirror.
"Will you stop that?" Her husband asks, "It’s just gonna make you crazy."
"I look worse than before," Harriet answers. She opens her phone’s browser.
"I’ll just see when The Resort's next opening is."