His muscles rippled, like his flesh was suppressing a primal tide, ever threatening to rend its fragile prison asunder. When people saw him, they saw a behemoth, a gargantuan flowing mass, a fearful titan of old. But to him, all he saw was his old self in the mirror. And everyday, when he looked at his reflection, he was unaware of the gradual changes his body had undergone, which through drips and drops over the years, was drastic, perhaps even radical. Yes, he was larger, but was he that large? He could never understand those expressions on the faces he encountered. A palette of awe, disgust and fear. Even pity at times. Were such reactions justified? In fact, every moment he spent looking at himself only reinforced the idea that he was inadequate; that his size was common; that he was far, far away from his desired goal.
His trainer was glad to further diminish any confidence he had constructed regarding his physique. On one occasion, he would point out how weak his legs were and on another, perhaps he would comment on the lack of definition in his back. A thousand other minute details: his body’s hideous asymmetry, his disproportionately limited calves and even the pallor of his skin, they were drilled into him daily until he learnt them by heart, and he swore, every time he faced his reflection, that he would fix himself.
There were those who branded him a narcissist, they were far from the truth. He was a servant to an external will, a purpose greater than his own selfish needs. His was the age old quest for an aesthetic impossibility. His was a need to perfect the human form, that it might be the climax of all creation, that it might even be venerated as divine. And for the sake of his crusade, he was willing to pay any price, to burn any bridge and to lay down his own mortality if need be.
The gym was the holy temple where he faithfully pilgrimaged. Every single visit, he would surrender his ego before those gates, a humble devotee, complete in his submission to his sacred struggle. And yet it was with a hungry heart and blazing eyes that he trod upon the hallowed ground, as though a spirit had penetrated his being, and he a mere vessel to a higher power, was filled with a reckless energy which rapidly intensified a fervent devotion for worship. And his worship was not the mute piety of silent prayer, but rather a terrible repentance ritual of a flagellant before his cruel, unyielding, hateful deity.
He bore an incredible weight upon his frame, his bulk warping under the strain. Every slow flexion was a controlled, unbearable tension; every inch of movement was a violence to his constitution. Perspiration flowed freely from his pores; his teeth ground against each other in an agony of effort; the fibres, tendons, sinews throughout his anatomy begged him for release. All the while, his trainer stood near, a demonic overlord who bellowed bloody threats with increasing acrimony, goading him on as though he were a beast. But he hardly perceived his turbulent surroundings. His mind was encased in an adamantine trance where nothing else existed, only the will to conquer that mass under which he suffered. And his labors escalated with each repetition, like his entire being was being filled with an oppressive radiance, expanding and expanding at an immeasurable pace, up to the point when all that was left was a bright scream of triumph, he cast his burden off with a crash, and prostrated himself before the rack of his voluntary torture, a mad gleam in his eye, a zealous pride swelling in his chest, as he gasped for breath, exulting in his temporary emancipation from the tyranny of his own unattainable standards.
The people at the gym would stare at him in wonder. Some were foolish enough to attempt to strike up a conversation with him. His only response was a cold impassive stare. They annoyed him. The way they idly chatted away, their flippant attitude towards training. Was this not his sacrosanctity they desecrated? Was it not his spiritual practice they spat upon? What did they know about renunciation, they who lived so complacently, whose idea of sacrifice was an hour of socializing at the gym?
Certainly, there were those whom he deigned to recognize as his peers. Those fellow elite who upheld the code, who upon seeing one another, only gave a nod of acknowledgement and a silent fist bump. They were men of few words; their formidable physiques said everything they needed to say; the rigorous commitment to their ascetic ideals had purged all extraneous speech from their tongues. They wore huge headphones, which cancelled out the rest of the world from the only one they were interested in: the world of merciless iron. He knew these men well, but by no means were they friends, all he saw in them were benchmarks to be broken, goals to be surpassed.
He ate enough for three starving men. A mountain of carcasses had already been sacrificed on the altar of his body, offerings to his ravenous God. But do not think that his appetite was boundless. On the contrary, the human body has very real boundaries, which he strove daily to demolish. He forced himself to eat. More! He pressed himself, or everything you have achieved would count for nothing. More! Or you will become the scrawny little bastard you deserve to be. More! Or you are a failure, a miserable washout who almost made the big leagues. It made him sick but still he gorged himself. He never allowed himself the luxury of throwing up. He needed every morsel of nutrition, every drop of protein shake, every scrap of hard boiled egg white. It was all hurled into the furnace within him, fuel for the pistons pounding out each powerful pulse.
He reached a point when no matter how much he ate, how much creatine he loaded, and however many exotic supplements he experimented with, he gained no more visible results. Yea, he had reached the plateau, the very edge of human capability. His body was governed by laws after all, a set of laws which regulated his genetic make up, his hormonal output, those laws which straitjacketed his mania for growth.
Of course, he had long foreseen this state of affairs. He was no fool. He always knew that eventually he had to consider steroids. And honestly, what was there to consider? Was there even a choice? For him to come so far just to remain on the summit of mediocrity. No there never was a choice. He did his research on the optimal steroid stacks and their cycles. He weighed risks with rewards. It was everything he had ever wanted. It was an unimpeded growth, it was a never-ending growth. The only limit was his daring, and he dared. He dared anything. It tore through his body’s rudimentary imagination of a ceiling. Any trace of body fat was obliterated, and he achieved an impossible vascularity, the definition of every single striated muscle was starkly etched on his granite torso. He looked as solid as rock and he felt like one too. The very sight of his own image was a drug in itself, intoxicating him, inciting a frenzy in his core; its burn was more severe than any whip, it seared him, spurred him on and on, turning him away from his own sensibilities, into something only degrees away from a total monster. His hands would latch on to the heaviest dumbbells, and he felt he had to move, that he had to exhaust every last bit of strength he possessed, that a raw lightning from within compelled him. He growled and roared, oblivious to the fearful eyes of the people around him, who felt as threatened as if a lion had escaped its enclosure.
Cycle after cycle, he could not resist the temptation of increasing his steroid dosage. The diminishing rewards could no longer justify the risks he was taking, but still his obsession ran rampant. And no matter how much he doped, he never felt he was ready for the competition spotlight. Why, already ten years had passed since he first began, and still he felt he were a rank amateur. There was always an excuse, this year it might be illness, the next he would claim to be attending as a spectator to check out the current standard. Eventually, his trainer told him, it’s now or never, and with a slight reluctance, he had to agree.
As the competition date drew nearer, he was consumed by an urgency which strangled him daily, never allowing him to forget that all his precious ideals and whatever dream future he had worked towards, all hung over a deadly precipice. Anything short of the first place finish would crush him. Like a hunted animal, he punished himself as thoroughly as possible. He practically lived in the gym during those days. They had to force him to leave when they closed up at night.
Finally the contest arrived and the work was done. In terms of physical conditioning, whatever could be accomplished had been accomplished. He consoled himself in this way. He felt blameless, but yet he was so very tired. He sat backstage waiting his turn, the weight of years buried in the haunted expression on his face. He occupied his restless nerves with some light exercise.
He had used potent diuretics to dehydrate himself, such that his torso looked like parched earth, his abdominals and obliques crackling under his taut bronzed skin. He looked around at the others. He knew he was the best. He knew he had it. It was his for the taking. His name was called, and he looked up. His trainer patted him reassuringly on the back. He got up slowly, and walked onto the stage.
The audience gasped. The judges were stunned. Indeed, he had taken bodybuilding to another level. When the music came on and he flexed every inch of himself, it felt unreal to those watching. They thought it must be a trick, that perhaps he was a clever make-up artist. Every harsh angle, every hard contour stood out with inconceivable candour under the spotlight. He bared his entirety to them; it was his naked soul he displayed. All his fears and worries evaporated. There was nothing he held back in reserve as he moved confidently from pose to pose. For the first time in all those years, he felt he was revered as he should have been, a paragon of physical perfection. He basked in the warmth of the adoration that was rightfully his, as the crowds went wild with their cheers and applause.
A constriction seized his chest. Please not now. He clenched his jaw. Please just allow me one last minute. The strictures spread rapidly across his body. He fell. He convulsed horribly on that stage, wave after disgraceful wave, as if he were bound by an electric vise. When the paramedics reached him, he was feebly struggling to raise his right arm over his eyes. He could not withstand the light which continued to shine on him, revealing his contorted form in all its vividness.
He was immediately taken offstage and resuscitation attempts were carried out. It was no doubt due to a diuretic induced dehydration, the medics concurred. He had a severe electrolyte imbalance. They did everything they could, but still his heart stopped beating.
The crowd was shocked and saddened when they carried him away. And for a while, they did not know what to do. But soon, the next contestant came on stage, and they were glad. They even cheered for him.