Once upon a time there was a boy named Mike who liked to count the bones in his ribcage through his shirt. It was much more interesting to him than whatever book his English teacher was droning about. Mike hated his teacher's lifeless, monotone voice. It bored him, and made him think of getting out of class. Which made him think of lunch, which made him count his ribs again even though he'd already counted them forty-two times. The number of bones never changed, and he liked that. Consistency was good.
The bell finally rang, and despite wishing for it all ninety minutes of the class, Mike was in no real hurry to leave. The others can't know though, he thought, rushing out of class first, as usual. It was all part of his act, his game. He was getting good, he thought about being an actor. He decided not to, everyone would want to touch him, and talk to him, and know about him. Mike just couldn't handle that. He stopped walking to consider waiting for one of his friends, and decided against it. He determined it wasn't a good day for socializing too much, and made his way to the cafeteria.
The smells of people, and food, and all the body spray the girl in front of him had probably poured on herself nearly made him run out of the cafeteria less than a few seconds after entering. But a friend spotted him, so Mike played nice and joined him in the long lunch line. He kept his arms close to himself, and concentrated on not getting touched more so than he did whatever his friend Nick was saying. That was okay though, Nick just liked to hear his own voice. Mike noticed this, as he was very observant.
He and Nick left the cafeteria after what seemed like hours in that cramped noisy line. They headed outside towards the rest of their friends, and Mike felt he could breathe again. Mike enjoyed being outside, though you wouldn't know it from how pale he was.
Nick offered him a french-fry, dripping with ketchup and oil and probably other things that made Mike's head hurt to think about. He was about to decline, then noticed they were only a few steps away from all their friends, so it was show time. Mike held the fry in two fingers, wanting to grimace but suppressing the urge. He placed it in his mouth, the flavor of potato, ketchup, and something spicy exploding on his tongue.
It slid down his throat like a razor blade.
Mike had to admit, though, it tasted much better than he imagined a razor blade did. He pictured the french-fry slicing up his insides on its voyage of digestion. The thought disgusted him and hungered him at the same time. He reached for another fry, and Nick didn't notice because he was talking. Nick may have liked the sound of his own voice, but Mike realized he surely didn't. He grabbed more fries as his friends laughed at something he missed, but he wasn't too upset as it was probably stupid. Maybe it's me, he thought, and he stopped chewing. Mike was ashamed suddenly. He tried to recall how many he'd eaten, and suddenly felt very sick when he thought about it.
Mike never lost control. Well, not in front of anyone before, anyway. He pictured himself on one of the various occasions he was locked in his room, giving in to the evil messages his body was sending him. Eat, eat, eat; so he did, a lot, even things he didn't like, like those molasses cookies his mom pigged out on. Then, he'd snap out of his food-induced trance and realize he'd broken the rules of his own game. Then he'd cry, and that always made him sick too, like a freaking girl.
But he always fixed it, and he knew he'd have to now. Mike dropped Nick's fries, and ignoring the annoyed shouts Nick directed to him, ran inside the school. He ran so fast he couldn't hear the squeaky voice of the teacher on hall duty telling him he needed a hall pass, well at least that's what he'd tell her after he got out of the bathroom.
Mike dropped to his knees in front of a toilet. He was an expert at this now, so it didn't take long at all for him to be free of the poison he'd allowed into his own body. He flushed the toilet with a shaking hand, and pulled his knees to his chest, and cried. Not loudly though, just like at home. Someone might hear him. And indeed, Mike heard footsteps a second later, and he tried to silence himself, tears still running down his face.
"Mike?" he heard Nick call, the footsteps stopping. "I know you're in here, I asked the lady in the hallway if a little twig with curly blond hair had run by."
Twig. Right. Mike clutched his sides, and his fingers ran over his ribcage. He had a long way to go still.
"Mike! Talk to me."
"Go to hell," Mike replied.
Nick walked to the last stall, and the smirk wiped off his face. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm sick or something."
"You were fine a minute ago," Nick said, observing his friend curled into a ball on the bathroom floor. Mike had always been small, but he'd never seen him so fragile looking, his skinny arms wrapped around his small frame, bloodshot blue eyes and a wet face. Mike wiped at his eyes, and stood to go to the sink.
"I'm okay, I promise," Mike smiled, after washing out his mouth. He swore to himself he'd never eat at school again; throwing up was even more disgusting when he didn't have a toothbrush handy.
"Did you puke or something?"
Mike fidgeted. "I just ate too many of your fries. Made me sick."
"You had about ten, dude," Nick frowned.
Mike felt a stabbing pain in his stomach. He just couldn't win, his body punished him when he ate, and when he didn't. "Just because you can eat a lot doesn't mean everyone else wants to stuff themselves," he snapped.
Nick snorted. "What, are you on a fucking diet? Like a girl?"
"Being skinny makes me a girl?" Mike was used to being charged with femininity. If being masculine meant filling himself with all that junk, he'd much rather not be.
"Dude, no…it's just…girls loose weight and shit. You don't even need a fucking diet."
"I'm not on a diet," Mike replied, and he really wasn't. Diets were for shallow quitters. Dieters were jealous over the control he had over his body. Mike smiled proudly, making a mental note to weigh himself as soon as he got home.
Nick shifted uncomfortably. "Well. Good. You don't need one…so, you sure you're okay?"
Mike's stomach rumbled violently. "I'm sure."
Mike lied under his covers, shivering. The house had been a lot colder lately, but everyone complained when he turned the heat up. It had taken a lot of work for his mom to excuse him from dinner. They were having pizza. And that was supposed to be his favorite food. Mike couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten pizza. He closed his eyes and saw steam rising from a golden crust, cheese melted and bubbling over the red sauce that he could smell.
He definitely wasn't hungry.
He'd weighed himself; he was at eighty-nine pounds now. Sixteen less than he'd started with. He couldn't believe his stomach thought—as it truly must have had a mind of its own—that he'd throw all that away for a slice of pizza.
He didn't want any, it would drip all over him with cheese and oil and sauce. It would brand him with its scent, its taste. Marking him a loser. A fat loser who couldn't even stop himself from eating when he didn't even need to.
Perhaps I can't, he thought, spotting a box of donuts he'd snuck up to his room a week ago.
Mike walked over to the box quietly. He could hear the donuts mocking him, laughing at his lack of control.
He wanted to devour them even more.
He nibbled at one, imagining the fat cells it was creating growing, multiplying, and finally exploding until he died.
Or worse, got fat.
Because, if he got fat everyone would know that he had no self-restraint.
He locked his door, and finished the donut.
His fingers slid up his shirt. He felt his ribs jutting out like a badge of honor. He could feel skin and flesh begin to cover them, just from looking at the glazed donuts, sitting there in their stale glory. His brain sent him messages to eat and not to eat all at once. The donuts sang his name. He couldn't feel his ribs. He saw the scale going to three hundred.
He took another donut. He had to. There was an uneven number in the box with only one missing. Mike hated odd numbers.
Mike didn't eat it though. He dropped it into the toilet. That's where it would've ended up anyway, and it's where its companion was headed as he stuck two fingers down his throat.
His eyes watering and his hand and mouth dirty, he leaned against the wall. The scale in the corner of the bathroom congratulated him. It encouraged him to step on, and make sure he still had things under control.
Eighty-nine pounds. One away from eighty-eight, and three away from eighty-six.
He leaned on the wall, and slid down to the floor. He felt a little dizzy, too tired to hold his body up anymore
It must have been all the excess weight.
Mike comforted himself with the knowledge he'd soon be free of the excess fat, and he could hold himself up tall and proud. He'd just have to keep everything consistent; the number of ribs he felt, the amount of food he ate—or didn't, the pattern of his weight loss.
He felt himself growing tired, too tired to even hold his eyes open. As he fought with his body he couldn't help thinking, I'm really happy when I'm in control.
Mike passed out on the bathroom floor, his head hitting the scale. There was a smile on his face when they found him an hour later.