Led Out To Pasture
by Melissa R. Mendelson
Melissa R. Mendelson is a Horror, Science-Fiction and Dystopian Short Story Author. She was recently a Finalist in the Summer 2021 Owl Canyon Press Hackathon for the short story, ‘Led Out to Pasture,’ which will be included in the book, From the Corner of My Eyes by Owl Canyon Press.
The world felt changed. The fare on TV looked the same but wasn’t. Grocery shelves were well-stocked and colorful as ever, but with what exactly, it wasn’t as clear. Reports from Greenland foretold the future, as per usual, but, whereas before I ignored them, today I was unmoored. A friend, a former D-1 scholarship athlete, confided that he had stopped exercising, while my mother, who is sixty-three, enrolled in not one but three Pilates classes. The elevator opened and I stepped from pondering this liminal haze into face-to-face confrontation with the chairman of the board.
“The red light came on again.” The chairman sneered. “You’re going to have to take the stairs starting today. I can’t have you infecting the other chubbys in this apartment building.”
“I am not ten pounds over.” Reese could tell that the chairman did not believe him. “I’m nine pounds over.” The sneer grew vicious at his words. “Fine. Nine and a half over. I’m not at ten yet.”
“I will be checking your scale, and you better weigh yourself when you get into your apartment. Or I will report you. You don’t want to go to a farm. Do you?”
Reese swallowed hard. “No, Bill.” He knew the chairman did not like that he used his first name. After the virus broke out, everything became cold and official. “No, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“That’s better, boy.” The chairman looked him over and laughed viciously. “Fat boy.” He stormed away, but he glanced over his shoulder to make it clear that he was far from done with him.
“Dick.” Reese took out his keys and unlocked the apartment door nearby. He heard the television set playing inside and knew that his mother was doing another Pilates class. “Mom,” and she responded by pointing to the large scale against the wall. “Yes, Mom. I know. It’s regulation. I have to weigh myself twice a day, and I didn’t do it this morning.”
“You want to go to a farm because your father will send you there, and then we won’t have to worry about you ending up like your brother.” His mother sighed and turned off the television set. “Your father is doing another walk around the block. Maybe, you should join him.” She watched Reese step onto the scale. She sighed again when the red light flashed on. “You’re almost at ten pounds, Reese. You’re going to become infectious.”
“Don’t worry, Mom. I can only infect fat people, right? Harris was fifteen pounds over, and he was infectious.”
“And he died from the virus. No symptoms. He just didn’t wake up one morning.” His mother wiped away a tear. She turned on the television set and returned to her Pilates class. “There’s carrots in the fridge and kale chips in the cabinet, if you’re hungry.”
“I want a cheeseburger,” Reese muttered. He would kill for some real chips, potato chips or chocolate chip cookies. How he missed them, and he would never see that food again. All because of the damn virus that sneaked out from Japan and infected the whole entire world, but only the fat people had to worry about it. His mother and father were safe. He reached into his pocket and found the bill that the manager had given him yesterday.
“The manager handed me a bill for $5,993.27, the cost of a new battery for my ancient Tesla. I looked it over, casually held my card over the scanner, and turned to leave. That’s when the woman coughed and I hesitated. Without turning and businesslike, I took a few more steps and asked if she thought she had a cold. When she didn’t immediately reply, I stopped and looked from the corner of my eyes. Spinning around, I was surprised to discover I was alone. Inspection of the premises, at first slow but soon frantic, revealed nothing and no one. And my car was gone too.”
Reese stared at the bill and remembered why he shoved it into his pocket yesterday. He was infectious. He imagined that woman coughing. He imagined her, and she wasn’t even there. And his car was gone because the red light came on. The fucking government monitored everything, and they were watching his every move. One more half pound over, and he would go to a farm.
“I need some air.” Reese grabbed his keys and stormed outside. He stood by the elevator. He reached for the button but stopped. He glanced up at the black orb nearby, knowing that the chairman was just waiting for him to step back onto that elevator. “Fine. I’ll take the stairs. It’s only four flights down to the street level anyway,” but he hated the stairs.
Reese was out of breath before he finished the last flight down. He pushed himself and broke out into a sweat. He wiped his brow, and a woman moving up the stairs stared at him in horror. She was maybe five, six pounds over, but she freaked out anyway. She screamed like a lunatic and flew up the stairs past him.
Reese was done, so done arguing with people. He was nine and a half pounds over. Maybe, the stairs would shave off some of that weight, but now he was hungry and not for carrots or kale chips. He wanted real food, and he walked down the street toward his favorite burger place, forgetting that they had closed when the virus took over a hundred people in that first week it arrived in the country. “Damn it,” Reese screamed as he stared at the Closed sign.
Reese moved further down the street and walked into a bar. The hostess gave him a once over, guessing at his overage. She shook her head, and he bit his tongue. But the manager knew him and his brother. He stood a short distance away, and Reese looked at him for help. But then he noticed how pale the manager was. Was he infected, but he was so thin.
“One drink, Reese, and then you have to go. You can’t be in here. You’re at ten pounds like I was, and they will be coming to take you to a farm like me.”
“One drink, Dale.” Reese didn’t even bother sitting on a stool. He noticed the uncomfortable glances of the other men nearby. A lot of them were encroaching into the overweight territory, and once you reached ten pounds, you could become infected or worse, killed by the virus. But they were wrong about the virus setting in at ten pounds because Reese knew that he was already infectious. Still, he said nothing. He finished his drink and then looked Dale over. “How bad is the farm,” he asked.
Dale paled at his words. He downed the drink in front of him. He stared at the countertop for a long moment. He turned toward Reese. He glanced around the bar and then slowly lifted up the side of his shirt, revealing horrific scars. Huge chunks of his body had been carved away. “I’m so sorry, Reese.” He dropped his shirt and gestured towards a pair of suits that walked inside the bar. “They’re here for you, and you’re going to a farm.”