My heart wasn’t in these workout sessions. I didn’t really care about ‘getting fit’. That sounded more like a threat to me. But I caved and agreed because I was a doormat and I felt this was a dumb hill to die on. Fine, I’m gonna do it. It’s gonna be half-assed and I’m gonna be a bitch about it but I’m gonna do it. I joined this fitness studio. They partnered with the video rental next door and I would get to rent five movies for free each month I trained there. That was neat. It got harder to find a good stream of movies online anymore. So many jokesters just put up “Watch movie free online” and then just give you the damn movie trailer or ask you to subscribe to their shady site. I’m not gonna fuck around with torrents anymore, got burnt once and I’m not gonna risk it again.
So I went to the studio and honestly, that’s the only thing I changed about my sloth life so it barely helped with my fitness. It just became an obligatory thing in my life I got used to and didn’t question the point of. Then last summer I got serious about it. I wanted to feel what it feels like to live up to this ideal. As a woman I was never shown actual muscles as my ideal, just be skinny and sexy, but it was whatever, I just wanted to get somewhere and either I like it or I got a reason to quit. I never felt like my body could change in any meaningful way. And it didn’t. By December I still looked exactly the same. Okay. I wasn’t gonna renew my membership for next year. I’ll just up my pirating game somehow. Fuck it.
Kind of an awkward time to quit because someone gave me these training videos for christmas. Not even DVDs, actual fucking VHS tapes. Apparently self-made, recorded off the TV, with labels printed out and glued on, the wet adhesive further bleeding the already shoddy printer colors together. A group of identical looking white men in underwear doing jumping jacks in an empty room. I think that was just some unrelated stock photo. Five tapes in total, all with the same picture but a different marker colored a rectangle around it. Magenta, yellow, green, orange, cyan, tapes 1-5.
Nobody owned up to it. They just stood piled up on my desk until the new year. Then I decided to put that old TV the size of a washing machine to use. I had it in my room, the old GameCube still hooked up to it but it hasn’t been used in forever. I popped the magenta tape into the built in VHS slot and it started off in the middle of a commercial break. Some commercials I remembered from my childhood but I couldn’t place what time period they were from. The sound quality was bad, it sounded as if I had a fishbowl over my head. Then the training show started. A bunch of people a little more diverse than the stock photo had you believe, did all sorts of exercises in the background while a voiceover explained how they will turn me super ripped. I just left it playing in the background while I browsed the internet.
There was something weird about all these people just hopping around in synchronicity, blankly staring forward in concentration. It was like photos of supermodels in magazines. It felt so odd to remind yourself that these people have family and friends, they were born and had childhoods. Their inoffensive, blank faces. I think you wouldn’t be able to tell if they recently died and were just propped up. These jocks were the same. Except they were clearly not dead. I just couldn’t picture them just sit still and talk about the recent episode of The Walking Dead or something. They solely existed to ape around in this pocket dimension looking all concentrated and barely aware of their surroundings, never acknowledging the other fuckers in the room.
Each tape had about ten minutes of video. I wondered how many different ways you could make a fool of yourself on some marine blue mat protecting you from the cold laminated floor. As it turned out there was another set of tapes, the advanced series, if you really wanted to go next level, advertised at the end of each video. I wondered how advanced we were talking. Like super extreme yoga poses? I always wondered how sitting in some ass backwards manner actually helped anything. Maybe it was just the same tomfoolery but faster. I searched on Google and streams of the videos were among the first things that popped up. I pirated that shit. Official VHS tapes probably have gone long out of print and the company went bankrupt or something. I mean how do you stay afloat with this?
The advanced series encompassed far more videos. Two or more episodes were compiled into 60 minute parts and there were at least eight compilations, as far as I cared to look. Wait, no, fooled again, these weren’t the episodes but someone filming themself while training according to these videos. Well, I imagined that would make these more entertaining. I just wondered how these ended up on the web. I hoped the featured Lucy Appletree uploaded these voluntarily. At least I think that’s her name. The sound was fucked up like an overshared JPG.
Lucy started off the video with an intro, on why she does this probably, I’d have to concentrate and rewind multiple times to parse through the garbled audio and I didn’t give enough of a shit to do so. I just wanted to see her do some advanced training with a straight face.
She finally backed away from the camera and sat down on the floor, with an orange gym mat between them of course. She stretched her arms, took off a ring from her left hand and took out a TV remote to unpause the training video on the television offscreen.
The sound from the TV was barely audible and coupled with the bad audio completely incomprehensible. I wasn’t sure if Lucy had planned for the instructions to be heard on the video. Some boring unlicensed synth pop was faintly heard. Lucy took something red from behind a cushion on the floor. It was a plier, the kind you use to rip nails out of boards. Big nails. I got a bad premonition.
She grabbed the last segment of her left index finger with it and bent it backwards. It took her some effort to snap the joint and probably damaged the middle joint of the finger in the process. She reacted like she pricked herself on the needle but continued with the middle finger.
I was considering this to be a faked troll video. The shitty quality and enigmatic origin would help the illusion. I kept watching, hoping to find a sign that this was a hoax. She fucked up her right hand next. Then the video ended and a short black screen divided it from the next video.
There was Lucy again, wearing gloves this time. She wore shorts and no socks but the same shirt as last time. I noticed the saw on the floor. I minimized the video while leaving it running and opened a browser.
“Lucy Appletree Training Videos” I typed into Google, only to get tutorials on how to plant apple trees. I tried all sorts of combinations to get anything about this video series, but nothing. I opened the video again to see the saw stuck in her ankle. I tried to close the video but my nervous hand couldn’t find the fucking X in the corner. I gave up and hopped out of my chair, left the room and paced up and down in the kitchen. I breathed out loudly to assure myself I could still hear. That I could make sound. That I was awake. I took a glass from a cabinet and dropped it as the water thundered out of the faucet.
I swept up the shards and dumped them in the kitchen bin all while the faucet ran. I just held my mouth under it. Then cupped my hands under it and splashed the water in my face before it ran out through my trembling fingers. I repeated that a couple of times and then sat down.
It took me half an hour to calm down. I convinced myself that it was fake. Really, it looked kind of cheap, didn’t it? That foot really looked like a prop. Fucking scaredy-ass cat dipshit. I went back into the room to shut the video down. She leaned closer to the camera then, her lower half off-screen, but I could still see the fake blood on the floor behind her. I think she was trying to get her eyelid between the blades of a scissor. I closed the video and deleted that shit.
I set up a Netflix subscription and watched cartoons for the rest of the evening.
Next week I had a package on my doorstep. It was six in the morning, and the mailman would usually hand over packages personally. He’d need a signature and all as well, right? Did he just dump it off in the middle of the night? The package did go through the postal service, it had stamps on it and all, it wasn’t that some rando put this on my doormat. This was official. I tend to forget about my orders, so I put it on the kitchen table and went to work. I think I ordered some indie artist’s album on the weekend, though the package was too big for it to be that.
In the evening I lifted the mystery. When I got home with some takeout, I opened the thing in between eating fries.
“Thanks for being interested in our training videos!” white letters on green circles said.
“As a welcoming gift to our community, we give you an official Training Video water bottle!” I found said object in the box. Just a green ordinary water bottle with one of those sucky caps, which prevented you from spilling your precious water while horsing around.
“In this package, you will find a full collection of our advanced series on DVD, which should be more convenient for the modern user! Simply select which part you want to train and pop in the according disc! Of course we are also open for suggestions should you not find the right training regimen for you! We hope to see you soon in your ideal shape!”
I looked into the box again. There were about 20 DVD cases, each with their own hue for a cover but the same three-piece family in white polo shirts standing at the front.
I finished my fries and then it hit me. How did they know my address, or that I even watched those videos? I didn’t see them legally, and even then I just saw some prank youtube video someone made. Did they upload some malware while I watched it? I browsed through the array of DVDs, made in 2017 if the dating is to be believed. Each was simply labeled with a body part. Advanced Training: Arms. Eventually it listed eyes, ears, toes, shit you couldn’t really train or would if you could. I became convinced these might just be tapes appealing to some weird fetishes, pretending to be harmless training videos. I was intrigued, in a sort of morbid fascination way. Everyone can draw fetish shit, but enacting them in real life has gotta be so cringy. I dunno why I expected something entertaining out of this. Maybe just the bizarreness of it all. Me, infiltrating some secret society sending fetish tapes to each other under the disguise of being fitness freaks. Shit, did whoever gave me these for christmas know about this? No wonder no one admitted to it.
I wondered if that prank video was actually an official tapes for amputation or torture fetishists. At least those weren’t snuff films and they faked the whole thing. I’d rather not reach the conclusion that these people peddle child porn or some shit among this. But in that case, I could at least call the cops on this and blow their club wide open.
I looked through the side titles, trying to figure out what tape would have the most entertaining content. I considered eyeballs, but I’m kinda squeamish about that. That faked eyelid thing was enough for me. Dick and boobs were among the trainable body parts but I’d rather choose something that didn’t already sound like porn. I wanted to see something odd. I eventually settled on noses. I hoped it wouldn’t involve boogers, just.. Actually I have no idea how you would train your nose, even in a bullshit way. That’s what I’m here for, right? I opened the box and put it in the DVD player on my regular TV.
As it loaded, I inspected the case. Rick, Sarah and Milo on the cover grinned back at me. I flipped the case, seeing if there was some sort of flavor text preparing me for what I was in for here. I found it to be mostly the same text that’s likely on each tapes with just the mentions of the body part replaced.
“Feeling your nose is inadequate? Shape up by following this tape’s instructions! Get your nose into your desired form and never feel lesser again. Show off your improved nose to your family, friends and work colleagues!...” and so on. I’m gonna screencap and put this on twitter.
I popped the tape in. It actually had decent quality, although you still won’t find an HD VHS tape.
“Welcome to Advanced training!” a woman with a customer service smile said. “Before we begin, make sure you have everything ready. You will need: Something to write on. Regular paper will do. Something to write. Anything goes as long as what is written is visible and written by you.”
That sounded strange but I decided to play along, Dora the Explorer style. I had a stack of paper and a bunch of pencils on my desk.
“Alright. Let’s begin. Make sure you are alone and won’t be interrupted. Please start by drawing this symbol and place it near you. This is for your safety.”
Okay, what the fuck, I didn’t expect demon summoning. I already got the paper, so might as well do it. Not like anyone was watching me.
“Next, prepare a description of the shape you want your nose to be. This may be in writing or illustrative. Don’t worry about inadequate drawing skills, this is just to fully form the idea in your head.”
I doodled me with a dragon snout, as if to mock the woman in the video that can’t see me.
“Great. Make sure you have decided on every aspect of your nose. Now comes the hardest part. You will have to break your nose. You will have to do it yourself, as another person would disturb the ritual. You will only have to endure the pain for thirty minutes in order to reach your ideal. Please pause the tape and resume once your nose has been sufficiently damaged.”
Wait, is every tape like this? Was Lucy Appletree some lunatic who got such a tape like me and decided to just go ahead with it?
“Are you ready? I will begin the incantation now. Be sure you are alone and the safety rune is still intact.”
She did start chanting something that sounded just odd. Not spooky. It went on for about twenty minutes before she fell silent again, all while wearing that fake smile.
“How do you like your improved nose? Should the results be not the desired outcome, you may have not damaged your nose sufficiently. You are free to try this again any time! Just make sure the safety rune is drawn correctly and not soiled by any substances. I hope you enjoyed our service!”
The video cut out not a second later. I put the disc back into the case and shoved the box into some corner. I didn’t want to unpack what I just saw. I just kinda went to bed.
In the morning, I put the stupid drawings in the trash. I had no idea what all this shit was about and didn’t care to investigate further anymore. I should probably report this? I decided to sleep over it a couple more times, get my facts straight. See if I get sent any more weird shit. That night, the door bell rang.
“Hey, nice to meet you, I’m Lucy Appletree! It’s been a long while since we had someone join our club!” she held out her hand. The last segments of her fingers were thick claws instead. Her feet were black hooves. Her slitted pupils looked at me unblinking. The rest of her body merged with the night and I could only see her tail, her horns, her wings after she entered. Inside, her wings folded into the rest of her body. It was the darkest black I’ve ever seen. Only her eyes and teeth were visible against it.
“What did you train? You didn’t seem to go for something outlandish yet.”
I closed the door and asked her if she wanted some tea. I saw her take a seat in the living room as I prepared it. I suppose it’s true when they say you have to suffer for beauty.