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By Lauren Lang
There’s a nervous energy in the air. A hiss. A crackle. A hum of electricity and not just from the generator attached to our truck. There’s something about going live, about being on television in front of millions of people, that adds urgency to everything.
Minute details become suddenly important. The cut of a bathing suit, for example. Most women worry how they’ll appear in front of, at most, a few hundred people at the beach. In a moment, I’ll be entering millions of living rooms and bedrooms wearing a swimsuit picked out by my boss’s boss.
Is the two-piece too revealing? Not revealing enough? Is white the right color? Will the audience still be able to see me in the dark water? We’ll all find out together in minutes.
“I’ll do anything to have this done. Anything,” I intone silently to myself.
This isn’t your average news story, and it certainly isn’t a normal live shot, as much as I would like to pretend that it is. I’m the consummate professional, however. The viewers don’t need to know that I’m secretly eating my heart because I’m about to have some toothy competition for my flesh.
“Angela, audio check?”
I jump imperceptibly at the intrusion into my thoughts as my earpiece crackles to life.
“One, two, three, four, five,” I answer into the microphone in my hands. The shaft feels slick with the sweat on my palms, but I hold it and my gaze firm as I stare into the camera.
“Thanks, Angela. We’re good. Ask Rick to pan right a little bit, would you?”
“Rick, Jordan wants you to pan right a little.” My cameraman makes a last second, micromillimeter adjustment to the camera until my producer is happy.
“Stand by for the live tease,” Jordan warns.
Over-the-air audio begins filtering through my earpiece as Jordan goes silent, replaced by the voice of lead anchor, Marcela Anthony.
“And coming up on KWQB at ten—snow hits the Western United States causing this thirty-car pileup. The incredible story of how one woman survived.”
“And that same storm is headed our way. I’m meteorologist Greg Dalton, and I’ll tell you when you need to break out the boots.”
“You’re live,” Jordan tells me.
“And later,” I jump in right on cue, but falter for a split second as the over-the-air monitor in front of me changes to my shot, and all 250 pounds of me appears on television clad in a white beach towel. “A new health trend is sweeping the US. Can a recent deep-sea discovery really help you lose weight? I’m Angela Ioane, and tonight I’ll be undergoing the procedure live to see if the dramatic claims made about Octosuction hold water.”
I hold the most serious facial expression I can manage tight on my face until I get the all clear.
“We’re in commercial,” Jordan assures me. “You’re eight minutes out.”
I’m one B-block of national news stories and weather away from taking off this towel and climbing into a tank full of sea creatures no one really understands. I wonder if I look as crazy as I feel.
Rick is already frantically moving equipment out of the lobby into the interior of the building in preparation for my dramatic entrance into the room that houses the Antipods.
Looking up, I catch the eye of Dr. Stewart. He’s standing behind Rick, grinning ear to ear.
“Angela, I can’t wait for you share this procedure with your viewers. It’s absolutely going to change your life and theirs,” he says, walking toward me.
I blink furiously, trying to clear the spots from my eyes left by the lights. “And you’re sure this is safe?”
Grasping my shoulder firmly in what I assume is meant to be a reassuring gesture, he reiterates what he told me over the telephone a few days ago. “Clinical trials have showed Octosuction has virtually no ill effects on patient health. Of course, we’ll have to wait for studies on the long-term impact of the procedure, but as far as I’m concerned, this is as close to a miracle cure for obesity as science is ever going to get.”
“I guess I’ll just have to see for myself,” I say with a smile, trying to keep the nervousness out of my voice.
“Angela, let’s run through your standup once more,” Rick calls from down the hall.
“Shall we?” Dr. Stewart motions for me to lead the way.
Reluctantly, I follow Rick’s voice down the hallway until Dr. Stewart and I reach the procedure room. I practice the moves the three of us planned earlier one more time. The minutes pass quickly, and before I know it, Jordan is my ear with a thirty-second warning.
I take a long, deep breath.
Marcela’s voice once again fills my ear as I hear the over-the-air audio. “Tonight on Health Check. It’s being called a miracle cure for obesity. The company behind Octosuction says the procedure is safe and effective, but some who’ve undergone the treatment say they’re now suffering serious complications.”
“You’re in double box,” Jordan tells me as my oval face appears on the screen next to Marcela’s slender one.
“Tonight, KWQB’s own Angela Ioane is live at Octosuction company headquarters to try the procedure for herself.”
“Stand by,” Jordan whispers as I nod on screen.
“Angela,” Marcela’s voice says in my earpiece, “you volunteered for this assignment. The results are staggering, but the long-term risks are still unknown. Why are you willing to take this chance with your health?”
“And cue.” Jordan points to me. The screen cuts to a tight shot of my face, and the camera starts to pull out as I begin reading my script.
“Marcela, the long-term health effects of obesity are well understood. I’ve struggled with my weight since childhood, which means I’m at a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, and stroke, to name a few. And I’m far from alone. Today two out of three adults are overweight, and one in three are obese. And like many of my fellow Americans, I’ve tried diet and exercise to lose weight without success.”
I can see in the monitor that the camera has fully widened to reveal me head to toe, a white beach towel covering my white two-piece.
“More extreme weight loss measures, such as gastric bypass surgery, carry their own health risks and expenses and have never been the right option for me. However, I’m desperate to shed the weight. So tonight, I am taking off the towel in search of a lasting way to lose the weight and improve my overall health, which is what researchers say Octosuction can do for me.”
With that sentence, a prerecorded story about the tiny sea creature involved in the procedure—Octopus Antipodi—begins to play. I listen breathlessly through the earpiece to my own voice reading the lines I wrote earlier today.
“Octopus Antipodi were discovered nearly five years ago in the bodies of dead sperm whales that began washing up on the shores of Australia and New Zealand.
“Researchers investigating the cause of the animals’ deaths performed necropsies, or animal autopsies, of the whales, which revealed the half-inch-long mollusks, more commonly known as Antipodi.
“The researchers found up to one hundred healed wounds per whale, which they theorized were caused when the Octopus Antipodi used their beak-shaped mouths and tentacles to bore holes deep within the whale’s blubber.
“There they developed a commensalism relationship where the Antipodi fed on and bred within the whale’s fat—”
“Hey, you okay?” Jordan’s question intrudes on my thoughts.
Momentarily jarred back to reality, I motion for Dr. Stewart to join me in front of the camera. “Yeah, I’m fine. We’re good to go.”
“Alright, thirty seconds out.”
I listen to my own voice finish telling viewers about the discovery of the Antipodi.
“This phosphorescent mollusk emits a blue glow, which researchers believe the creature may have developed in response to its deep-sea habitat.”
“Stand by,” Jordan warns me. “Cue is, ‘Still much to be learned.’”
“However, researchers still don’t know exactly where in the Marina Trench the animal originates from or why they have just recently begun appearing in the fatty tissue of whales. They reiterate there is still much to be learned.”
With that line, the camera cuts back to me live.
“Dr. David Stewart is the world’s leading expert on Octopus Antipodi, and it’s his research that has led to what millions of Americans are calling a weight-loss breakthrough. Dr. Stewart joins me now to discuss what the Octosuction procedure entails.”
“Angela, the Antipodi will enter your body through tiny holes they bore in your skin. Once inside, they will begin to eat excess body fat, beginning with your midsection and spreading slowly to the rest of your body over the course of a few days. Within a few weeks, they’ll begin to reproduce, ensuring that you remain slender for the rest of your life.”
“Before we proceed, Doctor, I want to show viewers what I look like at my current weight.”
With a small flourish, I unfold the tuck in the towel I’ve made above my left breast and allow the terry cloth to fall to the floor. I stand in front of the camera, silent, for what feels like hours but is really only seconds, clad in nothing but a white bikini.
I smile at Dr. Stewart. “I’m ready to begin my transformation.”
“This way.” Dr. Stewart gestures gallantly toward the procedure room. He walks and talks, explaining the next steps as we draw closer to the doorway. “The Antipodi live deep in the Marina Trench, meaning that very little light penetrates the water. As you’ve already told your viewers, that’s why we believe they glow. However, to keep them alive in captivity, we have to replicate their natural habitat as closely as possible, which means keeping them in almost complete darkness at all times.”
Rick is close behind us, his camera mounted firmly on his shoulder. He catches every miniscule twinge of terror in my expression as I turn to face the camera and prepare to head into the room.
“So, viewers at home, that means this procedure will take place in almost complete darkness. There will be a slight glow from the Antipodi, but I will mostly be describing what I’m feeling to Dr. Stewart, who will keep this microphone with him. You’ll be able to hear what I’m saying the entire time I’m in the tank with the Antipodi.”
“Are you ready to begin, Angela?”
“I’ve been waiting for this my entire life.”
I remove my earpiece and hand it and the microphone to Dr. Stewart before crossing the threshold into the room. Rick follows with the camera.
It’s pitch-black, and I walk slowly, careful not to lose my footing on the cold tile lining the floor.
“This is a wet room, so it doesn’t matter if you splash water on the floor,” Dr. Stewart says. “The tank is directly ahead of you. It’s sunk into the floor like a swimming pool, so I want you to walk carefully and slowly until your eyes begin to adjust.”
My pupils, already wide with anxiety and a healthy dose of fear, expand even further. It’s not completely dark. There, within the floor, I can see the Anitpodi glowing faintly. As I move closer, I can see them writhing in the tank. It’s a small, almost imperceptible wriggling motion as they bob under the surface.
“This is the side of the tank. I want you to sit down slowly on the floor and, when you’re ready, move forward until you can comfortably place your legs in the water.”
I do as I’m told, knowing I should be saying something about the experience to the viewers at home, but I’m too anxious to utter a word. Finally, I feel the tips of my toes come in contact with the water. I keep moving forward, millimeter by millimeter, until the water reaches mid-calf. I try to avoid making direct contact with any of the floating Antipodi. I can hear some of the liquid being displaced as it overflows the tank.
“It’s cold!” I exclaim.
“You may experience some slight discomfort due to the water temperature, but I assure you, it’s necessary to keep the Antipodi alive. Just keep moving forward. Go at your own pace. I want you to stand fully upright within the tank.”
Ignoring my own hatred of the cold, I keep moving forward, faster now, trying to ease the initial shock. I stop avoiding the increasingly active Antipodi and ignore the sound of water flowing onto the floor as I slide my thighs and finally my hips fully into the water. My feet make contact with the bottom of the tank.
“Alright, Doctor, I’m standing upright. The tank is quite shallow. It must only be three feet deep,” I say, trying to keep my teeth from chattering.
“Good, Angela. Now I want you to sit down and immerse yourself in the water up to your neck, but be careful not to allow your head to go underwater.”
I’m glad the viewers at home can’t see my face in the dark as I grimace and begin to sit. I feel the Antipodi bump into my body as I sink further into the tank. One of the floating organisms makes contact with my thigh, and I feel tiny tentacles tickle my leg, almost as if it’s exploring my flesh, though it’s becoming harder to tell as I’m beginning to lose sensation.
“The Antipodi are beginning to touch me, Doctor. I think I feel tentacles. It almost tickles.”
“That’s normal. Now, the Antipodi are going to be attracted to your body heat. They’re going to gravitate toward you. Do not be alarmed.”
Even as he says it, I can see more glowing blue organisms moving toward me. Unable to clamp my jaw shut any longer, my teeth begin to chatter loudly and I start to shiver violently. The movement of the water seems to excite the Anitpodi, and I can see as well as feel tiny glowing tentacles probing my flesh. The tentacles are attached to short, cylindrical bodies.
Suddenly, I feel a sharp pinch on the left side of my abdomen.
“Doctor,” I say, trying to keep my voice steady, “I believe the first one has bitten me.”
“Good, good,” Dr. Stewart says in soothing tone. “It’s going to work its way into your body now. Don’t be frightened. The procedure is going quite well.”
Despite the cold, I feel several sharper pinches where the Antipodi have attached to my side. It takes everything I have not to cry out. Desperately, I scan the room for Rick, looking for any kind of reassurance, but in the darkness, I can only make out his outline a few feet from the tank.
More sharp pinches follow on my thighs, my breasts, and the right side of my buttock as additional Antipodi begin attaching themselves to me.
“There’s multiple Antipodi on me now. I’m in some pain, Doctor, is this normal?”
I don’t hear his answer. The first Antipodi that attached to my torso must have eaten its way through the skin because suddenly there’s a writhing feeling about a quarter-inch inside of me. I can feel it moving, digging into my side. It’s cold and disgusting, unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.
“Doctor, it’s inside me!” I cry out, the panic in my voice obvious.
“Just stay still. You’re doing well,” he tells me.
Everything doesn’t feel well. There’s more Antipodi entering me now. They’re freezing cold, like living, squirming icicles. I can no longer feel my skin, but internally I can feel them inching inside. The deepest one feels as if it has reached the center of my abdomen. I imagine their tentacles grabbing onto my muscle fibers and pulling themselves further into my body.
I scream, completely forgetting the audience observing the procedure live on television.
I begin to thrash within the tank, violently splashing water onto the floor in a desperate effort to escape. Suddenly, I catch sight of a glowing Antipodi in my thigh, half of its body sticking out of my leg. I grab it and pull, screaming as its beaklike teeth tear at the middle of my quadriceps.
“Angela, stop! Calm down!” Doctor Stewart yells frantically. “It’s normal! This is normal!”
I’m panting, screaming, and thrashing uncontrollably when suddenly I feel hands on my shoulders. They’re Rick’s, strong and familiar, and they’re pushing me back down into the water.
“Hold still, Angela,” Doctor Stewart’s voice says from somewhere near my ear.
I feel a sharp pinch in my neck. The faint blue glow of the room begins to fade as I sink into the true blackness of unconsciousness.
Even through closed eyelids, I can sense the light. I don’t want to wake up, but in the back of my mind, something silently whispers that it’s morning. Late morning. I jerk my eyelids open in a panic. I’m late for work.
But this isn’t my bedroom. I’m momentarily confused by the strange artwork on the walls and the odd sounds in the distance. I pause to listen to as the sound of feet approaching the room grows louder. I see a man in blue scrubs pass the doorway, continuing down the hall. Nothing makes sense.
Frantically I search for the last thing I can remember. Octosuction. The Antipodi. Oh, God, the Antipodi!
I bolt upright, surprised at my speed. It’s oddly easy to move. Glancing down, I expect to see the tops of my breasts but instead find myself looking squarely at the center of my stomach.
Slowly I pull back the bedding to reveal a hospital gown. It’s several sizes too large. In fact, I’m nearly swimming in it.
I pull the bottom of the gown up until I can see my left thigh. There’s a large white bandage over the spot where I remember the Antipodi entering my body, but the gauze isn’t the shocking part. My leg itself makes me gasp. It’s half its normal size.
Slowly I take my hands and wrap them around the muscle, forming a circle. For the first time in my life, my fingertips can almost touch.
Frantically I begin patting my hands all over my body. My breasts, my stomach, my arms—everything is smaller, thinner. I encounter extra flaps of skin under my arms and across my rib cage, but I ignore them for the time being.
“It worked! I’m thin!” I scream to the empty room, tears of joy streaming down my face.
My shout draws attention to the fact I’m awake, and a second later, the male nurse I spotted earlier enters the room followed closely by my boss.
“How are you feeling?” the nurse asks me.
“I’m thin!” I scream without thinking.
“The doctor is making his rounds. He’ll be in shortly to update you on your condition. Do you need anything for the time being?” he asks me, a slight smile on his face.
Desperate to see my face, I gasp, “A mirror. Is there a mirror in here?”
“Let’s hold off on that,” my boss chimes in. “I’d like to save the big reveal for the viewers, if you don’t mind.”
I turn my attention to him for the first time and feel dread replace my excitement.
“Oh, God, how much of it did you air?” I ask him.
“We cut away right before you started screaming.” He makes air quotes as he says, “We had ‘technical difficulties.’ We missed the worst of it. You’re a celebrity though. The story went national. Over the last twelve hours, the newsroom has been flooded with calls from all over the country asking about your condition. We’d like to get you back on air with an update as soon as possible.”
“Of course, of course,” I say. “Just as soon as I get something to eat. I’m starting to feel light-headed from all the excitement.”
My boss leaves to grab a cup of coffee, and I order a hearty breakfast of waffles and eggs as I wait for the doctor. I can feel a slight shifting in my stomach, but I write it off as hunger pangs. It only takes a few minutes for food to arrive, but by the time the orderly brings in the steaming tray I’m famished.
The doctor catches me in the middle of devouring my food.
“You’re healing. The hunger is normal.” The doctor reviews my chart. “I can start the release paperwork.”
“I want you live at five,” my boss says, holding his coffee in one hand and a breakfast burrito in the other. The smell is intoxicating. Despite finishing my own food just seconds ago, my stomach rumbles.
“But what do I wear? I don’t think I have anything that fits anymore,” I say, glancing down at my slender frame.
“The station has taken care of it. Don’t worry, considering the unique circumstances, we’ll wait until you have some overtime on a check to worry about reimbursement.”
It’s hard to focus on what he’s saying. I greedily watch him brush the crumbs from his shirt as he finishes his burrito and stands to leave. “Head over to the station once you’re done here.”
“Yes, sir,” I say with a mock salute. “I may be half the reporter I once was, but I still expect my full salary.”
He laughs as he walks to the door. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that.”
Processing the paperwork feels like it takes forever, and my stomach is churning with anxiety. Slight muscle spasms shoot through my biceps and legs, but since it only happens once in a while, I ignore it.
Once everything is signed, Rick meets me at the hospital entrance. He doesn’t even comment on my messy hair or hospital-issue sweats as he scoops me up in a huge hug.
“Look at you! There’s hardly any of you left! You look amazing. But you nearly scared me to death last night. I thought we were going to lose you there for a second.”
I laugh. “Hey, I’m not that easy to get rid of. Look, I don’t want to be a pain, but do you mind if we stop for a snack along the way? The doctor said it was normal to be hungry as I healed but, man, I’m starving!”
“No problem. What do you want?”
“Danishes. I want cherry Danishes.”
“You got it.”
We pull up to a pastry shop down the road, and I grab several to eat in the car. My leg twitches with pleasure as I chow down. I don’t think anything has ever tasted so good. Three servings per pastry be damned. For the first time in my life, I’m unconcerned about calories. Nothing is going to stick to these thighs ever again.
A sea of emotions greets us as we walk into the newsroom. It isn’t necessarily unexpected, but the mixture of concerned glances and horror on the faces of my coworkers catches me somewhat by surprise. Even Rick’s face is starting to tighten with fear.
“Hey, you’re starting to look a little pale. You sure you’re feeling okay?” he asks me quietly.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.” In truth, I’m feeling a little peaked, and the muscle spasms are getting stronger. It almost feels as if the Antipodi are still moving inside of me, but that can’t be. “Let me just get something from the vending machine. The procedure must have taken more out of me than I thought.”
I grab a bag of pretzels and munch away as I start writing up my live shot. A package of Pop Tarts and a couple of candy bars keep me going through the afternoon. By the glances my coworkers toss my direction, I can tell I look better but the vending machine is worse for wear.
The station has brought in a hair and makeup artist for my big reveal. I get all dolled up before they present me with a stunning blue blouse and black skirt they’ve purchased for me to wear. The skirt is a little loose, and out of curiosity, I peek at the size. It’s an eight, just large enough to cover the extra skin on my abdomen while still giving me a slender profile. I smile, elated. I’ve never worn anything in the single digits, and once I get the extra skin removed, I’ll actually be much smaller.
When five o’clock rolls around, I’m more than ready to show off for the viewers. The studio has placed a full-size mirror for me and covered it with the same white towel I wore last night. What a difference twenty-four hours can make.
I hear the open roll through my earpiece as the show starts.
“Good evening. I’m Marcela Anthony. Our top story tonight, one of KWQB’s own undergoes the popular weight-loss procedure, Octosuction. It’s being called a miracle by those struggling to shed pounds, but others say it’s dangerous. We wanted to show it to you live and let you, the viewer, decide. Due to technical difficulties, we were unable to air the procedure in its entirety last night, leaving people around the country concerned about reporter Angela Ioane’s condition. Tonight, she joins us to reveal her amazing transformation. Angela?”
The camera cuts to me in a different part of the studio, standing in front of the covered mirror.
“Thank you, Marcela. And I want to thank each and every one of you who has called and emailed the station for your concern. I’m recovering, but I wanted to take this opportunity to share the results of Octosuction with you.”
I slowly spin for the camera, showing off my slender new physique.
“As you can see, I have lost over one hundred pounds in just under twenty-four hours. And while I know I’m thinner, I have yet to see myself in a mirror. So, without further ado . . .” I pull aside the towel and stare myself in the eyes for the first time.
I’m horrified by what I see. It’s obvious that even with heavy makeup, I’m extremely pale. Dark circles ring my eyes.
Glancing down, I stare at my body. Under the form-fitting blouse, there is a lump on my abdomen. Without warming, it starts to move, simulating the muscle contractions I’ve been having all day.
They aren’t muscle contractions. It’s the Antipodi moving inside me.
My scream is bloodcurdling.
The station cuts to commercial.
Six months later
“Due to this procedure, I now face a life-threatening health condition,” I tell the half-circle of men and woman seated on the dais in front of me.
“Antipodism is a condition in which the Antipodi used in the Octosuction procedure reproduce faster and more frequently in individuals with certain body chemistry than they do in others. I am one such patient, and as a result, I am forced to eat upwards of eight thousand calories a day or risk death by starvation. To consume that many calories, I need to eat every few minutes. Hundreds of other women like me who were desperate to lose weight are now similarly incapacitated. Like so many of them I have lost my career, and I find myself unable to do anything but eat.”
Tears spring to my eyes as I describe my new relationship with food to the assembled group. It’s just like old relationship: dysfunctional.
“Doctor Stewart’s faulty research and the negligence of Octosuction executives have made me thin, as promised, but they have also caused this irreversible and devastating condition. That is why I came here to testify today. I urge you all to vote to move P.L.10002-5589 forward and ban Octosuction in the United States. Thank you.”
Following my testimony in front of Congress, I walk down the steps of the Capitol, surround by reporters. A chorus of voices calls out to me.
“Miss Ioane, how are you feeling?”
“Angela, do you believe the bill will pass?”
“Angela, is there anything you’d like to say?”
I pause, digging through my purse for something to eat. My standard array of sandwiches greets me. Pulling one out and unwrapping it, I take a giant bite. Crumbs tumble down the front of my blouse as I look up to find the faces of my former colleagues staring at me, expectantly, cameras pointed directly at my face.
“Yeah. Eat me.”
This story first appeared in Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath – Wordfire Press – 2018
Lauren Lang is a former broadcast journalist and current freelance photographer and videographer living in Denver, Col.. In her spare time, she writes fiction, cooks, bakes, crochets hats for stuffed animals, gardens with the intent of taking pictures of the flowers should they live, and terrorizes local residents by pretending to be a wildlife photographer and running through area parks with her camera screaming, “Birds!” Occasionally, she does actually take a picture of a bird. She can also occasionally be found in a tree with the birds.