Originally published September 10, 2017.
Contains: long-term weight gain, slobification.
If you read the premise of this story and think, “Hey, that sounds a lot like In the Grasp of the Munchies, minus the Munchies,” you’d be right. In putting together the idea for this story, one of the questions I asked myself was, “What could cause a man to come to the same fate as Brad does in that story, but without any supernatural or fantastical elements? How could that story play out in a mundane way?” This story is my answer to that question.
Synopsis: Earl is tired of his corporate job working him long hours for no real reward. So he starts developing his own app, in the hopes of taking all that effort and channeling it into an entrepreneurial venture where he might see more success. However, the long hours he spends developing the app saps him of time to cook or work out, resulting in a lot of delivery dinners and inactivity. While his app and his eventual company grow bigger as a result of his hard work, his belly does too. And once he gets that success he was after, he finds himself not sure what to do with it, other than what he’s been doing all along…
Friday night around 6:30 PM, Earl stepped into his modest ranch house and let out a sigh as he hung his jacket up. He’d left the office only 20 minutes prior, getting home faster than usual because everyone had already left work by then, leaving few other drivers to clog the roads. Slowly opening his eyes, he gazed toward the kitchen, separated from the living room by a counter-height divider. Normally, when he got home that late, he still had enough time and motivation to make dinner. But staying in the office that late on a Friday had drained him of all energy and will to cook. With another sigh, he hobbled over to the kitchen, pulled a frozen meal out of the freezer, and tossed it in the microwave to heat up.
As the lasagna dish thawed, Earl pulled out his phone and cycled through his social media. Among the political posts and selfies and life updates and shareables, one post stood out to him in particular:
“They should make an app that’s like Grindr but for nearby dogs to pet.”
Earl breathed out of his nose in a laughing rhythm, hit “Like” on the post, and scrolled past it before he thought, why doesn’t that exist yet? Surely there would be a huge demand for it, he reasoned, at least on the petters’ side. And for dog owners, it could be a way to meet new people, or socialize their pups. There’s something here, Earl thought, just before the microwave’s timer went off.
Earl had always wanted to try his hand at app development, maybe even try making a living off of an app. With his office job making him work 50-60 hours a week for a 40 hour week salary, he felt like he was already putting in entrepreneur-level work, without the entrepreneur-level chance at greater success. Why not give it a go?, he wondered as he ate his lasagna. Of course, the stability of his corporate job was appealing in its own way, which kept Earl from committing to the idea as he thought about it over dinner.
Once dinner was done, he intended to get to bed early and catch up on all the sleep he’d missed that week. But as things were winding down and he was getting ready for bed, he couldn’t take his mind off of the app idea. Sure, it hadn’t seemed like a viable option while he was eating dinner. But as he disrobed to go to bed, he kept negotiating in his mind all the ways he could make it work. I could do the work on nights and weekends, he thought. Get the app ready while I save up some funds to tide me over after I quit. As he looked in the mirror, his angular face looking back at him and the trim frame that held it up, he smiled and thought, Yeah, I could do that.
For the next three months, all of Earl’s spare time was dedicated to developing the app. He’d named it Boofr, knowing Woofr could be misconstrued as a very different kind of app. On week days, he woke up, went to work, got home, and worked on Boofr until he fell asleep. On weekends, unless his friends invited him out somewhere, he worked on Boofr from when he woke up to when he went to bed, taking breaks only when he caught himself making stupid mistakes from exhaustion.
All that development meant that Earl no longer had the time to cook for himself. For the first week, he tried to pick up something marginally healthy on the way home from work: a sub, a single slice of pizza with a salad, some sushi, or the like. But nearly every day after that, he was too excited to go home and work on Boofr to stop for dinner on the way home. Dinner became an afterthought, forgotten until two or three hours into coding, when he felt his stomach growl.
Not wanting to waste valuable development time cooking dinner, Earl took to ordering delivery instead. Of course, delivery orders meant more food than a single sandwich or a slice of pizza or a single-serving tray of sushi. Most nights, Earl told himself he’d save some of that food for dinner the next day. Before lunch on weekends, he told himself to save some for dinner that night. Every time, he’d keep snacking on his order as he worked, until it was all gone. Every time, he’d reach into an empty bag or box and say, “Alright, not so much next time.” He never followed through on that resolution.
But he remained resolute that he could. Even after weeks passed without him ever saving part of his delivery order for the next meal, he was sure that this time, this time he’d be able to do it. He was so sure that, as the weeks passed, he ordered more sides with his meals, convinced that the extra food could make him stop eating the whole order in one go. It never worked.
By the end of that three month development period, as Earl was preparing Boofr for limited launch, he was ordering delivery meals nearly twice as big as the meals he’d ordered when he started development. He’d order two sides along with a whole pizza, or two subs and several bags of chips instead of just one each. He saw each night out with a massive dinner, the enormity of which never sunk in for him, as he was too busy coding.
But it was worth it. At the end of those three months, Boofr was ready for limited release in the nearby cities. The server space had been reserved, contracts with advertisers had been arranged, he’d built up enough hype to guarantee an initial user base, and his friends had tested the app well enough that he was confident it would work. He felt like he was on the verge of launching the successful app he’d always dreamed of.
There was just one problem: outside of work, he had enough time to work on development. But maintaining and moderating the app, expanding it to cover new cities, writing patches, and further development would take more time than he could dedicate to it while still working full-time. For Boofr to be successful, he would need to dedicate all his time to it. He simply couldn’t keep a day job and give the app the time it needed.
It was time for him to quit.
Like most jobs in software, Earl enjoyed the benefit of being able to wear tee shirts and cargo pants to work. But for the day he planned to put in his two weeks’ notice, he wanted to dress up just a bit, to leave his boss with a good impression. Monday morning, he reached deep into his closet to find the button-down shirt, khaki pants, and green tie that he hadn’t worn since his job interview. With a wistful smile, he pulled out the hangers and tossed them on his bed. Once his underwear and socks were on, he took the pants and shirt off their hangers to put them on.
But his clothes didn’t fit as comfortably as Earl remembered them fitting the day of the interview. Granted, Earl didn’t like the way formal clothes felt in general, which was one of the reasons he’d gone into software. But he didn’t remember the shirt’s seams being so tight around his shoulders. And he was sure he didn’t have to suck his stomach in to button the shirt before. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been professional enough to wear to work. But he put the thought out of his mind, too excited about starting the next chapter of his life to worry about how a single shirt fit.
The pants were another matter. They fit so snugly around Earl’s thighs that he nearly couldn’t get them up over his hips. But eventually he did, even though it felt like he’d have to pull his shirt out to button the pants closed. Earl did his best to suck in his stomach even more than he had with his shirt, pulling the two sides of the pants closed with as much strength as he had. It was barely enough to get the button closed, but he got it through, and let out a relieved sigh when he did. Even though the beltline of the pants was digging into his waist, and he could feel his pudge bulging out from between the buttons of the shirt, he’d gotten the clothes on.
All that remained was for Earl to put his shoes on. He walked to the foot of his bed, where he kept his shoes, and carefully sat down. The shirt and pants were still tight on him, but he felt confident that they could hold. And if they could hold as he put his shoes on, they’d hold throughout the rest of the day. So he bent down to pick up his shoes and slip his feet into them, in spite of how tightly his clothes squeezed his stomach and waist. All he had to do was slip them on…
After hearing cloth rip in several places, Earl heard the sound of something plastic bouncing off his wooden bedroom floor, before he saw several buttons scuttle away from him. After sitting up straight, he looked down and saw that his pudgy stomach had burst through his button-down shirt. The shirt had been liberated of several of its buttons, leaving the two bottom corners hanging free on either side of his stomach. The sudden relief of pressure around his pelvis told him that his pants’ button had also been among the victims of his body’s break out.
Earl sat on the bed and stared at the buttons for a moment, before he sighed and walked over to pick them up. It was a lot easier for him to bend down now that his clothes were no longer wrapped around him so tightly. He tossed the buttons in the garbage before thinking, Guess I won’t be wearing these. A smile spread across his face as he continued, After all, once Boofr takes off, I won’t have to go into an office again.
Earl was distracted from that optimistic train of thought when he turned to pick out some clothes that fit and saw himself in the mirror. It was a sorry sight indeed, as the flaps of his shirt and pants all parted to draw the eye to his flabby midsection. Where Earl had once had barely any fat now sat an undeniable paunch, jutting out from the clothes it had liberated itself from. As Earl poked at it curiously, he sent ripples across the entire rounded mass. He jiggled it from the bottom, running his hands around his abdomen to feel at the love handles that had crept over his hips. He knew all that food had to be going somewhere, but he didn’t expect to have grown that much in such a short amount of time.
“Maybe I should lay off the delivery,” Earl said at himself in the mirror. But he didn’t dwell on the matter for long, as he still had to get into work. With haste, he pulled a tee shirt and a pair of cargo pants out of his drawers. To his relief, his regular work clothes were much more accommodating of his recent growth than his formal clothes were. Once he was dressed, he tossed his ripped up clothes in the trash bins outside and got in his car, mentally preparing himself himself to give his two weeks’ notice.
Those last two weeks of Earl’s job were some of the slowest he could remember, as his excitement and anxiousness about launching Boofr made the time pass at a crawl. But with so little development work left to do, he found himself with a glut of free time outside of his working hours. With time to go grocery shopping and make meals again, he dropped his delivery habit and was eating healthy again. He also spent a lot of time catching up with his friends whom he hadn’t seen much while he was still developing Boofr. In that time, the only friends he saw were the ones helping him test the app.
But things took a hard turn back to the new normal after Earl’s last day. He’d planned for the launch of Boofr that Saturday, to get things moving as fast as possible. And move they did, for Earl’s day was filled with all of the responsibilities required of the admin of a new app: community moderation, bug fixes, and taking care of problems that didn’t appear when the app wasn’t being stress tested hard enough. By the time midnight rolled around, he wanted to stay up to keep tabs on his project, even though he could feel his eyelids struggling to stay open. So he put out a “Thanks for a great first day!” post on the app’s Facebook page, shut down his computer, and got up to go to bed.
It was only then that Earl realized he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. He felt too tired to wait for delivery, but also too tired to make anything substantial. With a resigned sigh, he hobbled into the kitchen and made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, before he fell in bed in his day clothes and went to sleep.
Over the next few days, as Earl did everything his new app required of him, he was better about stepping away from the computer to fix himself meals. Those meals usually ended up being low-effort affairs like box mac-n-cheese and microwavable meals, but he was at least making time to eat. As his pantry ran low, however, he felt like he couldn’t step away from the computer long enough to go buy groceries. So many problems had come up that required his immediate attention that he felt like his only valid excuse for not tending to the app was sleeping.
Thankfully, he knew that grocery delivery services were an option. As he sat at his computer, keeping an eye on customer reports, he opened one such service in another window and made his list. He knew better than to order foods that only served as ingredients, for he definitely wouldn’t have the time to cook as long as he was tending to Boofr. So he stuck to fruits and veggies that could be eaten without much prep, and easy meals that he could make in under five minutes.
Earl’s method worked at first, with him able to stick to a reasonably healthy diet based on grocery deliveries. But snack food soon stmade its way into Earl’s orders, so he’d have something to munch on as he worked on Boofr. The meals he made simply weren’t enough to satisfy him, but he knew that snacking would only lead to him putting on more weight. He wondered if heartier meals could reduce his urge to snack, but he just didn’t have the time to make them for himself.
So Earl started ordering delivery again, hoping he could stave off the urge to snack if he could be more full after a meal. He tried to keep his orders moderate in their size, but it wasn’t long until Earl fell back into old habits, ordering huge meals for himself to graze on as he worked. Only now, he was ordering delivery twice a day, for both lunch and dinner, every day of the week. Of course, Earl kept getting groceries delivered for breakfast, when all his usual delivery places weren’t open. Once he found himself snacking on cereal between his meals, he started ordering snack food again, in the hopes of making a box of cereal last longer than a couple of days.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Earl knew his new diet couldn’t be good for him. But there was too much work to do on Boofr for him to spare it any thought. And thanks to Boofr, it wasn’t all bad news. Between ad revenue and premium subscriptions, the app was making enough that Earl didn’t have to live off of his savings anymore. What’s more, it was ready for launch in major cities across the country.
Of course, Earl didn’t have to live off of his savings anymore because all he spent his money on was food, rent, and utilities. Having barely left the house since he started working on Boofr full time, he’d barely had to fill up the gas in his car. Since he wasn’t hanging out with his friends, he didn’t have to spend money on going out to eat or whatever else they wanted to do. Which was good news for his wallet, but not so good news for his waistline. Barely leaving the house meant he wasn’t moving much either, and all that delivery and those snacks were starting to make their mark.
By the time Boofr was ready to go national, several publications had expressed interest in interviewing Earl, which he knew could be a big boost for his app. Thankfully, they were phone interviews, absolving him of needing to abandon his app to carry them out. However, those writers still wanted a photo of Earl to publish with the story, preferably one of him hard at work, in addition to the usual app screenshots and photos of people using the app. Earl could crowdsource the latter, but he had to give those publications the former himself.
Of the many things Earl wasn’t buying for himself while he was working on Boofr full time, new clothes were one of them. He’d taken to working in his pajama, or even just boxers. Most days, he didn’t put on real clothes at all. After all, who did he have to impress? So when he tried on his old tee shirts and cargo pants to take some publicity photos, he supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised that they didn’t fit either.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. On the day of his first interview, Earl managed to pull himself away from his computer to his bedroom, to get changed into some clothes he could photograph himself in. Opening his drawers, he pulled out his nicest pair of cargo shorts and an appropriate shirt with a drawing of a dog making his app’s namesake onomatopoeia. It was the one piece of clothing he’d ordered since he started working on Boofr full-time, figuring it would be a good shirt to have on hand. He hadn’t even tried it on, but it was a size-large, just like his others. He was sure it would fit just fine.
But as Earl slipped the shirt on over his head, he didn’t feel so sure. Of course, it had been a while since he’d put on a non-pajama shirt, but he was fairly certain they didn’t require sticking his arms into such a small space to get them through the sleeves. But he got the shirt over his head without much issue, and pulled it down around his waist.
At least, he tried to. But as Earl tugged on the bottom hem, he could feel that the shirt wasn’t going all the way down past the bottom of his stomach. He tried sucking his belly in, tugging extra hard, hunching over, anything he could to make the shirt fit. But once he let it go, it rode back up over his pudgy belly. The shirt was wrapped so tightly around his torso that as it receded, it pulled his body hair with it, tugging the black strands tightly until they snapped free of its grip, leaving a scraggly turf that punctuated his flabby midsection.
Earl let out a sigh as he looked at the tee shirt wrapped around him snugly him like an elastic bandage. I knew I should have tried this on when I got it. Damn clothing makers can’t keep their sizes consistent for anything, he thought as he struggled to get the tee shirt off. With a sigh, he tossed in on the floor next to his dresser, telling himself he’d decide what to do with it later.
With the “bork” shirt eliminated as a possibility, Earl went back to his dresser and pulled out a plain blue tee shirt. He remembered it being one of his biggest and stretchiest, and figured that if nothing else, he at least woulndn’t have any problems with how it fit. Even though he had to squeeze to get his arms and head through like he had with the graphic tee, he was sure that shirt wouldn’t let him down.
Until he got the shirt on and tried to pull it over his belly. The blue shirt was indeed stretchier than the graphic tee, but it could only cover his stomach when he was pulling it down. Otherwise, it contracted up his belly just like the “bork” shirt, revealing a hairy, pale stripe of his gut just like the other shirt had.
But Earl didn’t give up just then. If the shirt could cover his torso while he pulled it down, maybe he could tuck it into his cargo shorts, and with the help of a belt, they could keep it down. So he ambled over to his bed, grabbed the cargo shorts, and stepped into them. To his relief, he put them on without any trouble.
Getting them around his waist was another matter. Earl had a bad feeling when he had to shimmy into the seat of his shorts to get them around his hips, and that feeling was only confirmed when he tried to button them. Pulling gently at either side of the waistband, he couldn’t get the button and its hole closer than a couple of inches apart. Sucking in his stomach and tugging extra hard closed the gap part-way, but he was unable to button his pants without lying back on his bed and doing a lot of wriggling.
Once Earl finally got the button closed, he lay back breathing heavily and sighed, “Okay. Now I just have to tuck the shirt in.” With a grunt, he heaved his legs off the bed and pushed himself up into a sitting position, fighting against the constraining tightness of his shorts. At least, until he heard the sound of fabric ripping and a button bouncing across the floor, followed by an immediate sensation of relief. Earl sat unmoving on the edge of his bed with his eyes closed, knowing that looking down at the sorry state of his clothes wouldn’t do him any good. But he had to give that reporter some kind of photo. With a sigh, he stood up and walked back to his computer, resolving to figure something out.
But Earl had to walk past his full-length mirror before he could leave his bedroom. Once he caught of glimpse of himself, against his better judgement, he stopped to get a better look. While he’d seen himself gradually putting on weight since he started working on Boofr full time, it wasn’t until he saw himself in old clothes that used to fit that he realized just how big he’d gotten.
Gone was the modest paunch of yore, having swelled into a belly that couldn’t be hidden by a baggy shirt anymore. That lumpy deposit of fat had rounded out into a proper gut that stood out from the rest of Earl’s body, with a distinct border between his chest and his belly. Both of them now jutted out from his once cylindrical torso, two lumps resting atop a bulge belying all the time he’d spent in his chair developing Boofr.
His torso wasn’t the only place that showed the damage of all that delivery, snacking, and inactivity. The tightness of his sleeves around his shoulders showed that his arms had grown too, his flab expanding past the end of his sleeves where it finally had room. As he looked up, he saw the beginning of a double chin descending from his face. His cheeks had bulged out to match, as they hung below tired eyes that didn’t want to keep looking at his newly added heft.
Earl shook his head and stripped back down to his boxers, like he had been wearing originally as he worked that day. All that fixation on his weight wasn’t going to get him any closer to getting a photo to the reporter. Back in his most comfortable outfit, he walked back to his computer and opened up his browser to see what his options were. Picking a Facebook photo seemed too unprofessional, as did taking a selfie that was just chest-up. As a last-ditch effort, he opened his LinkedIn, to see if he could find anything on there.
Staring him back was a professional photo taken during his time as an office worker for his ID. He’d managed to rip the hi-resolution version from the company’s internal website, and kept it around for sites like LinkedIn. His body was facing to the left in the photo, but he was looking at the camera straight on, with a confident expression and an assured smile. His red shirt and maroon tie put forth an aura of knowing what he was doing. It was perfect, and Earl still had the raw photo saved to his hard drive. Quick as he could, he wrote an email to the interviewer apologizing for the fact that technical difficulties would prevent him from providing an updated photo, and offering the portrait photo in its stead.
With that matter taken care of, Earl went back to working on Boofr and the several user reports that had built up in his time away from the computer. As he worked, he opened another window to order clothes that were a size bigger than his current ones. There was no use in fighting his growth right then, he reasoned. With Booft growing so fast, he had more important things to focus on than losing a few pounds.
“At the current rate of growth, I think we’ll have the resources to start expanding Boofr into international markets by the end of the fiscal year.”
“Great news,” Earl replied to Jade, before he saw her smile through her video chat window. The three other members of Earl’s executive team all echoed Earl’s sentiments, smiling and nodding through their own windows as they voiced their agreement. “Safiya, what’s the latest on the development of Meowly.”
“Our project lead says that most of the architecture for Boofr should work for Meowly as well. However, he says infrastructure will need to be added to account for indoor cats as well as walkable ones, with more categories being a possibility.”
“That makes sense,” Earl commented. “Boofr was never meant to be tied to any location except the user’s phone. Do they have an estimate on the time remaining for development?”
“Jamal says two months, to be safe.”
Earl sat back in his computer chair and nodded. Two months was longer than he was hoping for, but it would only be a bothersome delay, nothing catastrophic. With Boofr being as high-profile as it was, a lot of people were looking forward to its rumored cat-based counterpart. With how many eyes would be on them, Earl knew they couldn’t screw it up.
“Is… Is that too long?”
Looking up at his screen, Earl saw all four of his team members staring at their screens with apprehensive faces. “No, no,” he quickly answered. “It’s obviously longer than I had hoped for, but that still leaves of plenty of time between Meowly’s launch and when we go international. As long as we don’t have to make two separate international pushes for each app, that’s what matters most.”
At once, all four of the other participants took on more relaxed expressions. Some untensed their shoulders, others smiled, and Safiya quietly but visibly sighed.
With how their meeting software was set up, the image Earl projected to the rest of his team was very small on his screen in comparison with their images. As such, he often forgot that by using a still photo instead of his webcam, he was denying them the benefit of seeing his facial expressions, and had to express everything in words. He looked down at that old LinkedIn photo and smirked, feeling like it should have been a constant reminder to use his words.
Earl also wondered how many pounds ago that photo was taken. It must have been at least a hundred. Without a scale in his house, he couldn’t be sure. Not that he thought about it much. With Boofr having grown from a one-man project to a company employing about 50 people, he had much bigger things to worry about than a number on a scale. Whether their profits went up mattered more than whether his weight did likewise.
“Alright. Sounds like good progress all around. Glad to hear it.” Eyeing the clock that said 10:37, Earl continued, “I won’t keep you folks any longer. We all have much more important things to do than stay in a meeting until 11:00 for appearances.” With laughter all around, the team bade farewell and shut off their screens one by one, with Earl’s portrait photo being the last to go.
CEO was a strange fit for Earl. To go from doing everything Boofr needed to stay running himself to delegating nearly all of that work to others had been a difficult shift for him to make. But once Boofr grew too big for him to handle on his own, necessity overruled his hesitations.
He was pretty proud of the company he’d built. Rather than having a central location, Boofr Inc was an entirely remote company, with all employees working out of their homes or their favorite coffee houses or wherever they pleased, using video calls and instant messaging to communicate. Though they lacked the in-demand amenities of an office, like a gym or a cafeteria, the lack of an office proved to be a boon when they expanded their workforce. It turned out not having an office to go into every day was more appealing to prospective employees than any office Earl could have tried to coordinate for the company.
Without a central location, Boofr Inc also had no limitations to whom they could recruit, making it easier for them to keep up with the app’s growth. A team of diverse and exceptional talent from across the country had helped expand Boofr to have a footprint across the whole country, not just the major cities. And Earl could oversee it all from the comfort, and privacy, of his own home.
This suited Earl just fine. He wasn’t the suit-wearing type, and working from home allowed him to wear sweatpants and large tee shirts on a daily basis. If he used his webcam to attend meetings, he probably would have dressed up a little more. But one benefit of using a single photo as his employee-facing façade was that he could project the image of being dressing up without putting on uncomfortable clothes.
Of course, that was only a secondary benefit. The main reason Earl used the photo was so his employees wouldn’t see him expanding like the company itself.
Turning around in his chair, Earl reached for one of the many takeout menus that littered his desk. Being that there was cause for celebration, he pulled out the menu for his favorite pizza shop, Broderick’s Pizza, which was usually near the top of the pile anyway. He browsed the listing of pizzas and sides that he practically had memorized anyway, like most of the menus on his desk. As he reached for his phone, he chuckled when he remembered that Broderick’s didn’t open until 11:00. Usually his weekly executive team meeting ran long enough that he could order from them right after, but not that day.
With a sigh, Earl rolled his chair back and pushed himself out to go get a snack until he could call them. Those days, getting out of his chair wasn’t as trivial as it used to be. Underneath his wrinkled tee shirt was a sizeable gut that rolled over his sweatpants-clad-thighs as he leaned forward. That early in the day, it wasn’t so difficult to push past, but after lunch and especially after dinner, getting out of his chair wouldn’t be quite so easy.
Once Earl was standing, his baggy tee shirt hung well past the bottom of his stomach. Having outgrown his outfits several times since he started working on Boofr, he made sure to buy his clothes bigger than he needed them, in the hopes of making them last longer. This was also the motivation behind switching from cargo pants to the much stretchier sweatpants. After all, when he wasn’t leaving the house much, he didn’t need all those pockets to carry things around with him.
Earl’s arms swung widely at his side as he ambled his way into the kitchen. Those days, when Earl had all his lunches and dinners delivered, he only had to provide breakfast and snacks for himself. As such, his shelves and cabinets were stuffed full of boxed breakfast foods like waffles, filled pastries, and cereal, as well as various junk foods he could stuff his face with in between meals. All were delivered to his house by grocery delivery services, sparing him the time needed to leave the house and go shopping, and the need to maintain an outfit suitable for being seen in public.
With a large bag of chips in hand, Earl returned to his rolling chair and sat back down with a muted thud, before ripping the bag open. With one hand on his mouse and the other making regular trips from the open bag to his mouth with several chips in tow, Earl took care of his various CEO duties that he could do in the time until Broderick’s opened. As 11:00 approached, however, he found himself over half-way through the bag of chips, and figured he might as well finish the whole thing before he called for lunch.
It was around 11:20 when Earl swiped his hand inside the bag and found only crumbs and tiny pieces of chips in reach. With his right hand, he lifted the bag toward his mouth and propped the open end on his bottom lip. He then poured the greasy, crunchy leftovers into his mouth, filling his maw until the crumbs stopped flowing. After chewing the hefty mouthful of crumbled chips, he let out a satisfied sigh and licked his oily fingers clean.
Soon Earl saw a chip crumb fall onto his shirt and land on the top of his belly. With a chuckle, he picked it up and ate it, before nibbling on the other crumbs that had fallen on his shirt as he ate. He then grabbed the empty chips bag and placed it under his chin. He shook out his scraggly beard, feeling his double chin jiggle in the process, and could hear more crumbs fall into the bag. Once he was confident his beard was cleared, he tipped the bag up again and gulped down the remaining crumbs.
With the giant bag of chips empty, he pushed it down into the trash bin next to his desk, already so full that he could barely compact everything beneath the bag. A small burp lept from his throat, prompting him to chuckle and give his wide belly a few pats. It was wide enough to stick out just past his shoulders on the side, and when he sat back in his chair, it jutted out in front of him like he had a fluffy pillow laid out over his stomach. But it was all him, all his flab and heft protruding out in a soft, rotund ball. He didn’t think much about his expanding girth, but when he did, he considered it little more than a symbol of the growth of Boofr, and the work he’d put in to make Boofr Inc a successful company.
With the bag of chips depleted, Earl picked up the menu for Broderick’s and called in his order: a small meat-lover’s pizza and a Philly cheesesteak, with a large order fried ravioli, chicken fingers and fries, and a large order of mozzarella sticks. A single small pizza and sub was a moderate meal for him those days, but he figured the sides would be enough to tide him over until dinner. All he knew was that the chips had only whetted his appetite, and he was ready for more.
The food from Broderick’s indeed lasted Earl until dinner, when he ordered chicken broccoli alfredo for his meal and a family-sized portion of baked penne with meatballs to much on throughout the night, and a slice of chocolate cake for dessert. On some level, he told himself he’d save whatever was left to have for lunch tomorrow. Making the excuse had become almost habitual at that point, even though it never proved true. Earl finished the entire platter by 10:00, when he also finished all his work for the day on an exceptionally busy day for Boofr Inc. The chocolate cake had long ago vanished down his gullet, a way of breaking up the monotony of the baked penne.
With his work finally done and all the food gone, Earl didn’t care much for staying awake any longer. After turning his chair away from his desk, he gradually leaned forward, fighting the pain of a full stomach that wanted nothing more than for him to remain sitting down. Once he was up, he let out a sigh and gave his belly a few pats, finding it a bit less yielding beneath his hands. This was standard procedure for his evenings those days, as he made his way to bed with a stomach full from two large meals and the day’s grazing. Those snacks kept him energized as he worked, but they only made him more tired once the evening hit.
So Earl ambled to the bathroom, dragging his laden belly along as he turned in for the day. With his head leaned back, he lumbered ahead with his arms swinging wide at his sides, like they were trying to help push him forward when his legs couldn’t do all the work themselves. All of his movements were focused on disturbing the contents of his stomach as little as possible. He lead his belly ahead of him like it was the leader of a marching band, and he was merely a player following its lead.
“So it’s really happening?” Jade asked. “You’re selling Boofr?”
“I assure you all, this is not a decision I have taken lightly,” Earl told his team of a dozen executives, all listening intently to his words on their video conference. A few even stared at his photo, the same one he’d been using for all these years, as if it might fill in some of the blanks left by the absence of his facial expression. “I’ve gotten a lot of offers over the years to sell Boofr Inc, especially once we’d expanded to the world-wide market. And all of them, once I looked into them, came from sources who seemed more interested in making a quick buck off our app than providing our users with a better experience or our workers with better jobs. That’s why I held out for so long. I wasn’t going to leave you folks in hands that didn’t care about this company as much as I do.”
“And you’re sure Interacticorp does?”
“I am. For one, when I told them I intended to retire after selling the app, they asked me to pick a new CEO from within the company, rather than inserting one of their own people into the position. They trust us to supervise ourselves without their interference. All they want is to help us do bigger and better things, in exchange for a cut of the increase.”
“We have been one of the most consistently financially successful companies in the app marketplace for the past two fiscal years,” Jade relented. “In tech time, that’s practically decades.”
“Right. So I assure you, the company you love won’t be changing just because you’ll be under new ownership. And I know Safiya has what it takes to lead this company into this new phase of its life.”
Murmurs erupted across the voice chat, with various members drowning each other out as they reacted to the news, until Hae Kim spoke out over hubbub, “Safiya, did you know this was happening?”
“She did,” Earl interjected, not wanting Safiya to have to defend herself from what was now her own team. “I swore her to secrecy until everything was finalized, but now that it is, I can share the good news.”
Earl spent the rest of the morning discussing his decision with his team. Once everyone was on the same page, he sent out the announcement of his resignation to the rest of the company. He would remain CEO for two weeks while Boofr Inc became a part of Interacticorp, after which Safiya would take over.
The well wishes from Earl’s employees made the next two weeks bittersweet. As happy as he was that he could retire so early in life, knowing he would be missed by so many people made it hard to say goodbye. Out of his 800 employees, expected maybe 10 would say goodbye to him personally. By the end of those two weeks, over 200 people had emailed him well-wishes, or called to wish him goodbye.
News of the sale went public soon after, causing a flurry of articles about how the reclusive CEO of Boofr Inc was selling the company and stepping down. They speculated whether he’d retreat from the limelight, and whether we’d ever get a glimpse into the life of the mysterious figure. Though Earl had done plenty of phone and chat interviews and was far from elusive, his refusal to ever release an updated photo of himself after that first interview lead to much speculation about him: where he lived, what he did for fun, and especially what he looked like. The lack of a central office for Boofr Inc only made curious journalists’ jobs harder.
In spite of his and his company’s high profile, Earl had managed to keep himself out of the public eye. He supposed it was good for his continued privacy that he bore so little resemblance to the photo of him that everyone circulated. While everyone was looking for a skinny, clean-shaven man, he could live his life as a fat, bearded developer and eventual CEO in peace. For the sake of his image and that of Boofr Inc, he supposed it was better that way.
For Earl had grown a good deal bigger since he started as CEO of Boofr Inc. More late nights with more delivery meals and snacks brought right to his door were showing their impact on his waist and everywhere else. Those days, he didn’t even bother with tee shirts, opting to wear tank tops on top of boxers. In comparison with tee shirts, tank tops remained much more comfortable as he outgrew them.
With Earl’s gut still growing like the company he was soon to leave, outgrowing clothes was something had to consider when he bought clothes. Those days, he rarely owned tank tops that completely fit over his bulbous gut. More often, their bottom hem hung down somewhere around his deep belly button, or higher if he was overdue to replace them. Out of the bottom of those shirts hung a belly that had expanded wide enough to force Earl to become more conscious of how he walked, moving all his mass around carefully as he shuffled around his house. He was thankful those days that he never had to walk far.
For Earl’s body bore little resemblance to the body he had when he first started working on Boofr. Pudgy cheeks were flanked by a beard whose scraggly hairs had finally grown dense enough to not look like he had just forgotten to shave for a few weeks, under which hid a double chin that Earl could feel every time he bent his head forward. His thick, meaty thighs came dangerously close to no longer fitting in the rolling chair he always worked in, and his fleshy, flabby arms provided their own cushioning as they lay across his desk every day as he worked. Between those arms, two ample lobes of his chest rested atop the massive, globular belly he now bore. His chest jutted out just a bit over the rounded protrusion, a belly big enough to push Earl’s arms out of the way as he sat and worked as his computer.
Not that Earl would be doing that for much longer. As his last two weeks wound down, he finished tying up a few loose ends to help smooth his team into being lead by a new CEO, before wishing a final goodbye to all his employees over email on his last day. As he signed out for the last time, he got an email letting him know that the full amount of the check from Interacticorp had been processed and was waiting in his bank account. He’d been so focused on making sure his transition out of the company was a smooth one that he’d nearly forgotten about the check that allowed him to quit in the first place. With a chuckle, he logged into his bank’s website and took a look at his account.
Nine figures. Two commas in the balance, evenly spaced within the numbers. It was a sight so unlike any Earl had seen before with his own two eyes.
And it was all his. Even after taxes, he knew he’d been set for life. He could spend a million dollars every year and still not run out. He could pay off his house and live there the rest of his life, never having to worry about moving for work again. He could start development on another app and establish another company with zero financial risk. He could go back to college and better his craft, or study any of the topics he’d spent so many late nights browsing Wikipedia articles about when he finished work too late to go out. He could try writing a novel. He could travel the world and see whatever sights he wanted, limited only by how often he was willing to get on a plane. He could buy himself a vacation home wherever he pleased and go there as often as he liked.
Theoretically, the entire world was open to him and whatever he wanted to do. It was all so much to think about. Anything he wanted to do, he could go out and do. So Earl asked himself, what did he want to do?
It didn’t take him long to decided. He picked up the take-out menu from Broderick’s, as if he didn’t already have their phone number memorized, and gave them a call. “Hi, I’d like to place an order for delivery… can I have a large meat lover’s pizza with extra cheese, a meatball sub, a large onion ring and a large curly fry…”
As the sunlight crept in from behind the shades in Earl’s bedroom windows, he opened his eyes just wide enough to confirm that morning was upon him. He then slammed them shut, as if denying the sun’s rising would slow the passage of time. Not that he had to worry at all about when he was awake. In truth, he merely wanted to sleep longer, but with the sun in his eyes, it felt impossible.
With a grunt, Earl pushed himself to roll from lying on one side to lying on the other, hoping to hide his tired eyes from the encroaching light. Those days, it was easier said than done, as rolling from one side to the other required rolling his massive belly up and over himself. When he went to bed at night, it was often doable. But that early in the morning, before he’d eaten any breakfast, that kind of energy was a rare commodity. Some days, he just couldn’t do it.
So it was that morning, as Earl struggled to lift his mountainous belly up from the bed. With so much mass to move and so little motivation to do it so early in the day, Earl merely wriggled in place. His legs and torso squirmed as if trying to flip himself over, but the mound of fat resting in front of him had other ideas as it pinned him in place. After some more unsuccessful attempt, Earl let out a sigh and resigned himself to remain lying down facing the sun. With a grunt, he tilted his head into the soft crook of his flabby arm to block out as much light as he could.
When Earl woke up again, he felt well-rested enough to get out of bed. Tossing off the lone comforter that covered him, he revealed the white tank top and grey boxers that he’d worn the previous day as well. He supposed that he should change into a different pair of undergarments, but that would mean more clothes to wash. And with Earl down to doing laundry once a month–a fact he chalked up to his “green dressing habits”–he wanted to continue his track record of making his clothes last long enough to only have to wash them that frequently. After scratching his belly through the cloth of his shirt, he decided to keep those clothes on for at least one more day before he changed into something else, possibly longer if he could avoid getting food on them.
Once Earl was uncovered, he scooted to the side until he could swing his legs off the bed. After rolling onto his side, he pushed himself up into a sitting position, grunting from the exertion as his gut rolled onto his flabby legs. It took a few tries, but he knew he was in the clear when his belly sank between his tree trunk thighs, forcing them apart. Inching his way off his bed, he moved forward until the weight of his stomach tilted him off of the bed and into a standing position. He wavered back and forth until he got his balance, at which point he let out a sigh and patted the massive gut in front of him. He’d expanded so fast that he never had a chance to acclimate to all his new weight.
Finally out of bed, Earl started the walk to the kitchen to fix himself some breakfast. With short steps, he shuffled his way around his bed to make his way out of his bedroom. As he moved, he could feel his mountainous belly bounce with every step, the sudden stop of his foot shooting a wave of motion up his leg before traveling through the wide expanse of his gut. As much girth as it had to travel through, it was remarkable that it could make it all the way to the top. Of course, once Earl had finished stuffing his stomach by the end of the day, the mound of food would ensure his belly wouldn’t be bouncing much.
Earl walked with his back up straight, as hunching over felt like a perilous proposition when he carried so much weight in front of him. As he lumbered through his apartment, his meaty arms, hung widely out to the side, swinging slowly in tune with his unhurried gait. Yet even as slowly as he moved, his mouth still hung open lazily, with his eyelids drooping to match. Those days, it seemed he only closed his mouth when there was food in it, to chew and swallow. And there would be food in it soon, once Earl could make his way into the kitchen.
As always, breakfast food made up the majority of Earl’s pantry, with snacks for good measure to get him from one meal to the next. The rest of his kitchen space was taken up by pre-made meals and other dishes that were sold ready to eat and only needed to be heated up. When Earl wanted to try taking a break from delivery, it usually took the form of him warming up a few frozen meals, or baking a frozen pizza and eating the whole thing. But those were exceptions. The only meal he made for himself regularly was breakfast, and if there were any delivery places that were open early enough for breakfast, Earl would have gotten that delivered too.
After opening his cabinets, Earl looked inside with his glazed-over eyes, trying to decide what appealed to him. The Pop Tarts looked good enough, but Earl knew they alone wouldn’t make for a satisfying meal. So he took out the box and closed the cupboard doors, before looking inside his freezer. There he saw his boxes of pizza bagels–sauce, cheese, and meat spread over full-size bagel halves–and knew immediately what his breakfast would be.
Earl preheated the oven as the box directed and laid the bagels out on a baking sheet. It didn’t take long for the oven the reach the right temperature, but baking the bagels was another matter. As he waited, Earl kept the box of Pop Tarts close at hand and snacked on a jam-filled, frosted pastries as if they were crackers. In the time it took the pizza bagels to bake, he’d emptied the entire Pop Tarts box, something he’d done more than once before. He considered opening another box to pass the last few minutes as the timer counted down, but the smell of the pizza bagels baking was enough to satisfy him until they were finished.
Once the timer went off, Earl took the bagels out and stacked all dozen of the mini-pizzas on a plate, caring not whether the bottoms got greasy. He brought the plate into the living room with him, where he sat down in front of the TV. The couch creaked underneath him upon impact, with further squeaks accentuating his attempts to get comfortable. He rested the plate of pizza bagels on the top of his mountainous stomach, knowing it would be easier to reach them there than if he put them on the table. Though the plate wobbled a bit upon being put down, Earl had more than enough belly to allow it to lie flat.
Propped up on Earl’s gut, the top layer of bagels blocked part of his view of the TV. But he still reached for the remote next to him and turned the TV on, letting whatever came up play as he munched on the full-sized bagels one by one. He didn’t give any thought to what he was watching or to picking something new until three of the twelve bagel halves were in his stomach, clearing the top layer off the plate. At that, he picked up the remote and picked something from Netflix to drone on in the background as he ate.
It took two episodes for Earl to finish the remaining pizza bagels, polishing off the entire dozen before 10:00 AM. As the second episode finished, he put the plate down next to him on the couch, where it landed among scattered snack wrappers that he kept telling himself he needed to clean up. With a small belch, he could taste the mix of the fruit filling and pizza sauce in his stomach. It wasn’t very pleasant.
Earl raised his left hand to massage his stomach, rubbing the worn tank top between his fingers and his warm, soft belly. As he lowered his fingers to scratch an itch above his belly button, he felt his hand pass over the bottom hem of his tank top. As he scratched at the center of his gut, his arm rested entirely on the flabby mass, with his belly sticking out farther to the side then his elbow did. As he scratched, he could feel the scraggly hair and the warmth of his bare belly underneath his forearm. He tried to pull his shirt down, tugging with one hand and only managing to lower it temporarily. Once he let go, it snapped back up, leaving as much distance between the shirt and his belly button as there was between his belly button and the bottom of his gut.
Maybe I should get some new shirts, Earl thought.
Those days, when Earl bought new tank tops, they often fit snugly right out the box. He put off buying them for so long that going up a size didn’t afford him quite enough extra room. He often didn’t buy them until some sort of food fell onto the bare skin of his belly as he ate, which required a lot of exposed gut. Even that day, the thought of buying new tank tops left his mind before the second episode had even ended.
Earl paused the autoplay to get himself something more to snack on during the third episode. But before he could walk back to the kitchen, he had to push himself off the back of the couch and shuffle his rear end forward to stand up. Those dozen pizza bagels and dozen Pop Tarts had made it noticeably more difficult for him to stand up, as his body wanted nothing more than to sit back and digest. Once he was upright, he waddled his way back into the kitchen for more food, his gargantuan belly hanging halfway out of his shirt and jiggling with each step.
Earl wasn’t sure what he wanted to eat next, but his parched throat made getting something to drink more appealing anyways. After opening his fridge, he eyed a half-drunk jug of milk and took it out. Once he was back in the living room, he fell back on the couch with an audible thud and groan. After he got the third episode playing, he twisted off the cap and dropped it next to the remote, before lifting the jug to his lips.
Parched as he was from the dry Pop Tarts and the greasy pizza bagels, Earl drunk back a third of the remaining milk in one swig. As the third and fourth episodes played, he sipped on the milk as he leaned farther back into the couch. Soon he’d sunk deep enough to have to strain to see the entire television over the upper rim of his globular gut. Tipping the jug up to gulp down the last of the milk blocked his view entirely.
By the time the fourth episode came to an end, Earl had emptied the entire jug. His mouth hung agape as white drops dribbled down the side of his face, before disappearing into the tangled mass of his beard. All the milk soaking into the Pop Tarts and pizza bagels left him with a sizeable mound of food in his stomach, big enough to make getting up difficult. He tried to push himself off the couch, to get another snack or at least to throw away the jug. But his stomach had other ideas, with shots of pain shooting up his torso as he tried to bend forward.
Earl was no stranger to this pain. He knew that with enough pushing, he could overcome it. But looking at the clock, he saw that it was only 10:37. No takeout places would be open yet, making him wonder whether it was really worth it to get up. If he just sat back and let another episode play, by the time it was finished, he could get himself a proper lunch.
So Earl lay back yet again, letting his engorged belly slide forward as he sunk more deeply into the couch. With his eyes and mouth both hanging half open, he let the TV move on to playing another episode, only half paying attention as lay there only half awake. He brought his hand up to rub his turgid stomach, pushing his shirt away before slowing running his fingers over the firm, swollen mass. With gentle pressure, his hand sunk into the supple flab, before being halted by the firmness underneath. It gave him just enough relief to make him groan “Mmmm” as his hand traveled back and forth across his expansive belly.
As the episode droned on, the pressure Earl put on his stomach decreased. In time, his head matched the back-and-forth motional of his hand, bobbing back and forth as he struggled to stay awake. Once it fell forward for good, his hand fell off his belly and landed at his side, palm up, fingers curled. Soon his eyes closed entirely, allowing him to nap off his breakfast and make more room for lunch.