Originally published Febuary 21, 2017.
Contains: accelerated weight gain, direct encouraging, supernatural encouraging.
It’s funny to think that a year ago, I would have been thrilled about being able to publish a story three weeks after my last one, and now, it feels like I’m slacking. I’ve certainly been writing for the past month, but most of that time has gone into a story that was a slog to write, that I think is far from my best work, and that I’m not sure will see the light of day because of that. So after that exercise in perseverance, it was nice to kick back with an easier, more straightforward idea and write this story. I banged out of the first draft of this story in its entirely this past weekend, and proofread it between yesterday and today. It’s good to be back.
Normally, this is where I’d go into detail about what inspired a story, but I honestly haven’t the foggiest idea where I got the idea for this one. So without further ado…
Synopsis: While waiting in the woods to meet a friend, Hector stumbles across the ruins of some ancient buildings. Beyond them, he finds an amphitheater-shaped basin carved into the ground, and in that basin, he finds the ghosts of two ancient people cooking a giant wild boar. Upon descending into that basin, Hector finds that the ghosts seem very enthusiastic about feeding him that boar, and when it turns out that he can eat their meat, he’s happy to take them up on it. But their hospitality has a way of showing up on his waistline rather quickly, and unbeknownst to Hector, their motivations aren’t entirely benevolent…
I’m sure this is where Diego said to meet, Hector told himself as he walked around the giant boulder with the lightning bolt shaped crack. Why Diego wanted to meet Hector in the Red Mountain Woods in the dead of night, Hector wasn’t sure. He always had a bad feeling about those woods; most people with an adequate sense of self-preservation did. But Diego insisted there was something amazing in the woods Hector had to see for himself, though he wouldn’t say what it was.
As Hector waited, ears perked up for any sign of Diego and flashlight scanning the forest around him, he started walking in wider circles around the distinctive rock. While he feared straying too far from the landmark where he and Diego had agreed to meet, he was growing restless. The sooner he found Diego and wasn’t alone in those woods, the better.
A quiet rustle emanated from the bushes. “Diego?” Hector called out, voice not much louder than a whisper. No reply. He kept the flashlight close, tight in the grip of his soft fingers and nearly digging into the modest pudge on his midsection. Following the source of the noise didn’t seem like an objectively good idea, but it was all he had to go on. “Diego?” Hector only got silence in reply. But still he pressed on, sure that he could find his way back to the lightning-scarred boulder if the trail grew cold.
Hector’s instincts warned him against traveling deeper into the woods on his own, but he felt like a sitting duck waiting around for Diego. He couldn’t shake the feeling that there was some sort of predatory presence in the woods, and that as long as he kept moving, he’d be safe. So he pressed on, making note of what few variations he passed in the landscape around him to help him make his way back if it came to that.
Not much stirred in those woods, and the eerie silence was part of their sinister reputation. The quiet only made keeping an ear out for Diego all the more terrible, as every little sound caught caught Hector’s attention acutely. In the silence, he felt alone; with every leaf that crunched, every branch that snapped, and every breeze that blew through the trees, he didn’t feel as alone as he wanted to.
As perked up as Hector’s ears were, he did not expect that smell would be the first indicator that he wasn’t alone in those woods. There was a smoky smell at first, hardly a comforting thing to recognize in the forest, soon followed by the scent of cooked meat. It reminded Hector of pork. “Diego, what are you doing?” he called out, more loudly this time, yet again to no answer.
As nervous as it made him, Hector convinced himself to turn his flashlight off. Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he looked around before he made out a faint glow emanating from between the trees to his right. He briefly considered that it might have been the moon leading him astray, before he looked up and saw it directly above him. Looking in the direction of the glow one more time, he flicked his flashlight back on and walked in the direction of the light.
With his flashlight on, Hector couldn’t see the glow, as his eyes adjusted to the heightened light levels. But a bit of walking soon brought him to something much more mundane than a mysterious glow in the middle of the woods: the ruins of an ancient building. Not much of the structure remained: a few walls scattered here and there, with large, rectangular stone blocks betraying the unmistakable touch of ancient craftsmanship. Most of what remained was loose blocks strewn about in a pattern that vaguely resembled the shape of a building, or perhaps a few such structures built close together. On his left, he saw two adjacent walls holding up what remained of a roof, or perhaps a raised platform of some kind.
Past the initial ruins, Hector found a wide basin carved into the forest ground. It was akin to a small amphitheater, surrounded by what looked like about a dozen rows for sitting. In the bottom level, Hector found the likely source of the glow he’d seen earlier: two figures that looked like men, translucent and luminescent, emitting a bright blue light from their entire forms.
When Hector turned off his flashlight, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he could see the men’s features more clearly. Underneath their bluish glow, he could see that they had warm brown skin like his. Around their waists, they wore fabric garments that only covered their groins, with intricate designs woven into them, though their blue glow made the it impossible to make out the colors. He could also see necklaces made up of complex charms draped over their chests. And once he’d gotten over the initial shock of seeing ghosts in the woods, Hector could see that they were cooking.
Behind the men was a fire pit with a cooking spit set up above it and a giant wild boar roasting over the flame. The entire setup was a pale, see-through blue just like the men themselves. The boar was a gargantuan one unlike any Hector had ever seen before. It looked like it would have stood up to the men’s chests when it was still alive, and was longer than they were tall. It also looked especially well-fed, with a plump stomach that stuck out nearly as low as its legs. Even given how large it was, that gave Hector an idea of how the two could have taken it down.
As scared of those woods as Hector was, it was always the absence that made him nervous. The absence of any noises, of anyone else in the woods with him. To see two ghostly figures in the forest with him, especially engaged in something as domestic and commonplace as cooking, was more comforting than frightening. Without Diego by his side, a part of him wanted the ghosts’ companionship more than he cared to admit.
Looking around the amphitheater, Hector couldn’t see any stairs that went down into the center. It seemed the only way inside was to hop down each row. Opting for the safer approach, Hector sat down on the top row and scooted off, letting his legs dangle until his feet landed on the stone beneath them. The rows were just a bit higher than his legs themselves, requiring that he fall a bit before impact. Once he did, he could lean back and feel the top of the seat against his rear end. To check that he’d be able to get out again, Hector hopped up with the top row behind him and landed with his butt on the seat. Now that he was confident he could make his way out of the basin, he descended down the remaining rows.
Once Hector’s feet landed on the bottom level, the two ghosts looked up toward him with wide eyes. One of them muttered something at the other before shouting out at Hector in a language he couldn’t understand. There was an echo to the ghost’s words as they seemed to reverberate off of the amphitheater’s rows. But when Hector called out, “What?”, it didn’t echo the same way, making him conclude that the cause of the echo was its spectral speaker. When Hector’s face remained blank, the ghost spoke some more and beckoned him closer, his voice taking on a quieter and more welcoming tone.
As Hector approached, he could see that the boar roasting over the fire was not the first one the men had cooked. Laid on a mat on the ground was another ethereal, glowing boar of similar size, already cooked and split into over a dozen choice cuts of meat. It had to be enough meat to make a week’s worth of meals, which left Hector wondering why the two were cooking a second boar. Then again, he supposed, it wasn’t his place to question the needs of ghosts.
Once Hector was close to the two, one of them picked up a slab of the boar and held it toward him. Hector paused, thinking the ghost was offering him the meat but unsure how to accept. With the meat being just as spectral as the man holding it, Hector was sure his hands would pass right through it. But the man seemed insistent, nudging the slab toward Hector as he spoken enthusiastically in the language Hector couldn’t understand.
With a shrug, Hector reached out toward the otherworldly offering, thinking that maybe if the ghost saw his hands go through the meat, it would stop trying to offer him some. But when Hector clasped his hands around the slice of boar, they were stopped before they came together. Before his eyes, the boar meat lost its glow where it touched his fingertips, feeling warm and tender in his hands. The lack of glow quickly spread out across the rest of the slice, and the meat grew noticeably heavier as it did, like it was gradually leaving the ghosts’ realm and entering Hector’s.
Once the slab of boar had completely materialized in Hector’s hands, the ghost grew more enthusiastic, egging Hector on to try the meat. More out of curiousity than anything else, Hector lifted the slab up to his lips and took a bite. He’d never had boar before, but he enjoyed it, finding it tender a he chewed, with the fire having lent the meat a smoky flavor. It had been seasoned with a selection of herbs that resembled those Hector was familiar with, but there was something different about the flavor they lent the meat. It was as if he was tasting herbs that were closely related to the ones he knew, the kind of gradual evolution he would have expected after a few millennia.
The slab had started out big enough that Hector needed both hands to hold it up, but he wasn’t intimidated by it. If anything, he was too perplexed by the whole situation to think about much else beyond how delicious the meat was. Thus he kept eating, paying no mind to how big the slab was and how much of it he was scarfing down. He didn’t give the size of his meal any thought until he was left licking his two empty hands clean of the juices that had seeped out of the boar meat. The slab alone looked like it could feed four people, and he’d just finished the whole thing. But that was the least strange thing about the night so far, so he shrugged it off and wiped his hands on his shirt.
It was then that Hector noticed he seemed to have a bit more meat of his own, for his shirt fit more tightly around his stomach. At first, he brushed it off as bloat from how much food he’d just put away. He couldn’t remember a time he’d eaten nearly that much meat in one sitting, so he told himself it was reasonable that he’d have swelled out a bit from such a large meal. But upon poking the top of his stomach, it didn’t feel firm and solid the way he would have expected if it were swollen with meat. Rather, it felt soft, yielding under the pressure of his finger as they sunk into his flab.
It wasn’t just Hector’s stomach that felt too big for his clothes. His sleeves felt like they’d been pulled tight around his bulky arms, and the bottoms of the seems dug sharply into his pits. His hefty chest had ballooned underneath the cloth, swelling out and stretching the cloth tight as it tried and failed to make room for itself. He could feel the breeze around him graze the bottom of his belly, and trying to pull at his shirt didn’t bring it down far enough to cover him. His pants, too, felt like they were digging into his sides, as his waistline dug into his skin so firmly that it felt like it was indeed leaving a line in his waist.
The pants were easily taken care of: Hector undid the button and his belly surged forward to take advantage of the new space. With a sigh of relief, he gently patted his newly rounded heft. He found that the palm of his hand rested nearly two inches farther away from him than he expected as his fingers tapped his bigger belly. His relief was short-lived, however, as the easing of one unpleasant sensation only left Hector more aware of the others: his shirt wrapped tightly around his chest, the hem of the sleeves digging into his armpits, and the bottom of the shirt that had now exposed even more of his stomach.
As Hector was considering what to do about his outgrown clothes, one of the ghosts got his attention again, this time offering him a fabric garment like their own. The design looked different from theirs, with the garb worn by the men featuring a large, stylized bird design, while the one he’d offered Hector seemed to have a rabbit on it. Perhaps it was a status symbol, Hector pondered. It would certainly make sense for bird of prey like those on their garments to denote a higher ranking than a rabbit, and it would make sense for him as a guest to be of lower “rank” than them.
Though Hector was sure he wouldn’t be able to wear the garment out of the woods, it at least looked more comfortable than the clothes he was wearing. He gave the ghost a nod before taking off his own clothes, struggling to get his newly tightened shirt off. He kept his socks and boots on, figuring it better to not walk around the amphitheater in bare feet. To take his pants off over his boots, he let them fall around his ankles and stepped on them with one foot while he pulled the other foot upwards, repeating the process until he was free. He thought getting his shirt off would be easy in comparison, but it was so tight that it got caught on his torso as he tried to lift it. To get it off, he had to lift the part covering his stomach up first so it bunched up around his chest. Only then could he pull one of the sleeves off, followed by the other, finally getting the undersized garment over his head.
Taking off his underwear proved to be the least difficult part of the process for Hector. The ghost was right by his side as he did it, wrapping the traditional covering around his waist as soon as the underwear dropped. It seemed to be tied on the side, not in back like Hector would have expected, and there seemed to be a lot of extra rope that the ghost had to tie to hang at Hector’s side. But as he stepped out of his underwear, he felt much more comfortable, even with the extra rope flapping at his leg.
The garment remained a translucent, glowing blue even after it had been tied onto Hector. As he furrowed his brow, he reached down instinctively to adjust the covering and found that it materialized under his fingertips just like the slab of meat. Soon the part covering his crotch was completely opaque, though it left him bare from all other angles. But Hector didn’t mind much; as long as his only company was ghosts who were similarly dressed, he didn’t mind being so exposed.
The hospitality didn’t seem to stop with the change of clothes. As the ghost that had tied Hector’s sash closed remained at his side, the other approached with another slab of boar meat, this one just as large as the previous one. Hector accepted it graciously, though he wasn’t sure how much of it he’d be able to eat. Inexplicably, he didn’t feel especially full from his previous slab, but he felt like he was tempting fate by eating any more. So he held the slab up close and nibbled on the new hunk of meat, promising himself he’d stop when he felt full.
As Hector picked at the slice of boar, the ghost that had brought him the piece of meat scuttled toward the back of the amphitheater, fading out of view. The other ghost followed after him and beckoned Hector to do likewise. Hector kept a suspicious distance between him and the ghost, as he was dependent on the being’s luminescence to see. The bottom of the basin seemed to extend back without any variation beyond the spectral fire pit, until the second ghost faded back into view near the amphitheater’s back side.
There, Hector saw a stone block extending at an angle off of the ground, tilted up such that one end was slightly higher up than the other. The block looked long enough for Hector to recline comfortably, and a raised stone at the base give him something to rest his feet on so he wouldn’t go sliding off if he lay down on it. Behind the slab stood the other ghost, holding a giant branch with long fronds.
The ghost that had lead Hector to the stone block gestured toward it and spoke to Hector in an insistent tone of voice. Hector wasn’t sure what made the ghost so adamant that he lie on the block, but it seemed they intended to treat him like a king, bringing him food and waving fronds at him. Whatever their motivation was, he could certainly get used to that.
Hector backed his rear end onto the stone block, finding he only had to squat down a bit to get on. With the slab of meat still in hand, he kept his hands high above him as he shimmied into the middle of the block. While the stone underneath him wasn’t exactly comfortable, getting off of his feet proved to be a relief he didn’t know he needed. As the ghost to his left started waving the fronds, the ghost to his right said something to the other with a pleased tone of voice, before walking off back toward the fire pit.
In spite of the hard surface underneath him, Hector found himself feeling quite comfortable as he reclined back and kept nibbling on the boar meat. That nibbling turned yet again into munching as Hector settled into his sprawled-out pose and relaxed. Though he couldn’t feel a breeze from the other ghost’s spectral fronds, seeing him there waving them was enough to make Hector feel regal. It was all very decadent, an adjective that didn’t often describe Hector’s life.
In the spirit of that decadence, Hector finished his second slab of meat just as easily as the first. He didn’t feel any fuller than he did after the first slab, although just as before, he felt a bit bigger. After licking his fingers clean, he let his hand fall on his stomach to give it a rub, out of habit if nothing else, and found that he had more flab in hand than he remembered being there previously. Looking down, he saw his belly was now flabby enough to rise into his view, even while lying back. It was like a hill rising above the two mounds that made up his chest, blocking his view of the bottom half of that hill. His belly had also spilled out next to him. Running his hand from the top of his belly down his sides brought his hand curving out around his body before it ran back inwards to land on the stone beneath him.
As Hector shifted restlessly in place, he could feel the added girth around his torso weighing down his movements. As he tried to contort his body, he encountered resistance as his hefty belly lay upon him like a sack of grain. Shifting to the side compressed heft where previously there had been none. While trying to lean forward, he encountered the same difficulty, as his belly seemed to want him lying down.
And it didn’t seem to be the only one. As Hector pushed himself up, the ghost came back with a rack of ribs even bigger than the slabs of meat he had given Hector previously. The rack looked as wide and tall as Hector’s entire torso. Once Hector took a hold of the ribs and it materialized in his hands, it didn’t feel as heavy as he expected. When he looked down, he saw that was because one end of the rack was resting on his belly. It was so wide he that didn’t see any other way he could hold it. But he didn’t mind; it made it easy for him to hold the ribs up with his left hand as he ripped a rib off with his right and picked it clean of the meat.
As Hector munched on his first rib, he watched the ghost who’d brought him the rack untie the garment around his waist. Hector let out a sigh once the knot was undone, not realizing until then that it had indeed become a bit tight. Once the ghost retied the knot, Hector could feel that the garment was looser, more accommodating of all the extra weight he’d put on. The fact that it was tied closed on the side made more sense to him now.
When Hector had stripped the rib to the bone, he looked at the ghost with the fronds and held the bone up with an inquisitive look. With his free hand, the ghost took the bone from Hector. Once Hector let go, the bone took on a luminous, translucent blue hue again, at which point the ghost tossed it aside with a smile. Hector returned the smile, and when he finished his next rib, he tossed the bone behind him too.
Hector kept eating until he’d finished the entire rack, letting the bones accumulate behind him. While he licked his fingers clean, the other ghost brought him another cut of meat, this one looking like a leg. Hector took it graciously and munched it down just as enthusiastically, tossing the bone behind him as flippantly as before.
The night carried on that way as Hector kept enjoying the various cuts of boar meat brought to him by his ghostly attendant, who would then loosen his attire to make room for his growing frame. Though he promised himself he’d stop when he felt full, that moment didn’t seem to come until he’d scarfed down over a dozen slabs of meat, enough that he wondered what could be left of the first boar the two ghosts had cooked. Indeed, after he finished his second rack of ribs, he looked toward the other side of the amphitheater and saw that the mat where the cuts of the first board had been laid out was empty. He’d been fed the entire thing.
Hector’s shock at how much head eaten was interrupted by a loud belch, which brought the delicious taste of the boar back up into his mouth. It made him say, “Mmm,” as he rubbed his distended belly, sticking out even more broadly than it had before. Hector supposed he should have been concerned about how much weight he’d gained, but the pleasant feeling of fullness from all the meat he’d miraculously been able to pack into his stomach had him feeling more pleased with himself than anything else. There was a comfortable warmness emanating from his swollen stomach, and it left him quite content to lie back and let his meal digest. As far as Hector was concerned, the only problem was that eating all that meat had left him thirsty.
As if on cue, the ghost who’d brought Hector the meat showed up with what looked like a giant clay jug. The jug was remarkably large, as tall as the ghost’s torso and wider than it on the bottom. It had a spout on top that looked disproportionately small for the jug itself, but was the perfect size for Hector to fit in his mouth. The ghost seemed to struggle with carrying the jug, wobbling side to side as it walked, making Hector wonder how he’d be able to hold it while lying down.
When the ghost reached Hector’s side, it lifted the jug up toward hector, with the spout near his mouth. Hector leaned his head toward the ghost and grabbed the spout from one end, not sure what else he could do. But the jug didn’t fully materialize when he held it. Halfway between where his hand touched the spout of the jug and where the ghost held it from the bottom, the jug ceased materializing. There was a boarder between the part that had entered Hector’s plane of existence and the part that remained in the ghosts’. The ghost seemed relieved by the shift, even though Hector didn’t feel like he was supporting any of the weight. But regardless, he brought the spout to his mouth and started drinking.
The drink in the jug was rich and creamy like milk. Although Hector wasn’t sure what animal the ghosts would have gotten the milk from, he was just thankful to have something to satisfy his thirst. He drank it slowly at first, with the ghost tipping the jug just gently enough to give Hector a small stream of the drink that he sipped at a leisurely pace.
But once Hector had relieved some of the weight from the ghost’s jug, he seemed increasingly eager to make Hector drink. As the jug tipped up farther, the stream of milk flowed out faster, forcing Hector to pick up the pace. Savoring the drink was no longer an option, as he had to gulp it down with some urgency to keep up with how quickly the ghost was pouring it into his mouth. He was just thankful he wasn’t feeling full yet, as that would have made keeping up quite the challenge.
But it seemed it was going to be a challenge anyway. As the jug approaching lying horizontal between Hector’s hands and the ghost’s, the ghost started lifting it up even faster, as if losing patience with how long he had to hold it. As heavy as it was, Hector could understand, but that didn’t make it any easier to gulp the milk down. Soon it was gushing out of the jug so fast that Hector wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep up. He could feel drops of milk dribbling down the side of his face, little splashes of it that he hadn’t been able to swallow along with the rest. But he kept trying, guzzling the drink down as fast as he could, as the ghost showed no intentions of stopping until he’d emptied the jug.
Indeed, the jug was practically vertical before the ghost put it down and took it away. By then, Hector had been reducing to drowsily lapping up the drops of milk that crept down the side of the jug, his tongue lazily reaching out to lick them up. As full as he was, it was all he could do. Even when the jug was taken from his mouth, becoming entirely phantasmal again as his hand fell off, his tongue still lazily lapped at the air above him.
As the ghost walked away, Hector let out a quiet groan as he lay back on the stone block. Unlike when he’d finished his second slice of boar, he had no desire to move around and settle in where he lay. As full as he was, he simply lay back and let his sodden stomach push out to take up as much space as it needed. His gut felt especially heavy with all the meat and milk that had accumulated within it. As he licked his lips clean again, he tiredly lifted his arm to give his stuffed gut a few gentle pats.
Hector’s arm didn’t have far to travel before it reached his belly. Jutting out from him now was a stomach so wide and heavy that he couldn’t rest his arms straight down at his sides anymore. Even his chest pushed out wide enough to provide an obstacle on that front. Looking down, he could see his chest rising up like two hills which were dwarfed by the mountainous belly beneath them. As Hector sleepily rubbed his belly, it felt as firm as he expected given how much he’d eaten. How it hadn’t felt that firm before was the only mystery as far as he was concerned.
But it didn’t stay that firm for long. As Hector rubbed his giant stomach, arm practically suspended in the air by how far his gut pushed it up, he could feel his stomach softening, as if rapidly digesting its contents. The extra girth given by his distended stomach seemed to spread out to the rest of him before his eyes. The sides of his gut crept out over the stone block, putting even more distance between themselves and the side of his chest. He could feel his belly becoming heavier on the bottom, swelling out and flopping down as it took on more weight.
Looking down to observe his new state, Hector could feel this his chin had grown too. As he leaned his head forward, he could felt the flab hanging off of his face bulging out as he compressed it. Jerking his head to look from side to side, he could feel it jiggle when his head stopped moving. Even his arms seemed to have grown bigger, encased in a layer of fat that made them look like the pork legs he’d eaten previously.
In spite of how much he’d grown, Hector was too satisfied to drum up much alarm at his new size. He let his hands wander over his new expanse, finding that they could scarcely reach the bottom of his belly. What he could reach was soft and warm, contrasting against the firmly rounded dome that made up the top of his gut. Letting his hands wander down his sides, he found that his flab didn’t feel like love handles, but rather like the rounded sides of his gut. As firm as it was, it seemed even his ball belly wasn’t immune to gravity’s pull, and the extra flab he found at his sides was proof of that.
As Hector lay massaging his newly grown mass, he heard a rustling to his right that made him look toward the fire pit. The boar on the spit was gone, and the fire had been left to die down. A bit farther out, Hector swore he saw that the mat had been covered by cuts of meat again. Looking farther to the side, he saw one of the ghosts approaching with yet another slab of meat in hand.
Hector groaned as the ghost approached, but he took the slab of meat anyway. Once it materialized in his hand, he felt that it was not just warmer than the slabs of meat he’d eaten previously, but also greasier. He took a bite and confirmed that it tasted as if it had been deep fried, tender and soft as each bite seeped grease into his mouth. How the two ghosts had managed to make the boar meat taste deep fried, Hector wasn’t sure. But it was too delicious for him to think about it much beyond knowing he wanted to eat more of it.
And eat more he did, dutifully wolfing down the slabs of boar meat as they were brought to him. The rest of the slabs tasted fried just like the first, making Hector all the more eager to scarf them down, but also making them feel heavier in his stomach. Unlike the roasted cuts that he’d eaten previously, the greasy slabs made Hector feel full after eating just over a half-dozen. But he kept devouring, having already eaten so much that he was sure there was no real limit to how much of the meat he could eat.
His stomach didn’t seem so sure. As Hector put away more and more of his second boar of the night, he could feel the greasy meet piling up to make a veritable mound in his stomach. It built up slowly, more slowly than Hector would have normally expected given how much meat he was eating. But given how easily he’d been able to devour an entire boar the first time around, his struggles with the second one caught him off guard. But he ate through his fullness, for the meat tasted so good that he didn’t want to stop himself from gobbling up more.
And he didn’t. Hector kept eating, drowsily downing mouthful after mouthful of the heavy meat until it seemed he’d eaten all the cuts of boar. When he finished a slab and the ghost wasn’t immediately at his side with another, he looked to the side where the cuts of meat had been laid out on the mat. In the dim light of the dying spectral fire, he could see that the mat was once again empty.
Hector let out a heavy sigh before letting his head fall back. As he looked up into the night sky, his heavy breathing, punctuated by an occasional groan, provided the only soundtrack beyond the forest breeze. He remained lying back, body completely still aside from the rise and fall of his heavy gut as he gasped for breath, letting his feast digest.
Once Hector’s breathing had calmed down a bit, he lifted his head to survey what he body looked like now. Just tilting his head upward required contending against a double chin that bulged so far from his neck that he could feel it being squeezed forward as soon as he peered down. He lifted his arms behind his head in the hopes of propping it up, only to find he had trouble moving those too. Lifting his hand up into his field of vision, he saw that even his hands had swelled up from his meal. His arms were nearly twice as wide as they’d been when he walked into the woods that night.
But Hector know there was yet more growth to observe. Slipping his hands between his head and the stone, he pushed his arms together until he had lifted his head far enough to look down. When he did, he was met with the sight of a belly that stuck up high enough to block his view of what was ahead of him, and nearly twice as wide as his shoulders. It looked as big as the belly of the wild boar that had been cooking when he first made his way down to the basin, albeit even less proportional on him. It had now become a globular ball of fat so big that it didn’t even look like a part of him anymore.
But any attempt Hector made to move from his spot proved it very much was. Trying to push himself with his legs felt more like flailing them around. Not that he could flail them much with how flabby they’d also become. When Hector brought them down after they’d failed to make him budge, he could feel them jiggling at the sudden stop, taking their time before they became still again.
With a sigh, Hector slowly withdrew his arms from under his head and let them migrate down to his gut. He could feel that the top of his belly was still firm, though it gave way gradually under his touch as though the meat had already been digested. His belly did seem to get softer the farther down he reached, but he could only confirm that down to a certain length. He could scarcely reach his belly button, let alone the underside of his mountainous gut.
Hector remained in place, scarcely able to think about what he would do next, until he heard the ghosts’ footsteps again. This time, they approached him without any food in hand, though their faces beamed with smiles that had grown wider along with his gut. One of them walked up close to Hector and stuck his hand nearly straight out to let it wander over his gargantuan belly. Though hector couldn’t feel the pressure of his touch, he could feel a coolness in the air where the ghost’s hand rested upon him, leaving a layer of condensation where he touched.
Hector returned the ghosts’ smiles with one of his own, though they didn’t seem very concerned with his expression. The one who’d felt his belly looked at the other and gave him a nod, at which the other started shouting toward the sky in the language that Hector couldn’t understand. His words boomed across the amphitheater, carried with even more volume than usual, with his head tilted back the entire time. The one closer to Hector continued rubbing his belly, before his hand moved up to feel Hector’s chest, favoring the left side.
As the farther ghost reached what seemed to be the apex of his speech, marked by a noticeable increase in the volume of his voice, the closer ghost pulled some sort of oblong tool with a handle on one end out of the rope around his waist. When the other ghost seemed like he couldn’t possibly shout any more loudly, the closer one pulled the handle out to reveal a dagger.
Hector’s immediately snapped out of his food-induced stupor and tried to get away, but all his recently added weight kept him from making a hasty retreat. Before he could even try to wriggle away, the ghost swiftly brought the dagger down in his chest.
Hector froze, heart still pounding loudly enough for him to hear, so panicked he couldn’t tell whether he was suffering any sharp pains. Looking down, he saw the ghostly dagger in his chest, still glowing blue, just as translucent as the ghosts themselves. As he stared at the dagger with his eyes wide open, he kept himself absolutely still, afraid of accidentally causing the dagger to materialize.
The ghost kept hacking away at his chest until he pulled out the dagger and reached in, hand disappearing into Hector’s skin as harmlessly as the knife did. He then pulled out the ghostly specter of a heart, glowing just as brightly as the knife as he held it up in the air. Hector’s panic was only assuaged by hearing the pounding of his own beating heart in his ears, as he watched the grotesque spectacle play out before him.
Hector didn’t know how long the ghost stood beside him with a heart held up toward the sky, but when he finally turned around, Hector let out a loud sigh before breathing heavily, realizing he’d been holding his breath the entire time. As he caught his breath, he looked over and watched the two ghosts walk toward the center of the amphitheater, where the fire had died down such that the embers barely glowed. As they passed it, it faded into the darkness, with the ghosts soon following it. The mat had disappeared too, leaving Hector alone in the amphitheater, with only the moonlight to help him see.
Hector felt like he’d just woken up from a strange and frightening dream. Whatever had just happened, it made him want to get out of that amphitheater as soon as he could. However, trying to roll off of the stone block made it very clear that what had happened was no dream, as his enormous belly pushed back against all his attempts to move. With a sigh, he let his hand fall and patted the rounded top of his gut, as if he might placate his belly so it would stop pinning him down.
Knowing he wouldn’t be able to swing himself off the stone block, Hector tried scooching closer to the edge instead. It was slow going, but he was able to shift his impressive bulk closer to the side of the stone block until he felt his arm dangling off the edge. He grabbed the side of the stone and used his grip to pull himself closer to the edge. Soon he was able drop one leg off the side, and he shimmied until he could dangle both knees over the edge. From there, he kept shifting his bulk until his butt was near the side. He let his legs slip off of the block and land on the ground, giving him the forward momentum he needed to become upright.
Hector leaned back against the stone block as he got used to standing up after lying down for so long. His arms propped him up as his hands rested on the stone behind him, his right arm bent to account for the slope. He breathed heavily as he recovered from all effort expended to move himself off of the stone block. Now that he was upright, he hoped that getting himself out of the amphitheater would be easier.
Once Hector felt ready to walk, he pushed himself away from the stone block, only to find his back still bent backwards just as steeply. He had to lean back to account for all the added heft he now carried in front of him. His belly only seemed even bigger now, with gravity no longer compressing it against him like when he lay down. Now it jutted out even farther, looking even more bulbous as the full extent of its girth was revealed.
With his newly rotund gut, Hector found walking quite cumbersome as he waddled toward the edge of the amphitheater. He felt like his walk involved more side-to-side sway of his rounded out torso than back-and-forth movement of his legs. His arms stuck out diagonally from his body, partly to help him balance and partly because his chest had swelled out too wide for them to lay at his sides. Rather than swinging back and forth as he walked, they stuck out stiff and still, hardly needed when his feet weren’t moving much either. His belly, however, did sway as he walked, forcing him to counteract its swing with the side-to-side sway of his torso.
Slowly and ponderously, Hector made his way across the amphitheater, hoping he could at least locate his clothes so he could find his flashlight again. He found no sign of the ghosts’ presence as he did, no fire pit or ancient mat or boar’s heads or even any bones. Just flat stone, as the moonlight was so dim he could only see the ground immediately around him.
Hector was thankful when he found his clothes piled up where he’d left them. He knew there was no point in trying to put any of them on, as only the garment tied around his waist could possibly fit him now. Leaving his shirt and underwear behind, he grabbed one of the pant legs with his feet and tried several times to toss it up to where he could catch it. He didn’t want to try bending over with his new heft; if he fell over, he was afraid wouldn’t be able to get back up. On the fourth try, he got his pants up to his hands, removed the flashlight from the pocket, and dropped them. They were of no use to him anymore.
Hector turned on the flashlight and was relieved to find that it still worked. He was less relieved when he shone it ahead of him and saw the rows around the amphitheater that stood between him and getting out of the ruins. He shone his flashlight around the basin, sure that there had to be a better way out that he just hadn’t seen before. But for as decrepit as the rest of the ruins around him had been, the amphitheater was still in pristine condition. The rows of unscalable seats rose uniformly around the edge of the amphitheater, with no proper stair cases to be seen anywhere, or even spot where the rings had crumbled and might be easier to climb up. It seemed Hector had no choice but to leave the amphitheater the way he came in.
With another sigh, Hector hobbled toward the walls of the basin and stopped to catch his breath. The step was just low enough that if he lifted his belly, he could probably have rested it on top of the stone. If he weren’t so massive, that would have been a viable way to get out of the amphitheater, to bend over the ledge and shimmy forward until he could get his legs up a level and stand up again. It was the same technique he’d used to get out of swimming pools by one of the walls. But now, his gargantuan belly had taken that option off the table.
Hector tried to remember how he’d gotten down the rows of the amphitheater in the first place. He remembered that he’d done it much the same way he’d gotten off the stone slab. Thinking he might be able to replicate the process in reverse, he put his flashlight on top of the stone row and backed up against it. He tried hopping to scootch his butt back onto the row, only to find be could barely get himself any higher in the air than he could by standing on his toes. Even that didn’t prove to be a viable option, as he couldn’t get his butt high enough to back onto the row. When he tried, his feet merely fell back to the ground, unable to hold up his weight. Even a fall that short sent a jiggle up his body, making his gargantuan belly bounce once his feet hit the ground, coaxing an, “Oof,” out of Hector.
Hector tried several times to hop his way back onto the row, with none of them proving successful. His arms weren’t strong enough to push himself up to the next row. His legs were barely strong enough to carry him across the lowest level of the basin, let alone to lift him up to escape it. With all reasonable options expended, he resorted to trying any angle to get himself up and out.
What finally got Hector up to the next row was lying on his side on the stone and flopping his legs around until he got them up too. It was far from the most dignified way he could get out of the basin, but when he was wearing nothing but an ancient garment that only covered his crotch from the front, he knew he had no dignity left to hold onto. As he lay with his body on the next row and his legs dangling off, he found that his belly was finally good for something. His center of gravity had shifted so high that he didn’t feel like he was at risk of slipping back down onto the basin’s floor.
Not that Hector’s new heft helped him get up to the next row any faster. As he lay on his side, his belly jutted out even farther than it did when he was standing, with the side of it that touched the stone pushing him up. Hector felt like he had to fight his own mammoth gut to stay on his side, or else he’d end up on his back, where he knew it would be easier for him to slip off the stone.
After struggling for what felt like several minutes, Hector finally got his legs on top of the next row of the amphitheater. He straightened out his body and lay back to catch his breath, breathing heavily from the all the effort expended to get himself up just one row. “Okay,” he said in between panted. “Just have to keep doing that until I get out of here.”
As he lay back, he let his right hand wander back to his belly, giving it a frustrated slap. The wave of force barely budged his gut, so gargantuan that it could only move the outermost flab. The center was solid, heavy and unyielding, like the stones that made up the ruins around him. It only moved for his breath, ebbing and rising as fast as his inhalations. In a way, it was impressive how quickly he could move his gut with his breath. It seemed to be the only way he was going move it quickly. He certainly wasn’t going to be moving it quickly out of those ruins.