The Sunken Student

Originally published October 2, 2018.
Contains: instant weight gain, mud/sinking.

You might remember my friend Joe, a.k.a. Atamekia on DeviantArt, as being the entire reason that An Engorged Explorer, itself a sister piece to An Overfed Offering, exists. You might also remember me mentioning in my third anniversary AMA video that I wanted to try writing a story that combined a guy sinking into mud and weight gain, because that’s a fantasy I’ve had before. Joe told me he thought a mud story would work well in the world of An Engorged Explorer and An Overfed Offering, which I’ve now dubbed the Red Mountain Woods universe.

We’d talked about the idea of another installment in this “series” before, but none of the ideas really grabbed me. I wasn’t interested in writing a story where the two become even fatter than they were at the end of their respective stories. We thought maybe they could come across a third person on their way out of the woods, but that didn’t really pan out. But then Joe suggested an idea that captured my imagination immediately: since Diego is a professor, maybe the subject of the next story could be one of his students. We tossed ideas back and forth some more, and the result is this story

Synopsis: After his professor returns from a research trip in the Red Mountain Woods about 200 pounds heavier, Jamal can’t get his mind off of the transformation. Once he overhears his professor and one of his heavyset friend talk about their trips in the woods, and the promise of a treasure in the woods that would grant one’s deepest desires, Jamal decides to go exploring for himself. Upon discovering the hints toward the treasure’s location are more literal than expected, he finds himself wading waist deep into a pool of mud, and is surprised to find out what his deepest desire really is…

Rumors had been flying about just what sort of change Professor Diego Lunia had undergone, though no one yet knew for sure. He’d sent a mass email to all his students, all the faculty in the archeology department, and quite a few other faculty he was known to talk with regularly, letting them know of the changes. Rather than going into any details, it only read: “A recent research trip into some ruins in the Red Mountain Woods has lead to a drastic and unexpected change in my appearance. I expect that most of you will not recognize me on Monday until I speak. Nonetheless, my classes and meetings will continue as scheduled.”

Jamal had not grown up in the area, but between attending undergrad and now graduate school nearby, he was plenty familiar with the Red Mountain Woods’ reputation. Not so much that he hadn’t visited it a few times, but enough that he’d never explored it very far beyond its outskirts. And enough that he understood why everyone in class that day was coming up with such imaginative ideas about what could have happened to Professor Lunia. Some theorized he’d been aged several decades. Some theorized he’d lost a limb. Some theorized he’d been transformed into an animal. Some theorized it was his ghost emailing the class and coworkers. Given how vague his email was, none of them could be ruled out.

Still, it seemed no one in the class was prepared for when Professor Lunia arrived, wearing his signature button-down shirt, khakis, and sweater vest, albeit a few sizes larger. Perhaps more than a few. “Good evening, everyone,” he said with his usual enthusiasm, a greeting that immediately silenced every single student in the room. Jamal himself sat wide-eyed, unable to reconcile the image of the slender professor who’d taught the class up until then with the rotund man waddling in that day. But his voice was unmistakable, and the email did say most of them wouldn’t be able to recognize him.

After putting his briefcase down on the desk, Professor Lunia lugged his huge body around to look at the astonished students behind him. Looking over the class with a resigned expression, he continued, “Well, I did tell you most of you wouldn’t recognize me.” With the class still silent, Professor Lunia let out a lengthy sigh and continued, “So let’s address the elephant in the room. I was doing some research in some ruins in the Red Mountain Woods, and I wasn’t careful. And now I carry a reminder of why you shouldn’t tamper in things you don’t understand. If any of you were considering going into the Red Mountain Woods, learn from my mistake.”

In spite of his prepared speech, it didn’t seem the room was any more used to their new, much larger professor than they were when he walked in. After hanging his head down low, he looked back up with tired eyes. “Look, I know this is going to be hard to get used to. It’ll be more difficult for me than it will be for you. So if we can just… accept that that I look like this and move on?”

But Jamal had a hard time accepting that his professor looked like that and moving on. While the other students in the class gradually acclimated to the professor’s new appearance and things returned to normal, Jamal had a hard time being as attentive. He had no problem focusing, as he couldn’t take his eyes off of the newly rotund professor. In fact, he found himself fixated on Professor Lunia’s newly rotund midsection in a way he couldn’t quite explain. All he knew was that the professors’ words were washing over him like water off a duck’s back. His voice had a new, soothing quality to it, but the words it carried were of little interest to Jamal. All he could focus on was how that sweater vest accentuated the curves of his professor’s gut, the diamond pattern making it all the more prominent.

“Jamal, I bet you’d know.”

Immediately Jamal’s eyes rose to meet Professor Lunia’s, where he was momentarily distracted by his plump, roses cheeks. But this was no time to get distracted; he’d already done too much of that, and now he had to save face. “Um… I’m sorry, sir, can you reword the question?”

“Well, I suppose, but I’m not sure how many ways there are to ask why one might delay a dig.”

“Oh… well, excavation technology is always improving, and it’s possible we might learn more from a site if we wait until technology is better before we start. Once a dig is done, it’s done.”

“There we go, perfect answer,” the professor commended before continuing his lecture. Jamal, meanwhile, shook his head side to side and told himself, “focus”, before he opened his notebook and started to take notes.

The next Saturday, Jamal took himself to a café downtown, hoping to get some homework done. It was around 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning, and at about half capacity, the café was the perfect place to work done; noisy enough that his mind wouldn’t wander, but not so noisy that he couldn’t focus. There was barely any space for his coffee on his table, as his laptop and the several textbooks he’d brought with him took up most of the space. All together, they made an imposing spread, one that practically blocked anyone’s view of him.

With so much on his table, Jamal supposed it wasn’t so surprising that Professor Lunia could walk in and not notice him. He waddled through the seating area with his drink in hand, before picking a table with plenty of space around it, pulling a seat out decently far before sitting down. Jamal tried to focus on his homework, but seeing his professor in just his button-down shirt, straining to hold his belly in, made it difficult to keep his eyes on his work. The irony of one of his professors causing him to procrastinate homework was not lost on him.

But things were not about to get easier for him. Before too long, another man walked in who was just as big as Professor Lunia. He wore a tee shirt instead, one that wrapped around his belly like a sausage casing and left nothing about his heft to the imagination. Jamal couldn’t help but stare at the globular belly he bore, bigger than that of nearly any guy Jamal had seen before. As if that wasn’t bad enough, once his drink came out, he sat with the professor. With the two men at the same table, Jamal knew he stood no chance of getting anything done.

With his attention captivated by the two men, he couldn’t help but eavesdrop. “Glad you could make it,” his professor said sarcastically.

“You’ll have to excuse me. I’ve been walking a bit slower than usual these days,” the man replied just as snarkily as he sat down.

“Yeah, me too. Sorry, that was uncalled for.”

“Well, you’re not wrong. I should have allotted more time to get here.”

“How are you adjusting to the change?”

“Slowly. Not sure how I’m going to explain it to my doctor.”

Dios mio, I didn’t even think of that.”

“How did your colleagues respond?”

“They tended to default to polite silence. Same for my students. If nothing else, I think I’ve guaranteed no one else will be doing research in the Red Mountain Woods.”

With the chuckle, the professor’s friend said, “Yeah, you can say that agai–wait, ‘no one else’? Don’t tell me you’re planning on going back.”


“Diego. Look at us.”

“Look, I’m not going to ask you to come along–”

“You cannot seriously tell me you’re going to put yourself in danger of even more strange shit happening to you.”

“This time, I’ll do my research ahead of time instead of stumbling into something I’m not ready for. And I’ll visit during the day. Besides, I already have my sights on my next… well, site.”

Still sounding hesitant, Diego’s friend asked, “Alright, I’ll bite: what’s this next site?”

“The old ones write about it like it’s the location of a great treasure. One that will grant your deepest desire, whether you’re aware of it desire or not. They mention a murk, and how out of the murk comes clarity.”

“You think it’s another ruin?”

“Given how literal all of the writings I’ve found so far have turned out, I’m not ruling out the possibility that it’s just a pool of mud.”

“A puddle of mud that grants wishes?”

“Can you think of anything else more qualified to do the job?”

At that, Diego’s friend was silent, before he pursed his lips and said, “Other than the candles on a birthday cake or a coin you toss in a fountain, no. You think this thing actually grants wishes?”

“Not wishes, desires. Your deepest desire, whether you know it or not. That makes me… slightly more inclined to believe it might be real.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“After everything we’ve been through, you’re going to really tell me that it’s impossible?”

Sitting back in his chair, Diego’s friend took a moment to think about his next words. “I’ve certainly done a lot of re-evaluating my definition of the word ‘impossible’ lately.”

“That’s what I’m saying. I don’t know what this thing is or whether it works as advertised, but I want to find out.”

As Jamal sat sipping his coffee, he had to admit, he wanted to find out too. Considering that whatever was in those woods could change Professor Lunia’s appearance so drastically in such a short amount of time, it was clearly powerful. And if this… thing could grant him his deepest desire, then it would certainly be worth the effort it took to find it. He couldn’t stop thinking of the possibilities: all his student loans paid off and full scholarships until he finished grad school? Never having to worry about his grades? There always being a roof over his head? Never lacking for food in his kitchen? He wanted to know what this thing would determine was his greatest desire, and he wanted it granted.

Jamal stood outside of Professor Lunia’s office, looking back and forth between the syllabus and his phone. It was 2:02 on a Tuesday afternoon, and the syllabus said his office hours started at 2:00 He was starting to worry that his office hours had changed and Jamal hadn’t been notified. That was, until he heard heavy footsteps thundering down the hallway toward him. That was when he looked up and saw the rotund professor walking his way.

“Ah, Jamal! Sorry to keep you waiting.” After pulling out his keys, the professor opened his office door and said, “Please, come in.” The professor sat in the chair behind his desk, which creaked as he lowered his massive bulk onto it, while Jamal sat in one of the two seats in yfront of the desk. “Now,” Lunia said, leaning back in his chair as he folded his hands on top of his belly, “What can I help you with today?”

“Well, sir, I–”

“Please, call me Diego.”

“Well… Diego,” Jamal started, before realizing he couldn’t admit to knowing about the desire-granting treasure in the Red Mountain Woods without admitting to eavesdropping on Diego and his friend’s conversation. So he tried a different approach. “So, I didn’t grow up around here. I did my undergrad here, and now I’m seeking my graduate degree, so I’ve been here long enough to know that everyone talks about the Red Mountain Woods as… one of those places you just don’t go.”

The expression on Diego’s face didn’t change at Jamal’s mention of the woods, but there was an immediate tension in it. “Mmhm.”

“And, well… I would like to understand that better. And you seem like you’d know more about the woods than those that fear to tread beyond its borders. So, I suppose the first thing I want to ask is… why the reputation?”

At that question, Diego let out a chuckle before his expression relaxed again. “Well, reputations are a funny thing. They can be based in the barest traces of stretched facts, or even nothing at all. And considering how many versions there are of all the myths surrounding the Red Mountain Woods, one could spend their entire career just trying to catalog them, let alone confirm or deny them.

“But there are certain themes you see in these myths, most of them centering around the old ones who lived in the woods, whose buildings now makeup the ruins you’ll find there. Some say their spirits still haunt those places, luring wanderers to unpleasant fates, though no one can agree what that fate is. Some say they were a magic people, and their magic still remains, a danger to any who don’t understand it.

“Of course, with so few willing to go inside the ruins, we can’t confirm or deny what it is that makes them so potentially dangerous, if anything. So, at the end of the day, the explanation for their reputation is whichever one you find most believable.”

“But you’ve been in them!” Jamal exclaimed. “Surely you must have some idea of how much of that is true, of which rumors have some truth to them.”

At that, Diego looked more tense again, not hiding it as well this time. “You… could say that. But aside from what archeological finds I might make, I would prefer to keep my experiences in those woods to myself.”


With a sigh, Diego let his head fall before looking back up at Jamal. “Look, Jamal, I’ve barely ventured into those woods myself. I don’t know the full extent of what they’re capable of. But, as I’ve learned the hard way,” Diego said as he patted his belly, forcing Jamal’s eyes to gravitate downward, “it’s not just superstition. Something of the old ones is left in those ruins, and I don’t know what it’s capable of. That last thing I would want is to stoke the curiosity of anyone thinking of going into those woods–”

To late, Jamal thought to himself.

“–and end up responsible for something happening to them. Something worse than… putting on a couple of pounds.”

A couple? “Wait, what makes you think I want to go into the woods?” Jamal asked, feeling like he’d found a way around the matter. “I figure if I ask you, I can satisfy my curiosity without putting myself at risk.”

With a chuckle, Diego answered, “You’re a graduate student, Jamal. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t naturally curious, and that’s a wonderful trait. But curiosity is an insatiable beast, and it won’t be satisfied by mere hearsay.”

“Oh, Diego!” a woman’s voice said from the door, catching Jamal off guard and making him jump in his seat. “I’m glad I caught you. Can I talk to you for a second?”

“Uh, sure,” Diego said before rising slow from his chair, mindfully raising his fat body into a standing position. Once he was all the way up, his belly stuck out in front of him like it would be leading the way. “Just a minute,” he said to Jamal before walking out the door with the woman.

In the time that Diego was out, Jamal got curious about the scattered notes on his desk. Doing his best to read them upside down, so he wouldn’t have to disturb them, Jamal quickly deduced that Diego’s notes were about the Red Mountain Woods. And the ones closest to Diego’s chair seemed to be about this wish-granting “treasure”.

Jamal knew he didn’t have time to look over these notes for as long as he would like, as soon Diego would come back. So as long as he couldn’t hear Diego’s footsteps approaching, Jamal took out his phone and started photographing as many notes as he could. He’d make sense of them later, when he had the time: for now, information intake was his primary goal. He managed to get all the notes about the “the treasure”, as well as plenty to give him more information about the woods. By the time he heard Diego’s heavy footsteps lumbering back, he had already taken all the photos he wanted and his phone was safely back in his pocket.

After crossing the threshold to his office again, Diego made his way back to his chair while muttering under his breath, “Sorry. Pay issue. Anyway,” he said with more enthusiasm before he sat down, at which point he groaned until his read end hit the seat. Looking up with a smile, he continued, “What were we talking about?”

“The Red Mountain Woods,” Jamal answered, seeing no reason to lie now that he had the information he needed.

With the smile on his face immediately curving downward, Diego uttered, “Right. Well, I don’t think there’s much more good that can come from this conversation. Unless there was something else you wanted to talk about.”

With a sigh, Jamal said, “No, that’s it. I guess I was just… hoping to get a better idea of what the inside of the woods is like.”

“Forget it, Jamal. For your sake.”

Forgetting it was the last thing Jamal was going to do. As soon as he got back to his apartment, he uploaded the photos to his laptop so he could get a better look at them, look at them side by side, and make his own notes.

Diego’s notes proved to be a treasure trove of information about the Red Mountain Woods. There were notes about translating the writing of the old ones. There was a crude map with two spots marked “temple” and “amphitheater” with red X’s through them–perhaps Diego would indeed avoid those spots. And most importantly, there were notes about all the writings about this “treasure” that Diego could find, translated and annotated with attempts to decode them. In addition, there were several spots marked on the map with question marks, indicating possible locations of the “treasure”. Jamal was ready to try all of them if this treasure would indeed grant his deepest desire.

That Saturday, Jamal drove out to the Red Mountain Woods, intent on diving in farther than he ever had before. With his photo of the map on hand, and plenty of notes of his own, he was ready to explore. Though it was a cloudy day, the weather services were predicting no rain, and he had plenty of daylight left to wander around those woods. He’d also brought a flashlight, should he end up needing it. Finally, he’d folded up a bed sheet and put it in his backpack, lest he suffer the same fate as Diego and his friend, and need something to “wear” on the trip back. He hoped to avoid such a fate, but Diego was right: he didn’t fully know what he was up against.

The Red Mountain Woods were quieter than any forest Jamal has explored before, even after he’d gone in beyo the outskirts, where the noises of civilization might scare away any wildlife. The sound of the wind rustling through the leaves was all that accompanied the crunch of the branches beneath his feet. If there were truly no animal life in this forest, or even such a limited amount, then perhaps there was something to its reputation. But no matter. He had a mission, and he was going to see it through.

The first question mark on Diego’s map merely lead Jamal to the ruins of some sort of stone building, which was clearly covered in its day. Perhaps there was a mire of darkness inside it back when the old ones inhabited it, but it didn’t seem to bear any such power now. Walking around the scattered stone building blocks, Jamal couldn’t find any treasure. Just clear evidence of human architecture with an unclear end-goal. Even the floor of the building had been reclaimed by the forest floor. If the treasure were buried underground, Jamal would have to come back with a shovel. After making a few notes about this first spot, he continued on to the next question mark.

A series of landmarks brought Jamal to the second potential spot. Here, the trees grew so close to each other that their gnarled canopies created a thick layer of leaves that the light had a difficult time penetrating. It was so dark that Jamal took out his flashlight to avoid tripping on anything. He certainly understood how that shadow could have been the murk the writings referred to. And yet, there were no signs of the old ones anywhere to be found. Not their architecture nor their writing, and certainly no treasure. After concluding that this was just an unusually dense clump of trees, Jamal made a few notes for himself and moved on to the next spot.

Upon reaching the third spot, Jamal couldn’t help but chuckle to himself. At the bottom of a small basin, several pillars surrounded a puddle of mud the size of a small swimming pool. Perhaps Diego’s intuition about the “murk” being literal wasn’t so far off after all. It was an idea that Jamal proposed in jest, but as he approached the columns and saw writings of the olds one on it, it seemed more plausible than he wanted to admit.

Approaching one of the pillars, Jamal started comparing the glyphs of the old ones to Diego’s translation notes. It was slow going at first, trying to compare characters of a language he didn’t understand. But soon, bits of it became clear. Mentions of a great treasure, of desire, including that of which the desirer is unaware, of murk and mire which clouds one’s ability to know their own desires, and clarity coming from mire. As implausible as it was, the more he deciphered, the more Jamal came to believe the pool of mud was the treasure itself.

“‘A puddle of mud that grants wishes’ indeed,” Jamal muttered to himself.

Just one question remained: how did it work? Looking through the carvings some more, Jamal struggled to decipher the last bits of the inscription. But based on what he could figure out, and some educated guesswork, it seemed that the way to harness the “treasure”’s power was to take a dip in the mud, like some kind of swimming pool or jacuzzi.

Looking at the wet earth next to him, Jamal wondered just how good of an idea that really was. What if he got stuck and couldn’t get out? What if he sank all the way and was never found again? What if there was some kind of infectious disease in the mud, or it was part of a volcanic system and could turn hot at any time?

On the other hand, what if it did grant his deepest desire? Clearly there was something powerful in these woods, powerful enough to make Diego much, much fatter in just a weekend. What was to say there wasn’t some of that power in the mud too? Especially if the ancients could vouch for it.

Jamal took a deep breath before looking around, as if he might find someone watching him in those woods. He listened intently for the sounds of anyone else who might have been sharing the woods with him, before concluding he was indeed alone. With no eyes on him and no one who might catch more of him than he wanted them to see, he nodded to himself and took one more look toward the pool, before his shirt blocked his view as he took it off. Once his shirt was off, his pants came off next, followed by his underwear and sneakers, then finally, his socks. He put all his clothes in his backpack, just as a precautionary measure to keep them from blowing away. Standing nude at the side of the mud pool, Jamal took one more look at it, quelling any remaining doubts he had, before he started walking toward the edge of the mud.

As he approached the edge, the ground beneath Jamal’s feet changed in consistency. The damp but firm dirt he’d stood on before gave way to a softer earth, one that let his feet in just a bit, enough to leave obvious footprints, but no more. At that, he stopped and curled his toes, feeling the muck squeeze out from under them, as if getting to know the mud beneath him better. Alternating which foot he put his weight on, he could tell that this particular part of the mud pool was not especially deep. It was also probably not powerful enough to grant his desire. Taking another deep breath, Jamal lifted his foot up and stepped forward.

When Jamal’s right foot came down, it descended a bit deeper into the mud, sinking gradually as he put more of his weight on it. It seemed to settle onto firmer earth ankle-deep in the mire. Another step put his left foot onto a softer part of the muck, where it sunk a bit deeper as he stepped forward, until the mud was halfway up his calf. Taking his right foot out with a squelch, he found his left leg sinking a bit deeper as all his weight was put on it. That was until his right leg came down again, when his left leg rose just a bit in the mud as his right sunk up to the bottom of his knee.

Jamal was careful as he tried to pull his left leg out. With the suction of the mud pulling against him, he found it hard to lift his leg without putting his balance at risk. Not fond of the idea of falling face first into the mud, he tried dragging his leg ahead instead. Though it was slow going, he found the mud much more amenable to letting his leg move forward than up. He also found that the further forward he brought it, the more it sank. As he attempted his trudge through the muck, he could feel the previously warm and dry spots on his leg becoming damp and cool as they were swallowed by the mire. By the time he’d brought his left leg up to meet his right, they had both sunk up to the bottom of his knees.

With pulling his legs out of the mud now out of the question, Jamel started plodding toward the center by pushing his legs through the muck instead. He’d push his right leg forward until it was a bit farther ahead than his left, then pull his left leg ahead to catch up. By then, the sensation of any more solid ground beneath him was becoming less definite, with only a vague feeling of firmer mud beneath his feet holding him up. This, of course, meant that as he moved toward the center of the pool, he was sinking even more. It was a gradual process, as gradual as his progression toward the center as he tried to push his legs through the thick mire. But with each “step” forward that he took, he sunk just a bit deeper.

By the time Jamal’s thighs were half submerged, he got curious about what it would take to lift his legs out of the mud then. Leaning on his left leg, he tried pulling his right leg up with all his strength. But the mud held onto it tight, the pressure letting him only raise it an inch or so before a muffled squelching sound indicated the mud fighting back against his attempts to lift his leg from it. The pressure was so intense that when Jamal let his leg sink back in, there was a sense of relief. As the muck embraced him again, he let out a sigh of satisfaction, to his subsequent surprise.

But the closer Jamal got to the center of the pool, the more he felt compelled to admit, there was something comforting about the embrace of the mud. Sure, as his legs sunk in more, it became harder to move toward the center. And by the time his thighs were completely submerged, leaving only his hips to provide any leverage above the surface, moving had become much more difficult. But there was something nice about being forced to stay in one spot, unable to move from it without expending tremendous effort.

Slowly but steadily, Jamal pushed forward until he reached the center of the pool. By then, there was no sensation of any solid ground beneath his feet, leaving it a mystery as to what exactly was keeping him up. With his lanky frame, it certainly wasn’t buoyancy. Whatever forces were keeping him afloat, they had let him sink so that his hips were completely submerged in the mire, while the bottom of his stomach could peek out above the surface of the muck.

By then, it was very hard for Jamal to budge from his spot, though he tried for his own amusement. His legs were cemented in place, with no amount of pulling lifting them from the mire, especially now that his hips had sunk too. He briefly thought to use his hands to provide leverage, but as soon as he tried pushing against the mud’s surface, they sunk in, giving him no support to use to push his legs out. By the time his arms had sunk in halfway down his forearms, he gave up and pulled them out.

But he let his palms lay on the surface of the mud. There was something nice about being sunken in the mud like he was, just deep enough that he didn’t have to expend much effort to remain upright. He could just float in the thick mire, knowing that as long as he could only feel the cool sensation of the muck on the bottom of his belly, he was okay.

But something struck him as strange about that sensation. Looking down, there was something surprising about seeing a pudgy stomach sticking out over the mud. Had that always been there? Upon asking the question, Jamal shook his head and chuckled to himself. Of course it had always been there. Fat bellies didn’t just grow out of nowhere like that. He just had to stop worrying so much and relax as he sat in the mud. Thinking about all the stresses of school, he wondered if his deepest desire was just to feel less stressed. If that was it, the mud was certainly granting it. After patting his flabby belly with his muddy hand, he told himself he could calm down for once in his life.

After all, he knew he hadn’t been pudgy all his life. He must have been so wrapped up in the stress of his studies that he hadn’t noticed a round, globular beer gut growing as he studied. And he wasn’t even a beer drinker. Yet there, sitting on the mud like a beach ball on top of a swimming pool, was a belly that outsized those of most of his peers. He wondered if taking those intense summer internships was really a good idea, as it seemed they’d left him without the time to reflect on how his studies were affecting him. After all, one didn’t grow a belly that big instantly. He wondered if the problem had started in undergrad. Either way, he was thankful for his relaxing mud bath to give him the clarity he needed to ponder these things.

As Jamal sat in the mud, his globular gut making it difficult to lean forward, he wondered what he could do to achieve that kind of relaxation while he was at school. After all, he couldn’t wander off to the Red Mountain Woods and take a mud bath every time he was feeling stressed. He’d never get anything done. As he pondered the question, he found himself absentmindedly rubbing his belly. And to his surprise, it felt good. People usually had bad things to say about bellies as big as Jamal’s, big enough that it probably could serve as a floatation device in the mud. But if it felt so good to rub it, how could it be wrong?

In fact, it was probably the size of Jamal’s massive belly that made it feel so right. In all the turbulence and uncertainty of grad school, his gut was like his rock: steadfast and reliable, something to hold onto when things got whipped into a frenzy. No wonder if felt so good to rub it. Of course, to rub a gut as big as Jamal’s took both hands, which perhaps added to its soothing quality: he had to focus all his effort on it to satisfy himself. And yet, even just rubbing one hand on the bottom made him feel even more at ease than just sitting in the mud did.

It was certainly worth trying when he got back to campus, back to his usual busy student life. With his belly nearly the size of a yoga ball, it would be pretty easy to covertly rub the bottom of it, while the rest obscured anyone’s vision of what he was doing. And if that stopped working for him? Then he could just come back to the mud pool and find that clarity again, and hopefully come up with another idea.

While it wasn’t as flashy as having all of his student loans paid off, Jamal felt like his deepest desire had indeed been granted. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so relaxed, and he felt like he had a chance of keeping that feeling once he got back to his daily life. The mud had definitely done its job, and he felt ready to make his way out of the pool.

How Jamal was going to make his way out of the mud pit was another question entirely, as even just wriggling around where he was felt like a challenge. Even if he could move himself toward the edge of the pool, it was uncertain whether he’d actually rise up out of the mud. Even at his current size, his legs probably didn’t have enough buoyancy to lift the rest of him out of the muck. But as he looked around and pondered his predicament, he looked down and realized, another part of him did. With a smile, he patted his massive belly, and eyed the shore once again.

Jamal started his treck out of the mud by lying on his back, intent on turning on his side so he could use his belly to help him float. However, he soon discovered that just distributing his weight across that much surface area, rather than just the bottom of his feet, was enough to keep him from sinking. It also gave him a rather amusing view of his gut, jutting out high above him like the cliffs around the basin. As he maneuvered himself backward, his belly jiggled and jostled in his view, the fat sloshing around more than even the mud beneath him. It certainly provided an obstacle, but based on the tree branches above him, he could tell that he was moving.

Jamal knew pulling his legs out of the mud would still be a challenge, but as he shimmied his way backward toward the shore, he was able to make progress. Once his knees were above the surface, pulling out the rest of his legs took one final exertion, accompanied by a loud squelch. With all of his body now resting on the surface, he was able to move himself slowly but surely toward the shore, until he felt his head bump into more solid ground. By then, he was confident enough in the ground beneath him to turn over and stand up, his feet only sinking slightly into the mud before he could walk back onto firm earth.

Back on the ground, Jamal felt not just a sense of relief, but triumph as well. He’d found something that his professor had not found yet, and proved that it was as powerful as it was made out to be. With his back arched to keep his belly from pulling him forward, he stood with his arms hanging at an angle, pushed out by the fat around his chest. But it was a proud pose nonetheless, looking around the woods with a smile before looking back at the mud pool with an even wider grin. He’d conquered one of the mysteries of the Red Mountain Woods.

The only problem was that he had to get all the mud off of him before he could put his clothes back on.

Thankfully, Jamal remembered seeing a river not too far from the basin on the map. And he remembered that it was a straight shot from the slanted path that took him out of the basin, so he thankfully wouldn’t have to take his phone out of his backpack to find it. After shaking off his hands and wiping off as much of the mud as he could, until it had mostly dried down to dirt, he picked up his backpack and started the trek. Walking without sneakers would be a challenge, as he couldn’t see his feet past his gut to be sure he didn’t step on any rocks. But he was careful as he walked, and after huffing and panting his way up the path out of the basin, he waddled his way toward the river.

The sound of running water let Jamal know he was close, before he saw the river through the trees ahead of him. Once he was next to it, he put his backpack down, thankful to discover the river was clear and wouldn’t make him even more dirty. Stepping into the stream, he sat down and started washing himself off, starting with the back of his head and moving downward. It took some time, as the river wasn’t deep enough for him to submerge himself in it, though he was able to count on the current to wash off his legs as he washed off the rest of himself.

With all the mud finally washed off, Jamal pushed himself up and stepped out of the water, finally clean again. Now he just had to wait for his body to air dry, as he hadn’t brought a towel. But he didn’t mind the wait, as it gave him a chance to just stand around and enjoy the woods, while letting his heft hang out in all its glory. It was like nudist’s resort for one.

Thankfully, the wind passing through the forest helped dry Jamal off fairly quickly, although it did leave him a little bit chilly. His fat helped keep him warm, but his skin still felt cool against the woods’ wind. But soon enough, he had dried off completely, and could put his clothes back on. After some struggling, he bent over and picked up his backpack, before opening it up and pulling out his tee shirt. Upon unruffling the garment, he realized it was meant to fit someone a lot skinnier than him.

That was when the tranquility of thought granted to Jamal by the mud pit evaporated. He dropped his backpack while he still held onto the shirt, staring at it with his mouth agape. He hadn’t just not always been that big. He hadn’t been that big when he even entered the woods. It all came rushing back to him, walking around and following Diego’s notes as a skinny, lanky guy, not the pile of lard that stood there holding it now.

And that was when it struck him: the mud had made him fat.

“No way,” Jamal said, breaking the silence he’d maintained since he entered the woods. “No, no way. How the hell… how the hell is this my… my ‘deepest desire’? How the–” His ranting was interrupted when he angrily grabbed his gut in the middle of his yelling, intending to shake it to emphasize his point to an audience that wasn’t listening.

But once he felt his new flab in his hand, he felt his anger dissipate, like the water that had evaporated off of his body. Briefly, there was a part of him that resented that grabbing his flab could have this effect. But that part was soon placated by just how much enjoyed rubbing his belly. It seemed he could indeed still call on that calming energy, even now that the tranquility of the mud pool had worn off.

And the more Jamal rubbed his gut, the more he found to like about it. He liked the girth it gave him, how he now took up space that people would have to move around. No longer would he be the lanky guy that people bumped into like they expected him to move for them. If they bumped into him now, he wouldn’t be the one pushed aside.

With a new appreciation for his heft, Jamal started strutting around the shore, enjoying how his new size made him move. With so much weight in front of him, he had to lean backwards as he walked, resulting in a stately sort of stroll. He was very aware of his body as he moved–he had to be, considering how much he weighed–and that helped him walk in a way that emphasized the care he put into moving.

It seemed a far fetched idea, but it also seemed more true the more he experienced his bigger size: Jamal liked being fat.

There was something liberating about admitting it. It wasn’t what most people would expect as a deepest desire, but it made Jamal happy. What made him momentarily less happy was looking at his backpack and realizing that the only thing in it that would fit him was the bedsheet. Considered that there likely wouldn’t be anyone else in those woods, though, he wouldn’t have to put it on until he got to his car. Maybe when he got home, he could order some bigger clothes online with rush shipping.

Jamal was lucky enough to procure some new clothes on Sunday that allowed him to go shopping for a new wardrobe. The 5XL shirt was a bit tight, thanks to how much his gut protruded out, but it was certainly a better outfit for going clothing shopping than a bed sheet. To his dismay, even the big and tall stores didn’t seem to have many options in 6XL or bigger, while there were plenty in 5XL. But as he tried them on, Jamal found himself taking a liking to their snug fit. After all, he was happy being fat. Why shouldn’t he show off his figure?

It was a bit harder to live that philosophy when it came time to go back to class. He thought he’d be able to just blend in with the other students, in spite of being the weight of two or three of them. But it was far enough in the semester that the classes were all fairly familiar with each other. And as one of the few black guys in any of his classes, if not the only one, the fact was, his classmates knew who he was.

But at least the other students in Diego’s class were slightly less surprised, having been through this once before. Jamal sat at his usual desk, gut sticking out to the side so he could take notes on the tiny table attached at the side. There he waited, wondering what Diego’s reaction would be.

It certainly wasn’t as pronounced as Jamal expected. As Diego walked in, he kept his eyes on Jamal, but kept his eyelids low, not breaking his step or his composure. “Good evening, everyone,” he said before he put his briefcase on the desk.

Class continued much like usual from there, up until it came time for Diego to pass back everyone’s essays. As he passed by Jamal’s desk, his massive gut, taking up much of Jamal’s view, he whispered, “Jamal, can I talk to you after class?” It was a question that made Jamal’s heart sink… until he looked down and saw a big “100” circled on the top of his paper, along with the words, “Intriguing work, wonderful presentation!”

The rest of class seemed to pass especially slowly. But when the time to leave finally came, Jamal packed his bag especially slowly. Once everyone else was out of the room, he left his bag at his desk and approached the front of the room, where Diego waited with a smile of his face. “I see you’ve been doing some independent research,” he said with a smirk.

Immediately Jamal felt his cheeks become red. Chuckling uncomfortably, he looked down and stumbled over his words as he tried to explain himself.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to defend what you did. That’s not why I asked you to stay after class.”

At that, Jamal look up, his embarrassed expression replaced with a curious one.

“You’re clearly passionate about archeology, and you excel in it too. And now I know you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty in the field.”

You have no idea, Jamal thought to himself.

“I was wondering: how would you like to be my research assistant? The position pays, and you’d get class credit for it. And, well, a lot of folks don’t even want to to touch research having to do with the Red Mountain Woods. But there’s so much to learn! Would you help me discover it?”

A smile slowly spread across Jamal’s face, and he extended his open hand. Diego’s mouth, meanwhile, spread into a toothy, enthusiastic grin. As their massive guts swinging to the side to move out of the way, they extended their arms and shook hands.

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