I don’t care what people think: HealthMaxx is an amazing brand and I love selling their products!
“They’re a pyramid scheme,” my neighbor Penelope said at brunch the other day. “You’re gonna end up spending the kids’ college fund on a closet full of lotion you can’t move.” She was three mimosas deep so I’ve decided not to hold that against her.
And what does she know anyway? While Penelope’s filing expense reports at her dull office job, I’m out here in the real world, building my own small business around HealthMaxx’s life changing goods and services. I understand how my entrepreneurial spirit can be a bit intimidating to someone just punching a clock and filling a cubicle. This lifestyle’s for real go-getters only! One more real good month and I get bumped into a pricing tier where I can make some serious cash!
I didn’t waste my breath telling Penelope about my VIP invitation to HealthMaxx’s new facility in Buena Vista. All the other HealthMaxx Roxxstars in the Facebook group were super happy for me! It’s like having an extended family brought together by healthy supplements and holistic remedies.
At first I worried I wouldn’t be able to make it. My time slot conflicted with Cassidy’s soccer game, and it would’ve been my turn to handle the neighborhood carpool. Luckily, I have the best husband on the planet! Ron’s eyes got a little glassy, but he volunteered to fill in. He’s been on his phone a lot lately. Work stress, I think. But he’s always there for me and the kids! Couldn’t do it without him!
So here I am in the parking lot, gazing wistfully at the bright, blocky sign above the facility’s entrance. HealthMaxx has been promising regional franchise opportunities for years now, and this is the first in California. I got here a little early because I wanted to see the place. This is history in the making, you know? So what if it’s the end unit of a small strip mall next to a McDonald’s? There’s also a pot shop, so this is clearly a neighborhood on its way up!
I read my invitation for what must’ve been the hundredth time today.
Hello HealthMaxx Roxxstar! As one of your region’s top five sellers, we’d love to reward your vision and dedication with a chance to be one of the first to experience our latest offering: QuickSpa, available soon at all HealthMaxx locations! It’s a whole spa day in just ten minutes! We are ecstatic to offer you a 10% discount!
- Exfoliate and give your skin a golden glow!
- Purge toxins from your system to encourage cardiac and digestive health!
- Recharge mentally so you’re ready to face the day!
QuickSpa by HealthMaxx: because you deserve it!
How great does that sound? Penelope would say it’s too good to be true. Not to beat a dead horse, but she’s not the most open-minded person. That’s why she’ll never get anywhere in life!
It’s two minutes before my appointment. I check my face in the mirror. Perfect, as always, thanks to HealthMaxx’s Revitalizing GlamWash. Not a spec of makeup or a lock of brunette hair out of place. I had my highlights touched up just yesterday so I’d look ravishing. A happy, healthy look is important to any small business owner, of course, but I went above and beyond that morning so I could prove to HealthMaxx that they didn’t invite just any Roxxstar to their opening—they’d invited the biggest Roxxstar on their entire roster!
My heels ring out against the gray asphalt as I cross the parking lot, carefully stepping above the painted yellow markings for good luck. I sigh contentedly, enjoying the warm California sun. This is silly, I know, but it’s like the whole world is welcoming me on HealthMaxx’s behalf. I wish whoever’s inside could be wowed by my swaggering approach, but alas, the storefront’s windows are mostly covered with posters advertising their products and services in the brand’s comforting blue and white color scheme.
The door opens and someone steps outside. I’d recognize Chelsea Clemens anywhere even though we’ve never met in person. Her bleached blonde hair looks even faker than in the endless stream of selfies she posts. Turns out she’s also hilariously short.
Why in the hell was her appointment before mine? There’s no way her midget ass sells more than I do.
“Hiiiiii!”” I say with my brightest smile. “Nice to finally meet you here in the real world!”
Chelsea blinks at me one eye at a time. It’s unsettling. She’s walking a bit bowlegged and her blouse is buttoned crookedly, like she started one or two holes too high. A tangle of her hair shoots out from the side of her head as if grasping for a bottle from the liquor store next door.
“Oh,” she says, her voice soft. “Anna Lee, right? Hello.” She states that greeting like a question, like she’s trying to remember how to communicate with another human being.
“Sooooo. How was it?”
She blinks again. “It’ll change your life. I…need to get home.”
For a moment I watch Chelsea waddle off. Had the procedure shaken her up like that? Unlikely. HealthMaxx is the best of the best, and everything they offer is built on decades of research and then tested thoroughly in their state-of-the-art facilities.
“Drugs,” I say under my breath, shaking my head. How stupid do you have to be to get high before such an important meeting? Surely the staff inside had noticed and noted it in her file. I smile at the thought that Chelsea Clemens’s days as a HealthMaxx Roxxstar would soon be coming to an end. Goodbye tsunami of fake selfies, and good riddance!
A bell jingles as I open the door. The air inside is somehow warmer and heavier than outside. A woman with a short ponytail and a white lab coat looks up from the computer at the reception desk. “Anna Lee?” she asks nonchalantly.
“That’s me!” I crow, reflexively shifting into saleswoman mode. Gosh, I am so good at this. “Anna Lee Stephens, here for my appointment! Thank you soooo much for having me today. I really love all of HealthMaxx’s products and everything the company stands for.”
She hands me a clipboard like she’s some sort of office robot. “Please take a seat, read and sign this release, and I’ll call your name when the doctor is ready.”
If she knew I were just one more month away from the upper tier, she’d show more respect. I’ll be sure to mention it on my way out!
Assuming I don’t end up like Chelsea. Hmm.
I set the phone down on the receiver and turn to my tiny partner in crime. “Got another one,” I say, straightening the cuffs of my lab coat.
Unger grunts and grabs a fresh wetsuit and goggles from the plastic bins on the counter. “Another long day at the mines,” he grunts.
“Where do they even get gnome-size gear?” I ask as I drape a stethoscope around the back of my neck.
Do I feel like a fraud today? I certainly look like a fraud. When I catch sight of myself in the mirror, I see an elven farmer playing dress up. Can’t hide the calluses on my hands or the crook in my back. The lenses in my thick glasses aren’t even prescription.
But I don’t feel like a fraud. I don’t feel much at all, actually. Guess that means the pills are working. I should thank the boss later, but I know I’ll forget.
There’s a painting on the wall by the fridge. A seascape, a view of a peaceful ocean beyond gently rolling dunes. I didn’t choose it, but I’m glad it’s there. Reminds me why I do this. Almost got that down payment on the beach house I’ve been looking at. Just a few more.
The fridge door sticks, but it can’t stop me. The light flickers on. I pull out another tiny tray of what appears to be the world’s smallest lasagna and set it on the round table in the center of the lunchroom. I offer my palm to Unger, now dressed in a fresh kit. He steps onto it, I turn back toward the table, and he jumps down toward his latest meal.
Sometimes when people in the bar ask what I do, I tell them I’ve found rewarding work as an elevator.
“That stuff any good?” I ask my partner as he shoves a handful of maybe-lasagna into his mouth.
He holds up a hand dripping with what might be sauce and cheese, letting a glob slide down his wrist. “It look good?”
Rot, I hate the days he’s in a mood. Means he overdoes it. Last week he made a woman spasm so hard she bruised her knee. One of these days, he’s going to send someone to the hospital. Or maybe worse.
Do I feel bad about that today? I do not. If we hurt someone, well—fuck it. Stupid humans deserve whatever they get.
Unger burps like he’s a six-foot-tall linebacker who just demolished a tower of chicken wings. That means he’s got the calories he needs to make his magic work.
I pick up the phone and push the button to dial the desk. Do I feel bad about scamming this next mark? No, I do not. Such great fucking pills.
Just a few more.
The thing they don’t tell you about being invisible is that it’s really, really cold.
And fucking exhausting because they make you watch a lot of boring/dumb/horrible shit.
Like right now. I’m standing in the back corner of a small room, keeping the magic flowing while I wait for the next sucker to walk in. I’m dying for a warm cup of coffee and an aspirin. Got a headache that started during the last…I guess we’ll call it a session.
Ever concentrated on a magic eye picture so intently that your eyeballs start to feel like they’re rapidly growing hair? That’s what it’s like to maintain an invisibility field, except it’s your whole body. Your arms. Your legs. Fingers. Toes. Ball sack. For a few minutes, it’s not that bad. Kind of neat, actually.
But I’ve been like this for four hours.
Can’t let the magic down for even second, in case there’s a camera/some asshole bursts through the door. Gotta keep it up. Just one more…session. The office insisted I not make a move until I’ve seen all that morning’s appointments. Could be in the interest of being thorough, in case one of the sessions includes something new/different/strange/useful. Could be they think it’s amusing to torture me. It’s probably a little of both.
Our intel said they’d scheduled three. All women. I’m not one of those bigoted types that says all humans look alike, but man…those first two could’ve been sisters. Guess HealthMaxx has a type.
Weird assignment. Clearly there’s something wrong here, but it’s not the type of wrong we usually deal with. No demons eating children/out of control magic leveling whole city blocks/epic troll battles in public places/blatant attacks on elven property. Just people, getting what they want, but not in the way they want it, in exchange for a signed contract that could be used as blackmail/extortion. So why does Evitankari care? All I can figure is they’ve got a similar enough business/scam of their own going on and they don’t want these small-timers cutting into the profits. Whatever. It’s above my pay grade, and I’ve dealt with worse. Keeps me and mine fed, clothed, and sheltered.
The door opens. Another bright-eyed/fair-skinned/overly-makeup-ed middle-aged woman in a cheap medical gown. Dr. Bad Guy escorts her inside. Dude looks kind of familiar, but I can’t place him. Dossier says he’s an ex-pat, left Evitankari in the 90s after a dust up with his wife’s family. Looks like he’s really made something of himself.
There’s something squirming in the pocket of his lab coat. His partner. Fuck, how do none of these people realize how fucking absurd they are? Come on, you assholes, is this really what you’re doing with yourselves?
Not the first time I’ve felt that way on a job. Won’t be the last.
“Please lie down on the table, on your stomach,” Dr. Bad Guy says. I knew his real name this morning. Whatever.
She obeys without question, though her eyes are furtive and she’s breathing heavily. This isn’t what she’d expected. What comes next certainly won’t be either.
You know, these grifts always amaze me. People like this elf and this gnome could use their magic to do something. Make a product. Perform a service. Instead, the little bastard’s making a living climbing in through the backdoor and casting a few spells that make the subject feel like something’s happening, and then the doctor insists that they just cured everything from dandruff to gout to malaria and sends them off with a bill and a smile.
Worst part is, they come back.
Dr. Bad Guy sets his gnome friend down on the table between the woman’s ankles. Where did they even get a wet suit that small? Shit, man.
The woman, of course, knows nothing about the gnome. The brochure I snagged claims the procedure is performed using a revolutionary medical machine designed by HealthMaxx’s top minds. Also claims they hold over thirty patents on the thing. I wonder how Mr. Gnome feels about that.
“We’ll insert the device rectally,” Dr. Bad Guy says in his dead voice as he drops a dollop of lube on the gnome’s head. “You may experience some mild, temporary discomfort. It’s all part of the healing process.”
The woman shakes. Was that a sob? The others didn’t do that.
“Ok,” she says. That was definitely a sob. She picks her face up for a moment to wipe away the tears. This is definitely not what she expected, but she’s going to go along with it anyway. Maybe she’s afraid of what happens if she speaks up. Maybe she’s got friends who told her HealthMaxx is a pyramid scheme, and she’s been loudly adamant that no, it’s perfectly fine and it’s going to make me rich, you just don’t get it because you don’t have what it takes to be successful, and telling those people they were right sounds worse than a quick oil check in a dingy strip mall. Who knows?
She doesn’t realize it because she can’t see me, but we lock eyes.
Fuck. I know that look. I’ve ignored it too many times, because that’s how I’m expected to do my job. What Evitankari needs comes first.
But not this time.
I drop the invisibility spell. Warmth. No more tingling ball sack.
The woman’s eyes bulge and she screams. That’ll happen when a pointy-eared man in combat fatigues suddenly appears in front of you, brandishing a pistol and looking like a total bad ass. I love making an entrance.
The doctor and the gnome put their hands behind their heads and sink to their knees. Someone told them to do that if they got busted. Good.
The woman screams again and rolls off the table. In the process she wipes the gnome out with her leg, whipping him into the wall. She’s out the door before I remember I should’ve dusted her. Oh well.
“What took you so long?” the doctor asks.
“Just needed one more.”
So I know what you’re wondering: Scott Colby, why did you write a story about a con man who shoves gnomes up people’s asses?
Well. Why not?
I’ve been listening to a lot of the Behind the Bastards podcast. It’s an insightful, funny, and informative look at some of history’s worst assholes. Sometimes it focuses on grifters – like the dude who made a living implanting goat testicles in people to improve their virility, or Reverend Jim Humble who built an empire around convincing his followers to drink bleach. In these cases, it’s always some jerk selling something amazingly stupid but promising amazing results.
In a world where magic powers can accomplish amazing feats, why would con men do things differently? They’d use those skills the same way grifters always have: to exploit vulnerable people.
I find that fascinating/horrifying/probably not wrong.
When I started this story, my plan was to stick with Anna Lee’s perspective. See what I did with her name? Proud of that. But in an effort to better myself, I’ve been reading more short stories and thinking about them a lot more carefully. I started going back through George Saunders’s amazing collection, Tenth of December, and I found myself thinking about how the structure of the very first entry in that book made the whole piece that much more powerful. Shifting perspectives can build tension by making it easier to communicate the danger of a situation and by giving the reader time to process and worry about the characters involved. I can’t claim to be on Saunders’s level, but I’m grateful for his example–and I hope he doesn’t mind butt jokes.