© 2022 Mel Reynes do not re-publish without permission

He was outside again. Jenn had gotten up to go to the bathroom and Craig wasn’t in bed. Not too worrying—but then he wasn’t in the bathroom, the downstairs half bath, nor was he in the “European” kitchenette of their tiny townhouse. When she finally found him outside, he was just standing in their little postage stamp backyard, in the dark, in the rain.  

She wasn’t sure how long he’d been outside, but he was completely drenched. The old band shirt he slept in was soaked and sticking to his chubby frame. He’d stopped working out when he lost his job. She didn’t mind that he’d put on weight since college—hell, she had too. But when he lost his job he hadn’t just given up on himself, he’d given up on all of them. 

She wondered if she should stay there and wait to see how long he stayed outside. Maybe then she’d have something concrete to bring to him. Some tangible evidence that Things Were Not Ok. But would it really matter to him that she saw him standing outside in the rain for five minutes or fifty? Probably not. He’d just dismiss her and go back to the world on his phone. 

She checked on the kids in their bunk beds before she went back to bed. They were both sleeping soundly, in the akimbo way that kids like to sleep. She hoped they didn’t see him like that. They’d worry, and they had enough to worry about. Gabi had just started first grade and all her picky eating habits had come back. Some days, Jenn celebrated if Gabi ate a couple of spoons of peanut butter. She was probably feeling the stress Mom and Dad were under. For better or worse, Gabi was good at intuiting what was going on, even if she was too little to understand. Gabi especially had been excited when they moved—excited for new friends and new experiences. 

They had to move for Jenn’s work. Craig had been told he could move to any city with an affiliate office and keep his job. Except that was before the pandemic. During the pandemic he’d been laid off as “non-essential.” But he was the only employee they laid off, and the only Black employee at the whole company.

It had seemed like his newest gig was going to turn things around. Yeah, it was part time. And it was just a medical study. But it paid well and it got him out of the house and seeing other people. The first few weeks had seemed so good. He’d been full of energy, and even started on clearing out the basement to become an office/playroom/third bedroom/something useful. He went back to cooking and they’d had a lovely Saturday afternoon out as a family. But he’d pulled back again and most meals he just silently sipped on the noxious-looking food shakes the study gave him. Not for the first time, Jenn wished they’d never moved. 

Jenn heard a little one sigh-snore and looked up at the top bunk. Jani was a dark little mass—a mound of blankets, hair, and one little bird-like hand. He’d seemed to be doing better than his sister, but Jenn worried that he just put on a good face for his stressed out parents.  She wished they’d been able to find a house with space for them both to have their own bedrooms, but it had been so hard to find a place, and they had promised themselves that this wouldn’t be a big deal while the kids were both so small. They’d assumed they could find a better home once they had a moment to breathe and plan things as a couple. 

Jen wished both of her kids sweet dreams and headed back to bed. She wondered if she should take something to help get back to sleep, but remembered it would probably make her sleepy all day and she had a lot of meetings tomorrow. Maybe she’d answer some emails from bed and get ahead on work instead. Then she’d actually finish the week a little on top. Or even take off early on Friday and pick up the kids from school. Despite her pile of worries, she fell asleep in front of the glow of her phone.

When Craig did eventually come in from the rain, he sat in the tub to dry off. He tried to not scratch his skin, which was peeling off in big chunks. It would probably clog the drain and then Jenn would bitch at him again.   

~ ~ ~

A tasty, complete, and economical meal in an elegant and handy bottle, delivered straight to your door. VIERTTM is organic and is the perfect balance to give you a spring in your step all day. 

~ ~ ~

Ted entered the large corporate cafeteria turned tradeshow floor a little after 1pm. He was hoping to snag a few snacks, maybe even a sandwich for lunch. Today was the big “fun club” summit, better known as the Wellness For You Fair at the company. A day when employees were offered all sorts of “perks” and activities meant to make them better, stronger, faster, healthy, smarter, and (hopefully) hate their job just a little less. All sorts of vendors came to sell their gear, programs, and goods at specialty-employee-only-rates. Last year a bunch of folks had gotten free Pedlerexes, a $2,000 exercise machine, for only the cost of the monthly training subscription. It had been a pretty good deal, if you wanted to sit on a bike that went nowhere ten hours a week. Everyone knew they sold your data anyway. It was such a scam.

Ted didn’t go for any of that. Sure, the deals were good, but what they secretly cost was Time. Time where you were still supposed to get all your work done. Time you could spend at the bar with some friends. Technically, the fun club stuff was optional, but if you didn’t sign up for something you got to have a Very Serious talk with HR. 

Nope, Ted had that worked out. He was part of the Mutual Improvement Club. It was him, Rich, Mike, Wayne, and Alexis. The club was a mutual agreement that they’d block out six hours a month—the minimum amount required to be an employee run club—and simply do whatever the fuck they wanted. Usually that meant leaving early at the same time. They coordinated with text messages on what to tell HR. Usually they’d say they went to a park or somewhere free and untraceable. They even had a “mindful memories only” clause that meant they didn’t take pictures. And sometimes they really did do things together. Last summer they’d gone to Rory’s Pier and gotten good and day drunk during company hours. But most times they just left work early. It was a really good club. 

During the big Healthness Scam Fair all the vendors would bring treats to entice you. About half had healthy garbage—food bars, food drinks, food cubes, and food powders. Stuff that killed lab mice but was supposed to be totally life changing if you were a human. But the other half of the vendors knew that no one makes friends with salad. They brought the good stuff. Last year Ted had gotten free sandwiches—from Ham Palace, so not cheap—for the whole Mutual Improvement Club. The trick was to go towards the end, when the vendors were packing up and needed to get rid of stuff and didn’t have the time to do their dumb pitches. 

Ted was scanning the room for any sign of an unattended snack or sub platter when a guy off to his right spoke. 

“Hello, friendo!” a deep, but somehow nasally voice said. 

Ted started, he hadn’t seen anyone in the dark cashier’s register corner when he walked in. Even now, the lights were half on and the yellow-green light was at odds with the brightly lit cafeteria. The booth—really just a folding table with a cheap looking banner—had a very underwhelming display. There were five of the same-sized white boxes in a row, chaotically arranged. The table didn’t even have a tablecloth, just the bare plastic table with five boxes. The man behind the table was tall and lean and had a drawn back pointy look that made him seem like he’d been in a wind tunnel. He was smiling with closed, tight lips.

“Hey there, gotta moment to spare?” he asked. 

Ted swayed back and forth, trying to move just a little bit out of the gravitational attention of this oddly stretched man. But then he spied some of the text on the banner, “Satisfaction or we pay you! $600 guaranteed!!!” and—just like that—he needed to find out about that offer. $600, really? That would pay for a lot of summer beers. If the offer was good even after the Fair then he’d be a hero for bringing it to the rest of the Mutual Drinking Friends. 

He cautiously walked up to the booth, keeping far enough away to signal that he did not trust this man or his “deal.”  Let him know that he had to really work to make this sale. 

“Hey,” Ted replied. 

“Hey there, glad you came over, friend. I’m Rob, got a name?” Rob said rapidly. He didn’t offer to shake hands. He knew what the offer said on his sign. He knew it was really good. Ted gestured down at the sign. 

“Erm, Ted, hey.” Rob’s smile was so damn weird. No teeth, but somehow his lips went all the way to his little pointy ears. His big eyes shown white and bright under the sallow yellow lights. “Eh, so, what’s this about? It’s $600 and if I’m not satisfied I get my money back?” Ted was already working up a lie about leaving his wallet at his desk. No way he was giving this toad $600. 

“Oh no, no, no,” Rob said. “It’s soooo much more simple than that!” He chuckled to himself, like it was truly a joke that anyone would bring money into this. Ted noticed Rob’s suit. It was almost all the same color, a green-gray suit that should have complimented his expensive food tech pitch, but it had a subtle skin-like texture that seemed like it would be unpleasant to touch. “We were brought in by the company to help you, we wouldn’t want you paying money for such an excellent product.” He paused dramatically. 

“I won’t waste your time. I know that you think it’s a scam, I get it, it totally sounds like a scam. $600 for free? No one offers that. And you’re looking at my little booth and thinking there’s no way I’m offering you anything good,” he did another little showman’s pause. He smiled. Did he wink? 

“And that’s the thing, the folks that developed this product are smarter than other startups. They don’t waste their effort on fancy offices and gimmicks. No ‘cool’ website, branding, packaging, booths, and all that jazz. They wanted to make sure the product got to you so you could enjoy it,” he definitely smiled this time. His whole face stretched even more every time he smiled. Ted glanced down at the little white boxes. They were, indeed, very plain. Though the boxes were white and about the size of a bottle of cough syrup. The outside had a single dark green line wrapped around the whole thing, with the word VIERTTM above. 


There didn’t appear to be any other information, nothing about the weight or nutritional value from the two sides of the box he could see. But Ted knew, it was the unbranded brand that tricked you the most. 

Rob kept talking in his fast little baritone, “They want to get it into the hands of people like you.” Ted didn’t like the way Rob kept emphasizing you, it was an odious tactic to get him on Rob’s side. It was also kinda working. “They don’t want their first customers to be guinea pigs, and that’s why they developed their Satisfaction Compensation Amplitude Metric alongside the revolutionary VIERTTM formula. They want to show you why you’ll love it. It doesn’t work if no one drinks it.” Again, a little chuckle at his non-joke. 

“So, here’s the deal because I gotta wrap up: we give you a month’s worth of VIERTTM—for free. That’s a $600 value. We know that people might still want to eat whole foods. That works out to sixty meals for the month or three meals a day for five days out of the week. You give us back the empty containers at the end of the month and if you’re not satisfied we pay you the equivalent, or about $10 per meal.” Rob paused and looked across the cafeteria. His hand did a little dance across the cheap plastic table. 

“What if I just empty the bottles and don’t drink it?” Ted knew he shouldn’t reveal his own tricks, but he was also getting hangry and wasn’t going to be tricked by this little show off. Hopefully someone at another booth would just leave any un-eaten snacks rather than chucking them. 

“Oh, of course, you could do that. But VIERTTM isn’t just tasty, isn’t just some meal replacement, it’s a whole new food system like no one has ever seen. Lab results have shown that those that choose VIERTTM don’t go back. Just one sip is all it needs. And if you do scam us? Well, I’m not gonna tell,” Rob did a full-throated chuckle this time and picked up one of the boxes. 

“So many food systems are—at best— a bunch of protein and vitamins. And most are just shitty milkshakes.” Ted was surprised they let the salespeople swear. “But this was formulated in Europe, and it’s 100% vegan, gluten free, sugar free, corn free, caffeine free, and dairy free. Oh, and soy free.” His long, spidery fingers broke open the box.

“It was formulated in Europe from a unique xylem. It’s got all the raw elements needed to sustain life, and since you’re eating clean, you get a nice little energy boost too.” As he said this, he pulled out a clear bottle—surprisingly it was real glass—with a similar white label to the outer box. Inside was a violently green, transparent liquid.

This was the biggest load of bullshit Ted had ever heard. “So, what’s in it?” 

“Did you know early humans ate all sorts of stuff? I’m sure you’ve heard of the paleo diet, and this isn’t that nonsense. Early humans didn’t just eat animal flesh and nuts. They ate grains, grasses, tree bark, and even lichen. This isn’t just a meal supplement, it’s not just vitamins in a bottle, it’s based on the primordial stuff of life.” Rob was holding back the bottle, as if Ted wasn’t good enough to try it out. Ted moved closer to Rob’s hand to take a closer look at the bottle. 

The liquid in the bottle was a little thicker than water, and it didn’t coat the sides but slid cleanly away. Even in the gross, dim light, it did look sorta appealing. He imagined it tasted like limeade, crisp and summery.

Rob kept up with his spiel, “And this doesn’t work if no one drinks it, am I right? And sure we could just sell this in stores, but the cumulative effects are really important to its efficacy. And that’s why we’ve got the Satisfaction Compensation Amplitude Metric. We wanna make sure you really get a chance to experience the full effects of VIERTTM.” At this, Rob held it out for Ted to take. ”All we need today is a name, email address, and your mailing address. We send you your month’s supply of VIERTTM in five to seven business days. You can chill it or have it at room temperature. Just keep it stored in the box until you’re ready to drink. At the end of the month you send back the empty bottles along with our satisfaction survey. You don’t even have to leave your home.” Rob’s smile widened even more, and his eyes seemed to be the same glowing green as the liquid, but Ted was looking at the bottle and didn’t see. 

Suddenly, there was a dingy looking clipboard on the table that Ted hadn’t seen before. It had just three names on it, none that Ted recognized. 

Well, at least it would be something to talk about at the next beer pier meetup. It would be a fun little story about how he had scammed $600 out of this stupid little startup. Ted scrawled his info on the spreadsheet. 

“Here, take that one, the box is already opened. Give you a little taste of what you’re getting.” Rob handed Ted the bottle, and Ted took it and stupidly stood there, unsure if they were done or if there wasn’t some sort of paperwork or contract he was supposed to fill out. But that seemed to be the end of it. Rob started putting away the other boxes, the clipboard, and gathering up his things. Ted’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he realized he’d been away from his desk for far too long. He was letting too many emails build up and someone would notice if he didn’t respond. 

It wasn’t until he got back to his desk that Ted realized he hadn’t found lunch. And so, of course, he cracked open the bottle of VIERTTM. It did indeed taste like a crisp and clean limeade. He wished he’d taken two. 

~ ~ ~

You will love the rich and natural goodness of the best selling nutrient-packed VIERTTM complete meal. Perfect as breakfast, lunch or anytime you need a nutritious meal to transform your day.

~ ~ ~

Tristan unhooked from his exercise bike and checked the app. He was .02 miles behind his session from yesterday. He should get the bike’s tracker recalibrated. He’d been trending to .02-.07 miles fewer per session overall compared to last month. He wasn’t doing anything different. And he was only thirty-eight. At this rate he’d lose a whole five miles this quarter. 

Or the app could be faulty. He double checked it against his backup sensors, but the backup said he was actually a whole .05 miles off from yesterday. He’d really have to try to fit in a trip to the mountains this month with Trent to make up for the loss. Maybe he should cut out nuts just in case. Sure, they were a clean protein, but he couldn’t be sure even the ones at the organic store were truly fresh. If they were a little bit rancid it could be dragging down his whole metabolism. You never really knew how long those things sat on the shelf. 

He reminded himself to look into the new food program he’d seen on TechTok. The one that was supposed to be for super clean eating. 

~ ~ ~

FAQ: A combination of complete plant-based ingredients, and a variety of micronutrients are all essential nutrients that the body cannot produce and people must get them through their diet. VIERTTM can be classified as “complete” and “nutrition” because they contain all essential nutrients for a diet.

~ ~ ~

Andi flipped rapidly through the video stories on social media. She was looking for a specific one. The one with the guy in the tub. He was so committed to his bit. The whole thing seemed so real. He had to be in special effects or something. That’s what Andi hoped to do, get famous making her own monsters and impressing folks with her imagination. Last Halloween she’d gone as a scarecrow with six foot stilts. She’d gotten reshared by a big horror meme account that was supposed to be actually connected to someone famous. Everyone in ninth grade had shared it online.

Andi accidentally flicked past the one she was looking for. She quickly reversed her direction and moved back to the newest video from the guy in the tub—user name Harold Holden. What a terrifically bland social media handle. It worked so well. This video was shot just like a lot of the others, just an old white guy in his tub. He might be naked, but the camera was low and the side of the tub obscured his legs. Andi loved the idea that he was just sitting in his dry tub, half clothed in jeans and sneakers, and only his upper part was the monster. It was such a great behind the scenes image. 

He’d really gone all out for this video. One of his eyes was the size of a softball and had started moving to the top of his head. His mouth was also pulling back, wider and flatter but also more protruded. There didn’t seem to be an intro to this story. Maybe it was part of a series for the day, she’d look after and see if there were earlier videos from today. With no intro to the video, Harold Holden’s too-long arm and webbed hand came away from the camera after turning it on. It folded back against his body, displacing a wave of goo that squelched unpleasantly. 

God, Andi thought, this guy even knew to shoot it in portrait mode. He was really selling it with the little details. She needed to know if the goo made that noise on camera or if the noise was added in post. Maybe this was like a whole team of people. They put out so many every week. It had to be a team. 

Harold Holden paused and seemed like he might speak. He looked down at his thin, grotesque body. His arms were skinny with large, webbed hands, but his torso and chest were bloated into a large mass. Then Harold Holden meekly croaked and burst into big, gloppy tears. The tears quickly raced over his slimy skin and into the tub. He squeezed both eyes shut (how?!?) and balled up his suction cupped fingers. He cried and cried, his big fake toad eye reacting in perfect sync with his other eye. The toad eye even had tears coming out of it!

For thirty seconds, all the app would allow without a star account, Harold Holden cried and raged on camera. He kicked and you could briefly see one of his flippered feet spring from inside the tub. Water splashed everywhere. The water was green and dirty like stagnant pond water. Too changed to speak, he wailed at the outside world for help, for acknowledgment. His early stuff had been him documenting starting VIERTTM with the usual tech bro optimism those guys had. For a week he’d firmly refused to even hint at the interesting stuff to come. It was just “day such and such, this stupid food is life-changing and join my cult, yo.” Her friend Kyle had actually found Harold Holden first and sent it to her. 

And then Harold Holden had started changing. First his limbs had started to lengthen—so so cool—and then his skin had gotten rubbery and slimy. She wondered again about the goo and if the goo was all natural. If not, she might be able to work out an all natural dupe for her Etsy shop. 

Then Harold Holden had started on the facial changes. His teeth fell out, a standard for body horror. And the whole time his face was smoothing over and widening. And there were the spots, pus yellow and complex like a snake’s. The placement was perfectly repeated every time. Maybe they’d filmed this in only a couple days and the actor slept in the makeup. That was the indie way to do it. 

Andi gave the video a heart and reshared it to her small, but growing, audience. She added a small little frog sticker, he croaked out green hearts next to Harold Holden’s head. It was macabre and cute, her brand. 

~ ~ ~

VIERTTM is certified fresh and shelf stable. 

~ ~ ~

Gaven sat down at his streaming rig and put on his SoondzTM headphones. They’d broken a month after he’d got them, but he still got fifty bucks as an influencer every time he streamed with them on. He also clipped a tiny, real, microphone under his merch shirt so that his audio would sound professional for the stream. Sound was really important to making things seem pro for a stream. 

He looked at his list of sponsors printed out by his girlfriend Finley. She was good at that organizing shit. First up was VIERTTM, and they were paying out the best ad dollars. He got a hundred dollars every time someone just signed up for VIERTTM. Even if two percent of his stream watched, that was still a lot of money. He’d read on business Twitter that two percent was a reliable number to bet on for sales. This Tuesday night stream would probably have three to five thousand people, easily. Rob on the VIERTTM team had even sent him a free box, not that he needed to lose weight. He’d probably give it to Finley, she was starting to look flabby. 

He put his feet up on the VIERTTM box under his desk and fired up the live stream. As he saw his subscribers pour in, he wondered if maybe he’d just ditch Finley. There were so many ladies out there, and he was starting to get well known, he could do better. And then hire a real admin and not be tied down to one gal.  

~ ~ ~

Dave wandered the farmer’s market with his newest little niece (aka, The Potato) strapped to his chest. The moms were off looking at the seed exchange and needed to hash out how much yard was becoming food versusflowers this year without The Potato trying to slobber everything. 

He didn’t mind watching the kiddos, it usually didn’t take much effort and made him Good Old Tio Dave in the eyes of the moms. And toting The Potato around the farmer’s market was loads easier than dealing with the twins—Thing One and Thing Two. They were currently at a birthday party somewhere, terrorizing petting zoo animals. The twins were good kids, but they were just…well…three year olds. His poor dog was probably never going to recover from dressup day. 

Dave stopped to look at some carrots that looked like they’d be good in his vegan chili when a low and nasally tone pierced through the friendly rumble of the market. 

“VIERTTM is guaranteed to keep you alert and you’ll be amazed how you’ll never even crave dessert…” the salesman, Rob, chuckled to himself. Dave looked over to see a sad-looking older man—or worse, an old-looking young man—being pitched the meal replacement junk known as VIERTTM. Rob the salesman gestured quickly with his creepy thin fingers while the poor sucker’s eyes failed to keep up. Dave turned away and decided to find carrots somewhere else. 

Dave had tried (or tried to try) VIERTTM, had even gotten a free bottle at the gym. He told himself it would be good for the days when he didn’t want to cook, he certainly didn’t need to lose weight. Dave had always had a fast metabolism. When he went vegan his mom was very sure rice without meat was a sin and totally convinced herself that Dave would die of malnutrition. As a college student he had to prove to her that he could cook healthy, plant-based, filling meals. She even actually really liked his not-lasagne. 

When Dave had gotten home from the gym and opened his free VIERTTM box, he had totally intended to try it out for a quick lunch. But then his easily-distracted squirrel brain had gotten the best of him and he lost sense of time with some repairs on his bike, leaving the bottle out on his workbench all weekend. When he found the bottle on Monday morning, the liquid had mostly evaporated, leaving a black, mold-like film on the inside of the bottle. Horrified, he quickly disposed of the bottle in the trash, not even the recycling, because he was too afraid to open it and breathe in whatever the VIERTTM had become over the weekend. “Shelf stable” was a fucking joke. Dave could cook and enjoy real food just fine without the creepy corporate slime juice, thank you very much. 

The Potato took that moment to do an extremely epic barf onto Dave’s polo shirt. Time to find the moms and let them use their bottomless bag of mom supplies to clean her up. 

~ ~ ~

VIERTTM has a goal to make it really easy to eat more and do more every day. From field to flask, we’re committed to whole food, one that prioritizes giving people what they deserve. We are transforming what you eat, how you grow, and championing a food revolution—one bottle at a time.

~ ~ ~

In Andi’s online poll, everyone had voted for her to try to make the goo and not do a breakdown of the transformation timeline. Goo got people in the door. She experimented at making a dupe of the goo from Harold Holden’s video but was getting frustrated. It was surprisingly hard. To get it properly clear you risked getting bubbles and other debri built up in it. Just mixing the green food coloring with the other materials completely changed the texture. She’d have to tell folks to wash and shave really good if they wanted it to look right. It still didn’t flow quite correctly, maybe she should add some more dish soap. 

She could probably make three to five batches per week. She thought about selling these as test batches so she could get some more funds to experiment on a better formula. 

She had decided to skip matching the auditory experience, they probably did that all in post. 

~ ~ ~

Craig couldn’t write anymore with a pen anymore and his phone kept slipping out of his long fingers. He wanted to tell Jenn that he was sorry. He wanted to tell her that he should’ve tried harder to be a good husband and a father. He thought about trying to cut himself and use his blood, but that would only leave a bigger mess for her. And what if the kids saw. 

Instead he slunk out the back door, the air was sticky and hot with the promise of another storm. He was glad he’d started the study in the summer, otherwise the water would be too cold. Maybe he could find a local river or a pond. 

~ ~ ~

Tristan poked at his food and wondered if Trent would be mad that he was out with Kirsty. Like, they had an open relationship and Trent knew he was bi, but Kirsty was pretty damn basic to the point of embarrassment. She looked stunning, but she always wore her hair in a tight ponytail, was super into pilates, and even still believed in contouring. Her Instagram frequently used words like “girl boss” and “gal pals.” 

Currently she was talking about her trip to the Virgin Islands. Some bachelorette party and getting wasted at a pool. God, she even stayed at a resort. He bet she didn’t even know how bad the sun was for your skin. 

This time they were at some authentic looking brew pub that Tristan knew was secretly a chain. It would be fine for someone like Kirsty. The food was worse than he remembered, he’d drink a VIERTTM after Kirsty left tonight. The light mint flavor would wash out the sour milkshake taste of this salad. 

He remembered that he recently saw an ad for VIERTTM on Facebook. He needed to see if there was a premium version. Like, if his uncle in Elgin was into it, that probably meant it was secretly made by some horribly evil big box company. These things usually started out good and clean and organic and then got bought up by big companies and turned to trash. Tristan just needed to find the authentic, original version. It was probably made somewhere with high standards like France, he could definitely afford the shipping. Or maybe he could get it shipped through Canada and save money. Because VIERTTM was really damn good, even if the basic folks in flyover states were starting to use it.

~ ~ ~

Finley was thinking of dumping Gaven. He’d been really shitty lately. He didn’t appreciate all that she did for his channel. Maybe she’d start up her own channel, she knew how it all worked. And lately Hype Man Stan had been chatting her up in her DMs and he’d been really into her having her own channel. They were supposed to go on a date/not-a-date next week. Sure, he was older, but at least he wouldn’t be so needy and whiny. 

~ ~ ~

Just a little bit of VIERTTM to keep you alert. It’s the smooth taste people crave.

~ ~ ~

Gaven was running late for the stream. He’d been on a call that ran over with the folks at Hot Games and they liked his vibes. Normally he’d reschedule the stream, but he and Finley had a fight and she was the only one that knew how to use the new scheduler software. He didn’t want to hang up on Hot Games and lose out on a huge opportunity. They might even send him to Stream Expo this year. His audience could wait. 

For a moment he pondered quickly chugging a VIERTTM since he’d missed dinner. He’d heard it was kinda tasty and similar to Code:JOLT soda, but without all the fake chemicals and sugar. It was also supposed to be super good for your gut, which could mean he’d need to drop a shit in the middle of the stream. Best not chance it and reveal his sponsor was a bunch of laxatives in fancy packaging. 

The stream ran long and all the delivery places were closed by the time he ended, so Gaven tried VIERTTM. It tasted even better than Code:JOLT. He should see if he could rework the sponsorship deal to get some more cash. He could document a whole thirty day cleanse thing.

~ ~ ~

It was three months after Craig’s disappearance and it finally felt like things were getting into a comfortable groove. Towards the end, it was unbearable for Jenn, his nightly trips outside growing more and more frequent. Usually ending with him tracking mud through the house and bathroom they all shared. She’d lost so much sleep trying to keep the evidence from the kids, even though they could plainly see how much weight he was losing. 

But then that imperfect peace that came from Craig’s disappearance was broken when an older boy at school made fun of Jani’s long hair and he’d taken some safety scissors and cut it all off. And of course Craig’s razor had been missing since the move. So treating the kids to fast food after school went out the window. Jenn had to spend her little bit of extra money getting Jani to a barber that could fix his head on a Thursday.

Jenn took one of Craig’s green drink bottles out of the cabinet and set it on the counter. While the study money had been good, she had always loathed tacitly promoting diet culture and never resorted to using the meal supplements herself. She’d drink it while the kids were taking their baths. That would be enough to get her through to tomorrow, which was luckily payday. She wondered if the green drink tasted like chemicals or just some basic “green” flavor. Silently, she was a little glad Craig was gone. She didn’t have to consult the lump in the corner every time there was a problem with the kids. She also didn’t have to try to love the lump in the bed. Or worry that the lump might become a serious problem from the stuff he was reading on his phone.

Jani got ketchup on Gabi’s jumper and the kids started a for-real fight. Jenn got so distracted separating them and cleaning the mess she forgot all about the bottle on the counter. In the morning, she discovered the bottle was filled with brackish, blackish goo. She threw it out before the kids could see. It might throw Gabi off her good eating streak. It certainly made Jenn sick just touching the bottle. It was heavier than she remembered and the liquid sloshed around unpleasantly against the sides.

When she got home from work that evening she treated the kids to pizza and a new movie. While they were entertained, she packed up the rest of the green drinks along with some of Craig’s old crap. She went out the back door to the trash so the kids wouldn’t see. 

~ ~ ~

Reach your full potential! Our blend of extracts supports you becoming your best self. It’s the undisputed winning blend for an all natural lifestyle. 

~ ~ ~

Ted wandered around the company picnic, wishing he’d skipped out on today. The company had rented a swanky sculpture garden and was throwing an employee appreciation day. The humid, almost-summer air made his polyester work clothes feel itchy and confining. There wasn’t even anything for him to eat at the event, it was all sugar and booze meant to “treat” the employees. For all the pushing they did about health and mindfulness they couldn’t even be bothered to have any vegan options at this thing.

Since starting VIERTTM Ted had finally gotten clean. The Mutual Improvement Club still met occasionally, but Ted stuck to bottled water now. As he’d originally planned, Wayne was scamming the startup and pouring the VIERTTM down the drain every day. He used the fake name and email of Dusty Handleford, which was some sort of joke Ted didn’t get. Wayne was way less fun now that he’d stopped drinking. No matter how much Ted tried, Wayne couldn’t be convinced it actually tasted really good. Perhaps he could buy Wayne’s portion from him. That would give him a buffer before he switched to paying for a full VIERTTM subscription. 

Ted ambled away from the noxious bbq smells, ending up under the shadow of a giant chess piece near a small, stagnant pond. Ted let himself zone out in the cool shade to the buzzing of the dragonflies and counted the hours until he could get home and have another VIERTTM. He wondered if he should get one of those cool messenger bags the young guys carried so he could bring some to drink whenever he went. 

~ ~ ~

Tristan filled his tub with the distilled water the delivery guy had dropped off. The delivery guy had been really pissy at having to haul up sixty gallons of water, but Tristan tipped well through the app. But still gave him two stars. Trustan needed to relax his muscles. His skin was so dry and his muscles ached all the time now. A good long soak and some clean food would be just the thing to cleanse his metabolism–this was just like the physical therapy for professional swimmers. He’d sip his minty VIERTTM  in the coolness of the tub and relax. Tristan knew muscle soreness could just be a sign of low potassium or even dehydration. And he’d really messed up his routine because he’d had to travel for work and couldn’t craft his diet the way he needed. He refused to check his luggage and that meant leaving at VIERTTM  home. He’d double down on adhering to his fasting schedule and clean himself out with VIERTTM . Then he wouldn’t screw up his macros before the triathlon with Trent.  

He really needed to get Trent to try VIERTTM and go full vegan so they could both live to one hundred and twenty. 

~ ~ ~

Gaven wiggled his loose tooth, the third this week. Luckily only the back ones were falling out so none of his followers had noticed. He had to look good for the stream. His mom had set up a dentist appointment that week. With the extra influencer money he could get veneers and they’d look even better than his normal teeth. 

He wasn’t too worried, someone in a forum he followed shared an article that said that converting to a radically healthy lifestyle can be a shock to the body. All those fresh vitamins and minerals are a surprise if you’re used to shitty fake food. Once his body got used to VIERTTM it would all even out. And VIERTTM was a liquid, so he didn’t really need teeth.

~ ~ ~

A grocery trip in one sip. Fresh, premium, good-for-you-food replacement. We’ve got everything you need.

~ ~ ~

Andi was getting bored with the guy in the tub. For the last thirty seven hours he hadn’t done anything. Whoever was behind Harold Holden had totally squandered their best moment. She “got” that they probably had a limited budget, but the transformation had been so lame. 

At some point the app team had wised up and realized that Harold Holden was a bonafide viral hit and turned on his ability to live stream. Four days into the Harold Holden live stream things had gotten thrilling and he’d actually started getting smaller. It had been a pretty rapid transformation, but the worst part was that the big transformation happened out of sight! There was some splashing, some flippers, and then nothing for a long while.

Finally “he” climbed out of the tub as a fiercely yellow toad with orange spots. It was a clever trick, doing the switchover in what seemed to be a live stream. Andi wondered if the app team had been working with the Harold Holden channel the whole time. But at the end of the day it was still, like, just a toad tho. Sure, it was yellow, but it looked so fake. She could see the clipping mask they used. And nothing else was happening. The toad just jumped around the bathroom, mostly off camera. If Andi had been in charge, she would have tried to change it up somehow. Introduce a new character, a landlord, a friend or something. Sure, part of the joke was that this guy was a friendless loser that fell for a magical diet scam. But, for reals, something had to happen. Maybe they were working on season two right now. She wouldn’t openly diss them on social media just yet. 

Andi looked for something else that would get her some likes for the day. Harold Holden the yellow toad tried to scream to his thousands of fans, but it just came out as croaks. 

~ ~ ~

Rob the salesman stepped out of the back of a small and luxurious town car. He took a moment to smooth down his suit and look over the bustling VIERTTM facility. He took in the sight of the processing facility under the full harvest moon. The facility was in the middle of nowhere, in a town that was in a country that didn’t even know they were home to the world famous VIERTTM. Not that they needed to know. Just like they didn’t need to know “Rob” wasn’t just a salesman, he was the ONLY salesman, director of operations, and the craftsman of the number one food fad changing the world. 

He entered the factory through a large open door trimmed in blue. Rob paused and looked out over a snake’s nest of conveyor belts, lifts, and lines. People, humans, were moving everywhere to get the green elixir out as fast as possible. He smiled to himself over how well this was all working. The workers didn’t see their boss and continued their tasks. 

The facility ran twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and they’d soon need to bring in another hundred people on the front end to keep up with demand. They’d probably need to bring in more on the consignment side too. Even with his carefully crafted rollout in only the most anxiety-riddled places VIERTTM was still hard to keep in stock. They didn’t even “sell” it online. That had quite a few folks scratching their heads. How do you “sell” without an online shop? But the true product wasn’t VIERTTM and Rob had to make sure it fell into the right hands. Quality control was really important to the VIERTTM partners.

Rob worked his way through the packaging floor. Above his head ran a large, green, pipe that broke off to the various machines. The floors were criss-crossed with blue lines and messaging to direct the workers where they must and must not go. Rob followed the green pipe into a large yellow trimmed entryway with a sign above that read “Authorized only.” He walked past this and through a thick curtain of vertical plastic sheeting. Beyond the plastic curtain was a loading dock of sorts. This was the consignment area. The floor was stacked with bowls, boxes, and trunks of varying sizes and fantastic materials. There were large ornate wooden boxes, extravagant gold bowls, and delicate ruby basins that sparkled so hard it hurt the eyes. To his left, the large yellow loading door was open, rain pouring in from outside. 

Though the night outside the packaging floor was completely clear, the night outside the consignment area was a torrential storm. The water came in horizontally and a treacherous puddle spread all the way to Rob at the entry. Outside the loading door, beings of assorted sizes stood patiently in line. Some were human-sized, but many more were very non-human shaped and stretched up as far as a forest all the way down to a dormouse. They had sacks, bundles, crates, and every and any receptacle that could carry squirming toads and frogs. 

The lightning flashed and the consignment floor was briefly lit up. In most of the bowls, boxes, and trunks were dozens—hundreds—of toads and frogs. Not limited to normal amphibian colors, these creatures came in every color. A bright pink toad the size of dinner plates sat in a silver bowl, almost crushing an orange tiger garden frog. Overhead, a netted sack made of green emeralds dripped with a bushel of common electric blue boophis. They tried and tried to climb over each other, unable to get purchase and free themselves. The thunder that followed the lightning could scarcely be heard over the outcry. 

Rob picked up an elegant blue box inlaid with the finest wood and shells. This box had been reserved for him and was specially crafted with materials that could only be found in ships that sank on a full moon. Rob tucked it under one lithe arm and walked through the consignment area. On his way Rob carefully selected frogs and toads and placed them in the blue box. He stopped to paternally rub the head of a tiny pixie carrying a warty toad so large its feet dragged on the floor. He also stopped at a hulking greem and pulled a delicate, orchid-like white frog from behind its ears. He wagged a finger at the attempted thief and deposited the little opalescent peeper in a green chalice. 

With his tithe of treats for the faerie court, Rob continued to loosely follow the green pipe that ran through the facility. It went deep into the bowels of the building, so dark that all that could be seen was a bright, greenish glow at the end. The walls could have been two feet or twenty feet away. Only the pipe overhead led the way. 

As the hallway brightened, the concrete floor degenerated. Tenacious weeds sprang up between the cracks with fantastical flowers only described in books. As Rob walked, the weeds and concrete further transformed into soft, meadowland grass. A warm and lazy sun shown overhead. It would have been the most perfect summer day that any human had ever experienced. Furtive insects sang sleepy and deadly lullabies. The green pipe terminated at an ugly and old pump, the last bit of technology in this other land. The pump took in a bright green fluid from hundreds of small tubes and fed the liquid to the master pipe. These tubes emerged from the dark woods a little further away. 

Rob jauntily hummed to himself as he picked his way through the meadow. As he walked, his suit softened into finer material. Less skin like now, it seemed to be constructed of the forest. His jacket was made of broad, sturdy, leaves. His tie was spun from the creamiest moss. His shoes’ leather was from an extinct tree with laces of purple vine. 

As he walked to the woods, he pulled a large rust orange bullfrog out of his pocket and took a slow lick along its back. He was glad he’d kept Ted for himself. His budding alcoholism was a sweet and complex honeyed mead. And it mixed well with the anxiety. Teetering on the edge of multiple self-made crises had given Ted a delicious and complex flavor. Another year and Ted would have discovered exercise or religion and become a little too one-note. Fine for most, but Rob was a connoisseur. 

Rob moved on, further into the dark and enchanted woods. The tubes that conveyed the magical liquid raced ahead of him into the gloom. Finally, they met their origin at a circle of wicked looking trees. Each tree looked meaner and more gnarled than its neighbor. Their roots dug deep into a dark pond. The pond’s stagnant water seemed to have no bottom. No sun, no insects, no aquatic creatures, nor no life visited this pond. Somehow the trees were able feed off its waters, but nothing else would. 

Rob couldn’t stop for long today at the pond. He had to deliver his tithe and inspect the new project. He wanted it on market for their Christmas if possible. He’d found an astonishingly foul creek choked with a type of mud that would make an excellent facial mask. If it was applied for thirty days it would transform the wearers into the most terrifying birds. And then there would truly be some good fun to be had.