163.3

by Christopher Reed

From CHM #43 January 2024

163.3 pounds. I stared at my scale, naked and confused. That couldn’t be right. The scale had to be wrong.

At the beginning of the year, I, like so many others desperate for improvement, resolved to lose 10 pounds of holiday weight gain. I’m not in bad shape, never have been, but moderation is an unfair requirement when surrounded by cookies and cocktails for six straight weeks.

I’ve lost weight before, always doing the sensible thing: counting calories and doing just enough exercise to ensure I was burning more than I was eating. I’m too much of a science-guy to fall into fad diets and quick fixes, despite my oldest daughter’s pleas to try out some things she saw on Instagram.

But she’s young and eager, where I am old and more inclined to reason and experience. Throughout her 17 years, I’ve lost 5, 10, even 15 pounds following the same tried and true, science-backed methods.

Which is why I was so perplexed on that horrible day in September following my New Year’s resolution.

I started the year at 168 pounds, and by the beginning of April I was already down to 164. Once again, science and reason carried the day.

Until it didn’t.

By the end of April, I was down to 163.3 pounds. Not as much of a drop as I would like, but fat is stubborn and slow to leave sometimes. Stay calm and carry on, as they say.

When I weighed myself again on June 1st, I was shocked to see I was still at 163.3 pounds. Where had I gone wrong? Perhaps I was not as mindful as I should have been. Maybe there was an extra cookie or bag of chips I wasn’t paying attention to. No bother, I thought, just continue on course and be more careful with eating.

And as the weather warmed in my small town in Wisconsin, I could benefit from more daily walking and even the occasional jog to maintain that calorie deficit.

I approached the scale on July 1st, eager to see my new status. With the Fourth of July and our family vacation to the cabin approaching, I knew I had some pounds to give to allow for some s’mores and craft beer.

Only, I didn’t. The scale still read 163.3.

I was initially disappointed, but I went through the checklist in my head as to what could explain this. I had no reason to doubt my own efforts; I was more active physically and more mindful of my food intake. I had even enlisted the family to catch me when I reached for an extra cookie or glass of wine. My son, whose attention to detail was honed by playing so many puzzle games on his Nintendo thingy, was quite good at scolding me for trying to sneak in one extra treat.

Maybe the scale itself was acting up? It was one of those “smart” scales that connected to the internet and kept track of everything. My wife, much more of a tech expert than I, caught me looking at the scale.

“Problem with the scale, John?”

“I’m not sure; it says I’m still at 163.3,” I explained.

“That can’t be right. Let me try.”

Cindy stepped on the scale and chuckled.

“I’d like to say it’s wrong, but it says I’ve gained 2 pounds, which unfortunately seems right.”

“Weird. Well, I guess it’s time to bust out the food journal.”

Cindy cocked her head and softly said, “Are you sure that’s necessary, John? You’ve still clearly lost weight; actually, you look like you’ve lost more than what the scale says.”

I considered her words and looked in the mirror. I did look good, in fact the best I’ve looked all year. My face and hips were less bulky, and my summer shorts weren’t as tight as they had been only a month ago. 

“Maybe this is just your new weight? Our bodies are weird, you know. Maybe this is just where your body wants to be at your age.”

I was with her until she mentioned my age. At 52, I knew things weren’t far from getting more difficult. With two kids still on the way to college, I couldn’t afford excessive hospital bills that simple body maintenance should avoid.

“Maybe, but I think I can do better.”

“Well, that’s your decision. But you look good to me.”

She smiled and walked off. I was grateful that she was more forgiving than I was. This was my battle, and she left me to fight it.

I exercised for much more that month. I limited myself to no more than 1500 calories a day, documenting every bit of food and drink I took in. I didn’t have any alcohol or sweets (which made me a grumpy bastard on the Fourth of July) and drank only water, and lots of it. By conservative calculations, I should have been losing roughly one pound a week, maybe more considering how much I was pissing due to the water.

It was the morning before we left for our annual vacation to northern Wisconsin in our cabin. I routinely gained at least 5 pounds on the trip drinking beer, wine, and eating s’mores and other junk. I intended to proceed with even more moderation than normal but I was hopeful I could still have some fun, more than I’d had all summer.

My hope was to be down to 157, maybe even 156. I expected to be closer to 158.

I stepped on the scale, and my heart froze: 163.3.

How? How was this even possible? It had to be the scale.

My daughter was walking by the bathroom. I called for her and asked her to step on the scale.

“Why daddy?” She asked when she looked up from whatever TikTok she was watching.

“You were doing that juice diet or whatever this month, right?” I asked, knowing full well about the diet, given the mess she left by the blender every morning.

“Oh, that’s right! Let’s check on that!” She excitedly hopped on the scale.

“Hey, look at that! I lost 4 pounds in only two weeks, just like the video said!”

Before I could stop and ask her anything, she stormed off to FaceTime one of her friends and share the news. I stepped on again; maybe her stepping on it reset it or something?

163.3.

I flipped it over, took the batteries out, waited for a minute, then put the batteries back in. I stepped on the scale. It gave a “THINKING” message for about 20 seconds or so, giving me hope that maybe it was recalibrating and correctly scoring my weight.

163.3.

I turned around and looked at myself in the mirror. I was clearly slimmer, with less flesh around my face and hips. Some might say I was starting to look a little gaunt. But hey, the scale can’t lie, and I had no reason to doubt its measurement at this point.

I took my more extreme diet with us on our trip up north. I did not have a good time, and the family didn’t have a good time either. I was irritable most days. Usually, we would go get donuts at a nice local bakery almost every morning, but I couldn’t tempt myself this year. Normally, we’d go out for ice cream and shakes every other night, but I couldn’t have that either. Our favorite burger place was off limits, and the pizza diner we had limited to one visit. We didn’t even go once.

The family tried to tell me it wasn’t my fault; I told them they could go wherever they wanted. But they felt guilty leaving me in the cabin alone with only celery and water.

We returned home from our trip, more exhausted than refreshed. The kids did their thing waiting for school to start, and Cindy and I did ours. Finally, the day came to make sure all this effort was worth it. September 1.

Before I stepped on the scale, I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked sick; dark shadows hung under my eyes, my cheekbones were tight, and my skin color had a tinge of yellow in it. You could even see my rib bones for the first time in years. Relieved that my eyes couldn’t deceive me, I stepped on the scale.

163.3.

Impossible, I thought. Just impossible. I put on my jogging clothes and sprinted outside. For 20 minutes straight I did wind sprints on our street; sweat dripped from me and left a trail of droplets on the road. I wiped myself off with a towel, waited a few minutes to be completely dry, and went to the bathroom again. There was no way the scale wouldn’t register listing even a half pound on water weight after such an intense activity.

I took a deep breath in, exhaled, and then stepped on the scale.

163.3.

No. Way.

I put on my gym clothes and drove to our YMCA. Cindy goes there frequently, but I usually prefer running outside. Plus I don’t like gym rats.

I swiped my FOB and went straight to the scales there. They were old fashioned, using weights and pulleys and whatever else old scales used, not this electronic crap that can lie.

I stepped on the oldest, most used-looking scale, one that had been there for years both giving and dashing hope for its patrons.

That day, it dashed mine: 163.3.

163.3.

After that day, time became… well, I can’t quite keep things that happened in the order they may have happened, if you catch my drift. All I know clearly is that I was determined to move the needle, to get that damned number below 163.3.

When my daughter still talked to me, she fed me diet after diet, fad after fad. I drank smoothies, cut out carbs, put on crystals, smoked weed, smoked cigarettes, took speed, still take speed when I can get the scratch, ate seaweed, fasted, took cocaine, still take cocaine when I can steal it from another junkie, blended everything, blended meat, blended my hand, blended my son’s Nintendo thing, blended wedding pictures, almost blended the cat, threw the blender at my daughter.

163.3.

I consulted doctors, checked in with doctors, screamed at doctors, got kicked out of clinics, stalked doctors, waited outside doctor offices, tackled doctors, threw trash at doctors, pissed and shit on doctors, almost beat a doctor to death.

163.3.

I joined the gym club at work, quickly became the leader on the leaderboard for activity, broke machines working too hard, pushed my co-workers down when they got in my way, got kicked out of the gym club, got kicked out of the gym, got arrested for throwing cans of food through the gym windows, got fired, got kicked out of my own house, trashed the house, left.

163.3.

I fled and joined a commune in the deep woods; I picked berries and nuts, and that’s all that I ate. I pissed out of my ass for a week. My mentor told me how Siddhartha Gautama supposedly ate only one grain of rice a day for 40 days when he was an ascetic. I tried that too.

163.3.

My mentor asked me why I kept saying that number. I told him it was my current weight. He asked how I could know. I told him, “The scale never lies.”

163.3.

My mentor asked again; he seemed more concerned this time. I kindly reminded him of my weight. The scale never lies.

He said there was no scale at the commune. And then he asked why I had written the number in blood all over the lodge walls.

163.3.

After I set fire to the commune and watched the north woods burn I wandered the empty highways until I found a nice alley behind a meth clinic in Duluth. I don’t know how long I’ve lived there, collecting just enough cash for hits of speed, coke, or whatever I can get. I befriended the alley rats and birds; they talked to me, told me secrets, and kept me from eating what I shouldn’t. The rats were always good at taking food so I couldn’t eat it mindlessly.

That’s where you found me. You all picked me up and brought me in. You told me I look terrible, like I haven’t eaten in weeks. I even heard one of you say that I look like one of those pictures you saw of a death march or concentration camp or something.

You all can tell me all you want how my body fat is dangerously low, how my body cannot maintain its water and sugar levels, how close to death I am. You can tell me that I’m woefully malnourished and my muscles have atrophied beyond the point of rehabilitation. You can tell me I look like death itself, that my liver and kidneys are on the verge of failure, and that you’ve never seen a condition like mine.

All I can tell you in return is to get me a fucking scale and I will tell you exactly what it will read:

163.3.

End.

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Christopher Reed is a teacher and occasional writer. His fiction has appeared in Innsmouth Free PressBards and Sages Quarterly, and Halloween Haiku II by Popcorn Press. He has also written about and discussed video games for The Thirsty Mage podcast and website and helped design Bookmark the Stars! for the Bookmark No HP Role-Playing Game. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife, son, and two dogs. He can be found on X/Twitter @ReedChrisR and on BlueSky @christopherreed.bsky.social.

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