Eighteen-year-old Kyle Ryan was about to enter a new world, an intimidating one, a world that filled him with angst. It was one with which he was not familiar, one in which he was not certain he would be safe. It was his first foray outside the protected, predictable high school environment from which he had just graduated. This was his first venture away from his peers and into the adult world.
With his hands curved around his eyes as if he were holding binoculars, Kyle leaned against the health club’s tinted window and peered into the BodyMax lobby. The darkened window, however, made it difficult to see far into the foyer. He squinted, focusing past the life-size cut-out of a man standing near the window saying, “We’ll take care of you, if you take your Body to the Max!” He did not notice the cut-out’s proximity or the cardboard man’s seductive eyes. Kyle stepped away from the window, toward the door of the gym. He did not even notice the face of the man as he entered, passing the cut-out.
The moment Kyle set foot in BodyMax, however, he did notice something. It was a strange sound, a brief whisper, a hushed wind, a plaintive cry, and it was accompanied by a short sharp pain in his head. For a moment, it seemed to force Kyle into submission. He stopped and massaged his temples with his index and forefingers, trying to erase his pain. He was successful. What was that? he thought as he recovered and walked to the gym’s front counter. It may have been nothing. It may simply have been nerves or excitement. Or a warning. Or, perhaps, it was a memory, an almost forgotten memory, buried deep in Kyle’s subconscious, hidden between fear and repulsion. The hushed whispers returned as Kyle reached the front counter. A young man, in a BodyMax T-shirt, greeted him.
“May I help you?” he asked, his pumped up biceps and rounded pecs advertising the benefits of the gym, grabbing Kyle’s attention, and momentarily silencing the sounds in his head.
“Yes. I’m interested in joining,” Kyle said as he tried to ignore the noises and pain. He expected the greeter to introduce himself and whisk him away on a tour of the facilities.
However, the man at the counter smiled and said, “Let’s see what we can do for you. I’ll hook you up with Ashley. She can give you a tour and answer any questions.” He turned and called down the counter, “Hey, Ashley, can you come here? This gentleman wants to talk to someone about joining.”
Kyle looked down the counter. There was no one there. Is he talking to a ghost? Kyle asked himself. Confusion covered his face as he looked back at the muscular greeter, “Maybe you could…” Kyle began to suggest, but was interrupted.
“Awesome,” an unseen female responded from floor-level behind the counter. As Kyle searched for the voice’s source, a young woman stood and placed a stack of papers on the counter. “Come on down here,” she ordered Kyle. “I’m just cleaning out old files from these drawers. Hi. I’m Ashley. I’ll be with you in just a sec.”
It was the Monday morning after Kyle had graduated from high school and he had long known the first thing he would do after graduating was join a gym. He knew he would have to in order to keep his body in shape and continue the routine he had established at St. Ignatius High School. He had initiated the daily workout sessions in the school’s limited weight room as a sophomore before wrestling season had begun. For three years, he lifted weights, clanked rickety outdated machines, and exercised under the ever-present, fear-inducing gaze of a cross-mounted Christ from the windowless room’s back wall. Because of his dedication, discipline, and diligence, Kyle developed so well that by the end of his senior year he was named “Best Bod-Boy” in an unofficial student survey denounced by school officials.
Kyle also knew he would join a gym because, while many of his classmates would have access to a gym at college, he would not; Kyle was taking a gap year to work in construction and earn money for his undetermined post-high school education plan. He had selected BodyMax because it not only had the reputation of being the best, most up-to-date gym in town, but it was a convenient walking distance from his home. The other clubs in town were too far away and, he had been told, had equipment that made St. Ignatius’ weight room look modern. I’m over being forced to use crap machines, he told himself during his last workout at school.
Ashley disappeared behind the counter, popped up again, and set another stack of files on it. She stepped around the counter. “Hi. I didn’t get your name.” she said.
“OK, Kyle,” Ashley said. “Let’s go for a walk.”
As she showed Kyle around the facilities, the whispers he had first heard when he entered the lobby, followed him. As hushed as they were, he could hear them over Ashley’s narration and the energetic, invigorating music playing throughout BodyMax. He could hear them as he walked through the main workout area. He was aware of the mysterious, almost spooky sounds as he stood in the doorway of the room set aside for aerobics, yoga, step, and spinning classes. Kyle even noticed them as he was shown the mat-lined alcove where two lean women stretched.
“Let’s go upstairs where the locker rooms are located,” Ashley suggested as she led Kyle to the stairs. “I’ll let you check out the men’s locker room by yourself.” She tittered a programmed laugh. “They don’t let me in there,” she added with feigned disappointment. Kyle climbed the stairs and pushed open the door. A gust of cold wind rushed out of the steamy dressing area, defying expectations or logic.
That is when the strange, distant noise became louder, eerier. As Kyle entered the room, navigated around several wooden benches, avoided making eye contact with two men pulling on their gym shorts, and evaluated the lockers, he could hear the whispers clearer, closer, and louder. It was not, however, until Kyle stepped into the tiled bathroom and shower area and noticed the heavy wooden door to the sauna that he was able to understand the words. In an instant, he recalled the memory.
Dave Collier was raped in the BodyMax sauna, echoed in his head, rising ominously from the darkest corner of Kyle’s past. His sphincter muscle clenched.
Startled, frightened, Kyle spun around and rushed out of the dressing area and down the stairs where Ashley greeted him.
“So, what do you think?” she asked.
“About what?” Kyle asked in a breathless voice. “Oh, the locker room. It’s fine.”
“Good,” Ashley said with a nod. “Let me get my papers and I’ll meet you at one of the tables over there.” Ashley motioned toward an open, bright sitting area with several small tables at the end of the counter. Kyle walked to the alcove, selected a table, and sat down
Ashley quickly reappeared and seated herself opposite him. She spread out her papers, some facing him, some facing her. She asked Kyle a few questions and then began her sales pitch. Although concentrating on Ashley’s talk, Kyle was also aware of a middle-aged man sitting at the table behind Ashley. The man, wearing a white dress shirt and blood red tie, was working on a laptop. Kyle noticed that the man periodically looked in his direction with a facial expression and body language that indicated he was eavesdropping and more interested in Kyle’s business than he need be.
The presentation was over in ten minutes. Terms and details were agreed upon. Ashley filled out the contract. Kyle signed it and handed Ashley his graduation gift credit card.
“Let me ring this up and activate your new club ID,” Ashley said, “and we’re all set. I’ll be right back.” As Ashley walked away, Kyle took a quick survey of the sitting area. He noticed the nutrition-oriented vending machines, the stack of health magazines, and a bulletin board covered in business cards. He also observed the man look over his laptop and follow Ashley with his eyes, look back at Kyle, smile, and get up. His smile was friendly, but mysterious and somewhat threatening.
Dude, Kyle thought, you better not come over here now that I’m alone and try to talk to me. He looked away, hoping to discourage the stranger. But when the man did not appear, Kyle looked back. The man was nowhere to be seen.
(To be continued next week)