“Mom hasn’t left Dad’s side for more than twenty minutes in eight years,” Renée confides. “She has no life. All she does is watch over him and hope to God that nothing happens to requires him to be evacuated immediately.”
Mark and Alicia share a sympathetic glance as the four of them continue their walk to the short-term parking lot. Approximately one hour later, Renée pulls her silver Dodge Millennium into the driveway of her family’s home. As they exit the car, Mark and Alicia do a quick scan of the property. The house is a Cape Cod–style home with a patchy, brownish-green lawn and an obviously neglected garden in the rear. It is clear that this house used to be that cute, cozy little home that newlyweds dream of; now its outer façade matches the story of hopelessness that brings them here.
“Mom used to love gardening,” Renée begins to explain as she walks slowly to the door of the home, tears beginning to form in her eyes. “But when Daddy started … you know … she just didn’t have the time or the energy. She’s almost like a prisoner here. Mr. Layton, I sure hope you can help Daddy; you’re our last …” No longer able to choke back the tears, Renée buries her face in her hands as she weeps. Even Gigi is touched by the young woman’s plight. Mark waits a few seconds to give her the chance to compose herself, and then he approaches her.
“Renée,” he says as he places a consoling hand on her shoulder, “when I leave your home in a little while, your mother will still have little time for gardening; she will be too busy celebrating with your father and you and the rest of your family.” Saying this, he places his fingers under Renée’s chin and gently directs her face upward. “You have my word.”
The barest hint of a smile appears on Renée’s face as she dries her eyes and resumes her walk to the door. She opens the door for her guests and directs them into the living room.
“Mom,” Renée calls out. “The Laytons are here.” Gigi chuckles inwardly at her automatic adoption into the Layton family.
“Bring them back, Renée. We’re ready.”
Renée complies with her mother’s request and leads the group through the hallway leading to the makeshift bedroom in the rear of the home. The three visitors notice a peculiar and not terribly pleasant aroma as they walk through the home; it is reminiscent of a nursing home. As they enter what used to be the family room, their eyes fall on a sight that could startle even the most jaded of people. Literally sprawled across two king-size mattresses is Matthew Snodgrass. Try as they might, Mark, Alicia, and Gigi find themselves unable to tear their eyes away from the sight of a man whose body fills nearly half of a room. His limbs are distinguishable only by the hands or feet at the end of them, for there are no visible joints. For that matter, there is no discernible shape to identify them as arms or legs. Folds of flesh on his face make his head too heavy to lift and completely envelop his neck. His size has reduced his usable wardrobe to a group of king-size blankets that his wife pulls over him at night. During the summer months, he cannot even wear those for fear of succumbing to heat exhaustion.
“Thank you for coming, Mr. and Mrs. Layton,” Matthew says in a voice that is the very sound of asphyxiation, struggling mightily to draw in spare air to talk. His body is, quite simply, too massive to move. His muscles and skeletal system, as well as his respiratory system, are being overwhelmed by hundreds of pounds of excess flesh. By far, though, the most striking of Matthew’s features is the look of sorrow on his massive face. The pain he feels when he considers what his condition has done to his family’s lives, especially his wife, is evident in his expression. Mark and Alicia see this pain in his eyes.
“Don’t talk, honey,” Mrs. Snodgrass insists. “I’m Prudy Snodgrass, Matthew’s wife. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your coming out to try to help like this.”
“It’s our pleasure,” Alicia responds. “To be perfectly honest, we had no choice. After we got your message, there was no way we could not help.”
“Mr. Snodgrass, I just want to make sure you understand what I’m going to do here,” Mark explains. “I can affect only the areas that I touch. When I touch you, you’re going to see a discharge of what we call flesh gel from your skin. It can be pretty startling.”
“I understand, and I’m ready. Besides, if you and your group could stand the shock when you first saw me, I can take seeing a little gel.”
Matthew’s words are like a slap to Mark. He can see that Matthew has been hurt on many levels by his condition; he certainly doesn’t want to add to the pain. He is now more determined than ever to end that pain for him. As Mark begins his most ambitious melting project to date, he contemplates taking a vacation when he finishes. He already has Alicia with him; he can send Gigi back home, and they can go wherever they want. They could even go home and get the children and take them to Disneyworld or some such place. Just get away.
Filled with purpose, Mark starts by melting the skin from Matthew’s head and face, then the neck and the chest. Mark actually feels his hands sink into Matthew’s chest. Perhaps it is due to the sheer volume of Matthew’s chest, but for a few moments, Mark’s power appears to have no effect. Mark feels a buzzing at the base of his skull that he has never felt in all the times he has melted bodies. He ignores the strange sensation, and when it subsides, the gel begins to appear—somewhat slowly, but it comes. Gradually the process accelerates, shrinking Matthew’s chest before the stunned and excited eyes of Matthew’s wife, Prudy.
“Oh my God! He’s doing it! It’s working!” Prudy shrieks with delight.
“Honey, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” Alicia boasts.
Matthew’s breathing becomes less labored as Mark continues to work on his chest. The process becomes a labor of love for everyone involved. As Mark melts Matthew’s body, Alicia and Prudy wipe away the gel, and Renée brings fresh rags and towels. Gigi, ever vigilant, just watches the process from a distance, offering the occasional “You missed some” when Alicia and Prudy aren’t as thorough as she feels they should be. Mark starts on the arms next. Taking one of Matthew’s arms, just one of which is bigger around than both of Mark’s legs together, Mark melts it down until the true shape of the arm can be seen. Mark even melts the fat from Matthew’s hand, leaving only the strong hand that thrilled Prudy in their youth. As Prudy leaps forward to wipe the fatty discharge away, Matthew waits until she has cleaned the arm and then whips the now muscular arm around his wife’s waist and pulls her close, ignoring the pain from moving an arm that has lain dormant for so long with such abandon. Alicia’s eyebrows rise at this display, imagining how things are going to be for this couple when Matthew is fully restored. Mark allows himself a smile as he begins to work on the other arm. As the muscles of that arm peek out from under pounds and pounds of fat, Alicia prepares to wipe the area clean.
“Um, I’ll get that one too,” Prudy announces.
Alicia backs away laughing and raises her hands in mock submission, allowing Prudy to enjoy the attention she is giving and receiving. Prudy’s eyes widen as Mark’s focus shifts to Matthew’s abdomen. The gel flows freely as a quivering mass of useless fat gives way to the musculature underneath. The transformation is so quick, and the reappearance of a waist so astounding, that when Matthew raises his head to get a better look, it doesn’t even register that he raised his head! It doesn’t fully sink in until the muscles of his neck, unaccustomed to movement, begin to strain slightly. This small and seemingly insignificant act, unnoticed by everyone else in the room, fills Matthew with a sense of hope that he hasn’t felt in years. Returning to his normal posture, Matthew contents himself to wait for Mark to finish his sculpting. Renée runs into the room with more cloths and towels and nearly runs over a table when she sees the dwindling figure of her father. Mark’s hands leave a trail of muscle along Matthew’s trunk that Prudy isn’t sure she’s ever seen before. The bones of Matthew’s pelvis are becoming visible now, and treasures long denied his faithful wife are stepping forth into the light. Without a word or even a glance, Alicia hands Prudy her towel and steps aside, knowing full well that no one but Prudy is cleaning that area.
Continuing his life-saving project, Mark begins his assault on Matthew’s legs. There is unspeakable joy in this room, as Matthew’s thighs part company and his knees become visible. Down the shin and to the foot on one leg and up the other, Mark molds each limb until all he can feel is muscle and bone. In about thirty minutes he has molded half of Matthew’s body; that just leaves his back. With Gigi’s help, Mark pulls Matthew onto his stomach. Matthew grunts from the pain of moving for the first time in more years than he wants to remember, but he smiles through each and every moment of it. The nursing home aroma strikes Mark once again, and it dawns on Mark just how difficult it must have been to adequately bathe Matthew. Ignoring the pungent odor, Mark continues shrinking Matthew’s body. The backs of Matthew’s legs become firm and streamlined under Mark’s power, as do the glutes, which haven’t seen the light of day since Clinton’s administration. Folds and bulges caused by rolls of fat give way to the ridges and lines of bone and sinew. Even the bedsores seemingly melt into nothingness, with Mark’s aura providing a buffer of sorts between the body he sculpts, the gel the process creates, and his hands.
Matthew’s back is soon a solid sheet of muscle. In fact, Matthew is more muscular now than he has ever been before. In just under one hour, Mark trims away nearly eight hundred pounds of fat. All Matthew needs to do is exercise the muscles that have not been used in years.