MaXXed Out
Part One
By: Alyson Faye

"Go to hell, Max!" The door slammed behind his manager, the third one to be hired and fired that year and it was only June.

Max smirked in the mirror at his reflection, rubbed his mascara away and pinched his cheeks. "Darling, you're turning into a monster diva," he told himself and pouted, blowing sloppy kisses at his reflection.

The dressing room reflected his star power. Jacuzzi in the bathtub, pristine linen, crystal glasses, champagne on ice, lilies in vases, and a buffet, constantly refreshed to suit his palate, on tap 24/7.

"You've earned it," Max told himself, rubbing off his foundation. God, he worked hard enough, slaved to make the nation love him and keep them laughing. He glanced at the photo on his dressing table.

"Mam, if you could see me now."

The petite woman in the picture smiled serenely back at him under her poodle perm and woolly hat. She still looked much the same, just more wizened, and monkey-like, sitting in the chair at the top-of-the-range nursing home Max paid the bills for.

"Love you, Mam," he said. "Nighty night, sleep tight."

She'd always said those words to him at bedtime, until he'd left home at fifteen and got his first job - acting in a TV commercial.

Max hauled himself to his feet, letting his huge belly flop onto the dressing table, he pulled open his robe and stared at his torso. He ran his hands over the pale skin, which never saw the sun, and moulded the rolls of fat as if he were a baker kneading bread.

"I hate you, you ugly obese obscenity," he whispered.

A knock on the door, made him freeze, pull his robe tight and slap a smile on his face. "Enter!"

The door nudged open, followed by a trolley piled with food and a young girl, nearly obscured, at the other end, pushing it. "Evening, Mr Llewellyn," she murmured, "Here's your supper trolley."

"Thank you, darlin". Just park it there. And what's your name?"

"Monica." The trolley girl whispered.

"Don't be shy, Miss Monica. Wouldn't you like a selfie with me?" Max's smile split his fleshy face in two, his balloon-like lips inflated.

***

Hours later Max lay on the sofa in his dressing room – like a beached whale. His belly distended to the point of bursting. He'd devoured every dish on the trolley, all prepared by his personal chef:- the pastries, the savouries, the sushi and the cakes. A megaton of dishes.

The girl? He'd had no problem saying 'no', when she'd shyly offered herself as a starter. But the food! God, that glorious grub and fizzy champagne, those delights he could never decline. Eating was better than sex, better than weed, better than – well nearly any vice he could think of. His mind scurried away from the darkness. Except for one, just that one, which he never dwelt on for long. It lay like ink on his mind, a stain.

There was no point in trying to venture home at this late hour. He'd only have to get up in under four hours for the rehearsal. Max switched off the lamp and settled down on his extra-large, reinforced, custom-built sofa bed.

His dreams were rich and restless, filled with vivid images of succulent dishes, hordes of writhing worms consuming them and his own pink tongue licking the plates. He woke and stumbled to the bathroom to throw up, not an unusual occurrence in his night-time routine and as usual, he left the mess for the cleaner.

It was her job after all, he reasoned, and he needed his beauty sleep. He owed it to the nation.

* * *

At 6 a.m. Max was in the make-up chair, still with trails of vomit, like snail slime, on his face. The make-up girl repressed a shudder. Max Llewellyn represented millions of pounds, as well as weighing nearly as much in body lard. She wasn't going to be the one to get fired today. She cleaned him up, layered on the foundation, coloured his eyebrows in, and tried to make him look cute and cuddly. Some days that was more than a challenge than others, but she was very skilled at her job.

Max hit the TV studio floor at 9 a.m. ready to rehearse and record his show. It went out every week, fifty-two weeks a year with the much-watched Christmas special. He was a fixture in the nation's telly-watching consciousness and hearts.

Max tap danced, sang, told jokes, and made the live studio audience laugh till they cried. He signed autographs, posed for selfies with grandmas and MILFs, patted children's heads, high-fived the teens and shook the Dads' hands in a manly fashion.

In between takes he visited the buffet trolley, as though he was on a piece of elastic. His P.A. checked his face for food debris between each snacking session, which was a pretty full-time job in itself. This was Max's fifth P.A. this year. If they missed one face wipe or did it at the wrong time - they were fired.

"Keep my diary clear for this evening, er -er …"

"Michelle," his PA murmured, eyes down. No eye contact was an all-important rule. Tricky to maintain when wiping the boss's jowls.

"Right, Melanie. I've got personal business this evening."

Michelle swallowed. "But, Mr Llewellyn, there's that charity gig for the children. You said you'd put in an appearance via Zoom. Five minutes, that's all."

Max's face flushed redder than normal, drops of sweat trickled down his nose. One of them fell on the P.A. s hair. She shuddered, then quickly hid it.

"Tell the charity to go screw itself. OK, darlin'."

Max turned back to the waiting cameras, threw out his hands, rubbed his stomach and metamorphosed into a different person in front of Michelle's eyes. The audience roared their appreciation, their applause hitting the roof beams.

* * *

Hours later in his dressing room, Max stripped off his make-up, pulled on capacious black trousers and a shirt, into which four men could fit, and draped a custom-made black cloak across his shoulders.

The studio corridors were deathly quiet. The night watchman was doing his rounds. Max knew the schedule. He'd memorised it. He slipped out, unseen, into the summer's night, inhaling the scents of the city - the fast food and the gasoline mix, a heady brew. He drank it in.

His stomach rumbled. He was ready to eat. The city was waiting for him. He relished these night- time excursions and they revitalised him. He saw them as his reward for the long hours and punishing workload. He whistled, tapped his feet, swaying his bulk from side to side and set off.

His destination was tucked away down a litter-strewn alley behind a tatty row of shops and bedsits. Max knocked on the graffitied door and the spy panel slid open, eyed him then the door opened.

Inside a beaten-up corridor led to a dining room, where the red carpet, and flock wallpaper spoke of another era. There was only one table in the room, bedecked with snowy linen and cut glass. Max was ushered to the armchair by waiter, presented with a black-edged funereal menu and left to peruse at his leisure.

Max sighed with happy anticipation. If you had the money, and the determination, you could buy anything in this city. Finding this exclusive eatery had been a dream come true for gourmands like himself. Following the clues on the net, the hints on the chat forums and then the 'interview' with the owner, via video camera, had all been worthwhile. Even if the membership fee cost an arm and a leg, Max chuckled at his own wit.

A huge silver platter was brought to his table, and the silver lid lifted. Max inhaled the aromas and beamed. Something inside him shifted, as it always did, before these meals. He knew he was entering his dark place, where he had to let go of his conscience. But the pursuit of eating fine and rare foods, was paramount. Only another gourmand would truly understand.

"Breast or leg, sir," asked the waiter, his face blank and the carving knife poised over the meat.

Max giggled then suppressed it. "Breast," he answered, eyes fixed on the dish.

The bloody juices leaked from the roast, as the stainless-steel blade cut into the roasted flesh. Max felt faint with excitement and need. He licked his lips and barely waited for the joint to land on his plate, before he cut into it, ravenous and aroused.

He must remember to ask for a doggy bag, to take home for a midnight snack. Nothing must go to waste of this delicious unique delicacy.

***

At home in his apartment hours later, Max eyed the doggy bag, already soggy with juices. He'd finish it before bed, it never tasted as good the next day. He loaded the remnants of the joint into a casserole dish, added a garnish of basil and hit the microwave button.

While he waited for it to 'ping' he did a few dance steps around his vast glistening kitchen. He was the image of a happy, fulfilled man twirling his cloak around him, like a mountainous Phantom of the Opera.

"A huge man with a gargantuan appetite for life and laughter", had run one of the headlines for an interview.

Such misunderstandings of his real appetite always amused Max. Tickled his funny bone. Bone, ah yes, he did enjoy a rib to two, barbecued and smeared in chilli sauce.

Ping!

Max retrieved his meal from the microwave and sat down at the quartz-topped counter. As he chewed, he became aware of a dog growling, perhaps outside in the corridor. Or was it coming from the apartment next door? It was close, and the animal sounded large and aggressive. Max felt uneasy, the hairs on the back of his neck stood erect. Something feral in him, was warning him of danger.

Ridiculous! He shrugged it off and spooned more of the dark juice of the joint into his mouth. Pets were forbidden in the apartment block. He would report his neighbours for this infringement. After all it wouldn't be the first time he'd done that. He snickered at the memory of how he'd forced two of his neighbours out with his complaints and the accompanying threatened lawsuits. He'd heard one of the losers' business had gone bust and he'd topped himself not long afterwards.

Silly bugger. Max had no sympathy for suicides. His father had taken that pathetic path and Max had never forgiven him.

The dog's growling was getting louder, and more annoying. Reluctantly Max heaved himself up and went to the peep hole in his door to check the corridor, but it was empty, although at the far end, near the lifts, he glimpsed a low-slung shadow slinking away around the corner.

He did not venture beyond the safety of his apartment to check. He found he really did not want to.

"Beddy byes, Maxie," he told himself, and yawned hugely.

Hours later in his sleep Max reached out his pudgy hands, as if begging for help, whilst his lips moved silently, and rivers of sweat poured off his body soaking into the expensive Egyptian cotton sheets.

* * *

"Did you see the headlines, Mr L?" asked the studio doorman.

Max ignored him. Who did this muppet think he was calling him Mr L? He'd have him fired for that piece of cheek.

"Did you read about that homeless man's murder? That's the fifth," asked Michelle, the PA, not meeting her boss' eyes, as per her contract.

The make-up girl wisely said nothing, but she noticed Max's breath smelt particularly feral and rich that morning. "Lord knows what the fat bastard ate for dinner last night," she said to her mate in the loos. "But, whatever it was, he still stank of it."

The TV crew seemed more subdued that morning, going about their allotted tasks in uneasy silence, but Max didn't care. They needed him but they were expendable. The TV audience were hard work too, not laughing as much as usual and the jokes about homeless folk didn't go down too well.

"Not the best topic, Max," commented the director. "Not today of all days." He avoided the comedian's eye.

Max shrugged. "All of life is grist to the comedy mill. Don't you think er – Edgar? Eddie?"

Throughout the day, Max was plagued with heartburn, drinking Gaviscon by the bottle but to no avail. At lunch he half-heartedly nibbled on a few pastries but giving up the battle with the fierce burning sensation in his chest, he retreated to the bathroom for a protracted stay.

In the mirror he pulled his eyelids wider. They appeared pinker than usual, and his skin had a yellowy tinge to it. Meanwhile his stomach kept churning like a washing machine. At 3 p.m. he gave up, announced he was too sick to continue, and he went home.

As Max strode through the glass-fronted lobby of his apartment block heading towards the lifts, he heard again the same irritating but muted growling. Glancing around, he saw nothing except the expensively curated pot plants and the reception guy gazing into space.

"You hear anything, er – mate? Like a …" Max didn't finish the sentence, as the man gawped at him, blank-faced.

Max rode the lift to the third floor, got out and headed to his apartment. The growling pursued him, always from behind his back, but this time, there was a feral animal scent and the sound of paws, padding. Max turned around, but saw nothing, except a ripple in the air, like you'd see on a hot day.

He clenched his fists. "Who's there? If you're playing games, I'll …" but he was talking to himself."

He jog-trotted to his apartment, man boobs bouncing, anxiety swelling. Inside he double-bolted the door and put the chain on. He swigged more Gaviscon from a pint glass.

"You look like Hell," he told himself, peering in the bathroom mirror and noticing a raw redness colouring his corneas and the yellow tone, like pale pus, of his skin.

Is it jaundice?

A horrible thought struck him. Has that meat I've eaten? OK, the person, I've eaten, got some disease? And I've caught it?

Calling out his private 24/7 doctor didn't appeal in the circumstances, especially as he'd have to come up with a damn good cover story. So instead, Max undressed and collapsed into bed, butt-naked, clutching his belly and groaning.

End of Part One

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