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You don’t really answer right away. That thing about promising to do whatever they ask bothers you. But the waitress buys you a little time when she starts bringing plate after plate after plate of food for Mitch. “Those trials you were talking about?” you ask. “Yeah,” says Mitch. You figure you better get your questions in before he starts eating. “How long do they last?” you ask. “That depends entirely on you,” says Mitch. “Some guys get through them in just a few days. I took a few weeks. But I heard of one guy who took over a year! Seriously, I don’t know how anyone could stand that for a year!” “That bad?” “They are not fun,” says Mitch. “You will not enjoy them.” “When do they stop?” you ask. “They stop when you’re ready,” said Mitch. “When’s that?” you ask. “You’ll know,” Mitch says. “Sorry, that’s all I can tell you.” You take another look at Mitch’s amazing physique, his giant sculpted muscles and his bulging veins and you decide to go for it. After all, if Mitch could get through it, so can you. “I’m in,” you say. “You’re sure?” Mitch asks. “Remember, no turning back.” “Where do I sign,” you say. “A hand shake will do,” says Mitch. “It’s a bond of honor that will hold you, whether you want it to or not.” “I want it to,” you say. “Okay,” says Mitch and the two of you shake. “While I’m your mentor, I can’t be your friend,” says Mitch. “Why not?” you say, alarmed. “Because I’m going to have to be tough on you and do things a friend would never do.” “That sounds ominous,” you say. “But don’t worry about that now,” says Mitch. “Let’s go over to your place and have one last night of gaming. Then, tomorrow, meet me in the Downtown Fitness Center locker room at 6:30 am and we’ll get started.” “Sounds good,” you say and you sit there and watch Mitch devour a ridiculously large meal while you nibble on your cheese burger and fries and try to contain your excitement for tomorrow. That evening is awesome! It’s just like last summer all over again, except for Mitch’s humongous physique, which you can’t stop staring at. But Mitch doesn’t seem to mind. The next morning, you get up bright and early, pack your gym bag and head for the Downtown Fitness Center. You get there 10 minutes early. You figure its just enough time to change into your gym gear. Mitch shows up at 6:30 on the dot, but he’s dressed in his jeans, which his massive muscle pylon legs are stretching to their limit. “It’s 6:30 and you’re not ready,” you say, grinning. “We’re not here to work out,” says Mitch. “We’re not?” you say. “I hope you don’t hate me,” said Mitch. “Hate you?” you say. “It’s been bothering me,” says Mitch. “I hated my mentor, right up until my initiation. Now, I’m grateful to the guy. We’re good friends. And the thing is, I think he went easy on me a few times. I think if he hadn’t, I’d have gotten through the trials a lot quicker. “So, I’m not going easy on you, Jared. I’m going to be just as tough as I can be. And, well… I hope you don’t hate me.” “I don’t think I’m gong to hate you,” you say. “That’s what you say now,” says Mitch. “Come over here for a minute.” Mitch leads you to a spot just around the corner from the sinks. There’s one guy in there and he’s pretty big. “You see that guy?” says Mitch. “His name is John Stanton and he’s a total douche. He has a hot girlfriend called Sarah Gibbons who he is insanely possessive of…” Suddenly Mitch starts shouting. “And you wanna fuck her?! You wanna fuck Sarah Gibbons? Dude, she is so hot! And you think she looks like a total slut? You’re shittin me? Dude, I gotta hear all about this. I’ll be right back.” “What are you doing?” you say, genuinely alarmed. That John Stanton dude does not look amused and he is heading right toward you. “This is a joke, right? That guy is a friend of yours, maybe another member of the cult, right?” “Hold that thought,” says Mitch, “and stay here. I’ll be right back.” And Mitch leaves the locker room with amazing speed for someone so big. What the…? Where’s he going and at a time like this? “Hey Asshole!” comes a thundering voice from behind you. You turn around only to be confronted with a pissed off John Stanton, and… he’s even bigger up close. “John, right?” you say, offering your hand, but he does not stop mad dogging you for second. “Jerad,” you introduce yourself. I think there’s been a little misunders—” “You’re taking shit about my girl!” And with the first punch that hits you, you realize that this guy is not Mitch’s friend. And with the second, you start to wonder if you’re Mitch’s friend. And with the third… well, you stop counting with the third. When he’s done, John Stanton grabs his gear and storms out of the room. And then you look up, and, almost like magic, Mitch is back. “Welcome to the trials, Jerad,” he says. “I told you you wouldn’t like them.” “If that isn’t the understatement of the century!” you say. “What the fuck was that in aid of?” Mitch just shrugs and says, “The trials.” “What does that mean?” you say. “It means I can’t give you answers,” says Mitch. “Okay, International Man of Mystery, after due consideration, I don’t think this trial-thing is gonna be for me,” you say. “Too late, bro,” says Mitch. “You’re committed. I’m your mentor and you can walk away from me, but you can’t walk away from the trials. They will find you, now, wherever you are. Trust me, it’s better with a guide.” So, what do you do? Mitch says you can’t walk away from the trials, but you’re willing to give it a try. Do you tell Mitch what he can go do with himself? Or do you accept that what Mitch is telling you is true, that you’re stuck with these trial-things and that you’re better off with him than without him?
Another Day... Jon sat up and scratched his head. Would this be the day, the final day? It had been weeks since they’d seen anyone official. The end couldn’t be far off. How had he gotten himself into this mess? When they had approached him right out of collage, he’d been looking for a way to fund his master’s degree. This had seemed ideal, a six-month contract and a high salary. The only drawback was that he was going to be working in an undisclosed location. He couldn’t tell anyone where he was going — no friends, no family, no one. Not that he had a family to tell. Oh yeah, he’d thought it was strange when they were happy to hear he didn’t have a family. But now he understood. There’d be no one to miss him — if he never came back.