Partway through mile number sixteen, it occurs to me that I've made a huge mistake. Physically, everything seems to be holding up. My legs ache, but are nowhere near cramping. Every breath is deep and efficient. I do not want for water or rest, refuse to fall into the trap of wondering how many steps lie before me.
I allow myself a quick look over my shoulder, and am surprised to find that my competition is nowhere in sight. There's enough energy left in my reserves to sprint the remaining distance when that finish line appears on the horizon, but it won't be necessary. This is a blowout.
So why can't I shake the feeling?
"Stop," barks my trainer Gwen, a woman with many features and personality traits that would make for a fascinating and enjoyable description. Every time she turns to talk, her white van drifts from the road's shoulder and lazily sways in my direction. "Please, this is ridiculous."
"Maybe, but if they can't keep up with me that's their problem. Why should I stop?"
"Because you're in a hot dog eating contest." The sideview mirror gives my elbow a friendly bump.
"I know, and I'm winning."
"No, you're running."
My body doesn't stop so much as it sort of wobbles at every point where bone meets bone. Momentum carries me face-first toward the pavement as my brain... have you ever pushed the Degauss button on a computer monitor? That. It does that, then when all the colors and shifting shapes snap back into place I'm being helped into my doctor's office.
A thorough exam comes next, followed by twenty lonely minutes on a paper-covered bench studying an illustrated poster of human reproductive systems. When Dr. Andrews returns, he is frowning at a clipboard.
"Remember when I inched that extraordinarily large needle toward your eyeball, veering away at the last moment and plunging it into the bridge of your nose to draw a blood sample?"
"Well your bloodwork is in, and it appears that you were born with Jasper Jowls Syndrome." The doctor pulls up a stool, set the clipboard aside. "In essence, you are physically incapable of taking part in competitive eating events. Your brain understands what an eating contest is, but when it attempts to engage in such a contest your body carries out a completely unrelated task, which your brain then interprets as competitive eating."
"It sounds exactly like herpes."
"Yes, that's precisely what it is." Dr. Andrews makes a complicated gesture that seems to include the universal symbol for starting a lawnmower. "It's a strain of herpes with all the qualities of its predecessor but the sores."
"But herpes is something you catch from other people, and you said this... Jasper Jowls Syndrome? That it was genetic."
"No, I'm afraid you misunderstood. I said you were born with it. In all likelihood, you contracted it while making out with your sister in the womb."
I nod slowly.
"So why haven't I heard of this disease before?"
"It's rare, but I know the disease firsthand. My wife couldn't take part in a pie eating contest to save her life. God rest her soul."
"Maybe you should test me again, just to make sure."
"Sorry, I already tested you twice. Once with the blood and once with an entirely different sort of sample. Remember when I had you pee in that cup while I punched you in the kidneys?"
"Not really," I shrug. "I'm just a layman. All these tests sort of blend into one another."
"Well, while you were distracted with that I collected a loose shard of fecal matter from your shirt with my free hand. That sample confirmed the blood test's results, along with something else."
"You mean I've got something besides Jasper Jowls Syndrome?"
"Yes. You've got poopies on your shirt."
With college finals approaching, it's time once again for Microsoft Word autosummaries of all the old, boring books you were supposed to read.
"Don't you get it? What we have to understand is it's them or us. It can't be all of us, or one. It's got to be us, or they become it. Then we lose what makes us we."
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