The way the sky was now, a 2013 fiction chapbook by Ryder Collins


It is gray here and the only thing that sticks out as we slowly stumble around the exercise pens is the red on our fellow fatties’ uniforms. We’ve been taken to the cold gray land of Nebraska; we’ve been corralled, imprisoned just outside Wildcat Hills.

When the bell rings, we’re not supposed to think of food. When the bell rings, we’re supposed to think of duty, sacrifice, Iwo Jima and Baghdad and Tehran, the soldiers now in Islamabad, Addis Ababa, Beijing, God in heaven looking down and judging, always judging.

When the bell rings I think of death and get even hungrier; I have to fight to swallow the saliva that fills my mouth.

The bell rings constantly.


It’s in our natures; we’re here to overcome this. Involuntarily.

We all wear gray sweats with F.A.T.T.Y. emblazoned in red across our fat chests and backs. F.A.T.T.Y. stands for “Food Addiction Therapy & Training Yards.” It’s more like a compound than a yard, but the acronym must have tweaked the newly resurrected HUAC libido, given the Senators their first real boners in years. Skinny old white guys. They gum their soy “lobster,” dry hump their young wives, and hire people to thump Bibles for them. They don’t have the energy; they can barely crawl up onto their twenty-year-old virgin wannabes as it is.

I watched the first Senate hearings years ago in the darkness of my mom’s basement. Where else was I supposed to go? Neighbors testifying against their obese neighbors and then neighbors testifying against bulimics and people who indulged occasionally and finally testifying against people with the potential or gene pool to someday be obese. The Senators’ veins stuck out in their wrinkly hands as they shook their papers; their skin drooped on hunched frames as they bent to microphones. They’re all one step away from desiccation.

Maybe power eats you away from the inside.


CarolAnne will do anything for food. She sucks off the guards for pork sausages; she fellates for foie gras. Me, I stuff my mouth with twigs and berries but I don’t know anything about this land. Sometimes it has the opposite effect. I convulse with diarrhea; I lose pounds of myself; I start slipping away.

That is what I’m most afraid of.

CarolAnne visits me in the clinic. She says, Captain John’s not so bad. And he always has contraband.

I stare up at the ceiling above my oversized cot. Not because she shocks me, but because there’s nothing really to say. There’s a mirror above me there, of course; there are mirrors all over this place, even outside, and etched into all of them the saying, Skinniness is next to godliness. That saying’s all over the yard, printed on our sheets and on the walls, on our plates and cups, even on our toilet paper.

Food is just pre-shit shit; shit is food in the reverse, they tell us. Shit is God’s way of warning us.

CarolAnne’s chattering on about John and Twinkies and how he must have some high-up connection because who even has Twinkies anymore.

I don’t say much; I’m feeling too weak. I’m overcome with childhood memories of crinkling plastic packages and creamy white insides. I’d eat the spongy yellow top and then lick the frosting part, trying to catch each sugar crystal on my tongue. Trying to capture the sweetness, the sensation, trying to make it last longer. I’d eat entire boxes even though I’d know my mom’d scream at me after she got home for work. I knew, but I just couldn’t stop.

CarolAnne’s voice breaks in upon my Twinkie reverie, I pretend his dick’s the inside. I lick and lick and lick and swallow. I used to spit. Outside…

I nod my head; I know her hunger. It drives me into those Wildcat woods. It drives me to crawl among the brush. To dig up roots and mushrooms, to root in the dirt.


Almost worse than being imprisoned is being gawked at by the touring visitors, usually church groups. There’s always the pastor or preacher guiding his anxious flock around. He’s always balding and slightly paunched and always making corny jokes to put his sheep at ease. Things like:

Now this brings a whole new meaning to fat camp, eh?

You never see any visitors for the inmates. It’s because they ATE their families.

Do they know they have toes?

They’ll all have to be baptized at Sea World.

We’ll have to take up a collection next Sunday. I heard they ATE all their Bibles.

He tells his jokes right in front of us; he’s lucky there’s chain-link around our exercise pens.

When I see a group coming, I don’t care how many extra sit-ups or jumping jacks or squats I’ll have coming later, I take off for the woods behind our exercise pen. I climb the chain-link fence and, unlike poor Mark, never get stuck.

The guards don’t chase me because they know I won’t escape. I have nowhere to go. How can I hide my three hundred some pounds? They don’t even sell clothes my size outside the yard.

They limit the amount of fabric you can purchase per household even.

When Mark first got here, he tried to jump the fence. He was almost three hundred fifty pounds then and he pulled himself up to the top and just couldn’t jump down. He was stuck up there, straddling the top, in between with a leg on both sides, for hours until the guards got a forklift to get him down. The whole thing was recorded, there’s cameras and mirrors all over—kind of like a porno shoot (except the creation, distribution, and even watching of pornographic film has been outlawed, too), and put on YouTube. He was an instant cyber hit.

Mark is my secret boyfriend. But fat people aren’t supposed to have sex, that’s just too gross. And fat people can’t find love because God doesn’t love them because they don’t love themselves…

My body’s a temple and I intend to fill it.


Mark comes to me when I am in the woods. He’s lost some weight and can make it over the fence now. We lie next to each other in the dirt and leaves and we slowly rub against each other.

I want Mark to enter me but he’s afraid.

I’m a virgin and he’s a virgin and we’re alone in the woods. We twist and turn on the leaves. My hands roam up and down his sides. I want to feel his heft, all of it. I kiss him, with tongue. I bite a little and he pulls away. I pull away, too. My hair flies into his mouth. I can feel Mark sucking on my split ends. It is sexual; it is comforting.

I’m determined to hold onto myself and be deflowered at the same time. I’m determined to keep pounds on and lose something. Mark and I’ll fight this without fighting; that is my dream.

But, like I said, Mark’s afraid.

He always stops before any clothes come off. He pulls himself off me. He says, Honey.

I don’t answer him.

He says, Honey?

I always say something like, I know you got a sweet tooth in there, Baby.

Or, I got that comb you like to suck. Or, come dip your spoon in my honeypot, Big Boy.

He thinks I’m ribald or something, I guess. He makes a little harrumph, folds his hands on his great chest and looks up at the sky.

We stay like this for a while—him looking up at the sky, me looking away at the ground. Finally, he harrumphs again, gets up, and shuffles away without saying anything.

I wait until I can’t see the red letters moving slowly through the bramble and branches. I wait until I’m no longer thinking about him. I wait and breathe and breathe and wait. Then I get up and stuff my mouth with twigs and red red berries. I roll and claw at the dirt, looking for roots, mushrooms, truffles, chalk. I grope and grasp and inscribe my need in the ground; I sniff and scratch and lick and chew and sniff some more. Someday I will inhale this earth.


It’s happened again. I’m in the woods and fully clothed and Mark’s just left. Without fail, I’m scraping in raw dirt; I’m alone and almost happy. Rooting for roots, and suddenly I know I’m not alone. My hands are loamy; I’m on all fours. What or who’s watching me? Are they going to fucking YouTube me, too?

Pssst, they or it or whatever says.

Yeah? I sit up and shake the dirt off my hands.

Join us, it says.

Who the fuck are you? I’m wondering if I’m dealing with some weird, cheesy Nebraska forest spirit. A sprite? Mmmm… I remember the citrus-sugary soda. Outlawed now, of course. First they took away the white, processed sugars, then the turbinado, then the syrups, and finally the hippie sweeteners like blue agave.

A figure steps out from the bush next to me. It—he?—is wearing a black balaclava.

He asks, Do you want to be free?

A bored guard just messing with me? A test? Do they have an even worse prison for people who fail this?

Do you want to be free? he asks again.

I don’t say anything. I’m kind of freaked out, alone in these woods with this balaclavaed man. What does he want? My freedom? Then why? And what would freedom mean to me anyway? I’m a fatty. I’m outlawed and unloved.

Maybe he’s a rapist; that would explain the balaclava. A rapist with a fatty fetish.

Don’t you want to be free, he says.

I get up slowly; he moves towards me and I’m almost afraid, but his hands are empty. He has no camera, no iPhone, no weapon. He holds his arms out, hands outstretched, palms down, to show me this.

I’m alone, he says.

I’m alone, too, he says.

There are black curls showing underneath the edges of his balaclava.

I know what it’s like to be forsaken, he says.

I should be hying it back to the goddamned fence and the fatty camp, but I keep moving toward the balaclavaed stranger; I can’t help it. I feel propelled. Maybe because I’ve been alone for so long; maybe because I’ve been alone and unfree all my goddamned life.

His feet are bare and squishing through the earth I turned up. He barely misses some fat earthworms with his tan feet. He’s so near me now. I’m thinking about running; I’m thinking about running to him and whispering, Take me; I’m thinking about running my hair over his toes, wiping his feet clean with my sucked-on split ends. I don’t know what to do, but if he could really free me, I’d do anything he asked me.

Originally published in The Scrambler