"A WHOLE NEW YOU!" is what the sign said in flashing neon red letters. The ad that brought Barry here had promised him precisely that, for only $49.95/month. The lady on the phone had been vague but had said that the program delivered just what it promised. He had asked if it was a weight loss program, she said yes. He asked if it would straighten his crooked teeth, she said: "If that is what you want, sure!" He asked if it could make him look younger, she said: "That too."
Seemed like an awful lot for $49.95, even $49.95/month throughout many, many months. Still, Barry was always an optimist. He had a hundred diet books on his shelf, literally a hundred, he had counted, and he was still 5'8" and three hundred pounds. He wasn't very fond of his crooked smile or the fact that he had crested 40 either. But if they could help him with the weight thing...maybe things would finally be alright. He pushed aside the thought that it might be a scam, like he so often did, and walked through the door.
The office was all white. White walls, white desk, white furniture. Even the highly attractive young woman at the reception desk was wearing all white. The tan of her face (Barry wasn't sure whether she was Asian, Hispanic or what, she was the most ethnically ambiguous person he had ever seen) and the green of a handful of potted plants were just about the only things that broke up the sameness of color in the room. Barry walked up to the desk, gave his name and the receptionist smiled politely and told him to have a seat, someone would be with him in a few minutes.
He waited for what seemed like half an hour (though the clock on his phone told him it had only been 10 minutes). He asked the receptionist if it would be much longer. "Not long now" she answered him with a pleasant smile full of perfectly straight, perfectly shiny white teeth.
And that smile was the last thing he remembered before finding himself laying face down in a dumpster behind a building. He sat up and frightened a little grey kitten in the process. It hissed at him before abandoning the trash receptacle itself. He looked around to get his bearings.
It had been about 9:00 AM when he had walked in, and it was dark outside now. He had no idea what had happened. He didn't feel groggy, he didn't feel like he had been beaten up or hit on the head. Just...one minute he was talking to the receptionist and the next, he was here. In this smelly dumpster.
Upon walking out tot he street, Barry recognized immediately where he was, right near the "Whole New You" offices, He was standing in their parking lot in fact. And his car SHOULD have been right over there, but it wasn't. He turned and saw that what once was a brightly lit storefront office with a big sign now looked utterly abandoned. There was no sign of the office he had entered earlier that morning, just an empty window with a "For Rent" sign in it. And his car was gone. Shaking himself down he realized that his wallet and keys were likewise missing.
This all seemed like a really far too elaborate scheme just to get the $87 in his wallet, his cell phone, his nearly maxed out credit cards and his 2009 Volkswagen Jetta. But right now, that was the only theory he could come up with.
But what to do? He was about 10 miles from home with no cash, no phone and no car. It looked like a long walk was ahead of him. No keys and no way to get into his apartment either, but he would figure that out when he got there. He just wanted this shitty day to be over.
Though it was 10 miles to his destination, it was only about a mile or so before fatigue began to set in. He was out of shape, and he needed a rest. He found a retaining wall where he could sit for a bit, rest his feet and catch his breath. So he did and...
The world shifted again, as suddenly as when he had been in the "Whole New You" offices this morning. Only now, he wasn't sitting on a retaining wall in his hometown or in a dumpster, now he was in a forest. No sign of a city, no cars, nothing made by the hand of man except the clothes on his back. It had been well after dark when he had sat down, but now it seemed to be just before sunset. Insects of all kinds flitted about, and some bird was making a "ZAAW ZAAAW!" sound in the distance. And now he had no idea where he was.
He walked around in the woods for a bit until it got too dark to see. He saw nothing that could give him any clue where he was, no roads, no ditches, not even any signs of planes in the sky. And an outdoorsman he was not. He had no idea what kinds of trees or animals were about. Worst of all, he had no idea how he had gotten here. When it got too dark safely explore, he found a sheltered spot against a rock outcropping, he curled up into a ball, and he let the stress of the day overtake him, crying himself to sleep.
He awoke to the feeling of being prodded. When he opened his eyes, he half expected to be somewhere else again, maybe Timbuktu this time, or the surface of Mars. But to his surprise, he was still in the forest, next to the rock outcropping where he had finally broken down sobbing. And the pretty receptionist from "Whole New You" was standing over him, poking him with a stick. It was morning.
"What the hell? What? What's going on?" He demanded as he got to his feet.
She began talking. But though her mouth was moving, and she was waving her delicate hands around very expressively, not a single sound was escaping her lips. She seemed to notice this too, after a few seconds and stopped "talking" with an exasperated look to the sky.
Barry was beyond pissed by now. He screamed, demanding to know what was going on, and where he was, and where was his car and all the other questions she had. The receptionist looked at him pleadingly and pointed to her mouth, which was still moving soundlessly while shrugging. Then, as if she were pleading to some sky god, she threw her arms to the heavens and soundlessly yelled something.
And instantly, a bolt of lightning descended from the sky, striking Barry and then the world faded to black.
He woke up this time, nude on a bed or table of some sort in what looked like a hospital room. He was attached to wires and monitors and someone, a female voice, was yelling, "He's up!" Another voice, gruff and male shouted at him "Don't yank out those wires. Stay still, let me help you."
The woman was the pretty receptionist. The man he didn't recognize, but he seemed to be something akin to a hospital orderly from his uniform and manner.
The woman said "We apologize for the inconvenience. Rest assured that your payment will be refunded. Just sign these papers and..."
"Jane, let the man get his bearings before you throw those NDAs at him." the orderly said, "Are you okay? Any dizziness, nausea, headache, memory loss?"
"I'm fine, I think." Barry said, his memories were, but it was all still there, "What? What happened"
"Don't say anything until you clear it with legal, Steve." Jane snapped at the man.
Steve ignored her, "The process doesn't work on some people. Turns out, you are some people."
"The Whole New You process. You don't remember the discussion we had before we put you under."
Barry was puzzled, so all he could say was "no."
"Whole New You lets you live in a full-blown simulation of your life with whatever you perceive as your flaws removed. It isn't VR, per se, more like an induced hallucination. Only in some people, their mind won't accept it, and it hallucinated other things instead. We had a hell of a time bringing you out."
Weeks later, Barry was sitting in an airport, waiting to go on a trip to Fiji with the money he had gotten from Whole New You LLC for agreeing not to sue. It wasn't as good as living life without his many, many flaws, but if one couldn't be a whole different person, cash was an excellent consolation prize.