Trevor Templeton

It all begins with an idea.

Magna Mater

God, I hate this gym, I thought to myself when I pulled up to Magna Fitness that night. The lot was empty enough that I could see the line of benches, free weights, and squat racks from my car. Think they’re so fucking special not putting the cardio equipment upfront, where literally every other gym puts it.

The only thing that got me out of the car was remembering yesterday morning. I had finally gotten in for the free training session I was promised at sign up and Amanda, the cute trainer with the legs of a stallion, had let her hand find the swell of my post-workout bicep. She looked at me with those big brown eyes and a grin that was almost feline when she told me how bad she felt that it had taken so long for us to see each other. That she usually gets the late shift, and we would probably see more of each other if I worked out later. That she would take it as a compliment if I did.

Is there anything a pretty girl can’t get you to do? I asked myself, as I traversed the dimly lit parking lot.

When I walked through the entrance, I didn’t see the usual bodybuilder-type manager behind the desk. Instead, this guy was lean, not jacked. His face was narrow, and he was so bald his head shined like it had been waxed. He also had a fang-like snaggletooth protruding from his upper right jaw.

“Welcome!” he said, perking up from behind the desk’s outdated computer.

“Hi,” I responded, pulling my membership card out as I approached.

“Someone’s got the thousand-yard stare,” he said, grabbing a towel from behind the desk. 

I glanced at the USMC tattoo filling most of his bicep. Is this guy baiting me? I asked myself.

“Nah, just leg day,” I replied, putting my card on the desk.

Ooooh,” he said, dropping the towel on the counter. “Now that’s what I call: The Suck.”

I took the towel and slung it over my shoulder. Either he’s baiting you or that tattoo’s just for show, I thought to myself. I stared at the scanner, waiting for him to put my card under it.

“Haven’t seen you before,” he said, taking my membership card. “Just sign up?”

“About a month ago,” I replied. “I don’t usually come this late, though.”

Oh-hoh,” he said, nodding, “That explains it. I’m the night manager. Well, know that the rule is no guests after ten.”

I almost shouted: DOES IT LOOK LIKE I HAVE A GUEST, but my better judgment won, and I just said, “Cool.”

“Now,” the manager said, leaning on the desk and putting my card to his chest, “have you thought about upgrading your membership?”

“Not really,” I replied, debating whether this asshole actually wanted me to workout.

“You know, we did just get some new cryobaths installed.”

 “Nah,” I said, “I should be fine.”

He tapped my forearm, and, for the first time, I saw how bony his hands were. He had bone running down his knuckles that was so ingrained to the skin it could have been an x-ray.

“You’re sure you don’t want to give it a whirl?” he asked. His fingertips gripped my forearm while he tapped his index finger against it like a metronome. “Just to try it?”

Why is his hand so cold?

“No,” I replied, glued to his skeletal hand, “I think I’m good.”

He sucked his teeth at me and withdrew his hand. “Well,” he said, “if you change your mind, you know where to find me. In the meantime, though . . .” he said, finally scanning my card, “enjoy a complimentary protein shake from our smoothie bar.” He pulled the coupon out from somewhere behind the desk.

“Y’know what,” he said, grabbing a pen, “I’m gonna have them make you my special mix.” He smiled as he wrote “Special Mix” on the coupon, his snaggletooth stabbing his lip as his jaw moved. “It’s sure to knock your socks off, bro.” He slid the coupon across the desk.

“Thanks,” I mumbled.

I started toward the leg press, which was past the spin studio, free weights, and just after the yoga studio; but I didn’t make it far before running into the reason I was here so late. Amanda emerged from the darkened spin studio, noticing me while she slinked toward the desk on her stallion legs. She locked eyes with me and refused to let go, even when I broke away. Something in the way she moved said it didn’t matter if I wanted to talk to her. All she had to do was flash me that feline grin, and she’d leave me frozen. 

Why does that make her so much hotter? I asked myself as she did just that, when our paths crossed at the midway point.

“Hey, you!” she said, patting me on the shoulder a bit rougher than the day before. “When are you coming to see me again?” Her voice was as smooth as raw corn liquor.

What is it about pretty women that always makes me feel so guilty?

“I don’t know,” I said, looking at the floor. “Maybe soon.”

“What’s that you got there?” she asked, pointing to the coupon I had forgotten to stuff into my pocket. “Got a free shake?”

I nodded.

“Here,” she said, taking the coupon from me, “let me make sure you get the special. . . .” She stopped when it was close enough for her big brown eyes to read. “Ohhh,” she said, “looks like you’re already taken care of.” She threw a flirty glare my way. “You know, the smoothie bar’s that way,” she said, gesturing behind me.

“I know,” I said, a bit defensively.

“Then what are you going this way for,” she said, starting to move past me. “Get it while you can, hon,” she said, smacking the back of my thigh as she went toward the desk. Her spandex hips accentuated each step as she watched me watch her walk away.

The fuck? I thought to myself, starting to blush as I felt over the spot she hit. I froze like a deer caught in those brief seconds of indecision when the headlights blare right before the impact. I was lucky enough to remember where I was and step aside before getting run over. 

Waitresses fish for bigger tips . . . trainer’s fish for clients, I thought to myself, sighing.

I retraced the way I came and went toward the smoothie bar. I had to pass the desk again to get there, which also meant avoiding Amanda’s leer. Just don’t make eye contact, I told myself, managing to block out that I was still following this chick’s orders.

The smoothie bar was tucked into the corner past the front desk and the entrance, right before the pool area and locker rooms. I gave the coupon to the barista, who informed me that the “Special Mix” was Magna’s in-house protein. He said that I must have struck a chord with someone in upper management to get a taste because “Magna Powder” hadn’t been made public yet. When the barista handed me my shake, he held onto the Styrofoam cup a few seconds after I had a grip on it. I sensed him watching me like I’d stolen something when I walked out with it, which, honestly, made me feel like I had.

I resumed my route to the leg machines, taking a sip of the shake as I walked. Not bad, I thought to myself. The protein was a little thick, which made the texture kind of powdery, but it wasn’t a bad taste.

When I passed the desk again, I distracted myself from Amanda by eyeing up the walls. Blue and red wallpaper was plastered all over the gym, but the area I read had the phrase: “SWEAT IS JUST YOUR FAT CRYING, SO DON’T BE A GIRL AND CODDLE IT!” written in big white letters. I let that phrase wash over me as I made a left at the spin studio. I was about halfway along the free weights and benches when I saw Brad doing an incline press with some 50s. 

Brad was a tall, dark-haired guy with perpetual 5 o’clock shadow. The sort of guy who refused to wear anything but designer clothing, especially when he worked out. Today, he sported a pair of cutoff Polo sweatpants and an Under Armour sleeveless. I had hoped switching to a night workout might cut Brad out of the picture, but, apparently, he’s here before sunrise and after sundown. As I passed by, I gave him my ritual nod and hoped the encounter would end there, but I also knew there was no way it would.

“Watsup, bro?” he said, without breaking form. He sat facing the mirrored wall behind the free weight rack, effortlessly raising the 50s above his head in fluid motions. His gaze never focused on his own form while he lifted but scanned the area behind him for opportunity.

“Not much,” I replied, noticing the curvy, spandex-clad blonde that happened to be reflected in Brad’s direct line of sight.

“Watch my stuff for a sec, bro?” Brad asked, dropping the dumbbells as he stood up.

Brad ran his fingers through his hair like a comb while I glanced at the open leg press sitting in front of the first line of ellipticals. “Only take a sec, bro, promise,” he said.

“All right,” I conceded, slouching as I leaned on the head of the bench.

“Thanks, bro,” he said, giving me a fist bump. Brad turned around and strutted toward the blonde squatting with the smith rack.

This is why you don’t talk to people at the gym, I thought to myself, taking a long sip of my shake. I remembered the day I broke that rule and spoke to Brad. I had been with Magna about a week and he was one of those faces I always seemed to pass, but what made him stick out was the quirky way he would wear his shorts. He always rolled the pant legs and waistband up a few inches. I thought it was kind of weird and, somehow, I worked up the nerve to ask him why. There was a hint of condescension in his voice when he answered, “So the ladies can see how big my legs are.”

Since then, I’ve been trapped. Forced to watch Brad strut over to women like this blonde, have them take their headphones out, and then do body squats right beside them to exemplify the “proper” form. This one, like most, played along for that part but sent him packing when he got to the “Maybe we should work out together so I can supervise” part of his routine. Brad strolled back over to me without a care whatsoever.

“Thanks, bro,” he said.

“No problem,” I replied.

“So, bro, I know you got a shake there, but . . .” Brad said, lifting my arm by the bicep and inspecting it, “you been getting enough of your protein?” Brad then began patting me up and down like he was a cop frisking a perp. “Bro! You haven’t, have you? I mean, just look at the state of your lats.”

Is there a reason everyone’s feeling me up today?

“What a waste, bro,” Brad said, withdrawing his hands from my body. “And what’s with the protein shake? You just about to get a pump in, aren’t you?”

“I know it’s supposed to be after, but . . .” I said, looking over my shoulder to find the distant outline of her staring at us from behind the desk, “Amanda said I should.”

“Oh,” Brad said when he and Amanda made eye contact from across the gym. She gave Brad a very girly wave, using just her fingers. “Then just . . . just forget what I said.” Brad sat back down on the bench. “She’s a professional, so she must have her reasons. Just pretend like I didn’t say anything, and go back to your workout, bro.”

“Okay,” I said, resuming my route to the leg press. God that was weird, I thought to myself as I passed by the other gym regulars: the two shirtless morons that like to watch each other flex in the yoga studio mirror, the bodybuilding dwarf with facial hair that made him look like something out of Tolkien, and the gaunt anorexic chick on the elliptical who made me sad. She was so thin I couldn’t tell where her thighs and calves met her knees, almost like her legs should have belonged to an insect. I always felt like I should report her to someone, and seeing her here this late, in the same place, made me almost do it. What ended up talking me out of it was the manager; I knew he’d never do anything as long as she paid her membership fees.

I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind and kept walking. I told myself not to drink more than a quarter of the shake before starting my workout, but it was half-empty by the time I reached the leg press. I cursed Amanda and her stallion legs when I felt a cramp after a few reps. I tried to push through, but the heavy, lethargic pain in my ribcage was too much. I stood up and immediately wanted to fall over when the pain slipped from my ribs and started turning my stomach. The men’s locker room was on the other end of the gym, and I stumbled past the lines of machines to get there, determined not to throw up in the middle of the gym.

I entered the locker room and passed the familiar onslaught of wrinkly, gray-haired, distinguished looking old man penises. Those saggy, drooping penises were flinging about as usual. As I stumbled toward the stalls, I felt so sick that I forgot to tell myself it’s not gay that I looked because most of the penises I caught a glimpse of were seen by accident. However, when I actually got into one of the stalls, I didn’t feel like throwing up anymore. In fact, all I really felt was a little sleepy. My body started to get so heavy, and the toilet seat didn’t seem like a bad place to rest my head.

Before finally drifting off, I thought of all those flaccid old man penises and muttered: “Not . . . gay. . . .”


Eyes shut and body completely limp, I feel only the cold porcelain warming to my cheek. As I am picked up by wrinkly hands, my skin peels from the porcelain like an adhesive. I’d be certain I’m floating if my arms and legs weren’t being held above my sagging torso, though I still think I might be. I am moved forward, and the cheek that had been resting against the porcelain is sent into a cold sweat by the shifting air. 

“Set him over here,” a rugged female voice says.

My body is molded into a sitting position and propped against something hard. I start to feel the beat of my own heart and whatever I’m propped against seems to feel it too.

“We’ll take it from here; start preparing the ceremony with the others” she says. The weight of bare feet trotting away sounds like a quiet symphony of paws.

“You get his left, I’ll get his right,” the rugged female voice says.

My hands are moved to each side of me. I start to fall left, but I’m quickly set still.

“I feel like we could’ve given the bro a few more weeks to bulk up a bit,” Brad says, his alpha male bro-speak unmistakable. “I mean, like, what’s the point of all this risk when the gains are so small?”

My wrists touch cold metal, and warm flesh grips my forearms.

“Anymore and we might lose our shot,” the rugged female voice says. “Bigger they get, more difficult they are to herd.” 

Ropes tighten around my wrists, hugging them deeper into the cold metal. I catch one last phrase from Brad before passing out completely. 

“Yeah, but still,” he says, “I’m not here for novelty.”


I wake up to a dream. The sound of moaning, heavy breathing, and a wet snapping are first to greet me. The scent of charred meat fills my nostrils as I open my eyes. A cloud of smoke tightens around my lungs as if to say: You’re lucky you woke up at all.

I stand up on the dirty stone floor and see a cluster of robed figures crowded around each other. The smoke rises from where they’re huddled. I back away but trip; torches liven from every corner, revealing the temple walls and an empty throne beyond the huddled figures. I want to curl up and cry when I see what I tripped over. The heaving, animal ferocity of naked souls intertwining on their straw mattresses is uninterrupted by me falling over them. I count at least ten of them before tearing myself away.

I struggle to pick myself up, but the second I manage to, I’m faced with a man taking a flog to his bare skin. He’s so close I can practically taste the sweat beading down his forehead. For a moment, I’m frozen by the way his mouth twists with each rhythmic whip of the flog against his skin. It sounds like a wet snare drum.

I whip around as fast I can and see a man with an obscenely toned ass facing the corner of the temple. His elbows are bent at his side while his hands are out of sight. When his shoulders move, I hear a thin slice and a groan. He cranes his neck toward me, bites his tongue, and raises his hand above his head. He holds something that looks like a raw hot dog. When my brain connects the dots, I fall down and throw up. I lie with my stomach to the ground and hear the throaty chants begin to sound.




When I find the nerve to turn around, I see the robed figures kneeling before the bonfire. The body has the end of a stick poking out from its head and rear. The rotisserie is held over the crackling flames by two wooden pillars at each end of the fire. The outline of a scream is still melting down the face of the black and pink body as it’s turned over the flames.

That’s when I know I’m fucked.

It doesn’t help much when they start splitting the roasted body between each other like chicken breast.

I feel the heat of a world on fire as the throne behind the feast grows as tall as the ceiling. A ghostly, veiled woman appears at the throne from nowhere. She’s accompanied by two lions that rest beneath each arm of the throne. She has a motherly face, wears a mural crown, and holds a cornucopia in her lap. The flames begin to swallow me as her massive, wispy lips part. As though she is right beside me, I hear her leafy whisper in my ear when she says, “Oh, my son, you are so very fucked.”


When I woke up for real, I could see the fire from where I was tied up. There were profiles of naked bodies scattered about the gym, each with their arms crossed and faces shrouded by hoods. I knew I was tied to the elliptical when I heard the sound of pedals moving back and forth from behind me, the methodical repetition like a heartbeat ringing through my ears. The rest of the equipment had been pushed against the walls and the entrance.

 “So,” said a vaguely familiar voice from behind me, “finally awake, huh?”

Three people stepped out in front of me. I presumed the one in the middle had been the one to speak. The other two stood a step behind him on either side. They were all nude, except for their hoods, which made it clear that they were two men and a woman. One glance at the woman’s tan, hairless, stallion-muscled thighs, and I knew it was Amanda. For a second, I pictured her wrapping my head between her soft, naked thighs and popping my skull like a watermelon.

If I could be so lucky, I thought to myself.

The one in the center removed his hood, the rhythm of the elliptical against my back not skipping a beat. The snaggletooth told me who stood across from me.

“I know this is usually the part where I tell you what happens next,” the manager said, “but I have a feeling a little birdy came and already cued you in.” He smiled and let the tip of his tongue find the sharp end of his snaggletooth. “A little context never hurt anyone, though,” the manager said, winking. “You see, the thing that people usually get wrong about gods, is that you get what you give.”

“You want those mad gains, bro,” said the other person beside the manager (clearly Brad), “nothing’s better than some pure muscle in your system.” Brad pounded his washboard abs as he said that last phrase.

“And a little divine protection,” Amanda added, her voice sounding much gruffer than when she’d ordered him to grab the shake earlier.

“Which,” the manager resumed, “is where you come in. Not like we can get everyone to take the ‘Special Mix’.”

“Yeah, pussy,” Brad chimed in.

“Also,” the manager said, “if you’re wondering why you passed out, it’s because the ‘Special Mix’ has an obscene amount of protein in it. Enough that it starts running through your system and gives us more bang for our buck in the end.” 

The way he said it made me figure he was the one I had to thank for that detail. The three of them started walking away, but, for once, something just didn’t sit right with leaving things like this.

“Hey, Amanda?” I said, while I still could. She turned around, her big brown eyes looking down at me through her hood. “Did you know I always thought you were really pretty?”

“Of course,” she said. “That’s why you’re here.” She turned around before I could say anything else. She knew I understood.

I’m the kind of person that people eat.

The elliptical stopped moving and a woman’s gaunt face came down from behind me. I knew who it was when I saw the cheekbones, they were even bonier from upside down.

“Hi,” she said, as she licked her lips.

I swallowed hard, knowing what would happen next.


Trevor Templeton is a writer who says he’s from Chicago but is actually from the northern suburbs of Chicago. He writes fiction as well as poetry, and “Magna Mater” is his first published work. He is currently based in the Chicago metropolitan area.