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The Convincer

by BRK

The suggestion powers of the forgotten comic book hero The Convincer seem to have rubbed off on Leland, perhaps literally.

2,908 words Added Apr 2021 8,356 views 4.5 stars (20 votes)

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“Here we go,” Perry said, setting the pitcher of heady ale and two empty glasses in the middle of their usual table before thunking himself down in the seat next to Leland. “Liquid gold. Breakfast of champions.”

“The good stuff, excellent,” Leland said in surprise, as his childhood friend handed him a glass. “Thanks, Per!”

“No problem,” Perry said genially, deftly pouring himself a full class with just the right amount of head. “I told Lucy you’d pay.”

“What?!” Leland barked. He twisted around to look back across the busy tavern toward the bar in the back. Sure enough, Lucy Barnes, another ex-classmate of theirs from tiny Green Hills High and the regular weeknight bartender in the town’s best and old watering hole, was giving him a knowing smile while rubbing her thumb against her first two fingers in the universal symbol for “moolah”. He cast her a dark look and then turned back to frown at Perry. “That was dirty pool,” he complained as he reached for the pitcher and poured his own glass, though without any heat. “Why are you such a jerk?” he asked with a small, convivial smile, setting the pitcher back in the middle of the table.

Perry shrugged his hefty shoulders indifferently and took his own glass in hand. “Why do you have a green chin?” he countered, as if both questions were riddles for the ages.

Leland drew his brows together. “Huh?”

Perry paused in the act of hoisting his beer and nodded his own round chin toward Leland’s narrower one. “You got a green smutch right along the cleft there,” he explained. “I bet you got something on your thumb and then rubbed your chin like you always do.”

Leland looked down at his right hand while Perry took a long swig from his beer. As Perry had surmised, his thumb did in fact have a faint, moss-green smear across the pad that stood out clearly against his pale, pink skin. On his face, it would be even more obvious. He groaned. “Jeez. And I know exactly where it came from, too,” he said. “We got an intake of some boomer’s old collection, and they had a copy of The Convincer #1.”

That had to be it—the guy’s costume was green, and the cover story was about the titular ambiguous antihero convincing someone else to be The Convincer for a week, which meant that guy was wearing green, too, so the cover was heavy-duty green all over. He hoped he hadn’t smudged the actual issue. Usually he wasn’t so careless, but he’d had a weird compulsion to hold the comic in his bare hands, and when he did he’d felt a funny little tingle ripple up his spine, too, which had been darned creepy at the time. He hoped the previous owner hadn’t laced all his old comics with LSD or angel dust or something, just for a laugh.

Perry was giving him a dubious look as he wiped foam from his lips. “I do not believe for one second there was ever actually a superhero called The Convincer,” he said, managing to audibly air-quote the name without bothering to actually do so with his fingers.

Leland grinned. He liked it when Perry needled him about some of the more ridiculous titles and stories that showed up at the comics shop, mostly because Leland took it as proof positive that he had a much more interesting job than someone who, say, sold trousers all day at Pantsemporium. Of course, it would only be appropriate to use The Convincer’s signature trick of reversing and intensifying the mark’s denial. “Not only do you believe it,” he suggested stagily, looking Perry right in his pale blue eyes just like the eponymous chaotic good conman did, “but you’re also actually a lifelong fan and know every issue by heart.”

The juke box, which had been playing Oasis quietly in the background under the hubbub of a dozen conversations, switched abruptly over to Garth Brooks. Okay, that PCP idea was starting to gain some traction, because he had to be imagining things now.

Perry blinked once. Then he said, “Yeah, and as any Vincer will tell you, it’s still a stupid name.” He took another sip of his beer and added a muttered, “Personally, I blame Roger Moore.”

Leland stared at his friend. To hide his shock, he took a deep drink from his own glass. “Vincer”, as Leland knew, was what The Convincer’s vanishingly small crop of trufans called themselves. And the comic and its hero were so obscure—a fact Perry himself had demonstrated seconds before, refusing to even believe in the comic’s existence—that only a Vincer, and a few comics supergeeks like Leland, would even know the word “Vincer”. Much less the unproven fan theory that the original plan to call the titular hero The Persuader had been abruptly scuttled when Roger Moore and Tony Curtis started a new show on British TV called The Persuaders, forcing a last-minute switch to a backup name no one had liked as much. Some fans even called themselves Suaders and insisted The Persuader was his true moniker.

Leland set down his drink, still watching Perry, who was checking the crowd for any of their friends who might be in tonight with a relaxed and guileless expression. Either his tubby friend was gaslighting him, or…

… Or Perry had absorbed what Leland had suggested directly into his lifestream, reshaping his reality and, to the extent it impinged on those around him, everyone else’s. Which was exactly what happened when The Convincer used his abilities to alter the past, and therefore the present, of whomever he chose to target. Even the fact that he still knew Perry wasn’t a Vincer, before—he had always tolerated comics with good humor as Leland’s best friend, but didn’t actually read them, much preferring door-stopper fantasy novels—fit with the rest: The Convincer himself, Hayden Ingram, was likewise immune to the effects of his own abilities. A few stories late in the comic’s run, when it was drifting into darker and edgier territory, had even showed Hayden teetering on the edge of madness because of the dissonance between his memories and all of the accumulated, compounded changes he’d made to reality via the hundreds of little ‘vinces he’d done over the years, despite the “time inertia” that kept the deviations as small and as localized as possible.

He looked at his thumb again. The green smudge—ink transferred from that rare first edition directly to his skin. Had holding that comic actually… infected him with… ?

To a comics geek, the idea was almost plausible—almost. He had to test it. “Hey, Per,” he said cautiously, looking up at his friend, “I wanted to thank you not only for bringing the beer over but paying for it, too. That was really cool of you.”

Perry nodded amiably. “‘Course,” he said. He added cockily, “Also, I told Lucy you’ll buy next week.”

“Heh. Of course you did.”

Leland considered Perry’s response. It was still the same “joke”: next week’s get-together was supposed to include two buddies coming in from out of town, Frank and Jarrod, so Leland was still playfully being stuck with the bigger tab. But Perry could just be bluffing—and if he was only playing along with what Leland had said, nothing might have actually changed. He needed a better test.

He looked his friend over, considering. Perry had never been skinny like Leland, but the solid frame he’d had in high school—stocky, but not actually fat—had accumulated a few pounds over the six years or so since graduation. Leland knew that Perry was ashamed and dejected over his slow accretion of added weight. He’d dressed trendily as a teenager, but now he tended to wear loose, heavy dress shirts at work, like the pale lemon button-down he was wearing now, and shapeless trousers to match. Back in the day he’d styled his brownish-blond hair, too, but these days it was lanky and flat, indicative, Leland thought, of Perry’s lack of confidence in his appearance.

Leland’s stomach fluttered. Knowing he was sailing into dangerous waters, he began, “By the way, I’m really proud of you…”

He hesitated, and Perry gave him a warily amused look. “For what?” he prompted.

“Just—you know, not only have you stuck with that low-fat diet for a six whole months, but you’ve actually lost—” How much? How much? “—fifteen pounds,” he blurted, pulling a number that seemed reasonable out of his ass. Quick, he thought, throw in a reinforcer to close. “I, uh, wish I ate as healthy as you do these days,” he finished lamely.

The juke box kicked over to Snow Patrol in mid-song.

Perry grimaced, setting down his glass. “Thanks,” he said, awkwardly pleased despite apparently still not liking to talk about his weight. Leland, however, was staring at the glass, which was no longer half-filled with the rich, amber ale they had been drinking, its sides draped no longer with a residue of foam. Instead the liquid inside was now midnight-dark, the surface effervescing with tiny pops of carbonation. Cola? Probably diet cola, actually. His gaze drifted to the pitcher. It, too, was now a pitcher of dark soda instead of beer. The pitcher had changed… and so had Leland’s own glass, the one he had his hand around on the table in front of him. It was full of cola, too. With a disquieted shudder Leland realized he could taste the diet cola on his tongue from the swallow he’d just taken—even though he still remembered that swallow as being beer!

Jeez, no wonder Hayden Ingram almost went nuts, Leland thought.

He finally looked at Perry and drew in a breath. Fifteen pounds had melted off of him in a moment. No, not a moment, Leland corrected himself—six months. The result was very agreeable, he decided. Perry’s face was no longer quite as round, but rather than reverting to the boyish but ordinary good looks he’d had as a sturdily built teenager he now evinced a handsome maturity that worked really well on him, like the lead actor’s best friend who sometimes gets the girl, Leland thought. Perry’s hair looked thick and healthy and was neatly trimmed, as if he’d recently started paying a bit of attention to it again. Interestingly, the lemon dress shirt was oversized, like before; Perry, though more confident and not as down about his physique, still didn’t quite have a positive body-image yet.

Leland took a swig from his fizzy soda, pondering this.

At that moment their friend Jesse dopped down in the other chair. As usual, he was wearing a tank-top (a snug white one today, very sporty and high-end) and showing a lot of chestnut-brown skin. The look of his wiry, seemingly zero-body-fat frame accurately evoked the obsessive runner Jesse had become over the last several years, though his fast metabolism seemed to prevent him from putting on significant muscle.

“Evening, losers,” he said cheerily, helping himself to a swig of Perry’s soda. They’d all been friends before, but ever since Jesse had moved back a year ago and started managing the big opticians’ next to the Pantsemporium, he and Perry had been increasingly inseparable.

Perry smiled as Jesse settled into his seat, genuinely happy to see him, and Jesse grinned back at him. The two of them held each other’s gaze slightly longer than Leland expected. Wait—was that happening before?

You two sure make a cute couple,” Leland said before he could stop himself. Damn, if they weren’t actually into each other, would him mentioning it make it happen anyway? Did he need to use the not only/but also doubler formula, or would his suggestions be absorbed into their lifestreams anyway? Perry blushing slightly and ducking his head, and Jesse beaming cockily at Perry, amused by his aw-shucks reaction, only confused Leland more.

Had his words changed anything, or not? Where the heck was the manual for this thing? He wished could make himself instantly pack all the issues of The Convincer into his noggin the way he’d apparently done with Perry; but, of course, as the Convincer stand-in in this scenario, he was immune.

You’re just jealous ‘cause you want some of this,” Jesse retorted, finally looking at Leland and gesturing theatrically at his own lithe runner’s physique with a pretend-smug grin.

“Hah,” Leland said. An idea formed in his head and he ran with it before he could talk himself out of it. “More like,” he said quickly, “I’m jealous of how you guys not only love working out together, but burn fat and grow muscle so easily too.” He racked his brain for a reinforcer to close. “You’re like… aesthetic wet dreams.”

The music on the juke box changed in mid-song again, this time to a Pixies track. Leland barely noticed. He was busy staring at his friends, who had changed dramatically.

Jesse wasn’t that much bigger overall, but his skimpy tank top now showed off traps, delts, upper arms and pecs that not only bulged in an excitingly thick and round way, with every striation showing under his smooth, dark skin, but that seemed impressively hard and dense as well. Jesse’s look had shifted from hardcore runner to welterweight fighter—one who looked like he might be stronger than he first appeared. Like, “punch through a brick wall” stronger. The whole effect was profoundly carnal, and Leland was hit with a wash of hot arousal, like the shock wave of his explosive transformation had just blasted through him.

He looked over at Perry and had to suppress a gasp.

Perry was… well, the first thing that really registered with Leland was the fact that Perry now needed the 3XL size for his lemony dress shirt not to hide any extra flab but because his pecs, each the size of Leland’s head, actually required a shirt that big, though the fabric hung off his chest in a way that suggested the kind of tight waist Leland would not have thought possible for his formerly thick-built friend. The gains in Perry’s now-mighty shoulders, towering high and sprawling wide like a mountain range, were equally startling; and the way the sleeves strained at the man’s upper arms—which looked almost as thick as Leland’s admittedly skinny legs—suggested a possible impending need to level up to an even bigger size. With these changes came others that were almost as dramatic, including the first defined jawline Leland had ever seen on his friend, smeared with blond stubble that hadn’t been there a moment ago. And there a calm confidence in his blue eyes that Leland hadn’t seen since Perry had been effortlessly running the school radio station back in what now seemed like a previous life.

Leland tried not to gape at the deeply arousing and seemingly inexplicable transformation. How…? He’d hazily figured the shared gym routine would have started a year back, when Jesse had returned to town after business school. But no, it hit him now that he had made it so they intrinsically loved working out, burned fat, and grew muscle—not just for the last year, but their whole lives. Chances were Perry was pumping iron on the regular back in high school or middle school, and had been ever since.

Jeez. He was probably ripped back then… except, the damned immunity meant that everyone remembered Perry’s lifelong hunkiness except Leland!

Were his yearbooks still in the attic? He sure hoped so. ‘Cause he needed to check them as soon as possible.

“You’re right, we do love… ‘working out’ together,” Jesse said, staring happily into his boyfriend’s eyes.

“So much smarm,” Perry said with a crooked smile, staring right back.

“Total cheeseball,” Leland agreed.

The Pixies kept playing in the background. Conversations ebbed and flowed around them. Muscle Perry and Punch-Through-a-Wall Jesse, meanwhile, seemed to have forgotten Leland even existed.

After a couple of minutes of this, Leland decided he had had enough. He drained his soda and clunked the glass on the table. “Welp,” he said, standing up quickly and ostentatiously adjusting his raging boner through his jeans, “I’ll leave you two lovebirds to it.”

“Bye,” Jesse said, deliberately not looking away from Perry’s eyes.

Perry grinned, but seemed happy to do likewise, keeping his gaze locked on Jesse’s. “See ya.”

“Fuckers.” As he walked away he heard them chuckling.

As he exited the tavern into the cool, pleasant lamplit night, Leland tried not to think too hard about what might lie ahead. Were his powers a part of him now, or would they fade with the inkstain on his chin and go away? What could he do and not do? What would he do and not do? Leland didn’t have any answers, but he knew he was looking forward to finding out.

2,908 words Added Apr 2021 8,356 views 4.5 stars (20 votes)

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