THIS IS A COMPLETE FICTION ABOUT A PELOTON STALKER
This Peloton Stalker story is entirely fictitious and mildly disturbing. I wanted the cover of Halloween for it— “look, it’s a Halloween story,” sorta’ thing.
And the story was well on its way toward a Halloween completion; I even finished the cover image. Then the actual holiday, all the prep, candy acquisition, and cleanup forced me well past my deadline.
Halloween isn’t just a holiday island on our yearly calendars. It is an occult harbinger of a cluster of the calendar’s most important festivities (especially to retailers). And this cluster sits on a sheer cliff of celebration that eventually pitches the masses mostly drunk into a bleak, frozen January.
A neo-noir hell perched over a desolate expanse. I imagine the calendar cliff resembling the city walls of the 90’s Judge Dredd movie with Sylvester Stallone. You are cast out from a familial cheer into a frozen, festivity-free January to slog through yet another year alone.
The only color of the holidays is taken up by the howling gusts lifting the tinsel and golden bows from the roofs of overcrowded trash bins. A final flight of cheer before it collects in with the sludge of the gutter. It smashes over centuries into mildly festive lutite.
The slog through January is an eternal one. After all, some genius thought January should have 31 days. And after you complete January, you still must bushwhack your way through February.
This is the very same spot I drop my tale too late for Halloween— where everything finally falls apart due to a Peloton bike ostensibly from Santa Claus.
MAKING MY PELETON STALKER
My father died months earlier, and it had been a succession of complete shit days at work. And suddenly, I had a Peloton stalker.
Can such a phrase as “at work” even be applicable anymore? For myself, my clients, and colleagues, “at work” is in basements, bedrooms, and alcoves.
My job wouldn’t ever be considered “essential.” So I get to work from home.
I pair videos of hands opening multi-colored eggs to music, sound effects, and a fretfully nasal voiceover.
Apollyonna’s Gold Prize Surprise is the result. It is an innocuous, awful, mildly popular YouTube kids channel.
Apollyonna, my client, is so adenoidal she elicits involuntary sniffling or throat-clearing whenever I tap the zero key for a RAM preview.
“Can you believe it— there’s a smaller golden egg in here! And if I’ve learned anything from opening, so many Gold Prize Surprise Eggs is if there’s a golden egg hiding in a golden egg; something great is about to happen!” It goes on like this for three minutes each episode as she dissects the eggs for candy and plastic toys.
Apollyonna once described the character she inhabited when recording voiceover, “I imagine myself explaining Funfetti to a group of hamster pups.”
Everything is just a goddamn wonderful surprise in falsetto.
Thankfully, she doesn’t talk like that in our client zooms. On calls, she is just a straight-to-business mid-west lady.
“Oh, for cute,” Apollyonna said of my latest drafts, “these look great; I just left a few notes in an email attachment. Can we finish today? I want them up well before the holidays— October first.”
NOT A HOLIDAY PERSON
The holidays— and who could give a shit about the holidays this year? We had been suffering for months under lockdowns. Did anyone give a shit?
I recognize my bitterness, of course. It was probably a July Fourth get-together that exposed my father to coronavirus. A couple of months later, he was dead.
He was in a kind of pre-dead stasis for weeks where a machine labored to breathe for him. His graduation into abys began with a shallow declivity.
It was a holiday that killed my father.
I hadn’t seen much of my folks over the last few years; it was complicated— they lived forever away in Pickens, South Carolina. And forever away in practically everything else—politically, socially.
They didn’t like my wife being a liberal, Yankee at the best of times. By 2020 my parents envisioned it leading to my incarceration at Guantanamo Bay.
My father probably died alone in a sterile room with only the audience of machines flashing lights and beeps at his passing.
The last we spoke, it had been chiefly shouting of “your wrong” and “no you listen” over national health and political assertions.
I got an email from his and my high school alumni association noting his passing. My mother hadn’t called. My brother had long ago estranged himself from the family; he might not find out for years.
I bet I could have made it to dad’s funeral if there was one. The easy excuse I made was that the individual who passed the virus to my father would be there. I would be obligated to attack that person, and I really didn’t feel up to violence.
Further, despite everything, mourners would still shun masks.
Interstate 84, to interstate 95, to interstate 85 was a simple journey, in terms of directions, but an infinity of sprawl and fast-food options that gobbled up all the daylight hours. And after all that, you would be stuck in Pickens.
It was just too far a drive to pay my respects and shout, “I fucking told you!”
So, I skipped the funeral, drank a lot— I yelled at my own family, the dog. I seethed over my neighbor’s speaker bumps invading through the walls with superhero anthems.
I was in denial. And fortunately, the pandemic made that acceptable.
It was in this haze of guilt and loss and anger that I had rediscovered our Peloton. I gave the exercise bike to my wife last Christmas. And I know what you’re thinking, that is a terrible gift— why not buy her a vacuum?
I put a big bow on the fucker and wrote “from Santa” on the tag. Her thrill never materialized, “I thought you would have got me something else, that’s all. I love it.”
She suggested it after one of those Hulu commercials; “let’s do it,” she said. I was sure I had got Christmas right.
My mistake must have been labeling the Peloton from Santa. I got too cute with a maxim of my father’s, ironically.
CYCLES FROM CLAUS
I did this because all big-ticket gifts come from Santa when there are children in the household. My father yelled that verbatim late one long-ago Christmas Eve.
I had overheard his philosophy in action several times more as a child perching the stairs, listening for hints of the toys I could expect the following day.
A Nintendo would be from Santa; a pair of gloves would be from mom or dad.
They would often go on until nearly three, drinking and squabbling over whose name made it on the label. One year a Sears SPX 3000 BMX bike was waiting for me labeled from “Santa and Mom.”
I didn’t believe in Santa for very long. My third-grade homeroom collectively renounced him after a fifth-grader teased us in a cafeteria line, “these buncha’ babies think Santa is real.”
“Uh-uh,” we were forced to answer. It wasn’t something I had given much thought to, I believed because of the gifts and standees at our local Roses.
The milk lady inserted herself moments later, “t’ain’t about Santa Claus, anyway. Christ died for your sins, boy.” And she plopped chocolate milk on my Tray.
RIDING FOR SEVERAL SEVEN DAYS
I wound up being the first to set up a Peloton profile— to screw the cleats into the cycling shoes, and get those cleats stuck to the pedals.
Learned quickly that the Peloton works great alongside distress. And that enmity can fuel uphill climbs. So I encouraged unconstructive thoughts on the bike— sometimes even starting an argument perched atop it.
An initial flurry of seven-day workout weeks followed. And that would have continued right into a beach body— until accusations that the gift for my wife had ultimately been a gift I had given to myself.
I don’t think she ever really wanted the bike. I suspect she just wanted the bourgeois life of the people in the Peloton commercials. An exercise bike in an expensive lofty condo overlooking a massive city swarming with ant-sized pedestrians.
Or a massively expensive home with a room only to contain the bike and some inspirational knickknacks. A giant window to the world showing off costly tastes.
There were no floor-to-ceiling windows in our small, perpetually dim Danbury townhouse. No exposed brick, no hardwood floors.
The unit had been built in the mid-80s, an era that must have celebrated artificial light. Our diminutive windows were few and faced a poorly placed Pignut hickory to the east.
Our home overlooked a cramped parking lot to the west, and in the distance over the treetops was the tip of a warehouse store.
THE EXERCISE BIKE DESCENDED INTO THE BASEMENT
My wife refused to use the Peloton; it was a gift I gave myself after all. And to prove it wasn’t a gift I gave myself, I didn’t ride it either.
It just sat in the living room until I angrily dragged it down to my office in our half-finished basement. A place no one wanted to be. Over the months, it became a place to drip dry my favorite graphic t-shirts.
I did, however, manage to get into the Peloton “Century Club.” It was news to me. I received a “Century Club” email offering a free t-shirt. The email also claimed Lovewell was my preferred instructor.
I was sure I had gone for maybe forty rides. And Lovewell was too advanced for me; I stuck to the rides where instructors essentially said, “we’re taking it easy today.”
And then I caught the culprit during a workday bathroom run. Doug was standing on the bike, cocooned in drying t-shirts watching Lovewell stomp out a ride. At first, I thought my wife had been riding under my profile to secretly enjoy her Christmas present. But, no, it was my son.
He looked up at me, “I watch the bicycle TV!” It all made sense; Doug had been racking up scads of nil output rides.
“Dougy, choose the Brit lady; she’s less murderous than that lady.” I mean, small Americans love authoritarian English ladies, right?
“I don’t want the lady I didn’t pick!” He barked back.
FOR YOUR USUAL
My son stared at the screen and occasionally peddled, finishing with “3 KJ” and a pile of unrequited high-fives that day. I discovered this later, looking through my queue of completed rides with painfully small output numbers. “3 KJ” was a personal best for him.
“If you’re gonna’ ride as me, at least do a better job,” I said to him later while we brushed our teeth. He just stared back through the mirror— brush gripped tightly between his teeth.
The century club email spurred me back into daily riding. And at first, my intention was to go in and clear the queue of all Doug’s pathetic rides under my profile; it was embarrassing. Until I ran the numbers and calculated just how much lower than a hundred, I would become.
So, I kept Doug’s rides. Mainly because I had already ordered the free Century Club t-shirt.
MY PELETON STALKER, THE ELITE OPPORTUNIST
I met my new arch enemy on an Alley Love recovery ride— a three on a one to ten difficulty scale. A super easy ride where most cyclists wind up with considerably lower outputs than a typical ride. That is sort of the point.
And it is in this air of low expectations I generally flourish, and boy did I. I consistently finished number one amongst “here now” riders. And would fluctuate higher and higher on the “all-time” leaderboard— with the rest of the very opportunistic winners.
All of this struck me as Peloton’s equivalent of “god mode” for unscrupulous riders. Max the hell out on a ride specifically created to elicit the opposite.
Cheating aside, finishing first feels terrific. And over the weeks, I got a little too used to that feeling.
Then, a random high-five changed everything.
When a cyclist reaches a Peloton milestone, say one-hundred rides, the app will send out high-five requests to other riders. Such-and-such just hit one-hundred rides with a hand icon to press and send a high-five, congrats.
It wasn’t a milestone ride; it wasn’t a perfect week. I peaked at the leaderboard— the high-five was from PelotonsPeloton36, and he was gaining fast.
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE
I was up just “10 KJ”— PelotonsPeloton36 closed almost immediately to “2 KJ” before I throttled resistance into the eighties and stood, pumping my legs frantically.
Sweat burst from beneath my orange Adidas headband, streaming into my eyes, stinging and half blinding me. I wiped reflexively with my palm, already doused in hand sweat and mixed with handlebar gunk.
My shirt was drenched. I could feel sweat dripping from my elbows; a first.
We ping-ponged on the leaderboard for half a minute before I began losing the edge and fell behind. By “1 KJ” then “2 KJ”— But I had time on my side.
His ride ended up “11 KJ.” Which I eclipsed with the half-minute I had left on my own ride. I ran out the clock on PelotonsPeloton36 and stopped immediately after getting ahead by “4 KJ”— I couldn’t go any further.
I had a new personal best.
My legs trembled, I bent backward, gulping for air. My eyes pulsed with my beating heart.
I unclicked— fell into a laundry basket, then stumbled further, knocking over a ladder sending it into paint buckets and other basement bric-a-brac; crashing everywhere. “Goddamn, you all!” I blurted.
“What was that?!” my wife wanted to know from up two flights. Her voice carried down metallic and tinny through the ductworks of the central air.
Then the dog pittering across the vinyl flooring above and footsteps rumbling from the living room’s direction. A door flung open, “Daddy!” My son came running down the steps. “Mommy, says you knock everything over!”
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” I said between sucking in air. “I just tripped.”
He climbed onto the bike, “My turn.”
RIDING TO INFLICT
A week later, during a terrible workday, a lunchtime fight with the wife, and an email begging me to keep Doug from taking his clothes off during virtual homeroom— I snuck off to ride. Snapped in on my usual low-expectation massacre of unsuspecting leaderboard riders.
The argument with the wife was idiotic. It somehow mutated from Doug disrobing in front class to my slovenly treatment of the bathroom. She noticed tiny flecks of Head and Shoulder blue on the tiles.
Which I knew about but didn’t bother cleaning. I had spluttered the remaining dandruff shampoo into my hand— accidentally shot a bit through the shower curtain onto the floor near the toilet.
I noticed it on the way out of the shower and could have easily dabbed it up with toilet paper. It would have taken all of five seconds. But I decided that those tiny blue beads congealing to the retro hex tiles weren’t worth the effort.
I really didn’t want to do any bending over. And the splotches of Head and Shoulders were hidden in the shadows of the bowl.
My wife, of course, noticed them immediately. And as with all arguments these days, it starts out small and balloons to shouting, “I can’t do this anymore.” Which inevitably ends with, “Then why don’t we get a divorce?!”
And crying and “don’t talk to me” and so on and so forth.
On the leaderboard, I passed a #WerRideTogether with a mental middle finger. I dusted several mom-moniker ladies on the leaderboard and several hashtags referencing wine or snack consumption after workouts.
I began thinking about what the most painless ways of escape might be. I could jump off the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. Drive away in the middle of the night and land at some barely operating Howard Johnson with cheap room rates.
I could move back into my childhood home. My parents had renovated a small apartment above the detached garage. I was sure she would let me move back in.
It had always been my mother’s dream to open a bed and breakfast— tap into that Sassafras Mountain tourism. My father was to be the chambermaid and cook. My mother would handle operations and marketing.
Covid came just as they were about to launch their website. And not long after that, my father got sick.
A high five appeared from PelotonsPeloton36 as I wondered whether divorces were even happening under quarantine.
It took a second, but I remembered our duel from the week before. My eyes widened like a wolf from some vintage cartoon. Time to take my frustrations out on this asshole.
I assumed he was a he, his avatar being Fabio.
ALTHOUGH MY PELOTON STALKER PROBABLY ISN’T FABIO
And book cover Fabio, at that. Literally so— not a digital image of the cover from an internet search. my Peloton stalker aimed his cycle’s camera at a physical Fabio paperback cover while setting up his profile. The photo was dark and smudgy with a fingertip just to the side of Fabio’s fantastic hair.
I sleuthed all of this out over a lunch period of mouse clicks and hastily concocted deviled eggs. A rabbit hole had led me into the vast realm of romance novel art before I finally located the image he used.
The specific book was Viking.
The cover for Viking itself is dark. A horizon of flame-accented clouds
highlights Fabio’s claymore held aloft in victory. No doubt a host of bloody dead marauders spilled out over the pebbled beaches off-scene.
Viking is the account of a time-traveling Fabio that winds up in the 8th century. He appears miraculously amongst legit Vikings who don’t immediately murder him for being a sorcerer or vagabond. They make him king.
There he meets a captive French princess to romance. Was there no one to romance the Scandinavian princesses?
In any case, a Peloton avatar heralding oneself as a time-traveling Viking king, that is also Fabio— just shouted smug. Perhaps 1990s checkout-counter arrogance.
The guy had to be an asshole. The word “peloton” comes from the home of smug cyclists. France. And refers to the main field or group of cyclists in a race— so I assume Pelotonspeloton36 feels he is the main pack of the main pack?
And yet, all of this didn’t prevent me from following him back when he followed me after our first duel. “Following” on the Peloton app is similar to Twitter or Instagram; you just see workout histories rather than pictures of pets.
I was sure I would forget about him immediately.
And yet here he was, a few days later, back in my crosshairs on a recovery ride just as I was at my lowest point of the pandemic. Time for exercise murder.
And that’s precisely what happened, just to me. My Peloton stalker high-fived me, then quickly gobbled up the same fogies I had dwarfed on the leaderboard.
I tried fending him off as I had before by standing and cranking the resistance into the stratosphere. It didn’t matter; he quickly caught up and passed me with another digital high-five.
He finished “54 KJ” over my own effort that left me immediately crippled with exhaustion.
RACE TO THE BOTTOM
Later, it dawned on me that my Peloton stalker followed me to follow me, literally. To get alerted when and where I was riding. He could pop into whichever ride I was in and murder me with impossible output.
More times than not, I would snap-in, start riding, get comfortable, and then get a high-five from PelotonsPeloton36. He wasn’t being polite. He wanted me to know he was there.
The Peloton high-five is equivalent to the social media thumbs-up or heart emojis that accessorize posts on several platforms. The high-five feature was undoubtedly launched as an encouragement tool, “great job, dickhead.”
And to initiate one, you just finger-point an avatar in the leaderboard. I could only ever see using it on an eating holiday, like “Hey, would you look at us!”
The high-five can be weaponized. My Peloton stalker used the high-five as more of an announcement, “time to get smashed.” And if I had the leaderboard open, I could watch as he quickly eclipsed me and everyone else.
And when someone makes an aggressive run for the top, it disturbs the entire group. Newly unrestrained riders start churning their own legs.
The pace of the ride is thrown into chaos— a virtual run on the banks all within the confines of a recovery ride.
Newly unrestrained riders start churning their own legs.
And so, on my lowest day of the pandemic, I was destroyed by Fabio.
Then a succession of low days and bitter defeats followed. I obliterated myself each time, trying to keep up. Brand new personal bests followed but did little to heal my eviscerated ego.
I couldn’t even brag about it on Facebook; my wife would surely chime in that I was enjoying her Christmas present.
FABIO KICKED MY ASS A BUNCH
At points of these losing rides, I would be standing with a resistance encroaching 90 and still fall further and further behind. Cursing loudly, scaring my wife or son or dog somewhere upstairs.
Finally, after weeks of racing my nemesis, I snapped— hurled the complimentary Peloton water bottle across the room, hitting my wife’s childhood mirror. The glass exploded.
After a few beats, I could hear the shuffle of feet and paws begin moving furiously about above me. They seemed to pace across the house in time with my heaving for breath. As if trying to gain the footing to ride the swells of my anger.
She would escape to her mom’s place just up the highway in Waterbury.
Her mother owned a home just down the hill from Holy Land USA, an abandoned religious theme park below a gigantic cross that came alight in the evenings.
There was miniature housing meant to recount the stories and times of the New Testament. Quarter-sized replications of ancient homes sprawling around a hill overgrown with weeds and white crosses. It’s as if someone commissioned Sarah Winchester to design a cemetery.
And jarring against the green of Connecticut’s flora and her dull rolling hills that share the morning sun.
Needless to say, a spooky space, even if you were clueless concerning the grisly murder that occurred below the gigantic cross.
My wife and Doug and the dog would probably stay there a few days, which, good— had time to clean up any evidence of the broken mirror.
SHE DIDN’T COME BACK
Editing hands by day and nightly devastation from the legs of my Peloton stalker became routine. And for a week, I was alone in the basement with my nemeses.
My client’s fingers ripping at plastic bags overwrought in obnoxious colors. Her cracked skin and hangnails became harder to ignore. It irritated me she couldn’t do one thing to make my job easier— I didn’t want to throw in a million adjustment layers to solve something moisturizer in the real world could accomplish.
She didn’t take my Aveeno suggestion very well. A lengthy silence before a protracted, “ok.”
I only returned to the surface to search for food, and that was quickly dwindling to canned refried beans. Which was all I needed— well, and copious hot sauce, shredded cheese, and El Paso taco shells.
Almost every night, it was my Peloton stalker. And our engagement ended with annihilation, a hurled object, and a new personal best.
I wanted that fucker to be hit by a car, or lightning, something— it was obviously not going to be my legs on the god-forsaken cycle.
I only surfaced to search the pantry for food, which was quickly dwindling to canned refried beans. Frankly, that was all I needed— well, that and copious hot sauce and shredded cheese and El Paso taco shells.
What was to be the last day of our duel; I had been riding a mild-high. Nothing chemical or plant-based, just a feeling. The day was going well, I had shipped all the egg videos to the client, and thankfully Apollyonna was thrilled.
Things improved more at lunchtime; I had found a can of long-forgotten hash behind a stack of ancient alphabet soup and canned peaches.
Finding long forgotten, yet still within the “best by” date, cans of hash in a nearly bare cupboard is a bit like discovering unicorns exist in canned form.
Especially considering my personal panic over the pandemic. I feared the stores with their crowds of the possibly infected.
The canned unicorn saved me a run to a convenience store for a $5 Hot Pocket.
I fried the hash in a wok and smashed it between two slices of buttered toast— ate and submitted all my bills, then crashed on the couch.
Later I woke to a knock at the door from a gentleman in a tan suit handing me papers folded in threes. I just tossed them to the floor and slide myself into a recovery ride. And was alone sans a few elderly cyclists. And I didn’t expect much competition among the “M” and “F” riders with ages listed “50s” and above.
I hid the leaderboard and let my mind fog over.
RIDE OR DIE
Most of the ride disappeared behind me in thought. I stared blankly at the drywall and the depressions from fists and thrown objects.
I could name each for what had produced them; championships lost on television sets. Client feedback hurled against the wall in forms like coffee mugs or glass tumblers. Even fresh marks over my recent duels.
I wasn’t even sure if they were obvious marks; the walls always sagged with extra moisture anyway. The cracks could just be water damage. I doubt there would be any interrogation leading from that, regardless.
“PelotonsPeloton36 high fived!”
I quickly fingered the leaderboard— I was at the top nearing 145 KJ. Reigning over the prehistoric cycling geezers that weren’t actually racing me. There wasn’t any chance he could catch and pass me; I would finish without a loss this time for sure.
I increased resistance, anyway, cursing myself for such a milquetoast effort thus far.
PelotonsPeloton36 shot out like a cannon— passing 50 KJ almost immediately. I pushed myself to an all-out sprint. 100 KJ the next I checked the leaderboard.
I was still positive he couldn’t catch me. At least not before I ran out my own diminished time clock and cut the power to the bike.
I had a minute left— checked the output race, my Peloton stalker was suddenly within 10 KJ, and I was pushing my legs furiously. I was going to lose. Again.
My heart rate climbed well past one-hundred and eighty as I rushed to climb— hurling my water bottle. Shouting death threats.
IT WAS OVER FOR MY PELTON STALKER
And then my ride ended. I slumped over, face into the handlebars, fumbling at the touchscreen with lazy fingers, searching in vain for an exit menu item. Coughing fitfully to slurping lustily at the air, then coughing some more.
My Peloton stalker stopped climbing the leaderboard around the time I had finished. I thought my screen froze, but other riders popped in, and their progress updated on screen. PelotonsPeloton36’s time bar was circling to its end, but his KJ output had stopped just 3 kilojoules shy of mine.
“What am I even doing here?” I asked myself. And I asked it out loud between the final whooshing of my legs. It surprised me; I already had a solution, albeit temporary.
It wasn’t exactly the question I felt comfortable existing in an auditory way. If I were to float the answer out loud— it would sound like I had given up on everything.
I was sure I was nearing the age of generational irrelevance. A generation beyond new beginnings— a time to double-down on skills and relationships and sail straight into oblivion.
Another high-five from PelotonsPeloton36. His ride nearly ended, and still no increase on his ride. He was even passed by TurkishTim61, mid-60s from Sayville, NY.
I broke down my workspace— grabbed my laptop, a few trinkets, and an ancient Palm Tungsten TX. I packed everything into a large duffle bag with a few days’ changes in clothing.
On the way out I checked the Peloton leaderboard. I sat atop by 3 KJ. On the left of the cycle’s screen a heap of unanswered high-fives from PelotonsPeloton36.
By the way, I don’t just write about a fictional Peloton Stalker from Seven Devils. I had another fictional tale about the (fake) inventor of the awesome jingle, “you bet your sweet Aspercreme.” It is my favorite jingle ever.
I answer things affirmatively in my own life with the jingle— for instance, if someone offers to do the dishes.
It annoys my family.