Self Improvement

Daniel fidgeted with his fork. He twisted the handle clockwise and then counterclockwise, quickly and repeatedly, while pressing the prongs into the table. The swiveling utensil became hypnotic to him. In its rapid oscillation he could see images of himself fully realized, unburdened by the obstacle that had stood in his way for years. He saw himself as he should be, as he had worked to be, as he was meant to be: beloved, adored, and recognized as the Best Player in the Country. The images strengthened his resolve for what he had to do, and in his excitement, he unconsciously muttered a few nonsensical phrases. Miguel, seated across from Daniel, interrupted from talking by the muttering, asked Daniel if he was alright. Daniel snapped out of his trance, grinned sheepishly and implored Miguel to continue. The two were in a small cafe in the middle of the city for lunch, but Daniel wasn’t hungry. He had already eaten his lunch for the day, the same lunch that he ate every day: avocado on toast, oatmeal, and room-temperature water. Food, like every other part of his life, was structured for the sole purpose of propelling him to greatness. He did what was required to achieve his goals. That was the basis of his life: self-improvement. To be the best version of himself, which would mean to be the best player in the country, and then to be the best player in the world. Nothing else mattered. Daniel built his day to reflect that solitary drive. He woke up every day at 2:30 a.m., meditated, ate breakfast (always oatmeal, fruit, and orange juice), worked out for two hours, ate again, showered, and read from his collection of self-help books. Anything else would bring him in contact with the negativity in the world, and he didn’t need that negativity in his life, which is one of the reasons he also didn’t watch television, with another being because it was also a passive activity and he needed his brain to be in shape in the same way his body was. After reading, he drank some protein shakes and ate a snack, did some cryotherapy, ate another snack, went to training, and had lunch afterwards. Then he attended a meeting with his coaches and teammates, where he discussed how he and the team could be better and what was necessary for their success. Finally, he went shopping for groceries, ate another snack, worked out again when he went home, showered, meditated again, and went to sleep at 7:30 p.m. Each day was purposefully the same. Lunch with Miguel was a slight deviation from the schedule. Daniel should have been shopping at the time, but he woke up precisely a half-hour early that day in order to get things done and make space to go to the cafe. Meeting with Miguel was the first time in years Daniel had done something semi-leisurely. Daniel had shunned family, friends, and a social life, because they would distract him. His mind, body, and life were optimized for performance, and that performance would, or should, have brought him the recognition he deserved. Daniel was already one of the two best players in the country. He was famous and loved by his coaches, his teammates, his team’s fans, and children all over the world who looked up to him. But that was not enough for him. The problem was that Daniel was one of the two best players in the country, but he wasn’t the first. He was the runner-up. It was Miguel who held the title Daniel coveted. It was Miguel who had won the award for Best Player in the Country at the end of the season, as he had done for the last five. Those were the five seasons the two of them had played in the same league together, the five seasons Daniel had been playing first-team soccer. Daniel had never known a professional life in which he wasn’t second to Miguel. If he scored two goals in a game, Miguel would score three. If he scored three, Miguel would score three with two assists. No matter what Daniel did, he couldn’t escape being in the shadow. Even when he went for a run and shared his time and number of miles in a community app of professional soccer players in the country, he would see Miguel at the top, gloating and laughing at his ineptitude. Being bested by Miguel was infuriating, but what was really frustrating about it to Daniel, what made him clench his jaw, ball his left fist under the table, tighten his grip around the fork and push it into the table, was that Miguel lived so casually. After Miguel won the Best Player award two seasons ago, Daniel was so dumbfounded at what he had to do to surpass his rival that he stalked Miguel for a week. Daniel had tried everything to be great. He had his schedule and he had gone through different diets: Paleo, Keto, Vegetarianism, and Veganism. He trained as hard as he possibly could, and yet when he finished the season with 30 goals and 10 assists, Miguel finished with 42 and 15. He had to know Miguel’s secret. After the week of stalking Miguel, Daniel was even more lost. Miguel didn’t do anything special. There was no secret. Miguel didn’t even obsess over the game and the award as much as Daniel did. Miguel had his own schedule so he could get the proper amount of sleep, and a diet that helped fuel his body, but he often deviated from the diet, eating sweets, fast food, and drinking alcohol. He woke up around 9 a.m., did some light weights, and enjoyed his day until training, and then went out with his friends and family afterwards, before going to sleep around midnight. After the stalking turned up nothing, Daniel started doing research on more unconventional methods to help him beat Miguel. He had to do something more. It wasn’t a matter of working harder, or wanting the success more — he had to unlock a higher level of being. He was suspicious Miguel had already done so, which is why he could be so relaxed and still maintain his position as the best player. So Daniel tried smart drugs, isolation tanks, tiger nut milk, chaga mushrooms, epigenetics, a worm diet, slime therapy, crystals, infrared saunas, sound baths, earthing, and he even visited a shaman. None of them helped him to be better than Miguel. So he looked for more ancient practices, and it was in his search for the deeper knowledge that he came upon the practice of eating one’s enemies. The belief that a dead person’s spirit remained in their body for several days, and anyone who eats their body, especially the heart, would gain the spirit, thus the power, of the dead person. It seemed logical enough to him. Each person has a soul, a spirit, and that spirit is intertwined with their body, which is what makes us so special as human beings, and that spirit has to be embodied somewhere, and where else but the heart, where blood, life, comes from? Daniel made the decision to kill Miguel without much thought. It was his last option, after all. The plan was simple. Daniel already knew what Miguel liked to do and the routes he took to see his friends and family. Daniel was going to hire a couple of assassins to ambush and kill Miguel while Miguel was driving along a sparsely populated road, and then bring the body to Daniel, who would cut it up, cut out the organs, cook them, and eat them as snacks throughout the week. He would eat the heart first. The only reason he was at the cafe was because Miguel had texted him a few weeks ago to set up a lunch so that they could meet and make peace. The media had been reporting that there was bad blood between them, because the media needed them to hate each other. They were the two best players in the country and played for intra-city rivals. Stories about their mutual admiration and friendliness didn’t sell nearly as well as drama. Though they were far from friends, Miguel never considered Daniel an enemy. When he told Daniel he never considered him an enemy, and that he was sorry for the stories that had tried to push such an idea, Daniel clenched his jaw even harder. Of course Miguel didn’t see him as an enemy. Miguel didn’t see him as a threat. Miguel was the stronger one and he never considered that he could be overthrown. He was comfortable in his position, in being better than Daniel. Daniel squeezed his toes to hold back his anger and gave Miguel a weak smile, while Miguel went on talking about how much he enjoyed how Daniel played the game, the way he dribbled, his vision, and he described some of Daniel’s goals, professing they were some of his favorite goals ever and suggesting that he wished that he could copy some of the things that Daniel did, which made Daniel even more angry, because not only did this man not see him as a threat, he looked down on him. The more Miguel talked about his admiration for Daniel, the more Daniel knew the other man pitied him, which was even more insulting than if Miguel hated or dismissed him. Then Miguel began talking about his own disillusionment with the sport. Daniel bit his lip, squeezed the fork between his thumb and index finger. Miguel admitted he was falling out of love with the game. He wanted more from life than winning trophies. Daniel fixed his gaze on Miguel, but Miguel, who was lost in his daydream about a world away from the unending cycle of sport, didn’t notice the eyes of his rival. When Miguel said he hoped the two of them could become friends after their playing careers, Daniel flew from across the table and plunged the fork into Miguel’s neck. The two of them fell over to the floor. Miguel had barely realized what was happening before Daniel stabbed him in the neck again. Then Daniel held Miguel down by putting his knee on Miguel’s left arm and held Miguel’s right arm away with his left. Miguel desperately struggled to break free and choked on his own blood trying to plead with Daniel. Daniel stabbed him over and over in the neck until life went away from Miguel’s eyes and a pool of blood formed beneath the two of them. Employees and other customers fled the restaurant. Then Daniel, with his arms, body, and face covered in blood, stood over Miguel’s mutilated body. His heart beat as if his chest was going to explode. He took a moment to revel in the agonized expression on the face of the man who had made his life impossible. He felt light. A burden had been lifted from his life. After five years, he was happy, but he wasn’t done. Daniel dropped the fork and walked over to the cafe’s kitchen. After a few seconds, he came back out with a large knife and drove into the Miguel’s chest. When he had carved enough of an opening, he pulled Miguel’s chest open with his hands. He cut out Miguel’s heart, and with a crowd of people watching and taking pictures on their phones from outside the cafe, Daniel sat down and ate the organ. When he was done, he got up and looked at the clock, then ran outside the cafe, panicking.

He had wasted too much time. He was late for training.