Muhammed was determined to get fit. Well, fitter. He already spend three nights a week in the gym, and his body had gone from chubby chewing gum to whipcord in six months.
It was all down to the rowing machine. On the front was a tiny television that you could tune either to data about how the row was going, or watch a first person animation of the boat travelling upriver. The machine was getting on a bit. Flat primary colours made up the graphics, with the water nothing more than a blue rectangle, reaching on and on.
But this was the reason Muhammed had got so fit. He got it into his head that if he kept rowing, there might be something further down the blue path. A new image to unlock. So for six months he practised finding this goal.
Muhammed knew he had to keep going until he was close to passing out. He flew down the virtual river, two dimensional trees zooming past on either side. When a bend appeared, Muhammed assumed he was hallucinating. Sweat burned his eyes. He pushed on around the corner.
The grass was no longer green. Instead scarlet fields hugged a mucus filled stream. Every so often a pixellated fish skeleton floated on the water. Muhammed barely realised he was still going, that the gym was empty, that it was nearly time to go home.
Maybe he would have stopped had the two-dimensional castle not appeared on the far bank. Muhammed bombed towards the turrets, locked into the rowing machine like a cog in a watch. The castle got closer until the boat graphic bumped into the bottom stone blocks. The machine stopped mid-flow. and Muhammed flung forward, smacking his head on the screen. He wiped blood and sweat from his eyes, every muscle in his body screaming, lungs recycling air in a never ending frenzy.
Three figures looked down at him from the turrets, their faces snowy television screens under their helmets.
‘Go away,’ one said in a distorted voice.
‘We came here because we didn’t want to be disturbed,’ said another.
Of course Muhammed wanted to row away. More than anything in the world. But he was simply too tired. He stared up at the creatures as they pulled out pixellated bow and arrows, and missed his body fat.