By Chef JDPatric
In 1999 I was a starving university student. Well, not really starving, but when I had more than one dead president in my wallet at a time I considered it a good day…regardless of which former head of state was on the paper. At the time I was taking pre-med courses, but I really didn’t have a solid direction. Money, of course, was very tight, and I frequently found myself taking notes for other students were too lazy, prideful, smart, hung over, or stupid to go to class.
This eventually ended with one of them using my notes, verbatim, on an exam and landing us both in solid trouble. Thankfully, this was one of the stupid students, who’d been caught cheating before. As it was merely my notes, and not my actual exam I was allowed to slide with a warning and academic probation. It also helped that I had a perfect record and a near perfect GPA to that point. Paying for notes, however, was now out of the question as the university changed its policy that already frowned upon such an act to completely forbid the practice. While I did work part time at a hardware store, I relied on my note-taking business to help ensure that I would be able to afford the hamburger to go with my helper.
I saw an advertisement on the wall of my anatomy class that was claiming to offer paid benefits for medical test subjects. Dubiously, I inquired via phone as to what kind of “testing” they’d be performing, and what sort of “benefits” the subjects would be rewarded with upon completion of the test. I was informed that they’d be testing such items as acne medicine, allergy shots, foot cream, and products of a fairly benign nature. I would be paid two hundred dollars for participating in a two week study that required a total of eight hours of my time. I nearly leapt through the phone to sign up.
My first test was a hair product that was designed to treat lice. This, unfortunately, required that I get lice. Not a particularly fun weekend. The treatment, however, was quite effective and had the lice gone within a day. My hair did turn an odd shade of puke-green for a few weeks, but it grew out. Once I returned for a follow-up and was declared clean I was awarded my two hundred dollars and informed that another trial would begin the following week for a different product and that, as a returning subject, I would be granted entry before those that hadn’t participated before. The pay and trial period was the same, so I eagerly jotted my name down and left. The money might not seem like much now, but coupled with my part-time work at the hardware store I’d now be able to afford such things as rent and gas to go along with my textbooks and tuition.
I signed up pretty much every two weeks for a few months straight, testing such products as hair remover, over the counter painkillers, reading glasses, hairspray, wart remover, and diet pills. Each time I was paid for my work in cash and asked to sign up for the following test. I only missed one two week period as I was horribly sick from an unrelated illness; the stomach flu had been running rampant through the university and I had managed to find it.
The following weekend I was feeling better and ready to sign up for more as I was a little strapped for cash due to the “lost wages.” This time, however, when I arrived at the facility to sign up the usual attendant who would sign us in was not there. Instead a tall woman with jet black hair stood behind the counter and handed me a form that made me somewhat uncomfortable. It was a fairly all-encompassing waiver that basically said that the company would not be liable for any sort of injury or illness sustained for the duration of this test. Don’t get me wrong; I had to sign a waiver to start the testing in the first place…but this one seemed much more serious. Things like depression, mental illness, hallucinations, and self-inflicted bodily harm tend to worry me.
I almost didn’t sign it. Much like the time when I almost didn’t participate due to the fact that I knew the “diet pills” were basically code for “laxative that makes you crap everything out before your body absorbs the calories from food,” I nearly backed out. The dark haired lady finally slid a pay slip towards me showing the pay rate. I initially didn’t give it a second thought until I realized that an additional zero had been added. Two THOUSAND dollars was at stake for this test. In addition it would only be a one day test, although it would require twelve full hours. The product was a very powerful anti-depressant. Just take one pill, stay and be observed for the day, watch a few movies, and eat the free food provided. I could handle that.
I signed my name and as soon as my pen left the paper another unfamiliar face opened the door to take me back. I followed and entered the usual room where I was normally informed of the exact nature of the testing. This time I was met by a doctor who looked to be in his late 50’s with a pair of glasses that were so thick they looked comical. He was incredibly nice; he explained to me the exact nature and goal of the drug I’d be testing, broke down each of the ingredients and chemicals and described what they would (or should) do to me. He also went on to offer me one last chance to back out of the experiment as he knew there would likely be some serious hallucinations; the drug was still very experimental, but held enough potential that the FDA was willing to allow testing in a controlled environment.
I gave it some serious thought. I wasn’t exactly new to hallucinogenic drugs; I went to my fair share of parties held in old warehouses with loud music, bright lights, and gummy bears that may or may not have been marinated in acid. I’d imagined a few people that didn’t actually exist, spent an entire evening with my deceased cousin, and, on one unfortunate occasion when the police showed up I’ve even kept my cool around the cops. It’s not easy to describe the fear that cascades through your person when an officer of the law is standing inches from your face telling you how you’re wasting your life at these kinds of parties…and he begins to melt. Still not sure how that one turned out alright in the end, but I didn’t end up in jail for it. A controlled environment seemed far…safer…than an abandoned warehouse in the inner-city so I once again agreed.
The doctor brought out a small cup with one pill about the size of an M&M. I briefly thought of backing out again, but two grand was too good to pass up. I swallowed the pill with a swig of water and sat back in my chair. The doctor left and the attendant came and got my lunch order, which turned out to be Burger King, and directed me to the wall of movies. I decided that if I was gonna trip it might as well be to a good movie so I selected the original Star Wars trilogy.
By the time the late lunch finally rolled around I was almost to the end of The Empire Strikes Back and was merely feeling groggy. Finally I buzzed the attendant and asked if I could catch some shuteye; sometimes they wanted you to stay awake for observations, sometimes they wanted you to sleep, and sometimes it didn’t matter. The attendant informed me that he’d go ask the doctor and be right back. I stood up to pace for a little to keep myself awake and as I did the room began to spin. I felt a little buzzed. It felt odd; I had taken the pill nearly four hours ago and experienced only grogginess up to this point, but I continued to pace until he returned. He chimed over the speaker that I was more than welcome to sleep, but to be aware that I’d likely have some very lucid dreams; some earlier test subjects had even had some fairly spectacular nightmares. I grumbled ‘OK’ and ejected The Empire Strikes Back from the VCR so that I could start Return of the Jedi. Yeah…I know…1999. I plopped down in the easy chair and almost immediately nodded off.
I dreamt that I was on an airplane that was falling out of the sky as it was assaulted by small blue men, and that I was the only one awake to stop them. It was a truly terrifying dream that only seemed to last a few seconds, but as soon as we hit the ground I woke up coughing. There was an acrid black smoke near the ceiling of the room. I was still in the easy chair, but the room was darker and I couldn’t even see the walls at first. I stood and immediately realized that I was more than a little dizzy, so I began to stagger towards the wall. The wall clock indicated that it was almost five in the evening. I was confused and it finally crossed my mind that the building wasn’t normally open past four and it dawned on me that I was in for a twelve hour testing that would end around ten or eleven that night.
My head tried to reassure me that this was a dream. Maybe I was hallucinating. I didn’t know of a good way to determine if that was the case, so I tried to remain calm as best I could. I wasn’t wearing a watch and barely knew what a cell phone was at the time so I just assumed that the wall clock was correct; it was when I walked in as far as I knew. I tried to hit the buzzer to alert an attendant and received no response. Finally I went to the emergency wall phone and ripped it from the receiver. No dial tone.
I began to panic a little at this point; what if there had been some sort of emergency and the building had been evacuated? What if I’d been left behind? I couldn’t take that risk. I went to the door to test the handle and found it unlocked. Upon opening the door I found that the entire area was very quiet. I couldn’t hear a fire, emergency vehicles, anything. The area was very dark with only a hint of red light to see by. This turned out to be a small red sign above the door that read “Testing in Progress.” As I let go of the door handle I found my hand suddenly bound to it; there was a medical bracelet on my wrist that hadn’t been there when I fell asleep. It was the sort of bracelet that you’d get on a hospital visit. The numbers “5337” were the only text I could make out.
After disentangling myself from the door handle I wandered a few feet before coming to another door. This was one I’d never seen before; they always took me to one of two rooms and I’d never been elsewhere. This door looked more secure than the one I’d recently passed through. It was, however, cracked about half an inch open. It sounded like there was someone inside and I was hoping that maybe it was an employee that could tell me what was happening…or, as I still felt somewhat lucid, if they could explain to me that this was all a horrible nightmare and I could go back to sleeping in the recliner.
Inside was a small figure huddled in the corner of the room. It was incredibly dark, but I could barely see the outline of a person. I tried to call out to them but my voice sounded weak and inarticulate. The figure turned and took a step towards me. Hope turned to fear as I noticed they seemed more aggressive than helpful. I quickly turned to leave and saw the figure lunge towards me and into the only light in the room. It was a boy, probably around ten years old, his eyes were completely clouded white and there was blood all over his face. His face seemed to be actively decomposing before my eyes; his skin was purple and blotchy and appeared to be slightly droopy. I only caught the briefest of glimpses, but I saw it clearly. I fell out of the door and slammed it with my feet an instant before the boy began to pound heavily on the door. It was inhuman; the noise was incredibly loud and the door, which seemed rather heavy, seemed to almost give under each blow. As his fist hit the small window I saw a medical bracelet much like my own.
I turned back the way I had come as quickly as I could manage. The smoke still hung thickly in the air, and I couldn’t see an end to it. The hallway went a short distance to a set of stairs that appeared to descent at least four or five flights. The smoke wasn’t as thick there, and I began to feel better, think more clearly, and take stock of my situation; this had to be a nightmare, but I couldn’t wake myself. I figured it’d be like most dreams where when I win the lottery I wake up as soon as I get the money. It had to be something akin to that.
I made it down one flight of stairs to a very well lit room that held several rows of hospital beds. The very last bed on the right had someone under the sheets. It looked as though it was a corpse; the sheet was pulled up over the head, and only the feet were sticking out with a tag on one toe. As I entered the room the lights flicked off for a second. When they turned back on the sheet had sat up in bed. They turned off again and I heard the door shut behind me. I slipped backwards and grabbed the handle to wrench it open. The lights turned on and there was a man standing maybe fifty feet from me with no visible face. He had basically just a dark black hole where his face would normally have been. By the time I had the door open the lights went off again and I was already outside. I almost jumped the entire next level of stairs as I could hear the door open again behind me.
There were no doors on the next few levels but I could hear someone calling behind me saying something about a “subject” and asking them “to remain calm.” If it was the faceless guy I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with him so I continued to run downstairs. Finally I reached the bottom level and saw a thick looking security door. I pushed my way through as I heard footsteps only one flight above me. Inside was an office chair and I slammed that as hard as I could underneath the door handle in an attempt to hold it closed.
I was now in a long hallway lit by numerous “Testing in Progress” signs. The smoke was back at the ceiling, and I began to feel dizzy. I couldn’t figure out where the smoke was coming from as I couldn’t really see a fire or anything, and part of me wondered if the smoke was originating in the air vents. Was it making me sick? I tried to convince myself that it was in my head, but when I’d duck out of the smoke I thought clearer, and began to worry that maybe I wasn’t having a nightmare.
I didn’t have much time to ponder this as I heard someone calling from the other side of the door. I could see what looked like the faceless man on the other side of the door. The chair seemed like it could give at any moment so I ran towards the end. I could hear him yelling in the distance, telling me that I wasn’t supposed to be here and that it was for my own safety. I knew it had to be a dream…but I didn’t want to find out what he meant so I just kept moving. There were a few other doors in the hallway, always with the same red sign above the opening. All of them were closed and looked very heavy.
The smoke got thicker near the end and I found myself at a very hefty looking door that was open about half a foot. It was moveable but very thick and had large bars on it. I couldn’t tell if it was to keep things out or in, but at present I figured it couldn’t hurt to put the door between me and Mr. No-face. I couldn’t close the monstrosity the entire way at first because there was something stuck in the opening. It was dark and I couldn’t see well so I just kicked it out of the way and shut the door. I didn’t know if that would be enough to keep faceless from finding me so I moved cautiously further into the room.
That was when I realized how thick the smoke was in this room. Something was definitely burning in this room, but I couldn’t tell what or where it was. The room was big; maybe the size of a high school gymnasium, and it had some large structures that took up the majority of it leaving only small winding pathways. I moved through those as silently as possible until I was near the center of the room. The smoke seemed to be coming from there.
At the center was a small open area with a fire in the center. It was a sizeable fire and I saw a person wearing hospital scrubs standing beside it…and what appeared to be several corpses lying on the ground halfway in the fire. I yelled something at him…help maybe? I don’t remember, but the moment I made a noise he turned and ran down one of the pathways on the opposite side of the clearing and vanished before I could follow. Then I heard a noise over the sound of the fire. I more felt it; the floor seemed to shake and I could hear the deepest kind of guttural growl emanating from a dark mass that began to creep slowly across the floor in my direction.
Even lit by the fire I couldn’t tell you what I was looking at; my brain decoded it as the result of a really REALLY bad drug trip, and I couldn’t get much more than that. It moved like an immense bug of some sorts, but I swear I could see arms and legs…and shoes…and heads…sticking out at all weird angles. It left a pool of slime, or maybe blood, as it sloshed its way towards me. I wasn’t going to wait around to see if I was really dreaming so I ran the only free route I had; back the way I came.
I made it back to the heavy door and found much to my horror, that the door was now locked from the other side. I looked for something, anything, to try to pry the door open and I remembered that something was lodged in the door when I first entered. I searched the floor for it and found it…unfortunately. It was an arm, complete with a medical bracelet much like my own, only this one read “5331.” Panic began to sink in deep at this point as I started pounding on the door for all I was worth.
I could hear the thing as it rounded the last bend and came into view. I couldn’t make out the features as well without the fire…but I knew what was there. Would I wake up when it found me? Or would I die some horrible death at the hands of…this monstrosity? I steeled myself for the attack and leaned hard against the door…which suddenly sprang open. I tumbled backwards and into the arms of the faceless man who spoke in a distorted dialect of English as he slammed the door behind me. Something heavy and wet slammed into the closed door as I felt the doctor stick my neck with something…and the world faded to black.
I woke sweaty and confused sitting in the lazy boy recliner with Jurassic park playing on the TV. Was I safe? What was happening? Who changed the tape? Was there a homunculus waiting outside my door to consume my person? As these thoughts rifled through my sleep addled brain I heard the intercom buzz to life. “It’s been twelve hours sir, would you please come to the front to be re-evaluated and to sign out.” The door clicked and slid open as I slowly eased out of my seat. The clock on the wall read past eleven at night. I was safe? I tentatively poked my head through the open door and saw…nothing; a normal hallway. I thought maybe that I could smell smoke…but I convinced myself that it was in my head; I certainly couldn’t see any.
The doctor who gave me the pills gave me a quick once-over and asked me if I had any unfortunate side-effects. I, still somewhat in shock, lied and said only that I had a few weird dreams, but nothing that I wouldn’t get from a night of partying. He looked relieved and gave me a few last forms to fill out before sending me on my way. I got paid and left before I could really process what had happened. That was my last test though; two grand was more than enough to hold me for some time and I could up my hours at the hardware store. I wasn’t going back there.
I switched my major to business and left medicine behind…for a few years. Once I graduated I was contacted by an old classmate who needed an operations manager for his pharmaceutical company that he’d started with a few other individuals. The pay was great, if somewhat erratic due to the fact that the company was relatively new. I was in charge of finding new drugs and determining if they were going to do well in the market and if we should begin distribution of them once they passed FDA approval.
Last week I stumbled across a drug that seemed familiar. Reading the ingredients I realized it was the exact drug that I’d taken many years ago and I wondered how on God’s good green Earth it had received FDA approval. I found the studies that had been completed on the drug and noticed that it had been developed in 1998. The following year was the first major study on the drug. I dug deeper and found the first study. It was the very one I took part in fifteen years ago.
Upon examining the notes I found that there were twenty people involved in the study. I was curious to see if any had experienced the same violently disturbing reaction to the drug that I had. Ten of the people had been given the drug, and ten had been given a mild sedative that was part of the drug in the first place. They were the control group. I read through the reactions, some vomited, some became slightly loopy from the sedative, some ate…a lot, and some reportedly slept most of the day. I finally came to the end and found a printout of the test subjects with their names and ID numbers.
The sheet was the last of the packet and after glancing at it I almost placed it back on the stack and continued working; I was going to deny the drug after the horrible hallucinations I’d had during the testing. No way were we going to carry that product. Then I noticed something on the sheet. The numbers matched the ones I’d seen during my nightmare. I looked closer and found that numbers 5324-5333 were given the drug and numbers 5334-5343 were given only the sedative. I was part of the control group for the experiment.