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I am a researcher for a small team, and now, I’m facing a moral dilemma.
Over the past year, one of our main projects has been the development of a healthier, more energy efficient drink named Roadrunner. Upon completion of Roadrunner’s formula and design, we contacted a local university and requested to use 100 of their freshmen as subjects in a study. The purpose of our study was to compare the alertness of the freshmen and determine if our energy drink positively benefited their college experience. The 100 freshmen were randomly divided into two groups. Group 1 received Roadrunner and were requested to drink one bottle per day. Group 2 was allowed to drink anything except Roadrunner. We specifically selected freshmen due to the stresses involved in the first year of college. To contribute to the subjects’ stress levels, we assigned all of them a journal project about adjusting to college. They were required to write one entry per day for a total of 14 entries. Our study commenced on August 11, 2015, and concluded on August 25, 2015.
I will not delve into the intricacies of our data collection and its analysis. For this explanation, I will be straightforward.
The benefits of Roadrunner were unanimous. Subjects in Group 1 were significantly more attentive in class, and collectively, their journal entries contained a more optimistic tone. The journal entries were one of the many methods of data collection, but I’m emphasizing them for one reason.
We hit a minor roadblock due to a subject in Group 1. Across the board, he was an outlier, and needless to say, he halted our project for several months.
The situation is difficult to describe. For that reason, I want to share some of his journal entries. The content of the entries have not been altered. This how they begin:
I have never seen my roommate’s face, and it makes me believe that he doesn’t have one. Benny, he’s a real sick fuck.
Let me start when I arrived on campus. They were swarming. There were people everywhere. Students, parents, friends, they were rushing all over the place and carrying massive amounts of furniture, suitcases, tacky decorations, you name it! I was standing amid the chaos and struggling to find my residence hall on a school map when a group of guys nearly trampled me. These people were out of their goddamn minds.
It took me three trips to my car and back to gather all of my belongings. Everything had calmed down by then, and when I reached my dorm room, I was ready to pass out. I dropped two backpacks onto my bed and laid down on the mattress. My gaze drifted to the vacant bed on the opposite side of the room. Benny still hadn’t arrived. Maybe, he was late.
I tried staying awake for him, but I fell asleep. I woke from the nap a few hours later and glanced over to the empty side of the room. Still not here? The sun was beginning to set. That’s really weird that he wouldn’t arrive sooner.
I spent the evening putting my room together. I hung my clothes in the bureau and claimed two drawers from the dresser. I decorated my half of the room with posters. I left my textbooks and student paperwork on the desk. Lastly, I hung a calendar above my bed and turned around, expecting my roommate to have arrived. It was dark outside now. Where the hell was he?
I booted up my laptop and connected it with the school wifi. Before I could do anything else, I had to leave for my first hall meeting. We were lectured about rules for half an hour. When the meeting finished, all of the guys left in pairs. I supposed that Benny would be arriving later. I just hated for him to be moving in on the first day.
I returned to my room and got ready for bed. I was anxious, beyond anxious for my first day of college. It felt like Christmas Eve. I couldn’t sleep if I tried. When the hallway grew quiet, I finally began to doze off. Half-asleep, I felt a light tap against the back of my head, and I jerked up so suddenly that I smacked my forehead against the headboard. I cursed and felt my head beginning to throb. I slid out of bed and shoved the mattress closer to the top of the bed frame. My head must have dipped past the pillow and tapped against the wood. When I felt it, it was one of those knee jerk reactions. My head ached all night long.
By morning, Benny still wasn’t there. I didn’t have time to worry about him though.
I was rushing around and getting ready for class. I slept a little late and didn’t have time to grab breakfast. I just took a Roadrunner drink instead. It was a weird surprise that I had been selected to participate in this study. I mean, I didn’t mind. It was free smoothies and a cash supplement to my college fund. Who wouldn’t love that?
I was so busy my first day that I returned to my dorm after dinner. I set down my backpack, shrugged off my shoes, and realized something odd. I was still alone. Benny was nowhere to be found. His side of the room was as empty as before.
What was this guy’s deal?
I ignored the situation, did my homework, and went straight to bed.
As soon as started falling asleep, I felt a sharp pat on the top of my head, followed by the shifting of my pillow. I sat upright immediately. Something had touched me. I yanked the pillows back and noticed a dark gap between the mattress and the headboard, the same gap that I had closed last night. I stared into the gap but could see nothing. It was as dark as pitch in my room. My eyes weren’t adjusting to the darkness. I was too tired for this. I shifted my pillows further down the bed and went back to sleep.
By the next morning, I was met with a disturbing surprise. Like yesterday, Benny’s side of the room was still empty. However, one of my notebooks was shredded as if a rabid animal had torn it apart. The pages were scattered everywhere. There were only a few pages intact, and they had a message scrawled across them.
I almost sprinted out of my room in only my underwear. I glanced back to my bed, and within a few moments, I brushed the whole thing off. This had to be hazing. There were upperclassmen living in my hall. That’s what it was. I collected the ruined notebook and dumped it into the trash. Then, I went about my day without anymore surprises.
When I returned that evening, I had seemingly forgotten about the incident. My mind was too preoccupied with schoolwork. I sat on my bed, did my homework, and crawled under the covers. Just before I fell asleep, I felt the pat again. This pat was longer though. This one lingered. It was a hand.
I shot away from my pillows and scooted to the other side of the bed breathing heavily. I was petrified.
There was something under my fucking bed! A part of me wanted to check while the other wanted to dash out the door. Neither of those sides won. I passed out.
The next night, I convinced myself that it had been a nightmare. Even with that sentiment in mind, I placed my pillows at the foot of the bed. I fell asleep without the pat, but I was awoken by a massive, painful jerk. It was a sharp tug, grasping my hair and pulling me downward.
I woke up in the hallway. I don’t remember moving there.
I skipped class, went straight to housing, and demanded a room change. I hadn’t been sleeping well at all, so I was a bit unreasonable. The woman tried explaining to me multiple times that all the rooms were filled. There was nowhere for me to go. After that, I demanded to know where Benny was.
She insisted that we were roommates. That really pissed me off. It got to the point where she had Benny pulled out of class. Benny was on campus. He had been here the whole fucking time.
There had been a discrepancy. Benny’s actual roommate had my first name too, so Benny accidentally got assigned to both of us. Technically, I had no roommate.
I returned to my room and sat on the bed, the bed that should have been Benny’s bed. I laid there all day, staring at the gap between the tiled floor and the bed frame. I could only remember the note now – don’t look. My door has been locked every night. Nobody else had the key but me.
I slept on “Benny’s” bed that night without blankets or pillows. I closed my eyes and started to doze off. Before I could though, I felt the pat on the back of my head. It was sharp but not as angry as the night before. I cried silently. I didn’t remember falling asleep.
It took me a few nights, but I’ve learned Benny’s rules. He liked my bed, so that’s where I slept. It was a routine, and I kept breaking it. Just before I fell asleep, I’d feel him reach up and tap my head to make sure I was there. Benny never made any noise. By following his rules, keeping a gap between the bed frame and the mattress, he was silent. It was just me and Benny.
When I behaved, he was very gentle. He had to wish me goodnight before I could fall asleep. Sometimes, Benny would take his time, but that was okay with me. I’d wait all night if I had to.
This is where I’m ending the subject’s journal. The last few entries are completely incoherent, and I think I should mention that these were typed entries. In particular, the 13th and 14th entries are complete gibberish as if he violently slapped the keyboard over and over.
To some degree, we thought that we were being pranked, but this was no prank.
Due to the nature of the entries, we wanted to immediately do a follow-up study. This might sound unprofessional, but the subject resembled the before and after pictures of meth addiction. His skin was sallow. He was sickly, bony even. He lost an exceptional amount of weight as if he stopped eating. His face was gaunt with pronounced cheekbones, skin clinging to his skull. There were dark rings around his eyes. He was dazed, staring off into space. Somehow, he still functioned, but he was only going through the motions.
He didn’t respond well when we asked if he was sleeping alright. It alarmed him, distressed him, and nearly sent him into a panic attack. We hardly needed to ask. He hadn’t been sleeping. Anyone with eyes could tell you that.
Not even a week later, he completely snapped and threw himself from the roof. Nobody knew how he got up there or what was going through his mind. A professor found his crumpled body that morning, and then, the authorities were all over the case. It was a mess. We were able to see his dorm room before our team was shut out of the investigation. Our subject didn’t leave a suicide note. No, he left an entire wall filled with frenzied messages. The predominant message was he’s always watching, all of the messages overlapping each other, all disjointed thoughts.
After nearly being sued, my team is fed up with the matter. They threw out the subject’s data and blamed confounding variables for the extreme response. Regardless, he was an outlier. In the grand scheme of things, an outlier is not representative of the whole. For that reason, Roadrunner is preceding with its production and will be released for public consumption within the month.
Credit: Ariel Lowe