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I’m An Academic Postdoctoral Researcher And I Have Some Stories The Public Should Know



Estimated reading time — 10 minutes

I need to get some weight off my chest and honestly, I don’t know where else it would be appropriate or believed than here. I’m probably telling you all this out of spite due to funding cuts, but that doesn’t change the fact that the public shouldn’t be left in the dark anymore. I’m a postdoctoral researcher in STEM-biology specifically. I don’t want to give too many details since I actually want to make it through telling you these experiences before someone decides I’m a little too persuasive and gets rid of me. Sorry to say I can’t tell you which school I did my PhD, but I can tell you that it was in the United States; that I am American; and that it was one of those fucked up graduate-only institutions- uh, medical and PhD mostly. The idea of doing fantastic science and maybe getting a Nobel was too much to pass up. I mean I couldn’t let that excellent speech I came up with in the shower go to waste, right?

I mean don’t get me wrong science is great and all, if it was just science, but academia and basic research aren’t really all that, empirical. You remember alchemy? It was like half magic and half chemistry? That’s what it’s like. There’s a lot of supernatural fucked up shit that happens in the science buildings in institutions, even more so if it’s one of those graduates only ones.

The supernatural is surprisingly drawn to the world of objective truths and observations. I don’t know if it’s cause they just like fucking with us and showing how much we don’t know; that our “big brains” mean nothing; or if it’s a way for them to understand us and themselves. As such most successful scientists throughout history have been those who tapped into the supernatural to boost their own knowledge or success. And I do mean most. Galileo, Gregor Mendel, Isaac Newton, even Feynman dabbled in more than hallucinogens. I think the Scientific Society of The Flayed God is still pretty pissed that he blew them off after the stunts they pulled to recruit him. I’ll get to them a little later, but there’s a sect on every academic campus. You may be wondering how you’ve never heard of any of these events and that’s probably for good reason. Science communicators and professors have a secondary role besides educating the public. They make sure to disavow or make anyone who exposes this shit seem uncredible at best. At worst they just, make you disappear, poof. Never seen again. Sometimes they stage your death if you’re lucky. I say lucky cause they’re usually tamer than what they could do and at least your family will get some closure.

I guess I should start with a couple of stories from when I was in graduate school:

1.) The first encounter I had as a PhD student was with Marionette. Scientists aren’t strangers to working late, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows especially. A lot of those great papers usually came from at least one sleepless night or two while professors and lab heads usually rush out at around 5 pm. Some of you might admire that type of passion, but I can tell you that passion has nothing to do with it. It’s fear, its circumstance, its being trapped in your god damn lab till 3 am! Sorry, let me bring it back. After choosing a dissertation lab, I was learning a lot of methodologies and was a bit too enthusiastic about troubleshooting. The sun had gone down hours ago and I pulled off a latex glove to pulled to check the time on my phone, 11 pm. I decided that was enough for the day and packed up my things to head down to the first floor; our lab being on the second. Now some of these buildings are beautiful during the day, but absolutely terrifying at night. Everything echoes, the hair on your neck is always standing on end, and there’s a feeling that you’re being watched that makes you look around constantly.

I wasn’t a fan of any of it, so I rushed down the steps, my eyes glued to my phone as I approached the glass door before something made me look up as my hand reached the bar handle. A few feet from the door, staring right at me was a ridiculously tall thin woman in a dirty white gown. Her hair was disheveled and fell around a disturbingly large grin. Her pale arms were grossly long, I mean her wingspan could’ve blocked the entire entrance to the outside and then some. She held her hands up, playfully wiggled her fingers, and from under her gown slid, a puppet. It looked incredibly life-like as it bowed and did an unsettling jig. Something just wasn’t right as its head spun as it danced. I was completely transfixed when it took a bow and gestured for me to join it. I was able to snap myself out of it and backed away. I hurried back upstairs to the second floor where I hoped I could hurry to another side exit a little way down the hall. I couldn’t get to my car easily from there, but screw it I thought, If I ran fast enough, I could make a break for the hospital down the street. Catch a rideshare home.

I descended another set of stairs and as I got to the door, there she was again, this time sitting on her haunches behind her puppet; Its hands on its hips, leaned to one side quizzically. She nodded at me to come outside. Once again, I sprinted upstairs, and this time headed for the main entrance. I opted for the stairs instead of the elevator and burst into the lobby which was surrounded by glass walls that faced the vehicle entrance. I took a walk around the inside of the lobby trying to peek around the concrete pillars out front when I heard a soft *tap tap tap* coming from the glass pane a few feet from me. There it was again. Right up against the glass, but now I could see it fully. It wasn’t a puppet. It. It was the corpse of a young woman. Her torn face pinned back into a grotesque smile. Her eyes reflecting the agony of her last moments. The woman was peeking from behind one of the concrete pillars. Even from inside, I could hear her raspy childlike voice.

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I hadn’t planned on staying the night, but I also wasn’t stupid enough to think I could outrun whatever the hell she is. Hell, I’m still not convinced there aren’t multiple of her, some experiment gone wrong, or a gaggle of entities drawn to places of research. I acquiesced and headed back upstairs toward the break room. It at least had a couple of couches for me to sleep on and a couple of vending machines so I wouldn’t go hungry. A postdoc who I had seen several times during the day was cleaning out a bowl at the sink.

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“Staying late too huh?” He looked over as he grabbed some paper towels. I nodded and fell onto the couch behind him. He took another glance at me before speaking again. “At least you’re smart enough to not try and push past her. Don’t worry, she’s gone by 3 am. On the dot. Every time.” He opened a cabinet and tossed me one of his ramen packages. “Just try to plan your experiments around her next time. Or make sure you bring something to make yourself comfortable. Sometimes it’s just unavoidable.”

We spent the night talking and became fast friends. Still talk to him today. I learned that everyone called her Marionette for obvious reasons. From what I’ve gathered from conferences that thing has been sited at every research building around the globe. Some call her a witch; others are convinced she’s someone called Baba Yaga; others think she represents the spirits of those from clinical trials gone wrong. When I described her and her “puppet” to my advisor he clicked around on his computer and made a phone call to administration. The puppet’s description matched a student that has been missing for 3 days all the way from Florida, can you believe that? Much to my previous and current boss’ chagrin, I make sure I am nowhere near a research building late at night anymore. My work life balance is much too important.

2.) This next one is probably the saddest and most gruesome of them. A couple of times a year we would invite elementary school kids up with their teachers and chaperones to tour the campus and take a look at the labs to inspire them to become scientists one day. I know, absolutely fucked, but scientific discovery must go on I suppose. These are usually kids from underprivileged schools, schools for kids with hearing disabilities, blindness, etc. Extra precautions under the guise of lab safety were taken. A handful of select labs were picked and the school would map the route the kids would take and place totems at intervals to ward off any supernatural events. As long as they follow the route there are usually no problems. If you’ve ever been to one of these yourself you may have noticed different knick-knacks on people’s desks, on office doors, or above building entrances explained away as quirks students and professors use to make the space more fun. First, hearing the word “Fun” from most professors should make you immediately suspicious. I’ve been to enough get-togethers and “parties” that were just excuses to ask you about work to know that no one knows what that word means. Second, they always make graduate students, some of them too new to really know the ins and outs of this visit, do these tours and it makes absolutely no sense to me.

In my second year I had promised one of the senior grad students, Melissa, I would help out and learn the ropes. We had divided the kids and their chaperones into small groups of about 6 per grad student to begin taking them through the labs. Now I don’t know if enough people didn’t volunteer or if a professor completely dropped the ball, but one of the tours was left to a student in the same cohort as me named Jordan. We didn’t worry much because apparently this was “idiot-proof” and we were all smart people with enough common sense. Our group was one of the first to head out while the rest stayed behind and talked with the kids in one of our larger lecture halls over catered sandwiches. Jordan was one of those groups who stayed behind so we told him we’d see him in a bit and headed out. Our kids had a great time, their eyes grew wide at all the bright fluorescent images under microscopes; they gasped and squealed at the preserved organs and mice in jars; and spaced out completely, while one of the professors went into too much detail for far too long about his work. We got back to the lecture hall and the kids ran to see their friends from the other groups and regale others who were about to set out with tales of what they saw when I noticed Jordan sitting in the front on his phone, stuffing his mouth with food.

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Concerned, Melissa headed over to grab his attention. “Hey Jordan, shouldn’t you still be taking your group through the tour?”

“Oh, they sent another guide as we got outside so he took care of them.” He said with his hand over his mouth. “Seemed like a nice guy. Got sent over at the last minute I guess.”

“What? No one was sent at the last minute, every guide that’s supposed to be here is here. Even so, he’d have a badge- did you see a badge?” Melissa exclaimed.

“No, but he had his lab coat on, and an adult chaperone was still with the kids so I’m sure they’re fine.”

“Jordan.” Melissa tensed “There was no one else on that list or replacements, of that I’m sure. They don’t do last minute. Just please tell us what he looked like and where they started, did they head toward the first lab?”

Jordan sat and thought for a moment before saying he couldn’t remember the man’s face. He remembered looking at him directly the whole time they spoke and yet as soon as he turned around, poof, a blank slate. What he did remember was that he had a weird gait. He walked with a forward swivel and was extremely bowlegged. His arms flayed out a bit as he walked, never completely at his sides. While standing still he would rotate his wrists in opposite directions every so often in an audible soft crackle. When he handed the tour group over to him, he said he headed toward the new research building they were constructing across the street. They had only furnished the first floor with benches so far, but he thought the man wanted to show them where some of the old labs would be moving to. As the man turned and led them across the grass, he heard him whistle an odd tune before saying “You have to reckon with the past before you build a future.”

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“Honestly, it’s pretty inspiring that he pushed through his disabilities to make it this far. We need more like him.” Jordan took a bite of the pickle on his plate.

The look on Melissa’s face grew fearful and we left to alert the faculty. They told us it would be best if the school sorted this out themselves, so we all broke off into a full campus search. Melissa, Jordan, and I headed toward the new construction to make sure they hadn’t gotten lost on the way, secretly hoping they were being held hostage by an overenthusiastic street performer. The building looked completely undisturbed, hell the doors were still locked, but after a quick walk around Jordan said he could see movement through one of the windows. We alerted the campus police, and they came to have a look inside. They hadn’t been inside more than 5 minutes before one of the officers rushed out and vomited onto the sidewalk. The other officer was close behind, his face filled with a terror and disgust I have yet to see on anyone else. They asked us to get back while they called for back up and soon officers were swarming the entire area but said they found no trace of the man. Forensics teams came shortly after while we stuck around.

Their entrance was followed by exclamations of horror. They came out solemnly with several 500 ml and a 2 l flask filled to the brim with viscera. The smell was horrid, even outside. Melissa immediately began sobbing; I was too focused on keeping my own food down; and Jordan was as rigid as a statue. Apparently, what Jordan saw moving was one of those old rotating water baths used to grow bacterial cultures. Except it was the flasks filled with. With a fucking slurry of human parts.

They did a DNA test, and it matched the students and the chaperone that went missing. Since they couldn’t find a trace of the guy Jordan saw and Jordan himself was in the lecture hall the whole time after he left, they had no suspects. There was a manhunt that lasted all of one month before they gave up completely. The school was sued and from what I heard they settled out of court with the families. A few of the parents got together for a candlelight vigil. I heard the partner of the chaperone was too distraught and never came, only to later find out one of their kids was in the group as well. A couple of days before the vigil they had climbed into a bath with a bottle of sleeping pills and Vodka; just couldn’t take it anymore. Jordan dropped out a few weeks later. He decided to go into hospitality; I hear he’s a hotel manager now. Melissa finished about 2 years later but left academia completely. Never gave a tour again in that time and could only glare at Jordan without ever speaking a word to him. I took over for her, feeling it was my duty to make sure that never happened again. The building went unfinished and they still haven’t decided what to do with it. Newer students and visitors say they’ve seen a bowlegged man with a strange gait at random places on campus. Trying to lead them away toward the construction site.

Sorry, I uh. I need a break. I’ll post this after I get some sleep and will make sure to come back later to share more of what we’ve been through if you’re interested. For now, I’ve lost track of time; It’s about 10:35 pm, and I would very much like to sleep in my own bed tonight.

Credit : The Solemn Sage

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