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The Study

The study


Estimated reading time — 10 minutes

I should have known this would be a fucking scam. I thought as I sat and waited in the parking lot while the clock digits kept increasing. We had been waiting 45 minutes for an event that was supposed to have started. An event I knew nothing about. That’s what happens when you’re desperate for cash. You hop on Craigslist and head to the gigs section.

Seeking Male model
Friendly Female escort
Handyman
Help moving!! Need a team of strong people!
Foot models
PAID CLINICAL TRIAL 1K!

I stopped scrolling when I saw 1k and clicked on it like an idiot.

There was no information on what the study was about and the start time was set at 11pm. If that wasn’t strange enough, it also specified that no smokers, drug users, or anyone with any serious diseases were allowed to participate. Now I was intrigued and also a bit hesitant to go through with this, but I was in a bind. Rent was past due and my credit card balance was higher than the money I had sitting in my bank account (12 dollars). So there I was, Sitting In a dark garage listening to the chatter of entirely too many other people who must have been as desperate as I was. 45 minutes turned into an hour and an hour morphed into 2. Slowly, groups of people left one by one and my girlfriend kept sighing with every passing second.

“Are we going to sit here all night?” She asked me, looking up from her phone for the first time since we had gotten there.

“I hope not,” I replied while leaning back in my chair and admiring her beauty. Taylor was the most beautiful woman I had ever been with. Sometimes I didn’t understand why she was with me at all.

“I feel like they aren’t coming,” Her voluptuous lips said to me.

“Ok let’s just give it a little while longer, maybe they’re trying to weed out some people.”

“We’ve been here for two hours, Romi. I do have a life you know?”

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How could I forget? Taylor had an abundance of friends in addition to her large tightly knit family. Her comment had made me feel insignificant, even though I’m positive that’s not how she had meant it.

“Ok, so leave!” The words left my mouth entirely too loud and spiteful than I meant them to.

“What the hell?” Her eyes narrowed at me.

“I just need this money. I can’t leave yet. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so bitchy.”

She leaned back into the passenger side chair and kicked her feet up on the dashboard. Her legs were covered in goosebumps and her skirt fell down towards her upper thighs, showcasing her plethora of well hidden tattoos.

“You better make it up to me then,” she said while I was staring at her thighs.

Just as I was about to lean over and kiss her, I saw a face in the reflection of the car window directly behind her. I jumped a little and the face smiled back at me.

“Sorry! Didn’t mean to scare you!” A woman in her dying years said with a delightful smile plastered over her face. She had some new age chakra bullshit necklace around her neck and it made me cringe.

“No worries,” I replied. How long had she been standing there?

“I came over here to thank you for waiting so patiently. We’re about to begin if you two ladies want to come inside.” Her eyelids were lumpy and far too purple than they should have been.

We made our way towards the door that other people were going into. I remember thinking that the door was really unique looking, and didn’t quite match the industrial feel of the parking garage. The door was painted emerald green and had a thick black door knob that looked to be made out of stone. It shut behind the group of people in front of us and made the whole garage echo and shake.

Once inside, the fluorescent lights above felt like tabasco sauce leaking into my eyeballs. Who needed lights this bright? They made the same faint hissing noise as the ones in the parking garage and it made me want to scream. As we progressed down the hallway the lights behind us somehow turned off, casting shadows in all directions. I looked back and could no longer see the entrance, making me feel uneasy and a bit claustraphobic.

There were 10 people already inside, a few of whom I had seen while waiting. They were lined up in front of a white table grabbing some paper and pencils. We jumped in line to do the same, eager to see what was happening. When we reached the front I was handed, to my surprise, a waiver. What the fuck?

The man who handed it to me had dark beady little eyes and a smile so friendly it made me look away.

“Just so nobody sues us,” He said with a little chuckle that made my skin crawl. He reminded me of a used car salesman, untrustworthy and overly enthusiastic.

We signed the forms and then took a seat on one of the folding chairs that were all assembled into a circle, making us face each other awkwardly.

The decaying woman from earlier took a seat next to the smiling man. He looked very proud of himself and I wanted to know why. To my horror, he put his hand on her knee and gave it a little squeeze. We all just sat there, in complete silence.

“Thank you all for coming. My name is Claude, and this is Wendy, ” The man said finally, taking his hand off of Wendy’s knee and reaching for the pile of papers that sat on the floor, “Out of over 100 people that drove down here tonight, you are the only ones that waited over an hour. For a craigslist gig that promised you one thousand dollars.” He looked amused and I hated him.

“Some of us would have waited longer for that kind of money,” One of the strangers said. He wore a pair of bright red Nikes and was tapping them anxiously on the floor. I remembered him from the parking garage because he had been chain smoking and writing frantically in a journal.

“What exactly have we gotten ourselves into?” Chimed in another one.

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“I don’t like to mislead people so I’ll get straight to the point. If you aren’t interested in the activity you may leave, but once the study has begun the doors will lock,” His dark eyes glistened as he looked around the room, “We will be drawing approximately three vials of each individual’s blood.”

Three people got up as soon as he spoke the word blood and basically ran out of the room. I didn’t blame them one fucking bit. We knew nothing about these people. Did they even know how to draw blood? I should have left. I should have walked out and never looked back… but I needed that money.

My girlfriend’s elbow jabbed me in the side to get my attention.

“We’re leaving right?” She said, grabbing her purse off the ground and standing up.

I remained seated and looked up at her, “I need this money babe. I can’t.”

“So you’re going to let these random people you know nothing about stick a needle in your arm?” Her face was turning red, making her big green eyes light up her face like a christmas tree.

“Easy for you to say, you aren’t about to get kicked out of your apartment! I don’t exactly have another option here Taylor. You can leave, I won’t blame you one bit but I gotta stay.”

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“And how the fuck am I getting home?” She demanded, tears forming in her eyes a bit now.

I handed her my car keys from my pocket and placed them in her hands. The anger disappeared from her face and a look of genuine concern took over.

“I don’t want to leave you, Romi,” She said, sitting back down and handing me the car keys back.

A familiar pain that could only be described as guilt welled up inside me. Taylor was willing to endure this madness for me. She didn’t need the money, her mother paid for her rent so she could focus full time on school. I tried not to resent her for that, but sometimes my jealousy got the best of me.

We couldn’t have been more different if we tried. Up until recently I had been working 50 hours a week just to afford my shitty apartment. Then I got sick with the worst cold I had ever had in my entire life, which then turned into bronchitis, and a fun sinus infection to top it off. The sickness lasted around 3 weeks and I was still sniveling.

My manager took it upon himself to fire me for being absent so much. I didn’t have health insurance so I couldn’t get a doctor’s note. I had begged and pleaded with him to not let me go but he didn’t give two shits. When you’re a telemarketer all they care about is money, if you can’t show up and make your calls then you’re no good to them. I hated that job but it paid for my housing and food which I sort of needed if I wanted to live. My face became hot and the desire to stay escalated by thinking about my situation.

I looked around and wondered what reasons everyone else in this room had for staying seated. Some of them looked far worse off than me. There was a woman across from me with skin that resembled the inside of a peeled potato before you cut off the brown spots. Her clothes were falling off her boney limbs and when she opened her mouth I could see her decaying teeth. Track marks decorated her arms despite her attempts to hide them with bracelets.

“What’s the blood for? Who are you people?” The red Nikes wearing man asked in one breath. He was tapping his foot faster now, so fast I was worried his leg might fly out of its socket.

The old woman smiled in the way a grandmother would while looking down at her grandchild and responded, “We are an organization that assists in healthcare studies. We need the blood for research.”

Something about the way she said research made me want to run far away from here. I think it was the way they lit up like she was really excited to poke us with needles. She rubbed her new age necklace with her thumb in careful strokes back and forth, and I swear she was whispering something to herself. My eyes were glued to her mouth, trying to make out what she was saying, but it was just too quiet.

“How do we know you’re actually going to pay us?” Said the potato-skinned woman.

The old woman reached down and grabbed the suitcase that had been sitting underneath her chair. She placed it on her lap and opened it, revealing the most money I had ever seen at one time.

“It’s time to begin now. Does anyone else wish to leave?” Wendy asked the group, shutting the briefcase and placing it neatly back under her seat.

The dark eyed man stood up, walked over to the door, and locked it. The lock made the most sinister sound I had ever heard and my heart rate instantly skyrocketed. There was no turning back now.

“We require all participants to remain seated. We will come to each of you with the supplies.”

They walked around and gave each of us a long thin piece of silk fabric and a bottle of water. We were then instructed to tie the fabric around our heads like a blind fold, ‘for privacy purposes’.

I’m a pretty chill Person and I don’t scare easily but once that blind fold was on me I couldn’t stop the panic. My heart rate shot up and I started sweating through every ounce of my clothing. The worst part was the clinical silence and not knowing when it was going to be my turn. Were they going to draw my blood or were they going to kill Me? Was this all some conspiracy to torture us? Was this actually a massacre? Even worse, they had put on some strange meditation music for us to listen to. As if I could even begin to relax right now.

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“She has track marks,” I heard Wendy say in a hushed tone.

“We specifically stated in the ad that if you were on any drugs you could not participate.” It was Claude now, he sounded upset. “We can’t be responsible for any unusual side effects that may occur due to your lack of ability to read.” Damn, Claude was an asshole.

I shifted in my seat back and forth. What did he mean by side-effects?

Then out of nowhere, amongst my spiraling thoughts, I felt a hand on me, and I jumped.

Laughter.

I felt the tourniquet fasten around my arm and a slight pinching sensation. I hated getting my blood drawn, I could never watch and almost always threw up afterwards. Blood in general made me forget how to breathe. Acid formed in my stomach and made its way into my throat. I had to take long deep breaths to keep myself from vomiting all over whoever was holding my arm.

Just as my stomach was about to betray me, the tourniquet loosened. I exhaled. I was alive. They didn’t kill me.

They told us we could take our blindfolds off and drink some water. After a few minutes we were each handed a large wad of cash tied neatly in several red rubber bands. I watched as each person snatched the money from Claude, their faces absolutely glowing. Taylor was the only one that didn’t react in that way. Instead she had yawned and crammed the cash in her purse haphazardly. I dropped her off at her apartment soon afterwards, both of us were too tired to talk much or at all. I held her hand instead, and rubbed my thumb back and forth across her soft smooth skin. After I kissed her goodnight, I went home and fell into the deepest sleep of my entire life.

I awoke the next day feeling like I had taken 20 shots of vodka the night before. My vision was all blurred and my limbs felt like they were made entirely of lead. I managed to make it into the bathroom just in time to projectile vomit into the shower. It burned like fire on my throat and made tears well up in my eyes. When my eyes dried a bit, I saw that my vomit was black. Fucking black. This couldn’t be normal, I thought. I had never heard of such a thing. I racked my brain trying to think of everything I ate or drank yesterday but none of it was black. My heart was thudding in my chest so hard I thought it might bust out of my ribcage. What was wrong with me? I remembered coughing up some green mucus when I had that sinus infection. Was this just my body still recovering? Surely, that had to be it.

I shuffled into the living room leaning on the walls to guide my weak body and collapsed onto my old beaten-up sofa. A distraction, that’s what I needed.I turned the TV on and what happened next I will never forget. An image of one of the people who had done the study from last night was plastered on The SF Bay News. The Nike’s wearing man. His face was drastically different from the face of last night. He was smiling in this picture and looked so put together. I unmuted the TV to hear why his face was in front of me:

“Breaking News! Local man found dead on Treasure Island. The cause of death appears to have officials stumped but one witness thinks it’s poison… stay tuned to find out why…”

I was suspended in time with swarming thoughts haunting me. Poison? Surely it wasn’t related. They drew some blood that couldn’t have killed the man! I suppose if they did it incorrectly it could have… but he walked out of that room with all of us at the end. Then my mind flashed back to the blind folds and my heart stopped. What were they trying to hide?

One thought became louder than all of the rest.

They weren’t drawing our blood, they were injecting us with something.

Something that killed one of us.

Credit: Hannah Francheski

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