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“Before we begin, I need to receive confirmation that you read all of the rules you have to follow to be fully eligible to receive the monetary compensation after completion of this test.” The small man glared at me owlishly through his overlarge glasses, as if to pluck an answer out of me like a particularly self- confident but not terribly intimidating bird of prey. He tapped his clipboard impatiently as I settled into a dent in the strange foam material that lined the room I was going to have to occupy for the next 8 hours. This whole situation was kind of baffling in and of itself, but I wasn’t going to sneeze at a five thousand dollar payout for sitting in a dark room for eight hours, especially since they’d brought me in so close to rent day. As a seasoned veteran of the clinical testing scene, I’d taken quite a lot of risks for a few hundred dollars, and even though I’d heard some nasty shit about these sensory deprivation chambers, I was pretty sure I could handle it. They were even giving me some mild sedatives, which was supposed to be the point of this test, Astronaut relaxants or some crap like that.
I rattled off the rules I’d signed off on half a dozen times already. No, I will not move. No, I do not have any light emitting electronics on my person. No, I have no personal music players or headphones. Yes, I will take the medication given before entering the chamber. Yes, I understand that breaking any of those rules or lying on any of my previous applications will remove my eligibility for payment. The bespectacled man, who I could only imagine must have been an Eggbert or a Melvin from the practiced look of a someone who has spent too much of his life explaining to dull people why Dungeons and Dragons is a perfectly acceptable hobby, and was applying that same conversational style to the moron hopping into a big black box to be alone in the dark for eight hours. Once I had assured that I could in fact read the papers I had scratched my signature onto, he gave me a curt nod, and brought a tray with a small paper cup of water and two small white tablets. As per my previous instructions, I quaffed the pills and washed them down with the lukewarm water. Eggbert apparently got a final okay from the guy operating the doors, and made sure I was laying back and ready to go. As he stepped out of the chamber, he turned back to me and gave a surprisingly sincerely “Best of luck”, and moments later the doors began to slowly slide shut. The whirring of hydraulics was slowly stifled along with the light from outside. It was now entirely dark. It was now entirely quiet.
I did not realize what exactly they meant by “completely dark and completely quiet”. I had been in total darkness before, when I went to tour a cave with my parents when I was a teenager. While it was a bit unsettling, having the lights shut off in that cave was entirely different from the strangeness of complete silence. People sometimes things are all quiet, but they’re wrong. Even snow gently falling has its own sound. Even if we can’t hear it, it’s still there. The absolute silence of the room and complete lack of light made it all the more unsettling when I first felt something brush across my hand.
It was only about half an hour in. Despite the darkness and silence, I felt like I was holding up pretty well, and I was devising some clever ways of spending the money that was as good as in my pockets. I hardly noticed it on the initial pass. A quick kiss of movement on the back of my left hand, like the memory of a breeze. I had started imagining a bar crawl with my buddies when the sensation returned. A fleeting pass of movement and a light touch, like the tip of a feather. I shifted my eyes side to side, and despite the futility of the action, I squinted into the darkness. Shockingly, I saw absolutely nothing. I was fairly certain that I’d just gotten a stray hair on me at one point or another, but as soon as I started to have my doubts that I even felt it at all, it was back. It was a bit stronger movement, and the touch lingered for a moment. Shivers ran down my spine. What the hell was this all about? Were they just messing with me?
Crick grick crack grick
I heard a noise. That was impossible. They said in the trial there wouldn’t be any sound in here, and that I would be just sitting here until my 8 hours had run out. Five thousand dollars though… Even if they were screwing with me, that’s a lot of money. Just grit your teeth and bear it. Easy money easy life, right?
This time the feather touch traced its way to my wrist, and it came with an almost-sigh. Ah shit, they were taking this a bit too far, don’t you think? Come on guys, joke’s over, let’s get back to the whole experiment thing, okay?
Grick grick crack crack grick crack crack crick
Oh fuck that the hell is this all about come on guys, you’re freaking me out pretty bad. I get it, relaxant testing, maybe you ought to go back to the drawing board on this one because holy shit you’ve mixed up a great big flop as far as relaxing goes if you get what I’m saying and I’m saying this is some seriously rude shit you’re pulling. Okay we’ve had our research, it’s been about seven and a half hours now, so I think we’re right on track for concluding this little experiment of yours and packing up and heading home with your good old pal James clutching his fat wallet and getting ready to out on the town for a night to remember with the boys, and we’ll all get sloshed and we’ll even drag Eggbert along if he behaves himself and doesn’t try to pull any of his nerd shit on the girls we’re after oh god what the fuck is that touching me…
It felt like a tongue. It snaked its way around my hand and around my wrist and halfway to my elbow and then back. Oh my god it went three times around my wrist oh god oh god I think I’m crying but I can’t hear myself cry shit shit we have to be done soon.
Grrrriiiiiiiick griiiiiiick craaaaaaaaack
What the fuck are you doing god please stop it
Oh, hello Jim.
What was that, I heard something. It’s so dark, I can’t see.
It’s just me, Jim. You really need to calm down, brother. You should see yourself, you’re a mess right now. I thought grown men didn’t cry, Jim, but you’re blubbering all over right now. Now dry those eyes and buck up, because we’ve got a long way to go still.
What are you saying stop whispering I can’t hear you I can’t hear you I don’t hear you I don’t wanna no stop I don’t wanna hear you
I felt the feather brush my cheek and writhe up near my eye. I didn’t have anything left to cry.
Now Jim, it looks like you’ve got yourself in a little bit of a pickle here. You see, I would absolutely love to turn on the lights and have a cozy little chat but you’d just shrivel up like a little prune man and maybe hurl all over yourself and ruin that very nice polo shirt you picked out to make yourself feel a bit more distinguished than you actually are. See Jim, even though you’re having a fit about this whole thing, you really need to go ahead and look at the big picture: There are a bunch of people who know you. I’m not the only one waiting for you, either. You got plenty of pals here, Jim. You know what the best part is too? We’re patient. I mean Jim, we really ARE patient. We’ve all got plenty of time and we’ve waited a real long time and every one of us is perfectly fine waiting a lot longer if we have to. Just for you, Jim! You really should be grateful.
The touch wound down the side of my face, tracing the contours of my neck. Everything felt so heavy. It smelled like the time we burned garbage and forgot to take out the plastic bottles.
Well Jim, I’ll tell you what, I’m just tickled about this surprise visit. We’ll all be here. Every last one of us is so eager to see you, and they’ll just be thrilled when I tell them all the juicy details. I do really hate goodbyes, Jim, but it seems like it’s time to say Au’revoir. It’s been a real pleasure Jim, I hope you can find it in yourself to pay a visit again someday.
Grick grick grick grick
It almost sounded like a throaty chortle.
They hauled me out later. They said I was nearly catatonic, and that they kept me at the facility for two days to keep tabs on me. They even paid an extra twenty-five hundred for the trouble. I must have driven home at some point, because I’m sitting in my crappy easy chair in my small apartment living room. Hell, I even have a greasy paper sack of burgers next to me.
Everything in front of me seems so unreal. So very unreal compared to the small dimpled pock marks that I saw had been melted into the foam so close to where my face had been, as they dragged me from that chamber of darkness and silence.