0.1 We're Watching You
Flames crackled around her, and sweat beaded on her brow. Cacophonous laughter echoed off of the cavernous walls, alight and red with the glow of the fire. A large schism opened in the center of the Earthen cave. The odor of brimstone filled her nostrils, thick and pungent. Setia raised her arm to shield her face from the flickering flames.
As Setia peered downward into the hole, black shadowy tendrils shot up, reaching for her. They slithered around her and coiled around her wrists. She screamed. It was soundless as the coils now around her ankles dragged her toward the hole. She clawed at the ground to hold her until her nails were bloody and ragged. Tears streamed from her face. As she looked down into the abyss, she saw a face. Twisted in sinister laughter, the beauty of the glowing red eyes haunted her. Black hands, weighed down by chains, rose for her, reaching.
“I will have you…” the voice whispered, a dark caress in her mind. She fell.
She gasped as she shot up in her bed, drenched in a cold sweat. Breathing heavily, she threw the blankets off of her and ran her fingers through her long, curly black hair, which was thick and matted from tossing and turning all night.
The alarm clock next to her bed read 4:45 A.M. and she groaned. She hadn’t gotten a full night’s sleep in months. She reached for her glasses that rested on the bedside table and placed them on her face. Her books from studying the night before were scattered on the floor. She’d fallen asleep reading again.
Reaching for the books, she placed them on her desk next to her stack of red “FINAL NOTICE” envelopes. She sighed, leafing through them briefly, only to throw them back onto the desk. Running out of time and options, she sighed. She thought of the psychological research experiment invitation she’d received in her mailbox earlier in the week. It promised to pay $5000 to participants. That might tide her over until she can find a job that will fit in with her master’s classes.
She threw her keys in her purse and threw her jacket over her shoulders. It was time to do something.
CRACK. Lightning flashed, illuminating the early morning sky a brilliant midnight blue. Rain cascaded from the heavens and pelted the cement of the sidewalk. The cobblestone streets were deserted, students scrambled and ran to get cover away from the torrent of rain.
Setia clutched her pea coat around her neck to fight the cold. Her umbrella twisted and snapped with the heavy winds. Sloshing through large puddles on the walkway, she ran toward the enormous building looming before her. She pushed through the large glass set of double-doors, trailing a stream of water from her as she entered the lobby.
“Setia Evans?” A kind, masculine voice chimed from behind the computer desk. Setia approached the desk and tried to muster a smile for the receptionist. He was a young man who looked to be in his mid-twenties. With cropped black hair, hazel brown eyes and a dazzling smile. He had a small piercing in his nose.
“Hello, I have an appointment with Elijah Parks at 7:30?” She mumbled. Nodding, he tapped away at his keyboard, then moved to stand.
“Follow me, please.” He led her down a winding series of hallways, past cubicles and offices. Some empty lecture hall rooms housed students studying for their exams. He led her into an entirely white meeting room, with a desk and two chairs on either side. A computer sat on the desk. He turned to Setia and held out his hand.
“I’m Eli Parks, nice to meet you, Setia.” He said with a smile that seemed to hide many mysteries. He gestured for them to sit down.
“So, what brought you to us?” He asked, settling down behind his desk. He leaned on his arm casually. Setia adjusted the collar of her shirt and cleared her throat.
“I saw your ad for research participants. I was told to make an appointment with you.” She answered honestly. He nodded vigorously and bit his lower lip.
“So first, let’s discuss the experiment. There is only so much you may know, because we must follow double-blind procedures, right? This is a joint experiment between the psychology department and the creative writing department. We are interested in collecting observational data from participants by them wearing a metal wrist cuff.” He took a big breath and continued. “There are liability wavers involved, of course. The university does not take responsibility for injury, loss of limb, or death because of the experiments, but don’t worry, that’s just a formality. It’s perfectly safe.” He rambled on. Setia blanched in his seat, sweat beaded on her forehead.
“What data are you collecting?” Setia asked, curious. Were they collecting data on her social patterns, were they going to be recording her?
“Mostly social patterns, physiological responses, generalized data. Everything we capture is strictly confidential, I can assure you.” Eli smiles.
“And this isn’t anything illegal?” She asked. He laughed and shook his head.
“Nothing illegal. But that’s all I can tell you about the specifics of the experiment…”
This sounded more and more like a bad idea. Liability wavers? The experiment promised to pay participants $5000, which would go a long way to buying her time to find a job. It sounded too good to be true. Thinking of the stack of red envelopes on her desk in her apartment with “FINAL NOTICE” stamped on the front, she bit her lower lip. She realized Eli had been speaking the entire time about the experiment, and she hadn’t been paying attention. She nodded.
“Well then, okay. We’ll just need you to sign some documents and fill out a questionnaire.” He slid a package of papers across the table and a pen. With a shaking hand, Setia picked up the pen and flipped through the pages of the document. There was no way she could read the whole thing right now. She chewed on her lip and shook her head. Whatever. It was worth the money. Flipping through the questions, Setia’s eyes widened. “What is your preference, men or women?” “List what you find attractive in a partner.” “List things you fear.”
“What questions are these?” She asked incredulously. He waved his hand nonchalantly.
“Just some personality profiling data, for our records. No big deal.” He scoffed. She signed the papers and slid them back across the table. Eli smiled, his face twisted, and there was a dark glint in his eyes. In a moment, his sweet smile had returned.
He reached across the table and placed his hands around her wrist. When he removed it, a silver bracelet cuffed around her wrist glimmered. She reached to touch it and pull it. She could not get it off.
“It’s stuck?” She asked. He nodded.
“To prevent it from falling off or being lost. We will remove it when the experiment has ended. We will also give compensation at the end of the experiment.” He shuffled the papers and placed them on his desk.
“So what do I do now?” Setia asked her, still staring at the cuff on her wrist. Eli smiled and tilted his head.
“Well, just live your life. We will record data. That’s all you need to know.” He moved to rise from the desk. Setia stood as well.
“That’s it?” She asked him. He laughed and nodded his head.
“That’s it. We’ll be in touch.”
She bid Eli goodbye and wandered out of the building, back into the torrential downpour. She looked up at the morning sky and sighed, then looked down at the cuff on her wrist again. Time to go home and get some much needed rest.