The God Experiment

The God Experiment


Chapter One

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play God?

We selected seven individuals for the study. My colleague found it important to include a radical mixture of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Papers were signed. Rights were vacated. Discrete cameras were set up throughout homes and places of business. We instructed the subjects to proceed with their days as if nothing had changed. Then we sold them a white lie.

Betterment.

We claimed a team of analysts would be working to improve their social patterns via a set of complicated algorithms. Allegedly, this group of productivity mappers would apply subtle changes to real-time routines that were designed to improve personal accountability and overall contentment. We told subjects that they would not notice any differences. The modifications could be as simple as a stick pushed out of a path, or a passerby saying hi, or a break in the rain at lunch. We insisted, most importantly, that all of these tweaks would be for the better.

Except our study never did any of the things it claimed. We just watched them. If they called us, we ignored it, and then we watched some more.

I worked with a well-respected scientist in the field. We can call him Thomas, or Tommy, for short. This idea was his pet project from the beginning. The eccentricity of it helped secure the early rounds of funding. My role was more along the lines of an intern. I brought coffee, watched feeds, and took notes. Not a bad gig for a twenty-three-year-old kid with a sociology degree. I loved it—at first.

That morbid curiosity turned into horror when our first subject, Michael, died in front of my eyes.

The biography listed him as Subject001, a straight white male, single, age twenty-eight. He stood at six feet three inches. He weighed one hundred and ninety pounds. He had dark brown hair, with a blemish on the upper right corner of his eyebrow, and a tattoo of a lion on his forearm. Michael didn’t have much family. Tommy preferred them that way.

On the second night, somewhere just past two, I caught 001 talking to himself.

I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. Are you sure? I don’t want to do it.

The audio caught me off guard. The rest of the evening had been silent. I wasn’t exactly prepared for a midnight emergency. I could feel myself dozing. I slugged an energy drink and refocused.

“I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. Are you sure? I don’t want to do it.”

Michael was in the kitchen at the time. I checked the cameras once, twice, thrice, half a dozen times, searching desperately for a second subject, but found no one else in the room. My boss had left the building on another one of his errands. I texted him an alert just as Michael jumped and sprinted to the door.

Camera three. 001 is losing his marbles.

Tommy hustled into the office. I couldn’t read him at the time. He wore a look equal parts excitement and equal parts nerves. Crumbs and coffee stains on his shirt implied I interrupted lunch. But he didn’t seem to mind. He watched the monitor like a parrot and quickly lit a cigarette.

“Switch. Get a better view.”

Michael entered the hallway. He stared at the glass door in front of him. He paced back and forth for a minute. Then he abruptly stopped again.

“Strangest thing…” I started. “Fine all day and now this.”

Michael reared back and banged his head against the wall.

It’s happening. Holy shit, it’s happening. Record this, kid.

After the fifth or sixth bang, the glass fractured, and Michael stopped.

“Switch the view. Switch the fucking view and record.”

I didn’t understand. I was scared. I wanted to leave. But I did my job. Michael stood in front of the door in a kind of stupor. Bits of his blood stained the glass design. Cut skin dangled over his eye. But he didn’t move. He just stared. We waited and watched for another ten minutes. Finally, Tommy got the idea to check his vitals. But he wasn’t hurt.

He was sleeping.

Standing up.

It is an eerie feeling to watch a man on the verge of a breakdown. Every few hours, Michael awoke and checked the window nervously, as if looking for somebody, only to return to that same position moments later. He repeated this cycle a few times throughout the night. He didn’t officially wake until the following morning.  

Then it was like nothing ever happened.

Michael stirred, showered, and got dressed for work, the same way he always did. He cooked his bacon and eggs on toast, the same way he always did. He took the late train and arrived at the office five minutes after nine, you guessed it, the same way he always did. But when he walked in the door, this time, he was greeted by the smiling faces of his colleagues. His manager rushed out to greet him.

Mike got a promotion. A big one. And we had nothing to do with it.

We watched the whole thing. A director called him into her office. His performance had skyrocketed in recent weeks. The executives upstairs noticed the jump. They offered a new position with better benefits and more consistent hours. The raise also included a substantial raise.

Michael appeared ecstatic. I could tell that he thought we were responsible. I still feel guilty about that part.

Our subject got wasted that night.

We didn’t capture the bar in our video feed. During these sorts of blackouts, we could still check the vitals, but we just had to wait until the subjects came into contact with another camera for visual confirmation. At around two in the morning, I caught Michael on the doorbell camera, drunk as a skunk and muttering to himself the same little phrase from the other night.

I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. Are you sure? I don’t want to do it.

He walked into the apartment and flicked a light switch. The cameras adjusted and caught him in an awkward pose by the entrance. The hallway was quiet and empty. The air conditioner hummed in the background. He futzed around the living room aimlessly. Then he went and fiddled with the temperature.

I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. Are you sure? I don’t want to do it.

The behavior really worried me. Even then. I began to doubt Tommy for the first time. Unstable subjects skewed studies. Whatever he intended to use the data for, if we didn’t account for mental illness, the results would be useless. Even a college kid knew that much.

Who is he talking to?” I wondered out loud. “The same thing, over and over again. Sounds like a conversation.”

Michael walked toward into the kitchen and grabbed a glass of water from the fridge. Even the way he moved seemed erratic. Almost like he swayed from side to side with each step. The pattern reminded me of an animal with rabies. You know the way they drag one leg behind the other? He limped just like it.

Suddenly, as if hearing something, Michael stopped and stared out the kitchen window. Water from his glass spilled out all over the floor. He ignored it and stayed there a few moments longer. He turned and offered one last line in the direction of the kitchen door camera.

Are you sure?

Then he sprinted out of view without another word.

Switch to camera four,” Tommy barked over my shoulder. “Neighborhood view.”

Michael’s drunken shape zipped into focus on the green grass of the apartment complex. His vitals skyrocketed. Blood pressure, heartbeat, and pulse jumped well past our baseline. He stopped once he got to the parking lot and looked toward a direction we could not totally see. The receiver captured rapid breath. Headlights danced into the edge of the frame.

“Pan the camera.”

The freeway.

Tom…this is a problem!” I shouted. “This is a big fucking problem.

I grabbed the office phone.

“Can we do something?” I begged. “Can we call somebody?”

I tilted the view. Michael teetered in between traffic like a missing toddler. A tractor trailer buzzed by and sent him reeling. A yellow taxi honked and almost got his foot. I closed my eyes and refused to watch what happened next.

There’s nothing we can do,” Tommy muttered. “It’s just too late. It’s too late.

I peeked at the worst possible time. Michael couldn’t play dodgeball forever. His body exploded upon collision with a moving truck. Pieces of him spread out over six lanes.

Luckily, no one else was hurt.

Unluckily, the God Experiment continued with the remaining subjects—uninterrupted and on schedule.

Chapter Two

The God Experiment’s second trial claimed a twenty-nine-year-old woman.

According to the bio, Caroline stood at five feet three inches. She weighed one hundred and thirty-five pounds. She had dirty blond hair with mildly hazel eyes and a birthmark just above her lip. Survey results indicated she identified as a female who pursued men, exclusively, a fact that checked Tommy’s second box.

So became Subject002.

Caroline was a nurse who lived alone in a small apartment one train stop away from her mother’s place. She took the rail line to visit at least twice a day. Her mom suffered from breast cancer, the results of which kicked in right around the start of our study, but she never complained. Mrs. Johnson still bought her own groceries. She still drove herself to and from the doctor. Mr. Johnson died from throat cancer years back. She was determined to beat it for him. The shows of strength were great, but the façade tended to slip on chemo days, and Caroline often worried about losing Mom, too. She still felt too young to be an orphan.

There were also things to be optimistic about. Her brother was working now, and Caroline considered that a good thing, because it got him out of the house and helped with the bills. But the job was dangerous and the hours were rough. She worried about him, too, late at night. How long could he make it work? How long could they scrape by on minimum wage? Soon, she would have to move in with them.

It was almost too much for a twenty-year-old to bear. She needed someone to share the burden. She needed to let go of the weight. And so, late at night, she put it on God.

I liked to listen on the audio while Tommy snored in the hallway.

She asked for the same things we all do. More money. A cure for Mom, who looked thinner every day, and a better career for her brother. “He has SO much potential!” she would whine. Her voice rose slightly past a whisper every time she repeated that line. “Give him the strength to apply himself this time!

Caroline also asked God, whenever he so inclined, to arrange a meeting with a man well worth the wait. She couldn’t take another month wasted on losers. That last one was way less important than the rest, though, and stayed noted as such.

She repeated the routine like clockwork. Two trips to Mom—one at lunch, one after work. A call home to her brother. A glass of wine by the reading chair, and finally, prayers before bed.

All of that changed on the second Sunday.

Mrs. Johnson’s scans were due to come back in the morning. Caroline said seventeen prayers—six Hail Marys, six Our Fathers, and five personalized messages to the big man himself. You would think all of this praying might offer some relief. But she still worried. She tossed and turned relentlessly. I counted two total hours of REM sleep.

But somehow, against all odds, the kid got something right.

A hidden camera recorded the conversation in the car the following day.

Wait…I can’t hear that doctor…” her mother began. “He mumbles when he talks. The chemo worked?

Excitement overwhelmed the sound.

It worked! He said you need some follow-up scans. Every couple months. Just to be safe. You might have to stick with the antivirals for a while. But no more cancer! It’s gone. All gone.”

Caroline laughed. Then she cried.

You are in remission, young lady!

I paused the video.

They actually made me cry. That poor, beautiful, battle-worn woman smiled brightly underneath her wig, and she looked young again. Like the good news lopped off a few years. Like she actually wanted to live again. It was so beautiful to see something so good happened, finally, in a string of bad.

Tommy appeared over my shoulder.

Screenshot that.

We resumed the video a second later.

Call your brother. He worries.” Mrs. Johnson let go of the gruff tone. “And hell, baby, let’s get a drink!

The phone dialed.

Oh, he’s on speakerphone.” Caroline giggled. “Shawn, honey, can you hear us?

A confident, young male voice crackled through the secondary audio.

Guess who just became a nine to fiver?

Two of Caroline’s prayers were answered in one day.

The family celebrated into the night. They chose a restaurant on the outskirts of town. Another blackspot on our camera feed. I hoped that they had a good time. I’ll admit that part of me missed them. I allowed myself to get caught in their story. Tommy chided me for getting too attached. I later realized why.

Caroline stumbled in front of the doorbell camera just around two in the morning. She looked beautiful, in a black party dress, with long black hair tapered off to the side. I was alone at the time. I thought I noticed her talking to somebody, and when I enhanced the audio, she sounded scared.

Are they okay? Okay. Are they okay? Okay. Are they okay? Okay.

She slurred the words on top of each other. Almost like a drunken song.

Are they okay? Okay. Are they okay? Okay. Are they okay? Okay.

I called and texted Tom.

Subject002. Same symptoms. We cannot let this happen again. Answer the fucking phone.

Caroline circled around the doorway in a confused stutter step. Finally, she ended up at the doorway. She fumbled with her keys and finally managed to sink one into the lock. She repeated her new catchphrase to the empty hallway.

Are they okay? Okay. Are they okay? Okay. Are they okay? Okay.

She strutted inside and shucked off her shirt, shoes, and hat. She twirled around and danced. She sang something that didn’t sound familiar to me. I didn’t even quite recognize the language. Then she turned around and walked back outside.

In her underwear.

In twenty-five-degree weather.

I swapped through the views and found Caroline in the backyard. An out-of-use cornfield sat on the corner of the property. She walked toward it slowly. She didn’t look scared anymore. Or in a rush. The mic caught cool, calm, and collected breaths through the rain. In fact, for the first time in the entire experiment, Caroline looked at peace. Blood pressure and vitals stayed even. Her pulse was strong. But she kept walking, onwards through the cold, barefoot and half naked.

She seemed to have a destination in mind. But we’ll never know where. When she reached the edge of the cornfield, Caroline turned and took one last look toward the house. Then she smiled. Part of me feels like she smiled at the camera. At me. But I know that’s selfish.

The audio caught one last line before the mic cut out and fell into the maze.

Are they okay? Okay.

Then she disappeared.

Subject002 is still missing to this day.

The Johnsons anxiously await her return.

Chapter Three

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to watch someone’s life fall apart on camera?

Picture yourself on a train ride over a mountain covered in ice. You can hear the avalanche. A monotonous rumble of shifting rocks and billowing snow overloads the cold air. That noise can only mean one thing, right? Death is coming. But no one in the carriage screams. No one is crying. Instead, it’s calm and quiet. Right up until the end.

Subject003 was a transgender male named Marcus.

According to our biography, the participant stood five feet six inches. He weighed one hundred and fifty pounds. In the booking photograph, dark, unblemished skin met stylish black hair shaved short on one side. Marcus was in a relationship with a female, but the happy couple had not yet moved in together, and that worked better for our purposes. Camera placement is much easier inside a cramped studio.

From an early age, Marcus exhibited clear signs that birth did not match the right body. Early onset identity crises led to complexities, including depression and anxiety, that went untreated throughout the teenage years. He got into fights. He saw jail time. Those struggles ended when medical professionals took corrective measures to implement a lifelong dream. Marcus held a high-paying job in technology. He padded his savings account and paid for gender reassignment surgery, himself, at the young age of twenty-six. Twenty-six years too late—in his estimation.

As a result, Marcus’s parents cut off all communication. That fact haunted him.

Marcus never considered himself religious. But he still prayed for some things. And yet the messages delivered by his bedside in the dark of night were to no one in particular. Each offering began with something like, “I don’t know if anybody is listening, but…

Probably because it felt safer that way. Easier to not risk damning yourself with one by siding with the other. He asked for his family to talk to him again. He asked for acceptance. He asked for his little sister’s health, and another promotion, and better medication, and better makeup to make him feel like who he already was.

In the second week of our study, things seemed to be heading in the right direction. A late-night conversation with his girlfriend broached the topic of marriage. His little sister, Sarah, began to text regularly. The course of his career continued to trend upward and bonus season claimed another happy participant.

Things changed the Tuesday after Subject002 went missing.

Marcus’s mother called that morning. A rarity. The conversation started pleasant enough. She talked about herself, mostly. The gossip at the library, favorite television shows, the usual. The focus eventually turned to her husband’s drinking problem. Another favorite.

“Your father needs help,” she squawked on speaker phone. “I’m scared of him sometimes.”

Dad must have heard that last part. A deep voice offered one soul-crushing comment while Mom tried to escape the room.

Tell my little girl that I say hello.

The results of that one single sentence on our subject’s psyche were almost too tough to witness. Marcus was in his car at the time. He was approaching a bridge. The phone line disconnected. His mother must have hung up to avoid the embarrassment of a confrontation. He still shouted anyway.

That’s it? You have nothing fucking else to say to me? Why the fuck did you even call? Why do you do this to me?!

The line beeped without sympathy.

You could feel the hopelessness. You could sense the dread. The camera caught every last tear. I wanted to help him. I wanted to intervene. But Tommy refused.

“You know the rules.”

Marcus pulled over and got out of the car. We switched cameras. He stood on the narrow sidewalk for a while. He stared off into the distance. Fog mixed in with rain and wind to whip his perfectly manicured hair this way and that. Quietly, he began to whisper one line on loop, just like all the others.

I am God’s missing string. I am…I am God’s missing string. Heh. I am Your missing string. IamYourmissingstring.

He stepped forward.

Tommy looked worried. He grabbed his cell phone and fired off a message. Then he reached over and paused my video. He tabbed to another screen. I tried to tab back and he pushed me. Camera four showed the dark inside of the car.

What the fuck is that?

A black shape sat very still in the back seat. I almost missed it. After a few moments, the door opened, and the shape exited in the opposite direction. I frantically adjusted the cameras to get a better view. But we missed it.

“Switch back.”

Marcus dangled carelessly off a steel support beam. He didn’t seem worried about the rushing water a hundred feet below. His breathing remained quiet and still.

Where do all the missing strings go?” he asked our audio feed. “Where do we go?”

He slipped off his shirt. Red scars lined his chest up and down. He unattached the microphone. He performed one final sassy sashay around the pole. Then Subject003 spread his arms and descended into a dramatic swan dive out of view.

Chapter Four

Michele Ansgar was a transgender female who never quite adjusted to the cameras in her home. That fact alone made her much smarter than the rest. It is an unmistakably itchy feeling to be watched. Some people feel it better than the rest. Some can’t just ignore it. Our instincts implore us to seek shelter in these situations. Run, hide, fight, play dead. But what if the predator has eyes in every corner of the jungle? What if there is truly nowhere to go? What then?

Subject004’s survey said she lived alone. She didn’t have many friends. She didn’t go out much, if at all, only for the necessities—keto meals and cigarettes. She kind of seemed to prefer it that way. The internet allows you weed out the mean people. Real life isn’t like that. She worked from home, too. She wrote for an online blog, the really smutty kind, you know—

Bigfoot kept lumberjack as love slave!

Or,

“Six UFOs spotted over White Valley.”

The more absurd, the more clicks, the better. She loved the thrill of it. Michele had been blogging for almost ten years. First independently, then with a major publication, this time the kind to offer health insurance. Her articles on conspiracy theories and extra-terrestrial encounters built a bit of a reputation. She spent about as much money as she earned—on rent, treatments, and the like. She kept a little on the side for the future, for a family, maybe, but it wasn’t much.

Layoffs claimed her job in the second week of our study.

As with past participants, home video caught all the gory details. Michele cried in bed for days. She didn’t leave the apartment for a week. We almost forgot about her. Food delivery boxes stacked in the kitchen and quickly became obstacles. She cancelled doctor appointments. She didn’t shower. She didn’t brush her teeth. She allowed her medication to lapse as depression took hold and shook the poor girl like a ragdoll. She looked like a shell of her former self. Wisps of red hair grew in over tender white cheeks.

She still pursued the employment market. Relentlessly. Her resume included links to all of her favorite stories. She demonstrated view counts and click counts and reader engagement. She called and begged and filled out dozens of applications online. All of them turned her away. The brutality was harsh. It seemed the job market all but dried up for the girl who once wrote that her landlord was a lizard.

The windfalls of hope and repeated disappointment cycled each day. She turned to alcohol somewhere around the third week. I caught her sniffing an unidentified white powder in the fourth. Tommy said she was depressed. He said she was suicidal. Almost like he was teeing up the sequence of events that followed.

On a cold morning, soon after the death of our first participant, Michele moved a large chair into the blind spot in the kitchen. She sat there for four hours. The entire apartment stayed quiet during this time. I watched the cameras and waited. She never moved.

“Four is acting weird.”

She emerged suspicious of everything from the cat to her own shadow. She started to look around the apartment for something. She whirled herself up into a frenzy in the process, tearing through drawers, pulling up carpet, moving furniture. It took me a second to realize what she was doing. Then it hit me.

“She’s looking for the camera.”

She found one in the bedroom lamp a moment later.

“Well, hello there!”

This directly fucked the study. Not that it mattered much anymore. We were not to be involved. We made it clear. Even in death, or illness, or emergency, or any other type of crisis imaginable. No involvement. We were only observers. That justification was the only thing that kept me in the game this long. So much for a fucking signature.

“Let’s go for a ride!”

The camera became a prop in Michele’s bout of self-destruction. She carried it side by side, with a bottle of Jack Daniels, everywhere she went. She dropped both more than once. The lens was completely fucked. The battery wouldn’t last long. Luckily, we had other angles.

Reporting live from the kitchen, water has turned a mysterious brown color. Back to you, Mark, for weather.

She laughed manically.

Reporting from the bedroom. Something is scratching underneath my floor. Can you guys hear that?

She paused.

“Hello?”

She danced into another room.

Reporting from the den. Somebody is standing outside my door. Is that one of you?

I checked the doorbell cam. Nobody was there. I checked the front yard. Nothing. Michele paused and stared blankly for a minute. Then she moved on to pop culture.

Two days without rest turned to three. Then four. Five. She looked sick. She looked like she needed help. Her hair started to thin and fall out in strands that clung to her face. Eyelashes and mascara stained her once-flawless face. I begged Tommy to let me intervene. I even picked up the phone in front of him. But he slammed it and down and nearly threw me out.

“We don’t help,” he’d insist. “We watch.”

Soon enough, Michele found the remaining cameras. She piled them all on the kitchen table like trophies. We couldn’t watch her after that. Soon she stopped live streaming. Then she stopped talking altogether. We only had her vitals. I hoped that wherever she went, Michele finally found some sleep, but I doubted it. Her heartrate slowed.

On the third morning without contact, somebody knocked at the apartment door.

I nearly missed it again. The knock started out quiet and unassuming. After a few unanswered raps, it grew aggressive, until soon the knocks became an absolute pounding that stirred Tommy from his sleep.

“What the fuck?”

Michele sprinted across the kitchen and into our viewpoint. She grabbed a camera. I couldn’t help but smile. She looked somehow better than before. Showered, clean, rested.

Do you guys hear it now?” she shouted. “Do you hear him?!”

We did.

What do I do?

I had no idea. I couldn’t even tell her what to do. Tom pulled out his phone again. He had a block on the device that obscured my vision from the side. I tried to rip it out of his hands. I asked him about the text messages. I asked him about the participants. I asked him what the fuck we were even doing here. He finally looked like he might give me something. But then Subject004 walked over to the door.

Shit,” he muttered. “Don’t answer it, honey. Don’t answer.”

We didn’t have her phone number. We didn’t have two-way audio. We were just observers. That was all we were. Pathetic little observers who did nothing. Did that make us God?

Michele looked through the peephole. She shrugged her shoulders. She caught her breath and winked at the camera. Then she opened the door.

I switched to the doorbell cam.

The feed flickered.

“What the fuck happened to our video?” I screeched. “We’re blind. We’re blind, Tommy.”

I turned up the sound. A woman screamed from somewhere outside the apartment. Gunfire erupted into our headphones. I fiddled helplessly with the video as footsteps gently exited the staircase in the back of the building.

“Do we have the parking lot?” I panicked. “Why don’t we have the parking lot?”

Tom reached over and pulled the plug. He had to hit me in the mouth to do it. I fell to the floor like a sack of potatoes and smacked my head along the way. He stepped over me and pulled out a hard drive. Blood pooled over my eyes.

“Get up!” he shouted. “Get the fuck up. We have to go. Now.”

All of the screens went dark. All of our work disappeared.

Tommy fired off a few more rapid-fire messages. He hooked his arm underneath mine. And then we started moving.

“Where are we going?”

He looked at me like that was the dumbest question that could have been asked.

“We have to help these people. We are running out of time.”

Chapter Five

The God Experiment found me, yours truly, in the middle of a hurricane.

Tommy and I were absolutely flying down an ill-advised stretch of I-95. Storm warnings screeched over the radio. Hail pounded the windshield. The roads were slick with white waves of spitting rain and bits of black ice that stuck to the asphalt like butter. I clung to the steering wheel and did my best to keep us on the road.

Please tell me what it happening,” I begged. “Who are we running from? What is happening?”

Tommy finally looked at me.

How do you think we have any money?

I stared ahead blankly.

“Really? How do you think we paid for this shit? The lab we sit in every day, the computers, the cameras used to monitor five dead subjects. How? How do we do it?”

I shrugged.

“Studies always have donors. It could be anybody. Individuals, institutions, companies, or organizations…”

“How do you think we stayed out of trouble with the law?”

I shrugged.

“You just watched five people die and not a single cop questioned you about it. How?”

The pieces clicked.

“Government organizations can also fund experiments.”

“Bingo.”

“But they all have oversight, Tommy. They have to report this shit to taxpayers, right? So, who is it? Local, state, federal?”

“I don’t know.”

“Ah, c’mon…”

“I really don’t,” he snapped. “I don’t know who they are. They’re just suits to me. Suits and text contacts. Take the next exit.”

We had to swerve just to catch it. Tommy’s fat ass bounced off the cupholder. I wanted to laugh. He still seemed too idiotic to be a part of some massive conspiracy. But something else nagged at me.

“You said five deaths.”

“I meant four.”

“But you said five.”

He grew quiet for a minute.

I did it myself this time,” he mumbled.

“What?”

“Nothing but a little arsenic.

What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked. “You have to talk to me, man. I’m the one driving.

Tom took one long look at me before he finally sighed and replied.

“You really don’t get it. They’re not just watching. They’re killing them. That’s what this is. All of it. They want to learn the best way to kill them and make it look ordinary. Whoever, whenever, wherever.”

The rain continued through our silence.

“I…didn’t know. Not until it was too late. But there is a man behind the curtain, Justin. There always is. A puppet master. A leader. The guy who makes things move. You’ve lived in the Valley long enough to know the stories. I have reason to believe we are running from the Big Kahuna himself.

A massive oak tree fell from the side of the road. It landed about twenty feet ahead. The distance should have given me enough time to stop. But the brakes in my car screeched and failed. I did my best to minimize the inevitable crash. I pumped the pedal and beckoned for Tom to hold on. He shouted one last thing back at me before we collided with the divider.

I didn’t know.

The next few moments transcended into a trance of swirling objects and suspended animation. I can remember the tumbles pretty clearly. One, two, three, four, five suspensions of gravity before one massive settling on the side of a hill somewhere below the road. My head smacked the roof through each iteration, but the seatbelts kept us in place.

The car landed upright.

I was all right.

Tommy wasn’t. He was bleeding from a laceration to his stomach and one to his head. I pulled out a rag from my glove compartment and tried to stem the bleeding. It didn’t help much.

He pointed to the back seat.

“Jesus, no. No, no, no,” I wailed. “The equipment is fucked. All of it. Fucked. We’re fucked.”

He smiled.

“It’s okay, kid. I’ve got backups.”

My arm felt broken, but adrenaline took over, so I used my good arm to unbuckle our seatbelts. We tried to climb up the ravine and back towards the road. But mud caked in around our ankles. Tommy’s head wound looked worse and worse. At one point, he lost consciousness. I tried to carry him, I just couldn’t do it. I pulled out my cell phone to call emergency services. He grabbed me by the wrist.

“I’m fine,” he spat. “Put it down.”

I stopped dialing.

They would have tortured her, you know,” he whispered. “The fifth subject. It was a mercy…killing her that way.”

Why?”

She was a reporter,” he started. “She knew too much. They like to make it hurt, too, sometimes. At least, that’s what He does.”

“You told her? The reporter?”

He nodded.

“How long have you known?”

Tom looked like he wanted to answer. But a pair of headlights arrived by the side of the road. An SUV gracefully slid down the embankment. I assumed it to be a passerby and couldn’t believe our luck. The car parked about a dozen yards off. I waved and called out.

“Hey, buddy, we need help getting out of here.

A man in a crisp black suit exited the driver side. He walked up and shielded himself from the storm with a wide black bowl cap. The type you see in all the old movies. The rain started to erode the embankment we were lying upon. We slipped further down the hill. The shadow in the suit watched us struggle. Then he smiled.

Good evening to you both,” he said in an awkward tone. “Hell of a place to end up.”

I moved to answer but didn’t have the time.

The man pulled out a pistol and shot Tommy in the head.

Bits of brain splattered onto my shirt. An enormous weight fell out of my arms and splattered into the mud. I knew what was coming. I didn’t want to die. I was still ready for it. Maybe my conscience would be cleaned.  I closed my eyes and waited for it to happen.

But the bullet never came.

Because there was one participant left in the God Experiment.

Me.

Chapter Six

I wished I wasn’t alive.

That’s such a bullshit phrase nowadays. Just doesn’t mean anything, anymore, you know? Exaggeration and veneer have taken the guts out of it. I mean, these days, the very same line could be applied to waiting in the doctor’s office, or getting caught in traffic, or some other minor inconvenience. It somehow doesn’t encapsulate being tied up in an empty room with thousands of volts of electricity coursing through your bones.

So, truthfully, now. Let’s try that again.

I wished I was not alive.

Pain became something to rest my hat on when breathing was no longer a manual effort. The shapes inside my teeming space blended together like three white rabbits shuffling through a surgery room. I felt insanity grip the corners of my brain and hold it tight like a vice. I prayed to Death through gritted teeth and begged him to visit that night.

But He came instead.

“I would like to talk about the God Experiment.”

The voice boomed and resonated as if on echo. I spoke back in my prepared and parroted speech.

“Please. I’ve told you everything. Subject005 is a twenty-five-year-old, bisexual female…”

A white rod of lightning intercepted my mind.

“Where are the tapes?”

“Subject005 was killed by Subject006, Thomas Mark Willow… We call him Tommy for short…”

“Where are the tapes?”

“I don’t know.”

The pain grew worse.

“Tommy knew.”

The Man did not like my answer. I asked him why.

“We’ll try again later.”

I looked around the room and tried to take in my surroundings. The walls were bleach white. The floor felt concrete. Two other shapes argued in the corner. They wore quarantine gear.

“This was not the plan,” a man snapped. “We are scientists, not executioners.”

A female voice answered.

“Life never fits the plan, Diego. You were the handler on this one. Your fuckup.”

“We don’t have audio in the car,” he whined. “How is that my problem?”

The female voice sounded downright cocky when she replied.

“Do you want me to tell Him?”

“I just think our placements needs to be better. That’s all.”

“Do your job.”

Diego walked back to the bed.

“Tell me your name.”

I hesitated.

“Tell me your name,” he asked while turning a knob on the device to my right. “What is your name?”

The pain arced back up my spine.

“You’ve been watching me?”

Diego laughed coolly.

“Don’t be too offended. You’re no saint yourself.”

The pain ascended to my shoulders.

“Where are the tapes?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where are the tapes?”

“You’re not God,” I gurgled. “You just…play. Pretend.”

Diego laughed.

“Oh, now he gets it!”

That really sent him into a cackle.

“Where do you think we are?”

He pushed the pain nozzle again.

“You’re in the Valley, baby! The State is God!”

My chair spun around. A wall of cameras sat in front of me. Hundreds of them. Thousands. Kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms. Offices, libraries, restaurants. Countless vitals and countless feeds all neatly labeled with names in black marker.

Diego frowned down at me.

“You know we have to kill him, right?”

They both paused.

“We can’t let Him know we failed.”

“I know.”

“He wants the tapes.”

“I know.”

“He’ll kill us if we don’t get them.”

“I know.”

“Or worse…”

“I said I know. Did you fucking hear me, Sarah? I know. I know what we need to do. Now go get a clean gun.”

Something big exploded in the distance. The floor started to rumble.

“Do you hear that?”

Diego walked over to one of the cameras and stared at it intently. He turned around to say something smart. Then the entire wall collapsed on top of him.

The next few seconds were a blur. I ripped out the wires. Sarah rushed to contain me. The room started to fall apart around us. Lightbulbs shattered. Paneling cracked. The ceiling collapsed on itself, and just as Sarah wrapped a cold hand around my arm, a support beam flattened her face.

The door was open. I didn’t stop twice to think about why.


I don’t have all the answers. I did my best to write some of them down here.

I ran from White Valley the day the lab collapsed. I slept in unlocked cars. I took shelter in parks without cameras. I traveled across the country on the backs of pickup trucks and I somehow still don’t feel safe. I know they’re still watching me. I haven’t seen them yet. They’re too smart. But I can feel them. And they’re watching you, too.