“I need the money”, was all I told myself as I headed out the door towards the address CORPAL sent me. Laura kissed me on the cheek, then on the forehead, and finally on the lips before I headed out the door. She couldn’t mask the faint disapproval in her eyes as I headed out down the steps and climbed into the black suburban CORPAL sent to take me to the facility. We’d been arguing for hours the night before, she thought the whole thing was sketchy: “Some random guy in a suit walks into a laundromat, with no clothes, and offers you money in exchange for allowing yourself to be a part of some stupid experiment? It just doesn’t make sense.”
“It doesn’t have to make sense Laura, okay? It just has to pay.”
She sighs defeated. We only ever argue about things concerning money, and these days everything leads back to the dead presidents. If only someone told me to leave my dreams in high school and major in something profitable in college. A bachelor’s degree in art history yet no one seemed to care about the theatricals and design of the infamous Trojan horse or the strokes of the famed Starry Night piece as it captures the essence of a nostalgic period in history. So there I was, a fresh college graduate with thousands of dollars of debt, yet struggling to make ends meet in the inflated New York City hustle and bustle.
The car ride was long and quiet. The radio was on but the frequency never seemed to click in. Why would a fancy Suburban have a janky radio system? No. I pushed that thought to the bottom of my being, that was Laura getting inside my head with all her abducting and foul play talk. It’s just an experiment, I reminded myself.
Once we were out of the city and past the surrounding suburban towns I asked if others would be meeting us at the facility. The driver eyed me through the rearview mirror, then let out a low, disgruntled, moan before fixating his eyes back on the road.
We pulled into a circular driveway and stopped in front of a grey facility, an architectural masterpiece it was. I eyed the compound before the driver opened the door and lead me inside. No one else was here. No receptionist, no scientists, and not a single participant of than myself. Maybe I was the only one who volunteered, too many Lauras out there. Hopefully, they’d give me an extra incentive for being the only one here.
We stepped into a cold elevator and descended for what felt like minutes, maybe it was the silence. I tried to make conversation with the driver and now escort, but my attempts were met with more grunts.
The elevator opened and revealed a dark empty room with a dated television system and a chair. The escort gestured for me to enter and the elevator closed quickly behind me. I called out to him, to anyone.
No one responded.
I was alone with no instructions on what to do, I began to give into Laura’s suspicions when a voice rang over an intercom.
“Welcome, Timothy. Please turn on the television and begin the experiment.”
I walked over to the dated system: Fancy suburban, janky radio. The architecturally modernized facility has no staff. Science experiment with dated equipment. Things weren’t adding up, but I pushed Laura’s words down again, this time it wasn’t so easy.
I followed the voice’s instructions and turned on the TV. A screening quickly shot in as I took a seat in the reclining chair with an ottoman to match.
A winsome art piece displayed on the screen: it was a battle of the deep, ocean-like, blues and daunting, pulsating, reds. It seemed to hold texture, similar to velvet and grain. The piece shifted and curated in live time as I settled in the chair and put my feet up. Then, the patterns and textures fused into a truly morbid sight. A grey humanoid species with sharpened teeth, stained and dripping with blood, squatted down on long legs over an array of bodies, feasting. They fished through the corpses, some still moving, for the lungs, fought over the kidneys, and threw the pancreas to the side.
“Hey lady! Hello?! What is this!?” I sit up on the edge of the seat, pushing the ottoman to the side.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?”
I yell incessantly until someone responded.
“You must watch the television for twelve hours a day to receive your stipend. Thank you for participating in this experiment curated by CORAL.”
My stomach turned as I obeyed. Every day my driver escort would take me home and hand me a check for $350. I never told Laura about the contents of the screen because she was so relieved we weren’t struggling anymore, plus I didn’t want to hear her gloating about the peculiarity of it all.
Then one day, after a more gruesome and macabre screening, the driver offered me a $10, 000 check. I questioned the gesture but he persisted and as soon as I grabbed it my stomach grumbled furiously. My mind suddenly filled with flashbacks of every screening, and somehow I involuntary called upon the senses from each: I could smell the lemon-scented pine-sol of the linoleum floor, feel the claustrophobic feeling from being engulfed in a dark-grey cube, and even the stinging of my eyes from staring at a screen for twelve hours returned, it all came back resolutely.
Dinner was in the oven but the sight was disgusting and the smell of the dish was completely unpleasant. I walked upstairs, my stomach howling stronger and more vicious with each step. Laura was sound asleep when I walked in.
My stomach pounced inside of me, my mind raced, and then suddenly my thoughts were clear. I was fulfilled and my stomach ceased as the sensory flashbacks subsided. I laid back against the headboard and wiped the side of my lip to see red, thick, substances dripping from my hand, splotching over the white linen and cold pillows. Unsure how I recognized the scent anyhow, it all smelled of the pancreas. Laura’s lifeless body rested beside me, with the scent emanating from the gaping hole inside of her body, filling my senses. I glanced over at the check sitting on the nightstand next to me, then caught a glimpse of a notification from my phone. All I could make of the small lettering was: CORPAL.