Donna backed away from me, treating me like someone with a communicable disease.
“I didn’t do anything, Donna. Don’t look at me like that.” She had gotten into my head; I’m not above admitting that. “Donna, listen to me. My name is Joy Freeman. I’m a student. I go to Davenport College. I’m in the Math Department; you can call and check.”
“Prove it,” she said.
“Prove who you are and what you do.”
I searched my pockets for ID before remembering that everything was in my purse and that they took it.
“I’m not part of this, Donna. I’m here the same as you.”
And then, I felt tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I croaked pathetically at her. “I didn’t do anything. I came here to make some extra money. My friend made me a bridesmaid, and I couldn’t afford the dress.”
“Why didn’t you eat?” she said.
“Because I wasn’t hungry!”
I paused to collect myself, remembering that I was right about what was going on.
“Donna, please. No one killed anyone here.”
“My name’s not Donna.”
“That’s irrelevant. Just listen to me. If they poisoned our food, that would mean that the test is being run by psychotics. And if that’s true, how could they have been hired by a psychology department at a university? How could they advertise on a bulletin board in my student lounge?”
“This test isn’t run through a university. It’s run by a private institution.” She paused and looked deeply into my eyes. “Didn’t you read the paperwork?”
I did. I read all of it.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “No scientific institution would kill people as part of a study, especially in such a blatant way. That’s not how it’s done. It’s not how they conduct research.”
She countered with a typical argument. “Ever read about a group of Germans who liked to perform human experiments in the nineteen forties?”
“People know we’re here,” I said. “They’d never get away with it.”
“No one knows I’m here,” she said.
“What about your family?” I asked. What about your son?”
“Charlie died two years ago. If I had to guess, I’d say that no one knows you’re here either.”
She was right. No one knew I was here. I just moved here for school. I hadn’t had a chance to make any friends.
“Pretty coincidental,” she said.
“But you forget something important,” I countered.
“This is a blind psychological study. They’re messing with our heads.”
“How much proof do you need, Joy? How many bodies do you need to see on the floor?”
“It’s not the way — ”
“Do you need to see me down there? The only thing blind around here is you.”
I had to take a different approach with her. It was insane that she thought I had anything to do with this.
“Please,” I said, “I don’t know what your background is…other than being religious, which puts you at a disadvantage.”
“Yes. Don’t take it the wrong way. What I mean is that it’s completely different from the way I view the world. Maybe that’s why you can’t see things the way I can, but give me a chance to explain. Let me teach you how it works.”
“You’re going to teach me?” she scoffed.
“I study mathematics, but before that it was chemistry. I ate, slept, and breathed the scientific method. I’m trained to analyze and interpret experimental data, but — ”
“I’m not interested.”
“But more than that, I know how to construct experiments. I understand the scientific mind, the type of mind that would create an experiment like this. Everything is controlled. Nothing is left to chance. Whoever designed this test was very meticulous and careful. He needed to get funding. No, hear me out. Think about how much it must’ve cost to stage this experiment. Look at this beautiful room. Look at all the food. Look at the care someone took. Does this look like it was created by a depraved mind? Does this beautiful feast look like the work of a psychotic? Or even of someone who’s indifferent or negligent? Do the way things appear make any sense at all? Does it make sense that some intelligent mind went through all this painstaking work to put us here and feed us, all so he could just kill us like, like rats? Are you telling me he did all this, created all this just to watch us die? No. It doesn’t make any sense, and I can see that you agree with me. You can see it. He’d want to publish these results, wouldn’t he? What would be the point of doing it if he couldn’t share his results with the rest of the world? That alone proves this can’t be what it seems, because they’d never be able to publish these results after conducting the study this way. We’re not in Nazi Germany, Donna.”
I could not have laid it out more rationally that than, but she was not convinced.
“Well I don’t have a scientific background,” she said, “but if this isn’t really happening, then how do you explain the two bodies on the floor? Explain the two bodies that were once living, breathing human beings a short…” She looked at her wristwatch that wasn’t there. “A short time ago. If what you’re saying is true,” She paused. “Do you see what I’m getting at?”
“You’re asking how my interpretation explains the fact that Adam and Tom appear to be dead,” I asked.
I thought about it, but there was no easy way to say it. “Then based on my argument, it follows logically that they can’t be dead.”
“They’re not dead?” she asked.
“They can’t be. Unless they died from unrelated causes at the same time, which would be too much of a coincidence.”
“Yeah, I think it would.” She laughed, then put her head in her hand and shook her head. She raised her head and looked at me, still shaking it.
“So then none of them are dead,” she said, pointing to the others.
I froze. I almost couldn’t say it — I started to doubt myself — but then I remained steadfast and said, “No.”
I had never seen blind fury before, but I saw it in Donna. She ran up to me, pointed in my face, and screamed, “Then why aren’t they breathing? Why aren’t their hearts beating in their chests?”
I backed away from her. She was like an animal, totally unhinged. She was losing it, and I was worried.
“They must be beating,” I said.
“You’re the one who said you couldn’t find a pulse!”
“I know, but maybe I missed it. Maybe it’s just really low.”
“I’ve heard enough,” she said, then started to walk to the other part of the room.
I yelled after her, “There are drugs that can bring about the appearance of death. Maybe that’s what they put in the food. Or maybe those two had the drugs on them and took them when we weren’t looking.”
“Or maybe I’m in cahoots with them and took the drugs myself,” she shot back.
There was an idea. “Maybe,” I said. I trusted no one.
Donna knelt and lowered her head, speaking to me but at the floor.
“You’re grasping at straws,” she said. “I don’t think you believe any of what you just told me. I think you’re scared and are creating this outlandish theory because it fits your belief system — “
“It’s not a belief system,” I quickly corrected her.
“All in an attempt — “
“It’s the scientific method.”
“All in an attempt to ignore what’s staring you in the face. And what’s staring you in the face is that we’re doomed. Do you hear me?”
She was scaring me. “No.”
“Yes, Joy! We’re gonna die!”
“No! There has to be a good explanation.” And there is.
Some time passed in silence. Donna took out a string of rosary beads and prayed quietly. I asked her what she was doing, and she said she was doing exactly what it looked like she was doing. She was praying to God for help, and if it wasn’t in his plan to help her, then she was preparing her soul to meet him. She asked me to join her.
“I can’t,” I said.
“You can’t pray with me?”
“I forget how.”
“You chose to forget.”
“I did,” I said. “I did because it’s such a waste of time. It’s something that’s beaten into our heads as children, so we regress back to it during times of trouble. You’re only doing it because you’re scared.”
“I am scared,” she said. Her bottom lip trembled.
“Instead of doing that,” I said, “Help me figure out a way out of this.”
“There is no way out of this,” she whispered. “Not for me.”
Donna put her head down and cried. I knelt next to her and took her hand.
“Everything’s going to be OK,” I said. “These men who are running thing know what they’re doing, and we have to trust them. There’s no need to pray because we’re going to be fine.”
“Maybe you will. You didn’t eat.”
She was right. I had no skin in the game. All I did was talk. I had risked nothing; I had done nothing to show how committed I was to my interpretation of the day’s events. I rose from Donna, calmly walked to the table, and ate as much food as I could as quickly as I could.
Donna screamed, “Joy, don’t” but it was too late. Then she tried to tackle me to stop me from eating, but I pushed her down and crammed more food down my throat.
I heard Donna’s voice as if coming from across the cosmos. “Joy, you have nothing to prove to me. Don’t do this.”
I walked around to the other side of the table, and she gave up. She could see how much I had already ingested. Still, she spoke on and on, mostly to herself.
“Why did you do that, Joy? Are you so blind that you’re willing to die to prove, what? To prove that you can’t admit you’re wrong? Because you can’t admit that nothing supports your view of reality?”
“I’m not wrong,” I said, wiping my mouth on an embroidered napkin. “Don’t worry about me. Go back to what you were doing. Go on and pray your heart out to a vacuum, to nothing. There’s no one listening, Donna. There’s no one on the other end.” Then I chuckled, falling victim to the morbid sense of humor one gets under terrible circumstances. “The food is delicious. I mean, really good, just like Adam said.”
“You’ve just killed yourself,” she said. “You know that, don’t you?” Donna still knelt where she had been before my binge eating.
I walked toward her. “I didn’t kill myself,” I said. “There’s nothing to worry about here. Would you trust me?”
I knelt next to her again and I again took her hand. I spoke to her almost confidentially, like I was telling her a secret. “They’re watching us,” I said, pointing around the ceiling. “They’re out there right now, monitoring us, collecting all sorts of useful data that can benefit humanity. You have to believe me, Donna. When this is over, Adam, Tom, and Aqualung are gonna get up off of that floor. They’re gonna rise up, and we’re all gonna have a big laugh about this. Then the doctors will come out and explain. They’ll explain it all to us and it’ll all make such perfect sense
Donna’s face was directed to the floor.
Donna doubled over and cried out. There was a pause before another acute pain struck her.
This caught me totally off guard. I was not expecting it. I started to break down, but then caught myself. I calmed myself down and spoke to Donna because I had to know why.
“Donna,” I said softly, over her panting and moaning. “Not you too. Please don’t tell me that you’re in on this too. How could I be the only one? What could they possibly learn? What could they learn from just me?
She looked up at me with the sadness of the world etched on her face.
“Donna, why? Why me? Why am I the only one left? What’s the purpose of this? Tell me. I have to know. What can they learn from doing this?”
Donna collapsed and lost consciousness, just like the others. It’s just me now. Me alone, talking to you.
So, your study must be over. It must be over, and I’m ready to go home. Adam, Aqualung, Tom, Donna. You guys can get up. Please get up.
Why are you doing this? Who are you? Who gave you the right to do this?
There has to be a reason. I have faith in what you’re trying to accomplish, as one scientist to another. I won’t accept that there isn’t a reason for your methods, and if you tell me what it is, I’m sure I’ll understand.
OK, listen. I’ll make a deal with you. If you help me. If you help me get out of here, if you save me…
I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die…
I won’t tell. If you help me, I won’t say a word to anyone as long as I live. I swear to you. I promise I won’t tell. Please, please, I promise…
So, do we have a deal? Can you just say something? That’s all I ask. Can you let me know you’re out there and you can hear me? Please, just…flash the lights if you can hear me.
That must not be part of your plan. If I don’t hear anything, I’ll assume the answer’s yes. OK? I’ll wait. I’ll wait right here.