The Research Project – revisited – Part 1

When Chelsea saw the sign on the campus message board she couldn’t wait to tell her friends about it.

Volunteers needed for research project
Overnight commitment
Food and beverages provided
Compensation available

She had continually worked two jobs during her three years at college, yet she knew she’d still graduate with too much in student loans. All of the savings she had when she started her college career had already been used, so she was always searching for new opportunities to earn money. Despite the lack of detail, this research project intrigued her with its offer of compensation. She tore off the phone number from the bottom of the flyer and headed to convince her roommates to join her for the study. On her way to the townhouse, she thought more about what a perfect opportunity this could be, specially if they would all participate together.

By the time she opened the door, she could barely contain her excitement. “Who wants to join me in a research study?” she yelled into the foyer.

As she could have predicted, she heard Zoe’s voice yell from upstairs, “ME!” Then her footsteps running down the hall preceding Zoe’s enthusiastic response. She had the most contagious energy of anyone Chelsea had ever met and, as a result, Zoe was rarely found alone. Today, she bounded down the stairs dressed in bright blue pants and a multi-colored plaid shirt. Chelsea smiled at the sight of Zoe’s colorful appearance and her long, brown curly hair bouncing as she hurried down the stairs.

“When is it, Chels? What do we need to do?” Zoe beamed with excitement.

“I’m not sure. We have to call this number. You’re in?”

“Absolutely!”

“When do Stephanie and Alyssa get back from class?”

“They should be back by 4:00.”

“Great! If they are in, we’ll call right away to save our spot.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Carrying their overnight bags, as instructed, the girls arrived at the address they were given. Chelsea was the first one up the walk with Zoe shaking with excitement close behind her. Chelsea lifted her hand to knock on the door, but hesitated. She turned to face her friends.

“Are you all sure we should do this? Something doesn’t feel right.”

“C’mon, Chels, just ring the bell. You always get nervous.” Zoe nudged her best friend out of the way and rang the doorbell. “This is going to be great! I can’t wait to start.” She flashed her brightest smile to her friends, lightening their moods instantly.

The door suddenly swung open and they faced a tall, serious looking man in a crisp white button-down shirt and precisely pressed black pants. Without expression, he gestured for them to enter. The girls exchanged nervous looks, then followed confident Zoe into the house.

They followed the man down a hallway. Stephanie and Alyssa walking slowly whispering to one another several feet behind their friends.

The man stopped just past a doorway and gestured for the girls to enter. Chelsea looked straight at him, noticing that his hair was perfectly combed with nothing out of place. His face showed no sign of hair. His unblinking eyes stared past the girls toward the front door. As Chelsea turned to enter the room, she immediately saw a large table which seemed larger because only four chairs were placed around it. Nothing was on the table except for a single sheet of paper in front of each of the chairs and what looked like a neatly placed blindfold.

Chelsea felt her heart drop with a sense of foreboding as she watched Zoe quickly bounce into a seat. She stopped and turned to look at her other friends whose fear she could see written on their faces.

The other three girls slowly sat down in silence and all except Zoe exchanged nervous glances. They jumped when the door slammed and turned to look at the man who stood at the end of the table yet looked past them at the wall.

The man finally spoke, no expression in his voice but finally meeting their eyes – one by one. “Ladies, the research you have signed up for will not be described prior to its start. The basic concept is analyzing problem solving capabilities and reactions to stimuli. It is imperative that you precisely follow directions as soon as they are given, or you will be removed from the project. What I can promise you is that the compensation allocated to each of you will pay approximately one semester of tuition, books and housing. If any of you do not complete the project, the others will receive equal shares of your forfeited compensation. I will provide no further details outside of telling you that the papers you see before you are to be signed. They state that you agree to take part in this research. I can assure you that this research does not include any kind of sex or violence. As I collect your signed papers, I will blindfold you in order to prevent you from having any kind of impression of your surroundings before the study begins.”

The girls exchanged long looks, but signed the papers in front of them. The man walked slowly behind them. Chelsea watched as he tied a blindfold around each girl’s eyes before he collected their papers. Her heart was pounding in her throat as the light faded from her view.

His voice broke the silence. “Remain seated here and you each will be led to your rooms.”

Chelsea sat tensely gripping her own thighs as she listened to her three friends walking out of the room.

 

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This piece was originally written as a submission for yeahwrite.me‘s Speakeasy #150 challenge. Due to word count restrictions, I did not flesh out the story. But, here you go — Part 1

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