This is an excerpt from a short story I wrote way back in 2011. I was going through a particularly rough patch, and I channeled it into a story about a guy haunted by loss and a series of unforgivable mistakes. It’s something of a dark science fiction mystery. Enjoy!

Ethan knew how this worked.

The assistant in the crisp white scrubs would read the questions to him one by one to verify the answers he had given on the form. It was his job to sit on the edge of the paper-lined exam table and give the man the answers he wanted.


“Job seeker.”



“Spouse? Children?”

“No. None.”

“Next of kin?”

Ethan faltered, eyes flickering around the clinically sterile room. “Not that I know of.”

“Do you smoke? Drink?”

“No. Only occasionally.” Ethan kept his palms relaxed on his knees to control their shaking.

“Drug use?”

“No.” Another lie.

“Any prescriptions?”


“Good, good.” The assistant’s expression relaxed as he shuffled the pages of the form. “What’s your retirement plan look like, Mr. Cassidy?”

“My retirement plan is to hope I die before I reach retirement age.”

The assistant chuckled. “So do we all, Mr. Cassidy. So do we all.” He spent another minute looking over Ethan’s paperwork. “Any history of mental illness in your family?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Good, good. I think you’ll do very nicely.”

“Do I get paid now?” Ethan asked.

“In a moment. First, there’s some paperwork for you to sign.” The assistant picked up another clipboard and held it out to him. It contained a stack of consent forms.

Ethan made a pretense of scanning the papers, but didn’t bother to read them. It didn’t matter what they said; he needed the money. This was supposed to be a drug trial, so it wasn’t like he’d wake up without his kidneys.

After he signed the bottom of each form and handed the clipboard back, the assistant led him down a series of hallways to a new part of the facility. This hallway was lined with clear doors; his fellow test subjects lay on hospital beds within, seemingly asleep. The assistant ushered Ethan into the last unoccupied room.

“Wait here,” the man said. “The doctor will be with you in a moment.”

Away from watching eyes, Ethan gave in to the tremors and let the shaking overtake his limbs. He hadn’t been like this, once. He had been strong, proud. A man with money in his pockets and a beautiful fiancé. A man with hope and a future. Then the recession had taken his future, and his own appallingly poor choices had taken his hope.

The door opened, and a smiling male doctor stepped into the small room. Ethan disliked his perfect white teeth and neatly clipped hair immediately. He wore no name tag, so Ethan decided to call him Smiley.

“Excellent,” Smiley said as he looked over Ethan’s chart. “You’ll round out the group nicely.”

The assistant returned with a vial and a syringe, and the dose was administered. The room went grey and the blank white walls crawled with sudden shadows. Ethan lay back on the bed; the doctor and assistant peered down at him the way two aliens might regard the human they were dissecting. Ethan squeezed his eyes shut to block out the image.

They were discussing him, but the sound was distant and vague, muffled by the roar of his pulse. Consciousness began to slip through his fingers.

Through his eyelids, Ethan saw Muriel sit down on the edge of the bed and take his hand. Blue eyes, fair skin, soft red hair in glossy curls, and the smile of an angel. Ethan wished he could always remember her like this.

“Don’t worry,” she said, squeezing his fingers. “We’ll be together soon.”

Smiling, Ethan let the darkness take him.

A Willing Test Subject © 2020 Leland Lydecker

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