I haven't blogged in a while, so please allow me to return with a harrowing story of fear and betrayal. My friend Jane* and I recently had a brush with grizly, painful, serial-type death. But let me begin where all great horror stories do—at a fairly run of the mill mall in an average city in North America.
Jane and I were walking through the mall when a pleasant-looking woman in her forties approached us, and with an accent that placed her origins distinctly in some country that ends in 'akia,' asked us if we'd like to take a survey, and promised to give us five dollars if we did. I glanced quickly at Jane, whose eyes revealed no strong opposition, and then, seeing the word Chocolate on the top of the paper she was holding, agreed to be surveyed.
"First we have to make sure you're eligible," she said with her Akian accent, and she proceeded to ask a series of personal questions that I found rather intrusive, but I kept my eyes on the word chocolate, so it all felt pretty worth it to be a cog in the great candy machine.
We qualified to take the survey, and were ready to begin.
"Now you'll have to go with my colleague," the woman said to Jane, "and you'll come with me," she added, to me. "We're just going to go over here."
I began to follow her, assuming that we were just going to go a few steps away so that Jane and I couldn't cheat by consulting on answers through a series of glances and hand gestures.
We walked a few steps away.
We kept walking.
We walked a little further.
"Follow me," the Akian woman repeated repeatedly, as I began to slow down and glance back at Jane, a little concerned whether I'd see her again soon.
But I didn't want to be rude. So we walked a little further. Soon we approached a door that led out of the mall's main drag and, as I could see through it's window, into a long, sterile hallway which appeared to be an area prepped for internal probing.
"Uh, where are we going?" I asked.
"Our office is back here," the Akian woman told me. "Come on."
And again, I didn't want to be rude, so I followed her through the doors, down the hallway, through another set of doors, down an aisle, and into a cubicle that seemed innocuous enough aside from the fact that the path to it had been designed by Daedalus.
Despite its innocuousness and the more or less pleasant manner of the woman, I couldn't help but wonder, "What the hell kind of survey is this? A survey is when you answer questions. What in the name of Q is going on here?"
The Akian woman left the cubicle, then returned with a jug of what appeared to be water, poured me a glass, and set it in front of me. I had what I assume is the normal response to being handed a beverage from a complete stranger who has just led you through a labyrinth on what were beginning to look more and more like false pretenses: "Well, I'm not fucking drinking that."
She left the room. I heard her whisper something. She came back. She pulled out a manila envelope. She left again. She said to someone, "There's only one in here... Oh, that's okay? We'll just use one for this one?"
ONE WHAT?? I thought, and I debated whether I should pull my phone out and call for help now, or if I'd be risking getting caught and having it taken away, and I should wait until I'm moved to the second location and possibly left alone for a while and then call 911. But they say never let them take you to the second location, don't they? Oh, shit, this IS the second location. What now? What is a girl about to be sold into white slavery in Akia to do??
I was very disappointed in myself for not having planned for this. Years of horror movies and crime dramas should have left me better equipped to deal with the situation. Or for that matter, the Stranger Danger program should have. When someone approaches you in a mall and offers you candy and money, RUN AWAY AND TELL A GROWN UP. Why didn't I tell a grown up?
The Akian woman returned, carrying the manila envelope containing only ONE THING. Maybe that was good. Maybe it was only one razor blade that I'd be forced to swallow. But maybe it was only one injection of morphine and I'd spend the rest of this ordeal semi-conscious and painfully aware.
"Your friend will be here soon," she promised, with a tone that I thought I recognized as the smug satisfaction of a serial killer. And I wept a little on the inside, because they got Jane, too.
She put a container of soda crackers beside the still-untouched 'water' glass.
"The like you to have a clear pallette," she said.
THEY WHO? my eyes pleaded. CLEAR FOR WHAT????
"This is your first survey, isn't it?" the Akian woman asked.
"Yes," I replied in my terrified, weak voice.
She looked me in the eye, and reaching into that manila envelope, declared, in her thick accent and with an ominous tone, "Make a wish."
I peed myself a little.
This is the end, I said to myself, and I thought of all the things I'd never had the chance to do in my lifetime. And how glad I was that I'd spent that money on that concert that I shouldn't have spent, because you can't take money with you, neither to the afterlife nor to the Far East to be someone's unwilling caged concubine.
I stared at her.
She stared at me.
My hands trembled.
Hers pulled something wrapped in paper towel out of the manila envelope.
My heart pounded.
My palms sweated.
My eyes darted.
Just like she told me to. I wished to live. I wished it so hard that I peed myself again.
"My mother always said that when it's your first time doing something, you're entitled to make a wish," she said with a warm smile, and she unwrapped the paper towel and there were two chocolate candies, and then she pulled out a whole bag of chocolate candies.
And then she explained that we were doing taste-testing for these new chocolates about to go on the market from a certain company I can't name because eventually I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding the top secret new chocolate.
And this story's pretty anti-climactic, huh? Well, hey, they can't all be winners. If it helps, the top secret new chocolate was pretty damn amazing, and it should be available soon for what I personally 'Strongly Agreed' was a fair price.
Also, I lived. And I did get $5.
No pants were actually soiled in the making of this blog post. Any event of pant soiling is purely exaggerative and does not represent any other pant soiling, real or fictional.
*names have been changed to protect the innocent.