I slammed down the phone and paced back and forth in my little dorm room, teeth clenched. "Fuck you, mom!" I shouted at the telephone. "You just don't understand!" I kicked the flimsy metal bedframe and it struck the wall noisily, chipping the plaster. Shit, I thought, I'm probably going to have to pay for that. I flopped down on the bed and gingerly poked at the damage. At my touch, specks of plaster flaked off and drifted down between the wall and the bed.
The door opened, and my roommate Jed walked in.
I looked up from the wall and said, "Hi, Jed."
He stopped and considered this, shifting from foot to foot, absent-mindedly pulling at hair that was almost as dirty as his tie-dyed T-shirt. His hand dropped to his side, and he said, "Brian, why were you staring at the wall?"
I sighed and sat up on the bed. "I just talked to my mom."
Jed nodded quickly. "I see. Didn't go well?"
"No. Not at all. She said she was sick and tired of paying for all of my CDs, and anyway, what was I doing spending all my time listening to music when I should be studying? She said if I wanted to buy CDs, I should get a job and pay for them myself."
Jed winced. "Oh man. That's rough." He collapsed on his bed. "I had a job once. Did I ever tell you about that?"
"Yeah, three or four times."
"Oh." He shifted suddenly and wound up staring at me intently. "You sound like you're in really bad shape, Brian."
"Well, yeah, I guess so."
"I understand." He glanced nervously around the room. "Don't tell this to anyone, OK? Promise?"
"OK. Basement of the biochem building, across from the men's faculty restroom, there's a bulletin board where they post 'subjects needed' fliers for experimental drugs. They pay a couple hundred bucks a pop, and you get a really weird trip, too." He rolled over and was silent.
After a few moments, I said, "Uh, Jed?"
Jed started snoring.
I shrugged and lay back on the bed, thinking: A couple hundred bucks, huh? What the hell.
I was on my way to the biochem building early the next morning. I hadn't wanted it to be that way, but Jed had set his alarm for 5:30 a.m. and didn't wake up until after I'd thrown my shoes at him. He'd then stumbled around the room, apologizing for each noise he made and explaining that he had to get ready for a protest.
I suppose it wouldn't have been so bad if I'd gone to bed at a reasonable hour, but instead I'd stayed up thinking about what CDs I would buy with two hundred dollars. As a result my mind was feeling spongy. It was as if my body was marching involuntarily to the biochem building and my mind was struggling vainly to keep up.
When I reached the top of the brick stairs near the building's main entrance I saw a big, brown dog with matted fur sprawled on the ground motionless. As I walked by, it lifted up its head, looked at me, yawned.
I wiggled my fingers at the dog and said, "Woof." It blinked and rested its head back upon the ground.
Inside and down, I wandered the basement hallways, searching for the bulletin board of experimental delights. Five minutes later, at the end of one of the more dimly lit corridors, I came across the men's faculty restroom, its door slightly ajar. Sure enough, on the opposite wall were the postings.
Before I could read any of them, I heard a toilet flush and the men's faculty restroom door opened.
"Oh! Excuse me!" said the man who stopped himself suddenly, apparently surprised at seeing me standing outside the bathroom. He had a large mass of graying black hair, glasses, a dark green corduroy jacket, an old leather briefcase, baggy gray pants, and tennis shoes. I assumed he was a professor. "But maybe," he continued, "this is a serendipitous moment. Were you, by any chance, perusing the experimental subject fliers?" He arched his eyebrows to indicate the colored postings on the bulletin board.
"Uh, yeah," I replied. I don't know why, but I felt embarrassed. "Yeah, but I don't normally do things like this, you know. My roommate told me about them. This is -- Yeah, this is my, uh, first time doing this."
"Of course, of course," the professor reassured me. He reached down and opened his briefcase, fished out a bright red sheet of paper. "But, you see, I was just about to post my own flier. Perhaps you'd be interested...?" He offered me the sheet of paper, smiling widely.
"Oh, thanks," I said, accepting the flier. It read: "Subject needed for human-animal neural relationship experiment. $500. Please call Professor Billow at 642-0070 if interested." There were many cuts at the bottom of the paper to make stubs that one could rip off and take and that bore the words "Prof Billow, 642-0070, $500."
My eyes grew wide, and I whispered reverently, "Five hundred dollars."
"Yes. Five hundred," said the professor proudly. He tilted his head in modest boastfulness. "I have a very large grant, you see, and that is why I offer so much more than they do." He indicated the bulletin board again with his eyebrows.
I looked around, bewildered. Five hundred dollars! "Professor Billow," I said, "you have yourself a subject." I held out my hand, and he shook it.
"Come, then," he said, clapping me on the shoulder. "My lab is on the other side of campus, in the Northwest Animal Facility."
On the way out of the biochem building, Professor Billow stared at the lazy brown dog and said distractedly, "Just a moment." He fumbled through his jacket pockets, finally mumbled, "Aha!" and pulled out a little biscuit which he then tossed to the dog. The dog looked blankly at the biscuit and yawned. With a sigh, the professor started walking away muttering to himself and I hastened to catch up.
I sat facing Professor Billow, his desk between us. He said while rummaging through his drawers, "This is just a technicality, Brian. You see, the importance of this research requires that you sign a form assuring the government that you won't disclose any information about the experiment to anyone. Here we go." He brought out a white sheet of paper filled with fine print and pushed it across the desk. "Just sign at the bottom."
I looked at the text-crammed sheet. "What if I don't sign?"
Professor Billow spread open his hands. "No experiment. No five hundred dollars."
"Good!" The professor snatched the sheet back and filed it away. "Now, to the lab." He led me through a side door and into a large room littered with electronic equipment and in the center of which were two padded tables, one large and one small. Off to the side a grad student tapped away at the keyboard of a computer workstation. He glanced briefly at us when we walked in.
"Mark!" called out the professor. "I'd like you to meet our subject, Brian."
"Just a second," Mark said. He moved the computer's mouse around, clicked something, then stood up and came over. He was tall and thin with short blond hair. "Hi," he said. "My name's Mark." He motioned to the large table. "If you'll just step over there and lie down, we can get started."
As soon as I did so, Mark threw a strap over my chest, and Professor Billow, on the other side, secured it.
"Hey!" I said.
"Don't worry, Brian," Mark reassured me. "It's for you own protection, really. You wouldn't want your arms flailing around and damaging equipment, now would you?" He shook his head no for me. "Besides, this was all written down on that paper you signed, remember?"
Three straps later, I was securely fastened to the table. There was no way I'd be able to damage anything. Mark slipped some kind of support device beneath my head and wrapped yet another strap across my forehead. "So you don't accidentally move your head and pull off any of the EEG leads," he explained. He smiled and left the room.
Professor Billow lifted up a syringe and gave it a slight squirt, clearing the needle of air. "Merely a sedative, Brian. When you wake up, the experiment will be over."
"Uh, professor..." I started to say, but he hushed me. I felt something cold wiped on my arm, and then a sharp pain as the hypodermic hit home.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mark reenter the room carrying an unconscious cocker spaniel. He placed it carefully on the smaller table, scratched its head, and strapped it just as securely down. Then he turned around and waved goodbye to me as everything went black.
I felt awful. All of my senses seemed warped and alien. There was a constant whine in my ears, I couldn't open my eyes, and my breath was shallow. I suddenly realized that I was now lying on my stomach and had no clothes on. I wanted to panic but the sedative hadn't fully worn off.
Slowly, I was able to pick out voices from the ringing. They sounded like Professor Billow's and Mark's voices but they were too harsh and metallic.
"...small amount of neural trauma, but nowhere near as much as before," said the pseudo-Mark voice. "My feedback circuit worked, dammit!"
"I'm not saying it didn't work," responded the professor's distorted voice, "I'm saying there's still too much trauma to risk a retransfer. Perhaps with this lesser amount, though, it'll be able to sufficiently reduce itself to a safer level over a reasonable period of time. In the meanwhile I suggest that you further refine your clever feedback circuit."
I tried to say something, but all that came out was a growl.
The professor's harsh voice continued, "Well, Brian's coming to. Who's going to explain this time? Perhaps you should, Mark. You could then also tell him how well your feedback circuit worked."
I managed to force my eyes open and was shocked to see that everything was black and white.
And there were muffled shouts and poundings and kickings on the door. I heard Mark say, "What the hell?" just as the door crashed open. People rushing into the lab shouted triumphantly, "Free the animals! Free the animals!"
Mark ran out the back door. Professor Billow held his arms out in front of himself and shouted futilely, "Wait! Wait! You don't understand!" before being forced out of the lab by the mob of protesters chanting, "Animal killer! Animal killer!"
A woman came over, gently pulled off electrodes that were still taped to me, and released the straps. "Don't worry, puppy, you're safe now," she said as she patted my head. Her voice was even more distorted than Mark's and the professor's had been.
I concentrated hard on saying that I was not a puppy, that my name was Brian, and I would appreciate it if she would not pat me on the head, but all that came out were a few high-pitched, pathetic barks. I tried to sigh but, instead, panted.
She lifted me up to her face and stared concernedly at my jaw. I started to whimper. "It's OK," she said in a tone that was trying to be soothing but actually sounded demonic. "Is something wrong with your mouth? Were they experimenting on you?" Then she pinched up her face and looked away. "Whew. With breath like that, they must have done something." She put me down on the floor and said, "Sit."
I was too stunned to run away. Everything was very tall. I was very short. Lots of very tall people were rushing back and forth breaking equipment. The jagged crunches of destruction were agonizing to listen to, but after the pillaging was over, I noticed that almost all of the background whining was gone.
Protesters came by and patted me on the head, smiling and saying silly things in that now universal harsh tone of voice. Then they started up the "Free the Animals!" chant again and left the lab, presumably in search of another.
With growing dread I looked at my own body and saw that I was a cocker spaniel. I jerked my head up and stared at the other table.
I was able to see my arm, tensed and straining against the straps with which Mark and the professor had so carefully bound me.
One of the protesters had stayed behind and he was leaning heavily against the large table, his face in his hands. It took me a moment to realize it was Jed. He was wearing the same clothes as the previous day but, in black and white, the tie-dye was a lot harder to recognize.
"Oh God, Brian," Jed was saying. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
There was one last whine still audible in the lab. It was a periodic whine, not constant like all the others had been, and it just then dawned on me that it was coming from my body up there on the table. The whine would last a few seconds, be broken by a sharp intake of breath, and then continue.
"I'm sorry," Jed repeated.
The woman who had freed me came back into the lab and said, "Hey."
Jed's head snapped up, startled. "Huh? Oh. Hi, Wendy. How ya doin'?" His metallic voice was strained and his face showed pain.
"Come on, Jed," she said. "You're missing out on all the fun." She gave him a tentative smile but he just stared at the floor. "Hey, Jed, don't worry about this guy. He's probably just having a really bad trip. Anyway, the police'll know what to do with him."
"No, no, that's not... It's..." Jed looked back up at her. "He's my roommate. His name is Brian."
They stared at each other for a few seconds.
"This is all my fault," Jed finally said.
"Oh, Jed, no, don't say that. It's not your fault. It's tragic and awful, but it's not your fault."
Jed was silent.
Wendy touched his arm. "Let's go outside, Jed. We can sit down on some grass and you can tell me about Brian."
I ran out of the lab.
The next few hours were a blur. I ran madly through campus, through various buildings, dodging between students, making bicycles screech to stops. I finally collapsed on the brick steps of the biochem building, panting heavily.
After a few minutes I heard some peculiar barkings. It wasn't normal barking; it was barking out of which I could decipher English words.
"Hi," the bark said. "My name's Chuck. What's yours?"
I looked up and saw the dog that had been napping at the top of these steps this morning. With a bit of concentration I barked, "My name's Brian."
"Well, Brian, in case you were wondering: No, dogs don't communicate like this. I was also one of Professor Billow's subjects. You're the sixth."
"Yup. And now with the lab destroyed it looks like you'll be the last. Unfortunately, that also means we won't be able to be retransfered. Billow was keeping our bodies in another room in the lab. I suppose the police will find them, and Billow will be brought up on criminal charges or something."
I stared at Chuck.
"Hey, Brian, don't worry too much about it. It's not such a bad life. You get to lie around and nap a lot. Food isn't very scarce, really, you just have to know where to look. It can actually be a fun life, but it takes some getting used to."
I continued to stare at Chuck.
"Come on, Brian. Follow me and I'll introduce you to the others."
I nervously stood up.
"There you go, Brian. You'll see; it's not so bad. You've even got one good thing going for you already."
"Oh?" I barked. "And what's that?"
"You've got great smelling breath."
Robert Hurvitz (email@example.com) is a longtime InterText contributor and UC Berkeley graduate who, at last report, lived in Seattle.
InterText stories written by Robert Hurvitz: "The American Dream" (v1n2), "Experience Required" (v1n4), "Frog Boy" (v2n2), "Roadkill" (v2n3), "Dogbreath" (v3n1), "Wine And Cheese" (v4n3).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 3, Number 1 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1993 Robert Hurvitz.