The office had plenty of natural light coming in from skylights above the blue easy chairs. On slightly off white walls, which had been painted directly onto rough plaster, hung some prints in pine frames that were vaguely reminiscent of Kandindsky. There was a low table that appeared to be fashioned from a varnished piece of driftwood onto which legs had been added, on it were coffees in non matching faux vintage mugs (real not plastic or paper). The man in the other chair, with his tablet, my application form and a bunch of other papers was in his late thirties with early greyed hair tidy and clipped to a number four. He wore an dark blue collarless suit with a white T shirt underneath and clean baseball boots. His blue eyes remained serious and focussed above a usually smiling mouth.
“Ok, so how much do you know about what we do here?”
“Well, a friend of mine’s boyfriend did a trial with you, sounded fine. I understand I’ll take a new drug and you’ll monitor my reactions” I was careful to sound knowledgable, but didn’t want to say too much in case that meant I wouldn’t match the profile.
“That’s about right, if you are suitable you stay with us for two days, after an assessment we might then ask you to use the treatment for a little longer in your everyday life. We’ll pay you £3000 then an extra 200 for each week that you remain on the medication. We do though ask you to sign this form, just the legal stuff, confirming you are a willing participant and excluding us from any liability”
It was good money and less of a risk than those pills I’d happily taken last week, bought from a Chinese man in the toilets of that club under the railway arches. I thought I’d better ask something and show willing.
“What is it that I would be taking?”
“I’m afraid we’re not allowed to disclose that at the outset. Should you meet the criteria and. participate in a study we can guarantee the best standards of hospitality for your stay with us. And if the initial two days provide a basis for continuing the process we would at that point be able to let you know the details of what you are testing.”
A week later and I was blearily shoving my thumb onto the door scanner of the one room combo pad that was now home, when the phone made its pinging incoming email sound. I opened it as I lay down on the pull out and contemplated toast. It read:
Thanks for applying to be part of a study at Centroplus Services. We are pleased to offer you a place on a trial starting 1 July, please come to the fifth floor reception of the Western Hospital Partnership Trust at 6.30am, bring an overnight bag. Please be aware you will need to disable all your communication equipment for the duration of the 2 day study. At the end of the two days £3000 will automatically transfer to the account that you have already given us details for, following that should you be asked and agree to proceed with the field study £200 a week will be paid on a rolling basis.
That was a few weeks away, I already had leave booked then as that was the week we’d booked the now cancelled package holiday to the Bulgarian Golden Sands.
The first day they gave me a breakfast of croissant and coffee on arrival then at 8.30am precisely asked me to take five puffs from an orange inhaler via a clear plastic valved bubble device, like the ones you have to use when you get asthma as a child. I felt a little sleepy after that, and was aware of movement and activity but through a sepia filter of relaxation. Then I was suddenly jolted fully awake sat at a table opposite the blue suited man from my first visit.
“What time is it?” He asked
I saw a clock on the wall
“Well it says 5.30"
But I wasn’t sure how it could be. My mind was crystal clear, like I’d spent a week eating fruit and visiting steam rooms. I didn’t feel like I had been asleep all day. I looked around, we were sat in a cafe with half wood panelled walls, in front of me was a glass of orange juice and a partially eaten piece of carrot cake. There were some more customers a few tables in front closer to the door to the street. In my hand there was a pen, and on the table was a piece of paper with a few diagrams and scribbles on it in my handwriting. I had obviously walked here as there were wet foot marks the shape of my boots leading from the door.
“Come on, let’s go,” he said and I passively followed him out and into a next door pub where he bought me a pint of IPA and some salt and vinegar crisps.
“How much do you remember of today?”
“It’s all a bit of a haze,I’m afraid, I’ve got a feeling that I was involved in some sort of story, almost like I was in film, but now I can’t remember what role I played or any of the lines.”
“And how are you feeling now?”
“Great! Like I just woke up after a week of detoxing!” It was true I wanted to be climbing a hill or swimming in a clear lake. All my usual sluggishness had vanished.
“Ok, good” he tapped something into his phone and said
“Drink up we need to get back”
At the hospital I had no inclination to sleep,I was given access to a gym where in a manner most out of character, I ran for miles on the machine, there was a drive in me that I needed to satisfy. As the sun rose I found myself sat on a balcony of the clinic overlooking the city reading a novel based on the early life of Prince Potemkin, still not at all tired.
At 8.30am just as yawns began to set in I was again asked to use the inhaler, and slipped into a state of relaxed unawareness.
When I awoke the first thing I saw was a clock showing it was 5.30, I then realised I was in a full conference room facing a sea of smiles, I was in front of a screen and seemingly had just been giving a presentation. The man in the blue suit was there, he stood up and ushered me to a seat at the table. A woman in a red silk shirt with over excited eyes poured me some water and passed me a plate of sandwiches.
“Would you mind telling us all how you feel?” Said the man in the blue suit.
“Well, fine, like I just woke up”
“There you have it everyone, I think you will agree this is the start of an exciting journey. Should our subjects consent they are going to continue with the treatment in their everyday lives with a view to an extensive pilot release in 4 months time.”
I received handshakes and back slaps as the room emptied until I was again alone with the man in the blue suit.
“I am sorry things have had to be so secret. Your reaction to the treatment has far exceeded what any of us expected at this early stage. I want to let you into what you have been helping us with, let me show you something from about just a few minutes ago.”
He tapped a few times on his tablet and the screen on the wall powered up. I sat there stunned watching myself give a presentation, animated with wide excited eyes.
“The great thing is I am terrible at presenting! I freeze up, go clammy, can’t do it. But now with Worklifeplus I am here with you confidently demonstrating the product. And all this time the usually active 10% of my brain is asleep, rejuvenating, whilst the never used 90% has been activated by Worklifeplus. Let me show you some video, here I am this morning workshopping this presentation – (footage appeared on the screen of me and suit man sticking post it notes to a board and energetically arranging them into columns). Now ladies and gentlemen I am not usually a high flyer, in my normal life I work as a marketing channel exec for a educational admissions provider, but with the unused portion of my brain opened up by Worklifeplus I can perceive in seconds what could take the most experienced business analyst hours to diagnose. This simple drug can boost my efficiency by light years, if you want I could repeat that all in Chinese – I learnt it this morning! And now, after all that, I’m going to tell you the real good stuff, the meat in the Worklifeplus sandwich. As the usual section of my brain is now sleeping I am going to wake up in 45 seconds as if I have had the most golden night of sleep in the world, Worklifeplus has allowed the cells in my brain and body to replenish far more effectively than by natural sleep. My leisure time is now completely my own, I will not remember the working day, I slept through it! Thank you for listening, I think I hear my alarm!”
“So” said the suit man as he switched off the screen “do you want to continue in the real world?”
A month later and sat in a bar at 2am, the blood is soaring through me fresh and excited to be out and dancing. Earlier I ran twelve miles around the bay, the vibrancy of the sun and the sea bursting through my eyes in a kaleidoscope.
In a matter of weeks I had risen to Acting Head of the Sales Team and woke up every day on the way of out the office at 5.30pm virtually to cheers from the open plan floor. I had dream like images of standing up in meetings and confidently outlining strategy, or of producing the most beautiful project timelines imaginable but generally I had no idea what went on during the day, apart from the letters I found neatly folded in my inside pocket confirming bonuses and rapid promotions.
I was at the bar when I vaguely recognised a blond woman, she locked eyes and started walking towards me. Maybe she was from work, there had been no briefing for this.
She threw a glass of white wine in my face then snarled in my ear
“You fucker, you sad disgusting fucker” as she walked out the bar I could see deep scratch marks emerging from under her high collar. A clanging coldness rang through me as I tried to force open the doors in my brain, but it was all locked up. I didn’t dance but returned home and sat sleepless and shaking in a clinging cold sweat.
The next day I didn’t take it, by 9am I was sat clammy at my desk not knowing what to press, the drive and ability to shine was ,without the drug, secured far out of reach in the other half of my brain. I got up to find water for my sandpaper mouth and staggered around knocking post it notes off sprint boards in a bleary haze. Everyone looked at me in bewilderment, used to the slick pro not the dopey nightmare.
Suddenly I was outside the building helplessly vomiting from a bridge onto a screaming walkway of pedestrians below. Then the man in the blue suit was there arm around me, shooting something into my arm, telling me to calm down.
“I fitted you with a tracker in case anything like this happened. You missing a dose has caused the two sides of the brain to be partially awake at the same time, I’m going to try another dose direct to your spine, reset the balance.”
The injection gave me a huge jolt, I ran back into the office, ready in my mind to present a monthly report to the Executive Committee, now full of figures and business speak. But then my mind seemed to viciously spin, I stripped, leapt on a central desk and let out a primal howl, and then nothing, both sides of the brain stopped and collapsed in exhaustion.
I had been aware of a murmur of voices for quite some time
“ What dose are you on now?”
“1000mg, the 500 wasn’t cutting it, I was merging and almost even waking whilst examining patients, the 1000 is sorting me though. “
“I heard there’s a doctor on the tenth floor who’s not taking”
“They’ll get to him, they always do”
“Look at this one. They won’t let us switch him off, even after ten years, we have to keep him going. Poor sod. God knows why he’s so important to them”
“I know, drip feed, artificial exercise, and for what..”
Days, weeks or years later I suddenly woke as a bleary eyed doctor stood over me, syringe in one hand scalpel in the other. His eyes were far away and he seemed to be moving mechanically. His gown was grubby and he was overgrown with stubble. Even with my wasted coma body one small push sent him gibbering into the corner. I wrenched myself up, knew I had get out, I was desperate to get some air.
Clutching the wires that were still in my body I set off down the corridors like an urban werewolf. As I tried to find the exit I bashed over security staff, doctors, nurses, all of them fell like scrunched up paper away from my tube laden hairy body, half asleep zombies on autopilot. I managed to get to the front door and out in the street.
Everything was falling down, dirty and shabby, in the smoky dusk light I saw faded peeling shops, flickering shells of cafes, people were lunging from place to place, some were collapsed in the street, heaps of clothes and wheezing.
On a huge fading billboard on the hospital wall was a picture of the man in the suit pointing. and winking.
“Your body needs you!” Screamed the advert, underneath was a Worklifeplus inhaler blasting out images of blue tiny workers animatedly presenting findings, upward tilting graphs and also red figures obviously outside of work being sporty, watching TV, cooking. None of these stick men were sleeping.
The hospital clock struck once for 5.30pm, some of the lost souls in the street lurched, waking from one state to another, forming a pack they saw me and started to approach eyes bursting with chaos.