My friend Tuomas has been missing for over a month. Yesterday, I received an email from him.
You have to understand, Tuomas is the last person I’d ever expect to reach out to me. We used to roll together when we were teenagers; we livestreamed our playthroughs of horror games online before it was a ‘thing’. We even went to university together, but by the time graduation came along, we’d already drifted apart.
I’d shaped up during university, and put a lot of effort into getting my first job at the local paper. Tuomas, meanwhile, was pretty much the same guy he’d been when we were in high-school, more interested in smoking weed and playing video games than actually investing in his future. I guess that’s why our friendship fizzled out. We just didn’t know each other anymore.
That’s why it was so unexpected to get his email. I’d heard that he was missing, of course. We’ve still got mutual contacts on social media, and my job keeps my ear to the ground, too. Word was the guy had just left home one day and hadn’t come back.
His family and friends hadn’t been alarmed at the disappearance right away, since the guy had a habit of taking off for days at a time, anyway. Most of the time, it would turn out that he was at some party-turned-extended-bender, or had went hiking alone, or was just strung out on some beach watching his hand move. It was only after two weeks had gone by that people started getting worried. Three weeks until his parents filed a missing persons report.
I’m not going to lie – I figured Tuomas’ lifestyle had just caught up with him. Everyone knew he was into drugs, and funded his lifestyle dealing pills. He partied with shady people, and his equivalent of a ‘steady job’ was working as a fixer for horse races.
I fully expected to see a report cross my desk about a body being recovered from a lake, or found in a ditch. The only question was whether the headline I’d write would involve an overdose, or a murder.
No such report came. Instead, an email appeared in my inbox. It wasn’t from any address I had seen before, and frankly it was a wonder it didn’t end up in my spam folder. What made me curious was the subject line: ‘From Tuomas’.
I’ll admit, I was a little wary about what the contents would be. My immediate thought was, ‘Oh, great. He’s probably in trouble, again, and now he wants to borrow money or something so he can bail himself out of it.’
The email was strange, but the very first sentence immediately made clear it wasn’t from some scammer. It really was from Tuomas. I’ve debated whether to share its contents, but I think it’s important. If I’m telling strangers online about his disappearance, I might as well go all the way and share every detail. Tuomas’s email:
Before you delete this, I want you to remember the summer we spent as dishwashers at Hotel Fontaine. Best summer of my life. Remember how we’d work until the early hours and then go to McDonalds for pancakes and a stack of hash browns? I still think about those Friday and Saturday nights, and how you’d make me laugh till tears ran down my face. The two of us in my car, eating breakfast when it was still pitch-black out. We thought the future could take us anywhere.
I know we haven’t spoken in years, but I still think of you as my best friend even though we’re not moving in the same circles anymore. And I don’t blame you for that, by the way. I know I’m not the kind of person you’d want to be around, and I know you probably think that I’m drunk right now. I’m not drunk. Everything I’m about to tell you is true.
I went for a job interview a month ago. Yeah, me, going to a job interview. Believe it or not, I’ve been tired of my life for way too long, but it’s not that easy to just walk away. I think I’ve applied for something like 100 jobs, and the most I’ve got back is one of those automated rejection responses.
It got to the point where I was just applying for work anywhere, from fast-food places to retailers to contract jobs. Nothing.
And then, one day, I got a letter in my mailbox. An actual, physical, letter. No return address, no watermark. Might have thrown it out with the rest of the junk mail that had accumulated in there, but it was marked with my name and I got curious. I can’t find the letter anymore. Don’t remember throwing it away, but I must have, because it’s gone. It’s not important. I still remember most of what it said. Weird, right? I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember that goddamn letter.
Our organisation is always looking for intelligent people. We need hard-workers who aren’t afraid to be challenged, and who can adapt quickly. Based on your CV and work history, we believe you may be a strong candidate for a role within our organisation.
Recruitment with our organisation is appreciably straightforward. Should you wish to proceed with an application, we ask that you report to a testing facility. The tests will help us form an understanding of your psychological profile, physical fitness and other aptitudes. Due to the nature of what work our organisation performs, it is not possible to provide a full role description via this method of communication. Rest assured, however, that our valued employees receive competitive remuneration, excellent training and opportunities for promotion. We are conducting aptitude tests in your city at: 113 Newmarket Road. You will know the building when you get there. Please report there at your earliest convenience to commence the interview.
Recruitment and Resourcing
I’ll admit: I was intrigued. Who wouldn’t be? I’m not a total dumbass, though, there were alarm bells ringing in my head. It already seemed like a load of shit. For all I knew, they were traffickers, scammers or gangsters. I looked up the address for the building, anyway. Here’s the fucked up part: online, I could see pictures of 112 Newmarket Road and 114 Newmarket Road, but the lot for 113 was empty. Local directories showed it had once been a regular bank, but had been demolished.
A normal person at this point would have thought, ‘yeah, okay, prank or scam’, and let it go. But I was desperate and perhaps a little too curious. You know me, I never leave anything alone, even when I know poking at something is going to be bad for me.
The next day I drove my car downtown and headed towards the address. Here comes a part I know you won’t believe right away, but you’ve got to try. When I reached 113 Newmarket Road, the lot wasn’t empty. There was a building there, squat and grey, and it looked strange, squashed between a burger joint and a travel agency.
Standing on the sidewalk looking up at the place, it already seemed like the place didn’t belong, like it was sucking all the light out of the street. It was only two storeys high, but it might as well have been ten. There were no signs out the front, no windows, no balconies, just flat, dark grey concrete, and the more I looked at it, the more I felt as though the sky was being swallowed up. You know how the light gets when clouds pass over the sun? The more I looked at that building, the more the colour seemed to drain out of the world, and I got that cold feeling in my stomach… And people just walked by the place like it wasn’t there. I suddenly didn’t want to go in there. I wanted to turn around and go back to my car, and my shitty life. Instead, I walked inside.
I can’t describe what it was like inside, and it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve tried really hard to remember the exact layout of the rooms, but I can’t. What I can tell you is that on the inside, that place was way bigger than it should have been. Do you remember our old high school? It used to be a mental institution, then it was condemned. Finally, the city council purchased the property and renovated it to be a school. But it still had the same hospital hallways, long and winding, leading to bland white rooms that had that antiseptic smell, like it was burned into the linoleum. Remember how sometimes we’d stay there after class and spook ourselves? Everyone knows that place was haunted.
The testing building wasn’t like our school in the sense it used to be a hospital. I guess I’m saying there was something wrong about that place. It gave me the same eerie feeling. The hallways seemed to wind around on themselves, and every room the invigilator passed looked the same: sterile, empty, with the same paintings on the wall.
That was another thing I should talk about, the invigilator. There are only a few things I can pick out from memory. The tester was a woman. She had dark hair. Her voice made my head hurt. But I can’t remember anything specific about her, not whether she was young or old, beautiful or ugly, nothing. That entire afternoon is a blur, like the worst trip imaginable, or maybe like a dream. My mind can’t process the information. I can tell you I felt afraid, and then I felt pain, but from what, I don’t know.
I can’t even tell you what happened during the test, only that I was scared shitless the entire time, and then I felt nothing but a burning feeling in my stomach. You know when you got appendicitis back in the day? You said it felt like being stabbed. Well, imagine that, that’s how it felt to me. I woke up back in my apartment at around 7:00pm, and my car was parked in the driveway as though I’d never left. That night was one of the worst nights of my life. I was sick, and sweating, and when I wasn’t shivering under blankets, I was puking my guts out over the toilet. I’ve been hungover plenty of times, but not like this. My bones and muscles were on fire. I knew I needed to go to the hospital, but I didn’t even have the energy to call an ambulance, let alone drive out.
The next day, I felt normal again, or as normal as it’s possible to feel after an experience like that. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure what had happened to me. I rationalised it: maybe I was really sick, or perhaps more precisely having withdrawals, and that’s why I’d felt off for most of the previous day. I didn’t for a moment imagine that I’d gotten the job, not that I wanted it anymore, and besides, I still can’t even tell you what the job was even for in the first place! I even started to think I hadn’t even gone to any job interview but had just spaced out here in my room. It’s not like it would have been the first time. I’ve been trying to quit for years, and I can tell you that the withdrawals can get bad, physically and mentally. It seemed like a more sensible explanation than the idea something bad happened to me when I went to that job interview.
A week went by. I was more than willing to put the thing out of my mind. And then, one day, I received an email. It had no subject. The sender’s email address was garbage, looked like a fake scammer’s email. But somehow I KNEW that email was from THEM. What was inside the email was only a short message, a single sentence:
Congratulations on passing the first stage of the test. We’re pleased to invite you to complete the second stage. This will be a psychological assessment you can carry out on your own time.
There was a link underneath this message… I think you can see where this is going. And no, before you email back and ask, I can’t forward you a copy of the email because it’s gone. Poof. Vanished. I knew I was going to click that link as soon as I read the email, as much as I didn’t want to. You have no idea how much I wanted to just smash my laptop to pieces right then and there, but I couldn’t. The only thing I could do was turn my screen recorder on so at least this time I’d have some record of what happened when I clicked that link.
You’ll see on the video. It was a pretty generic quiz, except for of course the messed up questions. Creepy video afterwards, and that’s it. But when I closed my laptop down, I already knew what was coming. The sickness. The fear. It happened again, just like the first time. Worse than the first time, because ever since I did that goddamned “aptitude test”, I’ve been seeing things, having bad dreams. Every night when I wake up, I never want to open my eyes, because I see SOMETHING at the foot of my bed.
A tall, dark shape, tall enough to almost reach the ceiling, bending over the bed to stare down at me. I have to wait until morning until I can wake up, and if I wake up from my nightmares (which is most of the time), I’m shit outta luck, and just have to lay there like a scared little kid as that thing breathes down on me. I can’t work. Can’t eat. Can’t even think. And every part of me hurts. I’ve been to a few doctors already, but they say nothing’s wrong with me physically. They think it’s psychological, or that finally I’m getting what’s coming to me like the dirty addict they think I am. Going to the police is pointless. What am I supposed to tell them? That I did a personality quiz and now I’m seeing demons crawl out of the fucking walls?
And I can’t tell them to go check out the testing site on Newmarket Road. You want to know why? Because the place doesn’t exist. I drove back to that place, maybe to confront the pricks, or get answers, or just to prove to myself that it actually happened. It’s just an empty lot, waiting for something new to be built where the bank used to be. I must have stood on that sidewalk for 15 minutes just staring at the space where that building had been. I even asked the people at the shops either side if there had ever been a government building on that street, and they looked at me like I was completely nuts.
So that brings me to now. I have no clue what to do, and I don’t have anyone I can tell. I thought of you because you were like my brother, once upon a time. You’re the only one who might understand, take it seriously. By the time you read this, I’ll be gone, or maybe I’ll just be dead. What am I supposed to do if THEY ask me to take another test? I’m scared there will be a stage 3. If I do another one, I think it will kill me. My plan right now is to try and stay off-grid. If they can’t find me, they can’t test me, can they?
Tuomas’ email ends there. I’ve decided to upload the screen recording he made and share it around. It looks more like a student art film than anything sinister, but I’ll admit that after viewing it, I’ve started feeling strange.
How to describe it? You know feeling you get, when you sense someone is approaching behind you? It’s like that. All the time. But when I turn around, there’s nothing there.
I’ve checked out the address Tuomas mentioned in his email, and like he said, the site he claimed was a departmental building was just an empty lot. I even visited his place to find the original letter he received.
His parents have been pretty helpful, giving me access to his apartment. I’ve told them the edited version: that Tuomas is going through withdrawal and has taken off again to try and get sober for the umpteenth time. Officially, he’s still missing. His friends seem to think he’s ODed somewhere, but only I know the real truth: that Tuomas was being hunted. Is being hunted. Maybe he’s still out there.
I’ve also gone to the police and showed them the email I was sent. As far as they’re concerned, it ratifies their theory that Tuomas has simply run away again in a drug fugue. They don’t believe for a second that his mental state is the result of the tests. The detectives reckon he just emailed me a whole load of bullshit when he was high, but I don’t believe it. Tuomas never went this far off the deep end, even when he was at his worst.
Make no mistake, I’m terrified by the email Tuomas sent. Best case scenario is he ran afoul of some kind of government experiment. Worst case scenario? I feel stupid for suggesting it, but I don’t think the invigilators were human. How else to explain the hidden buildings, videos which can drive a man insane?
What manner of non-human we’re talking about is up for debate, and I don’t know if it makes a difference. But since I’m now having the same strange dreams Tuomas had, and now that I feel that same sense of being pursued, I can’t just let this slide. Something was after Tuomas, and now it’s after me, too.
I’ve decided to go and investigate on my own. There must be other testing sites in this city, or even the country, and there must surely be others like Tuomas out there. The footage Tuomas sent revealed coordinates, the closest ones pointing to a former psychiatric clinic in New Zealand. I’ve booked a flight, and I’m headed there first. I’m scared of what I might find.
I’m leaving this post online in case there’s anyone out there reading who has some insight into what any of this means. I’m probably going to leave town for a while, and go do the investigative journalist thing. If you want to get in touch, leave a reply on this post.