The Drowning Experiment

📅 Published on April 19, 2020

“The Drowning Experiment”

Written by Jacob Senstad
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by Otis Jiry

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: Scary Stories Told in the Dark – Podcast (Standard Edition) | 🔑 Podcast (Extended Edition) (feat. Otis Jiry)


Rating: 9.89/10. From 9 votes.
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It’s not on record as the drowning experiment. The official name is AQ521-G4, but I’ve chosen to call it what it truly was. It was marketed as an opportunity for people with previous experience in aquatic settings to earn high positions for coastal work, aquamarine research, and other well-paying jobs. The premise was simple: prove you can handle endurance tests in water, pass a physiological evaluation and some tests for intelligence, and the jobs will open up. As an unemployed 25-year-old guy living with his parents, this seemed like a promising opportunity. I grew up along the coast, where swimming, surfing, and scuba diving on occasion were pastimes I’d learned to love. I called the number on the listing and set up my appointment.

The nearest facility was only 60 miles from my house, and an hour commute didn’t bother me. The area was nice enough that I would’ve been more than happy to find a place to rent and start working there. I parked my rusted Jeep in the parking lot and took in a breath of the fresh ocean air. It was bitter, but even winters in California are still warm enough for me. I scanned the cars in the parking lot as if to measure up the competition, several old vehicles on the brink of breaking down were parked around me. Along the west side of the building was a fleet of very nice looking SUVs. I peeked inside of the nearest one, thinking I might get a company vehicle like that if I landed a nice enough job.

I walked into the front door and was greeted by metal detectors and a guard. I removed my cellphone and wallet and proceeded to a woman standing behind a rather sturdy sheet of glass, similar to what you’d see in a bank. She took my information and had me take a seat in the waiting area. I let my mind wander as I surveyed the group of people populating the area. People of all ages were waiting eagerly for the chance to make plenty of bank. I sat next to a 39-year-old guy named Eric. He told me about his wife and his two children. His oldest daughter was going to college next year and he needed the money to put her through college. He was a great guy, and he spoke elegantly about his love for both his wife and his daughters. A young girl across from us named Chloe chimed in about how she was a sophomore in college about 20 minutes from the facility. She wanted to find a job during college so she wouldn’t end up unemployed after graduation. I wish I was as smart as her when I was that age.

A man walked in and escorted the group back into a pristine room filled with very expensive looking machinery. Polished stainless steel equipment occupied the spotless room. The group, maybe 13 in total, all gave the same impressed look while they let their eyes dance from corner to corner.

“I’m glad to see such a nice turnout,” he said. “We’re going to start in our new ocean simulator we just had installed.”

We walked through a set of double doors to see a giant indoor pool. It must’ve been at least 50 feet wide and long. It was intimidating, but I’d adopted the false hope that I was in good hands.

“This is 20 feet deep,” the man said. “Nothing compared to the ocean just behind us, but it’s plenty deep for our first tests.”

It all started off mundane. We swam to the middle of the pool with the task to tread water for 15 minutes. Nobody wavered, but worse was to come. The man pointed towards the east side of the pool where a man standing behind a table full of equipment gave him a nod. Within a few seconds, two large pieces of equipment on opposite sides of the pool began vibrating up and down. Gentle waves began crashing into us as we continued to tread. Some of us were blown away by the engineering of the machinery, a few in the group stood out for their arrogance. They scoffed when the waves came in but we’d already been treading for 15 minutes. 10 minutes of waves hit us and two people gave up during this test. They struggled to swim to the edges of the pool but made it to safety.

“Is this all we’re going to do?” a man in the group yelled out.

The man who brought us in smiled and nodded towards the man at the table. He flipped a switch and the lights dimmed. We couldn’t see the edges of the pool anymore, and looked around to greet each other with the same scared expression.

“Let it rip,” the man said as machines whirred from all sides of the pool.

Waves hit us from all directions as we thrashed around. Only a few minutes passed as I heard people behind me screaming, so loudly it pierced my eardrums, “Someone help me! I…” I recognized that voice, it was Chloe.

I turned to see if I could help her but it was too dark to see more than a few feet away. I heard screams and cries in every direction, it was a battlefield with no gunfire. The relentless waves hitting us from every path were clearly winning this war. I felt something swimming below me and assumed they slipped a few people to help the weak.

The lights flipped on, the waves fell silent, and six of us remained. I looked around and locked eyes with Eric. I scanned the crowd but Chloe was gone. I looked at my watch, we were only in the chaos for seven minutes and it wiped out half the participants.

“The others have been escorted out of the building,” the man conducting the test said. “Congratulations on passing. Dry off, and we’ll run further experiments after lunch.”

We walked into the parking lot where Eric offered to give me a ride to a nearby restaurant.

“The fuck was that?” he asked as we sat down with our food.

“No clue,” I responded as I took a sip of my Diet Coke.

We didn’t speak much and didn’t eat too much food as we knew we’d be subjected to more punishment later that day. There was something somber, yet powerful about our meal together. I felt as if there was something special about us, in the fact we’d made it through the mayhem, but celebration wasn’t in order.

We arrived back at the facility and sat patiently in the waiting room again. The few of us that remained weren’t excited, we were worried. Like me, I knew they were slim on other options and hoped a little bit of tough work would pay off in the long run.

“Follow me. We’re going on a field trip,” the man said as he motioned us through the front doors. We followed towards a beautiful boat parked just past the parking lot. Loading in one by one, we rode along into the ocean.

“There may be some scenarios where you find yourself stuck at ocean,” he said. “Every job will know your general location, but it may take time for help to arrive. We’ve tested your ability to survive a storm, but endurance is also a necessity.”

We rode until the coastline was hardly visible. We were dumped into the ocean without life jackets and told to stay afloat. Whether it be paddling our feet, or lying on our backs, stay afloat.

“We will have you out here for one hour,” he said. “You’ve got food in your stomachs and we know where you are. We will monitor you from a distance to make sure you’re safe, and can handle the task.”

“Make it two,” said a familiar voice.

It was the same guy from the pool who wasn’t impressed with the gentle waves. The man conducting the tests looked at him from the boat with a look of dissatisfaction.

“If you would like a two-hour test, go take the SAT,” he responded. “We’re sticking to one hour.”

The boat drove off and we were stuck in the ocean. You’d think there would be plenty of chatter to pass the time, but nobody was saying a word. Eric was lying on his back while a few of the others elected to stay vertical and paddle their feet. The sun beat down on us while we shivered. Just because it’s California, doesn’t mean the water is going to be warm.

I lay on my back and floated for what felt like an eternity. I imagined what I’d be doing after the testing was over. The thought of having a secure future brought me the hope I needed to continue on. I checked my watch, 34 minutes had passed. I looked around to see how the others were doing and I noticed someone was missing. I brought it up to everyone else and we scanned the waters around us to see if they’d floated off. We didn’t see anyone.

“Fuck this,” a woman said in the commotion. “I’m swimming back to shore. Who’s coming with me?”

I looked at Eric, we were both considering it, but when he said he was staying there, I agreed to stay with him. A man in the group joined her as they set off for the coast. It was me, Eric, and the asshole who thought he was too good for the tests.

Eric and I talked to pass the time after the others left. We wondered if they’d be able to swim that far before they would succumb to fatigue. The thought of your body giving up with no escape for safety scared us. He also told me about how he’d been unemployed for about six months and needed this badly to support his family. I told him I just didn’t know what else I was going to do if this didn’t work out. I checked my watch, it had been an hour and 18 minutes since they dropped us off.

“Well, you got your wish for a two-hour test,” I said to the guy stranded with us.

“Good,” he replied sharply. “Survival of the fittest.”

I’d known the guy for a couple of hours and I hated him. I didn’t even know his name, but my gut feeling was to abandon him and swim to shore with Eric. We waited for a boat to come, but time was not on our side. We were dropped off at about 1:30. It was 2:50 and sunset was at 5:00. It dawned on me that they never asked for physicals from us. Nor did they ask if we had any prior health conditions. They just took whoever showed up and threw them into these tests.

By 3:51 I’d about given up hope. We were tired, even though lying on my back was no exercise, the endless waves were beating we down. My fingers and toes were completely numb and I couldn’t see the shoreline at all at this point.

“I can’t do it anymore,” Eric said to me. He was white; his rosy cheeks had lost all color. His eyes conveyed more information than any of his words could; they were empty. I wasn’t looking at Eric anymore, I saw a broken man. I saw what happens when you lose everything.

He started to sink when I swam over to him. I thrashed violently trying to get to him in time but I couldn’t save him. I dove below the surface to try and grab him, but he was too far down to save. I watched him sink until the water turned black.

“Shouldn’t have tried to get a job in the water,” the man said.

When he said that, I lost it. I swam over to him and wrapped my hands around his neck. His slight grin turned to panic as I held him under the water. His eyes open wide as his arms lashed through the surface.

“Maybe you shouldn’t either!” I screamed as I held him down.

I felt his heartbeat racing as my hands clasped around his neck tighter and tighter.

The fight was over. His eyes rolled back, his arms and legs draped below his lifeless body as I released him. He sank and I was alone.

Minutes later, the boat returned. The man administering the tests helped me into the boat and congratulated me on passing the test. It was 4:06. I had been in the water a lot longer than the hour he’d promised.

“Why did you come back so late?” I asked.

“Boat issues,” he replied without even looking in my direction.

We arrived back at the facility where the woman behind the counter returned my phone and wallet to me.

“Hey, can you tell me what Eric’s last name is?” I asked.

“It’s Griffen,” she responded. “You can expect an email within the next few days. We have employers who are excited to interview our candidates.”

I thanked her and left the building. I looked on Facebook and found his page. I sent a message to his wife letting her know what happened.

The next day, the bodies of the two participants that tried to swim back to shore were found. They had injuries that didn’t match up with shark attacks. The causes of death were unknown.

I never got a single email offering me a job. Eric’s wife messaged me back a few weeks later telling me they settled on a lawsuit, she got $2 million. It wasn’t worth it to her. She would’ve taken Eric back over the 2 million dollars in a heartbeat. Money doesn’t replace people, but people can be bought with a broken promise of hope.

* * * * * *

I was struggling after the first run of trials. I’d see Eric’s dead body drifting into the abyss in my dreams. Every time I would shower, the water hitting me reminded me of Chloe’s screams in the pool. I saw online that Chloe passed away. Those swimming under my feet weren’t rescue divers. They were disposing of the bodies before the lights turned on. This wasn’t just for Eric and Chloe; this was for all of us. I reached out to the police in an effort to make sure this didn’t happen again.

I sat down at the police station in a rusted metal chair as I watched officers hustle people in and out of rooms. The occasional bail here, a distressed victim there. As I’ve witnessed, there is too much tragedy in life, and this was a hot spot for the brutal aftermath of it.

My name was called, and I sat down across from a detective at his desk.

“I witnessed people die due to the negligence of a company just an hour south of us,” I said. “Everyone else died, but there was a lawsuit against them that won. Shouldn’t that be enough, along with my testimony, to prove something bad happened?”

“Sure thing,” he responded. “Tell me what happened.”

“I went to this place offering jobs to people who are good in water,” I said. “They’d get us connected with job opportunities after some test…”

“Aqua Hiring?” he interrupted.

“Yes, that’s the place,” I replied. “Do you know about them?”

“Yep,” he said. “We’ve launched investigations into them in the past. We never found anything out of the ordinary.”

“But people have died there!” I pleaded.

He leaned in close enough for me to smell the morning coffee and cigarettes he huffed down on his way to work.

“Listen, there’s nothing more we can do,” he said. “My wife went there three years ago. Never came back.”

His blue eyes trembled as he fought back tears. He had pictures of his wife on his desk, she was beautiful. The happiness he once displayed died along with her. I knew he cared, and he wanted to help. This was above him, and the whole local police force for that matter.

I did nothing for the next couple of days. Not exactly nothing; I contemplated. I sat like a prisoner in a cell, just wondering what I could possibly do. My walls weren’t holding me in, my conscious was. I couldn’t accept defeat, not this easily.

I looked around online to see what kind of technology I could use to spy on the facility. Unless I could attach a camera to a nearby streetlight or find a James Bond-style device that would let me spy in on conversations through walls, I was out of luck. Then an idea dawned on me.

I had a buddy back in college who works for an online news source. I never read it, but he might know a thing or two about getting the truth and amplifying it more than any court case or social media post can. I gave him a call later that day.

“Spencer?” he asked, surprised to hear from me. “How the hell are ya?”

“Not great, Matty,” I replied. “If you were to find some kind of corruption, or write an article to expose something, how would you do it?”

“Well, that’s tricky,” he responded. “If I was trying to get the truth from someone without them knowing, I’d go in mic’d up.”

“That’s not an option,” I said. “They know me, and I doubt they want anything to do with me.”

“Then I’d either go in undercover or send in a buddy,” he replied.

“What if I went to a different location of theirs where they didn’t know me?” I asked.

“I suppose that could work,” he said. “Need a wire?”

“No, I need something waterproof,” I said.

He sent me a link for a waterproof watch with a built-in microphone. Nothing that could capture video proof, but theoretically, audio along with my testimony could be compelling.

I searched Aqua Hiring LLC and the second closest facility was 149 miles away. It would be a haul, but worth it if my plan actually worked. I called to see if I could get more information as to what kind of testing would be done, but it was the same bullshit I was told for my first experience. I determined if I was going to get proof, I’d have to suffer again.

I made the long haul three days later and went through the same procedure as last time. However, this time I used a fake name. In case they had Spencer Hicks on file, I’d go by Dillon Johnson. While I sat nervously in my seat, I looked around at everyone surrounding me. I felt somewhat responsible for what would happen to them as I had the information to save all of them. I wrestled with my thoughts for a while before determining this was the only way to save people in the future.

We were escorted by a young woman into another pristine room filled with sci-fi looking equipment. As my peers looked on with amazement, I saw nothing but devices built for the purpose of pushing a body past its limits. We walked towards another pool with the same dimensions as the previous one. We waded out to the middle and assumed our positions. After treading for 10 minutes, the same machines as the prior ones began vibrating up and down. Gentle waves moved us around which forced nobody out of the pool. I was prepared for the lights to cut out when nearly the opposite happened.

“You must be able to remain calm even through the most disorienting events,” the woman said as bright lights of every color burst from the ceiling. At the same time, the machines jerked sideways from opposite sides creating an undertow. This was new.

I couldn’t see my own hands as lights bombarded my eyes. The current was pulling everyone, including me, under the water every few seconds. It felt like someone was pulling my feet violently as I struggled to resurface. Gasps of breath which only caused my lungs to burn were my only means of survival. After only four minutes of this, five of us remained.

“The ones who couldn’t pass this test have been escorted out,” the woman said. “You’ve earned a lunch before your next test.”

I didn’t make any friends during this. The last thing I needed was to make relationships with people who were walking tombstones in my eyes.

After a meal, I returned to see another beautiful boat sitting near the parking lot. I fought every urge in my body to run. Gut feelings can give you a lot of information, your brain telling you to run is another. I walked back into the main room and waited. The woman escorted us to the boat where we drove into the ocean.

“Our pool can only simulate the ocean so well,” she said. “This is a true test of your endurance. We’ll be monitoring you guys from a safe distance and will be back in one hour to retrieve you.”

We jumped out of the boat in a single file line but as the last girl was preparing to leave, I saw the woman give her a pat on the back. The girl winced in pain as she fell out and the boat drove off. After no more than two minutes in the water, we noticed streaks of red floating around us. I asked the girl to turn around and I noticed a small cut on her back.

“That bitch cut me,” she said.

Her wound was the least of my worries. We were in the middle of the ocean with blood in the water.

“Okay listen, we have to swim back as a unit,” I said. “There is safety in numbers, and we have to make sure she’s okay.”

“Hell, no!” a guy chimed in. “She can swim back to the shore and you can be her bodyguard. I’m landing a job.”

“You don’t understand! They’re not coming back!” I yelled. But it didn’t matter. Either I confessed everything to them, or I played along.

“At least, not for an hour,” I continued.

“It’s a small cut, I’ll be fine,” she said in an effort to calm down the situation. “Everyone just take a deep breath. We can pass the time with a few stories. Who wants to go first?”

Before anyone spoke up, a man behind me was pulled underwater. We turned around and saw his forearm barely connected to a hand float to the surface. Veins stuck out; fat and muscle clung to the shattered remains of the bones. Blood surrounded us as panic set in. She wasn’t cut on accident. This was the same test, just modified.

“Stop swimming and thrashing!” I yelled in an effort to save the others. “It only attracts more sharks!”

I spun around looking everywhere I could to watch for sharks incoming. One of the men in the water began crying. He told us he wanted to tell his wife he loved her one last time. Every passing second felt like minutes in my head. This wasn’t a test of endurance. We were playing Russian roulette with a chamber full of bullets, and it all depended on who was under the gun next.

“I see one coming, please help…” the girl with a cut yelled as a shark jumped out of the water and grabbed her.

She continued to scream and pled to us as we watched it jerk her back and forth. Her outstretched hands reaching for hope only grasped the air she’d never breathe again. She was being thrown around like a rag doll, showing just how helpless we were in comparison to the predators swarming us. Within 10 seconds, she was cut in half. There were only three of us left.

“Fuck this, man, I’m going back to shore,” said the man who initially refused to leave.

He swam about 20 feet before he met the same death the others had. I looked around me. I was greeted by an arm, half a woman, and one other man who was terrified.

“If you swim back to shore on your back, you’ll be fine,” I said. “Just don’t paddle and move around so much that it draws attention to you.”

I knew it was a lie, and I knew he’d be found dead. This was necessary. I had to make sure I got out alive with the evidence to finally end this horrible company.

Before he began swimming, the boat returned and the woman, along with a few other workers, swiftly dragged us back into the boat.

“I’m so sorry that happened,” she said. “We came in as soon as we could.”

I knew she was lying through her teeth. I could’ve said something, but everything I had been through from that point on would’ve been for nothing. We returned to the facility where, to my surprise, the testing wasn’t over.

“We just have one last test before you’re all done,” she said happily. Three people were mauled to pieces, and she was acting as if nothing had happened. We were escorted back into the facility where we entered a large room with two tanks filled with water.

“Hop into these tanks where we’re going to have you hold your breath,” she said. “Give us a wave when you can’t go any longer and we’ll open them for you. Also, Mr. Johnson, can you give me your watch?”

“Why, I like to have it on me?” I asked. “It monitors my heart rate, and I just feel naked without it on my wrist.”

“Our tanks receive signals from our computers and any kind of technology can interfere with it,” she said. “You’ll get it back along with your phone and wallet afterward.”

I knew she was lying to me. Her brown bangs couldn’t hide the malice in her eyes. I reluctantly handed over my watch but left the microphone running just in case she held onto it during the testing.

These tanks were above ground with steel beams holding them up. They were about three feet off the ground and roughly seven feet tall. They were just wide enough to house a person in them. As I climbed a ladder on the side and descended into the tank, along with the guy who survived the ocean with me, the tops sealed shut. I felt the claustrophobia set in as the round glass entrapped me. I had a realization after being in there for only a few seconds, I couldn’t move my arms. How was I supposed to wave to them if I needed to be released?

I remained as still as I could as I watched the clock on the north wall. The seconds hand danced slowly as if mocking me. We were both trapped behind a wall of glass, but its battery would last longer than my lungs.

I looked over at the man in the second tank as he began flinching.

We had been holding our breath for over two minutes and he didn’t have much longer. His head jerked back and forth as his body slammed against the glass. He was pounding his fists against the walls but couldn’t break them as his arms were forced against his sides. His screams for help were imprisoned to the bubbles bursting from his mouth, swarming around his head. My own lungs were constricting, but I still had time. A fire burned in my chest as I watched him become motionless. The lid to my tank opened seconds later.

“We’ll have medical professionals tend to him,” she said to me. “He’ll be okay.”

I walked back into the waiting area to gather my belongings from the man behind the sheet of glass where he handed me my phone, wallet and watch.

“You have a great day now, Mr. Hicks,” he said.

I froze. They knew me. Nobody came after me, nor did they attempt to stop me from leaving. I quickly walked out of the building back to my car. I looked through my phone; they didn’t touch it. I then inspected my watch. Hopelessness is the only word I can use to describe what came over me. Never in my life have I felt so defeated and filled with despair. I lost everything. They removed the memory card from my watch.

Rating: 9.89/10. From 9 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: Scary Stories Told in the Dark – Podcast (Standard Edition) | 🔑 Podcast (Extended Edition) (feat. Otis Jiry)

Written by Jacob Senstad
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by Otis Jiry

🔔 More stories from author: Jacob Senstad

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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