Joseph Santaella Vidal

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Joseph Santaella Vidal is a 22-year-old Puerto Rican, who recently moved to Boston to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College. Before moving to Boston, he worked for Puerto Rico’s television station, Wapa TV, where he worked under the production house “Sanco Productions.” He looks forward to graduating from Emerson College and bringing his newly acquired knowledge back to his homeland with the goal of stimulating a better reading/writing culture in the youth. 

Experiment 16-07-92

James knelt by the side of his bed, resting his elbows on the mattress without really knowing what do to with them—were his arms supposed to go straight up, in a ninety-degree angle, or were they supposed to bend forward in a more obtuse manner? Were his hands supposed to stay open—palm on palm—or were his fingers supposed to intertwine, like two lovers’ hands?

         James had never prayed before in his life; he felt like his former seventeen-year old-self trying to figure out the proper way to roll down a condom—like the whole process was supposed to feel smooth and natural, not awkward and methodical. But just like his seventeen-year-old self, he decided to just go for it.


James woke up to what would be his worst day ever.  He performed his monotonous morning routine of showering, dressing and eating, and had a few minutes left over before he had to leave for his commute to work.  So James made the decision that would give start to his worst day ever: He turned on the T.V.  Specifically, he tuned in to the local news channel.

         A redheaded newscaster appeared on the television set mid-sentence.  James wasn’t paying attention to a word she said; he was too mesmerized to be listening. She was new; James had never seen her before.  She seemed nervous, stuttering now and then.  Her hands trembled and made the papers she was holding lightly shake and jiggle.  Her porcelain face was decorated with irregularly placed freckles that seemed to dance around as she spoke; her long, red curly bangs framed her face perfectly and rested exquisitely over both sides of her chest, like a scarlet scarf.  James had never seen a more beautiful shade of red.  She wore black-matte glasses that made her olive eyes really pop.  He found her to be perfect.

         James was brought back from his scarlet daydreams by the mention of one of the most putrid words he knew: rape.  The scarlet angel was now narrating the occurrences of a horrible crime with the blank, neutral expression only a newscaster could achieve.

         “The seventeen-year-old, Margaret Winstead,” said the scarlet angel, “was making her way through Central Park on her way home from a friend’s house, when she was brutally attacked by three middle-aged men.  Two eyewitnesses reported they heard the victim scream for help, and saw the three men drag her behind the foliage of the trees.  The eyewitnesses proceeded to call the police immediately, but unfortunately, the arrival came too late.  Police are still on the lookout for the perpetrators.”

Three police composite sketches of the men came up on the screen—each more hideous than the next.  James turned the TV off.

James felt sick in the stomach.  He felt nauseous, and furious, and heartsick all in an instant. And it was now time to go to work.





On the bus, all James could think about was that poor girl.  He saw her running across the park when he looked out the window. He imagined her dodging the trees in a wild, desperate sprint; zigzagging, stumbling, and staggering, breaking her way through the rose bushes, her delicate white lace dress catching and tearing violently on the roses’ thorns—the park and the whole world working against her, as she fled like prey from three vicious predators.  James cheered for her in his mind.  In his head he shouted and hollered frenetically in support. “Make it to the bus,” he thought, “Come on, you can do it.”

         She made it through the park and now he saw her running next to the bus, so close, she was scraping the windows.  She screamed, she howled, she banged on the windows with open hands—each bang resonating in James’ chest—but not a single passenger turned his head.  Everyone ignored her, and the bus outran her. 

         “Sir, are you alright?” asked an elderly woman who sat across from James.

         “Huh?” said James as he looked across at the woman through watery eyes.




         Two rows ahead from where James sat, and on the opposite side of the bus, were a young mother and her plump, seven-year-old kid.  He had been whining and complaining for the entire bus ride—five stops now. He wore red coveralls that were held together by two gold colored buttons that seemed likely to fly off any second now.  The coverall had a large, square, kangaroo-like pocket in the front, which the boy used to stash snacks and sweets. “How ingenious,” thought James, “A pocket full of diabetes!”

         The boy dug his stubby fingers into his kangaroo sack and dug out a chocolate bar.  He turned it around in his hands, scrupulously studying it, like an avid wine taster might handle his wine.

         His mother—who was deeply immersed in a book about the different tones of the color grey—now gently bent the corner of a page of the book and set it down next to her.

         “Patrick,” she said to her son in a soft, patient voice. “It’s too early for sweets, honey.”

         “But mom,” protested Patrick, “Dad lets me eat candy whenever I want.”

Mom rolled her eyes as she sighed deeply.

         “Well, honey, you’re with me right now, not with your dad,” she said calmly as she took the chocolate bar from Patrick’s tight grasp.  The chocolate bar snapped in the epic struggle between mother and child; and so did, little round Patrick.  Patrick threw his open fat little hand across the air and it landed directly on his mother’s left cheek.  Patrick didn’t even flinch.  His mother gasped.  James gasped.  The bus driver gasped as he stared back, wide-eyed, from the glass mirror that was placed above him.  Mom was shocked, clearly this was the first time Patrick had ever raised a hand to his mother.

         “Here it comes,” thought James, “He’s finally going to get what’s coming for him.”  But James thought wrong. Little Patrick didn’t get what he had coming to him.

         Apart from the newly imprinted hand-shaped tattoo her son had just given her, James saw something on the mother’s face that stuck with him all day; he saw hurt in her eyes—not the obvious physical hurt you’d get from having your abnormally strong offspring slap you across the face—a hurt that’s far worse; the kind of hurt that only comes from having someone you adore break your heart in an instant.  Mom was as teary-eyed as James had been just a moment before.  She swallowed hard and searched her purse for something, fishing around with her free hand—the other was still grasping the broken chocolate bar.  Patrick waited in agonizing anticipation.  Was she going to hit him? Was she going to leave him alone on the bus? What was she looking for in her purse? Was she looking for her phone? Was she going to call dad?

“You’re so fucked, kid” thought James.

         But mom finally found what she was looking for.  Patrick flinched and shut his eyes tight as a reflex, expecting to get hit, but mom wasn’t beating him.  Mom was blowing her nose in the handkerchief she probably always carried around to wipe the boogers off her little darling boy’s snout.  The bus stopped and James got off to get to work.




“I never would have hit my mom,” thought James as he walked into his cubicle, “Never; under no circumstance.”  James missed his dear mother very much. She was great.  She was the best, and James wished she was still around so he could tell her that.  But she wasn’t; and he couldn’t.




         James was under the impression that most people who had cubicle jobs hated their lives—and themselves. He wasn’t sure if it was a requirement or if you developed that hatred with every passing second you spent between those cheap cubicle-walls. To pass the time, he would pretend the myriads of numbers he was inputting were actually top-secret CIA codes, or the answer to what the meaning of life was, or he would pretend he was a hacker who was breaking into some terrorist’s computer in order to save the country.  But James knew these were just company statistics that would end up on a chart—they always ended up on a chart.




         When it was time for lunch, James walked into the break-room, where a few of his coworkers were caught up in what seemed like complete balderdash to him.  They sat at a white, round table that reflected the intense artificial lighting that came from the ceiling; along with their twisted, ugly faces.  The whole room was uncomfortably bright.

         James walked past them, toward his usual table, where he normally had lunch with Paul Bleary.  Paul Bleary was a great guy; he told the most hilarious jokes James had ever heard, and whenever his wife baked her scrumptious double-fudge chocolate chip brownies, he would save a batch for James and bring it to the office.  Paul Bleary was definitely James’ favorite person in the whole office.  Paul Bleary had died about a week ago.  The black mourning ribbon was still hanging on the break-room door, over a picture of Paul.  James sat alone at his usual table, staring blankly at his coworkers who were now laughing hysterically at a joke.  The artificial lighting bounced off everything in the break-room; James particularly liked how it made it seem as if the black mourning ribbon was casting a spotlight on his coworkers.




         James was about to clean up his table before heading back to his cubicle when something caught his attention from his coworkers’ table.  They were talking about the newscaster—the scarlet angel.

         “Leave it to a ginger to fuck up the whole thing,” said Matthew, an office douchebag with thick black glasses.  Everyone at the table laughed.

         “Why are they laughing at that?” thought James.

         “All she had to do was read the news from a freaking screen,” said the man.

         Matthew then proceeded to perform a sordid impression of the newscaster.  He stuttered every word he spoke and violently shook a paper plate he was using as a make-belief paper, making the whole table shake.  They all loved this.

         “In-n o-other ne-ne-news,” he stuttered, “A g-g-girl was r-r-raped la-la-last night whe-when sh-she ha-ha-had the bri-brilliant i-i-dea t-to wa-walk th-through a pa-pa-park a-alone a-at night!” he yelled as threw the make-belief paper to the air.

         Everyone laughed, and clapped their hands.  One of them even wiped away a tear, as she gasped for air.  James sat there, horrified, with his mouth wide open as he watched them start to make their way back to their work stations.  Matthew was the last to leave, stopping in front of the picture of Paul on his way out.

         “This shit’s fucking depressing,” he said as he ripped the ribbon off.




         James lingered at the table.  He thought about nothing for a while; he only sat and breathed.  And then he thought about everything.  He thought about the world, and what a horrific place it had become.  Had it always been this way?  What had happened to the beautiful place where people had hopes and dreams and wanted to help each other out—the world he grew up in?  Had it all vanished or was it always an elaborate illusion his family and friends had created for him?  When did this beautiful place he used to live in turn into this wasteland where monsters rape young innocent girls, and people make jokes about it? When did the world lose its sensibility?  When did humans lose their humanity?

         James walked across the room, toward the glass windows.  The break-room had a great view of the city.  Skyscrapers rose from the ground, perforating the clouds.  James thought it was funny how these buildings were like bridges that connected the earth to the heavens, but instead of reaching heaven when you went all the way up, you would reach cubicles, and break-rooms with horrific fluorescent lighting.

         James placed his hand on the glass.  The window had no way of opening, and it was practically bulletproof—a prevention for cubicle-drones who hated their lives, like Paul Bleary did.  James walked away from the window, and toward his cubicle.  Lunch break was over seventeen minutes ago.




         After work, James decided to walk home instead of taking the bus.  His mother would always make him take a walk as a kid whenever he threw a tantrum.  It would always make him even more furious; nowadays it soothed him.  James hoped to see a family playing in the park—kids going down slides, and into their parents’ arms; he hoped to see people walking around town enjoying the beauties the city had to offer.  Maybe he would even run into a beautiful woman who was walking in the other direction; they’d bump lightly and they would start talking—he’d be super smooth and charming.  But the reality was that the parks were empty and uninviting, the streets were dirty, and everyone was in a hurry.  Before he knew it, James was already sitting alone in the dark, on the edge of his bed contemplating his shitty, shitty life.




         James thought about killing himself for a while.  He thought of different ways he could do it, as he skimmed the stitching patterns of his bed linens with his index finger.  He could have hung himself right there in his room.  But then, his landlord—who was a really nice guy—would have been the one to find him hanging there, and James didn’t want to leave that on him.  He could jump out the window.  His apartment was twelve stories high and his windows weren’t sealed, or bulletproof.  James walked across his room, toward the window and slid it open.  He proceeded to stick his head out and look down.  The hard wind was like a cold, moist slap that sent chills down his spine.

         “Long way down,” he thought as he stared down at the dirty streets.

         James’ father used to tell him that people who committed suicide were cowards, because they left their messes behind for their families to deal with.  But James didn’t have anyone to leave a mess for.  Would it still make him a coward if he jumped?

         James thought his father was wrong.  You’d have to be fearless to jump out of a twelve-story apartment.  You’d need balls of steel to weigh you down.  And James wasn’t fearless, and he certainly didn’t have balls of steel.

         James stepped away from the window and knelt by the side of his bed.  And oddly enough, he prayed.




         “Dear God,” he started.  He hesitated for a moment. 

“If you’re real—What the fuck?”

         James was now weeping.  He started listing everything he thought was wrong with the world; he seemed to have an endless list of complaints in his head that he’d been writing his whole life.  A stampede of complaints, regrets, and reclaims rushed from him and unto an invisible man in the sky.  James’ words were impossible to understand now; they were muffled by the bed linens he was pressing his face against, and they came through long weeps and moans.

         “The world is disgusting,” cried James through muffled noises.  “The whole damn thing needs a cleansing,” he yelled.

To which God replied, “I agree, James; let’s do it.”

         The voice came from nowhere specifically; it seemed to emerge from every direction.  James sprang his head up from the bed.  He stayed there frozen for a moment, wide-eyed.  He thought of a million possible explanations to what had just happened: a neighbor was messing with him, he butt-dialed someone who heard everything and was on speakerphone, or—more likely, and less hilariously—he was going insane.

         James could only muster up one sentence: “Who’s there?”

“It amuses me how predictable humans are,” said God, “You pray to God with all your might; you beg and you cry for an answer from the almighty savior, and when you get one, you all ask the same thing: ‘Who’s there?’”

         James peered around his room from where he knelt.  He studied every corner, shadow, object, and space his eyesight could reach.

         “You get what you want,” continued God, “and you don’t want to believe it; you won’t let yourself believe it, because no one would believe you, and then you would be categorized as insane.”

         James stared at the open window.  He thought about running in terror and jumping out before he went batshit insane.

         “Don’t do it,” said God.

         “Do what?” asked James.

         “Do not test me, boy.”

         This was the last straw.  He’d lost everything—his family, his friends, his happiness—but he wasn’t about to lose his mind.  James sprang up and ran full speed toward the window, set on ending his miserable life.  The window slid shut and James slammed his face against the surprisingly strong glass, ricocheting backwards and landing flat on his back.

         “It is indeed time for a cleansing,” said God calmly, as James rolled to his side on the floor, grasping his head. “It keeps happening—you humans always start out well-intentioned, wishful, positive; and then you slowly start decaying—greed, jealousy, vanity, avarice—they all get to you.”

         God took a deep sigh.

         “But not this time, James; this time will be different, because the selection process will be scrutinizing.  I will pick out ten candidates from every country.  Then you will interview each one, and pick out the best two.  After you’ve cleared every country, we’ll gather the selected candidates into the vessel that will transport them to their new home.

         “New home?” asked James, as he sat himself up.

         “Of course.  You and your buddies certainly taken care of depleting this one’s resources as best and as rapidly as you could.  New society; new home”

         James was still skeptical, and he found God to be very presumptuous, and he had never been fond of presumptuous people.

         “James,” said God, “You were praying for change; begging for it.  Now, you have the opportunity to bring the best change possible for the world.  You desperately wanted a better world; let’s make one together.”

         James hesitated.  He really hoped he wasn’t going insane.

         “But God,” said James, “Why can’t you just do it yourself? You are God, after all.”

         “I could,” said God, “but my methods are too detached; too mathematical. I need someone from the inside—the human factor.”

         James sat at the edge of his moist bed and thought about it.

         “So, what do you say?” asked God.

         “Yes.  I will.”

         “Good.  You never really had a choice.”




         James calculated and there were 196 countries in the world; which meant he would have to interview 1,960 individuals by himself.  After thoroughly questioning each and every one of them, he would have to pick 980 of them and leave the remaining candidates, along with the rest of humanity to whatever God had in plans for them.




         James hadn’t really grasped the infiniteness of shapes, colors, and sizes people came in, until he started doing the interviews.  God gathered all of the candidates in a single building where they would all live together until James finished his interviewing.

         In that building lived 19,961 people—counting James.  There were all kinds of people—geniuses, morons, models, unfortunate-looking, religious, atheists, depressed, fat, skinny, white, black and every other color in between—the universe inside a single building.

         Most of the interviews went the same way: the candidates started out strong and composed, narrating long resume-like monologues with a shared robotic quality and then rapidly deteriorating along the way; most of them ended with begging and groveling through desperate sobs.  Then there were the few who went the other direction: acting completely nonchalant, but James got the feeling these were the ones who wanted it the most.

         One of the interviews that really stuck with James was that of a young woman named Samreen Muntasir. Samreen was one of the ten candidates from Bangladesh, and she was also the last person James would interview.  James walked into the interviewing room unprepared for what he was about to see.  There sat Samreen, with an olive-colored sari draped around her body, covering everything, but her face.  And it was her face James was unprepared for; Samreen only had one eye—bewitching, and grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side-green.  The left side of her face seemed to be melting off like hot wax; the bone that composed the left side of her jaw was clearly visible and there was a dark hole where her other perfect green eye should have been.

         James stood there in surprise for a second, and then quickly looked down at the clipboard he always carried around with the names of all the candidates; he flipped through the pages nervously, trying to figure out how to recover from his embarrassing reaction.

         Samreen giggled softly and gave James the most tender smile he had ever received.

         “I’m sorry,” said James, as he walked to his seat across Samreen.

“Do not worry about it,” said Samreen, still smiling, “my outrageous beauty often leaves men in a speechless state.” She gave James a wide grin.

         “So, tell me about yourself,” said James, feeling a little more comfortable now.


         Samreen told James her story, how she was thrown into an arranged marriage she had no desire to be a part of, how the man—who thought he was madly in love with her—felt so heartbroken and betrayed when she refused to marry him that he decided to throw acid at her in the middle of the street, how no one did anything to help her out, how passing men grimaced and laughed at the occasion, how she felt her left eye, skin, and bone dissolving, being eaten away slowly and painfully by sulfuric acid.  She told James how the man was still free, and unscathed. And she told him how there were so many victims like her, and so many aggressors like him, and how something needed to be done; which is why she dedicated her life to creating a movement of awareness.

         “And nothing was done to the man who burned you?”

         “Not a thing,” said Samreen, “but it’s ok, I forgave him a long time ago.”

         “Why?” asked James, “How?”

“Because he thought he did it out of love; but most of all, because he did it out of pain.  It would bear a bigger burden on myself to hate him everyday, to imagine awful things happening to him, than it does to just forgive, forget, and carry on with my life.  So I wish him happiness, and health; I wish him many things, but most of all, I wish him enlightenment and wisdom, so that one day he’ll realize the atrocity that were his actions and repent.”


It baffled James how this woman seemed to hold no contempt, no anger, or hatred toward the world; she only wanted to make it better. 

Samreen mentioned some of the most common types of acids used in those types of attack: “Sulfuric, nitric, and hydrochloric acid,” she said, raising a finger as she mentioned each one.

  It bothered James that this was a fact; that this fact existed.  There should have never been a “common-type” of acid used to burn people’s faces.  James wondered how this was allowed to be a fact.

“How do you think you’ve changed since the attack?” asked James.

“Well, I think my face has changed a bit,” said Samreen with a little smirk in her gentle face.


         James knew this was a joke immediately, but he didn’t know whether to smile or nod or laugh, so he remained silent, pretending to be studying something on his clipboard.

         Samreen laughed and said, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.”

         James chuckled nervously

Samreen continued, “But, in all seriousness, people used to say I was beautiful.”

And it bothered James so much that those people didn’t say that anymore—like a little acid could melt away a reality—she was funny, witty, smart, and had one of the most gorgeous green eyes he had ever seen.

“I think you still are,” said James, as he circled her name in his long list of candidates.




James met some truly amazing people, who he was positive would build a new, peaceful world—the perfect world—and he had played his part in that.




         The day had finally come.    All of the candidates who were chosen to inhabit the new world were now eagerly waiting inside of the vessel—an enormous titanium orb, that looked like something pulled out from a sci-fi movie. 

         James sighed with relief.  It was over.  He would soon be in the perfect world he’d always craved.  Everyone was going to be happy and safe and it was going to be marvelous.  James felt somewhat bad for all of the people who weren’t going to carry on to the new world.  When he asked God what was going to happen to the rest of the world, God simply told James, “They’ll perish.”  It was very vague; but James wasn’t really interested in hearing the details.

         The vessel lit up slowly, beams of white light shooting out from the circular windows that decorated the vessel’s perimeter.  James thought it was beautiful.  A beautiful vessel filled with the most beautiful people he had ever met.  James was finally happy; it was at this precise moment that he realized he had never truly been happy before—not like this.  And it was finally time to leave for the new world.





James walked to the sealed entrance of the shining vessel, and he knocked.  No one answered.  The vessel started making loud engine noises; it seemed to be purring loudly.  James started to bang on the door with his fist.  Still no one answered, and the vessel made louder noises, it was almost ready for takeoff; it started hovering in place.  James now proceeded to charge at the door, slamming himself in a feeble attempt to break through the sealed—obviously bulletproof—door.

“God!” he called out screaming, “God, answer me!”

“Yes, James?” answered God calmly.

“God, they forgot me! They’re leaving without me!”

“James, my boy, they forgot no one. The vessel is completely full. You had to pick two individuals from every country—which you did marvelously, if I might add—and you picked two from your country.”

“What?” yelled James as loud as he could, trying to compete with the fierce roaring of the vessel’s engine.  “You’re leaving me?”

“Well, James, at this point it would be extremely awkward to ask one of the chosen candidates to get off the vessel so you could take his or her place; don’t you agree? And in any case, you were never eligible for a spot.”


James stood there, his hair swaying from side to side from the force the vessel was emitting, his face blank as he tried to internalize this information.

         “James, the first time you prayed in your life, you begged for the deaths of billions of people.  You never did anything truly selfless, and you lived a relatively happy—although monotonous—life.”

         James had no argument, but he was enraged.  He couldn’t believe it; he had been beguiled by God—the marvelous, graceful, selfless, God.

         “What the fuck, God?” he screamed, “You tricked me. You’re supposed to be this perfect, all-forgiving being, and you’re just playing with me. I should be on this fucking ship! You lied.”

         “I never said—“

         “You didn’t have to say shit; it was implied and you know it.”

         “Alright, alright,” said God, “I’ll give you a choice.  You wanted to make the world a better place for humanity and you’ve got the chance to do it. All you have to do is let that vessel go.”

         James stood there clenching his fist and gritting his teeth, not saying a word.

         “Or—your other option—tomorrow you’ll wake up in your regular monotonous life, in the vile, putrid world you’ve always called home, and remember nothing of this great ordeal; the vessel won’t leave, and everyone will go back to their regular lives.

         James thought hard about his choices.  He had spent so much time getting to know these people, setting up this perfect pool of wonderful human beings, who would build a harmonious, peaceful utopia where no one would ever suffer again.  It was now time for James to decide the fate of humanity.



         James woke up to what would be his worst day ever, as God finished inputting new data into a file labeled, “ The Selfishness VS Selflessness of humans,” also titled: Experiment 16-07-92.


© The Acentos Review 2015