Jeffrey Thomas is the author of such novels as The American (JournalStone), Deadstock (Solaris Books), and Blue War (Solaris Books), and his short story collections include Punktown (Prime Books), The Unnamed Country (Word Horde), and Carrion Men (Plutonian Press). His stories have been reprinted in The Year's Best Horror Stories XXII (editor, Karl Edward Wagner), The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror #14 (editors, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling), and Year's Best Weird Fiction #1 (editors, Laird Barron and Michael Kelly). Thomas lives in Massachusetts.

Subject 11 by Jeffrey Thomas

Welcome to the Subject 11 project. We are currently seeking 10 individuals to participate in a research study. Participants shall receive a sum to be discussed during initial telephone interview. Interested parties should email us via our contact page,, providing their telephone number and a brief biography of approximately 100 words, describing themselves in terms of gender, age, race, and occupation if any. The study will take place in a series of abandoned buildings rented for this purpose. Note: subjects involved in this test may find themselves experiencing certain psychological distortions. They may experience lapses in memory regarding others and themselves. Subjects may even forget how long this test is supposed to go on for. And please disregard any additional people you may feel you've sighted in the complex, beyond those in the test group. We thank you for your interest in our research.


•A sense of disorientation is one of the key elements of weird fiction, a feeling of uneasiness, of being off-balance, unsure of your circumstances…or self. That very thing is central to Subject 11, in which a mysterious experiment performed on ten subjects turns out to be extremely disorienting indeed. Events are off-kilter, personalities clash, and the fabric of reality itself seems to fray under the baleful watch of the author. As in other works by Thomas, this novella will lead you to question everything in the story's framework and beyond, giving you food for thought that will stay with you long after you've read the last word on the last page. Prepare for an experience unlike any other, orchestrated by an author who will leave you wanting more…even as you wonder if you can handle it. – Robert Jeschonek



  • "Cutting right to the chase, Subject 11 is one of the best novellas I've read all year. Jeffrey Thomas is at his best in this eerie story following a group of ten people (five women and five men) taking part in a mysterious experiment...The mysteries are enticing, and Thomas brings them together for an ending that is sure to linger long in the minds of readers."

    – Justin Steele, The Arkham Digest
  • "This book will mess with your mind, and you will feel that you have left a bit of your sanity behind after you is right at the top of my list for best story so far this year. You will not be disappointed and I give it my highest recommendation."

    – Literary Mayhem



"Hello?" said subject 1 uncertainly, looking all around her as she let herself into the room. It was very small. Had it been a closet at one time? Maybe even a restroom? There were a few holes in the stained linoleum of the floor that plumbing might once have passed through. Now there was only an office chair positioned under a naked light bulb. And the mural.

The mural covered all four walls. She didn't know if it really qualified as a mural, however, wasn't clear on the definition. Did a mural have to portray a certain scene, inhabited by a number of characters? If so, maybe she would simply classify the art as graffiti instead. This graffiti had claimed every inch of the walls, but was cut off neatly at the margins of the ceiling and floor, as if those areas had been masked off while the artist had worked. An odd technique for a vandal.

She closed the door after her, still glancing around. She saw no security camera positioned near the ceiling as she might have expected. No apparent microphone. Those holes in the floor, she decided; a microphone must be secreted in there. Maybe the researcher whose name had sounded like Onsay (and what nationality was that?) was sitting in a room directly below this one, even now. But when she lowered herself into the chair, the holes in the floor were situated behind her. The chair was not turned to face the closed door, either, but one of the graffiti-slathered walls. Subject 1 thought it best not to swivel it in another direction. She gripped its padded armrests nervously.

"Can you hear me?" she spoke aloud self consciously. "Dr. Onsay told us we could come in here any time of day or night, in no particular order. Is that right? Hello?"

No answer. No indication that there was indeed someone listening at all times, or at least that her words were being recorded. Should she continue anyway? Yes, she had to. It was a condition of her contract. Every day she must come in here, just like the others. Not only had she been told she could do so at any time she chose, but she could also discuss any subject matter she chose, whether it be about her nine companions or about her own life. Her past, her present situation, or her dreams for the future.

She had phrased her words just now as if someone other than Dr. Onsay might be monitoring this confession room, but she had only ever seen Dr. Onsay, and only that one time. The initial interview, in a stark little second-floor office in the city. An office that looked as if it had been rented just for a short time, not a picture on its walls of ugly cheap paneling, just Dr. Onsay's laptop resting on the battered gray metal desk.

Laid off from her position as a computer software designer, in her ongoing frustrating job search subject 1 had encountered an ad presumably posted by Dr. Onsay on the classified advertisement site Craigslist, wherein was given a link to another website: Curious, 1 had visited this site, though ultimately it gave little more information than the ad did itself. It simply stated that a number of local test subjects were required for a study, the pay being four thousand dollars per individual. She had promptly sent an email to the address given on the website, therein providing her cell phone number, and within mere days Dr. Onsay had phoned her to set up the interview.

The other test subjects had related that they had only ever met Dr. Onsay and no other researchers, also. But surely Onsay couldn't be conducting this experiment alone?

In any case, seated now in the confession chamber, subject 1 had to assume she was indeed being listened to, and not just transmitting her words to her own ears.

"Um…well, I guess I'll just talk, then," she said. "I'll just talk."

Through the narrow lenses of her eyeglasses, with stylish white frames by Roberto Cavalli, she stared at the graffiti mural directly facing her. That was all there was, so this was what she addressed when she spoke.

"Sooo. Okay…I'll tell you about my tattoo." Subject 1 rolled up the right short sleeve of her top. "I have a tramp stamp on my lower back: a Mobius strip in a figure 8, like the symbol for infinity. But this here on my arm – I don't know if you can see it – it says, ONE LIFE TO LIVE. That's a soap opera on TV, and it was always my Mom's favorite. We used to watch it together when I was a kid. Mom had a crush on the character Bo Buchanan, played by Robert S. Woods. Maybe it was because Bo was a Vietnam vet, and my father was in the Marines. He left us when I was only eight, twenty years ago, and I haven't seen him since."

Her words briefly faltered. The graffiti confronting her was beginning to make her eyes hurt. It was like gazing at a giant paisley pattern, all bristling swirling shapes. Except it was all painted in black and white. The words, if they could be called words, teenagers spray-painted on any available city surface – a practice called tagging – always struck her as being symbols from an alien language, like hieroglyphics, and these were no exception. The tagged symbols overlapped each other, some in white and others in black but none of them making any kind of sense to her. The background itself varied from black to white. It was a dizzying chaos and she wanted to look away, but the densely layered graffiti was to either side of her and behind, too.

She'd give them just a little more, just to fulfill the bargain, and then she'd get out of there.

"Last year my Mom died from from uterine cancer. I used to sit with her in the hospital watching One Life to Live, just like when I was a kid."

Subject 1's eyes had grown moist, her chin quivering. She tried to clamp down hard on her emotions, just long enough to finish. The chaos of graffiti was making her queasy; she thought she might even be sick to her stomach if she didn't get out of there soon. Could part of it be claustrophobia? The lingering smell of the paint in this poorly ventilated room?

"That's why I got this tattoo," she concluded. "ONE LIFE TO LIVE."

She waited a few beats, but there was no acknowledgement. No voice over a microphone to thank or dismiss her. So, rolling down her sleeve again to cover the tattoo, she rose from her chair and said, "Okay, well I guess that's it. See you tomorrow, then."

Subject 1 opened the door, but turned in the threshold to glance back into the room. The graffiti looked to be swarming upon the walls, like strange organisms under a microscope's lens. She squeezed her eyes tight for several seconds until the worst of her nausea passed. Then, reopening her eyes, she stepped out of the confessional and pulled the door shut after her, quickly, lest her gaze became lost in those disorienting, seething walls again.