Below is a Recollection–this is not a review, but rather a full spoiler walkthrough of the author’s experience in The Tension Experience. As this experience will never occur again, spoilers should not be a major concern. Further, this is only one path of many that were available during The Tension Experience. It was highly personalized to the participant, and thus, many paths and many choices were available. This Recollection focuses on a participant’s second time through, which differed greatly from the first.
I turn down a small one car alley. A mattress is propped against the side of a building, and I am forced to drive over it to reach the parking lot. I turn in and already see a group of people huddled around each other. I am almost late, so I park quickly and hurry over.
I scan the people: I notice a few friends—and Terence, the plant from my first time through The Tension Experience. I heard that his name had remained the same during subsequent experiences, so I felt safe in treating him like an old friend.
“Terence! It’s so good to see you again.”
I reach out my hand, but the look on his face is one of shock.
“Uh… my name is John. You must have me confused with someone else.”
The group laughs, easing the tension. I explain my “mistake”—he just looks one of my friends I haven’t seen in a while. The first-timers in the group don’t suspect anything—I hope. We chit-chat idly until the van arrives. Waivers are distributed, and then the hoods. We line up, I am last—Terence/John is in front of me. “You shouldn’t have come back,” he whispers to me. I climb into the van, and pull my hood over my head. Classical music plays, and the driver yells at us to stop messing with our hoods.
We arrive at the compound, and we are told to exit the van and line up against the wall. I stand at the front as the brusque driver and his men pace the line. The door opens and a hauntingly beautiful girl, with bobbed hair and dark make-up around her huge eyes, exits.
“I’m so glad you came back!”
She’s looking right at me. I smile at her and tell her I am as well. An unremarkable man exits behind her and walks down the line. He grabs the waivers of a few participants, inspecting it closely. He then speaks into a mic, letting them know I am coming in.
Entering the first room, I see Mary Lynn, the famous receptionist of the OOA Institute with her heart-shaped pout, waiting for me. She rushes forward, throwing her arms around me and hugging me warmly. She then places her hands on my face—“it’s so good to see you again.” Her Southern flirtation is definitely back. She asks if I need to use the bathroom—I tell her I don’t. She looks disappointed that she doesn’t get to join me this time. I smile as she grabs my hand and rushes me into the picture room.
Myles greets me and takes my picture, attaching it to my form. Concerned with the horrors I saw on my first trip through the compound, I ask if he’s happy here. He looks surprised: “I love it here. I am grateful for all that The OOA Institute has given me. I’d be hard pressed to say anything negative about them. Have you heard the saying: ‘I was sad that I had no shoes, until I met the man that had no feet?’ Always be thankful for what you have.” I admire his positivity and outlook, but I still don’t quite buy it. Maybe ignorance is bliss.
Another woman enters and asks for me to join her. I comply, leaving Mary Lynn and Myles, and am led through a few hallways until we arrive at the processing room. Simon stands in the center waiting for me.
“Why have you returned?”
He says this as if it’s the dumbest thing I have ever done. Although I had already made my decision, his power in this room makes me feel less confident. I manage to tell him that I’m here to make sure Sabrina is safe, to give her an opportunity to escape if needed. (Some of you may be confused as to who Sabrina is—Sabrina is the real life actress who plays Addison Barrow, the Overseer of The OOA. The experience took a meta twist, as the lines between Sabrina/Addison were blurred, and Sabrina herself may have been in trouble). Simon just laughs at my answer and tells me to wait.
I stand in the all-white room alone. But then Samson, a higher up in the OSDM (Oracles Security and Data Management – those who oversee the Overseer and therefore the whole of the OOA), and an unknown man (referred to as The Suit) enter the room, followed by Addison/Sabrina in her red dress being dragged across the room by handlers (the young girls in white dresses). They seat her at the middle table. Two more handlers enter, with a man in a jumpsuit—a participant. He is seated across from Addison, The Overseer.
The Suit barks out questions at Addison. “What is your name?”
“Sabrina Kern,” she responds.
He slams his hands against the table, furious. That is not the answer he wants. She is Addison, the Overseer—not the actress Sabrina Kern. He grabs her face, “Who are you?!”
“Addison Barrow,” she says meekly.
Samson and The Suit begin to talk—but I can’t hear them; I am too far across the room. I inch forward, trying not to bring any attention to myself.
“This is your fault!” The Suit points at Samson. “All of the data we’ve collected; all of it is corrupted now. Unusable! This is all because of them.”
This time he points to the seated participant, and then glares at me. I stop moving. Samson says something that I can’t hear, and The Suit responds with “Do you think I’m scared of you? Do you think I’m scared of you!? I’m already dead!” He exits the room in anger. Samson orders the handlers to get Addison out of here. She stands up and refuses to leave.
The code word is said calmly by Samson, and Addison collapses to the floor. The handlers grab her and drag her out of the room. I stand in shock over what just happened. Whatever they did to Addison is no longer working—she’s reverting back into Sabrina. This is obviously against her will. My resolve for being here is strengthened; I have to help her.
Two other participants are led into the room and join me. Simon asks them why they are here and then orders us to strip. I begin to disrobe, wondering how far down to go. But one of the others is already in his boxers, so Simon leads him to one of the processing tables. I finish disrobing and when it’s my turn, I am led to the same table. I try to sit and Simon yells, “Did I tell you to sit?” and I quickly stand. All of the women—the processors—surround me and inspect me. They pinch at my skin, lifting my arms, and snap the elastic of my boxers against my waist.
“Who processed you the first time?” I point to one of the older ladies, and Simon asks if I remember her name. Sadly I don’t. The woman looks hurt. I quickly stick out my hand and introduce myself as Taylor, and she in turn introduces herself as Gail. He asks me questions regarding my first experience: What was the Red Room like? What did I learn? I tell him I learned to be present, and he laughs. “Well I guess you weren’t that present if you didn’t remember Gail’s name.” I apologize to Gail and explain that it wasn’t until my senses were removed that I learned this lesson. They seem pleased and begin to touch me—some softly, others rougher.
He asks me if there’s anything I want to say, and I ask him about “Marigold”, a phrase a friend had told me would be triggering to Simon. He looks back despondently, and says nothing. I once again push him, asking if there’s a story behind this. “Yes,” he says softly—the softest I have ever heard him speak, and then he walks away.
Samson and The Suit return to the room and look at the three of us. I say hi to Samson and introduce myself to The Suit, asking his name. Neither responds; instead, they finish looking us over and leave again. We aren’t people to them—just variables within an experiment.
The handlers approach us, place hoods over our heads, and lead us through the halls—hand in hand. We enter the classroom, and Professor Appleby welcomes us. He offers us a task: to find the heart of the room. The three of us, still in boxers, begin to scamper around the room looking for this “heart”. I notice an anatomy model in the corner of the room, seated upon a table. I approach it and notice its heart; I remove it, revealing a note. The note instructs me to give it to Professor Appleby. I do so and he applauds our efforts. We are now to be a taught a lesson in judgment. The three of us sit in the chairs.
“These girls will inspect you. One will tell you something she likes about you, while the other will tell you something she does not like about you.”
Two girls walk past us, examining us carefully, taking note of what makes us beautiful and also our imperfections. They comment that one of us should go to the gym more, but he has nice eyes. The other man has oily hair, but a kind smile. For me, one liked my hair, while the other said my eyes were too close together. Professor Appleby then continues the lesson. We must judge the girls as they have broken a rule. One approaches each of us and whispers a secret in our ears. I meet with the other men, discussing their secrets—and we choose the girl who gave us the criticism. She begins to sob, and the other girl—the nice girl—glares at us. We have just condemned her friend. I feel terrible, but it was a good lesson to learn, to feel. We are hooded again and led away, listening to the cries of girl echoing through the halls.
When my hood is removed, I am back in the processing room. The other participants are finishing their interviews, and I notice Addison standing with two handlers. I walk over to her and greet her warmly: “It’s great to see you again, Sabrina.” She smiles at me and responds, “My name is Addison; I’m the Overseer.” She has obviously undergone some reconditioning since the last time I saw her. I decide to push things a little further. I tell her I have a message from another Brotherhood of Seraph (BoS) member. Although he doesn’t stand by the practices of The OOA Institute or The Overseer, he will stand by Sabrina, the person. She looks back at me as I finish this message; confused by the loyalty a BoS member would give to her, but also touched by it. Tears begin to well in her eyes; she responds, “Why… why would he do that?” And I explain that we all care about her. She grabs my hands, squeezing it tight. But the handlers look concerned—they grab her and lead her from the room.
Simon approaches us with jumpsuits. I guess we won’t be in our boxers the entire experience. As I put mine on, I ask him, “Can you tell me the Marigold story now?” He looks away, but responds coldly.
“She was my wife. But she’s dead now.”
“I’m sorry, Simon. What happen—”
“I did not kill her, if that’s what you were going to ask. I may be a cunt, but I’m not that much of a cunt. I have killed people, I was a marine, but I wouldn’t kill my wife. She was the victim of a home invasion. We kept a gun upstairs, but 70% of deaths during home invasions occur because the gun is turned on its owner. And that’s exactly what happened here.”
I ask him if he blames himself and he tells me he does—every fucking day. He loved her dearly; he wishes he could have been there to save her. His honesty is touching. But this softer side of Simon is fleeting. He quickly resumes his cold exterior and commands all participants to line up.
We are led into the Red Room—a room filled with fog and sand, with crimson light bleeding through the smoke. A woman, beautiful and nude, slithers across the floor. We find our place upon the rocks as the timer begins to count down. Someone finds the first letter and approaches the altar to read. They select a member to come forth and answer the question, and they do so—sharing a deeply personal secret. This continues until all questions are answered. A door in the back of the red room is opened and we are led out.
We are back in the clock room: a large rectangular room with black walls and an impressive collection of various sized clocks covering the walls. A body lies on a metal table in the front of the room, covered by only a thin white sheet. I enter the room and one of the handlers—the girl with the bobbed hair—approaches me. I ask her if her name is still Susan and she nods. The two handlers then begin to pace the room, discussing our inevitable mortality and the limited time we have remaining. We must make the most of it. We then are made to face each other. I line up facing another man, much shorter than I am. We are ordered to stare in each other eyes—a real connection with a real human being. I stare into his eyes, into his soul. The handlers then usher everyone from the room—but keep the three second-timers.
We are led out of the clock room and introduced to Ernest, who appears to be a handyman of sorts. He looks like he could blend into his surroundings and may know some secrets, so I ask him what the true goal of the OSDM is. He tells me he doesn’t know—but his answer feels dishonest; he sounds scared. He hands us hoods, and instructs us to put them on. The handlers then lead us further down the hall, situating us against a wall. Our hoods are removed, and Overseer stands directly in front of us. This isn’t the emotional Addison or the confused Sabrina we saw earlier—this is the Overseer, the one in charge. She asks us the same question Simon did: why are you here? When each of us has answered, she looks at me and tells me to put my hood back on.
I am led into another room and my hood is removed. I am in the red room again, but as my eyes adjust to the darkness, a sea of faces greets me. Addison, Simon, Mary Lynn, Myles, The Processors, Ernest, Samson, the handlers, and even some I didn’t recognize. The entire cast. I am in shock, in awe. A stupid grin appears over my face and I suddenly feel embarrassed.
“Why are you here?” Overseer asks again.
“Because I was worried about you, Sabr—” “Overseer!” the entire cast yells back in unison. Their voices echo in the small room and I am frightened.
“Why are you here?” Overseer asks a third time.
“I wanted to let you know I stand by your side, Sabri—” “Overseer!!”
Simon interjects, “That’s it, I’ve had enough.” He lifts the hood up and I try to plead with him. Just let me talk to her. I know I can make a difference—I can help! But it’s too late. He already has the hood over my head and is dragging me out.
“Morior Invictis!” I yell back. Maybe it can help; I’m willing to try anything at this point. I listen for an audible sign—but I hear nothing. No collapse, no gasps, no words. Just my own feet scraping against the sand as Simon drags me out.
I am placed against the wall again and the other two are taken, one-by-one, to the red room to meet the entire cast. When this is complete, we are taken to an office with mirrors lining the walls. A large desk takes up most of the room, and Addison, Overseer, sits at its helm. She looks up as we enter and motions towards three baskets—each containing our street clothes. As we change, she begins to sing: first in English, and then slowly transitioning into French and then German. As she sings, she scribbles a singular phrase over and over again in a journal as if to remind herself: “My name is Addison.”
I attempt to ask her questions, but she is focused on the journal. She then leans forward and whispers, “They’re always watching me.” She begins to speak to us in what sounds like German, but we don’t understand. “They implanted so many languages in my head; I can’t remember how they all got here. And this journal. I don’t remember some of the things I’ve written in here. And I don’t remember living them.” The poor girl is a fractured version of someone whole.
Handlers enter the room and pull us from Addison’s lament. We are brought into the ritual room. Flowers and banners hang from the rafters, and the room smells of sage. We are forced to kneel on cushions, much like before. The Priest begins to recite to us from the Book of Anoch, the OOA’s holy text. He continues to tell us the story of the first Oracle as he moves closer to us, circling behind us. I wonder if we will be robbed of our senses once again, but Overseer enters the room and stops the ceremony.
“We know you are not the Oracles we seek. Do you wish to continue this or would you rather see behind the curtain?”
We all quickly agree to the latter. She removes us from the room and leads us down the hall—this time with no hoods. We reach a room and she pulls back a curtain, inviting us to watch. The participants we started with stand with blindfolds on as their hands are bound and dipped in hot wax. Seeing it with all our senses removes some of the mystery. But that is the Overseer’s purpose: to reveal that this is just an act, an experience. She begins to speak of the truth. She explains that it’s subjective. There is always a bias. We search for the answers, but they can be twisted by the powerful. I wonder if she’s talking about the OSDM.
She leads us away and takes us further behind the curtain. We enter a room with security cameras. The Suit and a second man sit in chairs watching the monitors intently. Overseer asks if any members seem promising, and the second man responds with, “These two,” as he points at two fuzzy silhouettes on the monitor. Overseer excuses us, and The Suit doesn’t even look up. She leads us to the very room on the security feed: a circle of chairs in which four different participants sit hooded after their senses have been removed.
Overseer tells us that we can determine who attempts Ascension tonight and can ask one question to determine it. I choose to ask, “Why did you want to be present tonight?” We listen to each participant’s answer and the select the best one. Overseer makes a note and we leave.
We are led to an area I have not seen before. I look to my left and see all of the women processors sitting in a uniform row of chairs with their heads bowed. I then pass by a large chain link fence revealing a lowered platform. A group of handlers in their pristine white dresses surround a bathtub filled with blood. As I watch, the blood begins to move and a girl emerges from it, standing completely naked only obscured by the crimson liquid dripping off her body. What ceremony is this and why are no guests present?
Overseer takes us into a small room with two stools and a camera positioned on a tri-pod. Terence/John is already in the room and acknowledges us as we enter. Overseer drops her stern posture, becoming Addison once again.
“This room was my idea. I never got to say goodbye to my parents. I want everyone to have that opportunity.”
I empathize with her. The next person that enters this room may not have a chance to say goodbye again. But wait, we’ve seen behind the curtain. Addison may believe this, but we don’t. What happens on that stage is just a farce. A good one, but it’s theater produced by Samson and The Suit. But I still give Addison my support and she hugs me until it’s time to go. She leaves us in the room with Terence, our plant.
We move over to him and ask him how Sabrina is treated. He seems surprised. No one ever calls her Sabrina. She’s always Addison, even when they aren’t performing. It’s true method acting! He warns us not to fall for any of the handlers: he had a friend that asked one out, but they’re all crazy. They can’t break character. The OOA Institute even had all the actors fill out life insurance policies and name Aleister Gordon, the contact person of The OOA Institute, as beneficiary. Terence wouldn’t agree to signing it—it sounded insane—but the insurance company called him the next day thanking him and telling him it was approved, despite the fact he never signed it. But he warns us not to speak a word of any of this; he fears for what could happen. “This is all just fake, right?” He laughs nervously.
A man enters the room to disrupt our conversation. He’s the one we chose to ascend via our question on being present. He seems confused and nervous. I instruct him to sit in the stool opposite the video camera and tell his loved ones goodbye—just in case something were to happen. He says goodbye, brushing off the seriousness of the situation. We explain that if the ascension fails, his life is in danger. I ask him to tell me about the person closest to him, and he begins to tell me about his wife. I ask him what if he lost her, how would he feel. His expression is pained as he tells me. Now, what if she lost you—and he’s opening up to us now, telling us about his kids and how he wants to see them grow up, how he doesn’t want to miss out on his life, and how much he loves his wife.
The handlers enter and it’s time to go. We are taken to the ceremony room. The room is blanketed in red light and all the other participants and cast of actors have already taken their seats. Both Terence and the man are led to the stage and seated in large armchairs; their hands restrained and hoods placed over their heads. I take my seat in the front next to Mary Lynn. She grabs my hand and squeezes it tight, but I can’t tell if it’s nerves or excitement. We watch as the performance begins. Susan, the beautiful girl with the bobbed hair, takes the scalpel, but hesitates to use it. The other handler grabs it, stabbing Susan in the stomach. Susan falls to the side as the handler jumps on Terence and begins to cut at him. Terence screams and the room falls silent. Another Ascension has failed. The participants in the audience begin to whisper and look worried. The Overseer yells in frustration, telling us to get out. And people begin to run out through the back doors.
We line up against the familiar backdrop of “The Tension Experience” and have our souvenir picture taken. The participants move to the side to change out of their jumpsuits, but a man exits and requests that one other second-timer and I return.
We enter in through the back door and are led into the hallway. I see Samson waiting for me, a man who has not acknowledged me once these past three hours.
“Want to see something funny?” he asks us as he begins to walk toward the circle of chairs from earlier. Addison is in the center, pacing back and forth nervously. Samson approaches her and asks her name. She responds as expected, “I’m Addison, the Overseer.” He then asks her what the purpose of tonight was. And she responds, again as expected, that we are trying to create an oracle in order to speak to Anoch. She’s in character and her faith is strong—but isn’t it over? We’ve already seen behind the curtain.
“Isn’t it funny. She actually believes this is real?” And he laughs a fully bodied laugh.
Addison, the Overseer, looks confused at his laughter over her answers and yells back at him to stop. And he does. But she shouldn’t be talking to him like this, so he orders, “twenty minutes in the hood.”
Four handlers emerge from the shadows and grab Addison. She is dragged to a small fenced-off area and seated in a metal chair. They put a large helmet on her and drape a red cloth over her head and shoulders. Addison begins to scream. Not a normal scream, but of one in intense pain. The kind of pain that burns every inch of your body. And she doesn’t stop. The screams penetrate my head; but what can I do? I need to do something. I squeeze my fists tight and look at Samson, trying to find the right words.
But Samson speaks first: “You came back for her, right? Well then go to her.”
I run over to Addison. I pull off the cloth and throw the helmet to the floor. I grab her hand and squeeze it. She looks up at me, disoriented. I ask her if she knows her name, and she responds, “Addison.” This can’t be it. The helmet reprograms her back to being Addison, but she’s stronger than this. I know it; this can’t be the end. I ask her, “Do you have any other names?” She leans forward and whispers just enough for the both of us to hear, “Just play along.” She gives me a smile and drops her head.
Samson orders that she’s taken to Processing. The handlers pull her from the chair and I am left with Samson and the other participant. I prepare to leave, but Samson stops me. He takes us to the processing room. Addison is already seated in front of a desk when I arrive. Samson places me in the chair across from her as The Suit emerges from the other entrance. Déjà vu: the scene feels oddly similar to the first scene I witnessed with Addison, Samson, and The Suit when I entered.
The Suit barks out questions at Addison. “What is your name?” “Sabrina Kern,” she responds. He slams his hands against the table, furious. That is not the answer he wants. He grabs her face, “Who are you?!” “Addison Barrow,” she says, less meek this time. Her eyes divert from him and look across at me. She smiles slyly. The Suit looks to Samson, “She’s broken. This is your fault.” Samson glares back at him, but The Suit continues. “All of the data we’re gathering from them,” he looks at me, “is useless if she’s broken. The data is corrupt!” He circles the table, frustrated. Finally repeating, “Do you think I’m scared of you? I’m already dead.” He leaves Samson to deal with the clean-up.
Samson tells the handlers to take her back and orders us to follow him. Addison resists, much like last time. Samson, used to this by now, says the phrase, “Morior Invictus,” and continues to walk away.
But—Addison doesn’t fall. She doesn’t collapse.
Samson looks back, confused. Why didn’t it work?
He says it louder this time, “Morior Invictus!”
But again, nothing happens.
Addison begins to smile as Samson yells it again—and nothing.
“I’m not your puppet,” she yells back at him.
They need her for whatever data they are collecting. But she has the power now. The tides have shifted. Samson almost looks worried for the first time. He orders that the handlers get us out of there. They grab me and the other participant and begin to pull us out the doorway.
“I am not your fucking puppet!”
This is the last thing I hear as I am dragged out of the door of The OOA.
Check back for our Recollection of The End, the final night of The Tension Experience.