“Dear subject 7. It is now 24 hours until your appointment with Cracked.“
This sentence marked the end of a three-month-long build up in a secret Facebook group, where we were to answer questions allowing the organizers to get inside our heads and under our skin. Exactly 24 hours later I was lying on the floor, hooded and bound, some other subject lying on top of me, fingers going numb. We’re being shouted at. Drawing war stripes on our faces as a kind of defiant or triumphant gesture seems so stupid now. In a matter of minutes, we’ve been turned into compliant lab rats. I’m still trying to regain my breath from when the assault started, violently and very sudden. And it would still be a while before I would finally catch that breath.
Six hours later, it was all over. We started out as a group of eight, now only three were left. I was soaked, shaking, freezing, I smelled like a trash dump on a hot day. I wasn’t aching yet, but that wouldn’t take too long. I did not win, was not the preferred subject, but the significance of winning was completely lost on me – I made it through, and that is all that mattered. When the blindfolds were finally taken off for the last time, Blake, the elusive, enigmatic Blake persona was standing there in front of us, surrounded by all of our tormentors. Trying to meet his gaze through the reflective glass of his gas mask would only grant you a bleak glimpse of yourself, sitting there, covered in sick and dirt. But, somehow, you know he’s proud of you. You see it in the eyes of the others as well – they did their very best and very worst to make you crack. But – you refused, you kept on going, and it’s exactly what they had hoped for – for you to see everything through. I was washed away by this peculiar mix of feeling proud that I had survived it all, feeling thankful and humbled by the presence of all these people who put in their all to make six hours of your life as miserable, but also as memorable as possible. I felt so much relief that it was all over, and at the same time a sadness, an emptiness, because it was all over.
The night after, I slept uneasy, kept waking every ten minutes, dreaming up feverish images. I got up hours before my alarm was set to go off, aching all over. My wrist was messed up, my back and shoulders one big immovable chunk of pain and unease. Two bruises or friction marks adorned my right cheek. My entire body felt like it had taken the impact of a freight train at full speed. But, the sun was shining, and I had a train home to catch. I cancelled my taxi I had reserved the day before, figuring a long walk was in order to stretch my muscles, and to think everything that had happened over. I walked in a daze. In the train, I had this strange longing for social contact, for someone familiar to talk to, to share my experience with. In the end, when I got home, I crashed on the couch and slept for fourteen hours. When I woke up the next day, it was like being reborn.
So, what is Cracked? It is brutal. Really brutal. It’s an experience where every minute feels like an hour, but where the six hours feel like just one. Nothing about the entire thing is fun. You will not enjoy it. But, when it’s all over, and the night has passed, you will want to go through it all over again. It’s a triumph of mind over matter. There is some overlying idea, a vague storyline, but none of all that is shared with the subject. You are kept in the dark. To get back to that lab rat analogy from the beginning – there is no point in the test subject knowing why it’s there. That’s only for the experimenters to know. The small traces of story I did pick up came back to haunt me though, not in the least the presence, the character of Blake. The way he talks, the way he acts. Is he friend or foe? I might never know. And I have peace with that.
Now, three days later, I had to leave my fantasy bubble, and get back to work. Getting back to reality is tough, after Cracked has sucked you into its world so violently. I’m still sore all over. But, there is one big silver lining – and that is the position of knowledge you find yourself in. People seeing the bruises in my face, I got asked whether I fell down some stairs, or if I had gotten into a fight. And you just get to smile, like the protagonist of Fight Club. The only ones who will ever know the truth are the ones who go through the rite of passage. Rule number one of Cracked? You don’t talk about Cracked.
Pictures above by PastaCore Alternative Photography.