Short Story: The Group Project From Hell

Photo by Chris Barton

By Chris Barton, Editor-in-Chief

Professor ____ –

Yesterday in class you had us fill out team evaluations. I’m sure that you noticed that I scored a particular member of my team rather harshly, and I’d like to explain why.

First of all, I’d like to commend you on building a group that embodied the international experience at Thunderbird: myself, an American; Xi, from China; Carmina from Chile and Vlad from Romania. It was a cross-cultural group for sure, and there was potential to learn a lot from each other. And I guess, in a certain way, we did learn a lot…. But not about marketing.

The problems started when we tried to set up our first group meeting in order to discuss the project. I knew my other team members quite well, but Vlad was a bit of am enigma—always standing in the dark shadows and wearing that dark flow-y coat, or shawl, or whatever it is (seriously, how does he wear that in AZ without boiling?) I’d never talked to him, and I was excited to get to know him. But when we tried to set up the first meeting, Vlad was very difficult. He wouldn’t meet at the Commons (“They use too much garlic,” he said), or at IBIC (“too many windows”). He was very reluctant to meet at all before 6:30 or so in the evening—but as I live off-campus and need to drive home, I insisted that we not wait till the sun goes down to finally meet face-to-face. We finally got him to agree to meet us in the late afternoon in one of the Snell classrooms, but when he arrived he made a point to close all the blinds and make sure the door was locked from the inside before he would remove his hood. It was all very strange, and it put our working relationship off to a bad start.

Anyway, we finally got down to business deciding what our project should be, and we decided on exploring how an American food item could be marketed in China. We tried to find an item that we’d all at least tasted, but, weirdly enough, Vlad seemed to have tried none of the items we discussed. Not Twinkies, not Pop Tarts, not Cliff bars or even Gatorade. We finally asked him, “Well, what do you like to eat, Vlad?” “Black Pudding” was his reply. I strongly suspected that he was just being difficult, and we didn’t appreciate it at all.

We all went off to do some research and decided to meet again later in the week. I was staying late on campus that week, so we were able to accommodate Vlad’s peculiar timing preferences for our next meeting. The night of the meeting, Xi and I were standing outside of the IBIC talking, watching what looked like a huge bat as it flew around the yard. We were engrossed in conversation and then, bam, out of nowhere Vlad appeared right behind us, so close that when he said “Vhat’s up?” I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. His breath, I should say, was atrocious. I understand that in some cultures personal space isn’t that important, but he was very very close to my neck.

But that wasn’t even the strangest thing that happened that day. Shortly after Vlad scared us, Carmina walked up. As soon as she joined the group, Vlad started hissing. Hissing. Like an angry cat. He stooped down, raised his arm protectively, and took a couple steps back, pointing at the tiny crucifix Carmina wore on a chain around her neck. Confused, Camina lifted it from her chest—at which point Vlad, letting out a hateful hiss, scurried quickly away. We couldn’t reach him the rest of the night. Was that a cultural thing? Isn’t Romania a Catholic country? We decided that Vlad certainly did not have a Global Mindset.

The next day, Vlad reached out on the group chat, apologized for last night, and said that he “would like to have us for dinner.” Camina and I were busy that week, and not too keen on eating Black Pudding, so we declined his offer. Xi took him up on it, though, and they decided to eat after our next meeting, which was scheduled for the following night in one of the Snell rooms.

The next meeting went surprisingly well. Camina left her crucifix at home, Vlad seemed almost cheery (I think he was excited about dinner with Xi), and we got a lot of work done. Eventually Camina and I had to go to another meeting, and so we left Vlad and Xi to finish up and then head to dinner. After walking to the Pub for my meeting, I realized that I had left my charger in the Snell room. I hurried back to get it.

When I opened the door to the room, I saw Xi collapsed on the table–he was unconscious and very pale. There was a frenzied squeaking and rustling coming from the room; as I walked in I saw that the giant bat we had seen earlier had somehow gotten inside and was flapping frantically near the ceiling. Before the door swung shut behind me, the bat swooped out into the darkness. The creature had startled me, but I quickly forgot about it as I checked on Xi.

Vlad showed up a moment later: “Vhat happened? Iz he OK?” I checked on Xi – he was breathing – and while I called security Vlad explained that he had just stepped out to go to the bathroom and came back to find us here. Xi woke up before security arrived and said he felt very weak; we helped him back to his room so that he could lie down.

The next night we met again (as our presentation was the following morning)—this time Xi echoed Vlad’s request that we meet after the sun had set. Xi was even more white than the night before and was wearing long dark hoodie I had never seen him in. He also spoke differently, almost like the had gotten braces or his teeth and changed shape and he was still getting used to them. In fact, he sounded a bit like Vlad. I had to leave the meeting early, but my three teammates assured me that they could finish the last slide and turn it in. Something about leaving the three of them together unsettled me, but I dismissed it as nerves, and drove home.

I didn’t sleep much; I kept having nightmares about Xi’s incident. In my dreams that damned bat was perched on Xi’s limp neck and stared at me when I walked in. It would crawl — slowly — toward me, holding my gaze with black, unblinking eyes which held the reflection of a savage flame. As it got closer, it seemed to grow, larger and larger until it’s dark figure blotted out all light. Terrified but unable to react, I felt its leathery wings enveloping me, and its teeth sinking slowly into my neck. I woke up screaming, seconds before my alarm went off.

As you know, our presentation went badly. Vlad and Xi turned up in their long, dark clothes rather than the agreed upon business formal, and hid in the shadows rather than presenting in front of the group. Camina didn’t turn up at all. I looked for her, but no one had seen her since the previous night. Later that day, though, I found her crucifix stuck in the mud outside Snell. The chain was broken.

So, Dr. ___, I gave Vlad a zero on the assignment because…well, he’s a vampire. He’s an undead, unholy beast of darkness that prays on human souls—and he was a terrible teammate. He turned Xi into a monster, and Carmina…

I don’t have a stake, or garlic, or any way to draw Vlad into the sunlight. But I do have this team evaluation. And if I cannot stop Vlad from dragging more of my friends into hell, I can at least make sure he fails marketing.

– Chris Barton

 

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