A sponsored message from CrystalClear: Hello America! It’s a hot day outside so make sure to grab a bottle of CrystalClear water! Water that YOU can TRUST!

By Avani Durve and Aishwarya Manoj

Some hazy light filters through the open curtains. The alarm blares and Henry rolls out of bed. He walks over to his kitchenette and turns on the TV to catch up on the news. It’s the same thing as always, a reminder not to drink tap water directly: either filter it or buy bottled water. It’s not like anybody can forget. Nobody has forgotten since the news first made headlines. That tap water is laced with fluoride which makes people dumber. Ever since then, people have been buying bottled water, some going as far as revamping their houses with complex filtration systems.

He drinks his morning bottle of CrystalClear, finishes his breakfast, and heads to work. He makes sure to cover his face to protect him from the smog. Technically, it is unsafe to walk outside but his car is not working right now. Henry makes his way down the street and looks up at the crimson sky. He remembers being told that it was once blue but that seems difficult to believe now.

Henry goes through his mental to-do list as he walks: fix the car, send that email to his colleagues about his new defluoridation design…. He nearly trips as he spaces out, and the offending obstacle crunches beneath his feet. He looks down at a dozen plastic bottles that litter the sidewalk in front of him and quickly kicks them away. A manila envelope emerges from beneath the trash. Henry, who has always been too curious for his own good, grabs the newest object of his fascination and puts it in his bag.

Henry reaches his office building and plops onto his chair. After drafting his email and double checking his proposal for his novel defluoridation device, he gets up to take a water break.

As he straightens his tie, he spots the manila envelope peeking out of his bag by his desk. He carefully turns to hide himself from the view of his office-surveillance system (who would want to get in trouble with HR for being off-task?) and pulls open the envelope to find a stack of paper inside. The one at the front reads,

“An Analysis on the Lack of Correlation Between IQ and Fluoride Consumption, by Dr. Caso”

Lack of Correlation? Henry wonders. 

The sound of his door slamming causes him to jerk away. His boss is standing by his desk. 

“You’re missing the meeting,” his boss quips.

Henry quickly tucks the envelope back into his bag and scrambles to the board room.

He spends the entire day in meetings and finally Henry decides to go back home for the night. He walks back the way he came, and his mind travels back to the envelope. It’s so bizarre that people think fluoride isn’t dangerous. He is also a little alarmed at how people can back their ideas with fake science like that.

As he is walking, lost in thought, he fails to notice the two people approaching him. Suddenly, an arm squeezes his neck and the world goes black. 

Henry wakes up in what looks like a bathroom. There is not much decoration and the colors are all light blues and whites. His head is pounding and he is incredibly thirsty. He tries banging on the door hoping to get some water, but there is only silence. Henry waits to see if someone has heard his cries.

After a few more minutes, it seems that nobody is coming. He feels desperation well up inside him. He looks around shakily and spots the sink by the toilet. He tries that tap and clear water pours out from the faucet. He knows that the fluoride will drop his IQ, but he really needs the water. He cups his hands and takes a gulp. Then another, and another, as his thirst slowly dissipates.

Henry hears faint footsteps over the rush of the faucet. They grow louder. The door opens and a voice trails in from the hallway,

“Anyway, Boss says we gotta bring him in for questioning and–”

The two men in the doorway stare down at Henry and Henry stares back. The men are wearing black tracksuits with a bright blue logo on their chests. Henry would recognize that symbol anywhere: CrystalClear, the bottled water company that owns his defluoridation firm. The men turn to him and notice the water on his chin.

“Jim. I think the kid drank the tap water,” the one closest to Henry says.

The further one, Jim, walks up to Henry and drags him up by his lapels.

“We’re taking you in for questioning, so make sure you remember everything you read in that nasty envelope,” Jim says.

Henry stares blankly in response, the shock of having willingly consumed tap water engulfing his mid.

“I don’t think he can understand you,” the man in the doorway says.

Jim shakes Henry, who continues to stare in a daze.

“The fluoride got to him,” Jim finally says, “at this rate he won’t remember his own name by morning.”

The man in the doorway sighs,

“Just let him go then.”

Jim drops Henry to the floor with a sneer and the two men retreat as they had come.

Henry, who is now on the bathroom floor, had understood the men perfectly. He frantically recalls the day’s events and his memory, or rather his mind, seems perfectly fine. He still doesn’t understand. Why had the men from CrystalClear locked him in the bathroom? Why did they mention the envelope? How was he still able to think, given the foul substance he had just drunk? In the midst of his hysteria, he remembers the paper in the manila envelope. 

“An Analysis on the Lack of Correlation…” 

“Lack of Correlation”

Henry launches himself up off the ground and sprints down the corridor. He doesn’t know which way he’s going, but he quickly finds an exit leading to an alleyway. He spots Jim speaking on his phone while holding onto his bag. Henry knocks Jim to the ground, grabs his bag, and runs. When he is a safe distance away, he stops and breathes a sigh of relief when he finds the manila envelope still inside.

Ripping open the envelope, he pulls out the first page and reads the lab details at the bottom. Pocketing the piece of paper, Henry runs into the night.

Henry switches on the TV in Dr. Caso’s basement laboratory, only to find an image of himself staring back at him.

“CrystalClear is putting out a search warrant for Henry Candor, a young engineer who went rogue and ingested tap water in his company bathroom. He could be dangerous,” a news reporter says. “In other, unrelated news,” she says, “CrystalClear has finally located the head of a dangerous conspiracy organization aiming to halt defluoridization.” A message across the screen reads,

“Thank you CrystalClear, for making our world a safer place.”

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