I didn’t manage to sleep, but I did manage to lose track of time. I was glowing . The day hadn’t been nearly as bad as I had thought it would be. I’d survived a run-in with Amelia. My sister was going to be pulled from her clutches. Cunt still liked me—Cunt had feelings for me.
Life was still going to be good .
I don’t know how long I lazed in bed. Thinking of Cunt sent waves of giggles and good-feelings through me. I felt safe, loved, warm, and accomplished. I was psychic. It was me, it wasn’t somebody manipulating me. I was special.
The sense of accomplishment felt a little silly—I hadn’t done anything to earn it. I hadn’t passed a test or gotten a degree. I was just lucky and stressed . There were millions of people who had gone through things harder than I was going through and received no recourse, but I did.
Behind the warm, glowing feelings, however, grew a hunger. There was a hunger for the drug Amelia had given me, an itching and deadened sensation. Nothing quite felt real. My blankets felt like mere fabric sheets, not the wondrous texture-rich tapestries that my own bed felt like last night. Even the warmth of my body didn’t feel as warm as it did when I was high. My need for sensation grew as time passed, but it was masked by my lingering afterglow.
It was also masked by literal hunger.
My stomach rumbled as I felt the need for food hit me. An empty-feeling discomfort followed. I hadn’t felt hungry at all until the pangs set in, but they came in full-force all at once. It took me a few moments to remember the last time I’d remembered eating. If Jules hadn’t made me eat during our session , then the last time I ate was when Cunt served me breakfast. Yesterday morning. A quick look at my phone told me it was shortly after three PM. Whatever Amelia had been giving me must have suppressed my appetite.
I rolled myself out of bed and slipped my clothes back on, except for my apron. The bottle of pills in the apron’s pouch rattled and reminded me of my chemical hunger. My mind raced. I told myself I wouldn’t take any more pills, but I wasn’t entirely sure I believed it. I had the willpower in that moment to flush the pills, but that would destroy evidence that they’d existed. Part of me wanted to know what the pills were so I could take them in more beneficial circumstances. My mind twisted in on itself, trying to untangle knots of rationalizations to keep the pills around ‘just in case’ mixed with genuinely good ideas. I opted to toss the pill bottle behind the bed-frame. That would give me time to come to my senses if I turned into some addicted hell beast.
The Gilded Cage’s second story was more difficult to navigate when I wasn’t following Victoria’s shiny ass or Cunt’s guiding hand. Victoria’s office was plain as day, sitting at the end of one hallway, but the rest of the floor was filled with twisted, looping hallways lined with doors. It was arranged like it was meant to be confusing to navigate . It took a few minutes to find the stairway down to the bar area.
“So you’re in a he-said-she-said scenario, and you’re banning her on the new girl’s word?” A woman’s voice carried through the doorway, high and nasally but not unpleasantly so. Light music thumped in the background. The Gilded Cage had opened its doors. The woman’s voice sounded familiar, one of the voices I heard from the play party. “Have you even asked Amelia about her side of things?”
I stopped to listen at the door. My heart pounded. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be out there during this conversation, no matter how hungry I was. “Oriole was telling the truth. I made sure of it.” Victoria’s voice was lower, calmer. It was relieving to know she carried an air of authority even when she wasn’t speaking to me.
“She thought she was telling the truth, but it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?” The nasally woman paused. “Any of us would be upset if we found out our family was here, but that doesn’t mean her sister’s being abused. We don’t know what negotiations happened behind the scenes. It’s a mistake to not even hear her out.” I fumed, anger and sadness. I wanted to run back to my room as much as I wanted to get in this woman’s face.
“Amelia drugged and stalked her, Priss. This isn’t about what happened at the play party.” Victoria was far calmer than I could be in this situation. I had a name for the nasal-voiced woman, at least. Priss.
“Did you check that? Did Amelia drug her, or did bird-girl feel pressured?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “I just want Amelia’s story, that’s all. We all know Amelia plays dark, and she can be really rough. Are we suddenly not okay with that because one of Jules’ toys is upset?” I wanted to vomit. I was glad my stomach was empty.
“She’s been told to tone it down before.” Victoria’s voice sounded less confident. She was defensive, unsure of herself.
“This is kink, Victoria. It’s dangerous, it’s unsanitized, it’s dark and fucked up and that’s why we love it. If you want to run a club that’s all clean and shiny, that’s your prerogative, but most of us aren’t here for that.” Priss sounded dismissive, sure of herself. “We agree to certain things when we walk in these spaces. There’s room for predatory behavior within limits. I’ll grant you, Amelia’s predatory, but I don’t think it’s out of bounds. Some people want that.” There was a long silence. Victoria didn’t retort. I couldn’t see beyond the door, but I feel the sense of doubt practically radiating off of Victoria.
“Are you going to freak out if I invite Amelia to my next house party?” Priss asked.
“No.” Victoria responded, frank, but full of doubt.
So much for my sense of safety.
I turned to head upstairs, but yelped in surprise to find Brandy watching me from the stairway. I’d been so focused on the conversation I hadn’t been paying attention to my surroundings. She was still wearing the skirt and corset that she’d greeted me in earlier. “Feeling any better?” Her voice was soft and muted. There was no energy behind her at all.
“I was.” I let out a nervous little laugh, gripping my elbows after a moment. “Being a bit of an eavesdropper. I was hungry, so I came down, and they were talking about me.” My cheeks reddened with shame.
“I do that a lot. People have fascinating conversations here.” She sounded robotically flat, like some sort of stepford wife. It sent a shiver down my spine.
“Are you okay, Brandy?”
“I’m fine.” Nothing about her felt fine. She spoke in monotone. She felt dead. There was barely a person in front of me. I furrowed my brow with concern. “I would like to talk to you in private, if that is alright.”
I focused on her for a few moments. Still nothing, no look of emotion on her face, no subtle movements. I didn’t detect anything psychically—though I had only recently been told that I was doing that at all. It wasn’t hard to believe I sensed emotion and interpreted it as a gut feeling. “You’re acting really strange, Brandy.” I stopped myself from simply telling her that I didn’t want to be alone with her, but I already was alone. I could go through her, or head into the bar. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Resistance.” She stayed quiet for a moment after the word. “Resisting psychic influence. I think it would be good for you to know how to do it.” I couldn’t bring myself to trust her at her word. She was acting way too strangely for me to want to be alone with her. Here on the staircase, I had an exit to my back.
“Can we do it here?” I paused. “The way your acting is making me uneasy, Brandy. I’m not in a trusting mood after the last few days.” That wasn’t entirely true. I trusted Brandy, but not when she was acting as strangely as she was. I tried to sound firm, but my voice came out as a guilty almost-whimper.
She hesitated for a few moments before responding. “Okay.” Her voice stayed placid, but there was a disturbance in the way her face moved. There was the slightest hint of annoyance, and then panic, before turning back to passivity. “We can do it here.” She stepped towards me carefully, arms swaying slightly while her core remained regimented. She appeared somewhere between a robot and a sleepwalker. “Do you meditate?”
“Sometimes. Why?” She stepped in front of me, but came no closer. I tensed. Something was wrong, I could feel it. I watched her arms, ready to push or move if she reached to grab me. I wasn’t a fighter, but she didn’t look like one either. If she grabbed me, I might be able to possess her to get me off, but I didn’t want to rely on that. I still wasn’t sure how I managed to possess people.
“Because it is just like that.” Her voice never wavered. “It is as simple as remaining placid. Most psychics require emotional activity. Their abilities hook onto feelings and manipulate them.” She looked me in the eye, but there was no emotion or energy behind the action. “Calm is an emotion, but it is one that they find difficult to control, Victoria says. It is placid. It is still.” She spoke as if she were reciting a mantra. “It leaves one’s body vulnerable, but the mind remains safe. Do you understand?” Her eyes twitched. There was the briefest moment of hope behind her eyes.
She was resisting something as we spoke.
There were other possibilities, but none that made sense. If she was in some sort of guided trance, she was having an impressive amount of conversation with me. She wasn’t acting in a hostile way. She seemed insistent that she tell me about this. She was under some sort of attack, and she needed to tell me how to resist it.
“I think so.” I spoke more quietly to try and hide worry creeping into my voice. “Is everything okay?” My mind raced. If somebody was attacking her, they needed to be nearby. The bar was open, any number of people could be in the building, but I didn’t hear more voices than Priss and Victoria, both of whom were occupied by one another. “Is somebody hurting you?”
Brandy stepped closer, her hand reaching to grab my arm. I flinched away for a moment, but stopped myself from pulling out of her reach. She wasn’t a psychic, and she was actively fighting someone else. Something told me she wasn’t trying to kidnap me. “Come with me. Please.” There was desperation in her eyes. Fear, hope, pleading. I could feel her try to suppress them, but she was fighting a losing battle.
Her demeanor changed a moment later.
She let go of me and shook her head just a little. She rubbed a temple, as though she were alleviating a headache, before looking to me and smiling. Her embarrassment was clear. “Sorry about that!” Her voice was bubbly and high pitched again. I was sure she was speaking loud enough for us to be heard in the bar. “Post-hypnotic stupor. I should know better.”
I was frozen, not entirely sure how to react. If she was under attack before, then she had lost now. She was smiling and bubbly and happy, and everything about my instincts told me she was trustworthy, but that wasn’t right. She had lost to whatever was attacking her. She could be altered in any number of ways, or a puppet. I could simply be paranoid.
I hated what my life had become.
“Post-hypnotic stupor?” I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“My room has a poster in it. Victoria put a trigger in me to be calm and suggestible when I see it. It can last a long time, really.” I frowned more. “Really! That’s all. Sorry I worried you. Did I do anything embarrassing?”
“You had me really worried about you.” Her story didn’t convince me, but I felt it was best if I played along. “You were talking about weird things and trying to get me to go with you.” If she had no memory, I didn’t want to tell her that she was telling me how to resist. There was a pause in the conversation as she parsed my words, bringing her finger to her lips in a ditzy-cute way. “Do you live here, then?”
“Uh-huh! Victoria’s my partner . Kinda. We’re together?” She pursed her lips. “It’s complicated. We’re together but we’re not. Not just non-monogamous. Room and board is part of my pay, though.” She smiled that bright-eyed intentionally ditzy look I first saw her wear. “It helps business that I’m really eager to play. She likes it, but she likes making sure nothing bad happens to me long term. We grew close from that whole process.”
“Is your arrangement legal? She’s basically paying you to sleep with people, right?” I shifted uncomfortably, trying to keep any hint of judgment from my voice. Was she fighting off Victoria, just now? Was she being forced into this? My stomach turned.
“I’m sure the cops would have a problem with it, if they knew about it? But I’m not obligated to sleep with anybody, I just like to. When I’m on the job, I need to be doing my actual job.” Her story matched with everything I’d seen, but why would she try to teach me about resistance when she was in a trance? Was that even good advice? Her eyes weren’t glowing at all. I could have just made a poor assumption. My head spun. I didn’t feel safe. I pined for a time when I didn’t second-guess every single person’s motivations.
It was stupid to trust any of these people. I should just call the police.
My thoughts went fuzzy as that thought crossed my mind. Everything felt distant, hazy. I could feel something beneath my thoughts pulsing, or biting, or… something. It felt like the ‘filter’ Jules put on my shame before the play party, but it wasn’t pleasant. It was difficult to think about. The more I focused on the feeling, the more difficult focusing became.
“Are you okay?” Brandy asked. Hearing her voice, focusing on her voice, began to clear the haze of thoughts. I could barely remember what even started this, but I knew I shouldn’t lose focus. It was something to be resisted. It felt exactly like Jules’ filter. I was being kept from feeling something, from knowing something.
Fighting against the numbing fog in my mind only made it worse. I clenched my fingers tight for a moment, trying to push through, but the harder I pushed, the deeper and thicker everything felt. I was losing track of what I was doing, or why I was doing it, but I needed to persevere. Actively fighting it wasn’t going to help. It hadn’t helped against Amelia. Brandy herself just told me how it wouldn’t help. I needed to meditate.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and let the numbness of thought take me. It didn’t matter. I didn’t need to focus on it, I didn’t need to focus on anything at all. Thoughts ran through my head, but I dismissed them. Hypnosis and meditation were similar processes, the only difference between was the point of focus. With hypnosis, I focused on another person, I let them take my reigns, and I simply followed. It was more difficult to focus on myself, on nothing, but I had an advantage over someone who had done neither.
Finally, my years of throwing myself at every hypnotist I could find were paying off.
The numbness almost assisted in my efforts. Thoughts felt unpleasant to think, so I was incentivized to detach myself from my thoughts. I let the numbness wash over me like a warm breeze, and wrapped myself in it. I simply felt as it tried to push me, to send my thoughts astray, but it was having difficulty when there were no thoughts.
“You’re scaring me, Oriole.” Brandy shook my arm, stealing my focus for a moment. The fog gripped me as my focus returned, and sent my mind spinning again.
“I’m fine…” I spoke softly, trying not to focus on my words or my response. “Leave me alone.” I let my thoughts spin, taking another deep breath. They didn’t matter. Brandy didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was ridding myself of the fog. I felt it sink in deeper, but it found no traction.
Time passed, though it was difficult to tell how much. Minutes, at most. The numbing fog worked continuously, turning into more of a storm. It pushed itself harshly against my mind, the dizzying but calm feeling pressing so insistently that it made my mind feel raw. It would hurt to think, but I wasn’t. Not actively. I was simply existing, in that moment.
All at once, the storm abated. As if it had never been there, my mind felt clear. I could feel a wrongness inside of me, something that lay beneath the surface wasn’t right. It hurt on a level my conscious mind couldn’t feel. My subconscious, my empty thoughtscape felt twisted and wounded. My emotions felt frayed, like they might after a bad breakup. I was avoiding confronting something because it hurt. I had been injured, and I was healing in the wrong way.
Taking emotional stock of myself, it became obvious. I was hiding something from myself. Trauma, or injury. Something recent. There were cuts and gouges in my thoughts and emotions, holes where connections should be made. So many of them had been stitched together to make something functional, but different from what I was. It felt like what Jules would do to me for fun, but on a much deeper and more insidious level.
Someone had taken a scalpel to my mind, and went through the effort to hide it from me.
The realization pulled me out of my meditation. My heartbeat rose as a chilling fear crawled over my skin. I had no idea what about me was changed or different, if there was anything at all. I had no idea who I was, anymore. Cunt didn’t notice anything different about me, so I had to be more or less the same, but somebody violated me and hid that from me.
I wanted to vomit all over again. I still hadn’t processed what happened with my sister, but I could at least remember that happening. This felt like waking up with a missing finger and only realizing it half way through the day. I felt dirty, I felt violated. I felt angry.
Amelia was the obvious suspect, but I hadn’t had any memory gaps around her. I could build a cohesive narrative in my mind with her around. It would make no sense for her to violate me and hide it. She wanted to hurt me, and she wanted me to give myself to her.
That left Cunt, Jules, and Camille. I had been alone with all of them recently. Cunt wasn’t capable of this kind of damage from everything she had told me. Beyond that, I trusted her. Jules loved me, and I trusted her as well. That left Camille. Except that I learned Jules loved me from Camille, and Jules has proven herself capable of making me forget things before. Cunt said Camille worked in a similar way to Jules. It could have been either one of them.
If it was Camille, Brandy’s behavior made more sense. Brandy was with me when I had the seizure. If that story were fake, Brandy would need to be altered as well. It made the most sense. I had trusted Jules with my mind for months, it would make no sense for her to violate me now. Camille was an unknown.
My thoughts were interrupted as Victoria opened the door behind me. Brandy was behind her, a concerned look on her face. Victoria smiled in a soft way as she looked to me. “You should really stay in your room. Just in case.” The softness in Victoria’s voice made her sound condescending. I wanted to slap her.
“Sure.” I didn’t even try to keep my emotions out of my voice. I didn’t feel safe here anymore, not with the conversation I’d overheard. Camille and Jules organized this arrangement, which made me feel like I was more of a captive than a ward. “Sorry.” I didn’t let her respond before moving upstairs. A part of me felt like a petulant child, but I didn’t know another way to act at that moment. I didn’t trust any of them. I was sick and angry and scared.
I retreated to my room and pulled out my phone. If Camille was dangerous, Jules needed to know. It was possible that Jules was compromised, somehow, but I was in so over my head already that nothing I could do would make it worse. If Camille could sense people from across the city, then it was entirely possible she was watching me already.
My phone started to ring part-way through writing the message to Jules. It was Cunt’s number. A sense of relief spread through me as I answered. “Hey. Something really bad is going on.”
“Tell me about it.” Amelia’s sing-song voice was recognizable through the phone. There was music in the background of the call. My stomach sank. “You should come to this awesome party I’m at. Super fun.”
I wanted to throw the phone, but that wouldn’t help anybody. She had Cunt’s phone, so she might have Cunt. I couldn’t run from that. “Amelia...” I tried to keep my voice calm, but speaking made it difficult to not sob. “Wh… Why are you—”
“Enough of that. Candice is here!” Amelia giggled through the phone. “She’s having a lot of fun. I’m afraid she might never leave.” Her voice shifted from her giggling girlish lilt to a dark, insistent tone as she said ‘never leave’. My skin crawled. She was going to kill her. “Won’t you come and get her?”
“Amelia, if you hurt her….”
“Noooo-body’s going to get hurt, silly! Gosh, am I the kind of person who would do that?” She giggled again. “I just want you to come and get her is all. She’s a total party girl at heart, but that’s a little intense for me. I like someone more mellow.” She let out a soft giggle. “Maybe you could take her place?” The music in the background faded, which was replaced with the sound of someone screaming. Cunt’s screaming. My blood ran cold.
“Amelia, please, please stop. I’ll… Fuck it, I’ll do it.” I felt like a piece of human garbage. If I was so easy to violate, so easy to hurt, that must mean I wasn’t worth much. People who are worth something aren’t victimized like this, not as easily as I am. Worthwhile people don’t walk into traps. They know how to take care of themselves and don’t endanger people around them. They aren’t dismissed.
“Sounds fun.” Amelia’s voice darkened. “I’ll text the address. Come alone, Candice won’t want too much company. You’ve got an hour, any longer and our party girl might just wander off with someone dangerous. We all know what happens to drunk girls with strangers, don’t we?” There was a pause. I didn’t react. I couldn’t react. There were no more depths to sink to, I’d made my decision. “Ciao.”
Moments later, the address was texted to me. I copied the address and sent it to Jules, with a message. “Amelia has Cunt. She’ll kill her if she isn’t traded for me. I’ll be here. Don’t show up until you know Cunt is out. I don’t have time to argue. Just back me up.” I wasn’t sure if I trusted Jules when Camille could have compromised her, but if there was a chance she was on my side, I needed her. I waited for a response from Jules, a simple ‘Okay. I trust you’, before deleting the conversation.
I made my way downstairs and headed into the Cage’s kitchen. The bar wasn’t full enough for someone to be back here full-time yet. It was simple enough to find a knife among the kitchen utensils, one that I could hide in my sleeve. I made my way through the employee exit and called a cab.
I was going to kill that girl.