The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive

Author’s Note: Normally I finish my stories in their entirety, then edit them, before submitting anything to MCStories. But, to celebrate National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2019, this story will go up as I’m writing it, with just the barest minimum of editing! Enjoy, and know that you too can write!

Dead of Night

Chapter 1

Emma Williams and LaTanya Marsh stood side-by-side on the Adams Street platform, the dregs of the Friday night rush hour crowd all around them. The sky above them was as gray as gunmetal.

“It’s gonna snow, I know it,” Emma muttered. “We’re gonna get caught out in a blizzard all the way up on the North Side.”

“The forecast said it’s not supposed to start until after midnight,” Tanya said. For reasons that she had never fully explained to Emma, she did not like it when people used the first syllable of her name. So that was always how Emma thought of her, as Tanya. “And we’re not ‘all the way up.’ It’ll be, like, three stops once we leave the Loop.”

“We’ll still have to walk to and from the platform in the snow, won’t we?” Emma looked down at her jogging sneakers, nervously. “I should have worn my waterproof shoes.”

“Will you relax? The weatherman always overrates these storms anyway, so the parents in the suburbs won’t sue later.”

Emma knew there was no debating that one. Tanya was rising fast at one of Chicago’s most respected law firms. Any time she used a legal term, even as a joke, was an opening for her to crush some poor unsuspecting soul in an argument.

Instead, Emma glanced up the tracks, hoping to catch a glimpse of their train before it arrived. “We should have just gone to the House of Blues. It’s like a five minute walk from here.”

“The House of Blues is wack,” Tanya said. “Nothing but tourists. You’ll meet hotter guys at the club we’re going to.”

“It’s still the blues,” Emma said. “And this is still Chicago.”

“You wanna go to a blues club, next time I’ll find us a blues club,” Tanya said. “But none of that white-boy blues.”

“The hypnotist we’re seeing tonight is white.” Emma’s tone matched the rumble of the approaching train.

Tanya grinned crookedly, a sure-fire sign of incoming irony. “Why you gotta bring race into it, Emma?”

With that, they both broke into laughter as the elevated train rolled into the station. From the day they had first roomed together at the University of Chicago, Tanya had always been able to pierce Emma’s foul moods with her dry wit. It was the whole reason why they had remained roommates after leaving the dorm, and after graduation.

“Okay, Tanya, you got me,” Emma said, as they boarded the train. “But, a hypnotist? Really?”

“It’s not about the entertainment,” Tanya said. “A comedy club is a good place for single women. You find guys who aren’t trying to be the funniest dude in the room.”

“You said the museum would be a good place to find smart men,” Emma said. “All we ended up with was that guy jerking off on the bus ride home.”

“Okay, but he was hung, though,” Tanya said, grinning wider. “You gotta give me that.”

Emma laughed again, loud enough to draw disapproving looks from the remainder of the Friday night commuters. Emma didn’t care. It wasn’t the first time she had drawn judgmental glances while out with Tanya. In truth, they considered those glances part of a fun weekend.

“Forget about the museum, and forget about the weather,” Tanya said, as the train rumbled over the river. “You are gonna have fun tonight. Trust me.”

* * *

They got off the train in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The wind had picked up noticeably since they had been standing on the downtown platform. Both women had eschewed hats, so that their hair would look good for the club, and as they walked down the street they came to regret that decision. The gusts punished every square inch of their heads not protected by earmuffs.

“No snow til after midnight, huh?” Emma said, probably too loud, as she tried to compensate for the wind and the earmuffs.

“I knew what I was getting into when I went to college in the Windy City,” Tanya said. “Didn’t you?”

“I am reserving the right to say ‘I told you so,’” Emma announced loudly.

“Always do,” Tanya said, under her breath but with no real malice.

Five chilly minutes later, Tanya pulled up. There was no question they had arrived; even before seeing the sign labeled The Laugh Riot with its last word stylized to look anarchic, Emma noticed the front window covered with fliers advertising upcoming shows. Yet despite herself she said, “We’re here?”

“Yeah,” Tanya said, pulling out her ID for the doorman. “You were hoping to walk into the wind ten more minutes?”

“No, it’s just...” Emma took our her driver’s license as well. “We’re really early, aren’t we?”

“You show up early at comedy clubs,” Tanya said. “Don’t worry about it.”

Emma did not argue as they passed through the door, into the bar, and received their drinks. Almost immediately, the guys began to flock to them.

Emma took no credit for this. It was all Tanya’s doing. Tall and outgoing, with a body honed by years of dance lessons in her youth and silky black hair, Tanya drew men into their orbit every time they went out, and had ever since college. White guys would say to her, Has anyone ever told you that you look like Michelle Obama?, which Tanya hated; she and the former First Lady had no physical resemblance, aside from being tall. But Tanya did have that certain something, a regal yet relatable quality which said, I sleep in the world’s most powerful bed.

Tanya was neither vain nor arrogant about this, and never displayed greed — she tried to guide as many of her would-be suitors in Emma’s direction as she could. But there was only so much she could do. Tanya was a supernova, the brightest star in any bar’s galaxy, and Emma considered herself a relatively minor planet by comparison.

The first pair of guys to approach them were trying too hard to be funny. The second pair of guys were too aggressive in pushing aside the first pair of guys. The wingman of the third pair of guys tried the Michelle Obama line on Tanya, and she so thoroughly handcuffed him with the retort What, you think we all look alike? that they were forced into retreat.

But the fourth pair of guys had promise. They still wore their suits but had disposed with the ties, and were easygoing without trying too hard. One was tall and one was short, like Tanya and Emma themselves, and each of them seemed satisfied to end up with the woman of similar height.

“So, what do you do?” said the shorter guy, who had introduced himself as Mark. Tanya hesitated, avoiding a greedy domination of the conversation, wanting to let Emma answer first.

Emma’s heart sank. That question always killed the mood, because she always knew where the conversation would go afterward: she would tell him she was an actor, he would ask what she had been in, she would tell him, he would follow up with a question about the Second City, she would have nothing useful to say, and his penis would get as soft as the bartender’s dishrag.

“I’m an actor,” Emma said.

“Oh, wow,” Mark said. “Have you been in anything I would’ve seen?”

“Well, um, I was in A Doll’s House at the Court Theater last year.” She had actually been an understudy, but she knew better than to put it that way.

“Cool, cool.” Mark sipped his drink. Emma knew that he had no idea what she was talking about. Guys never knew Ibsen.

She silently begged for Tanya to take the conversation over, but then Mark said, “Have you ever tried comedy? It’s like, every actor in town takes their shot at the Second City, right?”

“Um, improv isn’t really my training,” Emma said. “I do voice acting, mostly. Commercials and stuff, to pay the rent.”

“Yeah,” Mark said, his voice neutral. Sometimes guys would compliment her voice at this point, and in those cases, she gave them a chance. But when they did not, as Mark did not ... soft as a dishrag.

After another agonizing moment, Tanya stepped in with, “And I’m a paralegal at Thompson & Bernstein, working my way through law school.”

“Ten bucks, Mark,” said the taller guy, whose name was Tony. For the women’s benefit, he said, “I bet him you were a lawyer.”

“She’s not a lawyer yet,” Mark said, putting a self-deprecating tone in his voice so as not to offend Tanya. “It’s a push.”

And the conversation went on like that, as these conversations usually did, with one guy overtly putting the moves on Tanya and they other guy being just polite enough to Emma so as to not ruin things for his buddy.

A few minutes before the show’s doors would open, Emma and Tanya excused themselves to the bathroom. Once there, Tanya made no move toward a stall. As often happened, neither of them needed to urinate. It was all about the conversation. “What are you doing?”

“What?” Emma said, fussing with her dark brown hair. “I’m supporting you. And it’s working, that guy is totally into you.”

“Why don’t you ever tell these guys about your show?”

“I was ten years old. It’s not that big a deal any more.”

“You paid your way through the fucking University of Chicago,” Tanya said. “Everybody knows that’s a big deal.”

“I was ten,” Emma said again. “If he gets turned on by that, I’ve got an even bigger problem.”

Tanya turned to face her, putting her hands on Emma’s shoulders for emphasis. She often referred to this as her Straight Talk position. “Emma,” she said. “These guys, they have a type, even if they don’t admit it to themselves. So all we have to do is, broadcast what we are, and the guys who are looking for that type will seek us out.”

“This is fascinating,” Emma said dryly. In truth she thought it was bullshit, end-of-The-Breakfast-Club logic that never worked in the real world.

“You’re not committing to whatever you want to be,” Tanya said. “Be Former Child Star Who Is Now Cool As Hell, if you want. Or dye your hair black and be Former Child Star Who Is Now Goth — you’ve already got the pale-and-wearing-black parts down. But you have to be the thing. Don’t just tell half the story and quit.”

“So if that’s true,” Emma said, “What thing are you being?”

“First Black Woman President,” Tanya said. “None of that First Lady shit.”

* * *

Tanya explained that the best seats in most comedy clubs were the tables that sat four people, for the double dates. “That’s why we showed up early,” she said with a wink. “Find us a couple of guys to share a table.”

Once the doors opened, that’s just what happened, with Tony offering to share a table. They filed in and were given a table in the lower bowl, dead center, the stage closer than a basketball hoop is to the free throw line. The chairs were low to the ground, not like the barstool-style chairs in the back, which Emma appreciated. The tall chairs made her feel like a little kid, legs swinging in the air rather than touching the floor.

“Have you ever seen a hypnosis show before?” Tony said.

“Nope,” Tanya said. “Didn’t even know we were seeing one tonight until after I got the tickets.”

“This was kind of an impulse thing,” Emma said. Tanya kicked her leg under the table, shooting her a look that said, Kind of? If you want to be Impulsive Girl, then do it!

“Yeah, same,” Tony said, nodding his head in Mark’s direction. “He dragged me along tonight.”

“I saw a hypnosis show at my high school after-prom,” Mark said. “But it was really G-rated, so the Christian kids wouldn’t get mad. I wanted to see something a little more...”

Tanya kicked Emma’s leg under the table again, and Emma blurted out the word, “Sexy?”

“Um, I was gonna say intense,” Mark said. An awkward silence followed before Tanya changed the subject. Emma, who had been drinking ginger ale at the bar, soon ordered a gin and tonic.

The club was full when the lights dimmed. The opener was fine, Emma thought, but no more than that; a woman in her forties whose well-practiced material seemed to predate the smartphone. She seemed awfully straight-laced for a place that called itself the Laugh Riot, but Emma thought, What do I know? I just said comedy wasn’t my thing.

“Well, that’s my time,” the opener said. “And now I’d like to introduce you to your headliner. I don’t think he’s doing any new material tonight, but he always makes me forget his shows, so it’s new to me!” She grinned brightly, playing dumb to the crowd’s laughter. “Please welcome ... Michael Night!

A lean man in a tuxedo bounded onto the stage. He politely greeted the opener, offering thanks that no one could hear without the microphones on. His intro played: a piece of techno-sounding music, something that could evoke the Knight Rider theme without violating copyright.

“Thank you so much, Chicago!” He exclaimed. He was speaking into a headset rig, the black bud of the microphone hovering just off of his right cheek, but Emma noticed that he was holding a wireless microphone as well. “My name is Michael Night, and I’m a certified hypnotist who has been hypnotizing people for ten years.”

Emma and Tanya shared a look, one that said, Yeah, right. If this guy has been doing this for ten years, he must have started when he was sixteen. Or younger.

“I wanted to do therapy, help people quit smoking and stuff like that,” the performer said. “But I had so many people tell me, that felt really funny, I decided I was in the wrong business!”

Polite laughter. Emma knew this was why there was an opener; the crowd had to be primed to laugh so that lame icebreakers like that one would work.

“Show of hands, has anyone here been hypnotized before?”

A few hands went up all across the room. Emma was taking notice of the fact that Mark did not raise his hand when she felt Tanya kick her under the table again. She looked up and realized her own hand was raised, floating in the air a foot above her head. Tony nudged Mark and pointed at it.

“Well, let me tell you something,” Michael Night said. “Everyone with their hand down right now is a pack of liars!

He said this last with an admirable fake outrage that reminded some in the crowd of Will Ferrell. The laugher in response was stronger and more sincere, but none of it came from Tanya or Emma.

“Hypnosis is a natural, normal state of mind that most of us fall into a couple of times a day. If you’ve ever zoned out between subway stops or gotten so engrossed in a good book that a couple of hours just flew right by, congratulations! You’ve been in hypnosis.”

Tanya mouthed, What are you doing? Emma shook her head in response, mouthing, I don’t know! She did not realize that, although most hands in the room had gone down while the performer continued his patter, hers remained raised.

“But what I do is,” Michael Night went on, “I help guide that state, get you into a place where your mind can do things you don’t expect. You don’t need me to experience hypnosis, I’m just here to shape your trance into a show. Sound good?”

More applause from the audience, now with a healthy mix of woo-ing. Emma finally realized that her hand was still up and probably did not need to be, so she lowered it in order to join in on the applause.

“Great!” the hypnotist said. “One thing I’ve learned in this job: some people are more hypnotizable than others. So what I like to do is, I start every show with a little test, to find the people who would be really great. Everybody who wants to find out how hypnotizable they are — even if you don’t want to be in the show — go ahead and grip your hands together like this.”

The hypnotist clasped his hands together just under the chin, the fingers laced together, as though in prayer. Emma followed suit, as did both of the guys. Tanya, pointedly, did not.

“Now extend both of your pointer fingers, like you’re making the number eleven, right in front of your face.”

As the hypnotist demonstrated, Emma looked at her fingers. She felt like she could see every line on them, every wrinkle. She saw the maroon-colored nail polish she had put on her nails. The rest of the world seemed to blur, as her fingers went into sharp focus.

“Spread those fingers as far apart as you can. Make the space between them as wide as possible.”

As she followed the command, Emma noticed how unusual the feeling was. Bending one’s fingers backward was not an exercise one ever did. It caused a strained sensation in her knuckles, almost immediately.

“Take a deep breath in,” the man calling himself Michael Night said. “And as you let it out, focus your eyes on that space between your fingers. Feel the air between your fingers. It’s almost as though the air between those fingers is pushing them apart.”

Emma looked at the space between her fingers, but she saw only a blur. The fingers remained sharp in her vision. The air between her fingers was a tangible thing, soft but unyielding, like a well-made pillow.

“Take another deep breath in,” the voice said, “and as you let it out, imagine that I am tying a string around those fingers. I’m looping a string around and around and around and around.”

Emma could feel the string wrapping around her fingers. It was loose, elastic, the same thin cord the makeup and hair people would use to tie her hair back into Virginia West’s trademark ponytail. She did not notice Tony and Mark breaking their clasped hands to point at her and whisper to each other.

“Focus on those fingers, and take another deep breath all the way in.”

Emma had the distant realization that her eyelids were at half mast, and she forced them open. Had to keep focusing on those fingers. But now everything had become blurry.

“And as you let it out, feel me pulling that string tight.

As he said the word tight, Michael Night snapped his fingers. As if on cue, Emma’s eyes began to droop again. Tanya nudged Tony in the side, and whispered in his ear, “It’s not polite to point.”

“That string pulling tight.” Snap. “So very tight.” Snap. “Tighter and tighter and tighter.” Snap, snap, snap.

Although there was no one in the room to measure such things, Emma’s fingers were the first to press together of anyone in the audience, by far. And by the time they did press together, her eyes were closed equally tight. The awkwardness from before the show had disappeared, the bathroom conversation with Tanya was forgotten. She was warm and comfortable, feet flat on the floor.

“And as those fingers pull together tight,” the hypnotist said, with another snap of his fingers, “it’s like those hands have been dipped in cement. None of the fingers can move. The palms press together tight.

Another snap, and Emma felt it: a block of cement on the end of her wrists, encasing her hands. Cement, of course, is quite heavy, and Emma had never been much for weight training. Her arms tilted forward, the fingers pointing toward the floor, and her head followed it, the chin sinking down to her chest.

“Try to pull those hands apart and find that you cannot,” Michael Night said. His voice seemed to echo through Emma’s mind, as though she were in an enormous cave. “Try to pull those hands apart and find them stuck tight.”

Another snap, and the heaviness of the cement wrapped around Emma’s hands seemed to double. Her arms extended loosely, the shoulders sagging.

“They’re stuck tight. (Snap) You can’t pull them apart because they’re stuck tight. (Snap) Fingers, palms, pressed together tight. (Snap)”

The audience began to respond, issuing laughter and exclamations of surprise, as the most suggestible among them found their hands impossible to pull apart. And people are the tables nearest Emma were beginning to notice her as well, pointing with awe as the dark-haired young woman slumped forward, bent double at the waist, fingers pointing toward the space of the floor between her shoes.

There was a moment where Emma just sat there, drifting, too relaxed to try to lift the block of cement on the end of her wrists. The audience was making sounds that she could easily ignore. When she heard Michael Night’s voice again, it sounded different, not amplified, close to her ear. “And sleep.

Emma slowly toppled forward, out of her chair. The hypnotist caught her by the shoulders and guided her to the floor, where she lay on her side, eyes closed. Her hands were still pressed together tightly.

“Well, that’s never happened before,” Michael Night said brightly, standing amongst the tables. The audience laughed and applauded. Emma heard these sounds, in the sense that vibrations struck her eardrums and caused them to vibrate in return.

But she was no longer listening.

* * *

“Three, feeling energy return to your arms and legs. Four, all of my suggestions no longer effective. And five, wide awake.”

Emma heard thunderous applause. Cheers, even. She tried to open her eyes and could not. She tried to move her own arms and legs, and was able to move them slightly, but they were still so heavy.

That voice again, close to her ear again, no longer amplified. “On the count of three, you know that the hypnosis is over and you can open your eyes. You can open your eyes at the count of three. You may find that you want to talk about it later. You can stay in the bar if you want to talk about hypnosis later. One, two, three.”

Fingers snapping again, two, three times. This time each snap was like removing a heavy weight from her body. Emma opened her eyes.

Even before she completely understood what she was seeing, she knew intuitively that she was on stage from her Court Theater experience. The tables were laid out in front of her, and everyone in the audience was on their feet, applauding. She found Tanya with her eyes; her best friend was applauding as well, but the emotions on her face were tough for her fuzzy mind to interpret.

The man who called himself Michael Night was crouched next to her, looking intently at her. “Everything okay?” he asked, his voice again filling the room via the speakers.

There was a microphone in front of her chin. She had not noticed Michael Night moving it up to her mouth. “Yeah,” she muttered, and managed to bob her head up and down.

The applause seemed to double. Emma became aware of other people walking about on the stage, and now climbing off the stage to return to their tables. Somehow she understood that they were the other volunteers.

Other volunteers? I volunteered for the show?

Michael Night stepped away from her to address the room. “That’s my time! You’ve been great, Chicago!”

More cheers and applause. Emma was finally able to stand, her legs feeling somewhat wooden. She had no clue how she had gotten onto the stage, so she just followed some other volunteer to find the way off.

Tanya intercepted her a couple of steps short of the table. She looped one arm around Emma’s shoulders, saying, “Hey, you okay?”

“Wow,” Mark said from his seat at the table. “That was amazing!”

“Tanya?” Emma’s tongue felt too big for her mouth, and it required some concentration to move it. “What happened?”

“He said he was just doing a test, but you went out like a light,” Tanya said. “Then you went up on stage and did all this stuff... You really don’t remember?”

“I remember him coming out,” Emma said. “Everything after that is dark and fuzzy.”

“That was really amazing!” Mark said again, all but jumping out of his chair.

“Hey, back off,” Tanya said. “Can’t you see that she’s really out of it?”

Mark made a face. “What’s the big deal?” he said, with a petulant tone. “The other volunteers look fine.”

“Well, go hit on them, then,” Tanya said. “We’re closed up for the night.”

Mark gave Tony a look, and Tony said, “Are you serious? He was trying to give her a—“

“Look at my face,” Tanya cut him off. “Tell me how serious I am.”

Even woozy as she was, Emma knew the face the two men were looking at. She’d played a victim in one of Tanya’s mock trials, and she’d thought the actor playing the accused would shit himself when he’d been on the receiving end of that face. It was a face which said, I can hold this girl with one arm and kick your ass up and down the street with the other.

“You already paid your bill,” Tanya said. “Now take some steps.” It was a thing she liked to say instead of Let’s get outta here or You should go.

Shaking his head, Tony turned to walk away, and Mark followed him. If the two men had any crude insults to offer, the words were kept to themselves.

“You didn’t have to shine them on,” Emma whispered. “The tall one was into you.”

“Nah,” Tanya said. “I didn’t like the way they were looking at you while you went under. Like they were lions and you were a deer that pulled up lame.”

Emma managed a small grin. “You’re from Brooklyn,” she said dryly. “You’ve never seen a lion hunt.”

“We got a zoo in Brooklyn, don’t we?” Tanya used the arm around Emma’s shoulders to swing her around. “Next show is starting soon. Let’s get to the bar.”

* * *

They sat at a table near the window. Snow was beginning to fall outside; just a light dusting at this point, but the powerful winds made it look much worse. Even so, Emma spoke not a word about beating the storm, and Tanya suggested nothing about leaving at first.

“You really don’t remember anything?” Tanya said for the fourth time.

“I really don’t,” Emma said. “What did I do up there?”

“He did a thing where he made you forget your name,” Tanya said. “Like, he would say, ‘What’s your name, Emma?’ And you wouldn’t know. He even had you look at your driver’s license. You couldn’t read it.”

Tanya had a funny look on her face. Emma said, “But that wasn’t all I did.”

“No,” Tanya said. “He did some stuff with individual people, but he also did some stuff with all of the volunteers at once. He made them imagine it was really hot and really cold in the room. He made them imagine they were driving a really fast car. And...”

“And what?”

“He, um, he played a Britney Spears song and told everyone to dance sexy. And. Um. You danced really sexy.”

“Oh, shit.” Emma could feel a blush creeping up her face. “That’s what got Mark fired up, wasn’t it?”

“Probably, yeah. Like, the hypnotist had to stop that one early for you. It looked like you were going to take your clothes off.”

“Oh my God,” Emma groaned.

“Yeah,” Tanya said. “Look at it this way: you were killing it up there. If anyone offers you a job playing a stripper, you’ll win an Oscar. And you really don’t—”

“I really don’t remember,” Emma said.

“Well, when I bought the tickets, I did some research,” Tanya said. “You can’t be hypnotized into doing anything you wouldn’t normally do. And some part of you knows that, the whole time.”

“I’m an actor, Tanya. And I was on a stage. ‘What I’d normally do’ can be a lot of things.”

Tanya just gave her a look, and then they both burst into loud laughter. When they finally quieted down, Tanya said, “Did you have fun tonight, at least?”

“I guess,” Emma said. “I don’t remember much, but that also means I can’t be ashamed of much. And I had you looking out for me.”

“I’m thinking we should take some steps,” Tanya said. “Before you end up being right about the blizzard, too.”

The words were on the tip of Emma’s tongue — Sure, let’s go — but she did not say them. And, after a second’s hesitation, she knew why: she saw Michael Night coming around the bar.

“No, you go ahead,” Emma said. “I think I’m going to stay awhile.”

“Stay? By yourself? After I admit you were right about something? Figured you were going to let me hear about that all the way home.”

Emma just inclined her head in the direction of the incoming hypnotist.

“Ohhhhh,” Tanya said. Pitching her voice lower, she said, “You sure about this? What if he puts the whammy on you again?”

“Then he does it with a dozen witnesses knowing about it, including you,” Emma said. “Plus, I think I kind of want him to.”

“Nice.” Tanya grinned. “Be that thing.”

“Emma!” The hypnotist exclaimed as he approached their table. Tanya and Emma were again struck by how young he looked, and each woman thought for a second time, No way that guy has been hypnotizing people for ten years. “I wanted to thank you for being in the show tonight. The show is nothing if I don’t have good volunteers, and you were great.”

“Thank you,” Emma said, smiling.

“Damn right she was great,” Tanya said. “You should be paying her scale.”

“Oh, you’re an actor?” Michael said.

“I am.”

“Well, that explains it,” Michael said. “Actors are much better at hypnosis than the average person.”

“Why is that, do you think?” Emma said.

“Imagination plays a big role in hypnosis,” Michael said. “And actors are very imaginative, of course. But also, following my suggestions is a lot like taking direction. A good actor will figure out where I’m going with a suggestion before I’ve said it, even if they’ve never been hypnotized before. Have you been hypnotized before?”

Emma said, “No, I haven’t,” at the exact same time as Tanya said, “Yeah, she has.” The two women exchanged a look.

“I didn’t realize that issue was debatable,” Michael said dryly, into the somewhat awkward silence.

“You know what?” Tanya said, rising from her chair. “I think I’ve about reached my limit, and it’s time for me to go. You sure you don’t want to come with me, Emma? Beat the blizzard?”

She gave Emma a look which said, You should absolutely stay.

“No, I’m okay,” Emma said. “I still have a lot more questions about the show I was just in. I’ll catch you in the morning.”

“We’re roommates,” Tanya explained to Michael, with a knowing look which said, That means I’ll know when she gets in, and what state she’s in when she does.

“No better roommate than one who’s willing to join you for a good time at the club,” Michael said amiably.

After they said their goodbyes, Michael took the seat where Tanya had been sitting, straight across the table from Emma. “So, what was that about?” He said.

“Well, when you asked for the show of hands on people who were hypnotized before, I raised my hand,” Emma said. “But I didn’t realize I was doing it, and I definitely don’t remember being hypnotized before.”

“Wow,” Michael said.

“Is that unusual?”

“I’ve never had anyone start responding to me that early in the show before,” Michael said. “When I talk with other hypnotists, I’ll hear stories about people who are tranced-out before they’ve even begun the induction, but this is the first time for me.”

“I was already in a trance? You had just started talking!”

“Your subconscious mind remembers things very well. It remembers what trance feels like, and it can easily get you back there. You subconsciously raised your hand when I asked that question. You must have been in trance before.”

“Wow,” Emma said, and sipped her gin and tonic. It was her second one, and she was not feeling too buzzed yet. “How’d you even know that I was going under? Whenever I’ve been on stage, I can’t focus on individual audience members. The lights are too bright.”

Michael grinned. “Well, this bar has those,” he said, gesturing toward the table surface.

Emma glanced down. The table had a candle in its center, but the candle was almost completely enclosed by a globe that looked like crystal (but was probably just classy plastic). There was a gap at the bottom of the holder, to allow the candle to get oxygen for its flame, but otherwise it looked like a plus-sized light bulb.

“They provide much more light than a normal candle, don’t you think?” He had made a subtle change to his voice; Emma did not notice.

“Yes,” Emma said.

“Even under the bright stage lights, my eyes are drawn to the center of the table. Do you see?”

“Yes,” Emma said.

“And I can see you quickly and easily slipping back into the trance state.”

“Yes,” Emma said, though no question had been asked of her.

Michael Night studied her for a moment, watched her slow breathing and unblinking gaze. Then he asked a question to which he already knew the answer: “What do you do for a living, Emma?”

“Actor,” Emma said. She felt none of the usual apprehension she felt when answering that question for a man, and Michael noted that she spoke with none of the You already know that, duh! tone he would have expected from a fully conscious person.

“Have you been in anything I would have seen?”

Emma spoke in a slow monotone. “The Adventures of Virginia West. I played Virginia West.”

Michael grinned, marveling at what a small world this can sometimes be. His little sister had been a super-fan of the adventure show about a preteen girl detective. He himself had nursed a boyhood crush on... “Emma, what was the name of the actress who played Virginia West’s mother?”

“June Raymond.”

Right. Six-foot redhead. Played Tom Hanks’ dead girlfriend in that movie, the one that bombed. Michael Night shook his head, clearing away the memory. There was business to attend to right here. “Would you like to remember the last time you were hypnotized, Emma?”

“No,” Emma said.

Michael frowned. He replayed the question in his head, making sure he had asked it the right way. Hypnotized people could be quite literal-minded and easily confused. “Do you want to remember the earlier time you were hypnotized, Emma?”



“S... scary.” There was an odd tone in her voice, something almost childish.

Michael Night knew that he was edging up against some dangerous territory. She had probably been hypnotized as a little girl. She might have been dealing with something traumatic, or the trance itself had been traumatic, and that was why she did not remember and her subconscious did not want to. And even if he was able to plumb those memories without making her state of mind worse, he could kiss goodbye any chance of a relationship; her subconscious would always associate him with that memory.

Still, he needed to know. He had to know why this one had gone under so quickly, and if it was the result of something he could control. Something that he could replicate in future shows, to improve his act. Tonight’s show had been the best he’d ever done. He owed it to himself to learn more.

“Emma, do you feel like you are under hypnosis now?”

“I dunno,” Emma murmured.

“Many people associate hypnosis with being very sleepy,” Michael said. As if on cue, Emma’s eyelids began to flutter, and her head began to bob forward.

“But I think you’ll find you can keep your eyes open,” Michael said quickly. Wouldn’t do, for some random at the bar to think that he had drugged her. It had happened to him before. “Eyes open and completely focused on the candle globe.”

Emma slowly opened her eyes and lifted her head, to resume staring at the candle globe. Michael thought that if he had taken a picture of her a minute ago, and compared it with a picture of her now, the pictures would be identical.

“That’s right,” Michael said. “Just take a deep breath in, and let it out, feeling your body relax completely.”

Emma’s shoulders sagged and her head swayed slightly to one side, but she no longer looked like she was passing out in her chair. He hoped.

“Just let everything else fade into the background, until there is only the candle globe and the sound of my voice.”

Emma was silent, staring at the candle globe as a teenager would ponder a confounding test question.

“And when your body feels as deeply relaxed as it did during my show, and your mind hears only the sound of my voice as it did during my show, I think you’ll find yourself in a deep ... hypnotic ... trance.”

Emma showed no change in posture or affect. What the hell, Michael Night thought. She was probably way under already, and you just did a whole deepener for nothing. “Emma, can you hear me?”

“Yes,” Emma said. She was almost whispering; Michael had to strain to hear her above the hubbub of the bar.

“Are you in a deep hypnotic trance, Emma?”


Michael spoke in a low voice, heavy with insistence. “Emma, tell me about the last time, before today, that you felt this way.”

“I...” her brow furrowed slightly. “Can’t.”

“You can’t tell me, or you won’t tell me?”


“Emma, did someone tell you to forget your last trance?”


Again Michael briefly considered letting it go. Look, she went through some shit as a kid, as most child stars do, and she had a therapist who is better at hypnosis than you are, he thought to himself. You can’t use this for a show. Quit it.

But he rejected this thought immediately. That questioning tone in her answer, like she was unsure if she had even been told to forget, it left him an opening. He had invested too much effort to stop. Now, he was committed.

“I’d like you to relax, Emma,” he said. “Relax, and think about forgetting. It was so important to forget that trance, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.” A tear rolled down Emma’s right cheek. Michael Night told himself that it was her eyes, becoming so relaxed that the tear ducts were leaking involuntarily. He hoped.

“And you know that it was so important to forget that trance, because someone told you to forget that trance. Someone told you to forget your last trance before today. Isn’t that true, Emma?”

“Yes.” Now a tear from the left eye. Obviously any tear-duct relaxation that could occur in one eye, could also occur in the other, Michael told himself. Obviously.

“Now think about that voice, Emma,” Michael said. “Remember that voice that told you to forget. It is so important to forget. That voice told you to forget and it is so important that you can hear it again, even now.”

Emma’s head twitched, but her face remained blank, her eyes transfixed by the candle globe. Michael Night shifted his chair over to her side, so that he could speak softly and hear her trance-voiced reply.

“Whose voice is it, Emma? Whose voice do you hear?

Emma took a deep breath in. She did not let it out. Michael saw these muscles in her throat working. She was struggling to make her mouth work. Finally, she blurted out, “Travis!

Michael let her gasp for a few breaths before asking, “Emma, who is Travis?”

In between heavy breaths, Emma said, “On. Set. Psychologist.”

Of course, Michael thought. This was a network show with a decent budget, and all the pressure that comes with it. They’d seen how screwed up the other child stars got. They had a shrink on set to help her out when things went bad.

And considering how hard she had been fighting it, things must have gone very bad indeed.

Michael studied Emma closely. Her breathing had evened out. Her eyes had never left the candle globe. There were no more tears. Still in trance, he thought. I can keep going. But not out here.

He did not consider waking her up. He had stopped telling himself the lie that learning her secrets would be good for his show. Instead he told himself that he was doing her a favor, that he was uncovering trauma which she never should have forgotten, that crooked Hollywood doctors had taken advantage of her.

And if it just so happened that he exposed the story by selling it to TMZ for more money than he could make in a year of touring comedy clubs, what was the harm in that? None, when you really thought about it. No harm whatsoever. He was sure the roommate would understand, should he need to explain it to her.

“Emma,” he said, “I’d like to talk in a quieter place. Wouldn’t it be so relaxing to be in a quieter place?”

“Yes,” Emma said.

“Stand up, Emma. Let’s go to a more relaxing place.”

Her eyes fixed on the candle globe, Emma murmured, “I can’t move.”

“When I touch you on the arm,” Michael said, as he rose from his chair, “I think you’ll find it quite easy to stand up and join me in a quiet place.”

Michael Night, who had not been hypnotizing people for ten years, looped his arm into the crook of Emma’s arm. He pulled her smoothly to her feet, though her eyes remained pointed downward, at the candle globe. Only when he turned her body away from the table did she stop seeing the glowing globe; instead, she saw nothing but a blur, due to extremely dilated pupils common under deep hypnosis. Arm and arm they walked through the bar, to the back area where Michael Night’s dressing room was located.

No one took much notice as they passed. If you’ve seen one couple hook up at the club, you’ve seen them all.

* * *

Emma Williams climbed up out of a dark pit that seemed to have no bottom. The light on her eyelids was indistinct, neither morning nor evening. She was lying prone on an uncomfortable surface, but it was a discomfort she knew. She was on her own couch.

“Rise and shine, sleepyhead,” Tanya called out brightly.

Emma groaned. As if her roommate wasn’t perfect in every other way, she was an incorrigible morning person. As she rubbed her closed eyes with her hands, she realized she was wearing the same clothes she had gone out in.

“What time is it?” Emma said, and was shocked to hear the guttural croak that issued forth. Her mouth tasted like something had died in there.

“My sister likes to say,” Tanya replied, “‘You missed breakfast, and brunch ain’t happy about it.’”

Emma opened her eyes and propped herself up on her elbows. The room was not as bright as it should have been, and she soon saw why: the blizzard outside was in full throat. The sky was dark enough to be a summer evening, and the snow was nearly horizontal. “Jesus, it’s really going out there,” she mumbled.

“Yeah, you came back just before it got really bad,” Tanya said. “About two-thirty. I was starting to worry, not gonna lie.”

“Two-thirty,” Emma echoed.

Tanya plopped down onto the easy chair, facing the couch. “So, spill. How was he? Sounds like he got you pretty hung over...”

Emma swung her legs around so she could sit up, and was shocked to find that the world did not spin as she did so. She cocked her head, checking for a headache, and found none. “I’m not hung over,” she said, and then in responses to Tanya’s look of surprise, “I’m as shocked as you are.”

“Well, he must have hypnotized you, then,” Tanya said. “Because I cannot think of any other reason you would pass up a perfectly good bed for that couch.”

“I guess so,” Emma said. “I don’t really remember.”

“This again?” Tanya stood up and went into the kitchen. “Well, I hope you at least remember how good he was.”

“I don’t think I slept with him,” Emma said. “I’m not sore and my panties are dry.”

“So you didn’t get drunk, you didn’t have sex, then you came home and slept til noon in your clothes?” Tanya switched on the coffee maker. “Did he hypnotize you to be boring?”

“Maybe he did,” Emma said, as she stood and walked over to the kitchen island. “I told you—“

“You don’t remember,” Tanya said. “I get it.”

The coffee maker began to whir and burble. The smell was like manna from heaven for Emma. “You said it yourself,” she told Tanya. “I couldn’t have done anything I didn’t want to do. And I did want him to hypnotize me again.”

“Yeah, I did say that,” Tanya conceded. “But this forgetting shit is getting a little creepy.“

“Well, there’s an easy solution for that,” Emma said. “We go to a blues club next time, and forget about hypnosis forever.”

She reached down to a nearby end table for the TV remote, and clicked it on. They always tuned to CH1, the Chicagoland answer to New York’s NY1 news station, because Tanya insisted that a lawyer always needed to keep up on local stories. A weatherman began talking about how all of Cook Country was under a blizzard warning until six p.m.

“Six?” Emma said, accepting a cup of coffee from Tanya. “We’re gonna be snowed in all day?”

Tanya nodded. “That’s not the worst part. The worst part...”

She trailed off. Emma drained a quarter of her coffee in one go, and looked up. She asked, “What’s the worst part?”, assuming that it was her turn to sweep snow off their outdoor balcony.

Tanya was staring, eyes saucer-wide, mouth agape. She pointed at the television. Emma turned to follow her finger’s aim.

CH1 had moved on from the weather. A blonde woman in a grey pantsuit was standing in front of a wall-height digital screen. Behind her, on the screen, was a headshot-quality photo of a young man with a giant word in red spread across the bottom.

The young man had called himself Michael Night when Emma and Tanya had seen him yesterday. The word was MURDER.

“Donald Durowitz, better known by his stage name Michael Night, was found dead in an alley just three blocks away from a comedy club where he had performed a comedy hypnosis show last night,” the blonde anchor said. “Police are certain that the death was a result of foul play, although they say evidence is difficult to obtain due to today’s blizzard.”

The coffee cup slipped out of Emma’s fingers and shattered on the floor.