Part 2: #One #DesertIsland #Adventure #Hypnotist
Jen stepped out onto the sand, and immediately found her trainers vanishing into the ground, water bubbling up around her. She quickly guessed that sand with scrubby grass on might at least have roots to stop it doing that, so she took a couple of quick paces towards the trees.
“It’s bigger than it looks,” she gasped with surprise. It had looked like there were only a half dozen trees on the sandbar, but from this angle there were maybe twice that number, arranged in a formation that meant most of them were only visible from one side. Within the deceptively large woods, there was just about enough space for a trashcan and a park bench, both slightly lower than the surrounding sand such that you might actually be able to sit here and remain unseen.
“Yeah,” Eric nodded, “I didn’t really expect that. Did you look on the map before coming out here?”
“Yeah. The island isn’t on it, so far as I can tell. There’s satellite photos online, but they’re too blurred to see if the hash point is on the island or not. Like, it’s a greeny smudge in the middle of a brown lake, you can’t see the difference between a sandbank here and sand on the bottom of the lake.”
“I figured as much,” he sat down on the bench, and stretched out his legs. “I don’t like those satellite things, I think it’s more fun to try to get there myself. When I get within a mile, and then I need to look down from a hill or something, try to work out where it is, and the best route to get there. Otherwise it would be just a competition of who has time to come here.”
“I look it up on the maps,” Jen shrugged, “But I do the math myself. For the hash function, I mean.”
“Then I have the greatest respect for you. I was never so good at wrangling numbers, but I gather that must be an intellectual expedition in its own right. Are you a mathematician? A scholar?”
“Not really,” she shrugged, slumping down beside him. Her phone chirped to let her know that she’d reached her goal, but the bench seemed a more important destination right now. “I did some in college. And some other stuff, never really specialised enough. Now I do odd bits and pieces of work, making enough to live off without tying me down too much.”
“Feels like there’s a story here,” he rotated one shoulder in what was almost a half shrug. “But I won’t ask. Unless it’s something you really want to share.”
“Not much to tell. There was a guy. He tore up all my plans for the future, we were just following his dreams. And then he decided his plans don’t include me.”
“That’s pretty rough,” Eric nodded, but didn’t go shoving his opinions in her face. She could respect that, too.
“So how about you? You’re a—” and then she followed his gaze, and realised his eyes had been resting on the large paper bag in her hand, stamped with the name of a certain supermarket. On top of the bag right now were packets of crayons and markers, the kind of thing that would have kept kids entertained on a rainy afternoon before the advent of video games, and a bright green box that almost certainly contained something ideally suited for a person as tall as Jen’s waist.
“Oh, no!” she said, “I didn’t mean… This isn’t…”
“I try not to presume,” Eric responded to her sudden embarrassment. “I would make no assumptions about your relationships past and present, save to express the hope that any children you are shopping for live happy and creative lives.”
“I don’t have kids,” she shook her head. “The shopping is… hard to explain.”
“Now that sounds like an interesting story. And one I guess you would be happy to share, if you’re not too busy?”
“It’s not like it’s some big secret. It’s a customer service job, really. The supermarket pays me occasionally. Go in and buy a load of things from a list they give me. Sometimes I have to go to a member of staff and ask a question about a product. Sometimes I have to go to the frozen food section, wait for someone to start restocking a freezer, and then ask where the shampoo is. And then I fill in a report. Like, what was the guy’s name, and did he send me to the right department, or give accurate directions, or take me there. Did he try to give other useful advice, or casually mention that the thing he’s currently restocking is delicious. Those kind of things.”
“So you have to ask for the things they tell you to ask for, to make these reports?”
“Right. Sometimes when you’re done, you go straight back to the customer service desk to return the stuff and get paid. But this time I’m testing if anyone offers to help carry the stuff to my car, stuff like that. Or if they recommend taking a larger bag. So it’s only fair if I actually bag up the shopping and take it off the site. Then I can look through it at my leisure, keep anything I like and give the rest to charities and food banks. A little bonus, I guess.”
“Plenty of toys in your bag. I bet that’d make some impoverished kid’s day.”
“Yeah. I’m going to take them to the Saint Nicholas Centre in Coppington, for the homeless kids. You mind if I fill in the report forms while we chat? I was planning to do it in the park while it’s a nice day, and here seems like a perfect spot to relax.”
“Sure,” he beamed, “I could do with some time off my feet anyhow. I wonder who put the bench here. I mean, the bin clearly isn’t used, there’s not even a bag in it, so it presumably isn’t on the park warden’s map.”
“Not used either, so it hardly matters,” Jen muttered, only half an eye on the papers she was unfolding in her lap. “It can just be a little mystery. There might be an answer out there, but I have no idea what it could be or where to find it. Maybe we could look into it more when we get home.”
“I might just do that. Mysteries are my bread and butter, you know? Not in a work sense, but they make me feel alive.”
“I know what you mean. Life’s just boring filler in between the action in the books I’m reading, unless there’s some kind of mystery to solve. So what do you do for work? Something that lets you take time off when you’ve got one of these to go for?”
“I’m self employed. Do a bit of everything, really. Used to be web design, before there were all these toolkits that promise you can do it yourself. These days, some business wants a website, they try setting up a page using some supposedly-easy thing, and then they’re calling in a professional as soon as they find something their system can’t do.”
“Sounds like there’d be just as much work for you, in that case?”
“Except that now, instead of having a design brief and a problem to solve, the challenge comes from trying to do some simple task without the right tools for the job. Imagine a decorator, called into some shop where they’ve bought a new hammer because the boss really likes the look of that new beaten iron looks that some places are using, and they say you’ve got to paint a wall blue with a hammer.”
“Wow, sounds like you got some strong feelings there,” Jen looked up from her form and chuckled, “I never thought about it like that. But I guess it’s the same as anyone, when someone’s out there selling a machine they say can do your job cheaper. You know it can’t, because you know how many nuances there are, but the beancounters won’t see it. You don’t replace a mathematician with a calculator.”
“Touched a nerve?”
“Maybe a little. But there aren’t as many posts as there used to be, and I got a good enough life. Doing what I need to do.”
“Me too. After the web, I went into a bit of everything. Submitting my poetry to anthologies, even if the payback is tiny when one gets accepted. Short stories are more lucrative, for those gossip magazines. I actually got an offer from a kind-of popular tabloid, said some of my romance stories were topical enough to catch a reader’s interest, and asked if I’d think about making the news. It’s a dedicated skillset, you know? You have to make sure there’s nothing that people can easily disprove, but they’re not caring about that so much these days.”
“Maybe. There’s no way to tell, really. Unless you’re a better detective than me. But I’ve done all sorts. I’ve had a photography exhibit at one of the museums round here. Part of a local artists showcase, you know? Sold like a dozen prints, made some decent money, and now I can think that my pictures are sitting in people’s homes, framed. It’s pretty amazing. At one point I fell back on what I learned in college, but I think I couldn’t be happy doing just one thing for life. I need the variety.”
“Sounds like a good life. I’m on similar, except it’s stuff like correcting some foreign company’s use of English through an online agency, letting a hundred low-paid contractors do the job of an actual translator. Nothing like so glamorous, but between half a dozen different gigs I’ve got enough to live off, and I can always shuffle the timing around to make sure I’ve got time to do stuff like this. So… what was your college degree? I guess it wasn’t in computers, if you went back to it after that.”
“Hypnosis. Strictly speaking, constructive psychotherapy. But most of what I learned was basic hypnosis, and the ways you could use it for therapy.”
“You’re a therapist too? A couple of hours a week, in between all the other stuff?”
“No, couldn’t get the license for that. But the same skills are transferable. I could help people to study better, work on improving memory, build good habits instead of bad ones, that kind of thing. It’s not as flashy as TV would have you believe, but it’s still a challenge. Every mind is a different labyrinth, and I’m always looking for the key.”
“That’s pretty awesome. I tried hypnosis once, my boyfriend read up on it some. Said it was like another kind of bondage, telling you that you couldn’t move. Cheaper than all the chains and everything, but it never really worked that well.”
“Did you try for long?” he asked, but just failing to mention the boyfriend made Jen feel obliged to explain.
“That’s my ex,” she pointed out, “He was my boyfriend back then. In college, you know? And we tried it for a couple of weeks, then went back to playing with ribbons and a little whip he’d ordered off the Internet. It was kind of fun, but not really my thing. You know?”
“I can understand that.”
“So do you think it’s actually possible? I mean like, telling somebody they can’t move, even when they get excited? Is that just a joke, or maybe it would have worked if I’d tried harder?”
“I think if someone was trying to push you into it, you might not have had the trust that acts as a foundation for an intense trance. Not your fault, not even really his fault, just something that wasn’t right.”
“So it’s possible, then? Could you stick my hands to the seat, so I couldn’t move or something?”
“Possibly. It would be an interesting challenge, with the handicap of three years without practice.”
“I’m not even sure if it works, though,” Jen admitted. “It’s an exciting thing to think about, but everyone says it only works if you want it to. You have to believe, kind of thing. And I’m not sure if I do. Does that mean that even if I wanted to try it again, I might not be able to?”
“Not necessarily. I like to think about it more like a treasure hunt. The goal’s a particular place in your mind. A combination of feelings, a point where you’re not so critical and just accept what you’re told. And maybe I’ve got a treasure map to find that place. There’s a dozen different paths to get there, different techniques and methods. But every mind is different, and some of those paths might be dead ends, or not lead to where you think they will. So there’s always a little experimentation. The path that most people can follow doesn’t necessarily work for you, so we’d have to step back a little and try a different one.”
Jen nodded. It was a nice metaphor, and she found she could see how this guy might make a part of a part time career writing. But at the same time, she knew that she had work to do, so she tried to keep following what he was saying while she completed the mundane business with all the mystery shopping forms.
“But the hypnotist is your guide. Someone who’s led expeditions into many different minds, and knows how to read the signs. Knows the usual layout, and knows some of the different obstacles you might find. And if he’s a good guide, you’ll never reach a dead end and have to turn back. Because he’ll see it coming before you get there, and take a turning off to the side. Maybe you’re looping back towards your starting point, ready to take a different tack, but if you’re just watching each turn as you pass, you might never notice. It’s just an expedition, and even when you take a few steps back, you’re never actually retracing your steps. It always feels like you’re going forward.”
“You’ve got a way with words,” Jen said with a smile, “I can almost imagine like we’re exploring an actual desert island.” She immediately cursed herself for sounding so lame; compared to Eric’s description, her words just seemed bland.
“Maybe we are. A literal island, and the island in your mind. You’ve already been exploring there, even if you didn’t quite reach the treasure. Maybe you’re less confident than you would have been, but that doesn’t matter so much. You see, it really is like a treasure map. The gold is there in the centre, if you can find it. And some people might never even reach the shore, because they don’t think they’ll be able to find it. That’s why you have to believe, but I think you _do_ believe, because you climbed onto a boat with me and sailed out to this secret island. You’re willing to follow my footsteps into the woods, and find a little secluded spot that isn’t even visible from the outside.
“You’re not a non-believer, not in any way that matters. Because you’re willing to try, and you’re willing to hope that you can find the place you’re looking for even when you haven’t found it before. And you’re already following me. Because imagining the island might be the first step on one of these paths. You could already find that you imagine yourself sitting on an island, with trees all around. You’re listening to my words, that seem so emotive, and you’re imagining the island I describe, imagining these paths you can follow in search of the treasure. And there’s little difference between imagining something and seeing it in front of you. There’s almost no difference in your mind. So when you imagine yourself following my words, getting lost in them, you’re probably already following.
“You’ve been this far before, I’m sure, even if you didn’t realise it. Maybe you found yourself lost in a book, the story gripping you so closely that when you stopped reading, it’s almost a surprise to realise that it was only a story. But you don’t need to feel that surprise yet. Any time you notice that you’re feeling the things I describe, or any time you find that my words seem a little more real, that will be the sensation of feeling the things I’ve already told you, so it will remind you just how easy it is for every word, every feeling, to seem real. And that will guide you deeper into the fantasy I’m weaving for you, one step further along the path we’re following.
“A path you might have followed before, without even realising. You know the feeling of walking along, holding a conversation. You put all your thought into the words, and what they mean, and your legs keep moving on autopilot. And then you might not pay attention to where you are going, until you look up and see you’re already at the centre of the island. And as soon as you notice where you are, or where you’re going, that will make it easier to take the next step because you really know what you want.
“Even while you keep writing your report, half your mind will be on my words. You’re quite able to follow two paths at once. Whether you’re thinking about your work and letting my words guide you into a maze without you being aware of it, or if you’re letting yourself experience everything I tell you and sinking deeper into the story, while your hands are controlled by the little part of your mind that can go through the motions while you’re really elsewhere, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re focusing on imagining the island, or on the cadence of my voice, or if you’re trying to remember all the words I use as they slip away from you. As long as you’re listening, you can follow the path, whether or not you’re aware of it. And you have curiosity, that’s what brought you to this island, so I know you’ll want to explore this island.
“You’re already there now, aren’t you? Following the paths on a desert island, glad that I’m there to guide you, hunting for the treasure. Every turn builds up a little anticipation, a little excitement, if you wonder whether the treasure will be around the next bend. And that anticipation keeps your mind in the story, leads you further along the same path, making the fantasy seem more real every time you think about how close you are, or how much you want to get closer. You might even find that you’re walking across a desert island in your mind, but you don’t quite remember how you got there. Trying to think about it makes you feel a little lost in the jungle, and that reminds you that it’s a good idea to follow my words, to let me guide you until you feel safe. You want to feel safe, don’t you?
“Just let yourself follow every path, and feel the things I’m saying to you. You don’t need to remember the twists and turns, they don’t matter. You don’t need to remember the exact words I used, just the general direction. Or if you prefer, you might choose to put away those memories where you don’t need to look at them, just like you set aside the memory of a path you’ve walked or driven a hundred times before. You’ll be able to find the place we’re looking for as long as I guide you, so you don’t need to remember the path. Would you like that? Finding that you don’t remember how you got to the treasure, and maybe you don’t remember the things I’ve asked to feel, so that you can have a wonderful surprise when you realise just how easily you’ve found the treasure at the centre of your mind? You can feel that if you want to, it’s entirely up to you.
“But now we’re nearly there, we’re going to be following a spiral right into the centre. With every turn, ever step, every path you imagine in the jungle, you will look forward to the next even more, and it will feel even more amazing when you find yourself at the centre. And when you reach the centre, a point where everything I say seems completely real to you, you can let your body become as relaxed as your mind, to let me know that we’ve arrived. You’re nodding as I’m talking, your head moving in time with my words, and I think you didn’t even realise you were doing that. And as you realise, that’s a reminder that you’re ready to move further, taking another step with each nod. And as you nod, your pen is moving back and forth like a metronome, maybe a memory of something that’s helped you to come close before, so when you realise you’re doing that, every little wave will guide you closer and closer to the treasure. And when you reach the treasure, as your body relaxes, you will find yourself dropping the pen, because you no longer need to sink any deeper. As you feel it fall, that will be your signal to let yourself drop even deeper, and to completely accept everything I’m going to tell you. You want that, don’t you? Just nod, and let the movement soothe you, making it easier and easier to start to slip into…”