The Kat Came Back
Most people who are up in arms about gentrification think that it is happening, or that developers are trying to make it happen, to every square block of the island of Manhattan. That’s not quite true. There are parts of New York that have not changed for forty years or more. It takes a considerable amount of time to find them, but they can be found.
After getting off the subway at Union Square and walking for fifteen minutes, Kat found herself in one such place. Dilapidated apartment buildings crouched in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge. What few air conditioners that hung out of the various windows looked older than Kat herself. The businesses were mostly rat-infested bodegas and check-cashing establishments; what little modern retail there was, housed mobile-phone providers that Kat had never heard of and assumed to be scams.
Kat paused across the street from a row house whose basement apartment carried signage proclaiming, “CALLIOPE—PSYCHIC—MEDITATION SERVICES—PAST LIVES”. She had called ahead and registered online, but she could still bail if she wanted to.
This is worth it, right?
Of course it was. They’d needed a fair amount of luck to make it through The Thing with their free wills intact. Kat, a big fan of comic books, likened them to Spider-Man: with their good fortune had come great responsibility. Thus, she was doing exactly what the plan had been from the beginning: busting up the racket of a person who was using hypnosis unethically. And, hell, the whole “we can make a living fighting mind control” plan had been Marisa’s idea in the first place.
Still, Kat hesitated.
She only vaguely recalled the session from last night, in the same way that she remembered her algebra teacher from seventh grade. After the trance, a groggy Kat had staggered into the bedroom on rubbery legs and fallen into bed. It had not been until the morning that Kat had noticed Marisa had not joined her; her lover had slept on the couch. Clearly, something about that session had made Marisa nervous.
Not nervous, cautious. She wouldn’t be good at this cult thing if she wasn’t cautious.
“Fuck it,” Kat muttered to herself. She crossed the street.
The basement apartment had neither bell nor buzzer. Nonplussed, Kat simply knocked on the wood, and after a few seconds the door opened. A pleasant-looking woman with horn-rimmed glasses peered through the gap.
“Um, hi,” Kat said. Calling ahead, she had played up the uncertainty. Thinking of Marisa, sleeping on the couch last night, made the sensation easy to re-capture. “I called yesterday. You’re ... Calliope?”
“That I am,” the woman said, opening the door wider. Kat placed her age between forty and fifty. She was not thin, but neither was she out of shape; she had the stocky sort of build that reminded Kat of the catcher on her college softball team. She wore blue denim overalls on top of a tie-dyed shirt. “You’re Katherine?”
“You can call me Kat,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Everyone does.”
“I dislike nicknames,” the woman called Calliope said, standing aside. “I had some cruel ones myself, as a child. Come on in, Katherine. Make yourself comfortable.”
Kat, ever alert for hypnotic language, took note of the hidden suggestion. She entered into a room which had only three pieces of furniture for sitting: two high-backed chairs facing each other, and a lounge chair of the sort that one might find in a psychiatrist’s office. A door on the far wall led into the remainder of the apartment, but the door was closed. Shelves ringed the room, filled with books, statues, and other curios.
Kat eyed the lounge chair, thinking, That’s where the magic happens, but she took one of the high-backed chairs. No need to rush.
Calliope sat in the other high-backed chair, saying, “How did you hear about me?” They were facing each other with less than a yard of space between them.
“It’s kind of embarrassing,” Kat said, looking at her lap. She was not a good enough actress to blush on command, but she did feel rather ridiculous telling the story she and Marisa had invented. “I was in this meditation class at my gym, and I fell asleep instead of meditating. I had ... this dream...”
“Yeah,” Kat muttered to her lap. “A bad one.”
Calliope leaned forward, sympathetically. “The demonstrative sort of nightmare.”
“That’s what the other girls in the class said. They said I sounded like a completely different person.”
Calliope stood. “Would you mind if I took a look at your palm?”
Kat looked up at her. “You do palm reading?”
“You’d be surprised how much you can learn,” Calliope said, walking over to Kat’s chair. “Our spirits etch so many things onto our flesh as they pass from one mortal cycle to the next.”
Yeah, bullshit, Kat might have said at another time. Had said at many other times in her life. But she was playing a more open-minded character now, with a few of Marisa’s suggestions yesterday to help her make it more convincing. “Okay,” she said, raising her hand to Calliope with the palm up.
Calliope took Kat’s hand in one of her own. She held it lightly by the wrist. She studied the hand silently for what felt to Kat like an awkwardly long time—neither of them spoke for a full minute. Finally Calliope said, “Look here.”
Kat was already looking at her hand, but she focused on Calliope’s finger, which lightly traced one of the lines on Kat’s palm. Very lightly traced, Kat realized; Calliope was touching her ambiguously, maybe as part of a hypnotic induction. Kat let it happen: that was why she had come here, after all.
“The long line down the middle of your palm is your line of destiny,” Calliope said. Her voice was low and calm. “See how deep and pronounced the line is. There’s so much we can explore here.”
“Wow,” Kat murmured. It was already a little difficult for her to speak; she knew from experience how quickly the ambiguous touch could work.
“Now let your eyes follow this line,” Calliope said, now shifting her finger to trace a line that traversed Kat’s palm horizontally. “This is the line of your mind.”
Kat’s eyes followed Calliope’s finger as she traced the line, from left to right, then back to the left again. “As you focus on the mind line, it becomes easy to relax,” Calliope said. “Just let that hand relax and grow heavy.”
This was the last time that, if Kat believed she was being hypnotized covertly by an unethical person, she could have objected. And if she were not undercover, she would have objected; Calliope was trying to hypnotize her without any negotiation of what she would do during trance, or even any admission that hypnosis was in fact happening.
Instead, Kat allowed all the tension to go out of the muscles in her arm and wrist. Her eyes followed the gentle touch of Calliope’s finger, left to right and back again.
“As you focus so deeply on the mind line, you can relax more and more, until you find a place where you can explore your destiny. Relaxing more and more.”
Kat’s eyes blinked, then blinked again. The rest of the room had become blurry, but Kat did not notice, so focused was she on Calliope’s finger, tracing the mind line.
“As that hand relaxes more and more, you can feel that relaxation in those eyelids, blinking and becoming heavy,” Calliope said.
“Yeah,” Kat muttered.
“So relaxed, you don’t even need to speak,” Calliope murmured. Kat had to admit, the other woman’s Trance Voice was quite soothing indeed. Like a lullaby. “Just follow the mind line as that hand relaxes more and more. And when I count to three, those eyes will close down, and you’ll be so relaxed, completely ready to go to that place.”
That place was trance, and Kat knew it, and she was ready. She trusted that Marisa’s suggestions would hold up no matter how deep she went.
“Three, hand so relaxed,” Calliope said. “Two, eyes so tired and heavy from following the mind line. And, one.”
Kat’s eyes dropped shut as her hand was pressed down onto her thigh. Calliope was murmuring the word down over and over, and Kat needed no further encouragement. Her head nodded forward gently.
“And now, Katherine,” the lullaby voice said, “You’re so relaxed and focused on your mind line that you can remember the dream perfectly, can’t you?”
Kat was still aware of where she was and what was happening, but too relaxed to do anything except let the whisper “Yes” escape from her lips.
“Tell me about your dream, Katherine,” the voice said, and that was just what Kat heard herself begin to do.
Marisa walked into the Kellner Studios corporate office in Midtown. To Margot Kellner’s credit, Marisa did not have to wait; she entered Margot’s office just as two men in hooded sweatshirts were leaving.
Margot greeted Marisa in the European style, with a chaste kiss on the cheek. “It’s so good of you to come,” she said. “I’m so grateful for everything you’ve done.”
With a glance over her shoulder at the departing men, Marisa said, “If I’m interrupting something—”
“No, no,” Margot said as the door swung closed. “They’re just writers.”
As they took their seats, Margot at the desk and Marisa in the facing chair, the older woman said, “Your partner couldn’t make the meeting?”
“We found out about another person who might be recruiting for the CDP,” Marisa said. “It would be good for our deal with Marshal Cates if we investigated, so Kat’s handling that.”
“Good,” Margot sniffed. “Those monsters should all be in prison.”
Marisa agreed, but it would be unprofessional to say so. Thus, a brief silence followed. Margot broke it by producing a letter-sized manila envelope from somewhere in her desk, and sliding it across the desktop. “As per the details of our agreement,” she said.
Marisa took the envelope and slid it into her purse. The agreement was that the full payment would be received when Stacy did not board the return train that she had booked for that morning. Marisa was sure that the envelope would contain a check for the expected amount. One does not count the money from a person like Margot Kellner in her own office.
“How’s she doing?” Marisa said.
“As well as can be expected, I suppose,” Margot said. “She’s still in that dreadful hostel.”
“We have the room for two more days. She’ll probably be ready to go back home by then.”
“She says it’s better than the living conditions with that damned church.” Margot fairly spat out the final word.
“It probably is,” Marisa said. “Forced acceptance of horrible sleeping conditions is a tried-and-true method of mind control.”
“Mind control,” Margot said, with a noticeable shudder. “God. I remember reading about Jonestown when I was a girl, but...“
“You just never think it can happen to you,” Marisa said sympathetically. “That’s how they work. They prey on that feeling.”
Margot gave Marisa a frank look. “May ask for one more piece of advice? Is it covered by the fee?”
“Of course,” Marisa said. She wasn’t actually sure if it was covered by the fee, but there was no need to nickle-and-dime someone like Margot Kellner.
“What do I do, six months from now?” Margot said. “I feel so different today, like I’m willing to change everything for her. But that feeling will wear off, for both of us. I know enough about people to know that. And when it does wear off, the cults will still be out there...”
Marisa leaned forward in her chair. “You should think about that hostel,” she said. “Whenever you have your next fight with her, whenever the therapy seems like it’s going badly, think of that hostel. The offices and the condos and Central Park West are not where you found her again. You had to meet her halfway, in a place like that.”
Margot’s eyes were shining with imminent tears. “Thank you,” she said hoarsely. “For everything.”
Marisa was moved by this in a way she did not expect. Although their previous clients had all left the mind-control schemes they had been mired in, the sessions had been grueling processes that carried no guarantees of long-term success. Every day Marisa feared of hearing that one of those first clients had run back into the arms of their cults, and even if that had not happened, none of the families seemed excited about the long, difficult therapy ahead.
In short, Marisa hadn’t been thanked for this work before.
Marisa stood abruptly. “It’s what we do,” she said.
Kelly Allen lived for the sock hop.
School was a drag; the only thing she liked was creative writing, but her English teacher only did that a couple of times per semester. Her job at the diner was an even bigger drag, serving Cokes to her friends while they had a good time. Her parents loved her, she guessed, but at age eighteen she was starting to realize that they didn’t seem to get where she was coming from.
It was only at the dances on Friday night that she really felt like she belonged. Dressed to the nines, her hair tied back in an auburn-colored horsetail with a blue ribbon to match her eyes, she felt free. Free to go out, free to express her body, free to be the envy of all the girls and the object of worship for all the boys.
Kelly would never be the Homecoming Queen, that was for the cheerleaders. She would never be Class President, that was for the girls who raised their hands first in Government class. But she was happy to be the Queen of the Sock Hop. She might have thought differently if she knew how the cheerleaders and girls who raised their hands first in Government class talked about her when she wasn’t around, but in her time on this planet she had not yet encountered that uglier part of human nature.
Kelly strode into the high school gymnasium with Jimmy Waugh on her arm. This was her second hop with Jimmy, but as with most of the boys, she saw no future with him. He simply didn’t make her heart sing in the way that her mother said about her father. The only thing she liked was his long, rangy build, as good for dancing as it was for playing wide receiver on the Centerville High School football team.
The doors of the dance had not been open for even a half hour. The chaperones were still paying attention, the punch was still un-spiked, the DJ was playing “Let’s Go To The Hop” as though anyone still liked that song.
Kelly looked up at Jimmy, but he was not looking at her; he was scanning the crowd looking for his buddies from the football varsity. She prompted him by saying, “So, what do you think?”
“Uh, I dunno,” Jimmy said, scratching the back of his head. Typical Centerville boy. Kelly assumed that, to find a man like her mother wanted her to do, she’d have to go to San Francisco after graduation.
It took some coaxing to get Jimmy onto the dance floor, but once it happened, Kelly was in her element. She bought a new pair of sneakers for dancing each semester, and wore each pair clean through the soles by the time the next semester rolled around. Even Jimmy Waugh, who was said to be the fastest high school football player in the state of California, could only keep up with her for so long, and soon she traded him out for other partners. Poindexters, motorheads, shyboys, Class Council candidates: everybody got a turn.
Finally, the DJ took a break, playing a slow song. Kelly looked around for Jimmy. It wouldn’t do for the first slow dance to be with a boy other than the one she had brought. However, he was nowhere to be found. Annoyed, she stepped out through a side door, searching the parking lot for some fresh air.
She smelled cigarette smoke and almost went back inside—she hated smoking, was always scolding guys about it when she took them to hops—but something moved her not to do so. She turned to her left and saw a girl standing there, leaning against the wall of the building.
The smoker was dressed like some kind of semi-beatnik, a cross between a rail hobo and the Wicked Witch of the West. She had brown hair cut into an earlobe-length bob. The matinee-idol haircut was a poor match to the sullen look on her face. She wore no earrings or lipstick. Kelly thought she recognized this girl: another senior, like herself, but she could not recall if they had shared any classes together.
“Your boyfriend didn’t come this way,” the brown-haired girl said.
Kelly hesitated, not sure what to say next. Jimmy wasn’t her boyfriend, but she was looking for him, but she didn’t want to look like she was looking for him, and what the hell was it any of this girl’s business anyway? “How do you know?” she said lamely.
“Nobody’s boyfriend comes this way,” the brown-haired girl said.
“Well, maybe they’re afraid the chaperone is going to catch them smoking,” Kelly said.
The beatnik girl dropped her cigarette on the ground and stomped on it, without taking her cold gaze from Kelly. “Happy?”
“Yes,” Kelly said, with some sarcasm. “Thank you.”
They stood there, each girl on either side of the exit door, looking out over the parking lot. The lot itself was empty of people, as it was still too early for anyone to retire to their cars for a little necking (or more). Just before the silence could get awkward, the beatnik girl said, “Why aren’t you in there? Dancing with the one what brung ya?”
Kelly bristled at the other girl’s sarcastic use of the old-style slang. “I DID dance with the guy who brought me.”
“Not the slow dances, though.”
For some reason, Kelly did not want to tell this girl anything that might be interpreted as, He ditched me. Instead she said, “Well, what about you? You’re not dancing with the guy that brought you, either.“
The brown-haired girl looked away. “My older brother is the DJ,” she said.
Kelly suspected that the other girl was so sullen because her family was giving her trouble. It was just something about the way she said the word “brother.” Kelly sidled across the closed door, until she was standing next to the beatnik. “Well, there’s plenty of guys in there who aren’t spoken for,” she said. “No reason to stand out here smoking alone.”
The other girl looked Kelly in the eye, finally changing her face with a sideways, sarcastic grin. “You think I dress like this because I’m trying to ‘speak for’ one of those guys?”
Kelly let out a small giggle. “You do look kind of like a witch. Maybe the guys are afraid to be under your spell.”
The beatnik girl’s face turned serious. “Have you read Arthur Miller?”
“You know the school banned The Crucible ,” Kelly said.
“That’s not what I asked.”
“Yeah,” Kelly said quietly. “Yeah, I read it.”
The beatnik girl leaned forward. Her eyes were green. “Then you know that they’re the ones under a spell,” she said, her voice just as quiet as Kelly’s. “I’m out here trying to wake people up.”
God, those eyes, Kelly thought (and in some other place, Kat understood that she was speaking the same thoughts aloud), they’re SO green. Like a field of well-cared-for grass, that you could just lie down in on a warm spring day and forget all your troubles.
“It’s working,” Kelly murmured, without realizing that she had spoken, and for just a moment she would have done anything the green-eyed beatnik asked of her. Anything.
Then the door of the gym burst open and Jimmy Waugh brayed, “What the hell’s goin on out here?”
Kat started violently, her head jerking upward.With a sharp gasp she said, “Whoa!”
“It’s all right,” the woman named Calliope said. Her voice was still calm and soothing. She put a hand on Kat’s shoulder, leaning her back into the high-backed chair. “You’re here in my room, the dream is over.”
“Wow,” Kat said. She was breathing hard, her heart racing. “That was intense.”
“Yeah,” Calliope said, with a small laugh. “It really was. I’ve never seen someone remember their dreams in such detail.”
“Uh, y-yeah,” Kat stammered. Shit, I hope we didn’t lay it on too thick. “I, I thought it was just going to be a palm reading.“
“The line of your mind is very strong,” Calliope said. “I thought you might be capable of something like this, but even I was surprised.”
Calliope offered Kat a glass of water, that she must have poured while Kat was under. Kat drank greedily, as her mouth was quite dry. “So,” she said when she came up for air, “Kelly was me? That was my ... past life, or something?”
“Yes, I think so,” Calliope said. “But you can never be completely sure. Sometimes the details get switched or mixed up from cycle to cycle. A person might be the husband in this life, but a wife in the next one. Judging from your clothes right now, I’m guessing you’re the rebel and your lover is more sharply dressed.”
“Yeah,” Kat said, looking down at the T-shirt under her flannel, which showed an image of a sloth with the legend I’m Not Lazy, I’m Energy Efficient. “But why do you think that was my lover?“
“Love is a force more powerful than gravity,” Calliope said. Kat tried hard not to roll her eyes, knowing that the other woman was trying to pass off a line from movie Interstellar as metaphysics. “It guides us through space and time, connecting us to the most important people in our lives. You have someone that important to you?“
Kat had agreed last night to play single during this session. They had both thought it would make Kat look like better fodder for cult recruitment. She shook her head.
“I suspect that your past life is trying to warn you of some tension or trauma in this life. Either about a past love, or a future one.”
Of course, Kat thought. Because making people excited for future love, or paranoid about incoming trauma, is how you get them coming back for more.“But I don’t think I remembered the whole dream,” she said aloud. “Can you help me remember the rest?“
“I think so,” Calliope said. “I’ve got another appointment coming up soon, but I think in our next session I’d like to try some hypnosis.”
Yeah, you’ve gotta say that word now, Kat thought. And I’ve gotta take the bait. “Wow, hypnosis?“
“Yes,” Calliope said, smiling warmly. “If you think the palm reading was amazing, just wait until you’re in a trance.”
Kat matched her smile. “I can only imagine.”
Marisa tried to do some work in the early afternoon, Googling and doing other internet research on possible clients who had contacted them. This was actually the vast majority of work that they did, as there were a great many people who, due to family conflict or mental illness, believed their minds were being controlled when they were not.
But the longer that afternoon dragged on, the less Marisa tried to kid herself about getting any work done. Eventually she simply sat on the couch, knees pressed up against her breasts, playing Yo-Yo Ma on Spotify and trying to will Kat to come through the door.
The sun was low in the sky and the shadows were long when, at last, there was the unmistakable sound of a key going into the lock. Marisa sprang off the couch just in time to meet Kat as she came though the door.
“Honey, I’m home,” Kat said dryly.
“Jesus, baby, are you okay?” Marisa thought that her lover had not looked as spent at the time she had been trapped on that stalled B train for ninety minutes during rush hour, as she did right now.
“What did you do last night?” Kat muttered, as Marisa guided her to the couch. “That trance was so intense...“
“I did what we talked about,” Marisa said. “The rest of it must’ve been all you. I’m assuming she hypnotized you?”
“Yeah,” Kat said. “She asked to read my palm and then did a covert induction. Then afterward, she tried to play like it wasn’t a trance and that the real hypnosis would be in the next session. She’s crooked as hell, just like I thought.“
“It’s not illegal to be a bad hypnotist,” Marisa reminded her.
Kat looked up at her, with a weak grin. “Not yet, anyway.” This was their pie-in-the-sky goal for their business: to become influential enough that they could get legislation passed, and make some of the exploitative techniques they witnessed (particularly irresponsible hypnosis) illegal.
Marisa said, “Baby, can you trance? I need to get a record of what happened.”
“I can tell you what happened, Ris,” Kat replied. “She didn’t make me forget anything.“
“Maybe, but if she’s unethical enough to do covert inductions on total strangers...”
“I can’t trance right now, Ris,” Kat said. She sounded as weary as Marisa had ever heard her. “It was an intense session and I’m wrecked. It’s not like I was asleep, you know.”
“I know, baby.” Marisa stroked her lover’s cheek. They knew all too well the differences between hypnosis and sleep; that had been a major part of The Thing’s brainwashing power. “I guess now we know how she ensnares people for the cult. You’re completely done in, and you had a pretty good idea what was coming.”
“Yeah,” Kat muttered. “Someone’s who’s never tranced before, who doesn’t know how it works? They’d have no chance. She didn’t do hardly any aftercare. She wants people feeling exhausted and suggestible all day.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, letting the implications of that statement bounce around in their own brains. Eventually Marisa said, “When’s the next session?”
“Tomorrow, same time.”
“Tomorrow? She’s moving really fast.”
“You know that’s how it works, Ris. First she makes herself an indispensable part of the mark’s life. Then, she brings the mark to the cult, and the cult becomes indispensable.”
“I know, Kat,” Marisa said. “But it’s different when it’s you.”
“It’s only scary because it’s the first time we’ve done an undercover thing,” Kat said. “We made a plan, it’s working fine so far, and there’s nothing to worry about.”
Marisa said nothing. It was tough not to be nervous. But she had to admit, she hadn’t seen this side of Kat since ... well, since before The Thing. It was a welcome sight.
Remember, you’re not doing this to take down Calliope. Cates might never be able to make a case against her, or he might be able to make a case by himself without us. You’re doing this to help Kat.
“Okay,” Marisa said, as she rose from the couch, tugging on Kat’s hand to bring her along. “I’m gonna make Caesar salads, and you’re gonna tell me everything that happened.”
“As you command, Mistress,” Kat said in a faux-robotic voice, as she followed into the kitchen.
Marisa wagged her finger. “Don’t even joke about that shit.”
“So what were you wearing to the sock hop?” Marisa said, before slipping a crouton into her mouth and munching on it.
Kat shrugged, applying a little more dressing to the second half of her salad. “I dunno, a dress and sneakers. How often do you remember what you were wearing in a dream?”
“And I wasn’t dressed like me, I was dressed like you.”
“I guess. I mean, you were dressed in a way that you’ve never dressed since I met you, but I didn’t know you in high school.”
“But I was still smoking, like I did when we met, before you helped me quit.”
Kat wiped her mouth with a napkin and said, “Why are you hung up on all of these details? The important thing is that the story worked. She bought it.”
“It’s just that I didn’t plant any of those details,” Marisa said. “It’s fascinating to me, the details people make up in trance. It was fascinating to me back when it was just the two of us, playing around.”
“Did you make me forget stuff?” Kat chewed on some lettuce. “I remember some from within the trance, but most of it is a blur.”
“Can’t say,” Marisa said evenly. “Because someone else might ask that same question.“
“And you’re sure that you can’t trance in order to remember what happened.”
“Ris, I can’t,” Kat said. “What I’m feeling now, it’s like the Monday after a hypnosis convention or something. I just did a full hypnosis workout. The idea of going into trance does not feel relaxing right now. It’s the opposite of relaxing.”
What Marisa wanted to say was, Well you’re gonna have to do another hypnosis workout tomorrow, right? But she stayed silent. She had already asked twice and Kat had been pretty clear.
Marisa could have forced matters right then and there. Instead, a brief but intense debate took place inside her mind:
Kat’s not a somnabulist. She wouldn’t spontaneously forget any part of the trance.
Well, yeah, but she would have tried to play along. If Calliope told her to forget something important, and she thought she would get exposed as a fake if she didn’t, she’d forget.
If she’s ever going to heal from The Thing, you’re going to have to trust her.
Shit. You’re right, me.
Of course I am. That’s why Kat’s madly in love with us.
Marisa said, “So what do you want to do?”
“First, the dishes,” Kat said. “Then, catch up on Legends of Tomorrow. Then, get some sleep. I’m wrecked.“
In fact, that assessment was too optimistic. Kat nodded off during the first TV episode in their queue. Marisa pulled the couch blanket down over the two of them.