The Unknown Object
At first, Mrs. Berger thought the reason Heather had stopped by was because Eddie had sent dick pics to her as well, and the nervous woman had to be calmed down and reassured by Heather that he’d done nothing of the sort. Heather gave the excuse she’d come up with on her way to the Berger household—that she needed to get some advice from Eddie regarding the upcoming regional track competition. Still, even then, Mrs. Berger didn’t really want to let Heather see Eddie, not after everything that had happened.
“He’s…he’s not just grounded, you know,” she said, blinking back tears. “His father and I—well, we just don’t know what to make of his behavior. He might be expelled from school. We’re looking at military academies.”
Heather just stood there, not quite knowing what to say. Mrs. Berger was obviously distraught. Still, if her hunch was right, nothing that Eddie had done had been his fault.
“Mrs. Berger,” Heather said with a confidence she didn’t entirely feel. “Just because Eddie did something wrong doesn’t mean that he’s a bad person.”
Mrs. Berger gave her a pained smile.
“Thank you, dear,” she replied. “I suppose I needed to hear that. Look, Eddie is in his room. I’m sure you remember where his room is. I’ll take you to him. If he—if he gets fresh with you, just holler. I’ll be right there.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” Heather said, a genuine note of gratitude in her voice.
The two walked upstairs and, when they reached Eddie’s room (instantly recognizable due to the Usain Bolt poster taped on the front door), Mrs. Berger knocked.
“Eddie, are you decent? You have a…a guest,” she said.
“…A guest? Uh, yeah, I’m decent, Mom,” came back the muffled, resigned-sounding reply from behind the door.
Heather heard some shuffling from behind the door, and then it swung open.
There was Eddie, looking the worse for wear. His hair was unruly, and he was wearing a red t-shirt with a lightning logo—the Flash (Heather watched the TV show and thought Grant Gustin was pretty cute, though he definitely did not have a real runner’s physique). Eddie had dark circles under his eyes. It was clear he hadn’t been doing much sleeping lately.
Those same eyes widened when he saw who his guest was.
“H-Heather? Why are you…?” he sputtered.
“Your friend Tim’s little sister is here to ask for some help with the upcoming track competition,” Mrs. Berger said, interrupting. “I want you to behave like a gentleman and answer all of her questions. And, and, and if I hear that you’ve done or said anything improper to this young girl, I’ll—“
“That’s all right, Mrs. Berger. I know Eddie will be a perfect gentleman,” Heather said, cutting off Mrs. Berger before she made an already embarrassing situation worse.
“Please don’t worry, Mom…I’ll be…I’ll be good,” Eddie said, wincing slightly.
“I certainly hope so,” Mrs. Berger said. “Heather, dear, don’t forget what we talked about before.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Heather nodded.
“I’ll leave you two alone. Don’t lock the door, Eddie.”
Eddie grimaced, but nodded.
With that said, Mrs. Berger walked away, leaving the two of them alone, staring awkwardly at each other.
“Soooo,” Heather said, “can I, y’know, come in?”
“Oh-oh, yeah,” Eddie replied, stepping out of the way. “Come on in.”
Heather walked past him and into his bedroom. It was a typical teenage boy’s bedroom. A big poster of Carl Lewis was taped next to the bed, with the words “INSPIRATION” in shiny gold lettering underneath. There were a bunch of tangled-up cables and an unplugged monitor on top of Eddie’s desk—that was where his computer had been, but Heather assumed it had been confiscated by his parents. He had a big gaming chair in front of his desk (Tim had been asking for one for a while, but his parents had said no). She hadn’t been here in years—and back then she’d only come here along with her brother.
Behind her, Eddie cleared his throat. She looked at him, the first time the two of them had been alone since…since before the incident. He looked somewhat abashed, and she felt a little grossed-out just looking at him. She couldn’t forget what he’d done.
She had to get past that. If her theory was right, he hadn’t been responsible for his actions.
For a moment, the two of them just looked at each other awkwardly.
“Uhm, so I guess I’m, uh, surprised to see you here,” Eddie eventually said, breaking the silence.
“..yeah…,” Heather replied, her brow furrowed. Now that she was here, she wasn’t quite sure where to start. She needed to get Eddie to help her, but to do that, she had to tell him about what Tim had been doing.
“Uhm, I don’t know what sort of advice you wanted me to give you, but, uh…before that, I…,” Eddie continued. “I really want to apologize. The things I did to you were…awful. I can’t believe I used you like that. You have to believe me, I’ve never done anything like that before, and I don’t know what…what possessed me, why I even thought of manipulating you…I think that there’s gotta be something really wrong with me. My actions over the past few months, when I think back, it just doesn’t make any logical sense, it just…”
“It doesn’t make any sense, but you did it anyway, right?” Heather said. It had just been like when Tim had proposed the two of them have sex. Heather had known it made no logical sense then, either, but she’d gone along with it. It had just felt right.
“Yeah, yeah, exactly,” Eddie said, oblivious to what Heather was thinking. “It’s like I was possessed or something. I know that doesn’t excuse it. But I swear, I…didn’t want to hurt anyone. And those pictures…I don’t understand why I thought sending those pictures would make anyone interested in me…I…”
The pictures. That was something Heather most definitely did not want to hear about.
“Eddie, I believe you. Now sit down,” she said, gesturing to the bed as she turned around the gaming chair and took a seat herself. “There’s something important that I need to talk to you about.”
Eddie nodded, sat on the bed, and crossed his arms rather awkwardly, as though he didn’t want Heather to even think he was going to try to make a move on her.
“Look, I’ll give you all the advice I can, but I’m not exactly a track and field guru…I might have, uh, exaggerated my expertise a bit in order to impress you,” he confessed.
“Forget about that for a second,” Heather said dismissively, to Eddie’s clear surprise. “Look, Eddie, over the past few days, have you ever been in a situation where Tim asked you to eat something, or drink something? And, have you ever been in a situation where you realized you’d lost time? Like, you thought it had only been a few minutes but then you checked your watch and, like, an hour had passed?”
“Huh? Wait, what? What are you talking about?” Eddie was clearly confused.
Heather took a deep breath. Maybe this had been the wrong way to start this off. She decided to start from the beginning.
“Eddie, I’m going to tell you a story, and it’s going to sound weird, and absolutely sick, and you might not end up believing a word of it, but I guarantee you, everything I’m about to tell you is true. And I think you might be involved in what’s going on.”
“Me? Involved in what? Heather, are you okay? You didn’t drink some expired protein drink, did you?” Eddie joked awkwardly.
“I’m completely serious, Eddie,” she said, giving him a withering gaze. “Listen, the reason I am here is to ask for your help with something, something really important. But for you to understand, you need to listen. You need to take me seriously. And you need to believe me.”
Eddie looked at her, finally realizing the grave tone in Heather’s voice meant she wasn’t kidding around. He looked her in the eye (for the first time since she’d come into his room, Heather realized).
“Okay. As far as I know, it all began…”
Heather went through the events of the past few days as best as she could, step by step. Everything that seemed wrong, out of place. Eddie’s behavior. Her reaction to it.
She stumbled when she reached the evening that she and her brother had had sex. Even though she’d only planned to say that her brother had made her do something out of character, she wasn’t able to get the words out. There was some sort of mental block around the events of that evening. When she even tried to explain the most innocent aspects of her interactions that day, she became tongue-tied and had to start over, and then it happened all over again. It was incredibly frustrating, as though she had something on the tip of her tongue that simply could not be verbalized. Finally, she ended up just telling Eddie that Tim had acted ‘strangely,’ without elaborating much further.
Had Tim done something to her conscious mind, Heather wondered?
Then, when she described the scene that she’d witnessed just a few hours ago, she saw Eddie’s eyes go wide, his face pale with shock.
She ended her story by explaining her suspicions that Eddie’s own behavior had been caused by Tim’s hypnosis.
Once she was done, the two just sat there. Heather could see Eddie’s eyes darting in one direction to another, as though he were trying to make sense of the information he’d just been given. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he spoke.
“Even if what you’re saying is true—and I’m not sure I believe it, because it’s an absolutely fucking insane story,” Eddie posited. “It’s just so contrary to Tim’s character, it’s like you’re describing another person—Tim’s never had any weird oedipal fetish, as far as I know, and he’s certainly no master hypnotist. The guy wastes most of his time playing Fortnite and Magic: The Gathering—how would he master mind control? He just doesn’t have the commitment to do something like that. And even if he did, how would he convince someone to just sit down and be hypnotized? And even if he did that, isn’t hypnotism like a relaxation technique? You can’t just convince someone to fuck you using hypnosis. That’s the sort of stuff that’s only in the movies. What you’re saying…the story is crazy, Heather. I’m sorry to say this, but no one would ever believe a word of it. And before you say anything else, I’d be more inclined to believe it because, if what you said were true, it would mean I’d been hypnotized into sending those pictures, which would mean I was technically innocent of all wrongdoing, which would be a huge relief to me and to my parents. It might mean I could dodge the bullet of having to go to a military academy.”
“I know it sounds insane, and I don’t blame you for not believing me. But answer me this question,” Heather appealed to Eddie, “Think seriously now—have you lost time over the past few days? Is there any time that you can’t account for?”
“No, I …wait…,” Eddie’s brow furrowed. “There is one thing, but…it can’t…no, it couldn’t be anything.”
“What? What is it?” Heather pleaded.
“It’s just…well, a day before the, uh, ‘incident’ with the photos and with Doug,” Eddie confessed, “there was one thing that was kind of odd. I haven’t really given it a second thought until now, but...I fell asleep in a classroom after school. It wasn’t even my homeroom. I must’ve been asleep for like an hour. I don’t remember why I went in there, and I don’t know why I decided that was the best place to take a nap. I missed the bus home and had to walk like an hour. My mom was really pissed.”
“Have you ever done something like that before?” Heather queried. “Taken a nap in a classroom?”
“No, never,” Eddie confessed. “It’s completely out of character for me.”
“And did you see Tim that day?”
“No, I didn’t. That was the day you and I were…in the softball field under the bleachers…so I didn’t…,” Eddie frowned. “Wait, was Tim there? I feel like…I feel like maybe Tim saw me in the softball field. But it’s…it’s kind of hazy…”
Heather stood up suddenly, startling Eddie.
“That’s it! That must be it! Now think, Eddie—when you saw Tim, what was he doing? Did he have one of those, y’know, spirals that hypnotists use in the movies, or did he ask you to drink or eat something that might have knocked you out?”
“I-I can’t…I don’t remember…”
“Please, this could be it! If we know how he’s doing it, we can stop him!”
“Hmm…what did he have…was it…oh, I know! I remember now! In his hand, he was holding a—“
Suddenly, there was a knock at the bedroom door.
“…I need to speak with you right away, young man. Please let me in,” Mrs. Berger’s muffled voice came from the hallway.
“Eddie, wait, before you lose your train of thought, what was—“
But Eddie was already opening the door. As soon as he did, Heather heard a short, hissing sound, like static on a TV screen.
Eddie’s shoulders slumped.
“Move aside, Eddie.”
Heather gasped. That voice—it couldn’t be—how in the world—
As Eddie moved aside, she saw her brother standing outside the door. Mrs. Berger was next to him, in the same slumped, awkward standing position as Eddie. Her eyes were glazed over, too—just like Mom’s had been.
Heather realized, whatever Tim was using to hypnotize people, it was nothing like she’d theorized. Not a drink, not food, not some sort of hypnotic technique. From the sound of it, it had to be some sort of machine. But what was it? If she could figure out what it was…
She stood up, looked around for an exit. The window was locked, and they were on the second floor. But maybe she could push past Tim, if only she could distract him.
Tim stood at the door. There was no way. But maybe she could…he was her brother, right? And he loved her…she knew that he loved her…or was that just another one of the hypnotic commands he’d given her?
“You’ve given me a lot of trouble, Heather,” Tim said, pointing at the lump on his head, over which he’d put a band-aid. He looked to be in a foul mood.
“Tim, please,” Heather begged. “Please don’t do this. You don’t have to. I-I care about you. I care about Mom. I…I…”
Her mind scrambled for a solution. Maybe she could knock him over the head again before he did whatever he’d done to Eddie and Mrs. Berger. If only there were some sort of weapon she could use. Her eyes darted around the room. Nothing.
“I know what you’re thinking right now, but it’s no use,” Tim said. “You’re coming back home with me.”
“How-how did you even find me?” she pleaded.
“It was thanks to Mom, actually,” Tim said, smiling for the first time. “Remember when she gave us our phones, she activated the ‘find my phone’ app on it so she could keep track of us in case anything happened to us? I have to admit, I’d totally forgotten about it until she reminded me.”
Tim raised his right arm towards her. Heather couldn’t understand why—he was holding something in his right hand, but it wasn’t anything important.
“Don’t worry, Heather. I would never hurt you,” Tim said soothingly. “I just need to make some changes to make sure you don’t run off again.”
The last thing Heather heard before the whole world went dark was that sharp, short sound of static.