A year ago, and Phuong would have been terrified. She woke up those first few mornings in her own bed, but the void that inhabited the space in her head that would normally have told her how she arrived there left her shaken and bewildered. She wasn't a heavy drinker or drug user; she had a glass of craft beer every now and then when she went out with friends, if there was a designated driver available to help her get home in the event that she misjudged the amount of alcohol her slight frame could tolerate, but never in the middle of the week and never when she was alone. She couldn't begin to account for the gaps in her memory.
But every night, the pattern persisted. One minute it was nine o'clock and she was out at a restaurant or going grocery shopping or out at a movie, and the next thing Phuong knew, the wan sunlight of an early winter morning was hitting her face and she was already late for work. She wasn't worried about losing her job--her great-uncle owned the small grocery store and no matter how much he grumbled, he'd still rather chew off his own arm than fire a relative--but that tiny mundane concern paled in comparison to the empty white space where her memories of coming home should have been. Once was frightening. Twice was horrifying. Three times and Phuong thought she was losing her mind.
And it kept going. That was bad enough in and of itself, but it got worse every day. Phuong made sure to get home early, she stayed in her modest apartment and made sure to avoid even bringing home any alcohol, she even drank nothing but distilled water one night just in case someone had broken into her place and drugged her food and drink... but it didn't help. Every night, her last memory was looking at a clock and noticing that it had just turned to 9:00 PM, and then she was waking up. And not in her own bed every time.
Sometimes Phuong came to with a start on the subway, still in her clothes from the night before, blinking heavily with her eyes burning as if she'd been interrupted in the middle of some kind of bizarre staring contest. Sometimes she woke up already at work, sweeping the floor with a dazed, mechanical rhythm that slowed to a halt as she slowly realized what she was doing. Sometimes she found herself lying on the ground in Meridian Hill Park, hundreds of feet away from the footpaths, her skirt stained with mud and her panties entirely missing. She became convinced that she had lost her mind.
But she never did anything about it. Not even in those early days, when the paranoia and the numb, confused terror were at their worst. She didn't go and see a neurologist, she didn't tell her uncle that the reason she kept wandering in with a glassy look on her face and empty grunts of acknowledgement whenever he spoke--when she came in at all--was because she was lost in some kind of inexplicable fugue state and not because she'd been out all night partying. She never said anything to friends or family or even her parish priest. She pretended it was because she was afraid of their response. But that was just an excuse.
It took Phuong a long time to realize she was making excuses to avoid doing anything about her problem. Even as she began waking up in strangers' bedrooms, gathering her scattered clothes and slipping out in the morning while they slept before pulling on a dress that stank of sex and making her way home to change, she told herself that her plans were too unworkable, too foolish, too dangerous. She couldn't tell her friends; they'd either think she'd had some sort of break with reality and try to get her committed, or they'd believe her and stay with her and whatever was in charge of her body might hurt them in its determination to act on its unknowable goals. Phuong couldn't risk it.
She already knew, from careful and circumspect inquiries about her own behavior, that she wasn't simply stumbling off into the night like a hypnotized sleepwalker when nine o'clock struck. When Phuong went out with friends, apparently she always had a perfectly reasonable excuse for calling it a night early, delivered in seemingly normal tones. She couldn't remember any of the things they said she said, but whatever took over for her conscious mind when she blacked out was intelligent and capable of deceiving her closest friends. She didn't want to think what it could do if she forced it into revealing itself.
And then, almost three months into her strange and unending string of blackouts, it finally hit her. It wasn't just an exaggeration or a turn of phrase; Phuong really didn't want to think about it. At all. What she initially thought of as fear or fatalism or simply a mind-numbing despair was another aspect of the strange, inescapable control that turned her into a puppet every evening. It was almost unnoticeable, a subtle pressure on her thoughts that directed her away from the topic every time she tried to figure out a way to free herself from the ongoing domination of her will... but the longer spent with her new condition, the clearer it became. There were only so many times she could distract herself from something so important before she realized it wasn't really her doing the distracting at all.
But even when she realized the depths of her own subjugation, that only became the new excuse that the programming in her head used to defeat her efforts at outwitting it. Phuong didn't bother putting a tracking app on her phone to find out where she went every night before waking up with semen dripping from her pussy and the taste of a woman's musk on her face, because it wouldn't matter. She was too deeply controlled to escape anyway. She didn't try handcuffing herself to the radiator and throwing away the key because she was certain that her programming wouldn't let her. And in a sense, she was right.
Six months ago, and she'd become almost accustomed to it. She gave up on her nights out--what was the point if she never finished them? She stayed at home and set out an overnight bag for herself every evening at eight in the hopes that whatever was secretly controlling her would take it with them on their way out the door. She got used to finding the bathrooms in strangers' houses, showering amid the random detritus of people whose lives she'd shared for a night without knowing it, before making her way to work at something close to her new start time. Her great-uncle didn't have any choice but to agree to her new schedule, not when she never showed up under the old one anymore.
Phuong actually thought she was getting used to it. She'd gotten so familiar with the DC Metro that she could find her way to her great-uncle's grocery store from pretty much anywhere in the District of Columbia without consulting an app... which was good, because even on the nights when her secret self let her walk off with the overnight bag slung over her shoulder, it didn't let her bring her phone. She eventually just stopped paying the bill and started putting the money aside for a car of her own. She had a pretty strong feeling that she'd be allowed to keep it.
Phuong knew better than to resist those 'strong feelings' by then. They weren't anything as crude or obvious as compulsions--nothing about her control was crude or obvious. But Phuong sometimes stumbled into doing things that felt instinctively right, on a level so deep below conscious thought that she had a hard time even recognizing them as something new or unusual that she was adding to her daily routine. When she started taking birth control pills, or when she stopped bothering to put on panties in the morning, it connected inside her brain on a deep and profound emotional level that she couldn't really explain or process. She just knew she was doing what she needed to do.
Sometimes, Phuong recognized the impulse for what it was. She never managed to fight it, though. She tried--the frozen pizza that she bought for herself one defiant night made it into the shopping cart and onto the conveyor belt and all the way home to her freezer. But she never ate it. She made a sensible dinner of steamed broccoli and baked chicken instead, and convinced herself that there were better ways of resisting than eating unhealthy foods. And before she could come up with any, she distracted herself into watching television until nine o'clock rolled around again and her mind faded into an insensate haze.
Over time, Phuong's mind gradually settled into the rut that had been dug for her. It was simply too... too wearying to find any other way to be. Every effort to even think about resisting sapped her energies and drained her willpower and made her feel like her thoughts were glued together with sticky syrup, until at last she gave up without a whimper and followed the subtle prompting of her subconscious mind that she could just barely register as outside of her control. Her skirts became shorter and more revealing, her tops tighter and skimpier. Bras sat in her dresser for weeks, unused. Her meals became simpler and more utilitarian, fuel for a body that she kept in shape with rigorous exercise in place of her old social activities.
Phuong even managed to convince herself... or let herself be convinced that she was convincing herself... that it was a good thing. Even if she was waking up every morning now with her cunt sore and her ass dripping cum and her jaw feeling like she'd spent all night stretching it as wide as it could possibly go, she'd never been healthier. She had more stamina, more energy, and all those quiet nights at home spent cooking sensible meals with cheap ingredients had left her bank account in better shape than ever. Sure, her head swam every time she tried to balance her budget every month, and she wound up giving up and practicing her oral skills on a dildo she couldn't remember buying instead of figuring out where all her money was coming from, but she couldn't say she wasn't being taken care of.
And then three months ago, it suddenly seemed like a good idea to stop showing up to work. Phuong didn't know why; one day she was hauling her ass all the way in from Bethesda after waking up next to a young white couple who had apparently spent the whole goddamn night flogging her small breasts with a thin cane, and the next she simply couldn't find a single fuck to give about her grand-uncle or the grocery store he was probably planning to leave her in his will. She had all the money she needed, even if she didn't know where it was coming from. She could afford a car. The rent on her apartment was being paid, even if it wasn't Phuong signing the checks. Work was just on more hassle she didn't need, not with her--her condition.
She told herself that it didn't have anything to do with the way she emerged from the blackouts later and later each day, sometimes not snapping out of the waking daze that swallowed her thoughts until early afternoon. It wasn't at all related to the bruises on her tits and ass she sometimes noticed or the increasingly bizarre and shocking outfits she woke up wearing, or the squishy and well-used sensation in her cunt. It was just a slow build-up of frustration, the kind of thing that would happen to anyone who had a well-meaning but clueless relative always trying to 'help' them. It was the same reason she'd gradually drifted out of her social circle, the same reason she had given up on going to church. She just didn't have the time or the energy for all that stuff anymore.
And when Phuong looked at herself one morning in the mirror in a hotel in Austria and saw a stranger looking back at her, when she had that sliver of a moment of self-reflection and recognized that she'd slowly cut herself off from anyone who might notice the changes in her behavior or the lengthy disappearances or the plastic surgeries or the glassy-eyed, vague stare that told her she wasn't really at home inside her head anymore even when she was aware of her own actions... that simply became the new rationale for her passivity. There wasn't any point in trying to resist. She wasn't brainwashed to believe that. She just knew it was true. It felt so instinctively right that she didn't even bother to question it. It was as if she'd always known.
Phuong spent her days in her apartment. Sometimes the calendar didn't match up with her memories. Sometimes she only emerged from the fog in her brain long enough to recognize that she'd spent the entire day drifting along in a blank, obedient haze before the clock ticked over to nine and she gave up thinking again. Sometimes she simply sat there on the couch after eating and exercising, staring vacantly at the clock on the wall and waiting for her thoughts to switch off into numb, mindless obedience. She didn't know who was controlling her, how they'd gotten into her head, what their eventual plan was for her or why they chose her of all people. All she knew that she was very gradually being swallowed whole.
It didn't frighten her anymore. It didn't thrill her with anticipation, either; Phuong felt nothing but a warm, placid, drifting sensation in the back of her head whenever she managed to concentrate long enough to even realize that her thoughts were being constrained more and more with every passing day. Not quite pleasure, not quite joy, but a feeling of docile tranquility that sapped her volition and made her passive and tame. She simply watched the clock tick away the seconds every night, waiting for the moment when she would stop thinking completely and surrender to her controllers with no particular interest or concern.
A year ago, and Phuong would have been terrified. But now, she felt nothing at all.