The spiral slows to a stop. The flashing lights dim, then vanish.
“Excellent,” a voice says from behind me. Everything is muffled, fuzzy, hazy and dark. I blink in slow motion, pulling cottony eyelids down over my eyes and back up … “Where am I?” I manage.
“You’re awake? Mmm, you must have a fighting spirit. We can take care of that,” the voice says again. It’s crisp and commanding, yet lilting. Like an actor or stage magician. “Don’t struggle … or, perhaps do. We’ll see.”
I try to turn to look at them. My head is caught in something padded. My arms and legs are, too, like I’m strapped into a chair. I frantically look as far as I can, but all I can see is the curved glassy surface right in front of my face. I’m vaguely aware it was just projecting those patterns, spiraling, pulsing, spinning, sharding, calming and comforting ... I strain to turn further. Barely, I can see a sliver of dark depths to the side of the screen, stretching back and back. My vision is bleary from afterimages dancing across the back of my eyes. “Who are you?”
“There’s no use telling you,” they respond. I hear a swish of cloth behind me, a movement. “In just a moment, there won’t be enough you left to remember.”
I struggle harder, frantically. Soft straps hold my arms, my legs, my torso, my head. “You’re crazy! I want out of here!”
They chuckle. “You want out of here? Mmm. We’ll see.”
Something chimes behind me, and suddenly I don’t think there is no more thought just relaxation and pleasure and falling down down down deeper more and more and more so easy and so empty and so fulfilling to just drop. Far away I’m aware they’re saying something, but my conscious mind is so tied up in that pure bell tone all I can do is feel the words worming down into my subconscious, writing instructions into my mind. The moment is endless, terrifying, glorious.
An eternity or a second later my mind returns to me, like being plunged into icy water. Their words slot back into focus. “... let’s try that again. Do you still want out of here?”
I open my mouth and out comes a mrrrowwww.
A gloved hand pats my head. “Good kitty.”
I try to speak again but my mouth betrays me, pouring out another meow. I gasp, focus, move my rough tongue, form each sound carefully. “What--did--you--do--to--me.”
They pat my head again, tingles flowing down my back. “Oh, this?” They dangle a small golden bell in front of me. Despite the dark room it seems to gleam, sparkle, draw attention, like the whole world has zoomed into its gentle form. “It opens your mind to me. Like the key to open a maintenance hatch. The administrator password to your subconscious.” They ring it again.
The sound peals through my mind, shattering me, unzipping my trains of thought, and I fall. Down, down, down, further, dropping… there’s no more time and I feel everything at once, or not at all, or forever. My body is so far away but I can feel something about it changing, squirming, becoming softer, gentler, easier, more malleable… their words continuing down into my mind, splicing apart thoughts, rewriting ideas, massaging away worry.
Awareness returns a bit more slowly this time, over a few seconds. My body is tingling all over. It did change, somehow. Are my hands closer to me? Did I get shorter?
“Mrroww-- Howww are you doing that?” My breath should be raggedy, panicked, but it’s like a big pillow has been placed over my emotions, keeping them from anything but fluffy comfort.
“I know you’d love to believe it’s something about the bell,” they say. “It’s enchanted, bewitched, given to me by wizards or the fae...” They rub the surface with a thumb. They’re wearing red satin gloves that disappear into a sharply-cut sleeve, leaving no skin exposed. “But I’m afraid it’s simply conditioning. You might remember that memetic pattern you watched so obediently?” More shivers go down my spine as I remember those entrancing shapes projected on the glass. If I stare, the afterimages make it look like it might still be on, subliminally keeping me docile, comfortable, sleepy… “I see you do. This bell has been intimately linked to your psyche by my screen. Its chime makes your neurons fire in sync, channels your thoughts travel down deeply carved grooves, all according to my programme. And that spreads your mind wide open, removing all those safeguards and fetters between hearing a word and believing it. The technology is truly remarkable… but that’s neither here nor there. All you need worry your pretty little head about is that there’s nothing special about the bell, or you. I could do it to anyone. And so, here you are.”
They step in front of me for the first time. They’re dressed like a stage magician, too: a sharp tailcoat, black slacks, a red button-down. They’re wearing a top hat with a red satin ribbon, the same color as their gloves and shirt. Their face seems obscured, but I can’t tell if it’s just shadow or if it’s covered. “Alas, telling you all this is moot. Let’s move on to the next act, beginning with untying you.”
I could escape! I just have to look unexcited, uninterested in escape, quiet and obedient, docile … I shake my head. Once they untie me I’ll run. And call the police or something.
Their gloved hand reaches the clasp on my wrist. Pressure intensifies around my wrist, then loosens as the catch starts to come free. Once they release my hand, I decide, I’ll punch them, undo the rest of the catches, then run. I just have to focus, bide my time, wait, fixate on the moment and the next moment and the next moment, the long glorious moment …
Both my wrists are untied. They’re bending down to undo my ankles. How did I miss that?
I shake my head, trying to clear out the sugary cotton fluff. They look up at me. Their face is wrapped tight with those same red ribbons, covering all their skin. It’s so thick there’s barely any detail or contour left, just a criss-crossing mystery. “Is something the matter?”
My hand trembles as it shoots out to hit them in the cheek. It was strangely soft, like there wasn’t anything behind it but more ribbon. They do not cry out, but seem to be dazed. I slip my head out of the final restraint and run.
My muscles feel flimsy, like they’ve been replaced with twine and yarn. I run down an aisle … where the hell am I? It looks like a theater, but all the seats point inwards, towards a slightly raised stage with the chair and screen on it. Like a lecture hall. Or an operating theater, the kind they did public surgeries in when it was still fascinating to cut someone open and have them survive.
I find a door and scramble to open it. I hear the magician tutting behind me, quiet in a way that fills my ears. My ears feel … sensitive. Not any particular sensation, just incredible awareness of their position, their shape, their form.
Bright light fills my eyes as I walk through the door. I’m in a concrete maintenance area, industrial, with flickery fluorescent lights buzzing on the ceiling. Tables wrapped with brown paper covered with props line the walls. I shove a table in front of the door, shuddering from the effort, and run further down the hall.
There’s a black iron ladder reaching into the ceiling. Only there’s no ceiling to the hallway. It’s hollow up there, crisscrossed with catwalks and ropes and wires. I clamber up. Refreshingly, it seems easier than normal to climb up the ladder and pull myself up onto a catwalk.
The lights are loud below my feet, flickering, buzzing, a fever pitch. But it’s dark up here. The only light is what scant reflections make it up from below. So loud … it’s like hearing the sound of traffic jams, standing in line on a sweaty day, exhausted muscles, tired eyes, pounded up and mixed together and poured hot and thick into my ears.
I scamper further along the catwalks, trying to keep quiet, traversing layers and layers of stairs, handwritten labels on ropes, battalions of stage lights, piles of paper. That awful buzzing never seems to get quieter, like it’s coming at me from inside my mind, louder and louder and louder… I have to sit down, I have to cut it out, I have to have it cut out. I need it gone. I need something to pierce through that noise, rescue me, a pure sweet tone, a b--
I run faster, my stomps ricocheting through the matrix of supports, the whole structure vibrating like a be-- no!
Have I been here before? I’m lost. There’s ropes here, sets of handles … have I seen these before? It might ring a-- NO!
I turn the corner and there they are, readjusting the ribbons on their face.
“Tut tut… naughty kitty.” They raise their hand to reveal that gleaming bell. “Fear. Such a waste of a last conscious thought.”
Ultimate fear flashes throughout me for a split second before the chime flushes it all away, suffusing my body with relaxation, comfort, peace, dropping down down down… millions of miles away my body is falling, they’re catching it like a bundle of sticks, whispering subtle things in my ears. My mind is tuned to their words and it accepts them. It’s so simple. They say things, and I believe them. There’s no brainpower for anything else. Obedience is easy… relaxing is easy, feeling warm and soft and docile is so, so easy…
Awareness returns slowly, slowly. I’m first aware of pleasure, the satisfaction of stretching and the relaxation of coming home from work and the joy of a home-cooked meal all packaged into wonderful little tingles sparking down my spine. My hands and feet feel different, both more and less sensitive somehow, more precise but less articulate. Something’s surrounding me, enveloping me. I think I’m lying on the floor. Bit by bit, I feel a gloved hand patting my head, stroking my hair, rubbing and scratching my ears… something’s different there but my few free neurons can’t work it out. It takes longer for my brain to find that those wonderful headpats are the things bubbling down my spine, making my fur stand on end… my fur?
“How do you feel, my pretty kitty?”
“Mrrowww… so, so…” Thinking is exhausting. “...really nice.” Did I want to say that? I’ve forgotten what it means to want. How could I want anything when it feels so good to simply sit here, curled up in their arms while they sit cross-legged on the catwalk, warm and safe?
“Really nice… who?” The scritches stop.
But I know what to say. “Really nice, Legerdemain.”
Legerdemain resumes their scratching. It’s even more beautiful after the cessation, the contrast between the cold hard world and the warm soft pats… “Good kitty.” My body lights up with pleasure at their words, the satisfaction rumbling deep within me… no, that’s my purrs. “The conditioning took to you exquisitely. I didn’t even need to tell you my name. Well, my stage name. My true name would be telling.
“But I’m afraid your mind’s been rushing while your body’s been dragging. We need to catch your body up to speed. And since you’ve been such a good kitty, I’ll let you stay awake for the final change. How would you like that?” I nod enthusiastically.
They bend down to whisper in my ear, a word that flits through my mind, actuating deep chains of programming and disappearing from memory as soon as it’s done. Then they raise the bell, the most beautiful object in the world, and ring it.
Rushes and tingles bubble through me, heat and warmth and pleasure and comfort … My ears shift to the top of my head, becoming soft, warm, fuzzy triangles flicking back and forth. I can feel a tail growing, lengthening the path for those wonderful packets of pleasure to travel down, curling and covering with that same soft fur. My chest moves and shifts as I get smaller, nipples becoming two little pinpoints of heat, then blossoming into beacons of need and satisfaction as my breasts grow, aching and fulfilling the ache in harmony, growing more and more and more … everything is so much, so much, I can’t hold on any more. My world is overexposed, everything washed out by pleasure, so much pleasure, swelling, growing, cresting… can’t hold me together, there’s an edge close, the horizon so close, it scares me, I can’t wait to reach it--
Legerdemain hugs my writhing, changing, mercurial body to them, a place of solidity and solidarity. “Mmm… I love when new kitties do this. Not all my transformees manage to cum at the end. But I suppose you’ve been an exceptionally good kitty.”
The wave of pleasure from those words collides with the whirlwind inside of me, amplifying it, pushing me over the edge. I’m filled with rush after rush of white-hot pleasure, my mind compressing and rarefacting like a drum, body gripped by stars and sparks and spikes of pleasure, so much, so many kinds of pleasure mixing and floating and sinking and spiraling down… my body is mewling, crying out my devotion, my mind is shattering into thousands of pieces only to be reformed and shattered again and again and again. The moment lasts for a thousand eternities, a single compressed second, every span of time all mixed up and marshalled through me and stolen away from my shuddering form.
And an eternity later I find myself panting, purring, back in the real world or a facsimile of it. Legerdemain is still there, patting my head. “Mmm… such an excellent kitty.” Little tingles of pleasure spin up, sparking their own little gentle tingles, spiraling throughout me. “Relax… breathe... you’ve been through so much.”
“Mrrroww… is this…?” The concept is too big for my little mind.
“Is this real?” They chuckle. “What is ‘real’? Are you really here in my lap, body and mind transformed? Perhaps. Some would call it an impossibility. So, you might still be in the catwalks, or in that ghastly hallway, or maybe still on my operating chair staring into my screen, this world a fantasy written into your awareness as it happens. There’s simply no way to know. Perhaps it’s a dream. Perhaps we’re all a story.
“But that’s an awful lot of philosophy to trouble your pretty little head with. And I must be going shortly.”
“You… w-won’t be staying with me?”
“I’m afraid not, kitten. I have audiences to entertain and stories to tell, and there’s simply no room in my schedule for a kitty. Even one as charming as you. But you’ll go to a good home.” They reach behind themselves to look for something. “In fact, your idea of a good home will simply be changed to wherever you go…”
“Oh, never mind. I have a parting gift for you.” They pull out a collar with a little golden bell on it. My golden bell. I obediently lift my neck for them to put it on.
It settles in with a gentle click. It gently chimes with my smallest movement, bringing me down, down, down … The last thing I hear before a long, long trance is “Goodbye, kitten. Your new life will start in no time at all.”