Caleb fidgeted with his tie as he waited in line for his ticket. Damn things always feel so tight… he thought to himself. He tapped his foot and checked his watch. They better hurry this up, or they’re gonna have to start the show late.
If he wanted to, he could just step out of the line and take a seat wherever he pleased. But he needed to save his energy. Tonight was important, and it was crucial to him to make sure it went off without a hitch. Which meant he couldn’t use his power just yet.
Finally, he made it to the ticket booth.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the girl behind the counter said. “We just sold our last ticket.”
Caleb blinked. “Are you serious? But we’ve been waiting in line for so long!”
The ticket girl shrugged. “I really am sorry, sir. There’ll be another show tomorrow, if you—”
“No, that’s alright.” Caleb walked away from the booth and sighed. So much for conserving my energy…
He sent out the signal and made his way inside the theater. He’d done it a thousand times before, but it always made Caleb feel great when he was able to sneak around like this. It wasn’t “proper” invisibility; rather, it basically masked his presence to other people. Everyone around him just assumes he’s where he’s supposed to be. His teammate Kim always said he was like a “walking SEP field,” but he had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Probably something from one of her sci-fi novels.
He poured a little more energy into it as he walked up to the ushers showing people to their assigned seats. Sure enough, they didn’t so much as glance at him as he passed by. He took an empty seat towards the right side of the stage and relaxed, letting his power dissipate. No use blowing all my energy before anything’s started yet.
He checked his watch again. The show started in half an hour, but Caleb was already jittery with anticipation. Not necessarily for the show itself, though. He hadn’t cared about stage magic since he was nine.
What he was most interested in was the performer herself. She called herself “The Amazing Amethyst,” but Caleb suspected she had another name she liked to go by. There had been reports from cities all across the country about a mysterious supervillain who went by the name “Hypnotica.” Wherever she went, there was a spike in robberies. Anything from pawn shops to jewelers, always high-ticket items. But the curious thing was that the people committing these crimes were just ordinary people, largely middle- to upper-class, with nothing else on their record. Even more mysteriously, none of them ever remembered doing anything out of the ordinary. Someone could be shown surveillance video of themselves robbing a pawn shop, for example, but they’d swear they’d never even stepped foot in that store, much less robbed it.
The only thing connecting all these crimes was a business card each suspect carried. They never remembered where they got it, of course, but invariably, whenever one of them went through their pockets, there it was. The cards were all identical; a deep violet piece of cardstock, with a white spiral pattern on one side and the words “Hypnotica sends her regards” on the other.
But Caleb knew there was another connection. Every city that had reports of Hypnotica also had appearances by The Amazing Amethyst at the exact same time.
His teammates all thought it was a stretch. “Correlation doesn’t mean causation,” they told him. But he’d had enough of being ignored by everyone else. They were all supposed to be equals, but they were always the ones who hogged the spotlight. Singularity was a superhero team with six members, but from how the media covered them, you’d think there were only five. And really, between Maria’s legion of horny fanboys and Kyle playing himself off as the a good-hearted, all-American goody-two-shoes, it usually felt like there were only two. God, Kyle’s such a jerk. He acts like a nice guy in front of the cameras, but back at HQ he just has a massive ego. Always shoots down everyone else’s ideas.
Caleb always felt like his talents were being overlooked. But after tonight, that would all change. He’d sneak out of the theater during the show, get into Amethyst’s dressing room, find evidence that connected her to Hypnotica, and apprehend her all on his own. Then no one would ever ignore him again.
The lights in the theater dimmed, pulling Caleb out of his musings. Alright, Hypnotica. Let’s see what makes you tick.
The curtain rose as the lights faded to black. A bright purple light illuminated the empty stage as a thick mist rolled over it and into the auditorium. Music started to play, sounding like a crackly old record. Slowly, the fog began to swirl around, eventually forming a small cylinder in the center of the stage as the music swelled.
Then there was a flash, and the purple lights turned off. A single spotlight appeared behind the pillar of mist, revealing a figure in the center. As the music reached its crescendo, the figure reached out with both their hands, and the mist blew outwards into the audience.
When it cleared, another spotlight joined the one behind the stage, revealing a tall woman in a black leotard, with sheer sleeves and fishnet tights. Her long black hair spilled outwards from her matching witch hat; the only splash of color in her ensemble was her bright purple lipstick. She placed one hand on her hip and smiled dazzlingly.
The crowd erupted in applause. Even Caleb found himself clapping along. Gotta admit, that’s a pretty cool entrance.
“Welcome!” the woman said, her voice booming out of the theater’s speaker system. “I am The Amazing Amethyst! Tonight, I shall be performing for you a selection—a mere sample—of my arcane abilities. You may consider these mere parlor tricks, but I can assure you, they are nothing like the simple slight of hand you may encounter by other so-called magicians. I am a true practitioner of the dark arts, and I will prove this to you tonight!”
Caleb sighed and tapped his foot. So far, The Amazing Amethyst had proven to be anything but amazing. Caleb was far from an expert on stage magic, but her work definitely seemed to be pretty close to the “mere parlor tricks” and “simple slight of hand” that she claimed to be against, like card tricks and making objects disappear. Sure, they were maybe a little more impressive than what you’d find from a street magician, but it wasn’t mindblowing by any means.
“Now,” she exclaimed, “I would like to switch gears for a moment and demonstrate how one of the common magician’s tricks works.” She clapped her hands twice, and a stagehand brought out a top hat and a small table. “Yes, it’s time for that old chestnut, the ‘pull a rabbit out of a hat’ trick!”
Really? I mean, I guess this is kinda interesting, but there’s gotta be something more here.
“First, I’d like you to all examine this hat.” Amethyst picked up the top hat and held it up. “As you can see, there is nothing in it at this time. It appears to be a normal, ordinary top hat.” She placed it back on the table with the brim pointed towards the ceiling. “Now I need to say some magic word like ‘alakazam,’ or ‘raeppa tibbar,’ or maybe just ‘get in the hat, you stupid rabbit.’”
A few polite chuckles could be heard from the audience. Amethyst waved her hands lackadaisically around the top hat, and after a moment, reached in and pulled out a white rabbit. “Now the secret to this trick is twofold. First, there’s this table here.” She spun it around, revealing a hidden door on the back of the table. “The rabbit goes in here, and there’s another hidden door on the top of the table. Next, there’s the hat itself.” She holds it up and sticks her hand straight through the top of it. “As you can plainly see, the hat is far from ordinary. The top can be reached through, allowing me to pull the rabbit up and out of the table.” She tossed the hat into the audience, where it was caught by an excited teenage girl. “Of course, I have no need for such trickery. If I wanted to make a rabbit appear out of thin air, I would simply conjure one with my magic arts!”
Caleb checked his watch. Alright, it’s been half an hour. Time to take my leave and head backstage.
“In fact,” Amethyst continued, “why don’t I do that right now?”
She snapped her fingers, and Caleb felt something move against his leg. What the hell?
He looked down and saw a dark shape on the floor. “Gah!” he yelped as he pulled his legs up and onto the seat.
Amethyst chuckled. “I believe we’ve found our rabbit!” She pointed straight at Caleb, and a spotlight turned and aimed at him. The crowd erupted in laughter when they saw his frightened reaction. He looked down and saw that the shape was in fact another white rabbit, looking up at him with dark eyes.
“God dammit…” He sighed, admonishing himself for getting startled so easily.
“Will our guest please return my rabbit to me?” Amethyst smiled and held out her hand, gesturing for Caleb to come on stage. He shook his head “no,” but the audience cheered loudly, pressuring him into going up. Finally, he relented, and picked up the rabbit as he approached the stage.
When he got there, he handed Amethyst the rabbit and turned to leave, but Amethyst reached out and grabbed his arm. “Just a moment!” she said. “You just got here, why are you so eager to leave?”
“I’m sorry, but I really just want to get back to my seat.”
“Well, the least you can do is tell all these lovely people your name!” She held up a microphone and smiled.
Caleb sighed. He grabbed the mic and said “Caleb,” before handing it back to her.
Amethyst chuckled. “Man of few words, I see. Tell me, Caleb, how would you like to be a participant in my next demonstration?”
“I really don’t…” Caleb trailed off as he heard the crowd cheer wildly. He felt blood rushing to his cheeks. I really shouldn’t do this. God only knows what she’ll make me do. But… He listened to the crowd roar and smiled despite himself. They seem really into it. I don’t think anyone’s ever actually cheered me on like this before. Is this how everyone else on the team feels?
“Come now, Caleb.” Amethyst held out her hand expectantly.
Caleb shrugged and smiled. “Ah, what the hell, why not?”
“Wonderful!” Amethyst clapped twice and a stagehand brought out a chair. She motioned for Caleb to take a seat.
When he sat down, Amethyst moved to stand in front of him. “Now, Caleb, are you familiar with the concept of hypnosis?”
Caleb shrugged. “Only what I know from TV or whatever.”
“Well, the concept is simple. It’s a state of intense focus, where the subject made open to suggestions. Some dismiss it as a pseudoscience, but personally, I find it wholly unnecessary. For you see, with my magic, I can subdue the will of any man or woman I desire.” She snapped her fingers, and suddenly, a shiny silver pocketwatch swung down from her hand. “This may appear to be an ordinary pocketwatch, but in reality, it is enchanted. It traps the will of whoever gazes upon it and allows whoever wields it to control them. In other words, Caleb, you will become utterly powerless to resist my commands.”
Caleb gulped. That doesn’t sound good. “I, uh—”
“I understand that you’re nervous,” Amethyst said, her voice becoming low and seductive. “It sounds very scary, doesn’t it? But don’t worry. It’s already too late to stop it.” She began to swing the pocketwatch in a slow, wide arc. “Even now, you find your eyes lock on to the enchanted watch. Even if you attempt to pry your eyes away, your gaze will eventually return to the polished metal.”
He tried to look somewhere, anywhere else. But the rest of the stage was barren, the stage lights stung his eyes when he tried to look at them, and the auditorium was shrouded in darkness. He glanced at Amethyst’s face, and found his eyes drawn to hers. There was something magnetic about her gaze; this close to her, he could now see that her eyes were a deep, unnatural violet. They have to be contacts, he told himself. There’s no way this woman actually has powers… is there?
Amethyst raised the watch higher. When it began to pass in front of her eyes, Caleb’s eyes became focused on it. He followed its arc as it swung back and forth, the surface shining brilliantly and reflecting the bright stage lights. “You’re so nervous,” Amethyst whispered, cupping the mic so she wouldn’t get picked up by it. “Is it the crowd? All those eyes on you?”
Caleb nodded. “Not really used to it…”
“That’s okay. Just focus on me, Caleb. There’s no one else right now but you and me. Let the rest of the audience fade away. You can feel safe and comfortable with me.”
“Okay… safe and comfortable…” Caleb took a deep breath and relaxed his body a bit.
Amethyst smiled deviously. “That’s right,” Amethyst purred, speaking into the microphone again. “The watch has trapped your gaze. And now, as you continue to stare, you find your will drawn to it. The watch is trapping your will just as it trapped your gaze. You feel it, Caleb.”
It didn’t sound like a question, but Caleb found himself saying “Yes…” in response. He did feel it. He felt his mind becoming clouded, his body heavy and limp. He took slow, deep breaths as his eyes fluttered, straining to stay open. He slumped in the chair and stared slack-jawed at the watch.
“Very good,” Amethyst cooed. “I can feel the watch’s power growing. Your will is nearly gone now. It feels so good, doesn’t it, Caleb?”
“Mmm… yeah…” Caleb smiled at her. It was just like she said it would feel; he felt like he was being wrapped up in a warm blanket, safe and secure and peaceful.
“I want you to repeat after me, Caleb,” Amethyst continued. “The watch controls my will.”
“The watch… controls my will…” Speaking felt so hard for Caleb. His mouth felt like it was full of cotton.
“Amethyst controls the watch.” Her eyes glared down at him, looming with an almost voracious hunger.
“Amethyst controls… the watch…” He could barely keep his eyes open anymore. It took all his strength to keep from closing them. He had to keep them open. Had to stare at the watch.
“Amethyst controls my will.”
In that moment, Caleb had a flash of lucidity. This is how she does it! This is how Hypnotica makes all those people do all those terrible things! I’ve got her!
But then he said, “Amethyst… controls… my will…”
And his thoughts went silent.
Caleb opened his eyes. He frowned. Why did I just think I was Caleb? As if I, Kyle, could ever be that dork!
He looked up and saw a woman standing over him. Who’s this chick? Seems kinda familiar for some reason. But I think I’d remember if I saw a hottie like her before. “Hey there, beautiful.”
The woman blushed and chuckled nervously. Kyle heard other voices laughing too. He looked behind her and saw he was on a stage somewhere. When did I get up here? Oh, who the hell cares? There’s an adoring public to milk sympathy from! He stood up from the chair and walked forward, pushing past the hot chick and grinning. “And how is everyone tonight down in… wherever we are?”
The crowd—his crowd—cheered uproariously. He laughed and waved at them, cranking up the charm like he knew best. He flexed his muscles and posed for pictures he was sure the audience was taking. He felt a hand touch his shoulder and snapped around, fully prepared to deck someone with one of his Atomic Knuckles. But it was just the hot witch-looking lady from a moment ago. She looked a little confused for some reason. Guess she’s never come face-to-face with a real superhero before!
“Excuse me,” she said, “but who exactly are you?”
Kyle scoffed. “What, you don’t recognize me? I’m Sentinel!”
The audience chuckled. The woman tapped her chin and looked at him thoughtfully. “Oh, right. I’m not a local, you see, but I have heard of you. You’re the leader of the Singularity group, yes?”
“Hell yeah! Really, though, I like to fly solo if I can. After all, I always know best!”
“I… see.” She looked even more confused now than before. “And tell me, Sentinel, how’s the superhero business these days?”
“Business is great! We snagged Gargoyle earlier this afternoon, that should keep him behind bars for like… hopefully more than a week!”
“Really? I didn’t hear anything about that.”
“Check the papers tomorrow morning,” Kyle winked.
“And, uh, how do you feel about your teammates?” the woman asked, sounding unsure whether she actually wanted to know the answer.
“Well,” Kyle said, “they’re alright I guess. Lynx is nice to look at, Dragonfly keeps going on and on about her stupid nerd shit, Shaman won’t give me the time of day, and Panther just keeps to themselves. But then there’s Ghost.”
“Well,” the woman sighed, “I think we can skip over—”
“And Ghost suuuuuucks! Always complaining at me, telling me I always ignore his ideas! Who does he think he is, anyway? He’s just some loser. He thinks just because he can sneak around that makes him useful? News flash, dork! No one cares if—”
Caleb blinked. He turned around and saw Amethyst smiling at him, a hint of exasperation in her eyes. “Well, Caleb,” she said, “it seems you have a very… imaginative interpretation of the inner workings of Singularity.”
Oh, fuck. He remembered everything—how he thought he was Kyle, how he let loose all sorts of personal details about how everyone got along. He had to find a way to explain all this, fast. “W-Well… a lot of that’s just my own feelings.”
“Oh? How so?”
“Like, uh… well… let’s be honest, there’s no way Sentinel is really that nice, is there?”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I… guess he just seem like kind of a jerk?”
One could cut the tension in the air with a knife. Amethyst stared at Caleb with a mixture of confusion and curiosity. Caleb tried to act as casually as possible, but he couldn’t hide how desperately he wanted to escape from the situation. The audience was silent, utterly mystified by the display.
Finally, Amethyst decided to speak. In an instant, she switched back to that confident, flashy persona she showed throughout the show. “Well, everyone, give our volunteer a round of applause!”
Slowly, the audience began to clap and cheer. Caleb didn’t feel like they were cheering for him necessarily; it was more like he was at an awards show and the orchestra started playing over his speech to get him to wrap it up. With a heavy sigh, he started towards the stairs at the side of the stage.
Suddenly he felt a hand on his wrist. He heard Amethyst whisper something to him, felt her hot breath on his ear, but he couldn’t make out what she was saying over the roar of the crowd. He looked back at her, but she was already walking away towards the center of the stage, introducing her next act.
Caleb walked off the stage and headed back towards his seat. Guess it’s about time to head backstage and… He paused. Wait, why would I go backstage now? That wasn’t my plan, was it? He sat down in his seat and shook his head to clear his thoughts. No, I wanted to go backstage after the show, not during it. He smiled. Why would I ever think I wanted to leave during the show?
“…and with that, we are finished!”
Amethyst stood in the center of the stage, basking in the warm glow of the spotlight. As she spoke, a thick mist began to cover the floor around her. “I have proven for you my magical abilities! Now, we must sadly part for the evening. If you wish to inquire about the secrets of the arcane arts, I will be making an appearance in the theater lobby soon. But for now, thank you all, and have a lovely night!”
She pointed towards the ceiling, and the mist swirled and spun into a cylinder. As the spotlight on Amethyst faded, bright purple lights began to illuminate the stage. Then the cylinder blew apart, revealing an empty space where Amethyst once stood.
The theater erupted in applause. Caleb found himself joining along. Gotta admit, that was actually a pretty fun show. But now it’s time for business.
While the applause started to die down, Caleb was already heading for the back door. Going up on stage would be a more direct route, but then he’d have to use his power on an entire auditorium of people at once. He’d much rather only have to deal with a few guards and crew members.
He made it out to the lobby, and followed the route he planned out ahead of time. He slipped into an “employees-only” door and sent out the signal. As he walked down the plain, industrial corridors, he went unnoticed by the crew members and security guards rushing past him. Caleb smiled to himself. All too easy.
Finally, he made it to Amethyst’s dressing room. He reached out to the handle and turned it. Now, time to-
When he opened the door, he paused.
“Why, hello, Caleb.” Amethyst grinned at him, lounging in a plush velvet chair.
What is she still doing here? Wasn’t she gonna go to the lobby? “I, uh… I’m trying to find the… bathroom.”
Amethyst stood up and walked up to Caleb, slamming the door behind him. “You’re a very bad liar. Honestly, I don’t know how you manage to keep your secret identity hidden.”
“My… my what?” ABORT. ABORT. SHE KNOWS. GET OUT OF THERE.
“I’m not an idiot, Caleb.” Amethyst pinned him against the door, her body uncomfortable close to his, her voice a low, seductive purr. “No one could come up with that many details about Singularity unless they were a part of it. You’re clearly not Sentinel, and you don’t really look like Shaman either. And given how you were able to make it all the way back here without getting caught by security, that means you must be Ghost. I’m correct, aren’t I?”
“I-I… don’t know what you’re talking about…” Caleb’s heart pounded out of his chest.
Amethyst chuckled. “Alright, Caleb. You still want to hold onto this illusion. That’s fine. That just means I get to shatter it.”
Suddenly she grabbed Caleb’s shoulders and spun him around. Caleb stumbled backwards and landed in the chair. When he looked up, Amethyst was approaching him slowly, holding-
His eyes widened. “Oh, no…”
Amethyst smiled warmly. The pocketwatch swung lazily from her fingers. “Tell me, Caleb. What does this watch do?”
Caleb’s eyes were already glued to the watch. He felt the words forcing their way out of his mouth. He tried to hold them back, but the compulsion to speak was too strong. “The… watch… controls my will…”
“And who controls the watch?”
He felt trapped in his own body. Every attempt to get up, or look away, or stay silent, was met with a total lack of response. His body wasn’t listening to him anymore. It was listening to her. “Amethyst… controls the watch…”
“And what does that mean, Caleb?”
Don’t say it…
Amethyst glared down at him. His body was tense, clearly struggling against her suggestion. “I commend your spirit, Caleb. But you lost the moment you stepped foot on stage. Why are you still fighting? You know how good it feels to submit.”
“N-No…” Caleb felt his mind descending into the fog again. That feeling of comfort, of warmth, was enveloping his entire body. He knew he had to resist, but it was so hard to fight against something that felt so good.
“Caleb. It’s okay. You can admit it now. Amethyst controls your will.”
And then he was gone. Caleb let himself give in to that wonderful, blissful sensation. His body relaxed, his eyelids drooped. “Amethyst controls my will…” he murmured, his jaw hanging slack.
“Good boy. Now, you know I’m definitely not that scary criminal Hypnotica, don’t you? What a preposterous idea!”
“Prepostrusss…” Caleb’s words slurred as his blank, empty mind absorbed Amethyst’s words. A thin line of drool started to drip from the corner of his mouth.
Amethyst smiled. “Has anyone ever told you how cute you are, Caleb?”
“Really?” She moved behind the chair, still swinging the watch in front of Caleb’s eyes, and gently stroked his hair. “Because I think you’re adorable. Especially when you’re so blank and open for me. Do you like feeling like this?”
“Mmm…” A sleepy, dreamy smile formed on Caleb’s face. “Yyeaahhh…”
“And… what do you think about me?”
Caleb was silent for a moment. It took some time for the gears in his head to start turning again. When they did, he whispered, “I dunnooo…”
Amethyst chuckled. “Well, let me tell you how you feel, then. You think I’m very pretty, Caleb. Maybe one of the prettiest women you’ve ever seen. And you know I can make you feel so very good, so blank and obedient and wonderful. And you want me to make you feel this good again, and again, and again. Don’t you?”
“Yyesssss…” Caleb gasped, his mind lighting up and searing Amethyst’s suggestions into itself.
There was a knock on the door. “Ma’am?” a voice called out. “They’re waiting for you in the lobby.”
“In a minute.” Amethyst kissed Caleb’s cheek and put the pocketwatch away, moving to face him again. “Now, my good, obedient boy, I’m going to snap my fingers. When I do, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and happy, remembering only that we had a nice, fruitful conversation that cleared up all your confusion about Hypnotica.”
Caleb opened his eyes. He looked up at Amethyst and blushed. Gosh, she’s so pretty… “U-Um… this was a really… really good chat.”
Amethyst smiled. “Yes, it was for me as well. But I’m afraid I have to be going now. Take care, Caleb.”
She turned for the door, but Caleb bolted out of the chair and grabbed her wrist. “Wait! I… I want to see you again.”
“Oh?” Amethyst tried to look shocked and not bemused. “You really do?”
“Yes! I-I mean, if that’s okay with you, of course.” His cheeks were bright red, and the nervousness in his voice was impossible to ignore.
“Well,” Amethyst said, “I am in town for a few more days… perhaps we could have lunch some time?”
Caleb’s face lit up. “Lunch sounds great!”
“Here, let me give you my card.” She snapped her fingers, and a purple slip of cardstock appeared in her hand. “I’ll let my publicist know to expect your call. Are you free tomorrow?”
“For you? Absolutely.” He took the business card, a wide, goofy grin on his face. “Thank you, Amethyst.”
Amethyst suddenly leaned in and kissed Caleb on the cheek. “You’re welcome,” she whispered.
And then she was gone, leaving Caleb standing in the dressing room in a daze.
He looked down at the card and flipped it around in his hand. The back of the card had a white spiral pattern. Hey, that’s just like…
Caleb shook his head. Nah, it’s just a coincidence. Amethyst couldn’t be Hypnotica. Who would ever think something so preposterous?