If Kat’s superpower was hypnosis, Marisa’s superpower was discovery. No diamond in the rough could escape her, and no price could not be properly negotiated. The piece de resistance, the “Superman flies around the world so fast that he travels back in time” of her superpower, was their condo. Cavernous living room, fully loaded kitchen with a comically large island, and a bedroom with enough closet space for two couples to live there. And all of it for a price so low that, whenever they had people over, Marisa insisted that they claim the monthly payment was a thousand dollars higher than it actually was. “You have to lie to them,” Marisa would say. “This is Manhattan. If they find out what we are actually paying, they will murder us.”
The only drawback was that the bedroom windows faced east.
Punishingly bright light pounded on Kat’s eyelids. She heard sounds from the bathroom, of Marisa making her final preparations for work. “Babe? You awake?”
Kat turned face-down onto the pillow. “Yurmurghgh,” she said.
“Honestly? Every night you should just trance me at 9 and send me to bed,” Marisa said. “I feel like a million bucks. You are a master.”
“Thukyug,” Kat said into the pillow.
A shadow fell over Kat’s face. Marisa standing at the bedside. “You’re not sick, are you?”
Kat put considerable effort into speaking clearly. “No,” she said. “Just stayed up too late thinking about what we’ve gotta do. Then I forgot to close the blinds.”
“Awwww,” Marisa said. She went to the window and pulled on the tiny chain, drenching the room in shade. Then she returned to bedside. “Time to get up, kid. We’re endangered by a weird-ass mind control scheme, and also I need you to pick up some detergent.”
“Yeah,” Kat said. As she picked herself up into a sitting position, she said, “What’s your plan today?”
“Reach out to some audio producers. Also, I was thinking about calling the psych departments at Gotham University or Columbia with some vague questions about subliminal messages.”
“No,” Kat said. “Don’t call anybody about that. The guy who made the demo could be, like, a brilliant psychologist.”
“The sort of guy who joins the psych departments at GU or Columbia, you mean?”
“Yeah.” Kat stood and stretched her arms.
“Why do you think it’s a guy?”
“Because he sent his file to a record label. If a woman made that thing, she’d send it to the White House.”
Marisa considered this for moment, then gave a brisk nod. “Yup, checks out. So just the producers, then. Are you sure you don’t need me to do more? I could—“
“No, no, no,” Kat said, hoping she didn’t sound too guilty. If all the shit I did last night works out, you’ll do more than enough. “Worst thing we can do is rush in and try to break the case all at once.”
“Oooooh, ‘break the case,’” Marisa said, grinning. Putting on an old-timey Noo Yawk accent, she said, “We’re gonna find dat guy an break iz case, see?”
“Yeah,” Kat said. Except mind control isn’t illegal, and testimony delivered under hypnosis isn’t admissible, so it’s probably going to be more like “break his face.” With my softball bat. “Totally.”
“All right, I’m off. What are you going to do?”
“Hit the gym, do some reading for my hypnosis certification, get the detergent and do some laundry…” Turn my girlfriend into bait… “I’ll have a lot more work to do after we see what the producers have to say.”
“Oh, the life of an unemployed TV critic.” Marisa kissed her on the forehead, and dropped the gently teasing tone. “You’re going to be a great hypnotist, babe,” she said quietly. “You’ll change people’s lives. You changed mine.”
That’s what I’m afraid of. “Thanks, babe.”
“Okay.” Marisa turned and exited the bedroom.
As her lover opened the front door, Kat said, “Marisa,” causing her to turn back around. “‘I do love nothing in the world so well as you.’”
Marisa smiled. Her music-school youth not having left her much time for the written classics, she asked, “Lord Byron?”
“Shakespeare. Much Ado.”
Marisa blew her a kiss and left. Kat completed the verse softly to herself: “‘Is that not strange?’”
The man looked at the phone on his table, trying to will himself to dial the number.
The phone was what they called a burner, purchased in one of the cheap-looking electronics stores that lined 14th Street. Tougher to trace, the tech dweeb behind the counter had said. The man had felt sure the dweeb had been scamming him, feeding him a line of bullshit in exchange a few more dollars. The dweeb wasn’t taking him any more seriously than anyone else ever had.
Once he had proved The System worked, all that would change ... if he was strong enough to handle that kind of power. It was a bigger if than he could comprehend.
If Kat had been there to talk to the man, she might have been surprised to know that he was as scared as she had been the night before. He had considered all of the applications of The System that she had, and many more besides, because he’d had many more months to think about it. Before leaving his apartment to send the thumb drive, he had looked at himself in the mirror and said, this is the most important thing that any human being has ever done.
He hadn’t been able to sleep between that moment and the arrival of the email. Even now, knowing that step one of The System had worked, he could not quite bring himself to dial the phone number that the email had contained.
Up to this point, you haven’t done anything, he told himself. All you’ve done is send a total stranger a weird piece of music that they won’t even remember listening to. If you dial, you’re risking everything. There will be no going back.
Once you put it that way, the decision was easy.
“What do I have that is worth going back to?” he asked himself, and dialed.
Marisa dropped into her chair at quarter past 11, having already endured three meetings over the last two hours, back-to-back-to-back.
Print-outs of three CVs were on her desk, though CV was hardly the word she would have used: audio producers didn’t sell themselves in the same way that tech executives did. Only one of them had completed any education after high school, but they were all at the top of their fields once a mixing board was in front of them.
Marisa picked up her phone to call the first candidate, when it vibrated in her hand. UNKNOWN NUMBER, the notification said. She would have liked to ignore the call, but it was her work phone. Ghost the wrong VIP, and it could get back to Brad. She popped her wireless earbuds into her ears and tapped to answer.
Music flooded her ears. Bass, theremin, and three variations on a Hammond organ.
Marisa’s eyes drifted closed. Then, after three seconds, they opened to half mast. Marisa’s thumbs, with slow exaggerated movements, began tapping and swiping on the phone’s touchscreen.
Kat hadn’t been joking about going to the gym. Although she was unemployed, and should have canceled the membership months ago, Marisa insisted on paying for it. Lethargy and unemployment are correlated, she’d said. Push yourself with exercise, and finding work will be easy by comparison. Today she was thankful that the membership was still there; being stalked by a psychopathic hypnotist was a fine motivator to keep in shape.
At a quarter past eleven, Kat was walking back from the gym, basking in the endorphin high and generally feeling, as she liked to joke with Marisa, “Uncorrelated AF.” She received a submarine ping in her earbuds, indicating an incoming text message. She took out her phone to see:
“Shit, here we go,” Kat said. Her first impulse was to sprint for their apartment, but if anything had gone wrong with her programming of Marisa, even a minute’s worth of time with her eyes pointed away from the screen could be a disaster. Instead, she hopped sideways, out of the flow of the sidewalk foot traffic, and leaned against the window of an Indian restaurant that would not open until the late afternoon. Her eyes never left her phone’s screen.
From the moment that the demo file had nearly subdued her, Kat had been preoccupied by one concern: whatever the file did, it was very likely stronger than any post-hypnotic suggestions that Kat could give. If she simply told Marisa, the next time you hear the music, it will have no effect on you, she feared that her lover would do significant damage to her mind by fighting the file, only to have it put her under anyway.
Kat knew that the person who made the file would try to contact Marisa. Since there was no contact information along with the demo file, it seemed only reasonable that, somewhere deep in the file after the subject was entranced, there would be instructions for contact. Kat put herself in the evil-hypnotist shoes she had worn during many play sessions with Marisa: she would have asked her subject to email her name and phone number to a burner email account, so that she could call back the next day and the demo could be played for Marisa again.
And so Kat had made her plan: She had turned Marisa into a listening device. The next time you hear the music, you will text me the word “music.” Before you speak in that trance, you will text the words to me.
relaxed and receptive
Kat tried to put herself in the shoes of the hypnotist, imagining the questions that he would ask to bring these answers. Can you hear my voice, Marisa? / yes / How do feel, Marisa? / relaxed and receptive. Was he probing for good results? Did he not believe in the music, powerful though it was?
“First time,” Kat murmured to herself. “First time he’s ever done it.”
Marisa’s body sagged into the chair. The music no longer filled her brain; instead, it drifted gently in the background, at a lower volume, making it so easy for her to focus on the Voice.
“The music is so powerful, Marisa.”
Her thumbs moved slowly, as though underwater, before she said, “Yes.”
“The music grows more and more powerful every time you hear it.”
Tap, tap, tap on the touchscreen. “Yes.”
“Every time you hear the music, you relax faster and deeper than the time before.”
Kat looked at her phone with dismay.
“Shit,” Kat muttered. “He’s conditioning her.” It was something she herself had often done during hypnoplay scenes with Marisa: get her mind accustomed to agreeability early on, so that when Kat introduced more risqué concepts later, she felt a compulsion to say yes to them. The difference, of course, was that Marisa had already agreed to be conditioned when it was part of the play; after this call was over, Marisa wouldn’t even remember the conditioning she was currently being given.
And worst of all, Kat had no choice but to sit here and watch.
At some point, she would have to undo the listening-device suggestions. She would have to reveal to Marisa that she had allowed the demo-maker’s plan to succeed, using her lover as bait. Kat would say, Baby, I swear I was doing it to save you, to protect both of us. And she fully expected that Marisa could break up with her anyway, unable to live with such a violation.
Kat’s stomach did a slow, uneasy roll.
The man scribbled furiously on a legal pad, recording everything that he could pick up from the phone conversation. The header at the top of the page read SUBJECT 1: MARISA IVAN.
The man was not worried that he was recording the details of a criminal act. He had done a significant amount of study on the issues that Kat had considered the night before. He knew that mind control was not, strictly speaking, illegal in New York State. He was well aware that memories recovered under hypnosis — which was the only way that Marisa would be able to recall the details of these conversations — were not highly regarded in court. He believed that he was obeying the letter of the law.
And, deep down, he believed he was obeying the spirit of the law as well. He had filled entire diaries with his thoughts on how hypnotic submission should be a woman’s natural state. It did not occur to him that a jury might find these diaries quite damning indeed.
“Is it relaxing to listen to my voice, Marisa?”
A pause, silence on the other end of the line. “Yes.”
“Is it relaxing to obey my voice, Marisa?”
Another pause. The man would have sworn it was exactly as long as the one before, as though timed. “Yes.”
The man was seized by a sudden rush of paranoia. TOO LONG, he scribbled on his pad. SUBJECT IS WAITING TOO LONG TO ANSWER. When he had tested The System on himself, using suggestions he had recorded before the trance and an alarm clock to wake himself up, he had responded much quicker.
The drawback of conditioning a person to the word yes is that it is very easy to fake. Telling the hypnotist exactly what he wants to hear becomes as easy as repeating the same word over and over again.
The pauses could be aphasia: her mind was so deeply relaxed that it was difficult for her to speak. Or she could be playing him, entrapping him somehow, feeding him a line of bullshit just as the tech dweeb had. He realized he had handicapped himself in diagnosing the problem by handling the conditioning over the phone.
If he wanted to make progress, he would have to see her in person.
The pause between texts stretched into what seemed like hours. Kat began to sweat, ugly-smelling stress perspiration mixing in with the sweat she had worked up in the gym. She felt it dripping down her back and under her armpits.
Maybe she’s resisting the suggestion to text me? Doubtful; if she was going to resist, she wouldn’t have sent the texts she had already sent.
Maybe she’s resisting him? That would be nice to think about, implying that the demo file wasn’t as strong as it seemed, but it was unlikely. Marisa was practically a somnambulist even before the demo file showed up.
Maybe he thinks something is wrong? Before this thought could fill her with too much dread, the phone vibrated in her hand.
So Marisa had been given a set of instructions, then asked to confirm that she understood them. But what instructions had he given? The pause had been so fucking long. Put rat poison into her friends’ food? Assassinate the mayor?
“Shut the fuck up,” Kat said, speaking to no one but the voice of panic in her head, yet saying the words loud enough to turn heads on the sidewalk. “You’re not helping.”
The phone vibrated again.
More instructions. Maybe the previous long pause was just him figuring out what he needed to do. Kat had to remind herself how sure she had felt that he was doing this for the first time. Maybe he’s a better hypnotist than you, but no one has ever tried this before. He’s fumbling in the dark just like you are.
That mental image — of the mystery hypnotist crawling around on the floor of a pitch-black room, on the other side of which she was crawling in the same way — calmed Kat’s nerves.
Kat held her breath. The final set of triggers that she had given Marisa last night were the most complicated. In her head she thought of them as DFR: Delete the text chain with Kat (because if she saw the texts in her history, she could give the whole affair away the next time she heard the music); Forget in exactly the way that she had been instructed (because if she remembered the details of the trance, she could give that fact away during the next trance as well); and Remember that she had been tranced, same as she had the first time the music had played (because Kat still needed Marisa to help out a little while she was awake, or they would never catch the guy).
It had been a complex set of suggestions, taking well over a half hour to implant. Kat had never tried something so complicated before; normally, when she did a scene with Marisa, she suggested only the barest basics and Marisa’s imagination did the lion’s share of the work. Complicated suggestions were the ones most likely to go wrong. Her wait to see if they had worked stretched into three minutes. Five.
omg I think I just got tranced again
Kat began walking again, back toward their apartment, dialing the number as she did.
“Hey,” Marisa said.
“What do you remember?” Kat said.
“Nothing,” Marisa said. “But I felt a little zoned out and my eyes were super heavy, just like after I heard the music yesterday.”’
Kat rolled her eyes skyward, relief mixing with unease at how gracefully she was manipulating her lover’s mind. “How long?”
“Uh...” Kat could imagine her glancing at her phone, or waking her computer up to check. “Ten or fifteen minutes, I think? Definitely not as long as yesterday, or I’d have people yelling at me about the meetings I would’ve missed.”
“Do you feel any different? Do you...” How do I even ask this? “...feel compelled in any way?”
“Compelled?” Kat did not care for the way that Marisa asked the question, as though she had never been compelled before. It had come up in their hypnoplay, more than a few times. “I don’t think so. I mean, would I even remember that?”
“I don’t know, babe,” Kat said, letting herself into the front door of their building. “I’m just trying to imagine everything he could’ve done.”
“I don’t want to imagine,” Marisa said. “I just want to find this guy and send his ass to jail.”
He hasn’t done anything illegal yet, Kat thought. Probably his goal is to control you so deeply that any illegal shit which happens, you would take the fall for. But saying that aloud would only freak Marisa out. “I know, babe,” she said instead. “Get us some meetings with those audio producers. That’s the first step. And tell me if it happens again.”
“What if I told him all our plans?” Marisa said, sounding dismayed. “What if I gave away everything?”
“Don’t worry, babe,” Kat said, trying to project a steadiness that she did not feel. “That’s what I meant yesterday, when I said I’m protecting myself from you.”
“Okay,” Marisa said. “I gotta go. I need time to make these calls in between all my meetings. I’ll tell you what I come up with tonight.”
“Gotcha,” Kat said. “I love you, Ris.”
“Love,” Marisa said, as she liked to do on the phone. Then the connection was broken.
The man looked at his phone. The wave of paranoia had begun to subside, and now he wondered if he had made the right decision.
If ever the System were to work as intended, he would have to trust that subjects exposed to it remotely did, in fact, go into trance. If he distrusted everyone as he had distrusted Marisa Ivan during the call, what would even be the point of having a System?
Yet the System was science, same as anything else he had ever studied. It was the result of a hypothesis that he had tested and refined, but there could easily be more testing and refining required. To trust Marisa Ivan blindly might be biasing his results.
If he trusted her, the System might not work; if he did not trust her, the System might not work. It was quite the...
“Quandary,” he muttered, unaware that he had spoken aloud.
You’re going to see her in person, the voice of reason in his head said. How she responds physically when the music plays. That should be all you need to know.
Kat sat cross-legged on the couch. Her phone was sitting on the cushion next to her. She looked at the screen, and the text record of Marisa’s trance looked back.
He gave her instructions. He asked if she understood, and she said, “I understand.”
But what instructions did he give her?
Part of Kat’s imagination — the part which had been taken in by all of those hypnosis episodes in the TV re-runs that she had watched as a child — was ready to respond with all sorts of fanciful ideas. But the part of Kat’s mind which stored all of her hypnosis-certification training asserted itself.
The music takes you under fast, and deep. But trance is still trance. He can’t force her to disobey her moral code.
Maybe not. But Marisa was a somnabulist, more vulnerable than the average person to have her moral code manipulated while in trance. If he conditioned her to say yes long enough, and often enough, who knew what she would eventually agree to?
“Think,” Kat muttered aloud. “What does he want?”
He wants control over her. Turn her into a thief or an assassin or a sex doll or whatever.
Well, sure, obviously. He wants control like Kat’s softball team wanted runs. But a softball team has to get a few people on base first. What is first base for this guy? Kat weighed the question for some time.
Fractionation. Get her so confused about when she’s in trance and when she isn’t, that he doesn’t even need the music anymore.
No. That’s second base, probably. He would want it to happen some time soon, but it was still too early. What comes before fractionation?
A sleep trigger. Needs to drop her anytime, anywhere.
No; he already had that. After a few exposures, the music works almost as fast as simply saying the word “sleep.” So what comes between a sleep trigger and fractionation?
Kat turned the question over and over in her head, staring at Marisa’s last trance-text: I understand. He needs to be sure she understands the instructions. Why would he ask that?
You always ask that. Her confirmation reinforces the suggestion.
Why would he need to reinforce the suggestion? She sent him her phone number; he knows the music works.
Because he doesn’t have—
“Trust,” Kat muttered aloud.
That carried the ring of correctness. Anybody can just say “yes” into a phone twenty times. He needs more than that, if he’s going to fractionate her. He needs her trust, and he needs to trust her. You can’t build that trust over the phone.
“He needs to see her in person,” Kat said to herself, more confidently this time.
Maybe to kidnap her, or maybe just to see her face when the music made her eyes close. Whatever he needed, he needed it in person. The instructions had been instructions for a meeting.
“He sees her, and I see him,” Kat said to herself.
For dinner that night, Kat made Caesar salads and they cracked a bottle of white wine. Marisa had got home at a semi-reasonable hour, so that the living room was glowing with the April sunset while they ate. Not a single word was spoken.
Finally, at the moment when one of them would have offered to take the other’s plate for washing, Marisa said simply, “I’m scared, Kat.”
The thing Kat was supposed to say was, Don’t be scared, babe. Instead she said, “I know, Ris.”
“When you trance me, even when I go really deep, I always remember eventually. He’s getting in my head and making me forget.”
Kat felt a stab of guilt. He’s not the only one. “Audio producers,” she said.
“I’ve got an interview set up tomorrow,” Marisa said. “Studio’s near Times Square. Be there at 10, sharp; don’t sleep in.”
“We’ll take that demo file apart, find out what it did to you the first time you listened to it. We’ll find him and nail his ass to the wall with it.”
Marisa looked away. “What if I’m not there to help you?”
Kat reached out and took Marisa’s shoulder in a firm grip. “Don’t even think that,” she said, perhaps too sharply. “We have no reason to think this trance is any different than a normal one. It’s just the way he gets you under that’s unusual.”
“I never would have let a total stranger make me forget. What happens when he tells me to do other things?”
“He only has that power over you if you give it to him.”
“Like I gave it to you.”
“Yeah,” Kat said, taking their plates. “If he tried anything really bad, you would get that red feeling.”
“If you’re so sure of that,” Marisa said quietly, “Why didn’t you suggest yesterday that the music wouldn’t work on me?”
Kat turned her back to Marisa, ostensibly to put the plates in the sink, actually because she hoped that the roiling emotions she felt inside were not showing on her face.
Kat almost told everything right there. Babe, the best way to catch him is to use you against him. But even if Marisa was not offended by this revelation, it might be a thing she could reveal during the next trance, which would be a disaster.
Nobody does something like this out of love, Kat thought. This guy is cold-blooded. So if you want to catch him, your blood has to be cold. If you let love get in the way, he wins.
“Ris,” she said as she turned back around, “I don’t even know what that music is. Subliminal messages, probably, but something else a lot stronger than that. Until I know how it did what it did, I can’t protect us against it.”
That sounded good. The only real issue was that Kat didn’t know if it was true.
“Can you help me remember what happened today?” Marisa asked.
No, because if you tell the guy that I know what happened today, we’re screwed, Kat thought but did not say. “I can put you under,” she said instead. “We both know I can do that. But I can’t guarantee what we’ll get out of it.”
“Well, that’s what I want,” Marisa said. The finality in her voice left no room for debate.
Shit, Kat thought. “Write it down, then,” she said. “I’ll do the dishes.”
Marisa always complained about writing it down. The normies don’t write it down, she would say. They don’t put “missionary position” on a sticky note and slap it on their partner’s head.
Every time Kat had to remind her that hypnosis was a different thing, and potentially dangerous. Writing it down is like stretching before a workout, she would respond. Except something much worse than a pulled muscle can happen if we don’t trance safely.
That evening, Marisa did not complain, but neither did she write down as many details as they usually required. When Kat walked over to the couch after finishing with the dishes, on the legal pad Marisa had written simply and in large capital letters, MAKE ME REMEMBER.
“Babe, I told you—“ Kat started.
“—You can’t guarantee anything,” Marisa finished. “I get it. But you always say hypnosis is a team effort and we’re in this together. I think I want to remember bad enough for the both of us.”
Kat took the legal pad and tossed it onto the living room table. “Okay,” she said. She looked at the legal pad again, for a long minute, as the large capital letters accused her from a couple of yards away.
“Okay,” she said again. “Sit facing me.”
They sat on the couch, cross-legged, knees lightly touching. “Put your hands on my shoulders, like this,” Kat said, putting her palms on Marisa’s shoulders and straightening her arms out. Marisa did the same, their arms erect alongside each other, locking their postures together like a suspension bridge.
“Look into my eyes,” Kat said. Marisa was already looking into her eyes, of course, and she sighed softly upon hearing the powerful phrase. “Just look into my eyes and breathe deeply.”
Kat took a deep breath, and Marisa responded in kind. With her hands on Kat’s shoulders, Marisa could feel the rhythm of Kat’s breaths under her palms, and it was easy for her to fall into the same rhythm herself.
“Just breathe deeply and relax,” Kat said. Her voice was gentle and quiet. “Let each breath relax you more and more.”
Marisa blinked, then blinked again. Although Kat had never used this particular induction before, being tranced by Kat was old hat for her by now, and she barely needed any time at all to start to feel the effects.
Kat leaned forward slightly, pushing Marisa back a few inches. “Deeply focused on my eyes,” she said as she did so, and Marisa’s gaze never wavered as her body moved.
“Staying focused on my eyes,” Kat said. She pulled with her fingers, reversing the motion, causing Marisa to sway forward. Their eyes remained locked together.
“Eyes looking deeply into mine, even as they grow heavier and heavier,” Kat said. She swayed forward and backward, rocking Marisa as gently as a hammock in a light breeze.
Only fifteen seconds of rocking — maybe not even that — and Marisa’s eyelids were fluttering in that slow-motion way she had, sliding upwards and downwards as though blinking itself was too much effort. Her head lolled loosely on the edge of each sway, but always back to center to find Kat’s eyes again.
“Eyes so tired and heavy,” Kat said. “Letting that heavy, relaxed feeling pass down through the entire body.”
Marisa’s head lolled even more on the next sway backward. Her eyebrows twitched, but the eyelids no longer cooperated with them. Her arms remained erect, keeping the bridge formed even as Kat felt Marisa’s shoulder muscles turn to jelly under her palms.
“And sleep,” Kat whispered as she pushed and let go. Marisa went limp, flopping back onto the couch pillows.
Kat rose from the couch, saying, “Deep sleep, deeper and deeper,” as she went. She counted Marisa down from twenty, uncrossing her legs and making her body as comfortable as possible, until Marisa was lying flat on her back on the couch, looking for all the world like she had just laid down for a nap.
“Marisa, I want you to think back to work this morning,” Kat said. “Around eleven AM. Do you remember?”
“Meetings,” Marisa said slowly. “Back. To back. To back.”
“That’s right, baby,” Kat said. “You’re doing so well. What happened after the last meeting?”
“Went to my desk,” Marisa murmured. “Got a call on my cell.”
Kat felt her heart speed up in her chest. “And what was the call about?”
“I ...” Marisa’s breath caught. “I don’t know.”
“It’s all right, babe,” Kat said. She checked her lover’s pulse at the wrist: still as steady as a metronome. “Just breathe deeply and relax, and the memory will come to you. Each deep, relaxing breath leading you closer and closer to the memory of the call.”
Marisa breathed, slow and deep. She was silent for long enough that Kat was just about to repeat her question. Then, she whispered, “Music.”
“Which music, Marisa?” Kat asked. Though she knew well what the answer would be, she did not want to ask any leading questions.
“Demo,” Marisa whispered. Kat had to lean in close to hear her.
“How does the music make you feel?”
“Sleep,” Marisa whispered.
Kat noted the difference between a response like sleepy and the response sleep. “What happens while you listen to the music, Marisa?”
“Does anyone talk to you while you listen to the music?” Kat frowned at the leading nature of the question, but her desperate hunger for information about the hypnotist drowned out her ethical concerns.
Kat frowned harder. She had a good set of teachers for her online hypnosis certification, but none of them had ever prepared her for this. “Remembering a previous trance while already in a trance” was not exactly an occurrence common enough to require teaching.
She paused to think for a full two minutes, periodically saying some hypnotic phrase like deeper and deeper or you’re doing so well, Marisa to keep her subject on the path. At last there was only one thing she could think to try: a shot in the dark, as it were. “Marisa, during the call, did you dream?”
“I...” Marisa sighed heavily.
Kat’s hypnotist-sense began to tingle. This, she could work with. “Asleep and dreaming, Marisa,” she said. “Deeper and deeper into the dream. Tell me about the dream, Marisa.”
“I...” Marisa’s breath sped up, though she still wasn’t breathing as hard as someone taking a brisk walk. Her hands and fingers twitched. At last she muttered, “Washington. Square.” Then she sighed heavily again, and her head lolled to the side, away from Kat’s voice.
Washington Square Park. That’s where he wants to meet her. And he absolutely can’t know that I know.
“Drifting away, deeper and deeper,” Kat said aloud. “Let your mind become a complete blank. When you try to remember the trance, your mind becomes a complete blank. The trance was like falling into a deep sleep. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Marisa said.
Kat had to count her up twice: once to get her out of the memory of the trance, and once to get her fully awake. Marisa stirred, blinking the heaviness out of her eyes.
“How are you feeling?”
Marisa half-rose from the couch, cocking her head, and Kat could tell that she was trying to remember. “Shit,” Marisa muttered, flopping back down onto her back.
“I’m sorry, babe,” Kat said, feeling the sting of the deception. Sorry that I did such a good job brainwashing you. “Whatever that music does, it’s really strong.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Marisa said, sounding miserable. “You got me under just fine. It’s my stupid brain that didn’t hold up its end.”
The sting hardened into a real stab of sorrow, deep in Kat’s belly. “Don’t talk like that, Ris,” she said, reaching forward to caress her lover’s cheek. Don’t punish yourself for things that I did. “You have a wonderful brain. I wish that I could go as deep as you do. It’s the guy’s fault, remember?”
“The guy’s fault, right,” Marisa said. She sat up to look Kat full in the face. “God, that induction was so fucking hot. I love when you do something new.”
Something new like turn you into bait. “I love when you go limp,” Kat said instead. “I love when you talk in that trance voice.”
Marisa reached out and palmed Kat’s breast. Kat was not wearing a bra, and through the shirt Marisa could feel Kat’s nipple settle into the valley at the heel of her hand, between the thumb-side muscles and the pinky-side muscles.
Kat lunged forward, kissing Marisa hard, changing the pressure on her breast from a gentle caress to a firm push. Marisa moved her hand up and down, letting Kat’s nipple trace the lifeline on her palm. Kat thought she was going to cry out with pleasure, until she had a flash of memory: the rocking motion of Marisa’s hand reminded her of the rocking motion she had used to induce trance.
The rocking motion she had used to turn her lover into bait.
Kat moaned, and tried her best to pass it off as a moan of pleasure, but her body knew that the spell was broken. She reached under Marisa’s dress, her fingers searching for the magical spot, so that Marisa would not try the same with her and then discover the dry, barren terrain within.
For the second night in a row, they were in bed far earlier than normal, with the trance and the lovemaking having thoroughly exhausted Marisa.
Kat laid in bed, her lover’s head tucked into the well of one armpit, and stared at the dark ceiling. She was adopting that evil-hypnotist persona that she had employed so many times in the past for play, going there now with the hope that she could save them both.
Washington Square Park. Big, public place. Crowded enough that he can blend in and disappear. Close enough to the Village that a woman walking around in trance will be the least weird thing in, like, a two-mile radius.
Would he be going for a kidnapping? Call her phone, play the music, and walk away with Marisa in broad daylight?
Maybe, Kat thought. Only question: how bold is he? Does he want to take a chance that big? Because he definitely wants to do it. I’m sure he wants it more than anything because...
Kat stared at the ceiling. “Say it, damn you,” she whispered.
...Because it’s what I would want. More than anything.
Kat lay awake for some time afterward.