The doe sat at a table, hands curled around a cup of tea. People in name tags were standing or sitting around the room, talking, but not with her, at least, not yet. The room was well-lit, not cavernous, but not claustrophobic, with some local art gracing the walls, a woven rug depicting an erotic figure. The pale, forest-green and yellow-green fur of her arms harmonized with the light wood tabletop – Pine, probably, and newly built, given how she could smell the resin.
Her limbs already felt heavy, for reasons unrelated to the gathering, and she’d had barely enough time to hop in the shower and have a quick dinner before heading out here. Around her were conversations, some hushed, some not, and while she wasn’t actively eavesdropping, she could hear phrases fading in and out of her awareness. It was… meditative, for a certain value of meditative, to hear these various words randomly strewn about her sonic landscape.
“–once I’m deep–”
“–the countdowns, the three, two, one–”
“–blank and drifting–”
The event was a monthly play party called Spirals, a hypnosis-themed gathering for like-minded individuals to meet, talk, trance and be tranced. It was held at a venue known as Rainside Bonds & Trust, a building in the post-industrial Brickworks district that served as a play space and kink equipment cooperative. Once a month, the organizers of Spirals reserved a few of the rooms on the upper floor, but by ten, the doors closed to the public and the space was theirs for the night.
“Excuse me,” came a voice, and January came back to herself, glancing up.
A salamander, brick-orange scales and yellow eyes, stood at a respectful distance with an open expression. They wore a white short-sleeved blouse and violet, metallic pants that shimmered in the light, with open-toed black strappy heels. “Oh, hello,” she said to them.
“Hello. Did I snap you out of something?”
“…Yes, but that goes with the territory.” She glanced at the empty chair next to her.
The salamander followed her gaze. “May I?”
“Please,” she said, and the salamander sat.
The doe glanced to their chest, where they had their name tag – her name tag, she corrected, as she read it. Next to her name was a purple spiral, the event’s code for ‘hypnotist’. The one on January’s name tag had orange and green dots, for ‘subject’ and ‘open to approaches’.
“January,” the doe returned, and extended her hand, and Ember shook it delicately.
For the purposes of safety and security, people were allowed to go by whatever name was comfortable for them, and it was assumed that people’s personal lives were private unless otherwise specified. Not only did this provide a measure of comforting anonymity for the participants, and allow them to separate spheres of their life if they needed to, it also tended to focus conversations from extraneous small-talk. These were the names they went by in their mundane lives as well as their kinky ones, but nonetheless, the culture of the space gave them an excuse to brush aside some parts of theirselves and bring others to the centre.
“I noticed you had a green dot, so, I thought I’d make my presence known, and see if perhaps you were interested in playing tonight,” Ember said, clasping her hands on the table in a mirror of January’s own position.
January smiled. “I could be talked into it,” she said, ironically. “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?”
“Well, I’m a hypnotist, I’m sure you’ve noticed the spiral. I tend to specialize in states more than behaviours. I’ve been present in the scene for some time, and try to make each Spirals event when they occur. I think I’ve seen you here in previous events, as well. Are you a regular?”
“Mmhmm. I’ve been going for about a year. I think I saw you a while back – were you at the Christmas one?”
“Oh, yes, the one with the ‘presents’. That was wonderful.”
Ember turned a little in her seat to face January. “So what do you seek in hypnosis?”
She thought about this as she sipped her tea. “Relaxation, kind of a meditative experience, a mental reset… I sometimes like things to be intense, but, it’s nice to just drift and float for a while, too.”
Ember nodded. “Stress relief.”
“Stress relief, but also, my job is fairly physical. I’m sure you’ve had those times when your shoulders are tense and you can’t seem to let them go? It’s similar to that, only… everywhere.”
“Ah yes. I’ll do my best not to make you perform any stress positions.” Ember winked, and January smiled, charmed.
“I appreciate it.”
“Which room would you be inclined to use for playing?”
Three rooms were reserved for Spirals. The first room had refreshments and was intended mostly for socializing. That was the room they were currently in. A second room next door was for play that stayed strictly PG-13. And a third one next door to that was for sexual play.
“The sexual room,” January said, without missing a beat.
“You answered that surprisingly quickly considering you just met me.”
“I have friends here who know who I am. And I…” January looked down at her cup. “Well. I have something of a thing for semi-anonymous encounters, to begin with. And being ‘taken advantage of’ while under.”
“I see.” Ember’s smile made January’s stomach do a flip. “A lot of things I do tend to be sexual in nature as well, and, while I am entirely fine with doing things without sexual contact, especially in an event setting, well… I can’t say I don’t consider myself a fetishist.”
“You’re in good company.” January reached up and touched her day collar, a solid silver band around her neck with a celtic knot wrought in front, and a lock in back. “The experience of letting go and submitting to someone in trance is… yeah.”
“And the experience of someone putting their mind in your hands is… yes.” Ember grinned.
“Yeah.” January grinned back.
Ember gestured to January’s hardware. “Your collar is beautiful, by the way.”
“Oh, thank you. It’s very comforting to have on.”
“I’m sure your dominant is very lucky to have you.”
January looked confused for a moment. “My… no, this is aspirational.”
Ember looked bafflingly amused by this comment. “My mistake. At any rate, let’s talk about some specifics. What do you want me to do to you tonight?”
This exchange felt like it went over January’s head, but she allowed herself to be moved forward. “Mm…” January stretched her arms above her head. “Relaxation would be nice. Arousal. Pleasure.” She looked at Ember’s hands. “You can touch me if you want to.”
“I would be honoured to. Is there anywhere I should avoid?”
“Mm, maybe not inside me. But externally… yeah, externally you can touch me anywhere.”
“Through clothing, or under?”
“Under clothing is okay. I mean… you can /touch/ me. I am… well. Do you know the archetype of the drunk girl passed around the party and felt up, that kind of thing? I’d never pass up an opportunity to do that, as long as I could trust the people doing so to stay within my limits. …Even if those limits are pretty broad.”
Ember smiled. “Noted. How broad?”
“You could get into my pants if you wanted to. Again, so long as it’s external.”
“Of course. Now, you spoke of touching limits; Is there anything else, physical or non-physical you want me to avoid?”
“Those stress positions you mentioned earlier, maybe. You can have me do things to you, touch you, that sort of thing, but maybe the same as myself, nothing internal. Oh, and I don’t do well with water metaphors. It can bring up a fear of drowning.”
“Ah, no water metaphors, understandable. That’s perfectly fine. …May I kiss you?”
“Now, or while I’m under?”
Ember paused, then tilted her head. “Both.”
Ember slid her chair closer, and January turned. “May I touch you now?”
Ember reached around and gently took January by the back of the neck, cradling her head. She leaned in… and for a moment, paused an inch away, looking deeply into January’s eyes. Hers reactively dimmed, and Ember closed the distance, and they kissed, softly.
Their lips clicked as they parted, and Ember pulled away, slowly, keeping eye contact on January the whole way.
“…Ahem,” she said, a smile coming to her lips. “You, ah, you’ve got an excellent– um, I mean – I really like your gaze.”
Ember grinned. “Thank you. Can I leave my hand here?”
“I’d like that.”
“Okay.” Ember’s hand began rubbing the back of January’s neck in slow circles. “I can feel the tension from up here. What do you do to get so tense?”
“I cut down trees for a living,” January replied, letting her eyes drift shut.
“You’re a lumberjack?” Ember’s eyes twinkled.
January tried not to bristle too badly at that. “No,” she replied, flatly, and launched into the spiel. “Have you ever seen those trees where the branches have a big hole cut out of them for power lines to go through? That’s my job, to make those holes. Or to keep branches from getting in the way of signage. Or talking irate homeowners down from chopping down trees because they don’t like raking the leaves.”
“I complain, but it’s my passion. …May I ask you go a bit higher?”
“Mm, up here?” Ember’s hand crept upward.
January’s shoulders hunched as a tingle spread across her scalp and down her spine. “Nnn, yep, that, that did it.” Her shoulders now hung lower than they did before. “Wow… that feels amazing.”
“Good. Oh, that reminds me. Do you have any triggers?”
“You can use ‘drop’ if you don’t want to use a word like ‘sleep’. I have some others, too.”
“Oh, you do, do you. Very interesting.”
January opened her eyes and looked blankly at Ember for a moment, unsure why this was so interesting.
“Anyway, that is good to know, but I meant more, landmines. Things that might upset you if I stumble onto them.”
“…Oh. Right.” January’s eyes fluttered shut again, and she began to lean forward. “Uhm… just the water thing, I think.”
“Good, good. So, to recap. You want me to put you under and keep you there. You want me to do things to you that are relaxing. You’re okay with me touching you, and you’re okay with touching me, and you desire sexual play, but you don’t want anything to go inside either of us. And you don’t want me to use imagery that might trip up your fear of drowning.”
January didn’t realize how far she’d leaned over until her nose grazed the table, and she startled upright again. “That sounds about right.”
“I can work with all that.” Ember chuckled. “You look like you’re halfway under now.”
“Not quite, but things are starting to get a little fuzzy.”
“Well, I think we should get going then. …Hmm, idea.”
“If you’ll allow me, I’ll guide you with your eyes closed.”
“…I like that idea.”
“Excellent.” There was a scraping sound, as Ember got up from her chair. “Stand up.”
January did, and Ember slid the chairs toward the table. “Now, I’m sure you know the door’s on your left. The table’s in the way of a straight line, however, so you’ll have to turn.” Ember’s free hand rested on January’s waist. “I’ll tell you when. Just listen to the sound of my voice and let me guide you on your way. Turn… turn… there. You have a clear path. You can start walking whenever you’re ready.”
“Mmm.” January took a deep breath, and began making her way forward, one step, then another, tentatively.
“That’s it, you’re doing wonderfully. Nice and slow, there’s no hurry.” Ember’s hand slid up and ran its nails along a wider expanse of January’s scalp, and she shivered at another little tingle down her spine.
She enjoyed this game, of being held and guided through a not-quite-familiar environment by voice alone, encouraged by the soft rubbing at the back of her head. Her ears picked up the change in acoustics as she walked through the room, conversations passing her or changing orientation to her with each step–
“Coming up on a right turn, in three steps, two, one, turn.”
January slowed, and turned, and put her foot out, catching the corner of the table. She began to walk, again, slowly, unsure where she was or what was in front of her.
“You’re safe. There’s nothing in front of you.”
January tried to let go of a nagging anxiety about banging her shin on something and moved forward, left, right, left, right… some part of her brain intuitively understood the shape of the room by the sound of it, but the rest of her was completely unaware of where the walls were. It began to feel like she was walking through a featureless expanse, her sense of proximity fuzzing out to nothing.
“The door’s coming up on your left,” Ember said. “In three steps, two, one, turn.”
January turned, and reached out for the doorknob. “To the left,” Ember said, and January found it with the back of her hand, and it suddenly appeared in her mental awareness.
She grasped it and turned. And paused.
“…I can’t remember how it opens,” she said, with a wry smile.
“Pull, opening towards your right,” Ember instructed, and January did so, emerging out into the upper hallway. “And two, and one, and turn left.” Ember’s hand left January’s hip, and she heard the door close behind them. “There are some people on your right, but they’re not in your path.” January felt Ember’s lips on the back of January’s shoulder. “How are you doing?”
“This is… nice, so far.”
“Good. Are you feeling relaxed?”
“I’m feeling trusting.”
“That’s a good first step.”
January walked, and walked, and let herself fade a little, only worrying about the simple mechanical movement of walking. Left, right, left, right, and the room might have been ten steps away or two kilometres, and it wouldn’t have mattered in that moment.
“You’re drifting right a little, veer left,” came Ember’s voice, and January did so. “Good. You overcorrected slightly, but I’ll let you know if you’re about to hit a wall.”
“Okay.” She really had no idea where she was, now, or what was around her. It was like trance, of forgetting everything else in her environment but her own body and the voice in her ear, telling her everything she needed. She felt the urge to course-correct a second time, but let it go; if it was needed, Ember would tell her.
A part of her tickled, turning over the trust she felt in Ember to inspect it. It was comforting, familiar, traveling the same well-worn paths in her mind, and bringing up the same associations. She found she wanted to trust Ember, and her mind told her it was safe to, so she did.
“Okay, coming up to the wall… you should be able to reach out with your left hand and touch it. Let it guide you.”
January did, reaching out until her fingertips brushed the wall, and then drifting parallel, tapping the backs of her knuckles against the rough brick.
“Three, two, one…” January’s hand found the jamb and she stopped tapping. “And left.”
January turned, and reached. “To your right,” Ember said. “Lower. There. This door’s the same as the one to the other room, so, it’ll open away and to your left.”
“Okay.” January turned the knob, pushed, and the door opened, and she walked in.
She didn’t know what was in the room, but she could hear. Quiet whimpers of pleasure, high and female, from someone at the back of the room. A sound that could have been sucking or fingerfucking coming from her right. A general tension in the air, charged and sexual, palpable enough that it showed up in her perception like a fog, clinging to her fur and hazing her mind’s eye.
The door closed behind her, and Ember’s hand returned to her hip. “There, now, there’s a straight shot to where I’ll bring you, so just keep walking forward.”
Step, step, step… January felt herself flush at the sounds around her, her imagination beginning to populate with possible sources: The whimpering coming from someone being lovingly touched while an unheard voice whispered pleasure triggers into their ear, perhaps, and the squishing sound a blank, glassy-eyed sub mechanically sucking their dom’s cock. Unknown voyeurs, silent and thus unknowable to her, watching her walk unaware past them. She was curious, but she also felt like it was almost better to let her mind run free with the imagery, tailored as it was to her own kinks and preferences. Like a little show, composed by her brain just for–
She felt a lurch in her stomach as Ember suddenly pulled sharply backward, and her hands flailed out to try and find something to hang on to.
A dull, heavy thud vibrated in her torso as Ember’s front collided with January’s back, and she heard a snap in her ear, and the sharp command “Drop.” in the other, and her mind went blank.
Her arms dropped to their sides, and her knees turned to rubber; Ember’s grip was strong and sure, and she felt herself lowered, and landed on a soft surface on her back. Tension drained out of her, both the usual tension of keeping herself upright and the tension of the day, and as her position required less and less tension to hold, she could let go of more and more. Ember was talking, stroking her cheek, but she didn’t really hear the content of her words. It was just their general shape; encouraging her to go where she was naturally sinking, giving her permission, allowing her the space she needed to hypnotize herself. It was like being swaddled in blankets; like completing the last item on her to-do list; like a hand on the back of the neck, gently rubbing until her head hit the table.
She let out a tonal sigh. She thought about moving her limbs, and they refused to budge because it simply felt better to stay still. Her mind stilled again after a moment, submitting to her mental paralysis instead of fighting it. Her awareness of the room further diminished until it was just Ember’s hand, the soft surface on which she lay, and her own body, floating in the void.
Ember’s voice was low and musical, metered like poetry. Her enunciation was precise and her pacing slow and even, fed one by one into her mind like spoonfuls of a shimmering fluid. Her mind drank them down, and they intoxicated her. She was already deep enough that she didn’t realize this metaphor was the one Ember was using to talk her further down. Her limbs were heavy as stone, her breathing deep, but some small piece of her mind, the only part of her that was aware of anything, lit up bright in the centre of all this blankness, alive and alert, nourished and pleasured.
She felt something next to her, Ember, probably, settling in next to her, as the surface bounced and found a new equilibrium with the added weight. Arms scooped her up and turned her to press against Ember’s front, her legs haphazardly splayed wherever the act of turning happened to move them. Most of her weight rested on her arm, and the other draped behind her awkwardly, and she didn’t care, because her head rested on Ember’s upper arm, and her waist was hugged close, and her neck was kissed, and her body was filled with easy, comfortable pleasure. This close, Ember’s scent filled her nose, some kind of perfume, smoky and spicy. It smelled like a campfire, a familiar spot of warmth in the darkness of her surroundings.
Ember was saying something, between kisses… about snapping fingers, and about arousal… she let it seep into the groundwater of her mind, letting her subconscious work on the details. It was like a physical force, the pleasant sensation of Ember’s lips on her neck, deftly navigating around her thin day collar, tongue running along the underside of her jaw.
She heard the snap, felt the vibration of it as it traveled down Ember’s arm into her bicep, and a cascade of hot pleasure coursed through her. She was dimly aware of herself moaning against Ember’s shoulder, feeling warmth bloom in her cheeks, desire pool in her belly, and need grow between her legs.
Ember’s hand trailed down her back, then up her thigh, her tank top hiking up. Another snap in her ear, and she whimpered. Ember was softly speaking to her again, tying the arousal to the trance, making them feed into each other – as she sank deeper, her arousal grew stronger, and as her arousal grew stronger, her mind sank deeper. She let this spiral around in her mind, like a funnel, sucking her into the centre and dragging her down.
A hand on her chest, inside her clothing, under her bra, squeezing, rubbing. It fueled the maelstrom beginning to churn inside her, and she reacted naturally to it, her noises muffled against Ember’s shoulder, smoke and spice mingling with glowing pleasure.
Ember was praising her, now; docile, pliable, responsive, sensitive. It coloured the swirl of arousal and trance, gave it a softer feel. Ember wanted to put her under, it seemed, as much as she wanted to go under, and the connection forged in this shared purpose acted like an anchor, dragging her down and keeping her there.
She was repositioned, returned to lying on her back. She felt the blood flow back into her arm, warm and throbbing; it wasn’t long enough for her arm to fall asleep, just enough that she could feel when the circulation returned to normal. Ember sat up, and her brain couldn’t immediately identify what she was doing, so it stopped trying. She was still talking, and her words were… somehow disjointed, confusing and contradictory, crossing over and going around in circles and snap and down she sank, barely aware of anything now, soft and comfortable and blank and dark and open and vulnerable.
“You are mine,” Ember said in a dark, corrupting, seducing tone.
The phrase burned in her awareness among a longer string of words that bypassed her awareness and slid directly into her subconscious. To say that she submitted in response implies that she made a conscious decision; her mind did what it needed to do, what felt good to do, and gave itself over to the voice guiding her down and conducting her pleasure, fully and without hesitation.
Her pants were undone, and pulled down. She could detect a strange texture on Ember’s hands, but wasn’t processing sensory data well enough to get any further than that. Ember’s hand ran up her thigh, creeping up between her legs, and gently touched her labia, through her panties. She felt every contour of her own anatomy as Ember’s hands traced them, the soft outer labia with the long, folded inner labia extending over them. Ember said something about a butterfly, and she imagined her labia as a butterfly, wings spread, beating softly against her vulva. The pleasure was delicate, and sharp, and teasing, and she wanted more of it, need twisting in her stomach, transmuting from pleasure to trance and back again.
The butterfly stilled, then flew off, and Ember said something else… if she wanted it back, she needed to talk it into landing on her again. She called out for it: “Come here, little butterfly, come here please…” The butterfly landed on her knee. “Higher, please, little butterfly…” It landed on her stomach. “Lower, please, little butterfly…” It landed on the edge of her panties, softly beating its wings, little flutters of pleasure on her mons. “Almost there, little butterfly, just a little lower…”
The butterfly left again, and she didn’t know what she did wrong. “No, please, it’s okay, little butterfly, just come back, come back, I liked you on me, please…”
It came back, and wiggled itself under her panties, and nestled against her labia, slick with nectar – its own, carried from some flower, and then hers, as it dipped between her lips to gather some. It began to flutter, softly at first, then stronger. She groaned, and Ember’s words wrapped around her mind, and she thanked the butterfly for its attention and its pleasure. It responded by nestling against her clit, and its wings beat strongest here, making her keen, pleasure filling her relaxed body.
There was no resistance left in her muscles to stop the sensation from spreading all the way to her fingers and toes, tail and ears. She floated on currents of pleasure, of arousal, bright and shimmering and glorious, unsure when it began or when it would end, a moment stretching out as long as she was aware in both directions.
Once it filled her, it began to build up pressure. Her body remained relaxed despite how much it wanted to tense, held under by Ember’s soft words and the pinning weight of her trance. Ember was building her up, letting her pleasure concentrate inside her until she felt like she was trembling inside a hurricane formed in the beating of butterfly wings., and she had no choice but to be swept away in it.
Why would she even want to fight it? It was so much easier to let it consume her, light her up, electrify her, and she let it develop at its own pace, neither forcing nor resisting. Close now, and three, and her moans intensified, and two, and the spiral inside her churned faster, and one, and she teetered on the edge, primed, fragile, ready to break at a moment’s notice–
“Come,” and /snap/, and she broke, crying out as her orgasm released, muscles twitching, body convulsing, shaking. She burned, she shone, she exploded with pleasure, and what felt like a galaxy of sensation forced its way through the aperture of her mind before she was done. Her moans quieted as the butterfly’s beating wings slowed, and she stilled, and she drifted, deep and relaxed and comfortable in afterglow.
Ember was speaking again, something about returning her back to herself. Yes, anything, she was agreeable enough to accept whatever Ember said at the moment. She felt a lightness enter her body, and energy returning to her limbs, and awareness of the room and her own self and Ember as distinct entities, “and coming back in five, four, three, two, one–” Snap.
January opened her eyes, and saw Ember grinning down at her.
“–Oh my god,” she said, looking dazed, but very calm, and glanced down at herself; her pants had been tugged down to her knees, and her panties were still on, though a bit askew.
Ember waggled her hand at January, clad in a purple nitrile glove.
“That looked fun,” Ember said.
“Wow, yes, it was amazing,” January returned, letting her head fall back onto the – what was she lying on? She looked at it for the first time, and saw that it was, in fact, a sturdy air mattress, one of several scattered around the room.
“Do you need anything? I can get you some water, or blankets, or…?”
“Um, hmm. –Water, but I’m feeling too connected right now. I need to go with you.”
“That’s fine. Take your time, we’ll go at your pace.”
January pulled up and fastened her pants, then sat up. Her legs and arms felt a little wobbly, but she still managed to get to her feet, with Ember’s help. She held onto Ember’s shoulder and made her way to the corner of the room, where water bottles and various small snacks were laid out, and took a bottle of water, cracking it and drinking about half of it in her first pull.
“You needed that, I see,” Ember remarked.
“Trance is thirsty work,” January said, continuing to take swallows of the water. “Especially… I feel like I’m sloshing.”
“Mm, yeah, you were pretty wet. I put some lube on the glove, just in case, but I almost didn’t need it.”
“Yeah.” A thought occurred to her, and she clucked her tongue, rolling her eyes at herself for not getting it sooner. “I just realized that was the butterfly.”
Ember grinned. “It was a nice little touch, I thought. Especially when you started to call it back.”
January stopped, and she smiled the smile of the embarrassed. “–Did I say that out loud?”
“‘No, please, come back, little butterfly…’ It was quiet and a little slurred, but you did. It was cute.”
January rolled her eyes and grinned. “Well… okay. That’s embarrassing.”
“Fun embarrassing, though, right?”
“…Yes.” January looked back at the air mattresses. “…I think I’d like to sit down, but it looks like there’s nothing with a back in here.”
“We can go downstairs to the lounge, if you’d like.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea. I can, um… clear my head. In a manner of speaking.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“…and she took him to court and got reimbursed for the whole set of trees, at a markup because they’d had ten years to grow.”
Ember sat in one of the plush chairs in the downstairs lounge, with January sitting sideways on her lap, her legs draped over the arm. The party upstairs was audible when they came down here, and a few others were in the lounge in their own cliques, but since then, the upstairs had quieted and the others had wandered off, leaving them alone.
“I can’t believe it.”
“I want to believe it, even though it’s unverified. I did some half-hearted digging, and I couldn’t find anything except a post on the internet about it a few years ago. But it’s so satisfying to think about it being true.”
“She certainly got what she was owed, that’s for sure.”
“Mmhmm.” January yawned. “Oh, excuse me. –What time is it?” She fished out her phone and checked it. “Wow, that’s later than I thought.”
“Work in the morning?”
“No, it’s just, it’s two AM, and I live on the other side of the city.”
“Oh, I see. Time for us to part ways, then?”
“I think it might be.” January got up and stretched, then looked back at Ember. “Walk me to my car?”
“Of course,” Ember said, and got up, falling in line with January as they made their way out.
“Hey, so, would you like to meet some time? We could play again, but also, I really liked talking to you.”
“Absolutely. Not to mention, I do like to follow up to make sure you’re not in subdrop too badly.”
“That too.” She took out her phone and poked at her contacts app.
And stopped. Ember stopped and turned.
“…Ember, why do I have a picture of you in my contacts?”
January blinked, and suddenly, she knew why. “–Ember!”
Ember grinned wide, and so did January, after a moment. “Airy, my love.”
“You made me – you made me forget who you were?”
“I did. How many times do I get to do something with you for the first time?” Ember leaned in close, hands on January’s shoulders. “Twelve, in fact. One for every one of these events since we met.” She pulled January into a kiss, slow and lingering, and then let go. “Happy anniversary.”
January teared up, and she threw her arms around Ember in a big, tight hug. “I love you, you rogue, you.”
Ember returned the hug. “I love you too, my lovely little doe-eyed wonder.”
They broke apart after a long few moments of embracing, and January tried to collect her thoughts… then, remembering something else, lightly smacked Ember in the shoulder. “You called me a lumberjack! You know I hate that! And you pointed out the day collar and the triggers and intentionally confused the hell out of me! And since you’re not a stranger, I don’t have to spare your feelings about it.”
Ember cackled, and took the blow willingly. “I only feel bad that I don’t feel bad about it.”
January just shook her head and resumed walking, pushing through the doors to the lobby, and then outside. “God, how many times must I have told you the mulberry story at this point?”
“Eight,” Ember said in the still late-night air, as January set out in the vague direction of her truck. “I’m surprised it’s not twelve. You love that story.”
“It’s a good story. I still don’t know how true it is, but it’s a good story.”
“Yes. Speaking of stories, how does it feel? When I erase myself from your narrative?”
“I know I’ve answered that question several times.”
“I haven’t kept track, but more than half the time, yes. I can’t help but ask it. Answer it again, for me.”
“…Hot. Like I’m powerless under you.” January spied her truck, Prussian blue, with the Rainside Urban Forestry logo on the side, and course-corrected. “Are you going to stay the night tonight?”
“No. I, ah.” She scratched the back of her head, and January turned. “I had the additional urge to… I’d like to make you forget again, if you’ll let me. Just until tomorrow. I wish to bask in the… dramatic irony.”
January looked over at Ember as she reached her truck, and chewed her lip, leaning up against the driver-side door. “Yes. That is, you can.”
“Wonderful. May I have your phone for a moment?”
“My phone? Sure,” January said, pulling it back out and offering it to Ember; she stopped questioning the random things that Ember requested at odd moments, because it usually ended with her blanked out somehow.
“Thank you.” Ember’s hand reached up – but not to the phone, as it flashed upwards and snapped. “Freeze.”
January’s eyes glazed over.
“You are the absolute light of my life,” Ember said, gently cupping January’s cheek as the other took the phone from her. “I mean it, you’re an exceedingly talented subject, but you’re also so intelligent, and so kind. You’re everything in a girlfriend I could ask for and more. I love you so much.” She swallowed. “I’m going to make myself cry.” She smiled ruefully.
“Anyway. Listen to me very carefully, Airy. Imagine a box. Everything you remember about me and us, the totality of our relationship, you may put in that box. Unless it is necessary for those memories to surface for other reasons, the box will securely hold them. Picture the box closing. Picture the latch catching. Picture the mechanism of the lock. Lock the box. But hold on to how you feel about everything I just said. Keep that feeling with you, let it nourish you as you move through the world. Let yourself know anything you need to know in order to maintain your safety, mental or physical, but if it is not necessary, you can let it fade into your subconscious, where your awareness cannot find it. Any evidence of our relationship will slide out of your mind or be explained away. When you receive a text message from me with the word ‘Unlock’ in it, you will remember me and us again, and everything will return to normal. Nod if you understand.”
January nodded, blank-eyed, staring straight ahead.
“Good. Nod if you understand.”
She nodded again.
“That’s it. Nod if you understand.”
She nodded a third time, and Ember snapped her fingers in January’s ear.
“It has been locked. Unfreeze.” As January was getting her bearings, she handed the phone back. “You dropped this.”
“Hm? Oh, did I?” January patted her pockets, somewhat superfluously, considering the phone was now in her hand. “Wow. Thank you for noticing.”
“Not a problem. Have a good night.”
“You too,” January said to the stranger as she retreated from the truck, and turned to unlock it.
She settled into the driver’s seat and took a deep breath. She wasn’t sure what happened; she could feel that something had, but she guessed she was made to forget it at some point. The thought made her blush; anything could have been done to her… she could have done anything… and she wouldn’t know. All she did know was that it felt… warm. Comfortable. Like sitting in front of a campfire in a quiet forest, but on the inside, so she could walk around with it.
While she fished out her keys, she reflexively looked at her dashboard. There was a small bobblehead of an orange-red salamander with spiral eyes affixed to it. Huh, weird. It looked like that person who gave her back her phone.
She reached out and touched it with a finger, staring at it, suddenly filled with the sensation of a thought on the tip of her tongue. After a moment, though, she decided that her brain probably didn’t want to show her for a reason, so she let it fade.
The truck’s engine cut the quiet of the night, and she pulled out of the parking space, focusing on the empty road as she pulled onto the street and made her way home.