“Pilot your pelvises off the couch. This is like PDA. I watch tv there.”
“Hey. I don’t remember anything.”
“You are literally still spooning.”
I stood up in my underwear.
I realized I should put on clothes. My jeans were neatly folded on the table. I could almost remember taking them off and folding them in front of everyone and then lying down on the couch. But that seemed kind of weird to do. Almost like a dream. Where was my shirt, though? Oh, right. Someone took it while I was asleep yesterday. That also seemed kind of weird. Like a dream. But it wasn’t here.
“Go get me coffee, creep.” Brit was curled up on the couch. “I can’t get dressed with you here.” I didn’t see how that made sense, but I followed Jess into the kitchenette. She had a glossy book open on the counter.
As soon as I stepped in, Jess snapped her fingers. “Stir this.” She handed me a metal bowl and a fork. There was nothing in the bowl, but I stirred it like there was anyway. She poured sugar from a measuring cup into the bowl, then she dropped in small cubes of butter one by one. As she added more butter, it got harder and harder to stir, but I powered through. It was like I was a stirring machine. After a little while the butter & sugar were creamed and fluffy. She added an egg that I stirred and then she added flour bit by bit. It got hard to stir again but I powered through. She added chocolate chips, walnuts, raisins, dried pineapple, oats, shredded coconut, and a dash of whiskey. It was really hard to stir with all that stuff in it, but I powered through.
“Wow, it worked! Human blender.”
“My arm hurts.”
Jess snapped her fingers. “It’s all better.” Suddenly it didn’t hurt anymore at all.
“Roll into balls about the size of a…squash ball? What the hell size is that?”
“I think it’s like…bigger than a ping pong ball, but not as big as a tennis ball.”
“I trust in you. Place balls three inches apart on parchment paper lined baking sheet.”
I did six. But then there was no more space on the baking sheet. I really didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t put any more down without making them too close together. So either way I couldn’t keep doing what she said. I thought about this for a minute but then Jess took the bowl from me.
“I preheated the oven already. Just put them in and set the timer to 12 minutes. Thanks! I could get used to this.”
I blinked. “Oh, uhm. Do you have any coffee? Brit wanted coffee.”
“Left cabinet. Circle K’s finest instant. Fill the white kettle with water and microwave it four minutes.”
The ceramic kettle was not only white but also more notably read “HAWT” in wide black letters. I poured hot water into three mugs. “Two scoops with the little spoons is about where it tastes best. But give me three.”
I brought one of the mugs in to Brit, who was still curled up on the couch, but dressed as if by magic. She was scrolling on her phone looking terrified.
“Are you ok?”
“Alex….this is some fucked up shit. Look at this.”
She showed me her phone and scrolled down through a chat. She’d sent photo after photo of herself to her boyfriend, all with the cat filter on & not much else. .
“Oh fuck you.”
“These are from last night. Did you take these?”
“No. I mean, aren’t they selfies?”
Brit blinked. “No. I mean, I don’t remember taking them. So they can’t be.”
“Maybe you blacked out.”
“I don’t think you can black out without getting a hangover, and I don’t have one.”
“I’m not sure that’s hard-and-fast.”
“Where is everyone else anyway?”
“Um, I think Morgan was working again this morning.”
Brit texted someone. Someone texted back. “Fenley says she wants to have a fire in the park.” Someone texted again. “And we should get things to cook.”
“So it’s like stone soup.”
“That’s what I said. She said she has charcoal, vodka and marshmallows.”
“Vodka this early?
Brit walked into the kitchen. “Jess, what happened after I passed out last night?”
“Huh? Oh. A lot. Morgan made you get nude and send pictures of yourself to James.”
“What the fuck? How?”
“She just told you to. With hypnosis or whatever.”
“Morgan hypnotized me?”
“Well, you tried to get her.”
“You tried to hypnotize her with one of the words she says.”
“What words? What the fuck? People are being hypnotized now?”
“Well, remember Alex yesterday at the studio?”
“The vampire thing? For the movie?”
“Well, yeah, it’s like that.”
“That was just acting, though.”
“Well, it all is, isn’t it?”
“But I don’t remember taking these, for real. Like, this is real.”
“If you didn’t think it was real, why did you try to get her?”
“I thought it was like a summer camp game or something - like pretending to have pokemon or whatever the fuck!”
“I mean, it is. The only reason she could get you is because you knew the suggestions of the words she said because you watched her hypnotize people. I asked her after she got you.”
“Did she make me do anything else?”
“Not that I can recall. But I don’t really remember anything after that. After she made you take the pictures, I asked Morgan if she could get me the same way and she said she probably could, but only if I solemnly swore that I wanted to be hypnotized. So she made me hold up my hand and say with her ‘I solemnly swear that I want to be hypnotized.’ And then I guess she got me, because that’s all I remember?”
“What do you mean ‘got’?”
“Hypnotized me, I guess. It feels funny to say though. It doesn’t feel real really. Then I woke up in the morning.”
“How did she do it?”
“Well, I saw her wave a fingertip in front of you and then bop you on the forehead.”
“I really don’t believe that’s what happened. How did she hypnotize you?”
“I don’t remember exactly. I just remember saying ‘I solemnly swear that I want to be hypnotized,’ and she said ‘All right!’ and…maybe high-fived me? And that’s all I remember. But I woke up in bed, and I feel like I showered & everything, so whatever happened after that couldn’t have been that crazy.”
Brit turned around like she was done with thinking about all of this. “I’m going to get stuff to cook. I was thinking pineapple, corn, and uhh..beyond dogs?”
Jess blinked. “You’re vegetarian?”
Brit blinked. “Well…no, I mean…not formally. Well, not before. But I mean, shouldn’t everyone be? Like it only seems right.”
Jess seemed stuck in thought for a second. “You’re right.” Jess blinked. “I don’t know how I didn’t realize it before. Alex, it’s true right?”
“That like…that it’s right to be vegetarian.”
I blinked. I mean, I guess it did seem true. Like, why would you raise animals just to kill them? That just seemed silly. We really eat their bodies? What if someone ate your body? “Yeah.” I nodded. “It is true.”
Jess blinked. “So did we all just become vegetarians?”
I looked at Brit. “I think so.”
Jess nodded. “Okay. Cool. I feel like that’s sudden, but like, I guess that’s how things happen. You just decide them one day.”
Brit shook her head like there was too much to think about. “Are you guys coming or what?”
We got dressed & by the time we made it to the Meijer it was 5 PM. It was a long walk & we didn’t really talk. It felt like it would be silly to talk about being hypnotized. Most people thought it was some kind of mystic healing thing. We got a pineapple, a watermelon, four ears of corn, and lots of beyond dogs.
We got to the park around 6. There was a fire smoking in a wooden enclosure. Fenley was sitting on top of a nearby picnic table. “I hope you brought stuff that isn’t meat. I’ll be very cross if you didn/t.”
“We didn’t get any meat. We’re vegetarian now, too.”
“All three of you?”
We looked at each other. “Yes.”
“Oh. Uhm, good. Anyway, Morgan is getting sticks. And she has the knife. So we can’t really do anything but keep an eye on the fire.”
The fire was going really strong. I could feel the heat from ten feet away. I sat down on the picnic table’s bench and just stared at the fire. We all must have, because it got really quiet. Watching the fire made me feel really primal. Like a cat. It was as if when I focused on the fire I could hear and smell everything in the woods around us.
Fingers snapped. I looked up & Morgan was standing across the fire with a bundle of sticks and a knife. A really big knife.
“Is that a machete?”
“The store called it an outdoor utility chopper. Where’s that melon?”
Morgan knelt by the watermelon and cut it into eighths. Cleaved it into eighths, really. It was a delicious watermelon. I couldn’t stop eating until I’d finished the whole slice I’d taken. Morgan decapitated then bisected the pineapple and laid each half just at the edge of the fire. I could smell the warm juice almost right away, and the pineapple started to steam in the heat after a minute. It looked delicious.
Morgan speared a marshmallow on the end of a green-wood stick and handed it to me. “Roast.” I held the marshmallow over the fire and turned it slowly, watching really carefully. I heard Morgan open a bottle and take a few clinking glasses from her backpack. Then I heard her fill them, but only a little each. Then the marshmallow was about perfectly toasted, and I was about to hand it back to Morgan when she said “Burn it.” I held the marshmallow into the fire until it caught, then I just watched it burn. Morgan took the stick from my hand and quenched the burning marshmallow in a small glass. The marshmallow fizzled in the liquid for a moment, then slid right off the stick. Morgan handed me the steaming glass. It smelled like toasted marshmallows and alcohol. “Drink.” I sipped, and it tasted so perfect that I couldn’t resist downing all of it, plus the marshmallow. It was warm, sweet, and smoky, and felt like the best drink I’ve ever had.
That looks goood! Let me do one!” Morgan handed Fenley a stuck marshmallow, and she promptly lit it on fire. Morgan barely had time to pour out a shot to catch the marshmallow in as it drooped & started to slide off the stick. When Fenley tasted her drink it looked like she’d just entered nirvana, which is about what i’d felt when I tasted mine.
“Brit. You HAVE to try this.” Brit was kind of sulking. She seemed a bit disturbed by what had happened last night, although I think more by the fact that she couldn’t remember anything than the act itself. “Wait. Let me do another. The first sip is like, crazy.” Fenley caught another marshmallow on fire and Morgan caught it with a shot. Fenley set it in front of Brit, who eyed it warily but took a sip. Her eyes lit up just like Fenley’s had. “Jesus Christ, that’s good. Morgan, you’re really smart.” Morgan smiled & made another, this time for Jess. This drink was really good. You could just see how people changed from just a sip. Something warm & different came over them. Sweet & smoky, with a sharp yet pure alcoholic tang, like it was burned clean.
“I’d like you all to look into the fire.” Morgan was speaking slow & low. This felt like hypnosis right away. Which was fine. Hypnosis felt really good.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you’re all vegetarians now, aren’t you?”
I was. I nodded.
“Right. And you weren’t yesterday, were you?”
“Right. And today if I ask you to imagine eating a hamburger, does it seem good?”
I tried to picture eating a hamburger. Bloody beef ground into bits and dripping blood all down itself. Chewing up flesh and sliding it down my throat. Trying to swallow the mashed up chewed meat but it was like it wouldn’t go down. I felt sick.
“I can tell it’s upsetting so instead think about an apple.”
I pictured biting into a cool crisp apple. It snapped like ringing a bell and it was sweet & cold inside. And it was so loud & so crunchy!
“So that seems like a pretty strong feeling, considering you weren’t even a vegetarian until today. Can you think of anything that might’ve changed how you feel since yesterday?”
I thought. Nothing particularly had happened. I had eaten two hot dogs and a reuben sandwich yesterday, which in retrospect just seemed grotesque.
“So…I’ve done a little experiment. What happened was that I hypnotized you to be vegetarian. Does knowing that change how you feel? Does eating a burger seem any better?”
I imagined eating a burger again. Nope, still terrifying.
Fenley cut in. “Wait, what? You hypnotized me? When?”
“Funnily, you gave me the idea. After everyone else was hypnotized, you asked me how strong hypnosis really was. Like, if it could really change something big. You seemed to have something specific in mind, so I asked, and you told me you wanted to be vegetarian, but you kept slipping, and it felt really hard when your friends weren’t. You just wanted me to make you really vegetarian for a while, so you could see how you felt, but considering what you said, I thought it would help you if we all did it. And I thought it was an interesting experiment - and I wanted some people here to take hypnosis more seriously. It isn’t a fucking game.”
Morgan didn’t say anything for a few minutes. But what she said was pretty crazy. Thinking about any kind of meat, no matter how much I’d liked something before, just made bile rise.
“Sorry for killing the mood.” Morgan clapped her hands. “Hot dogs?” We all just kept staring into the fire, but hot dogs sounded really good. Morgan speared a beyond dog on a stick for each of us and put them in our hands. I held mine above the fire. As it started to cook, it smelled exactly like a real hot dog. Like exactly exactly. It was sending me right back to every cookout & barbeque I’d ever been at as a kid, when hot dogs were the greatest thing on earth. When it was done I couldn’t wait for a bun. It tasted exactly like a real hot dog. I mean, I’d never had beyond dogs before. But this was crazy. Why was anyone still eating meat?
Fenley looked up from her hot dog, confused. “Wait, these are beyond dogs? They taste like real ones. I swear I’ve had this kind of beyond dog before and they tasted, like, fine. But not like this. This tastes real.”
Morgan was smiling. “You might find that when you’ve sworn off the real thing, the veggie version tastes just like it.”
“Wait. Morgan. Are we going to be vegetarian, like, forever?”
“I really don’t know. I don’t have, like, a magic word to change you back. I felt like the sensory whiplash from that would be…maybe too much. Already, doing this probably would be called some kind of malpractice if I was a therapist.”
“But like…my dad’s going to be really upset if I won’t eat his ribs when I’m at home.”
“Well, if you’ve got something like that coming up, I can probably reverse it. I mean, I did it in the first place. But outside of that, I thought it would be interesting to see how long it lasts. Maybe you’ll wake up tomorrow craving chicken nuggets. I genuinely have no idea.”
I finished my beyond dog. It tasted completely, absolutely real. Nowhere within myself could I find the slightest desire to have a real hot dog made of grisly ground up hearts & bladders & intestines. It felt like I’d been vegetarian forever. It felt like this was real and my whole life prior had been a dream, like some kind of psychosis where for some reason I loved to stuff animal flesh into my mouth like a psycho.
“Now I feel like I should say, I’m not actually vegetarian. But I’ll stick to it for as long as you guys do. I do think people should eat less meat, but considering how many birds, mice, deer, rabbits, and of course insects we have to kill to farm things anyway, I don’t totally agree on the rectitude of vegetarianism even from a perspective purely concerned with animal welfare. So it’s not like this is some kind of conversion therapy or anything. I don’t particularly care if you stay vegetarian or don’t. But it’s an interesting experiment, isn’t it?”
I couldn’t really say how I felt. I didn’t even really feel capable of feeling something about it - it just felt like I’d always been vegetarian. Even if I could remember specific past events that conflicted with that, each of them felt like an outlier. Like I’d only been eating meat because everyone else did it, when deep down I didn’t want to. Maybe everyone felt that way and hypnosis had really just brought that to the surface. That felt a lot more plausible than the idea that I’d been turned vegetarian just like that.
I got lost in thought, looking into the fire, until fingers snapped. “Cats curl up by the fire,” said Morgan. Hee hee. It was true. Cats really did like curling up by the fire. They always stretched out sooo far when there was a fire to curl up near. I stretched out like a cat and it felt sooo good. I slid off the bench and dropped to all fours, then laid down on my side with my stomach toward the warm flames. Morgan roasted another beyond dog over the fire and we could all smell it so powerfully. It was intoxicating. I wanted to leap at it with both hands, but fire’s hot. “Cats are really hungry.” My stomach growled. I whined in complaint.
The dog roasted, Morgan climbed on top of a chair. My eyes were following the beyond dog like I couldn’t look away. “Cats get the weenie!” I crawled up on the table as far as I could get and pawed at Morgan’s legs, but she was holding the hot dog too high for me to reach. I tried to stand up on my back legs but couldn’t keep my balance & fell back to all fours. Brit had better balance but Morgan kept the dog away from her, dangling it instead in front of Jess, who swiped it with both paws and curled up around it, taking hungry bites. Brit yowled and hissed and pawed at her, but she just curled around it tighter. “Cats play nice!” I sat patiently on my haunches. Morgan cooked a hot dog for Jess, then for me, then for Brit. It tasted so good that after I was done I could feel a deep hum from inside me, like my stomach was so happy it was talking. I curled up by the fire again and never felt warmer.
“Cats turn into people.” Morgan clicked her tongue. I looked at my hands. They were hands. Of course hands were hands. Hands were a bit dirty though. What was I even thinking about?
“Who wants another drink?” Morgan poured out another glass & got another marshmallow flaming. “Also, I need a name for this.”
“Cincinnati sunset,” I blurted out.
“What does it have to do with Cincinnati?”
“I don’t know. It’s all-american.”
“Marshmallows are from France.”
“That sounds, uhm, problematic.”
“Oh. Uh. Yeah.”
Jess snapped her fingers. “La Marshmellaise! Like the song. And it sounds like haze or laze which is a bit of what I’m feeling.”
“Also sounds like being drunk and saying marshmallows weird. I second,” Brit said.
“Third,” Fenley said.
“Motion passes! I think that’s a winner, honestly.” Morgan blew out a particularly enflamed mallow.
That’s the last thing I remember from that night, but I woke up in my apartment. As I came to my senses, my phone was buzzing like a beaver. Or whatever it is that buzzes. One new text kept replacing the last. “Is this you??” was replaced by “Marshmallaze!!!” was replaced by “legend” was replaced by a link to Alcoholics Anonymous. I think that one was a joke.
Morgan had evidently posted something, somewhere, in which I drank one, or perhaps more than one, of her flaming marshmallow drinks. It was only seven thirty, and my head hurt, so I put my phone on silent and curled up under the blanket again. I yawned and got an odd flash of feeling like a yawning cat instead of a yawning person. Cats take the best naps, so I just curled up tighter.