Jenna rode to the front of the barn and locked her bike to the bike stand. A few of her barnmates were already home. She could hear Clara practicing her guitar nearby, the notes sounding sweet on the afternoon breeze. Paulo was in one of the hammocks reading a book. Jenna looked around for Sandra but soon remembered that she had a date in town that night. Jenna hoped that Sandra had finally found someone more open minded. She didn’t envy her trying to explain all of this to a new partner.
Jenna forced herself wave at the others before quickly making her way to her own stable. She didn’t want to be rude, but she felt awful and needed some quiet time after a long day’s work. She knew the others would understand. They were a pretty accepting group generally. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t at least open to some novel ideas- and they wouldn’t have made it here to the barn if they weren’t meticulously well trained enough to value keeping the peace. She didn’t think she or any of the others were even capable of disrupting the peace at this point.
Jenna opened the door to her stable and collapsed onto her bed. From the inside, the stable looked like an extremely cozy studio- the kind she imagined people in New York living in. She saw the red light of the overhead camera click on and waved, just in case Owner was watching. Even with so many pets, she knew he was tuned in enough to her particular body language that he could pick up on her stress levels from that one gesture. Of course, if it was one of the other pets or one of Owner’s mentees watching the cameras they might not be as observant- but the bracelet on her wrists showing elevated heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure that would be difficult for them to miss. Her bicycle ride home had helped with some of her stress- but it had been an incredibly hard day at work and she wasn’t yet able to shake the anxiety from it. She took some deep breaths, hoping Owner was at least being contacted. He would know what to do.
When she first moved here, she had anticipated eventually not being able to feel this level of stress anymore. That hope felt implied in Owner’s initial pitches to her- being brainwashed, being cared for, and being cultivated and grown like a flower in a garden implied that she could escape her more difficult emotions. Part of her had initially expected to live permanently in a kind of drooling ecstatic mindlessness- the kind she had seen in pictures during her cautious Google searches of the phrase “brainwashed pet”. She had been wrong. While there were certainly moments of thoughtlessness (she had a vague whispy almost-memory of being naked, on display, and discussed in a lecture hall of some sort) owner had also expressed that it was important to her training that she still experience moments of anxiety, sadness, or stress. He felt these very human reactions were important for her ability to grow and evolve generally. They also gave her opportunities to rely even more on him and on his training for comfort. After all, the more she came to depend on him in these moments, the more she would associate him with those positive feelings of relief. The more she came to associate him with those positive feelings, the more ability he would have to mold her into a more perfect version of herself.
Owner would often talk to her like this- describing his own techniques for managing her behaviors and thoughts even as he was implementing these techniques. He was always so excited to explain his ideas to her and teach her- like she was both his favorite pupil and his favorite hobby. He frequently encouraged her to observe and report back on her own reactions to his trainings, rewarding her when she was particularly insightful. Sometimes the training process even felt collaborative- like she was a project they were both working on. She felt like a slab of marble with a talented sculptor chiseling and discovering a beautiful shape inside.
He was nothing if not dedicated to his craft. When Jenna had first started working with him, he had given her countless tests- personality tests, intelligence tests, tests of her unconscious biases- even the kind of tests Jenna had last taken in the teen magazines of her youth. He observed her for days on end, taking notes on her patterns of speech and behavior. He asked her about things she liked and used those things as rewards in her later training- bits of verbal praise, small bites of her favorite chocolate, once a new dress in just her favorite style when she had completed something difficult. (That time she had never actually learned what it was she had done to be rewarded in this way- just that she had done it well enough for a very nice treat.) He was fascinated by her every reaction, often stopping her and asking her to explain the emotion and reasoning behind even the smallest of motions.
After collecting a good week’s worth of information, Owner had started actively training her in more earnest. She learned how to respond to hypnosis, and from there how to be easily cued to relax, to focus, to unfocus, to become aroused, and to accept suggestions without thought. She would spend days learning in this half-awake way, remembering walking into owner’s office in the morning and then not knowing anything again until she was brought back to herself for an evening meal. Sometimes Owner would demonstrate to her a new abilities- doing things like switching her memory of numbers on and off and then rewarding her for how well she was able to remember and forget on cue.
After her initial training, Jenna had moved out to the barn with the other pets. The lack of daily contact had started to make Jenna feel doubtful- like maybe Owner wasn’t paying attention to her any more. But then, Jenna started to notice some more subtle effects. She had found herself volunteering to attend a city council and helped defend her job’s shelter against budget cuts- something she had been much too shy to consider before. She started speaking up in work meetings and more successfully challenging some of her clients. She began to naturally choose healthier food. She had more energy. She called up and reconnected with some friends from graduate school. All of these things felt perfectly normal to her- until she really concentrated and remembered her shy, aimless former self. To confirm her suspicions, she would sometimes wake up at night to a comforting voice telling her wonderful things about herself and her future. When that happened, she would smile happily and snuggle into her bed, letting the voice fade into the back of her mind and soothe her to sleep.
In the present, Jenna felt a buzz on her wrists indicating her distress had been seen and she would be receiving some comfort very soon. She was curious how Owner would help her tonight. Sometimes she would lie on the bed and a recording of his voice would start playing, soothing and calming her into a nap or a blissful trance. Sometimes he would send a stablemate to pet her, or massage her, or brush her hair. Sometimes he would send for her personally and they would have a night together- he would feed her and laugh with her and she would fall asleep next to him feeling warm and safe and cared for. Regardless of what he chose, Jenna knew it would be the perfect thing for her. He would know just what she needed after a long, tiring day.