Lights of the city from a skyscraper at night were always a draw for Keith; it was easy to lean against a full-length glass window and just stare down at them whenever possible. Most of his everyday life never took him higher than five stories up, between his second floor apartment and his cubicle in the middle of a fifth-floor work. He rarely had the money to indulge in a sight, but a Halloween party in a downtown hotel suite gave him all the excuse he needed to indulge.
And surprisingly, the mood of the party didn't object to his solitary city-gazing. Dimmed lighting around the suite let brighter lights stand-out from a distance. It surprised him how bright and real they seemed compared to the haze of the party. Something he couldn't put his finger on, but there was a slight blur all around. With a mixture of cigarette smoke, and the addition of manufactured mist, everything looked a little mysterious. Everytime Keith looked back from the window to the party, it seemed like the difference between being awake and dreaming. He meant to give the dream more attention, to mingle more as he knew he should have, but he kept telling himself it was ok to stare at the lights just another minute longer.
One light caught his eye at some point, a white light that gleamed more than the others. Curiosity let him linger on it long enough to realize something was off about it, that it was actually a reflection. It bounced off of something from somewhere behind him. Before he could clearly see what it was, it grew blinding and suddenly disappeared. Keith turned back to the party, wondering where the light shone from, shaking his head and letting that be his cue to get back to the party.
He thought about conversing with some people, seeing if there was anyone he could recognize, but no one stood out as familiar, and anyone that was was probably hidden by a good costume. It was hard to mind that as there was an appeal to attending a party where you didn't see all the same usual people, leaving possibilities open for the unexpected. Not knowing where to start, me moved to the bar and ordered a beer, and admire all the costumes from a non-weird position.
Before he could even start to look around, another reflective flash of light crept up around his face and teased his eyesight, making him blink and search for the source. Further down the bar was a woman dressed in form-fitting, long-sleeved black velvet. Most of her face hidden by a black wide-rimmed hat and somewhat thick netting. Standing at the bar and enjoying her drink, she seemed oblivious to the fancy diamond ring on her other hand laying at the bar, bouncing light from somewhere onto him.
She turned to him, and red lips smiled as she stared at his well-done phantom of the opera costume.
"I'm sorry. Your ring is..."
She saw it flash around his face again. "Oh, I'm sorry. This ring does love to flash at people."
"That's ok, it's a beautiful ring. Flashy in a good way." Keith smiled back as he noticed how pretty it was, a rectangular diamond surrounded by smaller round ones. Very stylish and elegantly worn on her hand, complimenting long red fingernails and smooth skin.
"Thank you, I really like it. Seems a good ice-breaker, too." She extended her ring hand to him. "I'm Bree."
"Keith," he shook hers gently, putting a little phantom, romantic flare as he bowed a little to nearly kiss it.
"Nice to see a man embody the outfit a little, Mr. Keith Phantom."
"A gentleman tries," Keith tried emulating his version of a suave, charming phantom. "And what, or maybe whom are you embodying tonight, Ms. Bree?"
"Hmmm," Bree's low and sensual hum knocked his own charm a little off-balance. "I wonder what the gentleman would take me for." Something about her low, throaty purr seemed more than just a vocal act to go with the costume; something about it was cultivated, practiced, and inviting him to listen and engage.
"A-ahem," he tried to right his own costume voice, knowing he would be the one keeping up, following as best he could.
"That voice you possess, one might call it magical, spellbinding even. And yet, I can't say for certain that you are a witch."
"Oh? Do you not find my voice bewitching?"
He took a short moment to take in how her tone and vocal quality teased him to break character and simply react to it like he wanted to.
"The elegant way you're dressed, perhaps you are a wraith. A dangerous spirit looking for revenge."
Her mouth moved in a funny way under the netting before speaking. "Interesting. Do you find me haunting?"
His silence and the expression half-hidden by his phantom mask told her it was a kind he didn't seem to mind.
"Though not overt as in some legends, your teasing seems reminiscent of...a succubus?"
"What a theory, what a mental picture, worth a thousand whispers in your ear."
Involuntary pictures flashed in his head, and he righted himself before they became animated.
"But of course, I am forgetting about the infamous femme fatale, the black widow, a woman in mourning, secretly on the hunt." Keith wished he dressed as a detective, just to throw in the stereotypical gumshoe tone.
"The only thing I would be in mourning of is the death of boredom, and loneliness."
Subtle hints and constantly eluded to ambiguity made for a much more fun conversation than expected.
"Well, whatever a woman may be, she is always a mystery in some regards, one that captivates the men in the most hypnotic of ways."
Seeing how much his thick phantom tone and words roused a red smile made him smile deeper.
"Love your way with words; you see more than you let on."
"I actually am a hypnotist," she replied in her normal tone again.
"That...explains a lot." Stereotypical thoughts of hypnosis and hypnotists flooded through, and he found himself a little excited to be in the presence of probably a great performer.
"I bet that caused some imagery."
"Won't lie, yeah. Not sure I even could lie to a hypnotist."
"You think I read minds?"
"I...thought it was more reading people, getting them suggestible and honest, or having honest reactions, or something."
The way she rose her hand toward her face, tapping a long fingernail against lips of the same color, seemed a good, interested sign, or so he hoped.
"Of all the layman interpretations I've heard of someone maybe not familiar with hypnosis, I like yours. It goes in the right direction, and starts to delve into the power of it. The power of understanding the ways minds work, and making connections, which I love."
"I'm very much a layman, guessing at what I think it is. Never been hypnotized, so I've no expertise on the subject at all."
She giggled lightly under the hat.
"What you said, it's a common misconception. Everyone's better at trance than they dare give themselves credit for. Sort of like you tonight."
"Me tonight? How so?"
"Might I make a tiny confession?"
"When you were by the window, looking down at the city," she pointed at the window's direction. "That distracting light you saw was me."
"I figured it was."
The uncovered half of Keith's face raised an eyebrow.
"Since I've had this ring, I've been trying out aiming beams of light with it, like they did in the old cheesy hypnosis scenes. I'm getting pretty good at it, and this ring is great for doing it accidentally. Looking for a target tonight, I saw you, and noticed how cute you looked just staring below. My aim was good and I did distract you, but as content and focused as you looked, I wasn't sure I'd even be able to wake you up from the hypnotic state you were in."
"Say what?" Keith understood her words, but they weren't computing with his understanding of hypnosis. A subtle hand movement that stood out in peripheral vision got him to focus on it, and the flashy diamond.
"The way you looked down at the lights, any hypnotist I know would say 'that guy is hypnotized, and doesn't even know it.' It's really as easy and simple as fixating on something long enough to let your thinking downshift to really less thinking, more daydreaming, even a little light sleeping. Why do you think the most stereotypical thing a hypnotist would say is 'you are getting very sleepy'?"
The beams of light flashing from the ring crossed his vision more gradually, increasing enjoyment of the faceted lightshow.
"Truthfully, they wouldn't even need to say anything at first. If the one being hypnotized already has their eye on something worth watching, they're halfway there. It's why I chose this ring for hypnosis; people love it, telling me it's worth watching, wordlessly, with wondrous expressions, just like you had while you were looking down. And as you look down at that ring, maybe you can invoke that feeling of looking down at the city lights again. There's something calming about lights to stare at, something peaceful, something comforting enough to make you stay right where you are, and just stare. No need to do anything else, but stare at the lights. The way they light up, how some flash off and on, the different colors..."
The hand not flashing white diamond light in Keith's face began gently waving around the ring, letting bright-red fingernail polish recreate the sight from earlier in his eyes, but even more entrancing with the addition of Bree's beguiling, hypnotic voice to float along with.
"So comfortable just staring, just breathing, slow breaths, just daydreaming about whatever fills you with joy, smoothed and soothed by a voice in your head that encouraged all the goodness you feel, all the goodness to come. It can even help make things happen, even see things you might want to see. Things like reality, time, space, all open to interpretation for the imagination. Your reality is so pleasant now, time seems blissfully irrelevant, and the space between things can shrink if you really want them to. If the lights moved closer to you, it's because you really want them to. The closer you are, the deeper these feelings surge, the the more you want them to come closer, and closer, and closer..."
A shoulder-slumped phantom stare helplessly at the mysterious hypnotists hands waving in his face bright whites and red, hiding a mischievous smile.
"Closing in on you until this strong, irresistible feeling closes in on you, blinding you from everything else but my hands and voice, washing it all way, bleaching away the negatives of the day, until you are just like a nice white canvas. Just....blank!"
At the last pivotal word, Bree snapped her fingers in front of Keith's face, properly leaving a conscious mind whited out, a small smile on his face as she held loose shoulders, keeping a sunken body steady while the subconscious absorbed important information. He rested in that space, blanketed by her voice, soothed by the touch of nails trailing along his arm.
Eventually, he woke to find Bree smiling at him from her recliner. It took a few moments to realize he'd been sitting in one too instead of the bar where they started, away from much of the rest of the party.
"I kind of wish you were a doubter of hypnosis or something, just so I could say 'ta-daa' flamboyantly; those are some fun subjects to trance. But then again, so are you."
She spoke in a friendly voice, but gave ample time to process.
"Wow," it took him a moment to regain his wits. "I...part of me wants to still draw a distinction between staring out a window and having Bree's hands and voice in my head."
"Is that right?"
"Yeah. Staring out a window never felt that good. And give me enough time, maybe I can still play the role as doubter."
"That might be hard to do, Keith. You can present your case, maybe even convincingly so, but such cases don't tend to hold weight if the presenter loses their train of thought, in those instances the mind will just 'blank' out momentarily."
Another snapping "blank" from Bree triggered his mind whited out again, open to whatever she told him without any need to comprehend the words.
"What do you think?" Bree asked him rhetorically, to rouse him from being triggered.
"I think..." he dared to. "Wait, have I seen the 'blank' thing from something online somewhere?"
"Good memory Keith. I know that gif too; a definite inspiration in hypnosis for me."
"That's really cool," he admitted. "I think I haven't felt this good since...I don't know. Since the accident, probably."
"Like car accident?"
"Yeah, car got into a nasty crash a few months back. I was alright, but the car was totaled. Still looking for a new one."
"Wow, that sucks."
"Yeah, it does. Amazing how going blank for a bit feels like a cure to the memory."
He saw her raise her hands to do it, didn't object or try to stop it; it felt too nice to let the blankness overtake him. He woke up smiling, laughing to himself a little.
"I also think it's unfair how good you are at this."
"I do like a complementary gentleman. But also, I get as much out of it as you do."
"Yeah. They say hypnotists sort of enter a trance state whenever they're hypnotizing others, something I wholeheartedly believe in."
"So, deep focus on whoever you're hypnotizing?"
"That's right. Even as you're the one guiding, hypnosis can take everyone involved places."
"Where do you end up, if it's ok to ask?"
"Surreal places sometimes," the casual tone of voice lost its playfulness a bit with speaking honestly.
"A bit bad, yes, but still overall surreal, so much so that my curious side ends up exploring them."
He felt a little bad to hear there could be some negativity to go along with the beautiful trance state she gave him. Most times with heavy feelings like what was described, he would start looking for ways to steer the conversation toward something else or remove himself for it altogether. But with Bree, at that moment, his own curiosity outweighed other feelings.
"What you were doing with me, is that part of your exploration?"
"A little bit, yeah. Especially when I use this ring. One reason I like it is because it seems to remind everyone of something significant. City lights for you, for example."
"And what about for you?"
"For me....light at the end of a tunnel."
Concern flashed over his face, afraid to think of the darkness experienced in that tunnel.
"It's a deep comfort to me, that light. The brighter I can make this ring, the brighter I know I can make someone's day, even my own. If I feel things getting dim or dark around me, like the world gets hazy and fuzzy, and loses light, I know that light is there, and I can go to it. I can head in that direction and feel better with every step I take, every breath that gets me closer to it."
Bree's descriptions were so potent, the tunnel almost became alive for Keith as everything faded but that light something in his mind ran to. It helped that the diamond ring slowly made its way closer and closer to his face. The feeling was heavy, hurried, and assured; the strangeness of those feelings ran parallel to Bree's continued words.
"I can get myself there, to feel closer to the light, to feeling better, to being saved, to not being alone in the dark."
Easier than the interpretation lights from a skyscraper, the ease of imagining running to that light, needing to get to it, made his heart beat faster, made him relive something like from a dream.
"Just knowing there's a way out gives me hope. Knowing I'm headed in that direction, gives me purpose. And the closer I get, until I can feel the warmth of the light against my skin, I know that I can finally release everything that plagued me in the dark, and just go 'blank,' and feel how grateful for the light, even if the dark and the details are still fresh on my mind."
Being snapped down again, Keith felt himself cradled somehow, in someone's embrace. Part of his face felt velvet as his mind recalled a darkness he knew equally well. His car accident was in a tunnel. He was fortunately not in it as another car crashed into his; he'd pulled off to the side to see about someone who'd crashed in their car. She was bleeding from her hairline, barely breathing, barely able to move though it was clear she wanted out of the car.
A crash up ahead towards the end looked like it was blocking the road, and the sound of his own car crashed into plus more behind, made Keith scoop the woman up in his arms and run toward the light at the end of the tunnel. He felt lucky he was in shape and fit enough to do it, but ever worried about not reaching the light in-time for her, and possibly being hit from some of the chaos behind. He felt himself describing all of this, responding to questions, any notion of questioning the questions leveled by feeling blank, only the memory of car crashes had any structure to it in his mind.
By the time he was awake again, Bree's hat was removed to reveal the woman carried in his arms out of the tunnel. Light auburn short hair framed light brown eyes and soft features well, so different from the mangled hair and distress, blood-covered, bruised face, but still the same attractive woman. The shock of moment made his mask slip off, and it took a moment to get past the stuttering and near-gibberish.
"You're the woman?"
"And you're my hero."
"Wow. I-I'm glad you're alright."
"Yeah..." The hesitation in her voice made him nervous.
"Wait-are you alright?"
"Honestly Keith, I-I feel like I'm talking to you just to make sure that I am."
"I've worked with all kinds of trances as a hypnotist, and since that accident...my life since has felt like a trance. Barely conscious of my life, going through the motions. Like I'm..."
Mouth open, Keith stopped short of saying what they were both thinking.
"I am, and it feels more real than anything I can remember since the crash. All those memories I brought up in you about your crash, I brought them up just to see if I survived. According to you, you were getting me safely to an ambulance. Beyond that..."
"I don't know what to say to that, Bree...how did you even find me?"
"I...I think I tracked you down, somehow, to here, so I could meet you, question you."
Keith had to think how he got there that night.
"No it isn't, Keith. Please just tell me. I can take it."
"And if I can't?"
Her look turned coy, until she looked at him again, raising hands to help him take it. Slow reactions couldn't stop his mind from blanking on command again, and critical thinking was pushed aside as all his reactive, naked feelings poured out from his lips. What he described sounded so much like hers, walking through life like in a trance or as a zombie. The most excitement he'd had in years was the car crash where he saved a beautiful woman, and since then only thoughts of her kept his existence from being a mundane one. He was sad that he could never ask a woman like her out, but hopeful she was doing fine.
What he had to say about the crash specifically unnerved both as he recalled getting close to the ambulance, but hearing something loud and moving coming from behind. It felt like an abrupt close call, one that shocked him out of the blank trance.
Silent breaths hung where they sat, both trying to make sense of things.
"I don't remember much after the tunnel. Couldn't even tell you how I got here tonight," Keith nervously admitted. "Strangest thing is, I'm a lot less nervous about it right now. Like I should be freaking out about this, but I'm just not."
"Cause...I'm here with you."
She looked at him strangely.
"There really isn't much to me, Bree. I'm easily forgotten, and not much worth remembering with me. If someone asked me to prove I was alive...even breathing, I couldn't give any convincing evidence; nothing that would convince me anyway."
She quietly listened to his perspective that gave some comfort.
"When I got to save you that day though, and being with you now, and the trance stuff, I do feel some kind of alive. It's damn weird how I feel more awake under your hypnosis than in what's supposed to be real life. Maybe....I don't know. Maybe the difference is I feel something with you."
She didn't bother hiding blushing cheeks, instead caressing his face with red nails, a warm blush radiating from a light, scratching touch.
"I'm sorry if everything I told you isn't what you wanted to hear, or too heavy to handle. I mean....I guess....what do you think about all this?"
A deep breath prepped her for whatever words were to come.
"My life's a little less mundane, especially as a hypnotist. But I've never walked through it so muted like after that crash. I was living, or going through the motions, I guess. When I hypnotized myself, it didn't feel much different, but...more dispassionate than it used to. Except...when I thought of the guy that saved me. I could barely remember all the details, but I remember your heartbeat, light on your face as you tried to rush me to safety. Corny as it sounded, it was..."
"Romantic?" he finished with confused hope. From her lap, he looked up to see her like she described seeing him, except happy, and in a way, saving him just by being.
"I wonder if we're like two wandering spirits, lost in what seems like life, until they find each other, and learn what living really is. And who the hell knows what an afterlife is supposed to look like anyway."
Random philosophical thoughts startled both of them, ridiculously-plausible claims making the most sense of the whole night. And all his talk and recollection of being and living mundane made him move away to act, still on his knees, taking Bree's hand in his.
"Tell you what Bree, I have no idea what's going on right now, if I should be scared, excited, everything, nothing, or whatever. I can say I know I'm here with you, I'm happy with you, and I'd like to remain close to you if at all possible. My name is Keith, I'm a maybe-alive, 30's something guy with the most boring life you could ever conceive. I'm like an afterthought to most, and never had the nerve to ask a beautiful woman out, let alone a stunning one like you. If you'd do me the honor, I'd like to take you out sometime, and keep spending time with you. Oh, and get as much of that hypnosis as you're willing to give too."
Bree laughed genuinely for the first time in a long time, happy to have some flotsam that made sense, that purposefully aimed to please her.
"Are you sure you want to spend your time with a maybe-alive late 30's femme fatale that loves hypnosis, light dominance, lots of conversation, and lots of playing with your head?"
Bree thought about the 'femme fatale' part for a second, beginning to doubt herself as she started to feel guilty for how they met, and events after. Those feelings clashed against a deep kiss to the back of her hand, and another as he rose to kiss her cheek just as deep. He placed her black hat back on her head before the blush could fully rise to the surface, leaving her to smile sheepishly.
"The only thing you're killing with me is boredom. For everything else, I've never felt more alive."
The way her head craned down made him look down to tented pants.
"Literally," he spoke in the suave voice, making her laugh again.
"I know the consensus is that I saved you. But who knows, you probably saved me too, because now, I'll always be looking for that light at the end of the tunnel, even if it's in a shiny ring or something," he hinted at conspicuously.
"Cause sometimes, to really feel alive, and ready to make a woman named Bree happy, I just need to feel...what was that word again..."
His suave voice faltered, noticing the shimmering ring closing in on his face. A hungry grin was the last thing noticed before she took his world away, and brought him into hers.