Dan and LeBeth had sat in silence at her place, deep into a classic Twilight Zone marathon. He'd made both of them bowls of his home-made chicken noodle soup since they were both sick. He was sick, but well enough that he was able to drive over. She was recovering from the worst of her cold, and he suggested bringing soup over and keeping her company since they both happened to be watching it. She was apprehensive about him getting worse around her, but he wasn't worried at all; he was sure he caught what he had from her anyway. It may have been reckless, but his immune system seemed much stronger than hers. It was about an hour after he arrived before one of them spoke up.
"They don't show any of the 80s episodes, do they?" Dan asked curiously.
"Of course not. Those were terrible."
"You only say that because you saw some of the bad ones; some of the good ones could trump your classics."
"Blasphemy!" she tried to claim offense through coughing.
"Funny term coming from someone who used to hate their given name, LeBeth."
LeBeth extended a hand with one finger sticking up toward the giver of her name, sitting at the other end of her couch. Her actual name was Beth LeBec, and she hated his modification of her name until she realized she could spin it linguistically. Thinking of it like "The Beth," some infamous or artistic title, she wore like a badge of pride.
"I did like that one where they said something on the radio that instantly overwhelmed them, like the meaning of life or something. But what 80s episode could possibly measure up to what we just saw and what's coming on next?"
"The 80s one you're talking about was called "Need to Know." And there's be quite a few that could, but you just refuse to watch and concede the old ones being automatically better. I don't know anyone besides you who'd think...which are these again...'A Penny for Your Thoughts,' and 'Two' would be among the best of the 60's episodes. As a certified Outer Limits fan; scratch that, an 80s and 90s sci-fi mystery fan, even though these are alright, they're more so-so products of their time."
"And the 80's shows aren't? Just because they're not on the level of Anthony, the Doll, or Nightmare at 20,000 Feet doesn't mean they're not quality."
"Measure that against a Wes Craven-directed Shattersday with Bruce Willis, Toys of Caliban, Voices in the Earth, and a few others I can't remember the names of but were excellent."
"I'll just stick with the ones I know are good."
"And if Webster ever does a book of two-word terms, I'll make sure your face shows up next to 'confirmation bias.'"
"Hey, I was right about Ginny, wasn't I?"
Dan reached over to grab a tissue, not even trying to hide the "kiss my ass," embedded in his sneeze. LeBeth smirked at how it'd become a faux-sore point with him. Seven months prior, when Dan and Ginny were together, and both could barely tolerate Beth's presence (and vice-versa), they all ended up at a party where Beth was playing some hypno-games. 'Truth Serum,' she called it, where she claimed she could get anyone to admit something they'd never, ever dare say in public. She kept it confidentially between hypnotist and subject, except when Ginny openly called it bullshit, and Beth challenged her. As it happened, Ginny found out she was a better subject than she gave herself credit for, admitting that she'd slept with Dan's brother a week before. She disliked Ginny enough to allow Dan to be within earshot, but both of them seemed surprised that statement came out of her. The relationship officially ended before they left the party, and Beth kept her smiles to herself while the pair left early.
Days after, Beth ran into Dan at a bar trying to drink his frustrations and sorrows away. She joined him, and he didn't turn her invitation down, probably too tipsy to do so at the time. They both got pretty drunk and openly admitted their dislike for each other, and woke up with identical hang-overs at her place. Dan found it strange how she invited him back over to her place for another "talk shit about Ginny" event, but at the time he decided not to pass up another forum, another opportunity to vent as much as he wanted, so they drank and made comprehensive lists of everything that was wrong with her. She candidly told him the only reason she had a problem with him was because he'd been with Ginny, he called LeBeth the lesser of two evil bitches. Respect and a seed of friendship slowly grew out of the shit-slinging from that night.
"You're a big Bewitched fan, aren't you?" Dan asked.
"How'd you know?" she asked, puzzled, swallowing another spoonful of soup.
"I'm just realizing we're watching Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery back-to-back. I need to show you 'Ye Gods' from the 80s, since you like the romantic stories so much."
"It's more I like happy endings, where you like the horror, bad, 'Tragedy of Macbeth' type endings."
"Which happens to be the most memorable ones," he countered. "You might not even know about this show if it stuck to LeBeth, fairy tale-type endings."
She smirked at the implication instead of disagreeing with Dan again. She'd have to use "a LeBeth-type ending" as a phrase sometime. Maneuvering her sizable utensil so it got a chunk of chicken, noodles, and the broth in the same spoonful. She groaned at how delicious his soup, his food in-general, always tasted. She would've felt spoiled by Campbell's canned soup being brought over, but his food always had a special touch to them.
"So when are you going to tell me the recipe for this soup?"
"I wouldn't ask that, unless you want to see a real Macbeth tragedy. Many poor souls have tried dethroning me from my culinary throne by obtaining the secrets of my success, and their consolation prize for trying....is death."
Dan was hoping he could still sound playfully convincing as he coughed through the dramatic climax of his boisterous acting. LeBeth's expression didn't give him much hope.
"Silly Danny, I'm already a Beth. The Lady Beth of the story, so we share that throne. You lose nothing by telling me, or by listening to me explain how nice it will feel to unburden yourself of the weight of knowledge by sharing those mystical culinary secrets."
She unceremoniously sneezed hard into a kleenex, trying to sound as not sick as possible while saying "And whether it's soup or television, I'm sure I could convince you to of what is and isn't memorable."
"That sounds like an invitation to the hypno...stuff, the same stuff I said I had no interest in."
He didn't dare call it bullshit, for having proof of how it wasn't, and knowing she'd easily rise to the challenge again if provoked.
She looked genuinely surprised to hear what he said before she replied.
"'Huh,' what?" Dan noticed LeBeth's short, condescending reaction.
"Remind me to check the dictionary to make sure your picture is still next to 'contradiction.'"
"What the hell are you on about?" Dan moved off her couch and set pillows to cushion his back and bottom so he could be closer to the soup on the table. Really it was a subtle way for him to keep himself out of LeBeth's reach, even though she didn't seem too eager to move from her position.
"You like this show?" LeBeth gestured to the TV.
"Wouldn't be watching it if I didn't."
"With all the hypno in this show, and you say you're not interested."
"Wha.....which..which plots had...annoying girls trying to hypnotize poor bastards, the same girls that got the poor bastards as sick as she is?"
"As long as the 60's show ran, at least one."
The pair looked at each other sternly. One of them snorted, following a series of laughing and coughing, which made them laugh a little harder.
"But the hypno is practically, no, literally in the show, just in a way you haven't noticed yet. It's scary how you haven't noticed. "
"Ignore her. Stick to watching the show," Dan's consciousness started to tell him, fearing engaging her on it could lead into talk and her trying to use it. But he had to wonder if she'd effectively cornered him by bringing it up at all. Before he could think of a decent way to shut talk of it down, her words interrupted his thinking.
"C'mon, you can't really think there isn't any subliminal stuff going on. 'Subliminal' is probably a terrible description since they throw it right in your face at the beginning of every episode. They literally want you to feel like your helplessly falling right into whatever story they're telling. Those spirals you're supposed to fixate on, one of which you have to follow the center in a circle. That door opening, an open invitation to their captivating words. That infinite space full of stars, where you have an abundant amount to choose from to follow one individual twinkling star, or become awestruck at the beauty of them all. You know how many stars appear on that screen right?"
"How the hell should I know the number of stars?" was what the voice in his head asked, but it also brought the image of that starry space up to count, as if there was some pattern to decipher. All the while, he had other thoughts running through his head, like kind of hating how he was beginning to see her point. The boring beginning of the rerun LeBeth loved allowed him to stare more into space, which just happened to be in the direction where the show was playing; in that time, he could think about elements of the show he never gave much thought to, but were really there. He was more used to the lesser known 80s version, and after seeing the black-and-white openings, it felt like there was some underlying theme for why they used what they used, and he'd finally been given an answer. If she was telling the truth, he figured that was what appealed to LeBeth in the first place. She seemed to love talking about it; he let her as she seemed lost in it and wouldn't let him get a word in edgewise.
"Or what about that open eye or single ear? You ever look at that black and white image of the eye and wonder if it glazes over the more words are spoken? Or maybe it's the speaker's eye, opening slowly for you you'd be looking even more deeply into it, curious about its color. Maybe your imagination gives it a color, your favorite color, or something pleasantly exotic, giving you the perfect excuse to peer into the endlessness. And whose ear is that supposed to be? More than likely it's yours, the listener, the captivated audience. Not one word goes unheard or misunderstood, all taken in with the utmost interest in every next word spoken."
The imagery she described blinded his senses to the fact that she'd scooted closer to him, nearly towering directly above him on the couch. And only his subconscious was aware of how she sounded less sickly, and more like a practicing hypnotist; how nice she suddenly sounded made it totally ok for him to be more in-tune to her for a while. For LeBeth, it was a miracle that she could keep herself from coughing, interrupting her words. She hoped that summoning that impish, persistent hypnotist and her voice would allow her to focus unfettered by bodily troubles, and soothe him in the process, reducing the risk of any sudden reactions from either of them. From then on, LeBeth's words became a symphony of casually-spoken, expertly-timed, perfectly-toned, trance-inducing words.
"And if the whole introductory speech doesn't convince you, what will? 'You're traveling through another dimension.' I mean, just change the tone to something a little more seductive, with a confident feminine lilt, and nothing will keep you from want to free-fall into that world."
After quietly clearing her throat into a pillow, LeBeth's rich, womanly, hypnotic voice took over from there.
"'You're traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight, looking deeper, not only of sound, fascinated by every sound you hear, but of mind. An open, peaceful mind on a journey sinking into a wondrous land whose boundaries are on the edge of one's own imagination, and a compelling voice. Tipped over by the gentlest, sexiest whisper into, the Twilight Zone."
His head felt supported by something soft, and with his attention half on the episode playing but close to 100% on LeBeth's narration, he didn't question what it was. Her legs curled up under her, his head rested against the plush fabric of her fleece robe. The softness kept him from noticing right away her fingers had closed in on his temples, making practiced circles. That should've been a tale-tell sign of what she was doing to him, but they aided in the content listlessness he swam in, so she received no request to stop.
"And what is the Twilight Zone, really? There are so many interesting stories told about what happens inside of it, but they're so vague about what this zone is. Even if it takes away from the mystery, I was always curious what else they'd say about it for those who'd want to know. My theory was that the Twilight Zone is essentially a person, any person in the right state of mind. All those fantastic stories seem like dreams, or nightmares, unbelievable circumstances where you can't tell what's real and what isn't, except for what you're told is real. That point somewhere between day and night, between light and dark, resting in that comfortable middle ground, waiting for a story reminiscent and relevant to you to be told. And aren't you in luck, because I know your story."
Despite everything she put into the impromptu induction, she wasn't sure at all if it'd work. She was totally willing to accept it not working and chalking it up to just being playful, letting him believe he was immune and she was just fooling around. But even without looking at his face, how still he became, how his breathing already slowed to a crawl, she was convinced he was under. "Eat your heart out Rod Serling," laughing in her thoughts, believing the show's creator's charm and surety of his words now paled in comparison to hers. Below her, Dan really did seem in the middle of things, not quite awake, but not quite asleep, in a middle-level trance where he only seemed to notice what kept him in his current state, and what allowed him to openly embrace what kept him there, including hearing about his story. LeBeth didn't really have a set plan following if she tranced him. She'd always knew that she'd some day try despite his protesting, and she just happened to work the situation to her advantage. There were a multitude of stories to base his story off of from the show, and would've been overwhelmed by what to choose, except for a good model of a story playing right in front of them.
"Your story is a story of Two; two people, Dan. Yourself, and the first person of importance that you have seen in a long time. The place is unspecific, abandoned, nothing but a set piece for two souls to meet. The one you meet is a special woman, one that started as a strained relationship. Harsh feelings between them, passionately against each other, and yet you were, you are, drawn to this woman. No matter how much you think you don't like her, your feelings won't be denied as they urge you to return to her. You'll see things all around that remind you of her, reminding you of the desire to be close to her. No matter what, you always return to her side, aware on some primal level of wanting to stay around her for as long as you can. She regards you, and your feelings. She doesn't mind you fighting those feelings. She encourages fighting them, as they amuse her to watch you lose that fight, and as you both know that the longer you fight, the sooner you are reduced to nothing but thinking about her."
Dan and LeBeth watched the rerun unfold, albeit seeing their own versions of it. Both were amazed by how the altered version playing in his head was a substantial fit for modern times, where women easily held more control and more sway over men.
"You soon found out that her feelings could dictate your actions. You, we could walk together, side-by-side, yet with just the right kind of glance, he would trail just a few feet back, knowing following closely behind was proper then. Another glance and you would make sure to share whatever you had, even if I wasn't prone to sharing in return. If I were to glance at something I wanted, maybe a pretty dress in a store window, and then glance at you, it would only feel right to get that for me. I could customize my glances to get anything I wanted, just a simple, engaging look and you'd want to listen to everything I'd have to say, or think about exactly how you could please me on your own. You'd only know if you'd pleased me if I gave you a small smile after you completed my task. Any and every glance from me can feel like a rush of endorphins surging through you, letting you know how much you like this little arrangement."
LeBeth would swear she was high on cough syrup for how she could trance people even when everyone involved was ill; the cough syrup would at least explain how she kept herself quiet all that time. "I must be really in the zone today," she thought. She said it again in her head, and a few more times, until it sounded too corny and too appropriate not to use. Not knowing what LeBeth wanted to do with Dan felt a bit of an inconvenience, but being open to her once meant that he'd be open to her from now on. And she was more than happy to see what she could come up with on the fly.
"Dan, you're going to remember all of these suggestions, only in the deep recesses of your mind. You won't be aware of it, at first, but you don't need awareness to do my bidding, do you?" She flashed him an evil smile, lasting only seconds before she felt a tingling sensation in her sinuses. "When you hear me and only me say the words "in the Zone," you'll know I'm referring to you, and you'll know not where you should be, but where you are. Exactly where you are right now, that middle ground in your mind where all that there is and all that you want to be is about me and what I want of you. The more you do for me, the more you'll enjoy it, and the more you'll get to receive more suggestions and do more things for me, keeping my attention."
Her excitement for what was to come only matched the growing need to sneeze.
"In a moment you're going to h-hear a loud sound, and it's going....ah..going to wake you up and show....you the special...ahh..woman you feel very submissive to, especially when you're in the zone. Do you understand, Dan?"
LeBeth took time away from making mind-numbing circles on his forehead to grasp his whole head and begin to help him nod in affirmative.
"Go...good." She barely had a second before she unleashed the violent sneeze against a few layers of tissue, loud enough to wake and make him look up to where the sound came from.
"Sorry, did I wake you?"
Dan would have something smart to say, but he looked up at LeBeth's red nose and slightly puffy face, wondering how cute she looked. There was something there that even Ginny's bombshell looks couldn't compare to. Maybe it was just that LeBeth wasn't shady, but sick women weren't supposed to look that good. Not that he'd ever been around many willing to show their imperfections.
"It's ok. I hope you blew your whole cold out on the tissue."
"There wouldn't be a tissue anymore if I did. Wish that sneeze would've take some of the congestion with it."
She took another sip of her cooled soup nearby, enjoying the flavor, but wishing it was warm. A small smile crept up on her face.
"I love this soup you made. Can you get me some more?"
Dan looked up, about to ask to wait for the commercial break, but stopped as she looked strangely at her bowl. A focused sort of look, like she expected something of it. She turned to face him with the same look, and there was something in that look or something in him that stirred. He lost a little of his focus looking at her face. It was oddly specific look, engaging, unbidden, deliberate; he swore she wasn't just looking at him, but into his soul. Like a star heating a planet, her gaze increased his body temperature, producing warm tingles throughout. He had hesitation as he stood up, as he reached for her bowl, but she kept looking right in his face, her eyes opening wider as if to suggest she really wanted it. He walked in confusion to turn on the stove and heat up more soup for her. The stovetop flame burned akin to the deep warmth within. He'd planned to do this anyway, but on his own inclination. And yet he felt like the rest of the pot would be going all toward LeBeth.
He brought it back to her, watching her inhale the delicious smell of hot soup, sitting back at his spot in-front of the couch.
"A few more triggers" is what he thought he heard her say under her breath. He asked her about it, but her short response didn't make any sense. It just left him confused, as more circles were drawn on his temples, sinking deeply into his own depleting thoughts.
A few moments later, he came back to himself, wondering what happened. He would've written it off if he didn't notice the classic "Masks" episode had just come on; certainly more than a few moments had passed.
"Weren't we just in the middle of that other episode? Did they switch early to something better?"
"You're starting to worry me Dan. Maybe your illness has you zoning out."
Her inflection of the last words sounded funny, and that familiar lost feeling crept back up his spine, and warm circles coming from somewhere. It all allowed him to rest against the warmth of her robe and words again.
He woke again and found himself in the middle of the episode, past the introduction of the horrible family.
He blinked at the screen several times, and tried to check his cellphone to see how much time might've passed. LeBeth started whistling the theme to the show, and he suddenly felt too out of it to want to check the time; it felt better to just set his phone down and lean back to rest.
He woke again, seeing the rich family's permanently deformed faces which only came at the end of the episode.
"You look confused," she commented at his face.
"Very," was his response that required no contemplating. Something felt very off; he wondered how he could sleep through one of his favorite black-and-white episodes so easily. He certainly didn't feel very sleepy before LeBeth started talking.
"Don't worry," LeBeth told him with a comforting smile, and a glance just as focused as the last. "There's no confusion in the zone."
She sneezed again, but loved how that sound didn't shake him of that delectable sinking expression he bore. Fractionation had done its job, the circles drawn on his temples continued, and he was out like a light.
"There's no worrying, no concerns, no questions either in the zone. But there are lovely stories."
Dan opened his eyes, and found himself in a middling ground again, a day dream somewhere deep between deep sleep and total conscious awareness. He saw an unfamiliar episode unfold on the screen, yet it was if he was also experience the male role in the story. Narration spoke of a man in a woman's apartment, there for an unknown reason, a reason which he would soon learn, in the Twilight Zone. They sat together and watched TV, she asked him to do something. Dan felt the character's apprehension to do it whatever she asked. His apprehension was being pushed at by a force he couldn't explain, but it was stronger than him. The fight ended the moment he looked at her. She repeated her statement, and a brief moment of horror flashed on his face before it disappeared, replaced by a blank look, and the physical need to do exactly what she asked. She asked, or commanded, and sometimes that's all she needed. Other times a glance tipped the scales of power completely in her favor. Cleaning, fetching, cooking special meals for her, he'd basically turned into the servant of the woman's apartment. Dan felt the man's relief as he was excused from duty, allowed to leave, embracing the freedom of being released from her power.
He fully believed when he swore to never return. Only he did return, again and again. The man couldn't help himself; on purpose or by accident, the same way one goes to a place you're used to instead of where you'd planned to go, whatever the reason, he returned. She would always regard him with a smile, reply with a "So nice to see you again," before looking at him and issuing her next order. The ebb and flow between them was peaceful, constant, and an internal battle he never won. One day, he finally drudged up the courage to ask her why she would do this to him, why he was powerless against her, and would this ever end. Her signature smile danced on her lips as she approached him, standing shorter than him, but still towering over him with her will power, and answered his questions.
"Because you want this."
He claimed how asinine, how crazy that sounded, with the same deliriousness of a 1960s actor, but she continued over his disbelief.
"My power only extends to the threshold. In here, you are under my command at all times. Out there, you are your own man. And as your own man, you return under your own power, not mine. Perhaps what troubles you more is the fighting you have to do outside of my domain; work, bills, friends, family, enemies, responsibilities, fleeting joy. Perhaps you are happy to know that here, there is nothing to fight. Here, you have the luxury of freedom, free of thinking, free of the world's turbulence, free of the man you don't want to be, free of the man I let you be."
Her words washed over him, pulling the veil off his eyes to show him all the animosity the world brings him, gone when he sees her. She takes it from him, and leaves him, as she explained, free from it all.
"Well, do you?" A hint of wicked shone in that smile, as his grew in understanding.
And Dan watched as it came to be, a man surrounded in tumult, looking for himself in all of his troubles, and finding, in the Twilight Zone.
LeBeth cackled in glee as much as her voice would allow, which wasn't much. She wondered why it took so long to do something like this with him. Dan held the record for longest acquaintance that she never tried to trance, and how she decided to break that record felt unceremoniously random, but exciting. Up to that point, he was just a fun person to hang out with, and she knew he felt the same; that unconventional friendship that shouldn't have been but was. Even with her newfound power over him, she didn't imagine things would be any less casual between them. Maybe their dynamic would change over time, but she'd ensure it would be fun the whole way.
The original story she crafted in his mind would be lived out, probably briefly. She'd make sure the story stayed fresh on her mind and his subconscious so they could act it out on a weekend or two when they were both well again. And if she kept it up, it would be one of a few stories that would play out. Between classics or originals, and various triggers at her disposal, she immediately wondered what path she'd take next. She finally turned her attention back to the television and was again filled with inspiration. LeBeth started whistling the theme again as she thought of another playful spin for both their talents.
"To Serve Woman."