Joe Harris finished touring his friend Aaron’s new house and nodded in approval. It was everything he told him he wanted, a dream given form in the most unlikely of circumstances. It had been three years since the last time they were together and, during that period, he had moved abroad, got engaged to a petite French beauty, and broke it off after discovering she liked stuffing other people’s ‘croissants’ in her mouth while he was at work. The separation was far from amicable and he still hated her to the day. Returning to his roots had put an end to a long-gestating plan of personal growth, but now the wounds were healing and things were on the right track again.
Physically , the two men couldn’t be any more different, though their personalities aligned. Aaron was tall, with almond-shaped eyes and a dark, bristly mustache while Joe was more on the stubby side, with a poor man’s beard and short arms and legs he wasn’t proud of. He had gained a few extra pounds after being released from his nicotine addiction, but most women he was friends with still found him moderately attractive. It was the slightly sly smile that usually got to them, one he had learned to perfect for every occasion.
“Well, what did you think?” Aaron asked, as he led him to the kitchen for a glass of wine. Dinner was almost ready. Three plates had been set on the table instead of two.
“It’s lovely. It must have been hell of expensive, too. You need to tell me how you can afford this on a teacher’s salary, seriously!” Joe replied.
“I’ll get to that in a moment. How have you been doing, Joe?”
“Been better, been worse... same old song and dance. Thank you for having me for dinner tonight.”
“My pleasure. Are you still clean?”
“Yeah. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in four years and I have no intention to. What about you? What have you been up to since Paris?”
“I did a little soul-searching, but it was only when I came back that I realized I had been missing out on a lot of good things. This house helped a lot. I’m a different person now.”
“That’s good. I noticed the feminine touch everywhere. Are you finally seeing someone else, Aaron? Is that why there’s an extra plate on the table?”
“No. There’s always an extra plate, but she won’t be eating,” Aaron’s eyes roved across the room as if they were being observed. “I hope you still keep an open mind because there’s something quite important I want to show you, okay?”
“What’s up with Mr. Cryptic suddenly? What’s the secret, Aaron?”
“You might want to sit down first.”
Joe did as asked, curious gaze lingering on his friend’s fidgeting hands. Had he been nervous the whole time while he was showing him the place and he simply hadn’t noticed it? He sipped his wine and waited for what he was about to say next.
“You’re right that when you said that, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be able to purchase this place,” Aaron sat next to him and started playing with the cutlery to calm down. “I did it because someone died here last year and that brought the price down a bit. Her name was Charlene and...”
“And the truth is she never left. She’s still here with us. In fact, she’s sitting at the table, too.”
“Hilarious!” Joe chuckled. Aaron had never been much for pranks or tall tales, and he had always dismissed the possibility of supernatural events in favor of logical and scientific explanations. In that regard, they were the same, so hearing him pull out the ghost card out of nowhere was the most unexpected of developments.
“Not a joke, but my word isn’t enough when it comes to something like this, so... Charlene, do you mind?”
Something stirred in the corner of Joe’s left eye and a translucent shape took form between the unoccupied chair and the space between them. It was of a woman in her early thirties, sporting a pixie haircut with asymmetric bangs, a round face, and a smile capable of disarming even the sternest of hearts. It had no clothes although the light refractions going through its arms and neck gave off the impression of a thin layer of fabric wrapped around its impossible anatomy.
“What in God’s name...?” Joe almost fell off his chair as the strange creature phased in and out of existence before his incredulous visage.
“Joe, this is Charlene. We’re... roommates, so to speak. Won’t you say Hi?”
“That’s a... a... g... g... g-ho...”
“Ghost, yes,” Aaron concluded as if such an affirmation was the most natural thing in the world. “Charlene left this world before her time, but she stayed long enough for us to meet, and that’s a wonderful thing. Please, don’t be scared. You’re perfectly safe around her.”
Joe’s right hand touched the space where she had manifested into reality and felt nothing but an invisible web of static that made the hairs on the back of his hands reach for the sky. She was there, and she wasn’t, a remnant of a dream between dimensions beyond his understanding.
“Does... does it speak?”
“Not an ‘it’, Joe. No, she doesn’t talk. Ghosts don’t have a voice.”
The floating apparition looked him straight in the eyes, as if sizing him up or trying to intimidate him. If it were the latter, she was being successful, as evidenced by his quivering arms and legs.
“I... I have so many questions. How...? Why are you introducing me to a ghost? Fuck, this is too much!” He buried himself in the chair, shoulders sunk, knees pressed against one another.
“I understand, which is why it’s better if I let her give you all the answers, okay?”
“Huh? But you just said ghosts don’t have a voice.”
“Not on their own, but she can speak through me... I’m ready when you are, Charlene. Let’s do this.”
The ghost phased through the table, leaving a shimmering trail of light behind her, and entered Aaron’s body. Viewed from the outside, it appeared as if he were inhaling her like a sweet, intoxicating perfume. As the two essences combined, Aaron’s fingers twitched, and then his muscles loosened one by one before drifting into a slightly lethargic state not unlike a deep, hypnotic trance. The History teacher closed his eyes and let out a long wheeze. When he opened them again, his once dark-blue irises were lit with a silver glow, and everything about his disposition changed, including his voice.
“Ah, much better...” Charlene’s silky tones echoed through his windpipe. “Nice to meet you, Joe. Aaron told me a lot of stories about you. I wish we could get acquainted under better circumstances but, unfortunately, this is all we have. Please don’t be scared. Your friend is perfectly unharmed. I guess you can say he’s sleeping so I can be awake.”
Joe’s fingers scurried across the table and instinctively grabbed a knife. He didn’t want to use it, but better safe than sorry.
“You’re... possessing him?” The words he deemed impossible burned down his throat like acid.
“I’m temporarily inhabiting his body, yes,” Aaron/Charlene replied, circling the table and stretching out his right hand. “Could you please give me that knife? There’s really no need for that.”
“I feel safer with it, thank you very much.”
“You’re afraid of me?”
“My best friend’s body just became a fucking skin suit for the ghost of a dead woman! Of course, I’m afraid of you!”
“Of course. Forgive me, but please understand this situation isn’t ideal for me either. I didn’t ask to die.”
“How... how did that happen?”
“Oh, it was something silly, really. One moment, I was going up the stairs of my house to take a bath and in the next, I came tumbling down like a rag doll, hit my head against the floorboards and I was gone. I still don’t know how I lost my balance, and I guess I’ll never will. It sucked big time, though.”
Charlene directed her meat puppet to the fridge and opened it. A blood orange margarita was waiting for her, her favorite drink from college days.
“Ah, you remembered it! You’re so adorable, Aaron. Thank you,” she said.
Joe squinted and tried to process his thoughts. This couldn’t be real, right? He had lived through many crazy dreams in the past, so this was sure to be another. “Ghosts aren’t real! Possessions aren’t real. I’m imagining this whole thing and I’m going to wake up soon,” he thought. “Can I do it now, please?”
“I’m afraid that’s not how this works...” Charlene returned to him and sat at the end of the table. “It’s happening, Joe. Everything you’re experiencing is the real deal.”
“Then what do you want from me? And Aaron? Why are you doing this?”
“I’ll tell you everything, I promise, but please... put down the knife, I’m begging you! I never liked them and seeing you so stiff like that is making me uncomfortable.”
“You’re the one that’s uncomfortable? Now, that’s a laugh!”
“Things are what they are and besides, what are you going to do with it? If you try to use it against me, the only person you’ll be hurting is Aaron. Do you really want to do that?”
“No...” He mumbled, slowly rotating the butt of the knife on his fingers before laying it down on the empty plate. “I don’t.”
“Good. Can we talk normally now?”
“There’s absolutely nothing normal about this but okay. Speak!”
“Thank you. Before we proceed, do you know what a Hypnodomme is?”
“Sure, but why?”
“Because I am one... or used to be. When I was alive, that’s what I did for a living. Online only, no cameras or anything. It was a lot of fun but a lot of trouble, too. In over ten years, I amassed quite the collection of contacts, friends, submissives, and slaves. I had many people under my care, which I was determined to help no matter what and, one day, all of that just disappeared because of a stupid house accident. It wasn’t fair. It still isn’t.”
“After I died, I tried to go to what’s beyond this, but the more I pushed through the more I realized I couldn’t. Too many loose ends, you know? All the people I loved in this life and wanted to protect were still here and, without my guidance, I feared that some would revert to their old ways and undo everything we had accomplished, so I stayed.
“At first, it was hard. With no physical body and no real way to communicate, I was stuck in this solitary limbo. I tracked down some of my former pets, saw they were going through a rough time, but had no way to help them and that hurt. It hurt a lot more than I thought possible. Pain hits differently when all you have is a lingering soul and all the time in the world to reflect on what you’re feeling. I wouldn’t wish this suffering not even to my worst enemy.
“Anyway, when things were getting bleak, with no hope of redemption in sight, I met your friend. When he came to visit this house for the first time, I immediately felt drawn to him, and it was that unexpected connection that allowed me to do something I hadn’t been able to do before. Shortly after he bought the place and moved, I got him to see me. It was quite a surreal moment, one I thought would end with him leaving and never coming back, but he proved me wrong. He stayed, and his natural kindness and curiosity turned an impossible situation into something wonderful. He soon realized I no longer had a tongue of my own and offered to be my voice. I had no idea this was even possible, but we eventually found out. He’s been helping me ever since, just like he’s doing now.”
“Helping you do what, exactly?”
“Maintaining and nurturing connections, Joe. That’s what this is all about. Without me, my subs and slaves will go astray. Without them, I feel lost, too, but by being allowed to use his body to stay in touch with them, I can continue to do what I’ve always done best: helping others be the best versions of themselves. I want to keep doing that.”
“That’s a nice story...” Joe scratched his chin.
“It’s more than a story, it’s the truth.”
“Is that what Aaron will tell me, too?”
“Of course. Do you wish to speak with him now?”
“Very well. There’s still more I would like to tell you, but I believe he’ll do it for me. Again, it was a pleasure, Joe, and thank you for listening to my story.”
Aaron’s eyelids fluttered as he exhaled the otherworldly presence from the depths of his aching mind and immediately regretted the taste of the bitter margarita on his lips. Charlene’s disembodied presence floated beside him, still infused with part of his blooming vitality. He, on the other hand, looked like he had been bled dry, drooping eyes facing the table cloth.
“Aaron? Is that really you?”
“Yes, it’s me. Did she tell you everything?”
“She told me a lot of things but I’m not sure whether to believe them or not...” He glanced at the phantasmagorical presence, fingers tapping on end of the table.
“It’s true, Joe. Charlene’s just trying to help people. A lot of good was sapped from this world when she died. I’m helping her make a difference the only way I can.”
“Then how come it seems like you’re now half-dead yourself? What did she do to you while she was in there?”
“Nothing she wants to do though it can’t be helped. It’s a side effect of combining the living and the dead. My energy levels are low at the moment, but they’ll return after I get some rest.”
“Is that really all there is to it?”
Charlene’s ghost pointed at Aaron and then at Joe as if saying: “No. Tell him everything, please.”
“No. It’s... complicated.”
“Well... think of my body as a battery and her as the charger. After too many charges, the battery gets crooked, depletes faster, etc. When that happens, you either get a replacement or...”
“... you continue to milk it dry until it’s perfectly unusable?”
“Something like that. In the beginning, it was easy to have her within me when she needed it, but it’s been a while and... my body takes longer to recover between each session now. We need help, Joe. We need your help.”
“Oh, no! You’re not seriously about to suggest what you think you are!” Joe got up and backed away to the front door. “No, Aaron! I don’t want to become a vessel for that thing!”
“It’s for a good cause, my friend. There are hundreds of people out there that depend on her, good men and women that need her hypnosis and her sessions to keep going. You too can make a difference if you just...”
“... agree to become mindless husk for her whenever she wants a body? Are you out of your fucking mind?”
“No. You’re getting it all wrong. I’m not a zombie. I’ll never be a zombie! Everything we’ve done so far was consensual. Charlene never took over my body without permission because she can’t. You need to accept her, and only then she can work her magic. And the things she does, Joe... oh, they’re just breathtaking! She deserves it. She deserves all the help she can get. Please, help us!”
“Why me, Aaron? Of all the people you could have come to with this... whatever this is... why did you choose me?”
“You’re not the only one. I’ve told at least three others about her now.”
“And what happened?”
“They all said no, so I spiked their drinks and then convinced them it was all a dream. I’d rather it didn’t come to that between us, but if I must... Her work is too important, Joe! We need to be here for her.”
“Do we really? Look, it’s commendable to want to help others, but when does it end? There will always be another person, one more soul hanging in the balance! How long is she going to stay around, leeching the life of her helpers little by little? I’m not interested in dying for a ghost and neither should you.”
“Who said anything about dying? If I wanted to die, I would simply let her drain me completely and that would be the end of it. Neither of us want that but if she had another body to inhabit while I gather my strengths, everything would be so much better. We could take turns! Please, Joe! I wouldn’t ask this of you if I didn’t actually believe in the good of what we’re doing together.”
“I’m sorry, but why should I believe you? You’ve had her inside your mind God knows how many times already! For all I know, she could have easily changed your thoughts while she was there, brainwashing you into thinking this is something you truly want! No, Aaron. I love you like a brother, but this is insane! You need to put this house and this thing behind you as soon as possible, okay?”
“I’m sorry, Charlene, but I’m not getting to him... I can take it a little longer... please, come back in and try to convince him yourself, okay? Forgive me.”
“No! Don’t you dare do that again... wait!” Joe screamed.
Too late! The hypnodomme’s spirit merged with his friend’s frail body once more, her sweet voice filling the air around them with promises of peace and love.
“What do I need to do to show you my intentions are pure, Joe?” She asked.
“Leave him right now and never crawl back in for starters! This is unnatural. Good intentions or not, you don’t belong in this world.”
“And yet, I can’t go any further. This is all I have. My connections are too important to me. Neither of my online subs and slaves know of my death, and I intend to keep it that way, but they still need me. They need my instructions, my voice inside their brains, my love for when they think the world has failed them, and my discipline when they’ve been bad and don’t know to become better. I know how much this already weighs on Aaron, and yet he continues to sacrifice himself for me. That kind of devotion is precious and I couldn’t be more grateful. He told me you and him were birds of a feather, so I’m begging you... help him share the burden so I can finish what I started!”
“Where’s the proof?”
“If you’re still helping people like you say you are, then prove it! There has to be something more than just words...”
“There is,” Charlene replied, guiding her weakening vessel up the stairs. “I usually record the most important sessions I have with a subject to keep track of their progress. Will that help?”
“I don’t know... show me!”
“Be right back.”
Charlene disappeared into the bedroom and returned with a black, half-open laptop that was already turned on. The audio file she played first was dated from two weeks ago and had her gently coaxing a crying man simply identified as “Mr. A”. The recording revealed he had lost his wife and baby child to a car accident the week before and that if it weren’t for her lulling trance, his body would have already been found floating lifelessly on the river.
And then there was “Janet”, a shy young woman who had just conquered stage freight thanks to her Goddess Charlene; and “TimTom”, who would have never accepted there was more to gender identity than the limiting concepts of male and female; and more, so many more... names and aliases from all corners of society in need of structure and harmony only a skilled dominant hypnotist could give them, even beyond the grave.
“I don’t know what to say to this...” He concluded as the last account of that night ended with Charlene’s reassuring voice telling her hypnoslave everything was going to be okay.
“Just say ‘yes’ and together we’ll continue to make this world a better place. I’ll protect you like I protect them, I promise. Please, Joe! Don’t let these connections fade.”
Joe turned off the laptop and watched as the voiceless Charlene emerged from his friend’s body again. He looked even weaker than before and yet, he smiled, convinced that there was nothing in the world more worth fighting for than the empowerment of other human beings.
Inspired by his abnegation and ability to suffer for the greater good, Joe took a deep breath and welcomed the beginning of his new life as a hypnotic guardian angel by proxy. They had a lot of work to do.