Several hours later I was sitting in the dressing room, rifling through a wooden recipe file. That file, and the little index cards inside, made up the closest thing I had to a script for my show. On each card was a brief description of a stunt or trick I'd either thought of or used in a show. They were divided into categories -- warmups, features, and closers -- and ratings.
The warm-ups were the simple things I used early in a show to find out how good my volunteers were going to be. The bad smell/good smell gag I'd used in the run-through was there, along with a dozen other minor tricks that were good for weeding out the spoilsports and the just plain unimaginative.
Features made up the meat of the show. For a two-hour show, I'd pick two or three from that section of the file and run my volunteers through them. They are mostly exercises in imagination; brief outlines of scenarios in which I'd appoint people to play certain types of characters, set up the situation, and then let them interact according to their instructions.
Closers were the best and most elaborate of the gags in my little box of tricks. They involved even more complex scenes where I could let the best of the volunteers really let go and invent things out of whole cloth. I only had a few but each was a guaranteed crowd pleaser, sure to end the show on a high note.
I don't pick specific cards and plan the show around them, though. Too much depends on how many good volunteers I get, what types of suggestions work best for them, what the gender and age mix is, etc. No, I typically just read through the cards noting which ones I haven't used recently (which in this case was all of them, since I hadn't done a show in almost a decade), just to have the ideas top of mind.
I sat there with the first set of cards in my hand, leafing through them. Most of them had little notes on them: lessons learned from past performances, ideas on variations to try, things like that. And, of course, the rating. I rate my gags based on the movie rating system -- basically, a gag rated PG would be allowed in a movie rated PG or higher. Most of the gags in my box were rated PG, PG-13, and R. The R cards were in the back section, secured with a thick rubber band, and turned around so the blank side faced front.
When I started doing shows, most of the audience was either my fellow college students or adults who lived and worked in the area. It was a pretty steady crowd, with lots of regulars and a smaller transient set. I started out heeding well the advice of my mentor: "Always treat your volunteers like members of your family -- with respect." I kept the show clean enough that teens could see it, and made a point of never asking anyone to make animal noises, take off clothing, or reveal anything personal about themselves.
The first half-dozen shows went beautifully. Then the club owner, a huge man named Solly, pulled me aside. "Kid," he told me, "you're pretty good. But your audience is shrinking. I'm gonna have to cut back on your slots and get some fresh blood in here or this crowd is gonna start spending their dollars at that new strip joint across town."
That hurt. Solly cut me down from two shows a week to two shows a month. And even then, I became increasingly aware of the growing number of empty seats. Solly's other acts were getting more and more racy, catering to the tone of the new competition. He started doing wet T-shirt contests, bikini contests, comedians known for their blue material. The message was clear: get with the program, or get out.
So I got with the program. I started warning my audiences that they may find themselves doing things they wouldn't normally do, then spicing up my material accordingly. I had people taking off clothes, thinking their sexual organs had suddenly gotten huge (or tiny), thinking the audience was naked, suddenly feeling sexually drawn to the person next to them. And audiences loved it. The more I pushed the envelope, the larger my crowds got and the more shows Solly let me do. Since I was paid a percentage of the bar take, my income was rising as well. And amazingly, even after getting people to debase themselves, I still had no problem finding volunteers. In fact, by the end of the first year I had a small cadre of hypno-groupies -- people who'd come to show after show, coming on stage as often as I'd let them, practically begging me to make them do a striptease or have an orgasm whenever someone said "blue" or grope some guy they'd never met before. More than a few of my volunteers went home with me after the show, having realized that I held a compelling sexual attraction for them beyond that of any other man.
Then I started getting invited to do frat parties. The brothers would slip me an extra twenty for every girl I got to screw one or all of them while under hypnosis. I told myself that I wasn't hurting anyone -- everybody knows that hypnosis can't make you do something you wouldn't normally do, right?
The turning point for me came when my mentor, the highly-regarded stage hypnotist who'd taught me, came to visit. We had a wonderful dinner together, catching up on each other's lives, talking about work and family. Then he came to one of my shows and sat in the front row. Half an hour into the show, he got up and walked out.
It was a cold slap in the face for me. What the hell was I doing? And why were these people letting me do it? I never did come up with a good answer to the second question, but I knew I needed to change. I told Solly I was through, consigned all the R-rated cards to the back of my file, and spent the summer mending the damage I'd done to my most important non-family relationship. When the fall came again, I found a struggling comedy club on the other side of town from Solly's and made an arrangement with them: four shows a week, nothing above PG-13, on a straight percentage basis. They went for it, and with my newly-aligned moral compass always in front of me both the club and I prospered.
And now, as I sat there in the dressing room at Uninhibited, I was removing the rubber band from my collection of R-rated gag cards. What would my old professor say to this?
There was a soft knock on the door. "Come in."
A slender young woman in black jeans and a black shirt came in: Regan, the camera operator. She came in just far enough to allow the door to close. "Hi," she said timidly, "I'm Regan. You said to come by before the show?"
"I remember," I assured her, trying my best to look comforting. "We were going to help you stay awake during the induction."
"It's really very easy. All we need to do is get you back into hypnosis, and then give you a suggestion or two that will keep you nice and alert while everyone else is drifting off. Are you ready to do that now?"
A small shrug. "I guess so."
I gave her a paternal smile. "Don't guess," I said. "Be sure. Are you ready to go into hypnosis so that I can help you?"
She returned the smile. "I'm sorry. Yes."
"Good." I had her stand facing me, with the makeup chair behind her. "This will be quick and easy, and you'll remember everything that happens."
She nodded her understanding. "Now," I continued, letting my voice drop into induction mode, "all you have to do is exactly what I tell you, without thinking about it too much, and you'll find it very easy to get back into hypnosis. I want you to stand here with your feet close together. I'm going to touch your forehead with my thumbs, and trace them down the sides of your face. While I do, I want you to keep looking directly into my eyes while your eyelids follow my thumbs."
Without waiting for a response, I placed my thumbs together with the tips touching in the center of her forehead, just below the hairline. Her hazel eyes locked onto mine obediently and her feet slid together. Slowly but steadily, I separated my hands and traced a line along the top of her head, then down her temples. As my thumbs passed over the temples, her eyelids tried to follow them and began to close. At the first quick flutter I closed my hands, grabbing her head, and firmly pulled it forward while barking the command, "Sleep!"
Regan collapsed forward onto my chest. I wrapped my arms around her, holding her up against me, and gently steered her into the waiting makeup chair. "That's right," I told her, "Sleep now, Regan. Let your entire body relax and slow down, your mind floating and drifting, as I settle you comfortably in the chair." She was pretty well gone already, but I spent a minute or two on a basic deepener anyway. When her arms hung limply at her sides and her chin rested on her chest, I figured she was deep enough.
"Regan, you have an important job this evening: you need to run the camera for my show. It will be your job to focus tightly on my swirling hypnodisc, making sure it shows up and fills the screen on the monitors so that everyone can see it clearly. While you are doing that, you might find yourself slipping back into hypnosis, as you did earlier today. And that's okay. But from now on while you're working at the camera, no matter how deeply you find yourself slipping into hypnosis, you'll always be able to maintain full alertness. Even though I may be telling everyone to close their eyes, your eyes will remain open except when they blink, and you'll easily be able to maintain your concentration on your job. You will only go into hypnosis if you want to, and if you are not actually working at the time."
I looked closely at her, blissfully zoned out before me. There was a time when, faced with someone of her age and physical charms, I wouldn't have hesitated to get at least a peek at what was under the black work clothes. It would be so easy, and nobody would have to know.
The strength of the temptation shocked me a little. I'd been hypnotizing attractive young coeds for years, after all -- fully half my practice comes from the University. And not once had I ever even fantasized about taking advantage of one of them. I thought I was safely beyond that point. Then Anita de los Santos's words came back to me: This place has an aura, a reputation. ... The normal rules do not apply.
Perhaps not, but this girl wasn't a thousand miles from home looking for adventure. She was an employee -- my employee, technically. "And now, it's time to wake up and go to work. As I count to three you'll feel yourself returning to full wakefulness. When I reach three you'll feel refreshed and energetic and confident, remembering everything that happened in this room clearly and completely. One, two, three."
Her eyes opened and blinked a few times.
"How do you feel?" I asked.
She stretched and smiled, her eyes shining. "I feel great. And awake. And I remember everything you said. Will it work?"
"Of course," I assured her, returning the smile. "Did you think that's never happened before?"
That got me a chuckle. "I guess not. I'm going to get to work now. Thanks."
She scooted out of the makeup chair and through the door, waving as it closed behind her. I went back to browsing through my cards.
As show time edged closer, I found myself getting restless and pacing around the green room. There wasn't much to look at in there. On one end hung lineup board listing the names of the acts: Coco Brown, the opener; Tony Colangelo, the feature; and me, the headliner. On the opposite end there was a snack table stocked with coffee and pastries under a wall-hung monitor showing the video feed of the show in progress. The heavyset Jamaican woman performing now would be Coco Brown, I deduced. When she was replaced by a short Italian guy in jeans and a Van Halen sweatshirt, I couldn't stand the solitude any longer; I wandered into the main room, trying to get a feel for the mood of the crowd.
My attention was immediately diverted, however, when I got my first uncropped look at the stage. The cityscape background was still there, artfully backlit in red and orange to give it a warm look, but there were no chairs and no risers -- nothing but the comic and his microphone stand. Where were my chairs?
At far house left, about half way back, I heard a familiar voice. "Jack! Over here!" I looked around and spied my lunch companions, Claire and Monica. I put the chair mystery out of mind -- Stu Redman must have something up his sleeve, I figured -- and headed for them.
"Hi," I said, sliding into the booth next to Monica. "It's good to see a pair of friendly faces."
"You probably won't see us from the stage," Monica remarked ruefully. "Without your pull, this was the best table we could get."
I jerked a thumb at the stage. "You could join me up there."
She smiled. "We'll see."
"Whatever you're comfortable with," I said. It would be nice to have two guaranteed gems on stage, for sure, but I didn't want to be too pushy. For one thing, I didn't think I'd have a hard time finding volunteers; for another, I could feel the seeds of something between me and the guidance counselor trying to take root. Indianapolis isn't that far from Chicago, after all. "But if nothing else, can I get you to stay and have a drink with me after the show?"
Both nodded their heads. Which was fine; I'd included Claire in the invitation too. If things went well, I felt sure we'd be able to send her off gracefully.
I looked at my watch. "I'd better get back to the green room," I told them. "I'm on in about ten minutes."
Monica leaned in and gave me a peck on the cheek. "For luck," she said.
"Break a leg," Claire chimed in.
I grinned at both of them. "I hope not -- it would make for a really strange ending."
Rudi the sound tech was waiting for me in the green room, staring anxiously at the clock. "It's about time," she scolded me. "We should have been done with this ten minutes ago." Without waiting for my response, she held up a tiny black lavaliere microphone with a white cord. "Inside the shirt, or outside?"
I noted the white cord, which matched my shirt. "Let's go inside. I might want to lose the jacket once I'm up there."
She nodded. "Smart. Okay, drop the jacket and lift up your shirt."
I complied quickly. Rudi handed me the mic and let me feed it inside the front of my shirt, clipping it to front. She secured the cord to my skin with two pieces of flexible cloth tape and hung the transceiver on my belt in the back. As I tucked my shirt back in, she touched a button on her own transceiver unit. "Level check on three. Start talking, Jack."
"There was a farmer had a dog, and Bingo was his name-oh ..." She motioned for me to keep going. Thirty seconds always seems like an eternity when you have to keep talking.
Finally, she gave me the OK sign and handed me a cordless hand microphone. "There's a slide switch on the side if you want to turn it on and off. If you see a blue light flashing at you from the booth, it means the lavaliere isn't picking you up well enough and you'll need to use this for yourself, too."
"Got it," I said, feeling the switch and flipping it up and down a few times.
"One more thing: when you get on stage, look for a circle of pink spike tape. That's the elevator. Key the hand mic three times when you want us to raise it, and three times again when you want us to lower it."
I gave her the thumbs-up. "Thanks."
"Get in here earlier next time." Then she winked and left me alone.
I made my way back stage and cautiously crept forward, hiding myself just inside the center opening of the cityscape. On the way, I was impressed to notice how much smaller and lighter this transceiver was than mine; I could barely feel the weight of the little pack behind me. No wonder Rudi had been appalled at the idea of using my old rig.
The comedian finished his act and then, as arranged, introduced me. "Ladies and gentlemen, it is my contractual obligation to present to you the headline act for this evening." He paused for the small titter from the crowd. "Seriously, you folks are in for a treat. I saw this guy doing his act in Detroit a few months ago, and it was awesome. He had this beautiful heirloom pocket watch and he was swinging in front of the audience, telling everyone they were getting sleepy, sleepy, sleepy, until he had everybody in a trance. Then he started to put it in his pocket, but he had his hands full and he accidentally dropped it. The watch fell off the stage and shattered. He looked down at the pieces and said, 'Shit!' It took the staff all night to clean up the mess."
I groaned softly. Such an old joke. But he told it well, and the audience laughed and applauded for him. "Ladies and gentlemen," he concluded, "let's give an Uninhibited welcome to the very talented Jack Trancer!"
As I took the bare stage, I sensed motion around me. From each wing, a pair of Redman's stage hands was pushing a curved, two-stage set of risers with chairs. I suddenly wondered whether anyone was taping the show. As I moved, a spotlight found me and led me to my mark at downstage center. I waved to the audience with my right hand and waited for the generous applause and music to die down.
"Good evening," I said as the noise quieted. They seemed pretty loose -- probably a combination of the preceding comedians and an open bar -- but I always start with a joke or two to get things moving. "Thank you. First of all, let's hear it one more time for my good friend, Tony Colangelo." I didn't know Tony Colangelo from Adam, of course, but he'd given me a good set-up so it was incumbent on me to return the favor -- that's why they post the names in the green room. "Someday I'm going to get him alone for a few minutes, and then maybe I can finally start to live down that Detroit thing."
They responded well, laughing loudly. "The scary part of that story is, I almost said, 'Fuck me!' instead. That would've made for a whole different kind of show." That got me another good, extended laugh as everyone imagined my alternate ending. Not bad for an ad lib, I thought.
I was feeling good. Sure, this crowd may be three times of the size of any I'd ever faced before, but they were relaxed and happy and ready to have fun. Time to get to work.
"Ladies and gentlemen," I began, "thank you all for coming to see my show tonight. I'm always pleased when I get a good sized crowd like this because so many people think that what I do is really fake. By quick round of applause, how many of you think that hypnosis is fake?"
They were a little hesitant. "It's okay," I assured them, "I won't be offended. How many think this is all bullshit?"
The applause got a little stronger from the back corners of the room. I smiled and nodded and waited for it to die down. Then I looked straight out at the loudest part of the room. "So what the hell are you doing here?"
Laughter and applause rolled through the room.
"I ask that question all the time, ladies and gentlemen," I told them. "No matter where I go, no matter how many shows I do, there are always people who think that this is all fake. They think I have people planted in the audience that I pay to come up here and pretend to be hypnotized. I can hear them sometimes, telling everyone at their table that I'm full of shit. But sometimes, my friends, their girlfriend or boyfriend comes up here anyway and is absolutely awesome. And you know what happens then? They come up to me after the show, they want to shake my hand, they tell me how they always knew there was something to this." People started chuckling. "And then comes the part I always love to hear: 'My girlfriend was hypnotized tonight,' they say. 'Could you teach me to do that at home?' So in the space of two hours I've gone from being a bullshit artist to the hypno-pimp."
I paused while they laughed some more. "But seriously, I don't plant people in the audience that I can pick to come up here and play along. In fact, I don't pick people -- whoever decides to come up here tonight, that's who we're going with. I hope that at least some of you will give this a try, because if you don't ... well, let's just hope there's something good on cable tonight.
"If we get the right kind of people, everyone will have a really good time, especially the volunteers themselves. If we get a few of the wrong kind, then there's a good chance this show will just suck out loud. So to be fair to all of you, let me tell you what I'm looking for and what I'm looking to avoid.
"Hypnosis is a very natural thing. People go into hypnosis all the time when they read, watch TV, drive, listen to music, whatever. It's a state of focused concentration that lets people tap into the creative, spontaneous, intuitive part of their mind that we like to call the subconscious. Just about anybody can be hypnotized if they want to be, and nobody can be hypnotized if they don't want to be. That's just the way it works. Now hypnosis does require concentration; if you're the kind of person who can tune out distractions when you're trying to get something done, then chances are you'll be great up here. If a dripping faucet keeps you awake all night, then you'll probably have more fun if you stay in the audience.
"I say this all the time, too: hypnosis is not mind control. If you come up here and get hypnotized, you won't find yourself doing anything that you personally find immoral or humiliating or wrong. Now having said that, I should warn you that most people are willing to go a lot further than they think in a setting like this. This is an adult show; I'm basically working from the same guidelines as an R-rated movie. If you have hang-ups about nudity or adult content, or if you're here with the pastor of your church, it might be wise to enjoy the show from the audience.
"And finally, a short list of definite no-no's. If you're drunk, please don't come up here. It's very hard to concentrate when you're drunk, and I don't want you disturbing the people around you because that ruins the show for everyone. If you're just looking to prove that I can't hypnotize you, don't bother -- like I said, I can't hypnotize anyone who doesn't want to be hypnotized. Save the seat for someone who sincerely wants to play. And if you're the kind of person who doesn't like people laughing at stuff they do, or if your friends tell you that you don't have a really good sense of humor, please stay in your seat. I don't want anyone up here who isn't having fun, and I don't want anyone to leave here feeling like they were misused in any way.
"Having said all that, let's bring up the house lights. If you'd like to be part of the show tonight, please make your way carefully and safely to the stage and have a seat in one of the chairs behind me."
The lights came up, and I got my first good look at the audience. There was some shuffling and a murmur of conversation, then chairs moved back and people started making their way toward the stage. I looked back at the far table where Claire and Monica had been. They were still there, looking at the people who were heading toward the stage. I was a little disappointed, but not too much -- it looked as though I'd have plenty of people to work with, and I could always bring them up later if some of the people on stage didn't work out.
Then I saw another familiar face, front row center, looking smugly at the people as they settled onto the stage: Anita de los Santos. Come on, I dared her in my mind, get up here. Let's see how mui arrecho you can get! But she didn't come up.
Soon I had eighteen volunteers seated in chairs on the risers, looking at me expectantly and, in a few cases, just a little nervously. It was a good-looking mix: a dozen women and six men, all members of the resort's prime demographic. I looked them over for signs of intoxication or belligerence -- they all looked fine. One of them, a young Asian girl in a green tank top and black miniskirt, looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place her. A former client, perhaps? No matter.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let's give a hand to these people who have volunteered to entertain us all tonight." I waved down the house lights while the crowed applauded politely. With my left thumb, I flipped the switch on my handheld microphone up and down three times. A second or two later I heard that faint hydraulic hum, and my hypnodisc rose from the trap door in the stage. A spotlight caught it as it appeared, making for a nice dramatic affect.
"This, ladies and gentlemen, is my hypnodisc," I explained. "The most effective, most powerful means of inducing hypnosis that I've found in my career. In a few moments that disc is going to start slowly spinning, and you'll be able to watch and see how the people on stage find their eyes drawn to it. Those of you in the audience will be able to watch the disc too, if you wish, through the monitor system. But be warned: most people find my hypnodisc fascinating, so fascinating that they find themselves slipping into hypnosis along with the people on stage. If that happens, don't worry; you'll still be able to see and enjoy the show, and you may even have an opportunity to join me on stage and become part of the show. Even if you stay in the audience, you'll find that letting yourself be hypnotized is a great way to enjoy the show, and you'll feel absolutely wonderful when the show is over."
I walked over to the hypnodisc and turned on the switch. "Ladies and gentlemen on the stage, and in the audience, watch closely now. Try to clear your mind now and focus your attention on the center of the spiral. Notice how the colors alternate and weave together, drawing you further and further into its depths. It may even seem to some of you as if you are falling into the swirling depths, even as you remain safely in your seat, relaxing and gazing ever deeper into the middle." All of my volunteers were staring obediently at the hypnodisc. Several of them were showing signs of eye fatigue already; a few had already gone into a light trance and didn't realize it yet. "That's right. As you continue to look into the spiral, your mind blank, your attention fixed completely on the spiral, you will soon find that your body begins to relax. The more your focus your attention on the spiral, the more your body can relax; the more your body relaxes, the more you can focus your complete attention on the spiral. You may even find that as you concentrate on the spiral, and your body relaxes, that your eyes want to blink. It's okay to blink; that is just your eyes relaxing, letting the spiral take you gently into hypnosis. Each time you blink, it's a little bit harder to open your eyes again; each time you open them, they only want to blink again."
Almost all of my volunteers were blinking heavily now. "With each blink, you find that your eyes become more difficult to open, more sleepy, more heavy. And that's okay. You can let them close down now, closed and relaxed, as your body becomes ever more relaxed. I'm going to count down from five to one, and with each count you'll find that your eyes become twice as tired, twice as sleepy, twice as hard to keep open. You can let them close down now, or as soon as you'd like, letting them close and relax completely when I reach the count of one." I watched my volunteers while I counted down. All but three of them closed their eyes before the count of two. The holdouts closed them down at one, on my command.
It was hardly necessary for most of them, but I led the volunteers through a good, strong deepener anyway. When I got through with that, my best prospects were slumped against each other, barely remaining seated, and the holdouts were looking pretty well along as well. I switched off the hypnodisc and signaled for the crew to lower it down while I set up the first test.
"Ladies and gentlemen in the audience," I said in a low voice, "if you look around the room you may notice that there are a number of people around you who are also deeply hypnotized. I know it's tempting, I know why you're going to want to do it, but please do not disturb those people. They are not missing the show; in fact, they may find themselves becoming part of it later on. Just let them be.
"To the people on stage, you may notice as you sit there, drifting ever deeper into hypnosis, that there is movement around you or noise coming from the audience. None of that needs to disturb you; in fact, every sound you hear or movement you sense will just help you drift even deeper into hypnosis. Some of the suggestions I'm going to give you will be meant for a short time, and some for the entire evening. All I ask is that you take every suggestion I make quite literally, and allow your natural creativity to come to the foreground. No matter what happens on stage, you'll always feel totally comfortable, remaining safely seated in your chair, having a good time.
"In a few moments I'm going to count from one to three. When I reach three, I want everyone on stage and everyone in the audience to open your eyes, remaining deeply hypnotized and ready to follow my suggestions. I'm going to start out by asking you a very simple question. When I ask the question, you'll instantly know the answer and you'll be very eager for me to call on you to give me the answer; however, the second I put my microphone near you face, the answer will completely disappear from your mind. No matter what anyone says to you or shows you, the answer to my question will be completely gone from your mind and it will stay gone. If someone tries to tell you the answer, what they say won't make any sense to you. If you see the answer written somewhere, the letters won't make sense to you either. The only way you'll be able to remember the answer to my question is if I snap my fingers right next to your ear.
"Now, everyone on stage and everyone in the audience, let us begin. One, breathing a little faster now; two, feeling some energy returning to your body; three, eyes open, still deeply hypnotized." I looked at my two rows of volunteers. They returned my gaze expectantly, waiting obediently to see what would happen next.
"I'd like to start off by getting to know you all a little bit," I said, walking over to stage left. Sitting on the end of the first row was the Asian lady who'd caught my eye earlier. "We'll start over here. My first question for you all is, what is your name?"
On cue, every hand on stage went up into the air. I held the mic out to the young lady. "What is your name?"
She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. A look of shock, surprise, and embarrassment came over her pretty face. "Remember that look," I said to the laughing audience. "That's exactly what we want here."
I left her looking dumbfounded and tried the guy next to her. "Your name, sir?"
I got another blank look. "Somebody must know," I remarked, and went down the line. Of my eighteen volunteers, six managed to tell me their names.
Just for fun, I want back to my first victim. "Have you remembered you name yet, Miss?"
She looked up at me with confusion and perhaps a touch of fear. "No."
I pretended to think about it. "Hmmm. Did you know it when you came in?"
"I think so."
"Let's see if we can get you some help. Does anyone in the audience know this young lady's name?"
From house left, in the shadows, someone yelled out, "Laurel!"
"Ah, thank you. Someone over there says your name is Laurel. Is that right?"
Again, the blank look. "What did you say?"
She was getting a little spooked. "Never mind," I said, "I'm sure it will come back to you just like that." As I said "that," I put my left hand next to her ear and snapped my fingers.
The effect on Laurel was electric. She jumped up in her seat and shouted, "Laurel! My name is Laurel!" Then she grinned at me as if she'd just guessed the answer to the $64,000 question.
"Are you sure?" The audience laughed.
"Oh, totally. I can't believe I forgot that for a minute."
"That's great," I told her. "Can I ask you another question? What do you do for a living, Laurel?"
Her mouth opened, then her eyes opened wide. "I ... I ..."
The audience loved it, of course. I let her stew for just a few seconds. "Never mind, Laurel. It's probably the lights up here. In fact, I'm going to lower my hand and as I do, the lights will come down. As the lights come down, I'd like everyone on stage and in the audience to just let your eyes close down, let your body relax, and sleep." I drew out the word "sleep" as I lifted and then dropped my arm. On cue, the lights dimmed and my volunteers' heads dropped.
It was time to begin the weeding out. Addressing the six people who had remembered their names, I had them wake up and carefully make their way back to their seats in the audience. That left me an even dozen for the next test. I opted for the bad smell gag that I'd used in the run-through. It worked very well on eight of them; four didn't react as much, so I dismissed them too. It was time for one more test.
"People on stage, and also in the audience, in a moment I'm going to count to three again. At the count of three you'll open your eyes and sit up, feeling comfortable and relaxed, remaining deeply hypnotized. You'll also feel very happy and talkative; you'll want to tell me whatever random things happen to pop into your mind. At some point while we're talking I'm going to snap my fingers twice into the microphone and when that happens, you're going to find that all of your clothing has dissolved and fallen away. In fact, you and everyone you look at will be completely naked, including me. One, two, three."
The lights came up. I took a few minutes to get to know my volunteers a little bit. Besides Laurel, who turned out to be a paralegal on vacation with friends, I had: Brad, a computer service guy; Jennifer, a department store clerk; Jim, an auto mechanic; Nicole, a medical student; Brenda, a car saleswoman; David, an architect; and Sophie, an HR director. "Thanks very much for coming up here tonight," I said to them. "I think you'll find that the time passes just like that." Looking straight out into the house, I snapped my fingers twice into the mic. I heard gasps from the volunteers behind me, and from quite a number of places nearby in the crowd as well.
I decided to have some fun with my volunteers. Approaching the lip of the stage, I squatted down to talk to the people there. As soon as I did, a fresh round of squeals and howls came from the crowd, as the people on stage reacted to what they thought was my naked butt in a squatting position. "You think that's good?" I said. "Watch this: when I snap my fingers again, my penis will grow to enormous size -- I'm talking two feet long and three inches thick." I snapped, then stood up. Slowly, I turned to face my volunteers.
At that point I was looking for two things: their reaction to my enormous penis, for its entertainment value, and their body posture, for what it would tell me about how much farther I could push the limits.
The reaction was great. All of the women stared at my crotch with a sort of disturbed fascination. The men looked anywhere else they could -- mostly at the women, seeing them naked in their minds. Just for fun, I walked around a little and let my imaginary manhood sway. The audience hooted and clapped and laughed. Meanwhile, I evaluated my volunteers for the rest of the show.
Laurel was definitely a keeper. She was clearly taking in the sights, but her body language was very open. She had her hands at her sides, legs loosely together and tucked under the chair, apparently quite at ease with being naked. Brenda, on the other hand, had one arm clenched around her breasts and the other hand shielding her crotch, legs pressed tightly together. I'd keep her, but take it easy on her. Brad seemed to be Laurel's male counterpart, sitting back comfortably enjoying the view, not seeming too concerned about his own exposure. David was flushed red, holding his hands in his lap, looking straight ahead. Everyone else fell somewhere in between, with Brenda being the only woman actively trying to cover her chest. That was a good omen for me.
"I'm sorry," I said to my volunteers, "obviously this is making some of you uncomfortable. At the next snap of my fingers, my penis will return to its normal size." Winking at the audience, I added, "Nine inches, semi-erect." I snapped, and the reaction of my volunteers was good. The women looked lustfully, the men wistfully, at my resized member.
And then, as I paced the front of the stage, I noticed one more pair of eyes fixed on my crotch: those of Anita de los Santos. She eyed my package like a hungry man contemplating a fresh T-bone steak. This was too good to pass up.
I stepped off the front of the stage into the audience area. A spotlight came on and surrounded me almost immediately. I walked over to Anita de los Santos and held the microphone near her face. "How are you this evening?" I asked casually.
"I feel wonderful, Señor Jack," she said.
"You seem to be very interested in something," I remarked, swinging my hips a little bit.
She smiled, looking again at my crotch. "You have a fine pene, Señor Jack. It is no wonder that you enjoy showing it off."
The audience roared. "Thank you," I said. "Everyone in the audience, and everyone on stage, please let your eyes close down now and sleep." I waved the lights down low as heads all around me dropped onto chests -- including the head of Anita de los Santos and the man next to her.
"For the people in the audience," I said, "when I touch your shoulder I'd like you to open your eyes and look up at me, still remaining deeply hypnotized, and answer my questions. You'll find that talking to me helps you to sink even deeper into hypnosis." I placed a finger on Anita's shoulder and watched as her head rose up to look at me.
"What is your name?" I knew, of course, but the audience didn't.
"Anita, are you enjoying my show so far?"
"Very much, Señor."
"Thank you," I said. "My show is always enjoyable when I have enough people with strong, creative minds on stage helping me. You seem to have a very creative mind, Anita, and I know that you'd like nothing more than to become part of my show, would you not?"
"Yes," she said quietly.
"Good. Anita, in a moment I'd like you to help me by very carefully going up on stage and sitting down in one of the empty chairs. As soon as you sit down in the chair, you're going to let your eyes close down and your body relax completely, letting your mind sink a hundred times deeper into hypnosis. Do that now, please."
She stood up slowly and made her way to the stage, taking an empty seat downstage right. I asked the tech crew to give me a little more house light, and took a look around for more likely prospects. My eyes sought out Claire and Monica. I could just see them, sitting with their heads down, obviously well out of it. But they were so far from the stage, with so many obstacles to get around, that it would be too hard to bring them up. Next time, maybe.
From my left, a female voice squeaked, "Over here!" I followed the voice and spotted two excellent-looking candidates at a table by themselves: a cute brunette in a leather mini and tube top, and a slim dark-haired guy in jeans and a polo shirt. I thanked my informant and sent them to the stage as well. That gave me eleven on stage, which would be enough to work with.
First things first. "People in the audience, I am about to count up to three. As I count to three, you'll feel yourselves coming out of hypnosis. By the time I reach three you will be completely awake, eyes open, no longer hypnotized. You'll find that you can easily remember your name and the answer to any other question you may be asked. In fact, you'll find that all of the suggestions I've given tonight thus far are completely cancelled for you. You'll also find that you feel happier, calmer, more energetic than you've felt in a long time. When you are ready to go to sleep tonight, you'll find that you can easily close your eyes, feel your whole body slow down, and sleep deeply and easily for as long as you're supposed to, then wake feeling refreshed and ready for a new day." I counted them up and watched as the ones I could see lifted their heads and looked around, smiling and stretching. I couldn't see them, but I knew Claire and Monica would be doing the same.
I made my own way back to the stage, the spotlight following me. "People on the stage, when I count to three you will sit up and open your eyes, feeling energetic and happy and wanting to talk, but remaining deeply hypnotized and obeying my every suggestion. You will also wake up with a new identity; instead of the person you were when you came up on stage you will be a well-known fairy tale character, taking part in a Jerry Springer show where we explore what it's really like to have lived a fairy tale. You will see me as Jerry, hosting the show. People think everyone lives happily ever after when these stories are over, but you've been there and you know that's not the case. In fact, being a fairy tale character sucks for a variety of reasons that you'll be very eager to tell the audience about. Every time someone else gives a reason their life is tough, you'll think of an even better reason why you had it worse than they did."
I walked over to Anita de los Santos and touched her on the shoulder. "For the person whose shoulder I am touching now, you will realize that you are none other than the old woman who lived in a shoe. Your life is hell because you have more children than anyone could possibly count, and not one of them calls you on Mother's Day. They're all grown up now, but they don't do a damn thing to help you out and they keep asking you to babysit for them while they go out on the town."
Brad came next. "When you open your eyes, you will be the huntsman from Snow White. You're pissed off because you saved that ungrateful bitch from certain death, only to have her run off and leave you for some no-name prince. And those dwarves were no picnic to deal with, either."
I continued in this vein, giving each of my subjects a character. Jim and Jennifer became two of the Three Little Pigs, bitter because their smarter brother won't let them live in his brick house. Nicole and Brenda became the wicked stepsisters of Cinderella, with all the emotional baggage that comes with it. David I christened Rumpelstiltskin, and Sophie became the Princess from "Princess and the Pea." To my newest recruits, whose real names were Amy and Will, I gave the identities of Hansel and Gretel. And Laurel, who was looking like the crown jewel of the lot, took on the persona of Little Red Riding Hood.
The stage lights came up as I counted to three. "Thank you all for coming, ladies and gentlemen," I said to the audience. "Today's theme is, 'Happily Ever After'. As you can see, we have some very famous people up here with us who are all living happily ever after, and --"
I turned around to see Laurel glaring at me. "I'm sorry, what was that?"
Laurel leaned into the mic. "I said bullshit, Jerry. Everybody thinks we have this wonderful, happily-ever-after thing going on, but it's all a lie. My life sucks."
I feigned surprise. "But you escaped from the wolf, didn't you?"
"Sure," she said, "and don't think it wasn't fun seeing the woodsman put an arrow through that sadistic bastard, either. But did you ever wonder what happened when I got home? My folks went ape-shit! They grounded me for three months, and they made me wear a damned beeper any time I left the house."
Nicole broke in. "Ha! At least you had a starring role. We got five minutes at the beginning of the story, and then stood around like extras at the end while that bitch Cinderella took all the glory."
Brenda nodded emphatically. "When was the last time you saw a kid dressed as one of us for Halloween, eh?"
Laurel had an answer. "So? At least nobody tried to eat your ass! I had a homicidal wolf chasing me around the house!"
Soon I had everyone chiming in. Brad moaned about being left for a no-name pretty boy with a fancy title; Anita complained bitterly about her lot in life, and tried to convince Laurel that if she'd visited her Grandma sooner she'd still be alive today. Sophie kept shifting in her chair, unable to get comfortable, and bristled when Jim and Jennifer kept referring to her as Miss Fancy Pants. Hansel and Gretel got into a major sibling tiff over who was really responsible for their ordeal in the first place. David, as Rumplestiltskin, sat back and cackled at the whole thing, then launched into an impassioned speech about how nobody appreciates a good villain anymore. And through it all, the audience cheered and clapped and laughed themselves silly. I let it go until it appeared a fistfight was about to break out between Rumplestiltskin and the woodsman, then commanded them all to sleep and waved the lights down.
I had a great group; now it was time to see how far they'd let me take them. "As you sit, drifting deeper and deeper into hypnosis, your fairy tale past fades away from your mind for the time being and you are simply you. In a few minutes I'm going to count up from three again, and when I do you will open your eyes, becoming alert and animated, but still deeply hypnotized. You will then realize that you are all neighbors from the same trailer park in Mississippi, and that a few nights ago something truly frightening and remarkable happened: an alien spaceship landed in the middle of your trailer park. The aliens came out of the ship and crashed a party you were all having, abducted some of you and used you for all kinds of sexual experiments. When they'd had their way with all of you, they got back in their ship and flew away, leaving no traces of their visit other than the affects on all of you. You will recognize me as a network news anchorman here to get your side of the story, because the government is trying to cover it all up and claim it never happened. We're on live TV, but you won't let that bother you because you know that they can bleep out anything they need to and cover you with those blue dots if they need to. As you listen to each other tell about the events of that night, you'll always remember more things that fit into the general story that comes out, and what you remember will get more and more outrageous as the interview progresses."
Once again, I picked a few of my best victims for special instructions. Touching Laurel, I told her that the aliens had made a physical change to her body that she desperately needed to show me to prove they had been there. Brad, I decided, would have an extremely foul mouth -- so foul that every sentence he spoke would contain at least one word that can't be said on television. "However," I added, "the aliens noticed this and planted a V-chip in your head. Whenever you start to say a cuss word, the V-chip kicks in and shuts off your voice until the cuss word is over, then turns it back on automatically. That really pisses you off and makes you want to cuss all the more."
And for Anita, I had a special suggestion. "The aliens implanted a special chip in your brain as well," I told her. "Every time you hear one of the other people on stage describe something that the aliens did to them, the chip in your head will react by giving you a strong sexual stimulus. Each time the chip reacts, you will become more and more arrecho until you can't help but start touching yourself and having orgasms in response to it."
Then, to put the icing on the cake, I touched David. "You are a representative of the United States government. Your job is to listen to everything these people claim happened and then provide a perfectly reasonable, rational explanation for it that has nothing to do with aliens. No matter how bizarre the stories, you will always be able to remain calm and come up with an explanation that sounds normal to you because you know for a fact that there never were any aliens and these people are just making it all up in a transparent attempt to get money from the tabloids."
Having set the table, it was time to wake the diners. I faced the audience for the opening. "Ladies and gentlemen in our studio audience and all across America, the people you see before you have a truly horrific story to tell. Rather than engage in a long preamble, let's just have them tell it. Who will go first?"
Jennifer put her hand up quickly, so I started with her. "We was outside havin' a barbeque," she began. The audience laughed immediately; Jennifer had taken the Mississippi part to heart, and was speaking in a thick Southern drawl. "When all of a sudden like, there was these lights in the sky."
Jim leaned over in front of Jennifer with a goofy grin on his face. "Hi, Maw!"
She swatted him. "Shut up and wait your turn! As I was sayin', there was these lights. I didn't know what they was at first. Jim Bob and me just looked at 'em and wondered, y'know? We ain't never seen nothin' like that before. And they kept gettin' closer, and dancin' around and all, and me and Jim Bob was just confused by it all, we didn't know what it was."
"A space ship!" Brad shouted from behind her. "It was a m---f--- space ship! Get to the f--- point, you stupid b---!"
I feigned confusion. "Is there something wrong with your voice, sir?"
Brad leaned into the microphone. "Of course there's something wrong with my m---f--- voice, you a---hole. Those g---d--- c---sucking aliens put a m---f--- chip in my head!"
"They did what?"
Brad sighed heavily. "They knocked me out with some kind of m---f--- stun ray, they cut a big f--- hole in my head, and they put a m---f--- chip in my g---d--- brain. They're f--- controlling my f--- language!"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Anita squirming in her chair.
"Um, excuse me?" David was gesturing for the microphone.
"Ah," I said, "our representative from the government. Did you have something to say in response, sir?"
David nodded. "This man is clearly delusional. The odd quirk in his speech is most likely a hysterical reaction to being punished for swearing as a child. Assuming, of course, that he isn't faking it altogether."
Brad growled. "Why you c---s--- son of a b---!"
"Then what about this?" Laurel butted in, her voice also bending into a pleasing Southern drawl. She pulled down the left shoulder strap of her tank top to reveal her breast, and then it finally hit me why she had seemed familiar: the newly-exposed breast was adorned with an ornate dragon tattoo. Its tail snaked down the breast, circled the areole, and ended at the nipple, which was pierced by a curved gold needle with an arrowhead on each end. "Is this a hysterical reaction? The aliens put this mark on me to show that I'm good breeding stock. They paralyzed me with that ray of theirs, took me up to their ship, and they poked and prodded my naked body with all kinds of weird machines and needles. Then they put this mark on me and put me back, but I know what they're planning to do -- they told me so."
"Dios mio!" Anita was panting heavily, her hands wandering over her own body.
David looked casually at the offered breast. "Really? It looks to me as though you simply got drunk and went to a tattoo parlor."
"We was experimented on, too." My newest recruits, Amy and Will, were leaning toward me. Amy nodded, holding Will's hand as he spoke. "We was doin' the deed, if you know what I mean." Amy blushed and looked downward at the admission, while Will simply grinned and continued. "I guess them aliens was fascinated by it -- they ain't never seen two people bonin' before, I suppose. These lights came on all bright and stuff, and I could tell we was bein' watched. Amy Jo here said to stop, and I did, but then this red ray hit us and Amy Jo started moanin' and twitchin' and my little general got to throbbin', and all of a sudden I was hornier than a ten-peckered owl. I started puttin' the stones to Amy Jo like we was makin' one of them porno movies. And then all of a sudden it felt like I was pullin' out, but I wasn't -- I was bein' picked up by somethin' and floating in the air. Amy Jo was lookin' up at me all strange and said don't stop now, and I told her I couldn't help it, and she started cummin' like nobody's business."
From my left, I heard Anita groaning. "Did you say something, Miss?" I held out the microphone to her.
"Yo no lo puedo ayudar," she heaved. "Estoy por acabar!"
"Yeah," Will agreed, "that's what she sounded like, 'cept Amy Jo don't speak no Spanish. And then I felt this tube thing slide over my pecker, and some kind of little electric shock like, and my eyes rolled back up my head and I started spurtin' like a goddanged fire hose."
He was interrupted by Anita, who was crying out incoherently in Spanish. Both hands were inside the waistband of her skirt and working furiously as she babbled and moaned.
I let her go until the audience's reaction began to quiet along with her own gasps. Then I held the mic out to David. "What do you make of all this?"
He scowled. "That woman is clearly a nymphomaniac," he diagnosed, then paused while the audience collectively screamed with laughter. "As for the rest of them, I'll be conducting a careful search of the trailers after this interview is finished. I'm sure a few drug-sniffing dogs will turn up the real cause of all this in no time flat."
Half my volunteers had a ready response for that, but I know a good ending line when I hear one. I waved the lights down and sent them all back to sleep.
While the audience showed their appreciation loudly and generously, I pondered the minor dilemma I had just crafted for myself: how the hell do you top something like that? You don't, I decided -- you accept the gift, let it be the climax of the show, and go for a nice, gradual transition to the ending. Instead of concluding with another elaborate scenario, I opted for the stage hypnotist's equivalent of a fugue: a number of loosely-related ideas intertwined and played against each other.
First I had everyone let go of their Mississippi trailer-park personas and the alien scenario, and become their normal selves again. I touched each of my stars in turn and removed the specific suggestions I'd given them. After giving them a little time to drift deeper, I set up for the finale. "People on stage, in a few moments I am going to count to three again. When I do your eyes will open and you'll sit up in your chair feeling refreshed, energetic, friendly and talkative, but still deeply hypnotized and obeying my every suggestion. You will be in every respect your normal self, sitting around with your new friends, waiting for the next part of the show to begin. The only unusual thing, and this will not strike you as unusual at all, is that you will be firmly and completely stuck to your seat. You can move around as much as you need to remain comfortable, but you won't be able to get out of your seat no matter how much you may want to.
"I'm going to be talking to the audience. When you hear me say the words 'Ladies and gentlemen,' that will seem to you to be the most rude, foul, offensive thing you've ever heard anyone say. You will be so outraged, so offended at my words that I know you'll want nothing more than for me to deliver an immediate and sincere apology to the audience for insulting them so. Each time I say 'Ladies and gentlemen' it will seem even ruder and more offensive, but no matter how offended you may be personally, I know that you will never try to attack me or harm me in any way." There was a murmur of nervous laughter from the audience. I looked back at them and said, "You can never be too careful," which got them chortling freely.
That set up the basic structure; now it was time to fill in the various melodies for my fugue. I started with something simple for Brenda: "For you and you only, when I say 'Ladies and gentlemen,' you will not find that at all offensive or rude; in fact, you'll think it's the funniest thing you've ever heard in your life. Each time I say 'Ladies and gentlemen,' it will seem funnier and funnier to you and you won't be able to keep yourself from laughing. If anyone around you seems angry, offended, or upset, you'll find that even more hilarious than what I say and you'll laugh at them, too. For everyone else, if you see or hear someone on stage laughing at me or at anyone else on stage, that's going to piss you off even more. You may argue with that person, or tell them anything you want, but you will not try to harm them in any way."
I touched David. "You are the official sign language interpreter for the show. Whenever anybody other than me speaks, your job is to say exactly the same thing in sign language for the benefit of any hearing-impaired audience members. If you don't know the official signs for anything that's okay, because I know you'll be able to just make up signs as fast as the people can talk."
I moved along to Brad. "You read way too much Dr. Seuss as a kid, and when you get angry or offended you tend to start talking as if your lines were actually written by Dr. Seuss. You'll use lots of rhyming words in long strings and occasionally make up nonsensical words for nouns or verbs."
Then I picked on Amy and Will. Remembering that they had been sitting together, I decided to use that. "You two are teenage lovers who haven't seen each other in three weeks. You won't care what else is going on up here, all that matters to you is that you're finally together again and you can make out behind the cover of the people sitting in front of you. You'll neck and kiss and pet each other as much as you want, bearing in mind that you cannot get out of your seats for any reason. You'll continue necking and making out like high school kids until I tell you to sleep."
Laurel was next. "As leader of the group, you'll consider it your job to make me stop using those nasty, rude words. And you have exactly the means to do it: the tattoo on your chest gives you the power to hypnotize anyone by having them look closely at the dragon's tail. You'll want to use that power on me to make me apologize to the audience for my behavior." There was a swell of low-pitched cackling from the audience. I winked at the crowd and said, "You like that? Watch this."
Walking over to Anita, I touched her on the shoulder. "You," I told her, "were not supposed to be part of the show at all; you're actually a Victoria's Secret model, and you're only here because your agent screwed up and booked you on the wrong night. You will not be offended by anything I might say; in fact, you think this whole hypnosis thing is a crock and your only fear is that the audience might either fall asleep from boredom or walk out. To keep that from happening, you will strip down to your underwear and pose for the men in the audience. You'll keep posing, ignoring everything else that happens on stage, until I tell you to sleep again. The more you notice the men watching or reacting to you, the more blatantly sexual your poses will get, but you will not under any circumstances leave your chair."
And finally, one last instruction -- another ad lib: "For all the other women on stage, any time you see me touch my face you will feel a very sensual, very pleasurable sensation of pressure on your G-spot. That's going to feel incredibly good to you, and you'll continue feeling it for as long as I keep touching my face."
I counted three and brought them up. Eleven faces looked over at me expectantly. "How are you all doing?" I asked pleasantly. They smiled back at me, uttering variations of "Fine."
"That's good. We just have one or two more things to do." I turned to the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, for my next demonstration ..."
A chorus of loud objections rang out behind me. Jim was the loudest. "That's wrong, man!"
Nicole nodded emphatically. "You can't say things like that in public."
I played confused. "Things like what?"
Nicole wasn't cutting me any slack. "Like what you just said."
"But all I said was, 'Ladies and gentlemen.'"
More groans. "Oh, you're awful!" Jennifer complained.
Through a gap in the recriminations, a giggle cut through. Everyone looked sharply at Brenda, who was snickering into her hand. "What the hell is your problem?" Jim demanded.
"I can't help it," Brenda said, giggling between words. "This is all too funny."
"You've got a screw loose, babe." The audience burst into laughter at David's sign language for "screw loose" -- the classic finger-to-the-temple gesture.
Meanwhile, on my left, I caught a flash of yellow as Anita's blouse came off. She wore a cream-colored push-up bra underneath. I quick peek to my other side showed Amy and Will in a lip lock. His hand was caressing her breast through her tube top while hers played along his thigh.
Standing so I could be seen by the group and the audience, I rubbed my chin. "I don't know what I could have said that was so wrong," I said, while every woman on stage drew in a sharp breath and let out a surprised moan. "As I was going to say, ladies and gentlemen ..."
"Hey!" I turned to find Brad shaking his fist at me.
"This language you are using, Is both foul and most abusing. You had best acquire some tact And start cleaning up your act Or else someone will react And an angry fist impact With your google or your zatch, Or your zogget's biddlespatch!"
The audience ate it up, giving a rousing round of applause for Brad's improvised poetry.
"Wow," I said, rubbing my forehead (and listening to the women start moaning in pleasure). "Since you put it that way, I guess I'd better apologize." I put my hand down and faced the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, I ..."
"Jack!" Laurel's voice cut sharply through the general din. "Come here. I want to show you something." She patted the empty seat to her right.
I came over and sat down. "Now watch closely," she said, pulling down her top to reveal the dragon again.
"That's a very nice tattoo," I said innocently.
She smiled. "Thank you. It's a mystical dragon. Look at his tail, Jack." With her left hand, she lifted the breast up a little and moved it, causing the little stud to wink in the light. "Look very closely at his tail, Jack. See how it shines in the light. Let your eyes focus and concentrate on the shiny golden tail. Feel it pulling you in, captivating you." A gentle hand snaked around my neck and pulled my face in a little closer. Damn, I thought to myself, this girl is a natural! "Feel your eyes becoming sleepy, Jack, sleepy and heavy. Give in to the dragon's power, Jack. Go so sleep now."
I blinked heavily a few times, then feigned falling into a deep trance, falling toward her. She caught me and pushed me back into the chair carefully, making sure I was well balanced, and took the microphone from my hand. "You will now obey the commands of the dragon, Jack," she told me. I heard her voice filling the room over the PA system. "The dragon is angry because you have used language that decent people should not have to hear. And that's a shame, Jack. You are a talented and funny and exciting man; you don't need to resort to vulgarity to entertain people. When I count to three you will wake up, and you will immediately apologize to the people in the audience for what you said. From now on, whenever you find yourself about to say" -- she leaned in and whispered "ladies and gentlemen" in my ear -- "your subconscious mind will automatically substitute a socially acceptable phrase instead." She paused a moment while the audience laughed. "And, Jack," she added, without the microphone. "Tonight, after the show, you will come to room 816 and knock on the door. There the dragon will captivate you again, and you will be rewarded with great physical pleasure. One ... two ... three."
I opened my eyes to the laughter of the audience -- I guessed my lavaliere had picked up Laurel's final command. Laurel herself was covering up again.
There was a localized round of hooting from stage right. I looked over to see Anita posing lasciviously in her seat, now in nothing but a cream-colored satin panty. Amy and Will were well into things, too -- her tube top had come down to her waist, and Will's hand had the miniskirt hiking up to meet it. Amy's hand was inside Will's zipper, and their panting was becoming audible.
Laurel looked at me expectantly. I stood up and address the audience. "L-- I mean, people in the audience," I began, letting them laugh some more at the effects of Laurel's suggestion. "I don't know what to say. I guess, with the nature of the place, I figured some of the rules could be broken and that you were expecting that sort of thing. Obviously I was wrong, and I feel I have to apologize to each and every one of you. I'm very sorry, and I won't ever use those words again."
The audience went nuts -- those that weren't busy cheering on Anita or Amy and Will, anyway. I turned back to my volunteers and scratched my cheek a little, sending the women into another fit of panting and moaning. Laurel had an extra self-satisfied sparkle in here eye; she met my gaze and smiled in a way that reminded me of the Mona Lisa. I had a pretty good idea what she had in mind for me back in her room. Sorry, Laurel, I thought to myself. If all goes well, I've got an appointment with my guidance counselor tonight.
It was Nicole, beckoning me to come over to her. I sat on her left in an empty seat, my body turned to make it visible to most of the volunteers and as much of the audience as possible. "Yes?"
"You've got something under your eye," she told me.
The audience cackled, seeing through her ruse immediately and anticipating the result. "This eye?" I held a finger just under my right eye, but not touching yet.
She nodded. "It's just under the eyelid there."
I touched a finger to the area she indicated. "Here?"
Nicole groaned and pressed her legs together. "That's the spot," she sighed.
I pulled my finger away and looked at the tip, as if expecting to see something.
"It's still there," she said quickly. "Try some more."
I rubbed the area a little more, as Nicole and the other women who could see me squirmed and panted. Amy was far too occupied with Will's pants and whatever his hand was doing under her skirt to notice, and Anita was ignoring me as ordered while she posed on her chair for a very appreciative group of guys. "That's it," Nicole told me. "It doesn't seem to want to come off, but keep trying."
"Is it working?"
"Oh, yes," she assured me, "you're doing great. Just ... keep ... it ... up ..."
I pulled my finger away. "Maybe I should just get a cloth or something."
"No!" she urged. I put my finger back and rubbed some more. "You're getting it," she insisted, her words coming in gasps. "Just ... a little ... more ... yes ... yes! ... YES!!"
I held my finger in place while she writhed and moaned heavily. Laurel was doing the same, a few chairs away, as was Jennifer. Brenda just stared at me with a look of utter shock on her face.
Finally, Nicole's breathing started to slow. "Is that good?" I asked innocently, sending the audience into screams of laughter.
"That's great," she told me, her eyes wide and sincere. I thought people might be falling out of their seats in the crowd below.
I got up and faced my stars again. "People on stage, some of you seem a little out of breath. This is probably a good time for you to close your eyes and sleeeep..." They dropped down again on cue, Amy and Will in mid clutch, Anita in mid pose. I took the opportunity to notice that Anita had very nice breasts. So did Amy, as far as that went. Laurel's were the nicest of the bunch, though. Not to worry -- I was sure Monica's would we lovely as well. Face it, Jack, I congratulated myself, you have superb taste.
"For my volunteers on stage, as you let yourselves drift deeply into hypnosis one more time, let all of the suggestions I've given you tonight up to this point fall away, completely cancelled, no longer effective at all. The words 'ladies and gentlemen' will no longer seem offensive or funny to you, and you will no longer react to them as if they were. If you were posing, or necking, or thinking of yourself as having special hypnotic powers, or being my sign-language interpreter, those things are no longer true and you no longer feel any need to act that way.
"In fact, as you remain safely seated, focusing on your breathing, you'll find that you can remember everything that happened on this stage clearly and in complete detail, and, most importantly, with an extremely good sense of humor." I paused while the audience chuckled knowingly. "You'll know that everything you did on stage tonight was done in the spirit of fun and spontaneity, and with no intent to embarrass anybody, and you will remember it all fondly and happily as a fun and exciting experience, with no need for any sort of retaliation or legal action at all." That's a standard joke I used to use; that night, it seemed even more appropriate and not entirely humorous except to the audience. "Hey," I told the crowd in an aside, "you can never be too careful."
Turning back to the volunteers, I continued. "In a few moments I'm going to count to three one last time. On the count of three, you will open your eyes and sit up straight, totally awake and alert, feeling better than you've ever felt before, relaxed, comfortable, and no longer hypnotized. You will remember everything clearly and pleasantly, and feel no embarrassment whatsoever at anything you may have done or at your current state of undress, if that's the case. As my thank-you gift to you, you'll find that when you are ready to go to sleep tonight, you will be able to simply close your eyes and feel yourself sinking easily, naturally, completely into a deep and refreshing sleep. You'll be able to stay asleep until it's time for you to wake up, and when you do wake up you'll feel completely alert and awake and energized, ready to take on the world. And if you have plans for after the show with another person, perhaps plans of an intimate and loving nature, you'll find that whatever you do with that other person is more enjoyable and more pleasurable than it's ever been before, and can last for as long as you want it to." The audience roared. "These people gave their all tonight for your entertainment," I told the audience with a wink, "some in more ways than one. Don't you think they deserve it?" From the volume of their applause, the crowd agreed.
"People on stage, at the count of three, as I said you'll open your eyes and be completely awake. The show will be over, and the applause you hear now and after you wake up will be all because of your creativity and willingness to play tonight. As wonderful as you've been tonight, you deserve a curtain call. After I've counted to three, I'm going to call on each of you by name, one by one. When I call you name I want you to come to the center stage. Men, when you reach center stage you'll strike a muscle pose, like a body builder, and then take a bow and make your way safely back to your original seat in the audience. Women, when you reach center stage you'll show the audience your breasts, then take a bow and return to your original seat in the audience." Approaching Anita, I gave her a special instruction. "For the person I'm touching now: when I call your name, you'll already be showing your breasts. After you take your bow, you will gather up your clothes and go to the restroom to put them back on. As you pass each table, you'll pause and strike one more pose for the people at the table, and let them know they can purchase your outfit at the gift shop in the hotel lobby."
One more three count, and they came up easily. Anita seemed more than a little surprised to find herself on stage, almost naked. Amy blushed, giggled, and pulled her tank top back up. One by one, I called each of my volunteers for their curtain call. The men did a beautiful job of muscle flexing; the women lifted their tops on cue, even Brenda. Brad, Laurel, and Anita got standing ovations from the crowd for their participation.
As the lights came up, I waved goodnight to the crowd and made my way backstage again. Rudi was waiting for me.
"Nice job," she said as I stripped off the lavaliere. "Anybody ever sue you for anything you made them do?"
"Not yet. But then again, I don't usually take things as far as I did tonight. Your entertainment director was pressing me to push the envelope."
Rudi grinned. "I doubt she'll make that mistake again."
My next stop was the dressing room, to wash off my stage makeup. I was cleaned up and back in my polo shirt when there was a knock on the door. I opened it up and found myself face to face with a once-again-dressed Anita de los Santos. Behind her was a nondescript man in a gray suit that I recognized from her table at the show.
I wasn't quite sure what to say. She saved me the trouble of going first. "Señor Torrance," she said coolly, "I'd like you to meet my husband, Diego de los Santos."
Oh, shit. I shook the man's hand, smiling at him, while he studied my face. "Pleasure to meet you, sir. Your wife has a, er, highly creative mind."
"That she does," he agreed. "And, fortunately for both of us, a most attractive body."
I felt the color rising in my cheeks. "Yes, of course. Look, Señor, I don't know what you may be thinking ..."
They looked at each other, smiled, and broke into evil laughter. I just looked at them, puzzled, hoping something would make sense.
"You should see your face, Señor Jack," Anita said. "So nervous. But all is well. I had a wonderful time, and Diego got to see dozens of men wishing they could be with me, and now that we've played our little joke with you, we shall go home and see how well your magic works off stage."
I could feel myself starting to breathe again. "I'm glad you're not upset."
She gave me a sly smile. "I've never been known as una apretada, Señor."
"I'd certainly never say so," I said, grateful for her sense of humor. "Buenos noches, Señor y Señora."
"Good night, Señor Jack."
I headed out the side exit to the dining room, feeling as though I'd dodged a nasty bullet. But I composed myself quickly; out there at that back table I was expecting to meet up with Monica.
Claire was alone at the table when I got there. She saw me coming, jumped up and ran over to hug me. "You were amazing!" she said. "I haven't laughed this hard in years!"
"Thanks," I said, taking a seat at the table. "Where's Monica?"
"That whole alien thing was incredible ... and the whole thing with the apology, and the girl with the tattoo ... and that guy's sign language was hilarious. Were those women really having orgasms? It would have been so much fun to be part of that."
"I'll try to get you a front row table next time," I promised. "Where's Monica?"
Claire stopped and swallowed. "She ... uh ... left."
Something very cold gripped my spine. "Oh? When did she leave?"
She looked at me with sympathy. "Toward the end of the alien thing."
My guts clenched as if struck. In my mind I pictured my old professor, grabbing his hat and storming out the door of the old nightclub. I had to put my head down because the room was starting to tilt and spin.
A gentle hand laid itself on my shoulder. "I'm sorry, Jack. Monica can be pretty uptight about these things, that's all. I thought you were brilliant."
I lifted my head and looked at her. "So did Solly."
I shook my head. "Never mind." Suddenly I was very tired, and in no mood for socializing. "Look, I'm gonna go."
She grabbed my arm a little tighter. "Are you sure? We can still go have that drink. You look like you could use one."
"Some other time, maybe. I need to walk around for a bit."
She nodded grimly. "Whatever you need. I'm going to go sit in the bar for a while anyway. If you change your mind, you can find me there."
There was a large patio outside the restaurant overlooking the beach. I strolled out there for a bit. It was a beautiful night -- warm but not hot, with a nice breeze rolling in off the water. A few people waved when they saw me, others ignored me. I responded to the wavers with a fake smile and a wave back. What would I do, I wondered, if I ran into Brad? Or Nicole? Or Laurel?
I remembered her instructions, given while hypnotized and believing she had hypnotized me. How many people was she fending off because of that little stunt?
It wasn't really my fault, of course -- I hadn't told her to feel any particular attraction to me, or to try and seduce me. So on some level, she really did want me to come to her room. But she certainly hadn't meant to broadcast the fact to the entire audience. I decided I'd better see how she was. Just to check on her, I told myself.
Room 816 was easy enough to find. The Do Not Disturb sign was hanging on the doorknob. I stood there for a minute, trying to decide what to do.
Suddenly the door flung open in front of me. Even before it opened, I heard a familiar voice. "I told you to fuck off, you ... oh." Laurel stood before me in a gray satin bathrobe, looking with surprise into my eyes. Her cheeks flushed red as she stared at me.
"How are you?"
She answered slowly. "Okay, I suppose." She stepped back silently, holding the door open.
I took the tacit invitation and stepped inside, letting the door close behind me. Laurel broke eye contact and fiddled with the robe. "I didn't think you would come."
"I'm guessing a few others have applied to take my place, haven't they?"
Her eyes rolled. "God, yes. I had to unplug the phone. And this really creepy guy showed up at my door and wouldn't go away. When I saw shadows under the door just now, I thought it was him trying again."
"I'm sorry," I told her sincerely.
She shrugged. "It's not your fault. Inviting you up here was my idea, not your suggestion. I didn't even think about you wearing a body mic until after the show, when the phone started ringing."
"I'm still sorry. If you'd like to change rooms, I have some pull with the management; I can probably help make that happen."
Laurel shook her head. "Doesn't matter, I'm going home tomorrow anyway."
We looked at each other in silence, the sexual tension almost tangible. Then she smiled awkwardly, and we both chuckled. "You didn't come here to sleep with me, did you?"
"The thought did cross my mind," I answered honestly. "But it's probably better if we don't."
She nodded. "I'm a little weirded out by all the calls and the guy at the door; I'm not exactly at my best."
"It's fine. Is there anything else you'd like me to do?"
She thought a moment before answering. "Is there a way you could put me to sleep and keep me from hearing anymore knocks on the door until, say, eight in the morning?"
"I can do that," I assured her. "Are you ready to go to sleep now?"
"Pretty much," she said. "I was just going to turn out the lights and take this robe off when you came by."
"Then I'll say goodnight." I extended my hand to her as if to shake hands. She gave me hers, a slightly confused look on her face. I started pumping her hand steadily, watching her eyes, matching each blink with a downward press. In just a few seconds she was visibly wilting; in under half a minute her eyes closed down and she fell forward. I caught her neatly and supported her body while gave her deepening suggestions until she was totally limp in my arms.
"Laurel," I said to her, "I'm going to count to three. On three I want you to open your eyes and stand on your own. I want you to follow me to the door and lock it behind me when I leave, then turn off the lights, take off your robe, and go to bed. Once in bed you'll fall easily into a deep, natural sleep that will last undisturbed until eight o'clock in the morning. Any sounds you hear other than the fire alarm will not disturb you; in fact, they'll help you to sleep even more deeply and restfully. At exactly eight o'clock in the morning you will wake up feeling completely alert, refreshed, and at peace. One, two, three."
I got one last glimpse of the dragon as Laurel's robe opened. Then I slipped through the door and waited until I heard the lock turn and the chain slide into place. Once the little sliver of light under the bottom edge of the door clicked out, I walked away.
My finger hovered in the air in front of the elevator panel. Up or down? My mind was still too active to even think of sleep, so I opted for down. I wandered the terrace a little more, strolled aimlessly through the lobby, and eventually found my way to the bar. Why not, I decided. Nothing like drowning a few sorrows.
I got a Long Beach Iced Tea at the bar and took it to a dark little booth in the corner. I hadn't looked for Claire; it didn't even occur to me that she might still be there until, with a swish of peach-colored satin, she sat down next to me.
"Feeling any better?"
I looked into her face and didn't see anything more than sincere concern. "I suppose so," I said. "That's not the first time somebody's walked out on one of my shows."
"Don't take it so hard," she said, squeezing my hand in hers. "Monica is a little extra sensitive right now. She just got done with an ugly breakup, and she thought you were taking advantage of people too much and didn't want to see it. I'm sorry, Jack."
"Me, too," I said bitterly. "I wonder how many others are, too."
"She'll get over it," Claire told me. "I think seeing that Spanish lady get all worked up, Monica got a little spooked. She was probably afraid she'd find herself listening to your voice, close her eyes, and then suddenly she'd be up in your room, naked, with an overpowering urge to jump your bones."
Yeah, I thought, that would about fit with my stage persona. I looked at Claire, who was trying so hard to be a friend, and smiled weakly. "Wow. You aren't afraid I'd do that, are you?"
"Afraid? No," she said, lowering her voice and gazing deeply into my eyes. "I want you to."