[Sorry for the delay; it’s been a year since I’ve posted. I planned on having this published on the weekend after June 25th, since this is Eric’s birthday party.]
Like a lot of people, I started college at nineteen. Dad had proposed to Cindy by then, and I was pissed off. So when Iowa State University—halfway across the country—accepted me, I decided to attend. Besides, they had a great medical school, and I thought I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps, and become a doctor. Turned out pretty quickly that career plan didn’t work for me. I bounced around majors a few times. I cut off all contact with my father, so I didn’t hear when Cindy left him.
It was the summer before my senior year. I was celebrating my birthday with my girlfriend, CJ. Some drunk driver decided to run a red light, and slammed into the car. I needed months of physical therapy. Miraculously, CJ came out of it relatively unscathed. We drifted apart after that, though. She found Simon, someone that made her happy; I started dating my physical therapist, Heather. For a while I was all but homeless, drifting between couches. I still can’t drive a car, I freeze up; although for some reason I’m okay on motorcycles.
Then a settlement came down. It was extravagant. Even after paying off my medical bills and credit cards, I had enough for a house. Ames wasn’t a good place to motorcycle around all year, and with Heather losing interest I had nothing to keep me there, so I decided to look in Arizona. I talked to Antonio, and we decided to split the purchase of a house. He was looking to make an investment, after all. Jordan wound up finding a house for us to buy, so we each bought half of it.
It was huge, not as big as the house I grew up in, but still—three thousand square feet, four bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 3-car-garage and a pool. I had no idea what to do with most of the rooms. So, I moved back to Phoenix in Y2K. When I decided to go back to school, it was easy to decide to just rent out rooms. I’d left it empty for the summer, since nobody would be there to keep a daily eye on the tenants and I was going to be in Italy.
That’s probably more than you really wanted to know. But I just wanted to give you an impression of the space Jordan decided to decorate for my birthday. Besides, I’m proud of my house.
After bringing Maxie home, I decided to take a shower. Then Jordan volunteered to bring me back to my house. This was it, the moment of truth.
I climbed into the passenger seat. Jordan gave me a sideways look. “You already had sex, didn’t you?”
I blushed. “Yeah...”
“So I guess you’re probably too spent to go again?”
My cock twitched and stirred at the way she asked that question. “Seems like it,” I lied. “Sorry.”
“Too bad.” She pouted. “So are you going to at least tell me who the lucky girl was?” Then she gave me a sharp look. “It was a girl, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “Does it matter?” People had always assumed I was gay. I got over that really quickly, though it was still annoying. Not that I have anything against homosexuality, it’s just that if women assume I’m not attracted to them, it’s more difficult to convince them I’m an option.
She just laughed. “I guess not. As long as you’re ready for me later.”
I just groaned. “Jordan...” I shook my head. “It’s never going to happen.” I hoped I was right.
Bouncing in her seat, she said, “Yes, it will.” She flashed me a bright smile as she turned up the radio. A chill ran down my spine at the certainty of her tone. My eyes raked over her body several times, speculative—before I ripped them away, reminding myself that she was my sister. I let out a sigh of relief when we finally pulled up at my house.
I’d barely schlepped my bags up my stairs and dumped them on the bed when my phone started ringing. Jordan was still downstairs, messing with the birthday decorations. So I grabbed the landline.
“Eric? It’s Ashlynn. I mean, Dr. Parry.”
I felt a pit in my stomach. “Um. Is there a problem?”
“Oh! Oh, no!” I heard a gasp, then a giggle. “This is a social call. You invited me to your party, remember? Happy birthday.”
“Thanks. The party hasn’t started yet.”
“That’s okay. Sundown, you said? But I was calling to ask if you could maybe forgive me if I brought a guest?” I heard more giggling.
“Yeah! I told you one of my girlfriends lived in your neighborhood, remember?”
“Um, I think so?”
“Well, she remembers you. Apparently, you made quite an impression. She wants to see how you’re doing.”
“Who is it?”
“Melinda!” She paused as I tried to rack my brain. “Or I guess you’d probably remember her as Dr. Jacquart?” She giggled. “She was your anaesthesiologist for the surgery?” I did remember her—she was a very warm, sensual person, in the 15 minutes I’d gotten to know her. I had no idea what I’d done to make an impression on her. “So, can she come?”
I realized I was nodding, rather than saying anything. “Yeah, yeah. I remember her. Sure. She can come.”
More giggling. “Okay! We’ll both come, then.”
“Looking forward to it.”
“Well, um, I guess until tonight.”
“Until then.” The phone clicked. That was weird.
Jordan was still busying herself with the decorations in the living room, so I walked over to the den and started up my computer. I tell you, just sitting in front of the desktop was like a breath of fresh air—I was getting so tired of the laptop. While waiting for Windows to load, Jordan walked up behind me, and slammed a heavy load on another desk.
I jumped. “Damn it! Don’t do that!” I turned around—she’d brought one of those cardboard bins from the post office, filled with the mail they’d probably just released, as I’d taken off my hold.
“Have you recovered yet, big brother?”
“Ask me later,” I rolled my chair across the den. “I’m busy.” I started digging through the crate. As expected, most of it was junk mail, or bills. I discarded those; bills I could handle online, and junk mail just belonged in the trash. There was only one letter that stood out from the crowd.
It was an international business envelope with the insignia for ILYSKN on it. It had come from Germany, and was rather thick. I set it aside to investigate after the party.
Since the pool party was going to be mostly after dark, I was glad Jordan had thought ahead, and switched on the pool heater. It was 7 when people started trickling in, and by 8 the sun was just a memory below the horizon. I watched the sun set with Jordan and my father. The only other early arrival was Brandy.
Soon, Erin and Taffy showed up, with Alicia tagging along behind. “Erin,” I said in welcome, “Where are Hugh and Lee?”
She huffed. “Oh, they’re just being jealous.”
I laughed. “You’re one to talk, angel.”
She flushed. “That was different!”
“I don’t see how.”
“We were a couple!”
“And now you’re a trio.”
Taffy laughed. “He’s got you there, Err.”
The party had been hopping for quite a few hours when Cindy Ravenscroft managed to drunkenly crash the party, declare I was one of the handsomest men alive, and declared I deserved a birthday kiss. So, she planted one on me, her tongue trying to reach my tonsils. I couldn’t believe she’d do that in the first place. Even more so, I couldn’t believe she did that in front of my father, her ex-fiancé.
Still, she’d started a trend. By the time she was done, she was being pulled off of me by her daughter, Brandy, who declared it was her turn. By that point, the crowd was cheering, and other women were getting in line. Even Jordan tried to get in on the action, and I was so caught up in the moment it barely registered. We were still locked in a kiss when a voice cut through the crowd.
“Andy Chase,” the voice began. “You’re kissing your sister?”
I pushed Jordan off of me immediately and turned to look at the source of that voice, ignoring her whimpering noises and grasping hands. “Only one person ever called me Andy,” I said. Then I saw her: blonde hair, toned body, massive breasts; little red dress with a slit up the side. This walking wet dream was Heather, the ex. “Kiki, what the fuck are you doing here?” I walked up to her and gave her a massive hug.
She pulled away after the hug. “You put up an invite on Facebook.”
“Well, yeah. But you haven’t left the Midwest—to see me, at least—since we broke up and I first moved out here.”
“What’s your point? Besides, I’ve got something to talk to you about.”
“Really? What is it?”
The blood drained out of my face. I pulled her across the room, through the family room, and into the laundry room, locking the door behind me. “What did you say? Where do you know that name?”
She just laughed, hopping up on the washing machine. “You knucklehead. I’ve been working for them for ten years now.”
I did the math in my head. “What do they want from me?”
“Did you read the letter?”
“No, but I got the email. The death threat from Barbie.”
She scrunched her brow and wrinkled her nose in thought. “Death threat?”
“The one that started ‘you should be dead...’”
She just laughed again. “Andy, you stubborn, pigheaded BOOB. Did you read beyond that one line? It wasn’t a death threat, it was an expression of concern! You’ve really made a mess of all this.”
“Okay, so what the fuck is ILYSKN, anyway?”
“We do consulting.”
“Well, that’s delightfully vague.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m sure you can figure out the services we provide.”
“So, you control minds.”
“Well, not me specifically.” She snorted. “It doesn’t work that way.”
A lot of questions were swimming around my head, but I just stuck to one. “You’re here on their business?”
She gave me a pouty face. “You didn’t answer Elise’s email. You hurt her feelings.”
“It’s been a crazy time. Emergency evacuation from Europe. Brain tumor. Surgery. Random spontaneous mind control. I’m sure she understands. What’s her interest in me, anyway?”
“You’ve left your mark on three continents, Andy. You’re making a lot of people nervous.”
“None of that was on purpose!”
“It doesn’t matter. You’ve made waves. Your ignorance just puts everyone even more on edge. An untrained power making such an impact is cause for concern.”
I leaned into her, propping my arms up on the washer. “So I’m like a toddler with a flame thrower?”
She shrugged, and smirked. “Pretty much.”
“Wait a second. Ten years? You were with ILYSKN while we were dating?”
She flushed. “You were my first assignment.”
“Great. Our relationship was a sham.”
She put her hand on my cheek, and met my eyes. “Andy, it started out that way. But it didn’t end that way. You’re an amazing guy. I wish you’d realize that.”
“What did I do that got their attention?”
“Someone noticed CJ and decided they wanted her for themselves. Turned out she was already branded—and they didn’t recognize the brand. So, they investigated, and found you.”
“Wait, wait. I branded CJ?”
“Yeah. Lots of times, a guy’s first brand is also his first time.”
“Yep. Until they start learning to separate sex from emotions, it’s dangerous. And you could never do that. You get too attached.”
“Is that bad?”
“It’s dangerous. It made you a liability.”
“You always liked playing with fire.”
“So, does that mean I’ve ‘branded’ you?”
She laughed, “It doesn’t work that way, Andy.” Then she leaned in and kissed me. “But I’ve never gotten over you.”
“What about Norman?” Norman Barnes was her husband.
“What about him?” She kissed me again.
That was all the justification I needed. I hiked up her dress, pulled down her panties, and thrust myself into her. I reached my hand underneath her, and it was like we’d never stopped being together—I still knew exactly how to play her. She climaxed twice—both screaming—before I unloaded into her.
Panting, and pulling her dress back down, she smiled at me. “That’s what I loved about you, Eric.”
She used my real name; things were getting serious. “What is that?”
“Norm insists on eating me out first; I get so bored!” She sighed. “You don’t feel the need to rely on that crutch.”
“Why do you stick with him?”
“An arranged marriage?”
“It was almost you.”
“Thought I was useless to them.”
“Not quite. Certainly not your genes.”
“Yeah. Recessive, obviously.”
“Okay, Kiki. Why the hell are you here? I doubt they sent you to fuck me.”
“No, that was just a perk.” Heather shook her blonde hair and gave me a smile. “Like I said, you’ve made a lot of people nervous.”
“Toddler with a flame thrower.”
“Exactly. Your seizures made waves in Europe. You’ve got a herd that spans three continents.”
“A ‘herd’?” I rolled my eyes; I’d thought ‘harem’ was bad enough.
“I know how it sounds.” She looked a little embarrassed. “It’s really the closest word English has. It’s easier in Ilyskn.”
“Yeah. It’s a telepathic language. Kinda like sign language, it uses mental constructs instead of words. Here, let me show you.” She reached out and touched my hand, and I got this sense of meaning, but I didn’t understand it. It reminded me of the strange high-pitched murmuring that came over the ILYSKN telephone line. “That’s what we really mean by ‘herd’.”
“So it’s a language, and a corporation?”
Heather laughed. “Yeah. They named the corporation after the language.”
“Obviously, you’re not here to kill me.”
“They have other people for that. I’m just here to observe, and help you adjust.”
“It’s a good role for you.” Heather had been a physical therapist. “So, what can you teach me?”
She shrugged. “Let’s start with what you’ve figured out.” Then she just sat there, waiting, staring at me.
I sighed. “First, the obvious: magic exists, and it’s hereditary.” She made a face. “Okay, psychic powers. Whatever.”
“Second—the seizures caused by my brain tumor apparently branded everyone that was in my area of effect. That’s made those people into my ‘herd.’ Herds are apparently usually a lot smaller?” I looked to Heather for confirmation, she nodded. “Also, branding seems to reorient a person’s priorities so that they’re more focused on me. I also know that I can communicate with at least some of my ‘herd’—apparently, branding creates a link?”
She looked surprised. “That’s more than I expected you to have figured out by now. Impressive.”
“I’ve always been a smart cookie.” I grinned. “Next, branding lets me change the minds of my harem,” Heather gave me a look, “It sounds better than ‘herd’, okay?” She chuckled. “Anyway, by change their minds, I mean that literally. It kind of feels like I’m a hacker, changing the programming code of their brains.”
“That’s a good analogy.”
“Third, branding makes it impossible for any other powered person to affect them. Oh, also, I suspect anyone with powers is immune.”
“How do you know that?”
“Elise was obviously immune, and you’ve dropped hints.” I shrugged. “As for the rest, I’ve run into a few resistant people here in Phoenix. I mostly just give them headaches. It seems they’ve all been taken at some sort of hypnotist show.”
“Hmm. You’ll have to tell me about this hypnotist. I wonder if we have any records of this guy.”
“That brings me to number five. Apparently a number of people with these inborn magic, sorry, psychic powers have gathered together and managed to create some sort of corporation, and invented a mental language, and seemingly keep an eye out on the world for more of us. I think that’s it.”
“Sounds like a good start. That’s more than I thought you’d have figured out.”
“Gee, thanks. Oh, and six—my ex girlfriend, YOU, are immune to my powers, because you have powers yourself.”
She gave me a winning smile. “Yep!”
“Perfect.” I took a breath and sighed. “What I’m wondering right now is if branding can be reversed. I think Jordan’s been taken by this hypnotist guy.”
Heather frowned. “Brands don’t fade, but enough work can replace them; but it usually works best if you get cooperation—and you can understand how that would be difficult to get. It’s rather delicate work.” Then she made a face. “It’s easiest you kill him. That’ll... make his brands empty, so to speak. Then they’ll be easier, and less harmful, to replace.”
“That’s how it works. Once a brain is branded, it can’t handle being without a brand.”
At that point, the door burst open. It was Jordan. “Hey, Birthday Boy,” she said. “Erin’s been talking up your whole ‘mind control’ thing, and everyone wants to see you hypnotize someone.” She squinted at Heather. “Who is this?”
“Wait. Heather as in Kiki? The ex that broke my big brother’s heart?”
Heather looked at me. “I didn’t think you were still interested!”
“You were drifting away! You made it clear what you wanted.”
“I wanted you to come AFTER me, dolt!”
“How was I supposed to know that?”
Jordan laughed. “Boys are so clueless.”
Heather looked at Jordan. “You’re telling me. This one is better than some.”
I sighed, scratching my head. “But not perfect.”
Both Jordan and Heather chimed in: “Nobody’s perfect.”
“You coming, Birthday Boy?”
I looked to Heather. “There’s nothing urgent. We can talk more later.” She waved me off. “Go, party.”
As Jordan ushered me back into the house, she turned to Heather and said, “So, you’re...” I couldn’t hear the rest, as she’d closed the door in my face.
Taffy was waiting there, sans blonde wig, her hair pinker than a lawn flamingo. I was nervous about leaving Jordan with Heather, Taffy was pulling me back through the hallways to the common areas, yelling “I’ve got him!” It was after midnight, on a Monday—the party had somewhat died down. There were maybe twenty people left. It was eerie, as soon as Taffy dragged me into the room, everyone grew quiet.
“Eric,” said Ben, a friend of mine from high school. “Erin’s been talking about you being some sort of amazing hypnotist or something, and a few of your new friends have been agreeing with her.”
“And I demanded a demonstration,” said Taffy, winking at me. “So, go get ‘em, tiger.”
I groaned, glaring at Erin. “Okay. Everyone grab the chairs from the dining room and pull them into the living room. Hopefully, between that and the couches, that’ll be enough for everyone to sit.” It wasn’t; some people had to sit on the stairs, or the coffee table. Some just stood.
Taffy laughed and pushed me forward. “Showtime, tiger.”
I knew I could count on at least a few in the crowd going under—Amy, Alicia, Brandy. I figured quite a few more would also go under; I suspected they’d also been branded by the seizures. So, I ad-libbed, using the spiel I’d used before.
“Everyone!” I looked around. “Some of you might be audience, some of you might be subjects. I ask you to just humor me and pretend you are subjects until I’m done. If you’re still awake at the end, then you’re audience. Deal?” I waited for a murmur of agreement, which came almost immediately.
“Everyone close your eyes.” I looked around—everyone had their eyes closed except Taffy, who just winked at me. I rolled my eyes at her. “Now, imagine what it must feel like to be in a trance. Imagine yourself under my control, responding to my words, letting my words program you like your brain is a computer.”
“I’m going to count down from ten to one,” I said. “Each number will bring you deeper. When I reach one you will be as deep as you can be, completely ready to obey my every word.”
Taffy snorted; I looked at her and put my finger to my lips. She pouted, as I did the rigamarole, counting down from ten to one. I made it a little more theatrical, adding some little ‘going deeper’ sort of language after each number. Finally, I reached the end. “One. And now you’re as deep as you can imagine, but it’s not as deep as you can go. You can always go deeper and deeper. Keep going deeper, and don’t respond to me until I touch your shoulder and say your name.” I waited a few moments. “Anyone still awake? It’s okay to let me know, now.”
Sure enough, quite a few people opened their eyes. Taffy, of course, hadn’t even bothered trying. Erin still showed herself immune, looking disappointed. Then Ben and his wife, Roxanne, both of who smiled apologetically at me; and then Cori. Finally, the daughter of my neurosurgeon (Dr. Tran) opened her eyes—Xiao Mei Tran. She smirked at me. “You’re impressive, but not as impressive as Mr. Rocco.”
“Aw,” Taffy said to her. “He’s not bad.” She walked up to me and pinched my cheeks. “It’s almost adorable. Okay, everyone else, you can stop pretending!” She waited; none of them woke up. “This is a good practical joke...”
I waited for anyone else to open their eyes, but nobody did. Not even Cindy Ravenscroft, or Stephanie Konrad, a friend of mine from college. I wondered if they were hypnotized, or something more.
“It’s not a practical joke,” I said. “They’re entranced. What sort of proof do you want?”
She giggled. “Okay, smart guy. Have them take off their clothes.”
Xiao Mei blurted out, “No! I don’t want to see my dad naked.”
“Fine,” I said. “Mine neither.” I looked at Taffy. “You good with us leaving them out of the test?”
She frowned. “In that case, make them kiss each other.”
I looked to Xiao Mei, who shrugged. “It’s better than seeing him naked.”
So I made my rounds, touching everyone’s shoulder, saying their names. Besides Dr. Tran and my father, it was all women. Cindy Ravenscroft was the only one who fell out of trance when I suggested she strip (Taffy and Xiao Mei both jeered at that). Cori excused herself at some point while I was making my rounds, pulling Cindy with her. Soon enough, my living room was filled with attractive, nude women. Granted, most of them were my ‘herd’ but I realized that I had somehow managed to surround myself with sexy women. Then I turned to Taffy and said, “Happy now?”
She frowned, crossing her arms over her ample cleavage. “No. But I’m convinced.”
“Fine! I’m convinced, too. I still say you’re not as impressive as Mr. Rocco.”
“I’ve been hearing a lot about his show. I’ll be going to see him next week.” I turned back to the crowd. “Okay, everyone! I’m going to count to 3, and then you’ll be awake. When I wake you up, I want you to remember everything that happened in this trance, but you won’t feel any misgivings or embarrassment about it.”
“Awwww,” Taffy said. I just glared at her, and she shut up.
“You’ll be comfortable and accepting about what’s happened.” Then I counted upward. After everyone woke up, I said, “You guys can put your clothes back on now. I hope you enjoyed that.” I sighed, feeling exhausted all of a sudden. “I’m feeling tired; it’s been a long day, it’s late, and I’m still recovering from surgery. I hope to see you all again soon. Give me a call; we can do lunch or dinner or something.”
I gave more apologies as I ushered everyone out. Then I hunted down Jordan and Heather; they were still in the laundry room. I opened the door to see them leaning close to each other, whispering. “I’m getting tired,” I told them. “Time to go home.”
“Andy,” Heather said. “Can I stay here? I could help you recover, and stuff.”
“Sure. I’ll show you to the guest room.”
“I’ll let myself out,” Jordan said, sounding very knowing. “You two have fun.” And on that sing-song note, she left.
I turned to Heather. “Do you have any bags?”
“In the entryway.”
“Pretty full of yourself, aren’t you, Kiki?”
“I couldn’t leave them outside after the car dropped me off, could I?”
“I’m sure that’s all it was. You remember where the guest room is?”
“It’s only been seven years, Andy.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t stay in the guest room, then.” She started to open her mouth. “Yes, Kiki. You’re staying in the guest room this time.”
She pouted. “No fun.” Then she winked, and schlepped her bags up the stairs.
I would have offered to help, but I was feeling quite exhausted and drained. I’d been feeling so good with the recovery I pushed myself way too hard. As she was walking down the landing towards the room, I ventured, “Kiki?”
“You said brands never fade?”
“And you don’t have any mind control?”
“No. Only guys can control minds.”
“No women? That seems unfair.”
“That’s what I said. But that’s how it works. Genetics, you know.” She opened the guest room door and headed inside. “Sweet dreams, Andy. Get some rest, you look as white as a sheet.”