Is it scarier to have or lack control over our own actions?
“I can’t believe you bought that stupid thing,” I huffed, crossing my arms over my chest. I eyed the strange device suspiciously as Steven withdrew it from the package. As my eyes scanned its shimmering surface, I felt a strange feeling come over me. My eyes began to dilate, my breathing to grow more regular. Quickly, I looked away, feeling my heart begin to patter in alarm.
When I returned my alarmed gaze to my brother’s eyes, he was staring at me intently, his expression curious. He didn’t usually put much stock into my outbursts, but it annoyed me that he hadn’t even responded.
“Don’t you have anything to say? After having a dangerous thing like that delivered into our house?” Steven had always had a sadistic streak. I had known it ever since he had tied up our cat and strangled it to death when we were kids. We’d never had a pet since. After discovering what had happened, my parents had opted for hypnotic therapy to bury my brother’s mental issues.
Now, however, he simply seemed amused. “Dangerous? It’s just a tool for hypnotizing people. The ads said that it can hypnotize a person within a few seconds, and almost every review said it really works,” he explained, returning his eyes to the object in his hand.
I remembered how my consciousness had seemed immediately affected by the odd device when I watched Steven extract it from the packaging, a shudder of dread rolling up my spine.
“Don’t stare at it! What if it undoes your therapy or something?” I felt myself beginning to hyperventilate, even as I studiously avoided looking at the object.
“Undoes my therapy? That’s ridiculous,” my brother said, turning his gaze from the object to me. He chuckled as he spoke the words.
I scowled, his laugh making me even more uneasy. The killing of our pet had left its scars on me as well, making me particularly jumpy at anything out of the ordinary where my brother was concerned. These days, everyone always told me I had a tendency to overreact, flying off the handle at every little thing. But I wasn’t sure I agreed. I was pretty sure that my reactions were generally warranted. It wasn’t my fault if everyone else always underreacted.
I didn’t care if he laughed at me, as long as it got his attention away from the damned hypnotic gizmo. What if he really did manage to hypnotize himself? What if it unlocked his sinister impulses again?
“You should be more” I shot back, jabbing a finger at the strange object. “Don’t you know what hypnotism is? It’s where you go into some kind of weird temporary state where you’re some easily influenced vegetable. What if you were influenced to do something awful. You can’t actually want that!”
He laughed heartily. “Well, it helped me before, remember? Why couldn’t suggestion be used to release the pressure inside me again?”
“Release the pressure?!” My arms rose involuntarily in an impassioned series of gesticulations, my eyes wide in horror. “I really don’t know what you mean by that, and I really don’t think I want to.”
“Relax, Rache,” my brother said, reaching out to lower my arms to my side. “Being hypnotized is a good thing. It lets others implant impulses inside you.”
“That’s exactly what I’m worried about!” I cried, twisting out of his grasp to grab at the hand that held the object. I pulled at his fingers, attempting to pry the thing from his grasp. Didn’t he see how scary the situation was? Did he want to undo his programming?
He pulled his hand away from my tugging fingers, laughing at my concern once again. “Calm down! It’s just a toy, for goodness sake. Don’t you think you’re getting a little too carried away here?”
“No.” I gave up on trying to wrest the thing from his grip as he pulled away, settling for a disgusted look and a petulant stomp of my foot instead.
“I tell you what—why don’t you use it on me then? I want to feel that feeling again.”
“Because… I don’t know. What if I can’t snap you out of it or something?”
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”
“How can you be so sure?”
He smirked. “Rob has one of these.” He dangled the object before me, causing my knees to wobble as my fear level surged.
“What?! Did he use it on you? That’s… that’s…” I couldn’t think of the right words to express how terrifying I found that idea. “How do you know what he did to you?”
“Maybe I can feel it.” His eyes flashed darkly for a moment. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and I shuddered.
“Oh my God, Steven, don’t even joke about that,” I whispered, staring up at him as panic welled within me.
Just then, the front door opened, the sudden sound sending my heart into lurching palpitations. My fingers curled at my sides, my extremities tingling. Damn Steven for getting me all worked up like this!
“Hi, kiddo,” said mom as she saw me, smiling warmly. Her smile quickly faded as she examined my face, however. “What’s wrong?”
“Steven,” I said, my frightened eyes darting toward him.
Mom’s gaze shifted toward my brother. “What did you do, Steven?”
“Nothing much,” Steven replied with a crooked grin. “You know Rachel. She just overreacts to everything.”
“That is true…” said mom, returning her eyes to me. This time, they were appraising.
“That’s not true,” I cried. “Steven’s experimenting with hypnotism!”
Mom startled visibly, but Steven had hidden the object in his pocket. “That’s ridiculous. It’s not like I can just be hypnotized that easily. It takes years of careful study to be able to do that to someone!”
Mom nodded, seeming to acknowledge the truth of his words. Frustrated, seeing that she was believing him over me, I spun on my heel and marching to my room. I slammed the door shut, determined to stew there the rest of the evening.
By the time my mom called me down for dinner an hour later, however, I had calmed down, the growling in my stomach now seeming more urgent than my will to remain in my room, pouting. Reluctantly, I rose from my bed and descended the stairs.
Flashing Steven a nasty glance, I sat down, quickly grabbing my fork to skewer a piece of chicken and place it on my plate. Steven’s eyes still held that hint of darkness from earlier, giving me the creeps. I saw him fingering his steak knife across the table. It made me uneasy. Had he actually been hypnotized or was I truly overreacting? I did know that it was true that it took a lot of study and practice to hypnotize people. It didn’t seem likely that Rob could have actually hypnotized him.
I glanced at mom, my unease rising. My extremities began to tingle again. It was as if my body were warning me that Steven had something awful planned.
The entire meal, I kept sneaking furtive glances at my brother, his strange fascination with his knife causing me to grow ever more alarmed. By the end of the meal, it reached the point where my heart was thundering in my chest. I grabbed my own steak knife, the act painting a dark smile across my brother’s lips. Leaping up, I circled the table, grabbing my mom’s arm and lifting.
She rose at my prompting, looking at my brother in shock before turning to me. “What are you doing?” she demanded, her eyes descending to the knife clutched tightly in my fingers.
“Protecting you, mom. Steven’s been hypnotized, and I can just tell that he’s been told to do something awful.”
Steven sat there, calm but alert, his right hand still sitting over his knife, trembling.
Mom began to protest, so I pointed at Steven’s hand. Her open mouth snapped shut, and we proceeded upstairs together.
When we got to her room, I slammed the door shut. Mom cast about for her cell phone. As she did, I felt myself become lightheaded. Damn my overreactions! Now wasn’t the time for another panic attack. My fingers and toes began to tingle, then my hands and feet. The feeling spread until it consumed my entire body, and I blacked out.
When I came to, I was lying on my mom’s bed. Something felt wet. I opened my eyes and sat up, my eyes searching the sheets around me. They were soaked in blood.
Turning to my left, I saw my mother’s lifeless, open eyes, a steak knife buried in the center of her heart. My brother stood directly behind her, a maniacal grin twisting his quivering lips.
“Oh my God! You were hypnotized again, weren’t you?” My voice trembled with emotion.
“And you killed mom?”
His grin widened, and he shook his head.
My brows furrowed, as I rose from the bed, backing away from Steven toward the door. “You had to have,” I protested, unsure why he wasn’t admitting to it despite the fact that it was completely obvious.
He didn’t speak, merely raising a finger to point at me. As he did, a sudden flash of memory flared in my mind’s eye. I saw my hand plunging the knife into mom’s chest.
My stomach dropped to the floor.
Stunned, I found Steven’s delighted eyes. “How?” I squeaked.
“After I was hypnotized, I began to study how to do it myself. When Rob showed me his mesmerizer, I borrowed it. After a few days, I managed to hypnotize myself. It brought me back to my original state.”
“So he undid your programming then or something?” My voice quavered. I still didn’t understand what was happening here. Why was I remembering my hand doing the stabbing, not his?
“No, he didn’t do anything.” Steven laughed, taking a step toward me, holding mom’s cell phone in his hand.
There was no blood on his hands. I looked down at my own. They were covered in it. But that was from the sheets wasn’t it? I had blood all over me!
“But then that means…” I struggled to piece the thoughts together in my frantic brain.
“...that I’m still in a hypnotized state? For eternity? Quite correct,” Steven said, holding up the phone. “911” was displayed on the screen.
“Why did you call 911 on yourself?” I asked, my voice a breathy whisper.
“I didn’t,” he said, taking another step forward. “I called it on you.”
Another tremor rocked my tingling body. What did he mean?
“You see,” he said, his dark eyes dancing with amusement. “I hypnotized you when I first pulled the object out of the package. You really don’t remember, do you?”
I thought back to the moment I had first laid eyes on the object, the strange feeling that I’d had. Could it really be true?
Another flash of memory surged into my consciousness. This time, it was of Steven showing me what he wanted me to do with a knife. He was telling me to kill our mother!
I looked back at mom, closing my eyes in horror, knowing in that moment that I had been the one to kill her.
The police burst into the room, quickly scanning the scene before grabbing my blood-covered wrists and binding me in handcuffs.
I turned to the police officer and pleaded, “it wasn’t me. It was him!”
The officer turned his attention to my brother, who promptly raised a finger to his temple, giving it a circular swirl. The officer nodded, swinging me about and marching me toward the front door where red and blue lights flashed just beyond.
I looked back, finding my brother’s grinning face one more time. I realized in that moment that not only was he free to continue his evil work, but that he had the ability to turn an infinite number of people into unwitting killers. He would never be caught, able to murder with impunity for eternity.
I felt my heart thunder in my chest once again. My knees wobbled, and I blacked out.