Sean’s journey into dumbing down begins with an introduction to trance.
Sean sat down at his computer with a bottle of water and a small towel slung around his shoulders. Mensmerizer09 had sent him a few minutes ago, while he was working out, letting him know that Mensmerizer09 was available for their first session.
If he had to be honest, Sean was more apprehensive today about the agreement between him and Mensmerizer09 but he couldn’t stomach the thought of admitting defeat. After taking a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow, Sean hopped onto Shriekr and fired off a reply to Mensmerizer09.
SeanKingAuthor: Hey. Apologies for the late response. I was working out when you sent your message. I’m available whenever is convenient for you.
Mensmerizer09: Nice, bro
Mensmerizer09: Look at that
Mensmerizer09: We haven’t even started yet
Mensmerizer09: And you’re already on your way!
Sean scoffed and rolled his eyes.
SeanKingAuthor: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy.
Mensmerizer09: Guess not
Mensmerizer09: Do you have a VL account?
As if it was even a question.
SeanKingAuthor: Of course, I do
Mensmerizer09: Awesome, bro!
Mensmerizer09: Send me a friend request
Mensmerizer09: I have the same username
Sean sighed. Of course he had to do the work. He didn’t complain, though. It wasn’t like it was too big of an ask.
Ryze VidLoop. While the parent company Ryze was a fairly old one that had its fingers in a lot of pies, VidLoop itself was a fairly new player on the market but it boasted of the best, most stable, and most user-friendly voice-and-video communication software for both commercial and enterprise users currently available.
VL was pretty much the only thing people used nowadays, having successfully edged other competitors out of the market. Sean had one because it was practically impossible to conduct business remotely without it.
Once Sean found Mensmerizer09’s account and sent a friend request, it was accepted near-instantaneously.
SeanKingAuthor: Hey there!
Mensmerizer09: Sup, bro
Mensmerizer09: So, you ready?
It was a good question. Sean wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think waiting would do him any good.
SeanKingAuthor: As I’ll ever be, I suppose.
Mensmerizer09: Relax, bro
Mensmerizer09: I’m not gonna hurt you
Mensmerizer09: I’m here to make you feel good
SeanKingAuthor: I see. Well, I hope you plan to do more than just make me feel good. Otherwise, you’ll be $2000 poorer at the end of the month.
Mensmerizer09: It’s fine, bro
Mensmerizer09: Feeling good is all
Mensmerizer09: A part of the process
Mensmerizer09: You don’t gotta worry
Mensmerizer09: Okay, I’m gonna call you
Mensmerizer09: You don’t have to
Mensmerizer09: Use your camera or anything
Mensmerizer09: But it would be nice if you could
It wasn’t a big deal if Sean showed his face. He’d been to a few book signings by now and his fans knew what he actually looked like. The only risk was that Mensmerizer09 might pick up identifiable things in his background to determine where he lived but in this day and age, finding his address probably wasn’t going to be too difficult for anyone determined enough anyway.
SeanKingAuthor: Alright. I’ll humor you, "bro." I’ll use my camera.
Mensmerizer09: Fuck yeah, bro!
Mensmerizer09: I’ll use mine too
Mensmerizer09: You don’t have to look or anything
Mensmerizer09: But it would be more effective.
SeanKingAuthor: Alright. I’ll do that. Although, it sounds to me like you’re just delaying at this point.
Just as Sean had sent off the message, the incoming call window popped up. He chuckled, checked himself out in the small camera preview, and accepted the call with video.
"Sorry, man," said a deep, gravelly baritone voice that sent tingles of pleasure through Sean’s ears and down his spine as the call connected. "These are just the kinds of things you gotta talk about before jumping into a session."
Mensmerizer09’s video feed was black for a moment before his camera connected into the call. Even though Sean followed Mensmerizer09 back, he had never seen the guy’s face before. Now that he had, his heart skipped a beat and his breath hitched in his throat.
"I know it’s probably going to be awkward to call me Mensmerizer09 face-to-face like this," said Mensmerizer09, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.
Mensmerizer09 was so fucking handsome, Sean didn’t know how to handle it. He gawked openly for a moment before he realized that his camera was on, too. Sean flushed with embarrassment for staring but he could not avert his gaze.
The bright blue of Mensmerizer09’s eyes was his most attractive feature. Sean felt he might get lost in them if he stared for any longer.
Mensmerizer09 had a handsome and masculine cut to his jaw. There were dimples in both his cheeks. His smile was killer—his teeth seemingly perfect. He sported a short, tousled mop of blond hair like fine-spun gold, right to the way that it almost appeared to shimmer in the sunlight streaming into the room.
The camera only showed the upper half of Mensmerizer09’s torso and Sean couldn’t help but wish that it showed more. The guy was wearing a tight black tank top that showed off his broad shoulders and muscular arms.
It seemed that Mensmerizer09 had also just finished working out. His skin still glistened with sweat. His jet-black tank top was drenched and plastered against his chest, the fabric seemingly stretched taut over the thick shelf of muscle while also being wet enough that it dipped into the cleft between them.
Though only the top part of Mensmerizer09’s stomach area was visible from the camera’s perspective, Sean could still see the outline of rock-hard, cobbled abs under the tight shirt. Suffice to say, Sean thought that Mensmerizer09 looked like a sex symbol on legs.
Sean took a deep breath to regain his composure before he said, "Y-yeah, I guess so. Is there anything else I can call you by?"
"Jack," said Mensmerizer09.
Sean couldn’t help but shiver. Mensmerizer09’s voice—or rather, Jack’s voice, Sean supposed—was like liquid arousal dripping straight into his ear. Even Jack’s good looks aside, his voice was ridiculously attractive.
Jack, though, was a much more mundane name than Sean had imagined Mensmerizer09 would have. If he was being honest, he half-expected something like "Beelzebub," or "Asmodeus," or any one of the demons mentioned in the Ars Goetia but no; it was Jack.
Sean could live with that.
"Can I call you Sean, bro?" said Jack. The smile he flashed was so dazzling, Sean feared he might go blind staring into it for a moment. "Well, I guess there’s nothing else I can call you other than Mr. Author or Author-san, I guess. Lol."
Sean tried to hide his irritation at Jack unironically saying "LOL". Not even as an acronym, but as one would imagine it was pronounced. It was such a petty thing, but he was irrationally annoyed by it.
"Sean’s fine," said Sean, maybe a bit more testily than Jack deserved. Then again, Jack had said "LOL" so maybe he did.
"Alright, Sean," said Jack, the corner of his mouth pulling upward in a small smirk. "I know I already asked, but are you ready, man?"
Sean took a deep breath and said, "Yeah, I am. What do you want me to do?"
Jack chuckled. "Nothing, bro!" he said.
Sean quirked an eyebrow.
"Nothing, that is, except listen to what I’m saying, do as I ask, answer my questions, and be honest," said Jack, a more serious note creeping into his voice.
"Alright," said Sean. "That doesn’t sound like nothing, but seems reasonable to me."
Jack laughed. "Nothing in the sense that I don’t expect you to play much of an active role today," he said.
"Sure," said Sean, shrugging.
"Alright," said Jack, with a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Try and get yourself comfortable."
Fortunately, Sean had no problem with following this particular instruction. He spent most of his time at the computer, after all, and had made sure to invest in getting himself a good chair he could easily spend all day in.
Sean leaned against the backrest of his office chair and reclined. "Is this good?" he said.
"Yeah, bro! Perfect!" said Jack, practically beaming through the monitor. "You must be dying to know what we’re doing today, man. I know I’m excited to get to it."
"I can’t say I’m dying to know," said Sean, raising an eyebrow at Jack’s giddy expression. "But I must admit I am interested to find out."
"Nice! That’s the spirit, bro!" The wide toothy grin Jack was sporting nearly split his face from ear to ear. If he wasn’t so handsome it would have looked downright goofy, but somehow he made it look more endearing than it had any right to be.
All Sean could manage was an awkward smile back.
"Today’s all about learning how to relax and how to breathe!" said Jack.
The guy’s enthusiasm almost belied the absurdity of his utterance. "What?" said Sean. He imagined Jack was referring to something akin to guided meditation but the way Jack had put it made it sound so… Well, Sean didn’t even know how to describe it.
Sean shook his head and chuckled. He couldn’t resist making a witty quip. "I think I would know how to relax and breathe, thank you," he said.
"Lol. Nice one, bro," said Jack.
Sean’s eye twitched.
"I meant how to do it properly, man!" said Jack. "If you know how then that’s good, but if you don’t, you’re gonna learn today, bro!"
"Is there a point to this?" said Sean. He did his best to hide his irritation but it wasn’t easy. He wondered if he’d just signed himself up to waste a month of his life he was never going to get back.
"Of course, bro!" said Jack. "If you can’t learn how to relax and breathe properly, then how will your brain open up and accept the hypnosis?"
It was a fair point, Sean supposed. He just didn’t know enough to rebut it. "Alright," he said, with a shrug. "Let’s get this over with."
Jack pouted. "Aw, come on, bro! You have to try!"
Sean forced a thin smile. He supposed it was the least he could do since he was going to be winning $2000 off Jack at the end of the month. "Alright, ‘bro,’ why don’t we get started?"
"That’s more like it, bro!" said Jack, with a grin.
Sean settled back down into his chair and sighed.
"You can close your eyes for this if you want, bro," said Jack. "You don’t have to, but it’d be easier."
"Alright," said Sean. He was almost loath to look away from Jack’s handsome face but at the same time, he was just annoyed enough that he could stomach it. He closed his eyes and exhaled, draping his arms over the armrests of his chair.
"Awesome, bro," said Jack, softly, his voice slipping into a lower register that made Sean’s skin tingle.
Jack continued, "Right now, I want you to take a deep breath in."
Almost on instinct, Sean did as he was told. His chest expanded, rising as his lungs filled.
Sean shivered as he exhaled. The tension in his shoulders melted away. A heartbeat later, though, it returned.
Maybe Sean didn’t know how to relax, after all. He was so used to being tense that feeling the muscles loosen made him anxious, which made him tense right back up.
"It’s alright," Jack cooed. "You’re home. You’re safe. You have nothing to worry about."
Sean flushed. He kept his eyes firmly shut. Jack must have noticed the way he reacted to his shoulders relaxing. It was embarrassing, especially after what he’d said about knowing how to breathe and how to relax, earlier.
Somehow, Jack’s words helped. Sean didn’t know how or why but there was something reassuring in the gentle cadence of Jack’s soft voice, soothing voice.
"Now take another deep breath," said Jack.
Sean did as he was told. He inhaled the cool air wafting in through the nearby window. He could feel the gentle warmth of the sun on his skin. He was home. He was safe.
Sean’s skin tingled as he let the air in his lungs issue through his parted lips. Not just his shoulders, but even the muscles on his face relaxed this time.
"Just like that…" Jack murmured. "And take another breath in…"
Jack had scarcely finished when Sean did as he was asked. He breathed in, feeling his body sink into the chair even more as he did so.
"And breathe out… Just letting all your worries and concerns leave your body through your breath…"
Sean wished it could be so easy. Just take a deep breath in and breathe all of life’s problems out. Maybe just for now, he could pretend. Pretend that it was that easy. That for at least a couple of minutes he could empty his head of all the unpleasant little thoughts bouncing around endlessly in his skull.
To Sean’s surprise, it worked. As he breathed out, a strange sense of calm overcame him. His thoughts, normally disarrayed and whirling about his head like a hurricane, slowly mellowed out.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Sean took a breath.
The odd tranquility was unexpected. His mile-a-minute mind calmed even further. It was almost as if his mind was a lake, normally whipped into a frenzy by a strong wind, but now mostly placid but for the ripples caused by a drifting breeze.
"Just like that. Relaxing more and more with every breath…"
It was the strangest thing. With every breath in and every breath out, Sean’s body felt simultaneously lighter and heavier. His arms hung limply off the armrests of his chair. His legs dangled bonelessly from the seat.
Sean’s whole body slumped against the chair and he felt no real desire to move or change his position.
"Just listening to the sound of my voice…"
Sean could scarcely even hear Jack anymore. He was faintly aware of it. It was there, in the back of his mind, but it almost seemed as if Jack was talking to him from a world away.
Floaty. It was the only word that Sean could think of to describe the way he felt.
"Just focusing on the rising and falling of my voice…"
Yes. That was it. Sean felt like he was floating on the surface of a vast and calm ocean. Going up and down with the soothing cadence of Jack’s distant voice. Hearing the words. Listening to them. But not really consciously processing them.
"Up and down… Up and down…"
Slowly. Breathe in. Breathe out. Chest rising. Chest falling. Sean slipped deeper and deeper into the sensation. He genuinely felt like he was being rocked by gentle waves.
"With every breath feeling even more relaxed, even more at ease…"
Sean sagged in his chair but he barely noticed.
"Feeling a warm, tingling numbness at the tips of your fingers and at the tips of your toes…"
It was strange. Sean could feel it. He didn’t know if it was just his mind playing tricks on him but he didn’t care. It was weird but it also felt good.
"The feeling slowly spreading up to your foot, into your hand, with every breath…"
"Ohh…" Sean breathed. It was happening. Breath in. Breath out. Warm and tingly.
"Climbing over your wrists and ankles, rolling up your arms and legs…" murmured Jack.
Even though his eyelids were closed, Sean’s eyes rolled back in his head as the sensation continued to spread across his body.
"The wave of relaxation slowly sweeping over your shoulders… Over your hips…"
A low moan escaped Sean.
"Pooling in your chest and in your belly. Feeling hot and numb and warm and heavy…"
Sean could feel it. It felt good. He didn’t know why but it did. It was almost as if someone had dropped a warm rock on top of his chest and his stomach and the heat was seeping into him through his skin.
"Not wanting to move…"
Sean couldn’t even imagine moving a single muscle.
"Letting the weight slowly drag you deeper and deeper…"
Sean exhaled. Even his breath felt hot as it climbed up his throat and out his mouth. His whole body felt so dense, so heavy, so hot and tingly that he was sinking.
Before, Sean was floating on top of the surface of the sea, rocked from side to side by the waves. Now, with every breath, he could feel himself sinking deeper and deeper. The water was nice and warm. It made his skin feel all numb and tingly.
"Feeling the sensation climb up from your chest to your neck… Up the back of your head…"
Only Sean’s face was above the water now, but with every breath, he continued to sink. Deeper and deeper. The heat spread up through his jaw. Over his lips.
As the water came up past Sean’s nose the heat he felt with every breath felt even more intense. He felt like it was melting him from the inside, turning his muscles to goo. It felt so good.
"No more thinking. Just feeling. Letting yourself drift in this feeling of absolute relaxation…"
The water closed over Sean’s face. He sank into the depths. His whole body felt hot and heavy and numb and tingly. His mind was still. Perfectly motionless. All he could do was bask in the sensation.
"Letting yourself enjoy this sensation of total relaxation until your mind naturally pulls you out…"
When he finally came out of the stupor, Sean felt as if he had simultaneously experienced an eternity and not enough time at all in that strange state of total relaxation. Slowly, he opened his eyes, blinking a few times to readjust to the light.
"Welcome back, bro!" said Jack, softly.
Sean stretched his arms over his head and to the side, yawning blearily as he glanced to the bottom right corner of his computer screen to check the time.
"I was only out for ten minutes?" said Sean, sounding incredulous.
"I know, bro," said Jack, with a quiet chuckle, "felt like it was much longer than that, doesn’t it?"
"Yeah…" said Sean. After a few seconds, he added, "Are we going to do this again?"
The corner of Jack’s mouth twitched into a small smirk. "Yeah, bro! Not today, though."
"Oh," said Sean. A hint of disappointment slipped into his voice. Clarity was returning to his mind, though, and he couldn’t let Jack think he was eager for more.
"Don’t worry, bro," said Jack. "We’re gonna be back at it tomorrow. We’re gonna train your brain to stay longer and longer in that state."
"Sure," said Sean, with a shrug. He was fully awake now and, as good as the guided relaxation Jack had put him through had felt, he still felt like himself. "I hope you have a plan because otherwise, that’s going to be an easy $2000 for me at the end of the month," he said.
"Relax, bro!" said Jack. "We’ve got a lot of time together. No need to get too ahead of ourselves. This is just practice for the real thing. Trust me, bro. I won’t be the one losing this bet."
For what it was worth, Jack was very thoughtful despite his sometimes-overpowering demeanor. Sean thought so, at least.
Jack never pushed or insisted. He was gentle and encouraging, instead. Though it grated at Sean’s nerves at times, Jack somehow made the word "bro," sound affectionate.
It had been a week since Sean and Jack started down this hypnosis journey together and Sean’s opinion of the man had only improved. Though Sean hadn’t experienced much trouble with the whole learning to relax and breathe thing, Jack was patient and more than willing to work with Sean through the obstacles that they’d faced thus far.
The more time they spent on a call together, the more Sean began to believe that Jack was in this out of a genuine passion for hypnosis. He almost felt bad his motives weren’t as pure.
A fourth of the time Sean and Jack had allotted themselves was gone. Sean felt like the days had sprinted past, gone in a flash. On the one hand, he was glad that he was one week closer to $2000. On the other, he almost felt bad that Jack hadn’t really made any progress in dumbing him down so far.
Jack had insisted that the first week was all about laying the foundations—about getting Sean’s brain used to the concept of trance. In a way, it had done that.
For each of the past seven days, Sean had managed to stay in that state of mindless relaxation for longer than the previous one. He wasn’t complaining. Progress was progress and he had to admit that the trance felt good.
The one thing Sean failed to see was how it was supposed to help achieve Jack’s goal of dumbing down. He felt exactly as intelligent as ever, and though he occasionally found himself drifting off and craving the feeling of trance, it hadn’t really gotten in the way of anything.
Not that Sean wanted the hypnosis to work. His mind was one of his most precious possessions, even if it did sometimes cause him no small amount of grief. Even so, he was curious how everything was supposed to fit together.
Sean shook his head and sat down at his computer. It was just about time for him and Jack to have their daily session.
It couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment, either. Sean had had a hell of a day and his stress was pretty much at an all-time high. His publisher had called and practically told him to start working on his next book, though not in as many words.
"Sup, bro!" Jack quipped, cheerfully, as soon as the call connected.
"Hey, Jack," said Sean, flashing a small smile at the camera.
"You ready, bro? It’s been a week! Time to put everything we’ve done the past couple of days to the test!" said Jack.
Jack’s enthusiasm was infectious. Sean’s earlier forced smile became more genuine. "Yeah, I’m ready," he said.
"Fuck yeah, bro! Alright. Let’s do this!" said Jack.
"And 3… 2… 1… Slowly coming back up… Becoming more alert… More awake… Yeah. Just like that. Good morning, bro. Have a good nap?"
"Guh?" Sean grunted as he woke with a start. He was still at his computer. The last thing he remembered was starting the session with Sean at some point in the afternoon and yet, somehow, it was dark out.
As he regained his clarity, Sean glanced at the clock at the corner of his screen and realized, with a start, that it had been a couple of hours since he and Jack started their session. "I-I’m sorry," he stammered.
Jack blinked. "What for, bro?"
Sean squinted. "I must have fallen asleep or something…"
Jack chuckled. "Nah, bro," he said. "You were totally tranced out the whole time!"
"No…" said Sean. He couldn’t believe it. Refused to. Just yesterday he’d come out of the trance after just under two hours, and now Jack was telling him he’d been under for the better part of six. "You’re pulling my leg, right?"
Jack chuckled. "Would I still be on the call if you dozed off on me, bro?" he said.
A pang of fear shot through Sean. "But…" he said, breaking out in a cold sweat. "Wait. Just because you’re here now doesn’t mean that you were here the whole time."
Jack cocked an eyebrow.
"You could have been doing something else entirely and just checking in on me every couple of minutes," said Sean. Yeah. That was the only reasonable explanation.
"You almost got me, Jack, but I won’t fall for your tricks!" said Sean, in an almost-conspiratorial tone. He was hoping Jack would relent and admit that it was all a joke even though deep down he felt that it wasn’t.
"I could have, but I didn’t," said Jack, with a chuckle. "I get it, bro. It’s a bit scary at first but you have to admit, it felt good, right?"
Sean hesitated for a moment. "Yeah, I guess," he said, rolling his shoulders. His whole body buzzed with energy. He felt a hundred times lighter, like some strange sort of weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
"See?" said Jack, with a broad grin. "Besides, you wouldn’t have come out of trance when I told you to if you’d been asleep."
Sean shivered. Jack had a point. His mind had been half-asleep when Jack brought him out but he could still faintly remember the words.
Regardless, Sean was still skeptical of the whole thing. He could acknowledge and admit that he might have tranced for the better part of six hours. He wasn’t quite willing to take the next step and admit that it said anything about the efficacy of hypnosis.
"How come I automatically came back out after two hours yesterday?" said Sean. "If I wasn’t asleep, how come I didn’t come out until you brought me out? And just what does this have to do with hypnosis, anyway?"
Jack chuckled. "Because you weren’t ready, yesterday, bro! But you’re ready now!"
A chill ran down Sean’s spine. "What’s that supposed to mean?"
"Hmm… Let me put it this way, bro: your brain isn’t resisting the trance anymore. It’s more than happy to stay there indefinitely," said Jack, grinning widely from ear to ear.
Indefinitely. That particular word scared Sean. Just a little bit. He imagined that it was hyperbole as he couldn’t conceive of how his mind could willingly slip into a dormant state and stay there despite outside stimulus.
Sean knew the way his mind worked better than anyone else. All his life it had been over-active and constantly churning. Even if Jack had been able to inspire calm, Sean didn’t think it was possible to keep it that way for a long time.
A part of Sean still clung to the idea that maybe he had fallen asleep. Maybe Jack had misinterpreted the signs. Maybe it had just been a coincidence that Jack’s words woke him up.
The trance hadn’t felt at all like Sean’s previous trances, after all. It had felt pretty much like sleep. He’d been awake one moment, breathing and relaxing according to Jack’s instructions, and then the next he was waking up hours later.
Still, Sean couldn’t deny that the possibility was there, that Jack was right, that he had tranced for six hours straight. It didn’t necessarily mean that the only thing that could have taken him out was Jack’s instructions. And it certainly didn’t mean that there was any real value to this whole hypnosis thing.
The breathing and relaxation part, the letting go and slipping into trance, Sean could understand. He just didn’t think that being able to irrevocably alter one’s mind followed.
Taking a breath, Sean looked at Jack and said, "What does this mean, then?"
Jack grinned. "It means, fuck yeah, bro, we’re on track to make the deadline!"
"How does this help you, anyway?" said Sean. He wasn’t sure Jack would tell him but he wanted to ask, regardless.
"It’s pretty straightforward, bro," said Jack. "I won’t get into the details but basically you gotta just think of it this way: all the most important parts of you, your personality, your soul, lies in the deepest part of your mind.
"Normally, no one can touch it, much less change it, bro. Your conscious mind is like this big fucking gate around all those important bits.
"When you entered trance the first day, you cracked that gate a little bit open. And then a little more the next day. And a little more the next day. And a little more the next day…"
Sean pinched the bridge of his nose. "Okay. Okay. I get what you’re saying. Can you move on, please?" he said.
Jack chuckled. "Yeah, okay. Anyway. Yesterday, you opened the gate just another little bit more… Uh… You know how some doors swing open completely once you get past a certain point, right?"
Sean could scarcely believe what he was hearing. "Yeah, what of them?" he said. This metaphor was weird.
"Well, the gate in your head is like that!" Jack exclaimed. "You crossed that point, basically, so the gate is now wide open. Now I can talk to your soul and, if I play my cards right, I’ll be able to change it!"
Sean had to admit. Jack almost had him with the whole trance thing. He’d almost started to believe there was some sort of kernel of truth in all of his wild claims.
Sean didn’t think so. Not anymore. Everything Jack had just spouted sounded like some sort of new-age spiritualist bullshit and he wasn’t buying it. "Alright," he said, with a shrug. "What does that mean for us?"
Jack grinned. "It means tomorrow we can start working on the real stuff, bro! Oh, man. I’m so excited to give you your first trigger!"
"Trigger?" said Sean, raising an eyebrow in askance.
"Yeah! It’s pretty much a key I can use to open up that stubborn head of yours whenever I want without having to go through the whole rigmarole of induction," said Jack.
Jack’s enthusiasm was still as infectious as ever, but Sean had pretty much had enough hypno-babble today. "Alright," said Sean, forcing a smile. "I’ll look forward to that. I have to go now, though. I have to still make dinner."
"Oh yeah, sure, bro," said Jack. "I’ll see you tomorrow!"