Dumbing Doubter pt. 3

Jack implants a trigger in Sean and slowly chips away at his intelligence.

It was weird, being aware and not at the same time. Sean drifted along on the waves of trance, bobbing up and down in that liminal space as Jack’s words drifted to him as if from another world entirely.

"Just like that… Feeling nice and relaxed… Just letting your mind wander…"

Sean enjoyed it more than he was willing to admit. The feeling of being unmoored, of being detached from his own body, was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. He didn’t think he had the words to describe it.

"Just listening to my words… Focusing on my words…"

It was hard not to. The soft tone and the gentle cadence of Jack’s voice rocked Sean’s mind from side to side, pulling him deeper and deeper into the trance.

"Enjoying this feeling… Of being so relaxed… Of having no worries… No concerns… Just letting your mind drift up and down and up and down…"

A small smile tugged at the corners of Sean’s mouth. His head felt so fuzzy. In a good way. His thoughts were scattered and distant and he didn’t mind.

"Breathing in relaxation…"

Sean inhaled, feeling his muscles loosen even further, his whole body going slack and hot and heavy and tingly.

"And breathing out worries…"

A quiet groan escaped Sean as he breathed out. He could feel those pesky stray thoughts that threatened to pull him out of trance being blown out by his breath.

"Going deeper and deeper into trance with every breath…"

Sean was sinking. He was sinking into the waves. His whole body felt so warm and numb and heavy.

"Wanting more… Needing more…"

Sean shivered. It was true. At that moment, there was nothing more he wanted than to stay there forever, floating on the sea of trance, sinking deeper and deeper with every breath in and out.

"Mind always looking for the slightest excuse to slip back into this deep, relaxed state…"

Last night, after his call with Jack, Sean had felt strangely spacey. His mind kept drifting back to the six hours he’d spent in trance. He zoned out a few times but always came back to his senses before too long.

Sean had chalked it up to the hour and to being tired but deep down he knew it was because he missed it. He missed being able to just lie back and not think. Being able to just relax for hours without having to worry about all the troubles of being a responsible adult.

"Let’s give it the perfect excuse, shall we? Would you like that?" said Jack.

Deep as he was into trance, Sean nodded. Please, he wanted to say, but the power of speech had long since deserted him. He neither felt the desire nor had the willpower to move a single muscle, even to speak.

"Good," said Jack, with a light chuckle. "Then from now on, whenever I and only I say the words ‘time to be a sleepy boy, Sean,’ and your subconscious feels that it can safely enter this relaxed and mindless state, you’ll immediately slide into a nice and deep trance…"

A low moan escaped Sean. He didn’t know how but he felt that something had changed inside of him. Something profound. Something he couldn’t fully comprehend.

"Going deeper and deeper every time you hear me say the words ‘time to be a sleepy boy, Sean…’ Becoming number and more mindless, sinking further and further into trance with every repetition…"

Sean couldn’t speak. Couldn’t think. He could only listen and accept, listen and let the trigger take hold in his subconscious where even he couldn’t touch it.

"It’s time to be a sleepy boy, Sean…"

Sean’s conscious mind shook. He sank even deeper into trance. He was barely aware as it was.

"It’s time to be a sleepy boy, Sean, and it’s time to sink even deeper into trance…"

Just like that, Sean’s awareness winked out. He was so deep, so consumed by the trance. He could only be.

"And now that I have you here…" Jack murmured. "I’d like you to forget that you have a trigger…"

Sean did not respond. All he could do was listen. Listen and accept.

"The trigger will still be there, giving your subconscious mind the perfect excuse to pull you back down into this beautiful and deep state of trance, but your conscious mind will forget…"

Jack’s words sank into Sean’s subconscious. They took root. He accepted them as the truth.

"Your conscious mind will forget to remember that you have a trigger, and remember to forget that you have a trigger… And the only time it becomes aware that you have a trigger is when I and only I say the words ‘It’s time to be a sleepy boy, Sean.’"

As soon as those words were uttered, Sean sank even deeper.

"Remembering to forget. Forgetting to remember. Never aware until it’s time to sink deep, deep, deep into trance."

Sean roused slowly from the trance. It didn’t take nearly as long this time as it had yesterday. At most, he’d been under for an hour, it seemed.

As he gradually returned to awareness, Sean tried to remember what had happened during the trance but couldn’t. "Well?" he said. "Did it work?"

Jack grinned. "Yeah, bro!"

"You gave me a trigger, right?" said Sean. He looked down at himself. He didn’t feel any different. "Are you sure?"

Jack chuckled. "I am, bro!"

Sean frowned. He didn’t believe it. "Oh yeah?" he challenged. He really didn’t feel as if anything had changed in him. He didn’t remember much of the trance but what he did remember pretty much just pointed to it being a regular trance.

"Here, bro! Let me prove it!" said Jack, with a wide grin. "It’s time to be a sleepy boy, Sean."

Sean opened his mouth to say something but in the next instant, he’d slumped against his chair, already deep in trance.

"See?" said Sean. "I told you it didn’t work!"

Something was off. Sean felt that there was a gap in his consciousness, somehow. Not for any particular reason. He just had an intuition about it.

Sean’s memory seemed to flow smoothly from one moment to the next. He remembered Jack saying that he would prove the trigger had worked. Jack had said something but, oddly enough, he couldn’t remember what it had been. The only thing he could recall was that nothing had happened afterwards.

And yet, despite being confident that Jack had failed to instill a trigger in him, when Sean glanced at the lower right-hand corner of his computer screen, he saw that an hour had passed since he woke up from his trance. Somehow.

"Wait…" said Sean, wide-eyed and in shock. "It… worked?"

"I told you, it did!" said Jack, with a grin.

"W-what was the trigger?" said Sean.

"Oh, it was pretty simple, actually, bro," said Jack, with a laugh. "It was ‘time to be a sleepy boy, Sean.’"

"You keep saying that it worked but nothing’s happening!" said Sean. Again, he had a strange feeling that something had happened but he couldn’t remember what.

Just like before, Sean’s memory seemed unbroken but when he glanced at the clock it had been yet another hour since he last checked. "What the fuck?" he said. "What are you doing to me?"

Jack chuckled. "I told you, bro! I gave you a trigger so that you can slip into trance without needing to be induced," he said.

"Alright," said Sean. "That explains why I’m missing a couple of hours but I just don’t understand how you’re doing it. What’s the trigger? I know you’re saying something but why can’t I remember it?"

"What, ‘It’s time to be a sleepy boy, Sean?’" said Jack.

There it was again. A blip in Sean’s consciousness. "Stop that!" he complained.

It wasn’t so much that Sean had a headache or anything, he just felt weird. The sensation wasn’t even uncomfortable, just unusual. His mind felt frayed and fuzzy and vulnerable—as if it was just scattered all over the place.

Sean didn’t know what sort of psychological trick Jack was playing on him but he was determined to resist it. "Just tell me the trigger so I know what to watch out for!" he complained.

Now that Sean had experienced some small part of it, he had to admit that maybe there was some merit to this whole hypnosis thing. Still, he felt that he could resist it. He was an intelligent man. He was self-aware. If Jack would just give him the opportunity he could show that it wouldn’t work on him.

"I have been telling you!" said Jack. "Your trigger is ‘it’s time to be a sleepy boy, Sean!’"

Sean stopped himself before he could say anything. He’d lost another hour. "Alright," he said, flatly. "Have you had your fun?"

Jack chuckled. "I don’t know what you’re talking about," he said.

"Ha. Ha. Funny," said Sean. "Why can’t I remember the trigger?"

Jack smiled. "Because I don’t want you to," he said. "It’s more exciting that way. You never see it coming."

Sean was steamed. "How am I supposed to resist it, then?" he said.

Jack raised an eyebrow. "You’re not supposed to, bro," he said. "You agreed you were going to go through this all the way. I mean, unless you’re willing to admit defeat right now…"

Sean gritted his teeth. "Fine," he said. He could bear with it for now. He didn’t have the willpower to argue too much either, anyway. His head felt even fuzzier than before, his thoughts more scattered than at any other point in the past week.

"I gotta go now though, bro. I’ll see you tomorrow!" said Jack.

"Right," said Sean, rising unsteadily from his chair once the call disconnected.

Though Sean was on edge after Jack gave him his first trigger, he gradually relaxed. For two days, all Jack did was use his trigger now and then. Sometimes he was aware that he had just slipped into a trance. Sometimes, he didn’t realize until he saw that he’d lost some time.

Sean wasn’t sure what it was all about and Jack wasn’t being forthcoming about that information. All he could do was wait and watch for what was coming next. He nearly jumped when his computer rang with the call tone for VL.

"Hey, bro!" said Jack, cheerily, when the call connected.

"Hey, Jack—" Sean started.

Before Sean could finish, Jack cut in and said, "It’s time to be a sleepy boy, Sean."

Sean’s stream of consciousness came to an abrupt halt. Every time Jack had used his trigger over the past two days, he’d slipped into a deeper and deeper trance. This time was no exception.

The trigger had sent Sean so deep that his mind was completely empty. He was so deep he might as well have been lying on the bottom of the sea. He fell back into his chair, arms and legs limp as his head rolled over his shoulder and his jaw hung slack.

"Good boy. Just like that. Going so, so deep your conscious mind can’t reach you," Jack murmured.

The soft, gentle tones of Jack’s voice washed over Sean, pushing him even deeper into the trance.

"And back up. Alert and aware. Wide awake," said Jack.

Sean’s eyes shot open. He sat up in his chair, wide-eyed at the intensity of being yanked out of trance so unceremoniously. "W-what are you—" he began. Jack didn’t give him an opportunity to finish.

"It’s time to be a sleepy boy, Sean," Jack uttered.

In an instant, Sean plunged right back into trance. He would have slipped out of the chair at the speed with which he went slack. If his body had not learned how to go limp on the chair without sliding to the floor, he would have gone down completely.

"Deeper and deeper every time you slip back into this calm, mindless state…" Jack whispered. "And then back up. Rising from trance. Completely aware of your surroundings."

Sean started awake. A cold sweat trickled down the side of his face. It was like someone had poured ice-water over his body. He couldn’t help but shiver. He felt like he was coming apart, fraying at the edges.

The sensation was so intense Sean didn’t know how to feel about it. He had scarcely even had the opportunity to process when Jack said, "It’s time to be a sleepy boy, Sean," and he plummeted right back into the depths of trance.

"Feeling so, so good every time you’re triggered…" said Jack. "And back up."

Sean gasped, eyes fluttering open.

"It’s time to be a sleepy boy, Sean," said Jack.

Sean’s eyes slid shut.

"Learning to enjoy the feeling of being triggered."

Jack brought Sean back out of trance. Then sent him right back.

"Learning to crave the feeling of trance…"

Sean’s eyes opened, but he barely had a chance to see anything before his consciousness dispersed yet again.

"Wanting to feel this way all the time…"

Up. Down.

"Learning to obey."


"Wanting to obey."


"Needing to obey."

With every trigger spoken Sean’s mind shook and trembled. In the depths of his soul, he felt a desire for more.

"Craving every moment in trance…"

The line between trance and reality was blurred. Sean couldn’t tell anymore, and the distinction didn’t at all matter.

"Feeling so, so good to listen to my voice, to obey my words, and to bask in this mindless, relaxing trance…"

Sean groaned.

"Wanting this so badly…"

In trance. Out of trance. Jack moved Sean from one state to the next with increasing speed, blurring the lines even more.

"Needing this so badly…"

Sean’s conscious mind couldn’t keep up. One moment blended into another. Awake. Tranced. He couldn’t tell. It just felt so good.

"Feeling so nice and suggestible…"

Whatever walls Sean had put up around his mind had been reduced to rubble. He was fully under Jack’s control.

"Good boy…" said Jack. "You want this so badly. From now on, even when your conscious mind is awake, your subconscious mind will stay deep in trance. Nice and suggestible. Soft and pliant. Eager to obey and accept my words."

Sean was defenseless.

"And now it’s time to wake up. Your conscious mind slowly becoming more and more aware. Remembering nothing but knowing everything, while your subconscious mind stays deep, deep, deep in a state of trance."

Sean slowly came back to consciousness. His mind felt like it had been through a wringer. His thoughts were scattered. His head felt like it was stuffed full of cotton. He could barely think, he felt as if he was still half-tranced even as his awareness and clarity gradually returned.

"Fuck," Sean groaned. He couldn’t remember a single thing, only the feeling of the most intense trance that he’d been in yet. He faintly recalled being so deep he felt like he could never find his way back to the surface.

It was terrifying to imagine, but also, strangely, more than a little titillating. A gentle flush crept into Sean’s cheeks at the thought of being stuck in that state. His body even responded to the idea, making his cock twitch in his shorts.

Sean shook his head and pushed the thoughts away. He could only imagine that such things were put in his mind by Jack. He had to resist. He couldn’t succumb. Wouldn’t. He definitely felt he was strong enough to come out victorious at the end of their month-long bet.

"Have fun, bro?" said Jack. His voice jolted Sean out of his thoughts.

Sean looked up and saw that Jack was grinning widely. "I don’t know," he said. "I can’t remember a thing."

"That’s okay," said Jack, with a quiet laugh. "You don’t need to!"

Jack was right, of course. Sean sighed. He wished he could remember what Jack did to him while he was in trance, but he didn’t need to remember.

"Just go with the flow, bro! It feels better that way, anyway," said Jack.

Fair enough, Sean supposed. It wasn’t like Jack was ever going to tell him what went down while he was in trance. It was better to just not stress about it. Just let it go.

Sean was going to end up winning in the end, anyway. What harm was there in just playing along with Jack’s games, at least for now?

They were coming up on two weeks already and Sean still felt like himself. The only thing that had changed was that Jack had planted a trigger to pull him back into trance.

Sean wasn’t one to toot his own horn but he was a fairly intelligent individual. He was fairly certain that, if hypnosis was real, and as effective as Jack claimed it could be, it would still take a fair amount of time and effort to reduce his intelligence. In that case, Jack was quickly running out of time.

"Alright," said Sean. "Is there anything else we’re supposed to do, today?"

Jack shook his head and smiled. "Nope," he said. "We’re good, bro! I have a call with one of my followers coming up in a little bit."

"Cool… Cool," said Sean. Glancing at the clock on his computer, today’s session had been a fairly short one.

Not that Sean was complaining, or anything. He might have been enjoying the sensation of trance but it wasn’t like he cared enough for it to actually seek it out. If anything, Jack’s deciding to waste a day on a short session was in Sean’s favor.

"Guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then?" said Sean.

"Yeah, bro! Though before I go, I gotta ask, have you tried just slipping into trance before bed?" said Jack.

Sean blinked. "No," he said. "I can’t say I have?"

Jack chuckled. "Oh, man, bro, you gotta try it," he said. "It’s the best feeling in the world! And it’ll help you be more receptive!"

"I’ll, uh, think about it," said Sean. Chances were he wasn’t going to do it. Doing as Jack said during sessions was one thing. The rest of the day was fair game.

Sean wasn’t willing to help Jack win the bet, so it was unlikely he would do as Jack suggested. He had no reason to sabotage his chances at winning the $2000 at the end of the month.

"You should seriously try it, bro. It feels so fucking good to go all relaxed and mindless before falling asleep. It makes waking up so much more intense," said Jack.

Sean’s cock twitched in his shorts. The way Jack put it made it sound so appealing but Sean had to be strong. He had to resist. He couldn’t let himself succumb to these mind games. "I said I’ll think about it!" he said.

"Make sure you do, bro! You won’t regret it! Anyway, I gotta go. See you tomorrow!" said Jack.

Just like that, the call was disconnected. For a few minutes, Sean just sat at his computer, staring at his screen, unsure what to do now that the session had ended early.

Sean lay wide awake in bed. He felt strangely restless. He’d spent the rest of the day after the session with Jack trying to figure out what to write about for his next book but hadn’t gotten anywhere.

Sleep was proving to be elusive. Sean’s mind was going at its normal pace of a mile a minute and the ugly specter of anxiety over his next book hung over his head.

Despite himself, Sean couldn’t help but think about Jack’s final suggestion before the abrupt ending of their session earlier. It was becoming more and more appealing with every minute that ticked by.

Sean was well aware that he’d told himself it was unlikely he would do as Jack had suggested but that was before things went sideways. There was a knot of tension in the pit of his stomach that he just couldn’t quite get rid of and it was keeping him from getting any rest.

There probably wasn’t any harm in just going along with Jack’s suggestion for one night. Just because Sean decided to trance before sleep tonight didn’t mean that he would have to every night thereafter.

It was just that Sean was stressed and he could do with some relaxation and there was nothing more relaxing than the trances he’d entered under Jack’s instruction. It wasn’t like he was willingly dumbing himself down just by breathing slowly and letting his mind wander.

Trance was just a relaxation technique, anyway, Sean was sure. The rest of the stuff Jack had talked about, that it was somehow a key to touching and changing his soul, was likely nonsense.

There was nothing wrong with relaxing a little bit before bed. Especially when Sean was feeling as tense as he was. It was only natural to want to calm down before sleep.

The only issue was that Sean didn’t know how to induce trance, himself. If he’d known his trigger he might have been able to use it but Jack had refused to let him remember it.

The only thing Sean could think to do was replay Jack’s instructions in his mind. He closed his eyes and imagined that he was back in one of his and Jack’s sessions, slowly breathing in and out as he listened to Jack’s words and let relaxation flow over him.

Before long Sean felt the familiar heavy numbness at the tips of his fingers and toes. The warmth spread up his limbs and into his body, slowly filling him with a tingling heat. His thoughts gradually slowed and dispersed and before he even knew it, he’d slipped into trance.

Sean woke the next morning feeling like he’d just had the best night’s sleep of his life. He was well-rested and his entire body tingled with energy.

Jack had been right. Trancing before bed felt amazing. It was only such a shame that Sean would have to do it just the once.

Then again, Sean had come out the other end feeling no different, mentally, than he had the previous night. The trance hadn’t changed anything. Not that he could tell, anyway.

Sean was still confident that he could win the bet, in the end. If anything, he was sure that even if he did trance every night before bed he would still be able to prevail.

It would surely be the act of a coward to avoid doing something that felt so good. Besides, given how well-rested it made Sean, he was confident that it would only serve to improve his chances.

Yes. That was it. Even if Sean did trance before bed, he didn’t believe it would make him any more vulnerable to Jack’s hypno bullshit. The better rested he was, the more clear his mind, the more capable he would be to resist any and all mind games that Jack would throw at him so there was no reason to avoid trancing before bed. It just made sense.

"What do you think about the news?" said Jack.

Sean wasn’t entirely sure how the topic had come around to this. "What does this have to do with hypnosis?" he said.

"Nothing, bro," said Jack, with a light chuckle. "Just making small talk, man."

"I see," said Sean. "Aren’t you worried, though? There’s only two weeks left and I still feel pretty smart."

Jack shrugged. "It’s just money, bro," he said. "And besides, there’s still two weeks left. That’s more than enough time for me to help you recover from your intelligence, bro."

Sean raised an eyebrow and said. "I mean, if I’m supposed to be getting dumber, I’d say you’re doing a pretty bad job at it. Thanks to the tip you gave me the other day of trancing before sleep, I’m actually feeling smarter!"

"Sure, bro," said Jack, with a laugh.

Sean wasn’t sure where all of Jack’s confidence was coming from, but he wasn’t going to let it move him. "Bluffing me isn’t going to work," he said. "I see right through you, Jack. You’re not going to get me to think that you have some secret weapon up your sleeve and psych myself out."

Jack put up his hands. "I’m not bluffing, bro," he said. "Trust me, by the end of the month you’ll barely be able to add in your head."

"Yeah, right," said Sean, scoffing. "Not that I’m complaining about you wasting your time, but when are you going to move on from putting me into trance?"

"Soon, bro," said Jack. "I’m just putting the final touches on the good stuff. I’ll probably be done in a couple of days. Then the fun starts."

Sean chuckled. "Alright," he said. "If you say so."

Jack just smirked. "So, anyway, what do you think of the news?"

Sean sighed. Seemed like Jack wasn’t going to let things go so easily. "What news?" he said. "About the cabinet scandal?"

"Nah, bro!" said Jack. "Just… The News. You know, in general?"

"Oh!" said Sean. He breathed a sigh of relief. He thought Jack was about to get political or something. He didn’t think he had the energy to sit through a conspiracy-laden rant about bands of government agents hypnotizing the populace into falling in line.

Sean shrugged. "Meh," he said. "I just watch to keep up to date on things that happen but I can’t say I like the news. There’s just too much doom and gloom on there these days."

"Oof. Yeah. Do you find it stressful, bro?" said Jack.

There was an inscrutable look in Jack’s eyes as he watched Sean and waited for a response. Sean didn’t know what to make of it so he elected to ignore it. "I guess so?"

Jack smiled sympathetically. "Why do you keep paying attention, then?"

Sean shrugged. "I mean, how else am I supposed to find out what’s going on in the world?" he said.

"I mean, do you have to know, bro?" said Jack.

"Well, yeah," said Sean. "These kinds of things can affect me, so of course I have to know."

Jack chuckled. "How do you know you’re not just being hypnotized to think that?"

Sean stared flatly at Jack through the screen. He should have expected some sort of hare-brained conspiracy theory to make an appearance one way or another. "Or… The more reasonable explanation is that people like to know what’s going on around the world."

Jack shrugged. "Sure, bro," he said. The patronizing tone of his voice grated at Sean’s nerves. "But government-sponsored mass mind-control aside, maybe you shouldn’t watch it as much if it just stresses you out."

Though Sean was loath to admit it, Jack had a point.

"Just a suggestion, bro, but maybe you’d feel much better if you just stopped watching the news," said Jack. "I figured you were the kind that paid too much attention to that kind of stuff. No wonder you were so tense during our first session!"

Sean doubted that his initial tension had anything to do with the news but he wasn’t in the mood to argue. Well, maybe it had some small part. It was quite tiresome to watch the news talk about the next big crisis day after day.

"Maybe," said Sean. Even though he wasn’t going to go as far as to stop watching the news entirely, he did think maybe not paying it so much attention could help reduce his stress levels.

Sean gave the suggestion a shot. Jack’s first suggestion had gone over so well that he saw no issue with trying out this second one.

It was more difficult than Sean anticipated but he gave it his best. After his session with Jack, he stayed away from the major news networks. He usually watched the news over dinner but today he found something more light-hearted to watch.

Sean even avoided Shriekr for the most part. He wasn’t big on social media, to begin with, but even he was prone to "doom scrolling" once he happened upon one news story or another that piqued his interest.

The difference in Sean’s stress levels was like night and day. He felt a hundred times lighter by the time he crawled into bed having been more productive in a few hours than he had been in a week.

For once, Sean was glad that he’d taken Jack’s advice. He couldn’t help but think that Jack would probably do much better as a counselor of some description, or a writer of an advice column.

Jack was two for two with good advice so far. It was just such a shame he was wasting all his time on this hypnosis thing, by Sean’s estimation.

"Man, you look stressed," said Jack.

"Oh yeah?" said Sean. "You think so?"

Sean couldn’t lean on his desk. He was feeling more than a little agitated and a lot anxious. The bouncing of his leg would have shaken his camera too much and he didn’t want to subject Jack to an unstable video feed.

"What’s wrong, bro?" said Jack.

"Nothing!" Sean snapped. It was maybe a bit more standoffish than he’d intended. He felt bad as soon as he’d spoken.

"Sorry," Sean said, scratching the back of his neck. "It’s just… publisher stuff."

"Yeah?" said Jack. "I mean, you don’t have to elaborate if you don’t want to, bro, but maybe talking about it a bit might help."

Sean sighed. Maybe Jack was right. "Honestly, I might just be overthinking it," Sean admitted, "but my publisher told me that he would strongly prefer if I could get him a new book to publish in the next three months or so."

"Sounds like a threat to me, bro," said Jack.

"You think so?" said Sean.

Jack nodded.

Sean had to admit, he felt no small amount of relief to know that Jack had had the same thought as him. "That’s what I was afraid of, you know. I can’t do that! Some of the other authors might be able to pump a book out in three months but my process doesn’t work that way!"

"Did you try telling him that, bro?" said Jack.

Sean couldn’t help but feel a little warmth at the genuine concern in Jack’s voice. "Yeah, I did," he said. "But he just said that it was disappointing to hear and asked if I would at least give it my best shot."

"Oof," said Jack. "What did you tell him, bro? I hope you told him he’d get his book when he gets it."

Sean flushed. "I told him I’d try my best," he said.

"Oof," Jack repeated.

A few moments of silence hung awkwardly in the air before Sean said, "Yeah… So basically I’ve promised to at least try and get him a book in three months… And now I’m all stressed about it."

"Yikes, bro," said Jack. "Sounds like you need to learn how to say ‘no’ more effectively."

"Well, it’s not going to help me now, is it?" said Sean. "God. I don’t even know what I’m going to do about this."

"Just tell him you don’t think you’ll be able to do it," said Jack. "It’s that easy, bro."

"But what if he fires me?" said Sean. "I need this, Jack. I can’t just torpedo my career before it even starts!"

Jack sighed. "Whatever you say, bro. I’m sure you’ll figure it out, somehow, but you should just know that you can always say ‘no.’"

"Thanks, Jack, but that’s easier said than done for me," said Sean.

"Just stop overthinking it, bro!" said Jack. "They’re just gonna keep asking you to do more and more absurd things if you keep letting that little filter in your head stop you."

Sean paused for a moment, mulling over Jack’s words. Yet again, Jack was giving sound advice. His biggest enemy when it came to unreasonable demands from people was the part of him that imagined the worst-case consequences for speaking up.

Maybe Jack was right. Maybe all Sean needed to do was just stop filtering himself. Maybe he’d be less of a doormat if he just didn’t overthink the things he did and said.

"Just say it how it is, bro!" said Jack.

Yeah, Sean thought to himself. He always put so much effort into sounding proper and inoffensive. So much pain could be avoided if he just let his thoughts flow freely.

Why did Sean need to filter himself, anyway? To look good to the people around him? It was exhausting. He’d always found it exhausting. It was why he was always drained after having to interact with people—even the ones he liked being around.

"You know what they say, bro," said Jack. "The people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind!"

Sean nodded. "Thanks, Jack," he said. "Maybe you’re right."

"Of course I’m right. I’m always right," said Jack, looking right into Sean’s eyes.

"I don’t know about that," said Sean, with a light laugh. Inwardly, though, he shivered. He was starting to believe it. Maybe not in the case of hypnosis because Jack still hadn’t shown him any convincing proof that it worked, but when it came to advice, Jack had been right on the money the whole time.

"You’ll see," said Jack. "I know deep down you believe it."

Despite himself, some small part of Sean felt that Jack was right.

"Anyway, bro, why don’t we do something to take your mind off things?" said Jack.

Sean sat up. "Yes, please," he said. Stressed as he was, he had been looking forward to the relaxation of trance and was wondering when Jack would bring it up.

"How about we try something new today, though?" said Jack.

"Oh?" said Sean, raising an eyebrow.

"Do you have wireless earphones?" said Jack.

"I do," said Sean. He wondered where this was going. It was the first time Jack had asked him to do something different.

"Awesome, bro! Have you worked out yet, today?" said Jack, a grin tugging at his lips.

"No, I haven’t. Why?" said Sean. He was starting to get an inkling of what Jack wanted him to do.

"Nice!" said Jack. "Working out is one of the best destressers, bro! Oh, man. It’s even better when you go into trance while doing it."

"Is that safe?" said Sean. He didn’t use any particularly heavy equipment in his home gym but he still used some weights whenever he did work out.

"Yeah, bro! I know what I’m doing! You’ll be safe in my hands!" said Jack.

"Alright," said Sean. He had to admit, the idea of working out while under trance was somewhat appealing. More than that, though, he just needed to get away from the stress and he was pretty much willing to do anything to not have to think about the situation with his publisher.

"Feels good, doesn’t it?" said Jack.

Sean nodded.

"Not having to think…"

Sean’s mind was blank. He’d long since slipped into trance, thanks to Jack.

"Just feeling the burn with every rep…"

A bead of sweat rolled down the side of Sean’s face as he curled his arm to finish the set.

"All those pesky thoughts and worries so far away…"

Sean stared blankly at the wall in front of him, listening to Jack’s words in his ears. It was time to do squats. His body moved without the need for thought. The stress of the situation with his publisher was the furthest thing from his mind.

"Just enjoying how good it feels to be so empty…"

Though there were times that Sean got aroused while working out, it never got as bad as right now. He was rock-hard in his shorts, tenting out the fabric in front. He felt so good. His whole body buzzed with energy and his skin tingled with warmth.

"No thoughts. No worries. Just mindless bliss with every rep, flowing from one set to the next…"

A low moan escaped Sean as he did his squats. Every movement felt intense. The whisper of the air across his skin was like lightning, and the stretch of his muscles filled him with a strange pleasure.

"Slowly getting hooked to this sensation…"

Sean’s shirt was drenched in sweat. It was a particularly hot day, and even having the windows open did not help. But it felt good. So good.

"Wanting nothing more than to feel this way all the time…"

A quiet gasp escaped Sean.

"Not having to think. Not having to worry. Just working out and letting your mind drift, letting all those thoughts fall right through your hands…"

Sean’s muscles burned but it was a good burn.

"It feels better this way. No thoughts. Head empty. Completely devoid of any intelligence. Just deep, deep, deep into trance…"

Sean grunted as he finished out the set, not a single conscious thought in his mind. He moved on to the next exercise, relying fully on his subconscious to direct his body.

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