Ruff Times

By Ethan White -
published November 6, 2019

Simon’s in a bad way, financially, and when he sees an ad offering cash for a willing volunteer for hypnosis, it’s hard to resist. He decides not to pursue it, but a chance encounter with the writer of the ad, an attractive, well-adjusted young man who was a far cry from the creepy serial-killer he imagined, changes everything.

Simon sighed. “It’s a long story, you know.”

“I’ve got time,” said Adrian, leaning toward Simon. “Only if you want to, though. You don’t have to say anything. We could find something else to talk about.”

Dammit, Simon thought to himself. “Everyone’s having the problem. Some people are just better at pretending, I suppose,” he said, looking over his shoulder at the dance floor. He wasn’t actually sure that his friends were in the crowd there, but he liked to think that the partiers accurately represented them.

“Money’s tight,” said Simon, swirling the ice cubes around in his glass. It pleased him to see them slide round and round. It distracted him, for a moment, until he remembered that Adrian was there, waiting for him to talk.

“I don’t know how I’m going to make rent. Midterms are coming up. Honestly, I came here tonight to just get away from the stress. Getting some action would have been nice, but the distraction was what I was after,” said Simon.

“I get it,” said Adrian as he leaned over the bartop, “but that wasn’t a very long story.”

“Oh shush,” said Simon, doing the same as Adrian and leaning over the bar. He glanced sideways at Adrian and smiled ruefully. Adrian was cute. Adrian was hot. And, quite frankly, Simon had no idea what Adrian was doing talking to him of all people when there were so many other, better guys around.

“You don’t look the type to be having any money issues,” said Simon. “No offense.” It was true, though. Despite Adrian’s get-up being pretty run-of-the-mill, there was something about the way that the guy was put together, the way that he carried himself that didn’t quite scream “financially incompetent” like Simon. “Old money?”

Adrian shook his head. No. He hadn’t seemed like it, but Simon had thought it prudent to ask, anyway. “My parents had a pretty nice life insurance policy. They died a couple years back and left behind enough to get me back on my feet afterwards. And then some.”

“Oh,” said Simon. Shit. Maybe he shouldn’t have asked. He felt like he owed Adrian a drink, now. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“No, don’t be,” said Adrian. “It’s only fair since you answered a pretty personal question. It’s been a few years now, anyway.”

Adrian flagged down the bartender and got himself a drink. Before Simon could decline, and despite his protests, Adrian asked for another for him. Simon would have protested some more, but thought the better of it. He didn’t want to appear rude, and he really did want another drink.

“I really didn’t know what I was doing though,” said Adrian, taking a sip of his own drink and grimacing. It made Simon smile. “Ugh. Remind me again why I decided drinking alcohol was a good idea?” said Adrian. Simon shook his head. “Anyway, apparently I made some pretty sound investment choices and, well, here I am.”

The implication that Adrian’s sound investment choices would make him enough money to let him live the rest of his life in relative comfort barring catastrophically bad choices in the future was left unsaid, and Simon didn’t know whether to be grateful or resentful of that fact.

His mouth, apparently, decided to go with resentful. “Good for you,” he said, looking at the amber liquid that had topped off his glass. “Some people have all the luck. Genetically. Financially. But, hey, we gotta play the cards that we’re given, right?”

He hadn’t meant to sound so bitter, but there wasn’t any taking it back.

“I’m not going to pretend that it’s been hard,” said Adrian. Again, Simon didn’t know whether to be annoyed or thankful of the honesty. “I know I’ve got it better than most, but I like to think that I can help people out. When they need help.”

Simon returned Adrian’s pointed look with a glare. He pressed his lips into a thin line. “I don’t need your charity,” Simon said.

“I wasn’t offering charity,” said Adrian, although he didn’t seem offended. “I have this project that I’ve been wanting to try my hand at for some time now, and I’m willing to pay a lot of money for someone who’s willing to help me out.”

Naked charity, he couldn’t stomach, but charity thinly veiled as a job offer was much more palatable. “What kind of project?” he asked. “And how do you know that I’ll be qualified for it.”

Adrian laughed. “Like I said, I’ve been watching you all night,” he said. “I think you qualify just nicely.”

Simon thought that was a bit creepy, but he was starting to get desperate, and the alcohol wasn’t helping. “It’s more of an exploration into a kink I have, really… And I want to see how the human psyche reacts to certain things…”

“Wait,” said Simon. “Wait, wait, wait. Was it you that put up that ad for a willing hypnotic subject?”

Adrian nodded. “Guilty as charged,” he said. “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting that you would mention it, but I take it that you were interested since you at least read the ad?”

“It was a lot of money,” Simon laughed. “Hard to ignore when you’re in a tight spot like me. But I dunno, man. That stuff’s kind of freaky, if it even works. And I barely know you.”

“You can get to know me better before we try anything,” said Adrian, with a smile. It made Simon’s heart skip a beat. “But, tell me, why do you think hypnosis is freaky?”

“Because isn’t it like mind control or something like that?” Simon said. “And I heard that hypnosis is bullshit. Even if it was a genuine thing, though, I’m not sure if I want anyone messing around in my head.”

Adrian laughed. “It is mind control. But not in the bad way that you probably think,” he said. “That’s the common misconception with hypnosis, and I guess the way that the media portrays it doesn’t help that at all.” Simon raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t convinced.

“You can’t get hypnotized to do something against your will. Let’s get that straight right from the get go,” said Adrian, his voice taking on a more serious edge that told Simon he meant business.

“For example, I doubt that you would ever stoop to theft, even in your present situation.” Simon shook his head. Of course not. That, he was pretty sure, counted as giving up, too. “So, I could try as long and as hard as I want, but I’ll never be able to hypnotize you to, say, jump over the bar and rob the till.”

The bartender looked over at the two of them. Simon didn’t blame him for being suspicious. He was actually impressed that Adrian was being so brazen about this whole thing.

“And when I say that it’s mind control, I mean that it’s you controlling your mind. You hypnotize yourself. I’ll just be there to guide you, so obviously, that means that I can’t force you to do something that you don’t genuinely want to do.”

Simon still wasn’t convinced. “But how do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“Do you trust me?” said Adrian. He looked adorable when he asked. Simon wanted to say yes, but he also didn’t want to lie.

“No, not really, man,” he said. “I just met you.”

“I understand,” said Adrian. He didn’t appear to take it personally. If anything, he seemed to find it amusing. That was how Simon read the situation, though he couldn’t be sure. “That’s good, though. At least it means that you’re not gullible.”

“Thanks,” said Simon. “I guess?” Adrian winked at him and flagged down the bartender.

As the bartender was walking over, Adrian turned to Simon and said, “What do you say to a little bit of a demonstration, then, huh?” Simon opened his mouth to protest, but Adrian cut him off by talking to the bartender. “Would you mind helping me prove something to my friend over here?”

The bartender looked at the both of them as though he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to see what was going to happen or call security, but thankfully he didn’t do the latter. “I’m going to hypnotize you, Simon, to prove to you that you can’t force a person to do something they don’t want to under hypnosis.”

Simon glanced at the bartender. He wasn’t sure if this was all part of some elaborate scheme that the bartender was in on, but the bartender looked as confused as he was, so he imagined it wasn’t. In any case, it wasn’t like he had much he could get conned out of at this point, anyway. “Why the hell not?” he said. “What do I have to do?”

“Nothing,” said Adrian, lowering his voice. Somehow, Simon could still hear it over the thrumming of the bar’s music. “All you need to do is sit there and listen to my words. You don’t even have to focus on them. You don’t even have to force yourself to listen only to my words. All you have to do is pay attention. That’s it.”

“Okay, sure,” said Simon. He was still skeptical about this whole thing.

“Now, what I want you to do is take a deep breath in,” said Adrian. “That’s it … hold it…” A few seconds passed. “And let it all out.”

Simon briefly closed his eyes as he emptied out his lungs. “That felt good, didn’t it?” said Adrian. “It made you feel so nice and relaxed.”

“I don’t know about relaxed,” said Simon, even though he’d become acutely aware of the tension that was in his body as a result of the exercise. “But it did feel nice.”

“Ah, ah,” said Adrian. “Try not to overthink this. Just listen and go along with what I’m saying. Now, take another deep breath in…” Simon did as he was asked, breathing out through his nose when he was prompted. Strangely enough, he could feel his body relaxing just a little bit.

“There you go, just feel all the tension in your shoulders melt away…” said Adrian, softly. “With every breath in, breathing in relaxation, and with every breath out, breathing out stress … It feels good, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah…” Simon murmured. “I guess so…” He was definitely beginning to feel something. Though, he hesitated to say that it was the hypnosis actually working on him. After all, it could just be his tiredness and sleep deprivation finally catching up to him.

“No need to guess,” said Adrian. “Just follow along with my words … Don’t think too much about it … Just let it happen … Just follow as best as you can … Breathe in…” Simon inhaled through his nose. “And out…” Simon exhaled through his mouth.

“You’re beginning to feel it now, aren’t you?” said Adrian. “A tingling warmth at the tip of your toes?”

“Yeah…” Simon murmured, wiggling his toes. It was so weird. He did feel what Adrian was describing.

“Can you feel it spreading? Moving out through your feet … Up past your ankle … Through your knees … Over your thighs…” Simon nodded, his head bobbing as his eyelids started feeling heavier and heavier. “Breathe in … And out … Just feel that wave of relaxation rolling up from your legs and into your belly … Feeling warm … Safe … Relaxed…”

“Just going deeper and deeper the more you relax…” Adrian whispered. Simon didn’t remember him moving any closer, but there he was, whispering in his ear. “That’s it … Just relax … Just let go … Give in … It feels good, doesn’t it? So warm … Heavy … Tingly … All over…”

“Yeah…” Simon murmured.

“Just listen to my words … Just follow along … You feel so nice and safe, don’t you? You know I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you…” Simon was too far gone to contradict Adrian.

“Now, when I tell you to sleep, you’re going to fall into a deep, deep trance … During that trance you’ll do whatever I’ll tell you to do, knowing that you’re safe here, and that I will never do anything to harm you…" Adrian’s voice meandered through Simon’s consciousness. It was like they were caressing his mind. It was the strangest sensation, but he knew that he would do exactly what Adrian described.

Simon nodded. “Good boy,” said Adrian. “Now, sleep.

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