The transfer of thoughts is a tricky business, and it has taken me years to master my particular mesmerism, in light of those who wish their ghostly forms upon me. The telepathic influences of other people strike me, some brutally and some beautifully, but in a tragic sort of way, like a plucked flower wilting in a vase. Studying as a mesmerist, I have come across people from different paths in life: a Christian woman, plagued by visions of her baby’s severed head; a lawyer of Wall Street, who sought my help because it was distant and hidden; even a young girl, who screamed in her trances about a man who overpowered her. In each case I have inquired into their homes and put them into a trance so mesmerizing it eventually cures them of their woes.
My next patient is a young woman, a female with whom I had relations with many years prior. Her name is Florence, lovely Florence. I have entered her abode many times, but this will be the first in a very long time: I think perhaps two or three years. I have not seen her face since then, but her parents begged me—they were always fond of me, never suspecting I was more than a simple mesmerist to her. Upon my agreement, they quit their abode for the night to give the mesmerism a chance to work without any outside forces acting upon it. So, at about seven o’clock, I depart and journey to the edge of town—for all I knew, perhaps it was the edge of the world—to fix Florence.
Their house, half hidden in shadows, cast into a strange darkness on this clear night, towers over me as my footsteps creak on the porch. I knock once, twice, thrice on the door and put one hand behind my back and use the other to pull on the collar around my neck.
I stand there for quite a while, but she does not answer the door. Her parents mentioned nothing about her condition binding her to bed, but perhaps some ailment of her mind has incapacitated her. It will not be too inappropriate if I simply enter her home; help, after all, was requested, and I must not deny the duty delegated to me. Without any further qualm, I push on the door, and it swings open slowly, revealing its innards.
The floorboards beneath me sound like the violent waves of an ocean every time I step on them. The house itself is a bit dusty but fairly ordinary: much like I wish Florence was, as it would have been much easier if she were ordinary. Even when I saw her, whether her lying on my bed with her hair sprawled about or a glimpse of her in town, the malady of her mind shone through, and the sad part is that it did not tear me apart so. I am, if anything, indifferent to it, yet still willing to help since her parents asked for it. As to how Florence will react when I enter her vision remains to be seen.
I call out to her, feebly, as though a fruit fly buzzing in your ear, and expect no answer. I eye the staircase but first decide to check the sitting room to my right. It is modeled much like a European parlor, fluffed chairs and huge family portrait on the wall. Florence’s eyes watch me as I go into the room, still pulling at my collar. I am about to call out to her again when I see Florence wink at me from the painting.
I halt immediately and breathe, shaking, and stare at the picture, where her eyes have gone from their insightful green to the deepest black of the forest.
A scream, piercing the air, and I cover my ears, bending over, a guttural scream of a magnitude that would surely ring through the whole town and make it crumble, but when I resurface, the figure of Florence is in front of me. I have forgotten what she looks like in the flesh, and instinctively I reach out to touch her cheek. Her eyes, though…
“Florence,” I say to her, “lovely Florence.”
Her eyes bulge out, though I am not positive how I observe this in the dim lighting, and she tilts her head to the side. “Is it really you?”
“Yes,” I say. “Stop this nonsense at once and let me mesmerize you.”
She laughs, but it sounds more like her scream. “You already have, love. You did a couple years back, and I have not quite been the same since.” Licking her lips, she stares at me, and my body numbs up at the sight. “Do you still want me?” she whispers.
“No,” I say just as quietly. I retract my arms and look at the girl I once loved with my whole being. In the end it was nothing more than infatuation, and she was a burden with her nervousness festering inside of her, a shell of who she could really be. I tried, I tried so very hard to change her, but she did not budge and never will. I stare down at her, lifting my chin, curling my lip. “I do not want you, and the want from before was a mistake.”
Her lips twist into a smile, and it distorts her once-beautiful face. “I feared you would say that, love. You will learn.” And without another vile thing uttered from such tiny lips, she vanishes in the darkness, and I fall backwards onto the floor. I stare at the painting, but the eyes are green once again.
Why is Florence so peculiar? Why would she think it all right to fright me so? I stand up and regain my sense of balance despite my chattering teeth and knees, straighten my collar, and back away from the portrait, fixing my eyes upon it, never turning away from the face of a girl I once hoped to love. I only turn when a tinkle of laughter pierces my ears from behind me. I take in the scene of the kitchen, furrowing my brows and staying situated. It had been I who was supposed to mesmerize her, but perhaps she is mesmerizing me with such horrific visions!
She sets the table, one plate, then a second, and appropriate silverware to accompany it. Two glasses are laid out, and she produces a bottle of wine.
I gasp, remembering one of our old evenings. “Florence, stop!”
It is as though she cannot hear me: she simply laughs again and pours the toxin into each glass, the blood red toxin that bound us together in an act against God. I leap for her. “Florence!”
Florence looks up, staring at me, still smiling. Even though it is her, happy and well, her eyes are pitch black. I recoil my hand and look at her. She cocks her head to the side, studying me, and the same chill that struck me on the night we became one slices me now.
She wipes her hands on her skirt. “Hello, love. I love you so. Won’t you have some wine?”
“Florence, you’re not right in the head,” I tell her. “Let—let me mesmerize you. Right here, right now. Do not think you can frighten me anymore, for you are only going to make your own condition worsen.”
“Condition?” she says. “What condition?”
I hesitate as I open my mouth: Is this for her ears? Does she sincerely not know what her ailment is? Is this situation even possible for me to endure? “You are ill, Florence, very ill. You’re nervous.”
“Nervous?” she says. “How can I be nervous? I made this dinner for you. We are going to spend the evening together.” She bats her eyelashes and licks her lips. “Isn’t that what you want?”
“What I want?”
“Me. You want me.”
I thrust my hands up in the air in exasperation. “By God, Florence! Stop saying that!”
“But it is true. That is what you covet above all else.” She smirks, and for the first and only time since our previous good-bye, I wish I could have wrangled her neck. “I am your deepest, darkest, most disgusting desire.” She pats the table and sits in one of the chairs. “Come sit with me. Come dine. There is no use running away from such a bond now.”
“We are not bonded,” I hiss, “we are not linked!” I cannot help but wonder at why she pushed these visions of herself on me, how much she truly suffered, waiting for my help. And yet, is there not a part of her that wishes me gone, that wants to let her nervousness accumulate within her, sending her to a certain death? No, I must help her, I have to help her—but why must she make it so difficult?
“Enjoy the wine,” she says. “Drink the wine and then drink me.”
My cheeks flare with heat, and I shake my finger at her as I say, “Do not say such vile things! What kind of woman lets such horrific things drip off her tongue?”
When she raises an eyebrow, I feel the unfortunately familiar stir in my pants, but I push down the impulse, I cannot give in, I push it down and stare at the black-eyed creature before me. The putrescence of her words! Her pestilential attitude! It is enough to make me desire an expiration of myself. Why must I live when I both desire and abhor the same being?
“Love,” she whispers, “love, love is the kind of woman who lets these things drip off her tongue.” In that second, she bursts before my eyes, leaving nothing but swirling dust, spreading in all directions. I jump away from the ones flying at me.
Yet the memories swirl, even the ones I pushed away, and they fly back to me like a baby bird to its mother. They strike me on all sides, and visions of Florence plague my very essence: in the woods, stealing kisses behind trees; walking in town, exchanging lustful glances; and even in her bedroom, in the darkest hours of the night, thrusting and staring at the lovely o she made with her face. All of these and more return to my being, and though I know there is more I still feel as though I cannot go on. If those were days of sin, they also were the most joyful of my physical existence. Not once was I required to mesmerize her. Not once did I have to cure her. Not once, but now, it is all there is.
I drag myself out of the kitchen and clutch onto the wall, trying and failing at digging my fingernails into such hardened resolve. Who am I, to have abandoned her such? She needed me, and all I thought of was the nervousness, then just a spark, and how it would filter into me as though our entire romance was a sieve. How I had already done her wrong, soiled her, and how I could never compensate her recent struggles. Therefore, I must do her right and properly mesmerize her before time makes fools of us both.
The final place I conjecture she will be is her bedroom. My footsteps sound as though they ricochet from the floorboards themselves, and I halt at her door, a hand raised and poised to knock. In all those instances I lay with her, I never thought I would have entered again. But now, with time running short, this is the last chance.
Florence, forget the phantasms! Let me see the real you, in this next moment, not a shell of who you are! Not an extension of the effect of your nervousness—you!
As soon as I think this, a shadow slithers toward me in the darkness of the hallway. I gulp and turn to face it. I already know who it is.
This time she is in her nightgown, pure white, as I remember. She is barefoot and walks slowly toward me before stopping entirely, mere inches from my body. “Hi,” she whispers.
“Hello, Florence,” I whisper back. “What more is there?”
She bites her lip at me. “Plenty.” And so she rips off her white gown, and it morphs into the red of blood the instant it is sheared from her body. Florence, as before with me, is naked, gripping the soiled nightgown like a trophy of war.
I close my eyes and will myself not to look at her. “Please stop, Florence. What is the gain from this ridiculousness? Why do you torture me so?”
She laughs, but it is empty, hollow, and stabbing. “Because you tortured me. You made me think things about myself, about us, and then you deserted me like a coward. The guilt you felt for what you did is right, and I will not let you slip away from it. You must always remember what you did.”
“No,” I say. “You were as much part of this as I was.”
“Turn it around on me,” she laughs again, “make yourself the victim, make me the whore. I already know that isn’t what you think, love.”
I hear her step before she even reaches to me, and I stumble backwards into the wall, grappling for something to hold onto behind. If I open my eyes, I will see her, and it will be all over, but if my eyes remain shut, escape is futile. But then I gasp, for there she is, up against me, pinning me against the wall, and she is so little but so fierce, and she feels me, and I feel her, and—
“No!” I shove her away from me, but it does not work because my hands go right through her. How is it I can feel her and smell her and—when she presses her lips to mine—taste her, but I cannot push her away? The years prior to this encounter, I rid myself of this beast, but perhaps, in the end, that is all there really is. That is all, and there is no escape. At last, I wrap my arms around her quivering form and allow her desire to seep into my core. “Florence,” I whisper against her neck. “Florence, you are right, that is not what plagues my brain.”
She cackles, and I continue fondling her with one hand while reaching for the door behind me with the other. Once I grasp the doorknob, I twist and lunge back through the threshold, slamming the door. I do not hear a scream behind me, but when I open my eyes I see her black eyes in my vision, surrounding it always, never faltering. I breathe deeply and turn around.
It is the bedroom, at last, and there on the bed lies Florence, only her eyes are green, as they once were, and she looks at me curiously. Not the innocent kind of curious, but rather a darker sense of bewilderment. “Love,” she says, “is that you?”
I swoop down upon her and shower her forehead in kisses. “Yes, Florence, it is I. I am here to rid you of this malady, to expel the nervousness from your body.” I take her hand and brush my lips across the top of it, never leaving my eyes from hers. “Will you let me heal you? Will you allow me to mesmerize you?” And then I think, Will you stop forcing these phantasms of the living upon me?
For moments and moments she simply fixes her gaze upon me, studying me. “Is this a trap, love?”
“No,” I say. “This is the honest and unshakable truth.”
Another moment slugs by, but then she throws her arms around my neck and pulls me down on top of her. “Oh love, love! I knew you would return to me, I knew you would come back! This nervousness has been horrible, and I blamed you, but now I don’t, love, now I don’t!” She kisses me chastely on the lips, her face luminescent as I stare down on her. “You have the power to save me, you really have! How I missed you so! Mesmerize me again! Mesmerize me with your love, love!”
I open my mouth to speak, but suddenly, behind Florence, as though pasted on her wall, the first phantasm of the portrait appears, its black eyes gleaming. This time, her teeth are as sharp as a knife’s point, and she hisses at me. “You did not learn, love, you did not learn.”
“Florence,” I say, looking down at the girl below me. “Florence, stop this business at once! You already said you would let me mesmerize you!”
However, the mass of the girl beneath me commences to writhe and tremble. Her eyes roll into the back of her head.
I cry her name again, but again a phantasm appears next to the first, only this is the second one, from the kitchen. She too stares at me with such dark eyes and says, “Drink the wine and then drink me.” She repeats this as the first phantasm makes a swirling noise with her mouth, which appears to coincide with the movement of her pitch black eyes. I push myself off of the writhing Florence beneath me, but by then the third phantasm lurks next to the second on the wall. She runs her fingers over her body and stops short of a certain area. Any attempts to cover my eyes are futile, and I watch in horror as the third phantasm plays with herself. “If you cannot have me, you must watch me have myself,” she says.
“Florence, halt this at once!” I go to shake the already shaking girl on the bed. “Please! I will mesmerize you!”
The hissing grows louder, and then all three phantasms fly off the wall, swirling around me, batting at me, until they fly over the trembling figure of a girl I once loved and craved more than anything in the world. Without a second glance at me, they launch themselves into her body, and when Florence opens her eyes they are black, and she is screaming, and I cannot do anything but watch. Finally, when her eyes snap shut, and her body stills, I go to her and touch her cheek gently. Stone cold, hard. My lover cannot be mesmerized by me again.