And he moves his hand back off my forehead and pushes back a little, like an even more caricature than the real thing evangelical priest exorcising my demons. The bright stage lights outline him, leaving him in silhouette over the whiteness that completely obscures my vision of the massed audience, yet I can feel them through the light and through him, standing triumphantly before me.
“You’re under.” He shouts out, as if he’s shouting an order at me, but in a way that the audience can hear him even with his back turned. I can hear the hum of a large crowd, but I still can’t see them; I’m looking at the silhouette where its face should be. I can see his eyes and teeth as he stares fixedly, grinning at me. I’m fixated but not hypnotised, as he appears to expect me to be.
My delay must have him a little worried as he stalls for time by adding as if he intended to all along, “In one, two, three.” He then clicks his fingers and says softly, quietly enough that only I can hear him, “You’re under.” As if he’s simply reminding me of the fact, before clicking his fingers.
“Come on.” I hear someone say under their breath, someone sitting facing the expectant crowd without the hypnotist blocking his view. He sounds like he wants me to fake it – they both do. And as the hypnotist clicks his fingers and suddenly steps aside, the spotlight floods right into my eyes and leaves me momentarily blinded. My hands fly instinctively up over my eyes, I cower back from the light, causing a rippling gasp out over the crowd. The lights fade a little, and I can see them all, staring, waiting expectantly.
I can imagine others out in the audience muttering “Come on” under their breaths, as if I’m the only one here who isn’t in on it. But instead, the magician takes control. I’ve dipped my head down to avert my sight from the bright lights and dim crowd, and he capitalises on it. He steps forward, placing a hand tightly on the back of my head to stop me looking back up, and announces, “I’ve never seen anyone fight it this much!” which brings a stifled laughter from the crowd – they can’t decide if this is part of the show or not. “UNDER!” he calls out, seeming even more like an exorcist of some sort. I’m looking down at my feet, toes pointed in nervously, and I can’t be sure if he said or I just imagined “Fake it, girl.” As if I should’ve already known. But whether it was him saying it or me thinking it, I realised that he wasn’t going to let his hand off the nape of my neck until I either did as he wanted or passed out from lack of blood to the brain.
I realised in this brief moment that I was facing a horrible choice – push his hand aside, stand up, and announce proudly that I am not hypnotised and this man is a fake; or fake it. I imagine the reaction of the crowd (booing him, me, the other volunteers on the stage), then of him turning to the crowd and announcing that some people are just too closed, weak minded or stupid to the experience. The crowd would start pointing at me and laughing until I followed the hypnotist’s shooing gesture and left the stage. But all this imagining happens in milliseconds, and even as I continue to imagine the final day of this charlatan’s career when his subject denies him and he is shamed, I know it is not me that will expose him. I stop resisting him by relaxing my neck enough for him to release his grip. I then sit back up in my chair, all the time keeping my head down and looking at my feet as if I were hypnotised.
“Are you under?” He asks me at last; the crowd (and my fellow volunteers, I suspect) silent with anticipation. Every person their wants me to be hypnotised, even me. I wish so hard that I was – maybe it is me that’s got a problem; perhaps I’m too cold and unfeeling to be hypnotised. I’m not even fighting an inner dilemma; I’m just not sure how well I can fake being hypnotised.
“I am.” I say sleepily, without looking up. I imagine I can feel my hair blowing in the collective sigh of relief.
“Then you can stand on your chair and howl like a dog for us, can’t you?” He prompts, and I realise that my acting skills are not in question; only my level of gullibility. But maybe even he doesn’t know that I’m not really hypnotised. Maybe if he comes close enough, I’ll sotto voce to him that I’m not really hypnotised. But for now, I must pass his first test, so I stand up, look around for a moment as if I’m oblivious to the fact that two thousand people are sitting waiting for me to howl, and then I’m up on the chair, wolfing like the best of ‘em.
“You were fantastic.” He says warmly to me, holding my arm for a moment as I walk past him to leave the stage. I look up at him, and I can’t read his eyes, but I have a moment where I wonder if he’s about to kiss me.
“Thanks.” I say without stopping. I also mouth it a few times to the crowd as I walk off stage to tumultuous applause. I think about waiting around offstage until he’s done his closing number, but I decide to head to the bar and wait for my friends.
“It’s a bit like seeing yourself from outside your body.” I say spookily, and they all whoop with a near-hysterical excitement. Would I have been so excited if it were one of them that had been hypnotised? Probably not, but that’s probably why I was the one who volunteered. I’d been sceptical about whether I could be hypnotised, but it never occurred to me that I might fake it anyway.
But soon enough we’re in a club, drunk, and struggling more and more to stay up on high heels while dancing. I’m just thinking about how I might call it a night when one of the girls comes over with a couple of guys, announcing loud enough to hear over the music “This is the one who got hypnotised.”
I feel like disappearing through the floor, but one of the guys is beside me like a shot, “I know hypnosis.” He says, waving his hands in front of my face in beat with the music, dancing. I pretend to glaze over, take a couple of zombie steps closer then begin dancing with him.
Faking by Victor L Machin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.