“Having trouble sleeping?"
Yes. I wouldn't be in front of my television at 1 am otherwise, lifelessly watching the infomercials. The man was grinning back at me almost manically, as if he knew it well, as if I, a bored insomniac, personally checked all of his boxes for a target audience.
"The nights too loud in the big city? Do you ever just want to move away for a good night's sleep?"
Again, yes. As a country mouse, I had a hard time dealing with the big city racket that never ceased. Even now, I could hear police sirens a few blocks away and there was a pack of street cats shrieking in the back alley right beneath my window. Were they fighting? Mating? Who knew.
"Look no further for a solution to your problems." The man never stopped grinning. I wasn't even sure if he blinked the whole time his face had been the centerpiece of my TV screen. Distractingly white teeth posing little to no contrast in his smooth white skin, obviously heavily covered in makeup, and bleached blonde hair. Even his eyes, strikingly pale blue, melted softly with his whole appearance.
Watching him, I realized he never even introduced himself. As an insomniac who recreationally spent his nights in front of infomercials, I knew for a fact that the over-enthusiastic sellers usually introduced themselves with ridiculous names before they began to sell their product. I had no name that I could assign to this man. He was as enigmatic as the rest of this slow-paced commercial.
"Presenting now, The Lullaby," the man announced, his voice even, his grin ever-present. Still, not one blink. "A hypnotic phone line that will help you get the peaceful sleep you deserve."
Hypnosis? Ha! No wonder the guy was being so willfully mysterious. He did remind me of a creepy magician when I really thought about it. But, seriously. Hypnosis? And I thought I'd seen the most bizarre infomercial last week when someone had tried to convince their sleepless public to buy flavored tampons. To make you ladies more desirable before intercourse, the sleazy man had said, clearly without any sort of knowledge what tampons were originally designed for. Now, that one took the cake! Hilariously stupid, and I was still cackling at it as I went to sleep that night. But hypnosis? It was equally ridiculous, but in a much sadder way. Hadn't all those pathetic psychics and magicians gone out of business already? I truly thought these sorts of scams were over for good.
The man was still talking.
"Call now, and you will be lulled to sleep by one of our hypnosis professionals at a discounted price," the man uttered the magic words every infomercial salesman knew by heart. The offer that would come would be an illusion of a great price that convinced naive people to spend their money.
“For just twelve cents an hour, you will find the sleep you have been craving,” the man continued with his wickedly velvet grin, and I actually did a double-take. Twelve cents an hour? That didn’t seem like a lot. They were either aiming to whisper some nonsense into the poor suckers’ ears for the entire night, or they were not even serious about what they were scamming. Or they were popular enough to afford it, which was just ludicrous for me to think about.
One way or another, as I watched the red-colored phone number blink beneath the man’s chin on the screen, my bored sleepless mind was filled with one stupid idea – twelve cents per one hour seemed like an awfully small amount of money to spend at one in the morning when sleep still evaded me.
Before I could talk myself out of it, I picked up my phone and dialed the number. A soft-spoken woman answered almost immediately.
“The Lullaby Hypnosis center, how can I help you?”
“Uh, I saw the infomercial, I would like to try out this… thing.”
“Certainly,” the woman said. “Let me put you through to our hypnotizer.”
Their hypnotizer. Sure. That sounded credible. I was only half afraid that these people could somehow get my personal information, but I pushed that thought aside. They might have been selling nonsense, but they were only after the money they could make. Maybe they were so sure in their hypnosis being successful that they wanted to lure people in with the low price and get them hooked. Yes, that was it. There was no harm in trying it out. I would at least get a laugh out of it.
“Hello and welcome,” a man’s voice greeted me, as velvety and pleasant as the one on the infomercial. I had to assume it was the same guy. To be honest, I would have been disappointed if it hadn't been. “Welcome to the first step to getting your good night’s sleep.”
“Hi,” I said lamely. I didn’t know what I should say. He didn’t introduce himself, so I decided no to do it, either. The more anonymous this exchange was, the better. “So, how does this work?”
“Settle in your seat,” the man said. After a pause, he added, “or in your bed, wherever you are. Close your eyes and take a deep breath.”
I followed his instruction, already regretting that I had spent twelve whole cents of this. It wasn’t even amusing, just a waste of time. But I still had fifty-nine minutes to go, so I decided to at least get my money’s worth. I leaned back on my sofa and closed my eyes. I took one deep breath and exhaled, then took another.
“Don’t be so hasty,” the man said into my ear. “I only told you to take one breath.”
“Then don’t take so much time with your instructions,” I grumbled back. The late hour was making me irritable. The man chuckled.
“Alright. Take one breath. Slow, as slow as you can, and listen to my voice as I pull your very soul away from your home’s distractions and into the land of dreams.”
I breathed in shallowly, dragging my inhale for as long as I could.
“Good, good. Now, hold your breath as I count down from ten,” the man said the second my lungs filled up, as if he could hear my own breathing. I held my breath.
I heard the commercial still playing on the television, seemingly on a loop. These people really bought many a minute to scam as many morons as possible.
Morons like me, it would appear.
His counting was quite slow. Maybe he was aiming at the lack of oxygen knocking me out and call the hypnosis successful later on.
There was a sound, a sort of music, in the background of his voice. A steady, bewildering tune. I began to focus on it, tried to make out what exactly it was.
The sounds from the street began drowning out. Soon enough, I could only hear the television, the soft music, and the man counting down.
Maybe this hypnosis thing was actually working, as reluctant as I was to admit it. I could feel myself relaxing.
I blinked my eyes open for a second, restless in anticipation, but quickly closed them again. I did not want to lose the serenity.
The television was beginning to lose its volume, too. Soon enough, only the music and the man’s voice on the phone filled my ears.
My chest was beginning to hurt from the breath I was holding it.
“One. As you exhale, imagine blowing your thoughts, a variety of abstract shapes and colors, out of yourself into the space around you. Imagine losing yourself inside the colors.”
I exhaled and I could almost see it. The air I breathed out almost smelled sweeter, and the darkness behind my eyelids seemed more colorful than before. The guy really knew how to manipulate my imagination.
“Now, as you breathe in again, try to capture the thoughts you let out, but only the ones that regard your personal fantasy. Your favorite dream.”
I breathed in and, my god, I could swear the air was fresher than it had ever been since I had moved into the city. It tasted like home, the woods by my hometown. The darkness was colored blue and my chest felt warm with endearment.
“Do you have your paradise yet? Are you entering your favorite dream?”
“Yes,” I answered, astounded. There was no image before me that I could hang onto, and yet, I felt at home, I felt happy.
“Let relaxation flow through you,” the man continued, dragging his every word. “Let it touch the very core of your soul.”
I could feel it, almost like a hand, traveling through me and reaching for something abstract deep inside of me. I could feel the pleasant warmth spread from inside, building up until it almost felt hot, almost scorching.
“Now, you may breathe out again.”
Wait, was I holding in the breath this whole time? No wonder my chest was burning, it was a relief to let the air out of my lungs.
“With your next breath, let even more pleasantries into your mind. Seek them out in the world around you,” the man said. I breathed it, slowly and impatiently, craving that hot, floating feeling from before.
“Now, as you hold your breath, listen very closely to my voice,” the man said. “Let it enter your mind and body with that fresh intake of air. Let me right into your soul.”
The music behind him grew louder, almost as if it wasn’t coming just from the phone anymore. No. It was coming from inside the room. It didn’t matter, though. Not anymore. In the state of relaxation, I listened to the man’s voice as he continued to speak, this time in a language I did not understand. It did not matter, though. I welcomed the foreign words as they enveloped me and seeped through my skin, leaving pleasant goosebumps on the surface. I could feel my entire body tingling, trembling, and growing hotter, hotter, hotter.
“That’s it, that’s it,” the man said, louder, outside of the phone line. It startled me for a moment, averted my focus from relaxation. I opened my eyes and looked before me.
My phone was no longer in my hand. It must have fallen to the floor, but I could not move to even see it. The music and the voice, slowly chanting unknown words and phrases, were all around me as if they were embroidered into the empty space around me.
The commercial was still playing. It wasn't a loop anymore, I realized blearily. No, the man stopped trying to sell me hypnosis for twelve cents an hour. He was the one talking to me, his lips moving along with the mysterious chant that surrounded me and swallowed me whole. When he saw me staring back at him, he grinned and, though his lips stopped moving, the chanting continued in ominous repetition.
“So good. You are so good,” he told me, his grin far too wide for his face suddenly. “I can feel your soul, shining and burning. I can touch its surface, it is already mine.”
He leaned forward and his face came out of the TV screen, flickering into reality. His lips opened wider, showing sharp teeth as his eyes glimmered with a red hue. It terrified me and I tried to move, jump, anything to get away from what was happening.
But I couldn’t even take another breath.
“You are too far gone,” the man, or the devil, told me. “Under my control. You cannot even blink, can you?”
I couldn’t. I couldn’t even close my eyes to escape his face. I couldn’t open my mouth to scream. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t breathe.
Blood boiling with panic, lungs screaming for relief, and the devil laughed with menace. He reached out with one hand, stretching it out far from the screen as if he wanted to grab me. A sharp pain went through me when he closed his claws into a fist and I knew that he got what he had come for. My soul. My very soul was being torn from my body and surrendered to the devil himself.
A sharp light shot out from my core and the pain slowly subsided, though never ceased. I still couldn’t breathe.
The devil’s arm and wicked face returned to the inside of the TV screen. He had what he wanted and I was left with nothing.
Helpless and alone, I felt myself losing consciousness, losing any life left in me. My eyelids slowly closed, my head dropped back. The world came to a stop. I felt like I was falling asleep.
“Thank you for calling the Devil’s Lullaby. Enjoy your final rest.”