I never really knew my grandmother, but I was still pretty depressed when she died. Actually, I was depressed about a lot of things—I had a dead-end job, a lousy apartment and no sex life.
It isn’t that I’m unattractive; I’m not bad looking, and although I’m not muscle-bound, I keep myself in shape. It was just that my job stopped me from meeting people.
You see, I was the building manager of an old run-down theatre. Every evening (when normal human beings socialize) I was stuck in the basement, making sure the boilers weren’t going to explode, and cleaning out toilets that kept clogging. My few friends would ask me why I didn’t date some theatre people, but quite frankly Theatre People don’t see people like me, even when we’re right in front of them.
Besides, who wants to date an actor? Somebody once said (and it’s true) that you can tell the actors at a party because they’re the ones whose eyes glaze over whenever the topic of conversation isn’t them.
Back to my story—a few days after Grandma’s will was probated, I received a small parcel from the estate in Australia. I was on my way to the theatre when the mail arrived, so I just stuffed it into my backpack and took it with me.
The play that evening was a particularly bad British sex farce, so I was glad to lock myself into the maintenance room where I couldn’t hear the audience noise. I used my knife to cut through all the tape on the package, and looked at the packing slip. All that was there was a brief note from the estate lawyer, saying that this was my legacy from Grandma.
Inside the package was a gold pocket watch, on a long chain. It was a man’s watch, and I wondered for a long moment what Grandma was doing with it. Then I remembered something from long ago. My Grandfather had been a very well-known stage hypnotist in Australia, back in the fifties, before he died at a relatively young age, in a car accident in Canberra. His act was supposed to be quite incredible, and I remembered my mother having a old poster of him, holding just this watch and a candle. My grandmother must have held on to the watch for the last thirty-five years, put away somewhere with her mementos.
I examined it carefully. Although plain, it was beautifully made, and probably worth a few hundred dollars. I wondered how much real gold was actually in it. I popped open the front, revealing the face of the watch, which was only slightly yellowed. The black roman numerals were still clear.
It was then I noticed the inscription. I was expecting something boring like the manufacturer’s name, or something mushy like a love note. Instead I read this:
Candlelight shall here revealThat which words and will can seal
I considered that for a long moment. Was it some kind of a weird reference to my grandparent’s wedding vows? Or a famous quote I should recognize? I ran my fingers over the plain surface of the watch, and was surprised to feel a distinct texture. I looked at it closely, but could see nothing.
I had a dark hunch at that moment, and opened my tool-kit to look for a candle. If I hadn’t been alone I wouldn’t have tried anything so silly. I finally found an old candle-stub there, and I lit it with a book of matches I kept for when the fuses blew. (With those big theatre lights, and sub-standard wiring, it happens a lot.)
Amazingly, the light of the candle clearly revealed the texture on the surface of the watch. It was an intricate, woven pattern of lines and curves that seemed to draw the eyes around and in on itself. I couldn’t understand why it was only visible in candlelight—some optical effect, I imagined. I blew out the candle, and the pattern just vanished. How bizarre, I thought.
The sudden, shrill keening of the fire alarm almost knocked me off the chair. Cursing, I got to my feet and started for the door. Some theatre patron smoking in the lobby again, no doubt. Then I saw the smoke rising from the blown-out candle, and realized that I was the culprit. One of our new hyper-sensitive smoke detectors was right above where I had been sitting.
I raced for the phone, but by the time I got through to the fire station, a truck had already been dispatched. The show in the theatre had stopped, and the patrons were stirring in their seats, not knowing if they should leave. If it were a real fire, they’d probably all burn to death.
I told the house manager that everything was under control, and he went into the house to make an announcement. I shut off the alarm, and waited with some trepidation for the firefighters to arrive. I was just glad my boss wasn’t there to see me being an idiot. The show started again in the theatre main hall.
I have to hand it to our firefighters—the trucks were there within three minutes. Two men came to the door and others walked around the outside of the building. The two that came in were big men, wearing water-stained helmets and heavy yellow slickers. Each wore an oxygen tank loosely strapped over a shoulder, and had heavy work boots.
“False alarm,” I apologized, trying to look regretful. The lead firefighter pulled a pad out of his pocket and started to ask questions. The other one stepped into the hall to make sure there was no audience panic—as if those sheep would have moved.
“Did you turn off the alarm?” asked the man in front of me. I noticed that he was wearing a tag reading “Peter Hunt”.
“Yes, I did.” I said. Peter pulled off his helmet and sighed. I just about gasped when I got a good look at him. Peter was a redhead—not the really freckly kind, but the perfect-skinned strawberry blond that is so rare in men. His eyes were an impossible green, and he was sporting one of those moustache-goatee combos with clean-shaven cheeks. I was in lust.
“Show me where,” he said sternly. I probably made gibbering noises in response. As I took Peter downstairs, he began to lecture me.
“You don’t ever, ever, turn off the alarm until we arrive, you hear me?” he chided. I just nodded. “It’s our job to give the all-clear,” he continued. “You may have been mistaken about the actual cause of the fire.”
By this point we had reached my room, and I held up the candle to show him the problem.
“A candle shouldn’t have made enough smoke to set off the detector,” he said.
“It didn’t”, I said. I lit another match and put it to the candle to demonstrate. “It’s only after you blow them out that they get really smoky.”
“Why were you lighting candles here in the first place?” he demanded, as though talking to a small child. I held up the watch in my other hand, feeling very silly. How was I going to explain this without looking like an idiot? I hoped he wasn’t going to be talking to the theatre management.
“There’s a pattern here that you can only see by candlelight,” I began lamely.
Peter frowned and leaned forward to look at the watch more closely. I held up the chain so that it dangled in front of his eyes. In the candlelight, the pattern was visible again, and cast interesting reflections across Peter’s chiselled features.
“Nice watch,” he said, “But in a room with as many empty boxes as this one seems to have, you should think twice about...about lighting... about...” his voice got quiet, and stopped. I stared at him, amazed. He was completely fixated on the watch in front of him, all the muscles of his face relaxed. His body began to sway slightly with the motion of the watch. I was starting to get fixated on his beautiful eyes, and strawberry-blond eyelashes, but caught myself.
Was this what I thought it was? I moved the watch to one side, and Peter’s eyes were dragged along with it. Then the other way.
“Peter,” I finally asked, “Are you okay?”
“I’m okay,” he replied dreamily.
“I think you’ve been hypnotized,” I said, stupidly.
“If you say so, sir,” he replied. “I have been hypnotized.”
My arm was getting tired, and I had to consider what to do quickly. I heard a call from the top of the stairs; Peter’s partner was going to come down in a moment.
“Peter,” I said quickly, “Listen to me. When you wake up, you will remember nothing about the watch. The fire alarm was an accident; equipment failure, everything fine now. No one’s fault. Do you understand?”
“I understand”, he replied. Great! I was off the hook. I was about to wake him up, when I had a sudden thought.
“Peter,” I said, “When you get off shift tonight, you will find a phone in a private place, and you will phone this number.” I told him my number. “When I answer the phone and identify myself, you will go into a deep trance, just as you are now. Do you understand?”
“I understand,” he replied. “I will phone you after my shift.”
I heard the sounds of steps approaching, so I quickly tucked my watch into my pocket, and told Peter to wake up. He did, looking dazed for a moment, just as his partner arrived.
“What’s taking so long?” said the other man, a stocky, clean-shaven individual whose tag read “Martin Vitelli”.
“Nothing,” said Peter. “Just making sure the equipment is all right now. All an accident. Let’s go.”
The two of them left (after Martin suggested I don’t light candles in the basement), and I carefully put the watch away. Waiting for the end of my shift was the longest wait I had ever had!
I practically threw the last of the patrons out of the theatre in my rush to finish up and go home. I raced home, glad to see that no messages had been left on the machine. And then I just sat by the phone, like an unpopular teenager before the prom.
I got up and started to pace to work off my nervous energy. What if he didn’t call? What if he remembered everything, or worse, was just faking it to see what I’d do? Maybe he was writing me up right now...
I jumped when the phone rang, and dashed over to it. Then I held back, letting it ring once more before I picked it up.
“Hello?” I asked cautiously.
“Hello.” It was the the fireman’s deep voice, but sounding awkward. “I’m sorry to call you so late. I, uh, I...”
“What?” I asked.
“I seem to have forgotten who I’m calling. I’m sorry, this is kind of embarrassing.”
“I’m Steve. The guy at the theatre false alarm.”
“Oh, yes, I remember now,” he said. “I just wanted...just wanted...” His voice drifted to silence. My heart was pounding in my chest. It worked!
“Peter,” I asked softly, “Can you hear me?”
“I can hear you,” he replied. I had been making plans all evening, and now was the time to try them out.
“Peter,” I said, “Listen to me carefully. I have a lot of things to explain.”
And Peter listened.
It took a few days for me to set everything up. I had bought myself a suit—with the substantial raise I had miraculously received from upper management after a brief chat with them. It was Monday, I had the day off, and I was walking into the Fourth Street Fire Hall. I tightened my silk tie, and hoped I looked respectable.
Peter was at the door, waiting for me. He greeted me with a firm handshake, and a smile showing perfect teeth. I fell in love all over again with his smile.
“Dr. Leigh,” he said, “I’m so glad you were able to come. My men are looking forward to the session. Please come this way and we’ll get started.” He led me past reception, and up a staircase to the second floor. I followed him, watching his rock-hard butt through his blue uniform pants. Without his heavy protective clothing, I could see he was trim and muscular, his torso clearly v-shaped.
We were all alone in the stairwell, and I just had to know if one of my other suggestions had worked.
“Shazam,” I said softly. Peter stopped and looked back at me quizzically.
“What did you say?” he asked, giving me a funny look. Oh boy. Now I felt like a complete moron.
“I, uh, said ‘Shazam’” I muttered, embarrased.
In one graceful motion Peter swept me into his arms, crushing me powerfully against his body. I could feel the hardness of his pectorals and stomach as his biceps squeezed the breath out of me. His emerald eyes burned into mine for a moment, then he closed them and kissed me. I had never been the object of so much passion. I could smell him; clean, just a hint of sweat and cologne. His moutache and goatee rubbed against my clean-shave face, and he thrust his tongue into my mouth. I was suspended in this kiss for a long blissful moment, completely helpless in the grip of this powerful man.
Then just as suddenly, he released me, leaving me breathless and shaking on the stairs. He turned and continued up them as if nothing had happened. And of course, for him, nothing had. He glanced once over his shoulder.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“Uh, not at all,” I replied, and ran up the stairs after him.
We got to the door at the top of the stairs, and Peter stopped me.
“Doctor, I should mention some things. First off, we’re using the bunk room, since the shift currently on duty is using the rec room. I’ve told them absolutely no interruptions. Secondly, I’m afraid not all the boys are happy about having to come in during non-shift hours, so you may meet a bit of resistance. But I insisted. I knew how important this was because... because...” he looked momentarily confused. “Because it was important,” he finally finished.
“I’m sure everything will be fine,” I reassured him, and we went into the room.
I felt like I was in a beefcake calendar. There were seven men on the shift, every one of them different, but each handsome in his own way. Peter introduced them to me one by one, from Jacques, the little wiry Quebecer with dark eyes and curly black hair, to Larry, a willowy blond fellow, smooth with long muscles. Martin Vitelli was there, and he gave me a long suspicious look.
“Haven’t we met?” he asked. I shook my head.
“I don’t think so.” I lied. Soon it wouldn’t matter, anyhow.
Colin, a short but very butch bearded redhead, was the first to speak up.
“No offense, doc,” he said, “But I don’t know why Pete called you here. I don’t really believe hypnosis can make us a better team. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us now.”
“There is nothing wrong,” Peter replied genially. “But there’s always room for improvement. Dr. Leigh can help. Now c’mon, let’s all cooperate.”
“I’ll sit through this, but I can’t be hypnotized,” Colin said, crossing muscular arms. He was wearing just a t-shirt and jeans (as were most of the men) and I was finding his biceps distracting. I pulled myself together, opened my briefcase and set up a candle on the table, lighting it carefully. I hoped Colin was wrong.
“Would you like to be first, Colin?” I asked, smiling. He scowled.
“Don’t waste your time, doc,” he said. “Lotsa people have tried to hypnotize me, and never got anywhere.” I pulled out the watch, noting that its patterns were clearly visible in the candlelight.
“Did they use a watch like this?” I asked him, dangling it near his eyes. He looked at it, then looked at me, then his eyes seemed to be drawn back.
“One guy tried a watch,” he said. “I stared at it but nothing happened. Nothing at all. Nothing...” He stopped talking and his mouth just hung open. His head tilted slightly to one side. Then he just continued to stare at the watch, eyes fixed, not moving.
“Relax, Colin,” I said. His arms unfolded and dropped limply to his sides. I resisted the urge to pinch his nipples, which were clearly showing through the thin material of the t-shirt.
The other guys on the shift hooted and applauded me, one even slapping me on the back.
“It’s about time that boy had an attitude adjustment,” said Larry. “Can you make him cluck like a chicken?”
“Make him strip!” called someone else. I looked to see who, and saw Billy, a lanky dark-haired Texan with blue eyes and close-cropped hair, standing up at the back. I walked over to him.
“Now, would that be nice?” I asked him. Billy grinned.
“Nope, not at all,” he drawled, chewing on his gum, “That’s why I wanna see it.”
“Okay, Colin,” I said, “Take off all your clothes.”
“Yes, sir,” he replied, and began to pull off his t-shirt, revealing a hairy chest with nice nipples. When started to undo his pants, I turned back to Billy.
“Turn about is fair play,” I said, holding up the watch.
“Oh, no, you’re not going to make me get naked...” started Billy, looking away. But the light from the candle reflected across his face, and he glanced back momentarily. It was enough. His breathing suddenly slowed, and he turned to face fully into the watch, eyes glazed over.
“Billy, take off your clothes” I commanded.
“Yessir,” he drawled, and pulled off his own t-shirt. His chest was hairless, with pectoral that were really cut, without a trace of fat. I watched him drop his jeans, revealing a big basket in his red briefs.
The unveiling was interrupted by Martin Vitelli.
“What kind of unprofessional bullshit is this?” he asked, sounding a little frightened. “I don’t even think you’re—wait a second, you’re that guy, that night manager from the theatre! What the hell—I’m calling the cops!”
But Peter, on earlier instructions, was already blocking the door. Martin looked left and right, then made for the window.
“Stop him!” I called. Colin and Billy, both buck-naked, tackled Martin and took him to the floor, holding him down as he struggled. I watched for a minute, getting kind of turned on by the naked wrestling action of these athletic men. The other four men in the room were looking at each other, not understanding what was happening.
“It’s all right, everyone,” I yelled, over the struggling noises. “It’s all right. Look. See? Everything’s fine.” And thank God, they did look. I was holding the watch up high, letting it spin. The reflected candlelight ran across the walls, across their eyes, and one by one the remaining four men grew still, waiting for my instructions. Only Martin, unable to see the watch, still struggled. I had the boys hold him down while I held it over his face.
Martin and I are great friends now. In fact, all of the firefighters love me; on every shift. I got rid of my lousy apartment and moved into the fire station. The interruptions from the sirens can be annoying, but I don’t have to work anymore and I have lots oftime to sleep. I just bunk down with whichever fireman I feel like. And each of them wants nothing more than to make me happy when we bunk down. Everything I want is provided—it’s a good life. I’ve just sent Colin out for some champagne—it’s my grandfather’s birthday, and I think we’re all going to toast him—naked.