Gothic Suspense/Psychological Suspense

Miriam, the standby for the star, Susan, in a famous theatrical troupe, is hypnotized to believe she is Susan. She's abducted by Susan's husband to a castle full of esoteric secrets. Her handsome friend, Colin, sets off in hot pursuit.

A historical fact: whimsical occult legends such as Shambhala, Atlantis, and the supernatural powers of the rarest stone on Earth, Moldavite, were appropriated from their cultures and twisted into propaganda to form military alliances and public support for imperialism.

Colin didn’t know what Dune did for us. No outsider could watch us rehearse because the unique reason for our troupe’s success might leak. How did Colin stand to live in a pale world devoid of the Dune’s hypnotic charms? If only he met him.

I lived for the intensity of the moments when Dune had his way with our psyches. Ordinary consciousness was nothing compared to the trances he put me into. The trances that merged me with his wife. His lucky, lucky wife. To live a life with that master. Tall, straight, dark, smoldering eyes in a face more achingly beautiful than should be allowed. How can anyone make proper life decisions with Dune in the world?

Colin said, “We should get together tomorrow and toast the end of your season. Maybe take in a movie? We just passed by a marquee advertising a documentary about biking the Lake District.”

Ah, Colin, he had to make do with a mundane world of ordinary pleasures and reasonable states of mind. He lived alone in his own aura, cut off from everyone else. Cut off from me. I merged only with Susan. And I longed for more.

Shows created a delicious dreaminess no words could explain. The projections displayed across our bodies on stage beamed over the audience. Immersive experience. With the actors radiating their auras across the crowd, like invisible laser shows, we experienced interconnectedness, like love, like being in the womb, like mystical sex, like being God. If God were real.

“If something happens to Susan, God forbid, tonight,” I said, as I danced around in the seat to imply the rest of my sentence.

“I believe in you, little Pinnochia,” he teased. “Standbys can become real people, too. All it takes is a little magic. You never know when it might come your way.” He winked. “I’m pulling for you. With me on your side. . .”

“Bennu troupe has magic,” I snapped.

Dune’s hypnosis sessions with each of the standbys meant we merged with the actors we substituted for. So much, we believed we were them. When I was in trance, I was Susan, star of the Bennu troupe. I played the archetypal roles, leaping into the air, wearing fuchsia feathers, flowing, lit by red light. Projected over me the whole time: cinematic fire, smoke, clouds, mist, Osiris Slain, and Osiris Risen.

On stage, I would quiver with the molten lava of being Dune’s wife, bringing her brilliance to the characters I was playing, until the wrenching second when the curtain hit the floor for the last time and the post-hypnotic commands wore off.

I would rend in two. I’d give Susan back the extra effluence of life force I had drawn from her, at the moment the bottom of the curtain brushed against the scuffed wooden floorboards. I was shocked each time to become just me. Miriam. For a second it was the recurring dream: looking around, wondering how you got on stage before people waiting for you to do something you were clueless about.

“Sorry. Must have hit a nerve?” Colin grinned as he swerved through the mud-water traffic. We needed to find a gym closer to the theater if I got hired on again the next season. If I didn’t get to take the starring role, to step into the shoes of the actress-dancer I admired so much, a gym location wouldn’t matter; I’d be too depressed to feel like working out, anyway.

I smoothed down a wrinkle on my costume that ended up being a stain. I should have taken it to the dry cleaners too, with Colin’s jacket. I caught myself frowning and rubbed the wrinkle. “I wish stains would go away on their own.”

“Honey, I know the troupe’s amazing. As well as I can remember, I haven't seen anyone else project video of the actors in sync with the show. Avant-Garde deliciousness at its finest.” Colin pretended to tip a hat with a flourish.

Yes. A standby playing her role, while the star’s image projects on the standby, would create cognitive distance for the audience. Even with reasonable physical matches between the standbys and the actors, the audience would feel the differences in the auras. Thus, the hypnotic merging.

Under hypnosis, I replicated Susan’s mannerisms. My actions were further informed by the merging of our auras. Or, was I just kidding myself and was just playing out my idea of Susan? That question would drive me crazy if I puzzled about it too much. I just had to trust the troupe’s shining mentor that it was all happening as Dune said it was. That was the way to true greatness.

I closed my eyes hard and sighed. When Colin raised an eyebrow, I shook my head, indicating, “It’s nothing.”

I tried to give Colin poetic, smoldering looks like I’d practiced in the mirror all year; still, he refused to notice. As we drove on, I skulked. He’d killed my buzzing passion by being staid.

I hoped to shake the wish-fulfillment dream I’d awoken from that morning. I was married to Dune; I’d reached out to touch Dune’s high, rounded cheek bones, his shiny black hair. His red lips showed exquisite pain and pleasure with the tiniest movements of pointed corners. In the dream, he dressed like Lord Byron. We lived wild in the gorse, swam in stars together, became wind whipping up wildfire turning heather to passion. We were a lighting storm. We were eternal.

But instead, in my waking life, I was riding in the car with my friend in the familiar city neighborhood, with his heavy dry-cleaning bags clanging against a bar above the back seat. And where were we going? I saw no mysterious caves to explore ahead, no wilderness to dance in, shamanic shadows becoming one, costumes with nine-foot tree headdresses made of lucid dreams. Didn’t see us going toward any flying. I mean, sure, I liked Colin. His eyes were lit up. He was always on time. His laugh made everything OK. But losing Colin wasn’t like falling into the darkest abyss forever.

I needed to feel that. Wild, intense, out of this world reciprocal love with someone. After rehearsing the theatrical role in which I elevated into the glorious ethers through transformative, mystical love, I determined to make it real. Because the right transcendent love can free us. The motto engraved on the Bennu’s Grail prop Bennu said: Transcendent love changes the world. Be each other. What did I want to change? Everything.

Standalone Book 3 in The Agents of the Nevermind Series

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