Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2017    poetry    all issues


Cover Marija Zaric

Mary Lucille Hays
Tribute in Black, White, and Gray

Anne McMillan

Faith Shearin

James Hanna
Tower Duty

Nektaria Petrou
Black Lace

Rebecca May Hope
Coyotes from Kazakhstan

John Maki
There Are No Angels Singing

Lisa Michelle
A Happy Birthday

Alison Turner
Actresses Auditioning

Brian Beard
Problems in Poultry Farming

Liz Bender
The Hypnotist

William C-F Long
Pet Hive

Wendy Dolber
Charlotte's Plan

Emily Holland
Something Cool

Liz Bender

The Hypnotist

The counselors had just left the cabin for their dinner shift, and the girls were finally alone. They quickly dressed in their evening whites. Underneath Emma’s top bunk the girls formed a line, just as they’d planned earlier that day. The dinner bell would chime soon, and they would all have to trample down the caliche stone path to Grand Mess Hall for 7:30 dinner. The next thirty minutes were hers, though, Emma thought. That left just enough time to hypnotize all the girls one by one.

This year, they bunked in The Warbler’s Nest on top of Junior Hill. Last year, all eight of them lived at The Barge Inn on the flats by the river where the youngest girls’ cabins were. Over the week they had been back at Camp Kickinee, Emma overheard that a few of the girls had written letters back and forth over the summer. She wondered why no one had written her.

Everyone was thirteen now, except for Darby, who was twelve (but she’d already gotten her period). Darby knew the youngest had to be last in line, though. It was only fair. Jules, the Cabin Sweep, was first. She was a big time gymnast back at home and basically front-flipped into her white halter dress and scaled the rickety metal ladder to Emma’s bed a full minute before the others. Mary Frances, who’d appointed herself Cabin Leader (again), was second in line. Becky, the (world’s slowest) Mail Sorter, was third only because she’d elbowed Pam, the Historian, out of the way. Pam had knock-knees, an oily middle part in her hair and no sense of humor. (Mary Frances called her “Logjam Pam” behind her back.) Krista, the Chant Captain, scooted in behind Pam, and then, of course, poor Jessie was last (aside from Darby). Jessie had an incurable disease, the counselors told the girls last year, but no one ever talked about it to Jessie. No one talked to Jessie at all, really. Emma had tried once last year during S’more Prayer Time, but then she chickened out. Talking to Jessie was awkward. She had pretty brown curls and freckly skin, but her glasses were extra thick and she wore metal braces under her socks. Once during lunchtime her muscles spazzed in front of the whole camp. Everyone knew she was weak, but she was kind and stayed quiet, so no one bothered her. She had the single corner bunk by the bathroom again this year. (Jules saw a bedwetting pad under her sheet, too.)

Emma’s bedframe screeched as the girls below her grabbed onto the metal rails, staking their places. “I was here!” they hissed back and forth. The night air was sticky with high-pitched HeeHees and OhMyGoshes as the girls prepared to watch Emma put a spell on Jules first, who lay still as a dead body on the blanket.

The chorus of evening bugs settled into their places on the ancient Pecan Tree branches that hung over the cabin roof. Dusk was on its way. It would hum, as it always did, with abundant possibility. The Texas sky would turn to sapphire, and spots of stars would gather behind the last sprays of clouds. Soon the cabin’s insides would be lighter than the earth outside. Emma’s chest felt warm and chock-full of cinnamon like it did after a handful of Hot Tamales, and her fingers were strong and alive as she placed them on Jules’ temples.

“It’s magic. Watch!” Mary Frances whispered back at the girls.

There was silence over the crowd. Emma began to rub Jules’ temples with firm, circular strokes.

“Close your eyes and count from 1 to 50,” Emma instructed. She closed her eyes to look more mysterious, and then she came up with a few extra rules just to make the hypnosis sound authentic. “When you get to 50 start calling out random numbers between 1 and 50 in no particular order. Got it?”

“Got it,” Jules said. Her voice strummed the numbers from 1 to 50 flawlessly, not forgetting a single one. Then she began the random count. “44, 30, 12, 10, 51—wait, sorry—3, 49, 21.” Her cadence slowed—“1, 50 . . . 6 . . . 5”—and she fumbled the rest of the numbers.

Emma’s fingertips pressed down into the small caves on the corners of her Jules’ eyes. Yes, Jules was naturally athletic, but she was no match for the magic talent Emma had developed that day.

The discovery was unexpected. Emma was as shocked as the rest of the cabin that she could hypnotize someone. It all began when Krista climbed up into Emma’s bunk earlier that afternoon. The girls had just returned from Chant Rant, the twenty minutes when every cabin practices the ten or so camp chants in preparation for Closing Ceremony, and they were settling into their bunk beds for Rest Time. Krista’s head hurt from leading the group, and she begged Emma for a massage (promising Emma one in return), while Becky (the mail snail) divvyed out the daily letters and packages. Krista closed her eyes in Emma’s lap as Emma gently pushed her fingers around Krista’s forehead and hair. Maybe she would ask Krista to be her pen pal this summer, Emma thought.

Emma considered herself middle-of-the-road at all camp activities—Canoeing, Archery, Beading, Theater, Capture the Flag, Fishing, Swimming, Horseback Riding, Scrapbooking. During chants, she always mixed up the words. So when the counselors appointed her Cross Bearer at Sunday Services this year, she felt at ease. The Cross Bearer just had to deliver the three-foot pine cross up the short mountain trail to where the pews were on Holy Bluff. It was a job that required no preparation and medium physical effort, but it made you a legend amongst the little girls and counselors who didn’t know you well. Emma remembered every Cross Bearer from last year, angelic pillars in long white robes, holding up handmade symbols of Christ’s Sacrifice while the oldest girls from Senior Hill led prayers. She would be that glimmering figure in white this year, she thought. The younger girls on the flats would all remember her name.

During the massage, Emma quietly asked Krista to go over the Camp Kickinee chant one more time. Krista cleared her throat, clearly annoyed, and began:

“1, 2, 3—Camp KickiNEE!

4, 5, 6—Get a load of THIS! [Leg kick here.]

7, 8, 9—We tell you all the TIME . . .

10! We’re CHRISTIAN! Begin AGAIN!”

Krista repeated it once, and then she unexpectedly trailed off into gibberish the third time through. Misplaced words like “Hacky Sack” and “Blow Pop” were floating out of Krista’s mouth between the numbers. It wasn’t like Krista to miss a word. Emma worried if Krista had gotten a heat stroke or a scorpion bite. Miss VanDerBeer, one of the counselors, found a five-inch scorpion in her gym shoe a few days before. Now the girls in the surrounding bunks had noticed the odd behavior (except for Pam, of course), and they peeled open their letters and care packages noiselessly, all eyes on Emma’s bunk. Darby pretended to flip through her Tiger Beat magazine. Mary Frances snuck an Airhead from beneath her mattress. Mary Frances’s care packages always had candy in them; her mom knew to sew any Camp Contraband into a stuffed animal.

Emma whispered, “Krista, are you feeling okay?” as she continued to rotate the tips of her fingers into Krista’s temples.

Krista mumbled, “Yes, I know my dog can talk.”

Darby snort-laughed from the bunk below.

Emma snapped her fingers in front of Krista’s face.

“My mom is a smoker,” Krista droned on. Emma snapped again, louder this time, and stopped the massage altogether.

Krista’s eyes opened, and she popped up. “What the hell was that?” she screeched, shaking her blonde hair out.

Miss Fritz, their other counselor, heard the word “hell” from across the room and paused her Sony Walkman dramatically. She sprung up without warning from her single bunk by the door—a real, live T-Rex from Jurrasic Park. (Whenever she stood, she had a gross habit of smoothing down her khaki shorts, which were way too long.) She threatened the cabin with a waggling finger that if she heard a “Devil’s Word” again there would be no mail the next day. As second years on Junior Hill, she lectured, they knew the Kickinee Constitution all too well.

Krista climbed down to her own bunk, and then all the girls shared a glance (minus Logjam Pam who was still detangling her hair from Advanced Swimming). When the campers looked settled, Miss Fritz went back to her John Tesh CD and the scrawled notes in her devotional workbook. Then Mary Frances mouthed animatedly at Emma for all but the counselors to see: “YOU HYP-NO-TIZED HER, YOU WITCH. I’M NEXT.”

After Rest Time, The Warbler’s Nest held a secret emergency meeting in the bathroom. Mary Frances even called Jessie in.

“What the heck was that, Krista? Did you smoke marijuana cigarettes before Rest Time?” Mary Frances asked. Everyone laughed gawkily. Mary Frances smirked and adjusted the straps on her training bra.

“Emma is some kind of witch!” Krista laughed. “I only remember Fritzy yelling at us. Wait, did I say something weird up there, you guys?”

Darby, Jules and Becky giggled up against the shower, but Mary Frances shot them a silencing glance. Emma thought of the right thing to say in this moment, but she’d never been the topic of conversation before. It was as if she was looking in on herself from a distance, as Jessie was then through her extra large glasses from the far sink.

“Well, I say we all try it,” Mary Frances announced. “First-come, first-served at Emma’s bunk when Fritzy and Vandy leave for their shift at 7:00pm.”

“I have to ring the dinner bell at 7:30pm on the dot, guys!” Darby peeped. She was the Reveille Rouser and the Dinner Belle—two small undesirable jobs combined into one this year. She got up first at 7:00am, played Reveille from a cassette player through the speakers in the Main Office, and then at 7:00pm she rang a huge rusty cowbell at the Grand Mess Hall and got to eat last.

“We know, Darby!” everyone (minus Jessie) said in unison.

Mary Frances turned to Emma: “So, can you hypnotize everyone before dinner or not?”

“Yeah, can you?” Becky echoed.

“Of course I can” Emma squinted her eyes at them, channeling an unruffled Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “I’ve done this a hundred times.”

Jules continued her count there on the bed, slower now. “18, 7, 1, 31, 45, 50.” She rattled off a few more numbers, and then she began to fade away into what seemed to be a sleepy trance.

“This is it, guys!” Pam whispered below, clasping her long skinny hands together. Mary Frances held a pointer finger up to Pam’s lips.

“Shut. Your. Face. Pam. You’re about to ruin everything,” she snarled softly between smacks of Hubba Bubba.

“Jules?” Emma began. Jules mumbled something that no one understood. Emma tested the waters with an easy question. “How old are you?”

“Thirteen,” Jules mumbled and then continued her count, “15, 4, 29, 35.”

“Good. Now Jules,” Emma continued, planning to set off the fireworks portion of the show, “have you ever broken the rules here at camp?” Emma prayed this question was leading enough for some crowd-pleasing responses.

The girls in white all stood still below and held their breaths in tightly like six jars of lightning bugs ready to burst all in a row. The crickets and the owls sung out from the other side of the window screens.

“It’s just me here,” Emma went on. Her voice had a smoother, semi-confident tone, like crushed velvet. “Everything stays a secret.” Emma didn’t know why she lied, but a different spirit had taken over the script, it seemed.

“Yes. I have,” Jules said. Her eyes were still closed. The girls on the ground exhaled loudly in shock, sparks of breath dancing across the room. “Yesterday,” Jules went on, “I lost the keys to the cabin after I did my sweep, and I told Vandy that Becky stole them.”

Becky gasped loudly. Her eyes bulged. Mary Frances cupped a palm over Becky’s open mouth and motioned for Emma to keep going with her other hand. Darby shook uncontrollably from the nerves. Krista leaked out a slow OhMyGosh under her breath. Pam crossed her lanky legs, one over the other, and mimed that she was about to pee her pants. Even Jessie was straining to get a better look.

Emma snapped her fingers in front of Jules, knowing this was the right time for her patient to come out of the coma. Jules cracked open her eyes and wiggled around a bit before sitting up to face the girls.

“What happened?” Jules asked naively. The other girls just looked at each other. The truth silently and clumsily bounced between them.

“MAGIC!” Pam called out. Everyone laughed a little anxiously (minus Becky, who had marched over to her diary to jot down a backbiting memo-to-self complete with date and time).

“My turn now!” Mary Frances yelled.

Just then, the cabin’s screen door creaked open. There was Miss Fritz (in an all white, ill-fitting ladies’ suit). “Darby? Have you forgotten something tonight?” she asked.

They had lost track of time. Thirty minutes had almost passed.

“Is it 7:30? Did I miss the bell? Are you going to give my job away?” Darby whimpered back.

“It’s 7:29, and you all have exactly one minute to sprint down the hill and get your acts together. Not you, Jessie—no running. I will not have my cabin embarrass me this year.” (The girls had heard that The Warbler’s Nest was pretty much full of sluts last year. One girl even snuck out to the boys camp down the road.)

The girls headed out the door, down the chalky stones on the path and into their spots at the dining table while Darby raced to ring the bell. Miss VanDerBeer was already waiting for them. Jessie joined a few minutes later with Miss Fritz. They’d barely made it that night.

After dinner, the counselors made The Warbler’s Nest stay back to do Meal Sweep, which was usually Jessie’s job. Jessie was really only supposed to wipe down the tables, but she always did more than that, even in her leg braces. Jessie calmly told the cabin the protocol: pick up all the extra plates in the serving hall, wipe down the tables with bleach solution, sweep under the seats, and tie up bags of trash. Mary Frances was very uncomfortable with trash, so she made Becky tie up her bag. Pam’s knees buckled as she tried to bend down under a short bench seat with her broom. Krista and Darby pretended to clean the same tables over and over again. Jules called for backup to sort a stack of dirty plates, cups and silverware into the Dirty Bins. Emma wondered how Jessie didn’t complain about having this job every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Jessie even helped Emma with the dustpan, showing her the angle at which the dirt goes in best. They shared a friendly glance. Emma realized she’d never really talked to Jessie like this before, like one of her cabinmates. Jessie looked desperate to say something else.

“Emma, I know I’m second to last in line, but I want you to hypnotize me. Tonight.”

“I’m not that good,” Emma replied, now worried at the possibility of performing hypnosis on someone with an actual disease. The game was all in fun, but she’d never want to physically hurt anyone, especially someone so innocent.

“You don’t want to because I’m sick, right?” Jessie asked.

Emma paused uncomfortably and looked down at her broomstick.

“Look, I’m okay. My body has seizures and moves slower than yours, but I’m still normal the other ways. Plus, my doctor at home told me there was something called ‘hypnotherapy.’ Maybe it could work on me.”

Emma had no choice but to say yes. “Okay, but I can’t promise anything. I’m not really a magician. Or a witch. It just—“

“I trust you. I know it will work. Wait an hour after lights out so everyone is asleep, then meet in the showers.”

That night Emma felt queasy climbing up to bed knowing she’d be on her way down soon. A few minutes later, Miss VanDerBeer turned out the lights after Taps played on the camp’s loudspeaker. Emma kept her legs out of the covers, knowing too many rustling noises would wake the others when she headed down to meet Jessie.

A pale light shone through the screened window next to her bed. There was an unnatural electric buzz from the floodlight outside and a harsh thrashing of bugs, big and small, against the bright bulb. Emma brushed her fingers through her hair to let out her dirty blonde braid. Her skin looked bronze there in the dark, the caramel color Mary Frances told everyone she was hoping to become before Closing Ceremony. She put her palms against her face. Her cheekbones were chiseled like those girls she’d seen in Cosmo ads, although she hadn’t learned how to highlight her other features with makeup yet. If a boy had to give her a score, it would probably be a six out of ten—that’s being generous, she thought. Her hands moved up to her temples. She tested how hard she should press down in order to not hurt a person like Jessie.

Emma heard metal bedsprings bend and Jessie’s feet scuff into the shower. The hour was finally up. Emma climbed down the bunk’s ladder and met Jessie in the dark. A half moon shone through a high window and onto the white tiles.

The transaction between the two girls was perceptive and silent. Jessie stretched onto her back there on the cold floor next to shower baskets full of smelly shampoo and wet sponges. Her legs sloped down and her heels nestled into the drain. Emma noticed how Jessie’s legs looked without their braces, thin and white like bare bones. Emma’s fingers assumed their positions and began circling Jessie’s temples. Jessie’s lips mouthed the numbers 1–50, and then she counted randomly.

A minute went by. Maybe two. The dark was haunting and cold there on the ground, and time was like porcelain, at once unmoving and breakable. Emma felt so far away from home. The drive in her parents’ Ford Explorer was just about an hour, a city over, but the distance seemed rivers long. She ached to be back in her bunk, dumb and unaware, like the other girls.

Emma’s fingers pressed on. Eventually, Jessie stopped counting. This was the trance setting in, Emma thought. Or maybe Jessie had fallen asleep. She thought of a question quickly and whispered into Jessie’s ear.

“Okay, what’s your job here at camp?” She started with something basic.

“I am the person people don’t want to be,” Jessie whispered back.

Emma’s skin got goose bumps, and she wondered how to go on or if the trick had gone too far. ‘Hypnotherapy’ was a word she could barely pronounce, but it rattled around in her head there in the moonlight. Maybe this was just what Jessie needed.

“Do you think you can get better, Jessie?” Emma asked sincerely.

Jessie’s eyes stayed closed.

“I need to be accepted, to be one of you,” she whispered.

A moment passed there in the dark. Then Emma heard a gurgle and noticed a thin sparkling stream of urine flowing down to the shower drain from between Jessie’s legs. Emma shuddered and snapped lightly, but Jessie stayed still. She snapped harder now and waited. No response. She hovered a palm over Jessie’s mouth. She was still breathing.

Emma slipped her hands under Jessie’s armpits and tried to sit her upright. Jessie hunched over, unable to stay vertical.

Emma’s heart throbbed against her ribs, and her body began to sweat. Logical thoughts twisted into crude knots. Emma began to cry—softly at first and then audibly—not knowing what else to do with herself. A sick and unresponsive girl lay at her feet. She imagined what her parents would think of her right then. They’d been so proud when she described the crisp robe she would wear and the heavy cross she would trudge up the hill during Closing Ceremony.

Seconds later, flashlights strobed into the bathroom. Miss Fritz and Miss VanDerBeer let out hideous screams.

“What in God’s name is going on in here?” Miss Fritz yelled.

The six remaining girls emerged now with their own flashlights. Another set of screams followed.

Emma couldn’t find the words to answer to them.

Miss VanDerBeer pointed down to Jessie and yelped. Pam pointed down to the pee on Jessie’s nightgown.

“YOU HYPNOTIZED HER, YOU WITCH!” Mary Frances shouted.

The counselors were shaking Jessie at this point, clapping and yelling her name. Darby stood right behind them, relaying every detail to the group just feet away.

“Left arm is moving, you guys,” Darby said. “One eye is cracking—no, both! She’s sitting up!”

Emma’s heart relaxed momentarily.

Jules shouted, “But where are her leg braces?”

Miss Fritz began to put the story together. “You mean to tell me that you dragged this innocent, dying girl out of her bunk and into this dirty shower so that you could carry out the Devil’s black magic in the dead of night?”

Jessie stood up. “I’m fine,” she said, gathering up her wet nightgown. “I asked her to do this to me.”

“Jessie, please. You don’t need to protect her. You are the one who needs protecting,” Miss VanDerBeer sighed and touched Jessie’s shoulder. “God is here now.”

“She hypnotized Krista and Jules, too! I was going to be next!” Mary Frances continued.

“Krista? Jules? Is this true?” Miss Fritz asked.

“Emma tricked us!” Krista cried.

“Yeah!” Jules said.

“This was all an accident,” Emma said. “I’ve never done this before. Honest!” They came at her all at once.

“She told me she’d done this a hundred times! Now she’s lying, too.” Mary Frances yelled.

“We’ll settle this in the morning,” Miss Fritz said. “You better believe you’re not laying a satanic finger on that cross on Sunday, Emma.”

The service on Holy Bluff was shorter than Emma remembered. The girls from The Warbler’s Nest had dressed in their Sunday Robes and were seated in their assigned pew. Emma sat at the end of the row, closest to the patch of Mountain Laurel that lined the edge of the clearing. Jessie sat beside her.

“How do you feel today?” Emma asked.

“Better,” Jessie smiled. Emma smiled back. Jessie still wasn’t wearing her leg braces. She told the nurse and the counselors she wanted to walk without them, to build up her strength. It was working.

Emma glanced up at Mary Frances holding the pine cross. It made the most sense, Mary Frances told Fritzy, that she take over this important role and redeem the virtue of The Warbler’s Nest. She looked the part—tan skin, golden blonde braid, slim frame. The day before, Pam eagerly changed the “Cabin Roles” section of her Historian notes: instead of Cross Bearer the letters “n/a” were next to Emma’s name. Perhaps the Cross Bearer demanded a deeper love of self, one that Emma hadn’t mastered.

Emma listened half-heartedly to the Senior Hill campers lead hymns and prayers. Maybe Jessie would be her pen pal, she thought.

“Will you write me this year?” she asked Jessie.

“Only if you send me a teddy bear full of candy.”

“Deal.” Emma smiled.

In the distance beyond Holy Bluff, buzzards circled noiselessly across the open sky. Beetles and muskrats cleared a path through the brush and dead leaves beside Emma’s pew. She realized, glancing over at Jessie and then at Mary Frances, Becky, Pam, Jules, Krista and Darby, that she wasn’t a person who really belonged to either of their worlds—the in or the out. She was just a medium. Somewhere, too, she knew God was out there, but she wouldn’t find Him there on the hill or down on the riverbank. Her search would be rockier and deeper. She simply wasn’t coming back to camp again.

Liz Bender is a native of Houston, Texas where she lives with her husband and two children. She received a B.A. in English Literature and was the recipient of the George Williams Prize in Fiction at Rice University. After more than a decade, she’s started writing again. This is her first publication.

Dotted Line