The crowd was restless and talkative in Ithaca High School’s Kulp Auditorium as the Great McGonigle, hypnotist, mentalist, and registered stage entertainer put out a second call for volunteers.
“Who here thinks they CAN’T be hypnotized? Come on up and give me a chance!” he called out again, laughing. “Anybody at all!” Another moment of low chatter passed and then, tentatively, a young woman stood up and made her way to the stage.
“What’s your name, my friend, and what makes you think you can match wits with the Great McGonigle?” He was smiling.
She leaned into the microphone. “Olivia Cornstarch. I mean, I’m just so worried about everything that I don’t think I could ever relax enough to be put in a trance or anything.”
“Well, we’ll just see,” he said, winking at the audience. There was a ripple of laughter. He steered her toward a seat on the stage and she sat down.
“Olivia,” he said, “this is one hundred percent about relaxing and letting go of those things that have you all worked up. I can see the tension in your arms and shoulders and I want you to just loosen up. Close your eyes and relax. Breathe. That’s it. Just relax. Now, tell me what’s got you worried.”
“Climate change, for one thing,” she said. “It’s already happening. What’s the world going to be like in ten years? Twenty? Is there any reason to think this isn’t the end?”
The Great McGonigle chuckled. “Oh, my, is that all? Didn’t you hear about the UN Climate Change meeting in Glasgow last year? Everything’s well in hand. They’re going to meet again, and soon, and talk more about the whole thing. Now just relax…”
She let her hands hang loose for a moment, then tensed up again. “That’s not all. I’ve been wearing a mask for going on two years. Delta, Omicron, it’s never going to end! Those people with their nose sticking out over their masks? Vaccination microchips? What the...”
“You’ve got to let all this go,” the McGonigle interjected. “The World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control both say the pandemic might end someday.” He shook himself, re-setting. “Close your eyes again. I want you to imagine you’re completely at ease. Nice and easy. Shake your hands loose. Focus on every breath.”
“Did they say ‘might’ or ‘will’?”
“OK, Olivia, I’m really going to need you to...”
“Also, did you notice the price of cat food’s gone up a dollar a bag? It doesn’t matter, though, because when we went to the store, they didn’t even have any!” She was looking at the Great McGonigle and her hands were on her lap, palms up. “My Social Studies teacher Mr. Prokosch says that the Russians might invade Ukraine, and also that Vladimir Putin could trigger a nuclear holocaust single-handedly if he wanted to and nobody could stop him. Could the Chinese president do that, too? What if Donald Trump gets elected again?”
The Great McGonigle pulled a folded handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his forehead. “I think maybe if I can have you just close your eyes and focus on breathing calmly for a minute...”
“And what’s the Metaverse? I just don’t get it, but I’m afraid to admit it. There was this thing I read,” she continued, “where technology becomes way more intelligent and capable than humans? And it decides that we’re just in the way, so it builds and unleashes a horde of mini drones to eliminate humans. That doesn’t seem so far-fetched. I mean, are we taking precautions or whatever?”
“Well, I mean,” he started. “I’m guessing there are people...if you can just visualize...um, precautions...” He blinked twice, and swallowed.
“Mr. McGonigle, sir,” said Olivia. “I think I’ll take that trance now. And don’t feel like you have to wake me up.”
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