I sat on stage with a group of guinea pigs. The small-stage-college-crowd hypnotist worked us like a pro. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was something supernatural, but I found myself slipping into a state of euphoria that made me want to do whatever the guy said. Act like Batman? I’ll act like Batman. Why not?

The crowd ate up the silliness like the peanuts on their bar tables. Their cheers and laughs fed my euphoria. I was 22, having a fine time and willing to play the fool. Hypnotized? I dunno.

Before too long, I found myself ripping off my shirt and dancing to some cheap techno music. The crowd cheered, I danced, and followed the suggestions of the slothoki man with the deep eyes.

The din of the crowd became a roar and I found my hands slipping to my pants, popping the button, unzipping the zipper. The hypnotist had made no such suggestion. It simply seemed like the right thing to do.

As I turned to face the crowd and reveal what I had to offer, I felt a hand on my arm, a grip that was much too tight, fingers sinking into my flesh, and the decidely unsupernatural breath of the hypnotist. His breath was in my ear and the calm, soothing hynotizing voice was gone. I heard pure anger. Each word was articulated, a slap against my swimmy head.

“Keep. Your. Fucking. Pants. On”

My near-nude experience signalled the end of the act. The crowd’s applause led me out of the comedy club and into an adjacent dance club where my friends were waiting for me.

My synapses were in the middle of an epic battle. The beer and euphoria were throwing haymakers. The echo of the hypnotist’s final words to me were fighting back. Something inside my head was, in a word, off.

I tried to shake the hypnotist’s unmistakable anger, the moment of fear he mainlined into my psyche. There was a part of me that knew that if the hypnotist had the chance, he would’ve sliced my throat and watched me bleed out on the stage.

***

The club hopped, bumped, yay, grinded in time with pre-produced college dance music. I downed drink after drink, trying to forget the angry eyes and sick breath in my ear. I found myself dancing, hip-to-hip with some girl, side-by-side with my buddy, Joey Two-Hands. I was starting to feel better, starting to feel like the hypnotist wasn’t actually waiting for me in the john, a sharp knife in his hands.

Who was this guy? This redneck with no shirt elbowing me in my side, pushing me inch-by-inch away from the girl who had chosen to dance with me? What the fuck is on his mind?

My beer goggles became blinders. I didn’t see what was coming. I scooted over, dancing the girl with me, never the one interested in throwing down and getting bloody.

The guy was back, elbowing, pushing.

Was this the hypnotist, somehow immediately reincarnated into a 6’3″ redneck with beer-breath and blurry eyes?

I turned away from the girl and my vision tunnelled to the redneck.

I only said, “What?”

He must’ve learned his lines from his collection of redneck beer-drinking fight videos.

“You want some? Outside?”

I offered, “I’m not going outside.”

He smiled and said, “Take one step forward.”

And I did.

His first punch hit me square in the mouth. My friends would tell me later they saw my right hand cock back at the same moment the redneck and his two friends jumped on me.

Joey Two-Hands jumped in just as one of the rednecks threw a bar table. It caught Joey right in eye, cutting him open, dropping his blood on the dance floor.

As the bouncers chased the rednecks into the street, my friends pulled me up. My face was starting to swell, but Two-Hands had suffered the worst of it. He needed stitches and an apology. The hospital gave him the former, I offered the latter later that night.