• The phone is inches away. But I just can’t seem to reach it.
    I just sit. Sit here and wait.
    There are a thousand things I want to do. But I can’t seem to do them.
    Oh, well.
    Clarence will be here soon.
    Maybe he’ll tell me what to do.
    But it was never supposed to be like this. We were best friends, the six of us.
    Ben and Terri had been my friends since 4th grade. Lisa joined the school district last year. But I don’t really remember when Clarence came here.
    He started hanging out with all my friends and I after he asked me out, and then it was like it had been that way forever, just because everyone knew each other so well, and we just all got along. Even Kyle. I mean, I know he made fun of Clarence and gave him a hard time, but, hey, Kyle was like that to everyone.
    No one else really minded him. Kyle was one of those ultra-lovable, funny, athletic, Tom Sawyer type of guys.
    Clarence was not.
    The thing is, Clarence was just so serious, so solemn, so…intense. I guess that’s why he tried out for the High School play, The Fantasticks. Kyle tried out, too, and, honestly, who would pick Clarence over Kyle in an audition? Kyle just did theatrics, Clarence didn’t. It was a major disappointment for Clarence.
    We were all sitting at Ben’s kitchen counter when we heard the gear-work of Kyle’s bicycle clicking past the front door. There was a frenzy of footsteps and he appeared in the doorway.
    “I got the restaurant job!” he cried. “Mr. Claypool wants me to start work right away!”
    “That’s great, Kyle!”
    “Knew you could do it!”
    “When do you start?”
    Lisa ran up and hugged him. Kyle looked taken aback, but happy.
    In the hubbub, I heard Clarence mutter, without looking up, “I really needed that job.”
    Terri had heard. “So did Kyle,” she said. “He and his folks really need the money.”
    “I didn’t ask you.” Clarence retorted angrily.
    “Give Terri a break,” Ben snarled from a corner, swinging his favorite baseball bat. He swore, regardless of threats, that it had once belonged to some famous baseball player, and allowed others to hold it for a maximum of ten seconds.
    “Give Terri a break?” Clarence demanded, though eyeing the bat. “You always give Terri a break. No one ever gives me a break.”
    After that, we really didn’t hang out too much. Kyle was busy. Lisa had cheerleading. Terri was up to her neck in incomplete homework. Ben had baseball. And Clarence? I don’t really know what he did.
    I called them all up so that we could hang out at the Pizza Piazza, and they arrived in pairs. We acted normal. We ate pizza. We laughed at Clarence. Or, rather, we laughed at Kyle making fun of Clarence.
    “Yo, Clarence, m’man, what’ve you been up to?”
    Clarence wiped his mouth on his left sleeve. “You really want to know?” he asked.
    We all nodded.
    “Hypnotism,” he confessed. There was a vacant pause. Then Kyle started laughing.
    “You mean like ‘look into my eyes,’ ‘you are getting very sleepy’?”
    “No, not exactly,” Clarence explained. “Here, let me show you.”
    He arranged us all in the booth, almost like he was going to take our picture, and we were all teasing him and laughing and sharing Kyle’s role, but I was nervous, and had a feeling that everyone else was, too. I mean, what did it feel like to be hypnotized?
    Clarence held up a silver spoon and told us to focus all our attention on it. On my left, Lisa giggled, and was gently shushed by Ben. The spoon swung back and forth. It kept up the motion for what seemed like eternity. Then Clarence lowered it and sighed, “Back to square one.”
    We laughed again and relaxed. It hadn’t worked.
    Kyle soon left for work at the Split Pea, where apparently he had been praised continually on his excellent work.. Ben decided to take over his job as jester.
    “Do you really believe hypnotism exists?” he sneered. “What about the Easter bunny? And Santa? Do they exist, too?”
    Terri, Lisa, and Ben laughed. So did I, in spite of myself. Clarence merely grimaced and shook his head. Then his face lit up in sudden remembrance. He pulled a plastic shopping bag towards his chair, and then lifted it easily onto the table. “HAVE A NICE DAY”, the bag read. Out of the bag, Clarence produced a quart of neopolitan ice cream, several plastic bowls and spoons, and a metal ice cream scooper. He dished out the dessert, and slid the bowls towards us.
    “Here,” he told us, “Have some ice cream”.
    We continued our teasing of Clarence, who took it pretty well, as we ate our dessert. Then we all stood up to walk home, gathering bags and coats.
    Clarence waited for me as I took up my backpack. Terri, Lisa, and Ben were already outside. He gently took my hand and I followed them out the door.
    We walked behind the other three, not talking. When we passed by the Main Street-Wolves Hollow intersection, Clarence called, “Stop.”
    The three ahead of us immediately halted. I blinked. Clarence led me over to them.
    “Now,” he instructed to my three dazed and frozen friends, “I want you to go and stand on the yellow line. Don’t move unless I tell you to.”
    Obediently, Terri and Ben, followed by Lisa, strolled puppet-like to the dotted yellow line and stood there calmly, their faces expressionless and slack. A Ford Sedan honked and swerved around them, blowing the girls’ hair and skirts back, making Ben’s backpack strap ends trail behind him for a moment. They were unperturbed by the busy road’s cars and trucks.
    “Clarence!” I shrieked. “What are they doing? Come back! Hey, you guys, what are you doing? Get off the road!”
    “They won’t listen.” Clarence explained, his face illuminated by a sick grin. “Swear to me you won’t say a word about what just happened, and I’ll bring them back.”
    “I promise, I swear!”
    “Alright, you three, come on back,” Clarence told them.
    Single file, they returned to us, still relaxed and unfazed by the happenings around us. Clarence clapped, and they looked almost like it had never happened. Tears streamed down my eyes.
    “Jess, are you okay?” Lisa asked.
    I glanced at Clarence. His eyebrows were raised, his jaw clamped.
    “I’m fine. The wind just blew something in my eye.”
    For weeks after, I was terrified of Clarence. Not that I really had a chance to see him. He was absent quite a lot, and when he was in school, he avoided everyone. I thought it safe to warn Terri. I pulled her aside in the school’s parking lot after school.
    “What?” she demanded. I pulled her behind a shiny bluish Honda.
    “Clarence is going to try to hypnotize you. Resist at all costs. Don’t do what he says. Just…just pretend you’re hypnotized, alright?”
    “Um…okay, Jessica, I guess so.” Terri looked worried, but not about what I had just told her. Confusion still furrowed her brow as we straightened up, and walked casually from behind the car. Terri told me she’d see me tomorrow, and hurried towards the retreating bus. I turned to find Clarence glaring at me, his eyes full of hurt.
    “So you’re on their side, too.” He whispered. “But it’s too late, anyway. They’re all done for.”
    I laughed, but only to put on a charade that I had no fear. Inside I was quaking. “Yeah, right. Done for?”
    “Kyle’s dead meat.”
    “So you’re going to kill him?” I dropped my act.
    “No. Ben is. Lisa’s going to help.”
    I gaped at him. Then I ran, ran away from the madness, and when I thought I had gone far enough, I stopped and looked back. Clarence was nowhere to be seen. I sighed in relief, and walked the rest of the way home, where I called Lisa to pass on the message.
    We all met at Terri’s the next week, and it felt almost like old times. We talked about Lisa’s awesome job in the fall play, and Kyle’s too, though Kyle wasn’t there. He was at work, yet again. We laughed at Clarence. Ben showed off his baseball bat. Clarence had brought ice cream again. Chocolate Moose Tracks.
    He dished it out and passed it to us, saying “Here, have some ice cream,” and then left to use the bathroom. When he returned, he gathered he pulled out his chair again, sat, and looked at Terri and Ben, who had been lately flirting, but had suddenly stopped. Then he looked at Lisa.
    “Ben, I want you to take your baseball bat and drive with Lisa to that restaurant Kyle works at. He takes out the trash at eight-thirty. When he does, I want you to grab him, Lisa, and Ben, I want you to hit him over the head with your bat. Six times, got it?”
    Lisa and Ben nodded mechanically. Terri did not move. They were splendid actors, I decided.
    “Oh, and be sure to leave your bat next to Kyle when you’re done, okay, Ben. That’s absolutely essential. Don’t forget it.”
    The two nodded like puppets. Thank God I had reached them in time.
    “And, Terri,” Clarence turned to her. “I want you to stay in your garage. Please turn your car on, seal all cracks, lock all doors, and just wait. Sound good?”
    My boyfriend looked away from her to me as Terri showed her consent. His eyes were fervidly glinting, his perfect white smile wider than I had every previously seen it.
    “Alright, guys, let’s get moving.”
    Everyone stood up. Ben collected his baseball bat while Lisa picked Ben’s car keys up from the table. Terri slung her backpack over her left shoulder and walked rhythmically out the door, followed closely by my “hypnotized” friends.
    I struggled my coat on as I pushed my chair back. Clarence put a hand on my shoulder.
    “And where are you going?” he asked gently.
    “Home,” I answered emotionlessly, without looking up.
    “Not yet, you’re not. Come with me,” he instructed in a low, calm voice.
    Terrified and not knowing how to resist, I followed him into his car. We did not talk, and I couldn’t stop shivering.
    It was a cold night, after all.
    “Where are we going?” I eventually invited conversation.
    “You’ll see,” was Clarence’s fated reply.
    He drove right into the Split Pea’s parking lot. A black garbage bag lay quietly on the asphalt, its contents surrounding it. Kyle’s hand clutched at the bag, twisted at an impossible angle, not far from a familiar wooden baseball bat.
    “No!” someone wailed. I wondered dimly who it was.
    Clarence clapped a hand over my mouth. I guess it had been me.
    I pushed the car door open and ran the three blocks home. My parents were out for the night. The house was noiseless.
    Absolutely, eerily silent.
    I descended the stairs to the basement, where I could not be found unless I wanted to. Which I definitely did not.
    I glanced at the phone. It seemed to be waiting to be used.
    I picked it up, and it rung in my hand.
    In spite of myself, I answered it. “Hello?”
    “It’s me.”
    I shivered. “We need to talk.”
    “Undoubtedly,” Clarence agreed coolly. “But it’s too late for talking now. I have to come over now, Jess. I have to…deal with you.”
    He didn’t mean it. Right?
    “But, Clarence-“
    “I’ve already taken care of Kyle. Or, rather,” he laughed, “Ben and Lisa have. And Terri took care of herself. Not much left for me to do. You’re the only one left.”
    “You don’t need to do that,” I assured him hurriedly.
    “I hate feeling like I haven’t contributed. I like feeling useful. You know that.”
    “And Kyle and Ben and Lisa and Terri – they’re just fine, aren’t they? I told them. I told them to resist. I told them to pretend to be hypnotized. They’re fine.”
    Clarence snorted. “I didn’t need to hypnotize them,” he explained. “They were already hypnotized, Jessica. Don’t you remember that day at the Pizza Piazza?”
    “But you failed!”
    “Ah, Jess, haven’t you heard of a post-hypnotic suggestion? I gave you guys one, and didn’t actually have to hypnotize you again.”
    “How could you?” I demanded in a hushed voice.
    “Quite easily,” he informed me serenely. “Now, shush. I’ll have to take care of you, too. You know too much, Jess. I’m coming over now.”
    I realized I was trembling against the phone, but found I could not stop it. I nearly dropped the phone, but attempted to regain myself.
    “Clarence…” I pleaded, desperate.
    There was a pained, tense silence. My ear was pressed covetously against the phone. And then-
    “Here,” Clarence whispered. “Have some ice cream.”
    The line went dead in my hand. I hung the phone up and sat, waiting.
    It’s quiet. So quiet. So soothing.
    I want to call the police, or run, or do something, anything. But I can’t.
    Oh, well.
    Clarence will be here soon.
    Maybe he’ll tell me what to do.