tagMind ControlUmbrella

Umbrella

byJukeboxEMCSA©

"Excuse me!" Ryan had just started to place his hands on the revolving doors, leaning into them but not quite overcoming their static friction, when he heard the woman's voice coming from the lobby behind him. "Excuse me, excuse me!" she said, managing that terribly polite trick some people had of raising their voice without actually shouting. "Young man, excuse me!"

It was the 'young man' that convinced him to turn around. The Seattle Needlework Expo had attracted almost 400 people in its first year, a pretty good turn-out for a new cross-stitching convention, but the number of them that qualified as 'young men' was definitely low enough that Ryan had gotten all too used to hearing his age and gender used in place of his name over the last 36 hours. He stopped and turned, trying to hide a certain amount of mild annoyance as the woman approached him.

He recognized her from the last seminar, of course; even without her nametag, which read 'Miriam' in the sort of infuriatingly perfect script Ryan had been trying to duplicate ever since third grade without success, she was the sort of woman that most people described as 'striking'. Her long black hair was pulled back into a bun so tight it practically screamed, and her bright blue eyes were magnified behind wire-frame glasses that dominated her pale, high-cheekboned face. She wore a white blouse that looked like she'd ironed it under a microscope-the creases were so sharp they could probably slice bread. The long, black skirt completed the 'possibly a nun, possibly a librarian' ensemble, making her look like a woman who had started life at the age of thirty-nine and was only now catching up to it.

She headed in his direction with the extremely swift, gliding walk of someone who clearly believed that running only betrayed a lack of prior planning, and came to a complete stop before saying, "I'm so glad I caught up with you, young man. I'm afraid there seems to have been a minor misunderstanding." She paused, allowing the 'on your part' to remain unspoken. "During that last seminar, I believe you picked up my umbrella by mistake." She gestured to the umbrella he had hooked around his wrist, the one he was getting ready to open as soon as he passed through the revolving doors so that he could grab some lunch without being soaked by the Seattle rain.

He looked down at the umbrella, sliding the loop of string free from his wrist and turning it over to examine it further. It was a basic, cheap umbrella, made from thin plastic in alternating black-and-white panels with a collapsible shaft, easily mistaken for any number of similarly basic, similarly cheap umbrellas. But Ryan remembered picking this one up at the airport, when the flight in made it clear that he was woefully unprepared for the Pacific Northwest squalls. It was definitely his.

He looked back up at Miriam, whose eyes were narrowed in a murderously polite expectation that any second now, the callow youth in front of her would recognize his mistake and hand him the umbrella that she absolutely knew was hers before the police had to be involved. "Um," he said, aware that confrontation had never been his strong suit. "I think we may just have similar umbrellas. If you'd like, we can go back to the seminar hall and look for yours together." It wasn't a solution he loved-he was already late getting to lunch, and programming would be starting back up in less than thirty minutes. But as an alternative to getting into a violent shouting match with Mary Poppins in the lobby, it seemed preferable.

Not to Miriam, though. "I'm afraid I really can't take the time for that, young man," she said, her voice indicating not the slightest hint of doubt. "I've already looked in every room I've been to this morning, and the umbrella simply wasn't there." Which told Ryan it was probably still in her hotel room, but he could tell that Miriam wasn't going to buy that explanation. She didn't have an umbrella, she saw him walk out of the room with an umbrella after sitting next to her, QED. "Besides, my umbrella is quite unique. I'd recognize it anywhere."

Ryan looked down at the umbrella again, feeling his options for getting out of this without an argument dwindle away further with every passing second. The umbrella was anything but distinctive; everything about it screamed 'mass-produced junk that will fall apart after a week', and the only thing that kept it from being completely non-descript was the fact that every other panel was white instead of black. It was the most nothing of nothingburgers, to the point where Ryan would cheerfully have handed it over just to get out of the conversation if not for the fact that the nearest place to eat was six blocks away and it was dumping buckets outside.

He looked around, hoping to see someone who could testify that he'd been carrying around a black-and-white umbrella all day yesterday and today, but the lobby was deserted. Of course it was. Everyone was at lunch, just like he wanted to be. He looked back over at Miriam, who was watching him with the grim triumph of a chessmaster two moves away from checkmating their opponent. "I'm really sorry," he said at last, bracing himself for the fallout. "I think you must be mistaken."

Surprisingly, Miriam didn't blow up at him. She merely put out her hand expectantly, and said, "Here. If you'll hand it to me for just a moment, I believe I can prove to you that it belongs to me." She wore white linen fingerless gloves, because of course she did. She also looked like she could stand here waiting like this all day, and quite probably step in his path if he tried to make a break for it. With a sigh, Ryan handed her the umbrella.

She smiled graciously at his tiny concession. "I know, it's bad luck," she said, as she popped open the umbrella. "But if it's the only way to settle this...there! You see?" She angled the canopy towards his face, her expression triumphant. "It's a very distinctive pattern. I assure you, this umbrella belongs to me."

Ryan leaned in a little closer, looking for some kind of watermark or optical effect or anything at all beyond the simple black on white on black on white. But he didn't see anything. Then again, he didn't really expect to. "I'm sorry," he said, continuing his unbroken string of conciliatory comments into what felt like the third straight day. "But I'm just not seeing anything distinctive."

Miriam didn't seem bothered by his confusion. If anything, she looked like she expected nothing more out of him. "Well, here," she said, her voice filled with tightly controlled exasperation. "Watch this and tell me you don't notice anything special." She began to twist the handle with one hand, while holding the shaft in the other. The canopy began to turn slowly, the edges of the black blurring into the white as it began to gently spin.

Ryan watched for a moment, certain that he was being subjected to some sort of elaborate psychological experiment about what it took to get people to believe a blatant falsehood. The umbrella wasn't doing anything special at all. Sure, the panels looked kind of funny when you watched them spin like that-there was an optical illusion that caused you to see very faint rainbows where the black met the white, he remembered hearing about that somewhere. But it wasn't 'distinctive' or 'unique'. It was just your brain playing tricks on you. "It's, um-"

That was as far as he got. Miriam leaped into the tiny pause and said, "You're not watching closely enough, young man. Just keep looking, look right in the middle where the black and the white are so close together that they're almost constantly exchanging places. Do you see that rainbow there? It makes it look like the center is spinning faster than the edges, even though you know that can't be possible. The edges must be moving faster, because they cover more ground in the same amount of time. But it looks like the center is swirling so much faster, doesn't it?"

Ryan blinked. It actually looked more like Miriam was spinning the umbrella faster and faster, like she was deliberately twirling it around and around quicker and quicker until his eyes almost hurt looking at it, but contradicting her on that point seemed like a meaningless argument inside a meaningless argument inside an argument he wanted nothing more than to get out of without any more stress than he already had. He decided to let it go and try to steer her back on track. "Well, yes, but-"

Miriam cut him off quickly at the first sign of contradiction. "But then you look at the edges, and it's so dizzying. Because they are moving faster, so as your stare moves further and further out, it feels like everything's speeding up. It feels like it's spinning faster than your eyes can possibly keep up with, faster than your mind can possibly keep up with, and you find yourself overwhelmed with vertigo that makes your gaze, your thoughts helplessly turn back to the center just so that you can refocus yourself. You have to keep staring at the center now. You can't possibly look away."

Frustratingly, Ryan wound up proving her exactly right. When he did as she suggested and glanced away at the edges of the spinning umbrella, the speed of the panels as they flashed past in alternating bursts of black and white, each one with a dizzying rainbow aura trailing along the edges, made him feel like he was about to fall over. He could feel his head wobbling on his neck as he followed the spinning canopy, instinctively matching the round-and-round motion with his body, and he had to hold out his hands in a sudden attempt to keep his balance. Reflexively, he stared at the center again, locking his vision on the tip of the umbrella in an attempt to keep himself steady.

Miriam must have noticed his eyes focusing back on the center of the canopy, because she said, "That's right. You see? You're starting to recognize the patterns. Swirling, spinning rainbow patterns in the middle. Dizzying, flashing blur along the edges. The more you look, the more attention you pay to those smooth and relaxing patterns, the easier it becomes to pick out the details. You can see those beautiful colors, and the more attention you pay to them, the more distinctive and beautiful they become. You see those deep, shimmering colors, don't you, now?"

Ryan opened his mouth, but he wasn't quite sure what to say. Of course he saw the colors, but if he admitted he saw them, then Miriam would only become more convinced that she was right and he was wrong. But at the same time, he didn't want to lie and pretend they weren't there. He'd already admitted that he saw them, hadn't he? Ryan's mind lurched suddenly as he tried to remember everything he'd said 'yes' to in a feeble attempt to placate her. He felt a growing urge to say something, anything, just to end the silence that stretched out between them into an eternity of awkwardness. "Um, yes..." he said at last, wishing he didn't sound so spineless. "B-"

She didn't even let him get out the full contradiction this time. "Of course you do. With every spin and swirl, they etch themselves onto your gaze, into your mind. Your eyes are drawn to the center of the spinning colors, and you can't possibly look away now. Not when everything around the colors is such a dizzying whirl, so confusing and muddling to your mind. You need to keep staring at the colors, let yourself see them in your thoughts as well as with your stare. Such a beautiful, unique rainbow unfolding in front of you. So pleasant to keep watching and keep listening and keep agreeing. Isn't that right?"

"Well, I..." Ryan blinked heavily. The motion felt strangely unfamiliar, like he wasn't used to blinking anymore; his eyes felt like they were burning with exhaustion, but at the same time he knew that he couldn't look away from the constantly twirling tip of the umbrella. His options seemed to narrow more and more with every second; he couldn't look away, he couldn't walk away, he couldn't argue, and now he couldn't even close his tired eyes for more than a moment. His shoulders slumped as he once again took the path of least resistance. "Yes," he said dully. He told himself he still wasn't agreeing that the umbrella belonged to her.

Miriam was evidently mollified by his agreement. "That's right," she cooed, her fingers continuing to twirl the canopy around in endless circles. "It's so nice that you're finally starting to respect my words. You feel so much nicer knowing that we're in agreement now, that we've set aside all those ugly and stressful disputes and started talking about what we both know to be true. We both know that it's impossible to look away from the swirling colors. We both know that it's so much more pleasant to listen to my voice and agree with everything I say. We both know that the pattern of endlessly whirling color is so distinctive, so unique, so wonderful to stare at as you relax and listen to my words, don't we?"

Ryan barely even paid attention to her now. He couldn't figure out where she was going with this argument, why she kept repeating herself over and over with just the tiniest variations, and he'd stopped caring. There was only one thing he really needed to say 'no' to, anyway, and this wasn't it. So he just repeated, "Yes," in a bland monotone that probably showed his lack of interest more than was really polite, and kept staring at the umbrella until she was done talking.

Which wasn't yet. "That's right," she said, her voice practically a purr of triumph. "You see how easy that was, my good boy? The pattern is unique. The pattern is distinctive. Just look into the spinning colors and you'll see that I told you the absolute truth. I told you that there was a unique, distinctive pattern on the umbrella, didn't I?" She spun the canopy even faster as she spoke, the panels becoming a rainbow blur almost all the way out to the edges. Not that Ryan could look that far, not without getting so dizzy he fell over.

"Yes," he replied, no longer even arguing with himself. It was all he could do to keep his legs under him; everything felt like a symphony of exhaustion and confusion and vertigo and all he wanted now was just for someone to tell him what to do so he could do it. Cross-stitching wasn't supposed to be stressful. He was supposed to be here for a quiet weekend of threading needles and poking them into cloth. He just wanted that peace again, and agreeing with Miriam seemed to be the only way to get back to it.

"And anything with that unique, distinctive pattern belongs to me," Miriam said. He could hear the smug, exultant tone in her voice as she wove the thread of her words through his thoughts. "The umbrella must belong to me. You can see that now, can't you? It's so easy to listen and agree. The umbrella has the pattern, and anything with the pattern belongs to me. Isn't that right?"

Ryan felt sure he was supposed to say 'no' to something, but every time he tried to remember what it was the canopy spun past his eyes again and distracted him into blank, confused silence. And every moment of silence was filled with the awareness of Miriam, right there on the other side of the umbrella, happy to wait for an eternity for him to respond. "Yes," he said, his body slumping in defeat as he gave up the struggle to think.

"Very good, good boy. Now, tell me you made a mistake."

"I...I made a mistake, ma'am," he repeated. It felt so much easier simply to repeat what Miriam said.

"Very good!" Miriam purred, smoothing his thoughts away with praise. "You see how much easier it is to watch and listen and agree? Just watching the patterns, letting your mind fill with them, letting them saturate your every last thought with my pretty colors. You don't have anything else left in your head, do you, good boy?"

"No, ma'am," Ryan said, his mouth relaxing into a dreamy smile. That must have been what he was supposed to say 'no' to. He felt so much better knowing he didn't have to worry about it anymore.

"And since your mind is filled with my pattern, and anything with that pattern belongs to me, well...what does that mean, my sweet boy?" Miriam's words led him inexorably along, drawing him right up to the edge of the realization that he almost felt too dazed and dreamy to make for himself. He wondered for a moment if there was something in his eyes that marked him as easy prey, if she'd been planning this all weekend long. Then the spinning canopy captured his attention again, and all he could do was respond.

"My mind belongs to you, ma'am," he mumbled, feeling the rest of his thoughts disappear into the swirling colors in his brain. His stare became glassy and unfocused. His eyes kept looking straight ahead, but they didn't really see anything anymore.

"Good boy," Miriam replied, snapping the umbrella shut with one hand and reaching over to him with the other. Her fingers curled around the back of his neck as she pulled him forward, and his eyes slipped shut like a child's dolly as he slumped against her shoulder. "That's my good, good boy. Relax into me, sleep in me, sleep in my will. Good boy. Good boy." She rocked him gently as she spoke, soothing away the last of his resistance with quiet praise until his mind went still.

"Now," she said, after what seemed like endless softening of his blank and sleepy mind. "In a moment, you're going to straighten up, and let your eyes open for a moment. It's okay-you'll still see the patterns, everywhere you look over everything you see, reminding you to stay deep and relaxed for me. But you'll also see the lobby, and you'll be so happy to let me guide you to the elevators. We'll take a little trip back to my room, and then I can tell you all about what it means to belong to me. Doesn't that sound nice?"

"Yes, ma'am," Ryan murmured, his voice muffled by the fabric of her blouse. It was really the only answer he could remember now.

"Good boy. Obey." Ryan slowly straightened up. His eyes opened, staring blankly into the middle distance. Miriam took his hand, and led him back into the hotel. She slipped the umbrella into her bag as they walked, where it came to rest alongside the three she'd collected already. The patterns in Ryan's eyes might have been unique, but Miriam was well aware that he was just the latest of her good boys and girls.

THE END

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byJukeboxEMCSA© 3 comments/ 6768 views/ 7 favorites
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by Anonymous

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by AnonymousOne08/02/18

Well done indeed

Long time fan of your work. Hope you keep this going as it has several possibilities and I can only imagine what you're going to commit to "paper".

Anon

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by Anonymous08/02/18

Not erotic

This is a erotic story site. Why are you giving us a P G story?

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by 44chicken08/02/18

Interesting start...

At least, I hope it’s a start. You had me with “...started life at the age of thirty-nine and was only now catching up to it”. Genius.

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