When my brother Danny was in grade school his best friend was a boy named Jack. On the surface Danny and Jack were total opposites. Danny was quick, emotional, a rapid-fire talker, full of nervous energy, always doing something with his hands. He couldn't leave an appliance un-fiddled with, a bowl of fruit un-juggled, or a button unpushed.
Jack was dreamy, vague, laconic. Whenever Mom picked him up at his house she always had to wait interminably while Jack inched so very, very gradually down his front walk to the car. ``Good old Jack, slower than molasses in January,'' Mom would say, resignedly turning off the ignition. It took Jack so long to answer a question that you wondered if he'd even heard it. When he finally did respond, in a flat, toneless voice, there were such prolonged gaps between words, even between syllables, that he might have been speaking in a foreign language. He spent a lot of time staring vacantly into space, as though his mind inhabited some private world so remote that it required a monumental effort for him to wrest himself away from it. I found Jack far more irritating than any of Danny's other little friends.
But there must have been something interesting about Jack, or else impatient Danny would have been driven into a frenzy by his maddening behavior, and rejected him. Instead, Danny actively sought out Jack's company, spending more time with him than anyone else.
I began to understand when we found out about the hypnotism incident.
It was Jack who noticed the advertisement in the back pages of a comic book: ``Teach yourself hypnosis. Complete course in one simple, easy-to-read pamphlet. Only twenty-five cents. Money-back guarantee. Enclose self-addressed stamped envelope with each order.'' It was Jack who laboriously addressed the envelope, tongue protruding from teeth. It was Jack who read the pamphlet from cover to cover, learning the instructions.
And it was Jack who tested it out--on Tycho.
There was no one else in the house that day except for Geneva, the cleaning woman, who was busy downstairs. Mom and Dad were at work, I was home from college but at my summer job, and Vicky was somewhere with friends. Jack's mother had dropped him off at our house after lunch; Mom would bring him home when she got back from work.
Tycho was eight, two years younger than Danny and Jack. He had several motivations for doing what they asked. He knew that it was an honor to be invited by the older boys to participate in one of their activities, not quite understanding that activity meant being used as an experimental subject.
More importantly, he knew that Danny would not leave him alone until he acquiesced. He readily agreed to be hypnotized.
Jack gently ushered Tycho into Danny's room. It was a rare privilege for Tycho to be allowed into this room at all. Danny usually kept him out for fear that he might accidentally damage one of Danny's many projects, such as the delicate and complicated model airplane Danny had been working on for weeks, and had just completed that morning.
Jack had threaded a piece of string through a foil-wrapped chocolate coin. He sat Tycho comfortably down on a chair, meticulously pulled the window shades down one by one, turned off the light, and told Danny to focus a flashlight beam on the coin. ``Keep your eyes on the coin,'' Jack instructed Tycho in his level, emotionless voice, swinging the coin slowly back and forth. ``Focus all your attention on the coin . . . There is nothing else . . . nothing but the coin . . .''
Tycho was naturally gullible. He hadn't always been perfectly obedient--notably in one particular area of personal hygiene. But in relation to Danny, obedience was the only sensible option.
``The coin . . . You are so comfortable . . . So relaxed . . . You are sleepy, so sleepy . . . Your eyelids are growing heavy . . . You can't keep them open now . . . All you want is sleep, deep, restful sleep . . .''
There was enough light for Danny and Jack to see Tycho's eyelids flutter and then slowly close. ``You are deeply asleep now . . . but you can still hear my voice,'' Jack said. ``Are you asleep now?''
``Yes,'' Tycho uttered, in a voice nearly as flat and expressionless as Jack's.
``Okay. Turn on the light, Danny,'' Jack said, so cool and matter-of-fact that he might have successfully achieved this scientific result dozens of times before.
Danny flipped on the light and then hurried over to Tycho, eagerly bending down to study his face. Tycho's eyes remained closed, his arms hanging at his sides in the straight-backed chair. Danny turned quickly back to Jack. ``You think he's really hypnotized?'' he asked him in an excited whisper, rubbing his hands together. ``He's not faking it or anything?''
``We'll find out,'' Jack said blandly. He took one careful, measured step toward Tycho and stood staring down at him for a long moment, thinking.
``Well? Is he?'' Danny said, hopping with impatience.
Jack ignored him, watching Tycho. Finally he said, ``Tycho, your arms are tied to your sides by a very strong rope. The rope is very tight, wrapped around you many times, and you can't reach back to untie it. Can you feel the rope?''
``Uh huh,'' Tycho said, nodding slightly, pressing his arms against his body.
``You can't move your arms, no matter how hard you try. Can you move your arms?''
Tycho's arms quivered. His body tensed. ``No, I . . . I can't,'' he replied, with a slight frown.
``But . . . your nose itches. It itches something terrible. You can't stand it for another second,'' Jack mildly informed him.
Tycho's nose twitched. His hands clenched, his shoul-ders tightened. Gradually, veins stood out on his arms as he strained, trembling, to move them. They wouldn't move. His forehead creased, his cheeks flushed with effort. He grunted.
Danny's eyes lit up. He looked at Jack, then Tycho, then at Jack again--who was watching Tycho dispassionately.
Suddenly Danny's face fell. ``He's faking it, he's got to be!'' he exclaimed. ``You're faking it, Tycho, you jerk!'' he accused him.
Tycho didn't notice. He went on struggling miserably to move his arms, sweat breaking out on his forehead.
``Tycho, the rope is gone,'' Jack said quietly.
Tycho's hands shot to his nose, furiously scratching. His shoulders sagged in relief.
``He's faking it,'' Danny said. ``I know what he's like. This is boring.'' He sighed, and scowled at Tycho.
Tycho continued scratching ferociously. Jack wandered over to Danny's desk, picked up the hypnotism pamphlet, and paged through it in a leisurely manner.
Tycho's fingernails tore more wildly at the skin of his nose.
``Hey, I think his nose is starting to bleed,'' Danny said, no longer so skeptical.
``Umm,'' Jack murmured, slowly turning a page. ``Oh yeah . . . That one.'' He studied the pamphlet a moment longer, then finally closed it and carefully positioned it on the desk beside Danny's model airplane, staring thoughtfully down at the booklet for awhile.
``His nose is bleeding,'' Danny said, sounding worried. ``Maybe you better do something before he hurts himself.''
Jack turned vaguely toward Tycho. ``Huh? Oh. Okay, the itch is gone, Tycho.''
Tycho let his hands fall limply to his sides, seemingly unaware of the drop of blood that dangled from the tip of his inflamed nose and then dropped down onto his chin.
``But now . . . you are thirsty.'' Jack plodded back toward Tycho. ``You haven't had any water in days . . . days and days. You've never been so thirsty in your life. Your mouth feels like it's stuffed with cotton. Oh, yeah . . . Your arms are tied to your sides again. And you can open your eyes now.''
Tycho's arms stiffened. His eyelids lifted; he stared blankly at nothing. His lips parted slightly, bits of them sticking together. The tip of his tongue emerged, moving slowly back and forth.
``You are dying for a drink of water, the thirst is killing you,'' Jack recited in a monotone, as though reading from a book.
Tycho's throat contracted with a sick, rasping choke.
``You will do anything for a drink. But,'' Jack mentioned, ``your hands are still tied. You can't turn on a faucet or pick up a glass. And you are dying of thirst. You are so thirsty that--''
Even Jack was startled when Tycho bounded from the chair and dashed out of the room. Danny raced after him, and Jack actually managed to sort of lope along behind.
They found Tycho in the bathroom, kneeling beside the toilet, his head thrust deep into the bowl, his arms at his sides. His mouth was immersed in the water, making gurgling and splashing sounds as he desperately lapped and gulped it down. He kept it up until Jack granted Tycho the information that his thirst was quenched. Tycho immediately pulled his head out of the toilet bowl.
``I guess he's not faking it,'' Danny had to admit, when they were all back in his room, Tycho dociley seated in the chair again.
``There's a final proof,'' Jack said, after taking his time to consult the pamphlet once more. ``Okay, Tycho, listen carefully,'' he instructed him. ``After I wake you up, you will forget everything that happened while you were asleep--except one thing. Whenever anybody says the word 'window,' you will pick up the nearest object you can find and throw it to the floor. Do you understand?''
``You will forget everything that happened, except for that one instruction. Okay?''
``Okay,'' Tycho repeated.
``Now I'm going to count to three,'' Jack said. ``And when I say 'three' you will be fully awake. Here we go. One . . . Two . . . Three.''
Tycho blinked. His eyes focused on Jack, then on Danny. ``Why did you turn the light back on?'' he asked. ``Aren't you going to hypnotize me?''
Tycho was confused when Danny burst into laughter. ``What's so funny?'' he wanted to know. ``I don't get it. Why didn't you hypnotize me?''
``We just decided not to,'' Danny said. ``Jack, I think you should open the window shades.''
Tycho stood up, walked over to Danny's desk, picked up the model airplane and hurled it to the floor, shattering it to pieces.
Danny did not share Jack's mild amusement. ``Tycho!'' he howled. ``How could . . . Why did . . .'' He smacked Tycho hard across the face, then sank mournfully to the floor, gathering up the ruined airplane.
Tycho put his hand to his cheek. But he seemed more upset about the airplane than the slap. ``I'm sorry, Danny,'' he cried, on the verge of tears because of the terrible thing he had done. ``I don't know what happened! Really. All of a sudden I just had to do it.''
``You're faking it!'' Danny screamed at him. ``You're just pretending it was because . . .'' He bit his lip, looking down at the airplace again, wondering.
``Danny, something made me do it,'' Tycho piteously and hopelessly persisted. ``I don't understand it. I'm so sorry. Believe me. I know it sounds crazy. But . . . but . . .''
``Forget it, Tycho,'' Danny snarled at him in frustration. He glared up at Jack. ``If he's not faking it, then it's your fault,'' he said. ``Maybe you better--''
``Come on now, kids! Time for Jack to go home,'' Mom called from downstairs. She had just come back from a long hot day at work, and her tone of voice indicated that she was not to be argued with. ``And would you try to hurry for a change? I've got a lot of things to do.''
Danny and Tycho went along for the ride, Tycho in the front seat, Danny fuming and Jack smiling remotely to himself in the back. As Mom irritably waited while Jack inched his way so very, very gradually up his front walk, she said, ``It's hot, Tycho, roll down the window.''
Tycho grabbed Mom's handbag, sitting open beside her on the seat, and threw it to the floor of the car, scattering most of its contents.
``Tycho, you monster!'' Mom screamed. ``Are you nuts? Pick it all up this instant!''
Tycho obeyed immediately, not holding back his tears now. Danny wasn't amused this time either.
They were both abnormally quiet during supper. The rest of the family chatted away as usual.
Mom talked about her job. She was a pediatrician for the public health department, working in free clinics for poor people in the inner-city. ``A woman came in today who lives in that terrible Pruitt-Igo project,'' she was saying. ``She has five kids and lives in a three-room apartment on the eleventh floor. She has to keep her kids inside all day long, because of the toughs in the playground. Even if she could watch them from the window, she wouldn't be able to--''
Tycho picked up his plate of spaghetti with meat sauce and smashed it to the floor. Mom shrieked; Tycho wailed in apparent bewilderment.
It was Dad, who could usually be counted on to remain calm in moments of stress, who noticed how uncomfortably Danny was cringing in his chair. It was Dad who patiently got the whole story out of Danny. Mom had scraped the spaghetti sauce off the rug and served dessert by the time Danny finished.
``Well, can't we just hypnotize him again and tell him not to do it any more?'' Dad asked him.
``I think it will only work if Jack does it,'' Danny said. ``He's the one who hypnotized him and gave him the suggestion. And . . . he didn't say anything about how to make Tycho stop doing it. Maybe . . . he can't stop,'' Danny added in a hushed voice.
``But Jack didn't hypnotize me,'' Tycho insisted. ``Nothing happened. I didn't drink water out of the toilet. I'd never do that!''
``If that's the case, then you must be making these messes on purpose,'' Mom accused him.
``But why would I get in trouble on purpose?'' Tycho asked her, sounding completely innocent.
``It's not Tycho's fault,'' Danny said. As mean as he often was to Tycho, he was nevertheless always the first one to leap to Tycho's defense when he felt he was being unfairly treated by someone else. ``Tycho just doesn't remember being hypnotized because Jack told him not to,'' Danny explained. ``He can't help it.''
``Well, even if I was hypnotized, why would Jack tell me to break things just because somebody said a certain word?'' Tycho wondered.
``Like . . . window?'' Vicky suggested, experimentally.
While Vicky cleaned up Tycho's bowl of ice cream and chocolate sauce Mom got on the phone. Jack's mother drove him over right away. We all waited in the living room while Jack inched his way so very, very gradually up the front walk to our house.
``But this is fantastic!'' Jack's mother was saying.
``It's not fantastic at all. It's called post-hynotic suggestion,'' Dad told her.
``Well, I'm sorry,'' she said. ``I hope Jack can undo it. It would be kind of inconvenient never to be able to say 'win--'''
``Stop!'' Danny shouted.
But it was too late. ``'--dow,''' she had already finished.
This time it was the beautiful ceramic ashtray my college roomate had given Mom that was closest to Tycho's reach. Jack's mother swept up the pieces while the three boys made their way up to Danny's room.
But now Tycho chose to be obstinate. ``I don't want to be hypnotized any more,'' he grumbled, pouting. ``What if you make me drink toilet water again?''
Danny didn't stop to consider some other reason why Tycho might not want to repeat the experiment. ``Shut up, Tycho! You're going to be hypnotized, period!'' Danny ordered, lunging at him.
Jack took one step, planting himself stolidly between Danny and Tycho, fixing Danny with his calm gaze. Danny growled, but he backed off.
Jack remained rooted in place, thinking for a long moment. ``Uh . . . Wait outside, Danny,'' he finally said, in his usual measured tones.
``You don't need me to hold the flashlight?'' Danny objected.
``I can manage,'' Jack said. ``We'll both be in trouble if Tycho doesn't stop. It won't take long. And then . . . then I'll tell you a secret.''
``But I don't want to be hynotized,'' Tycho protested again. It was strange; you'd think he would have been eager to stop helplessly breaking things.
``It'll be worth it, Tycho, I promise,'' Jack assured him. ``You'll see. We'll be out soon, Danny.''
Danny was too impatient to stand there doing nothing while he waited out in the hall--and even at that age he loved to do experiments. He thought for a minute, then quickly placed a chair just outside the closed door of his room. He put Tycho's prized Mickey Mouse alarm clock on the chair, making sure it was the only object that would be within Tycho's immediate reach when he came out of the room.
A few minutes later Tycho and Jack emerged into the upstairs hall. ``Window!'' Danny instantly shouted.
``What are you talking about?'' Tycho asked him. ``And what's my clock doing here?'' He picked it up carefully and took it back to his own room.
``You want to hear that secret, Danny?'' Jack asked him, beckoning him back into the hypnosis chamber. They were in there for about ten minutes.
It was just around this time that Danny began to stop picking on Tycho. We all assumed that Danny's abuse of Tycho came to an end simply because Tycho was getting to be Danny's size.
But I thought I heard, on a couple of occasions, Tycho mentioning the word ``door'' just when Danny was about to attack him. And oddly enough, Danny suddenly turned away and left Tycho alone.