I grew up indulging in fantasy, prone to spending long hours in bed with a swayback novel clutched in grubby hands, a bowl of food tucked up under my chin and my mind set loose in some not-so-parallel world where somehow all my weaknesses were transformed into the strengths necessary to save whole universes.

Fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, horror, thrillers, detective novels —- I slurped them all up with equal abandon and tried on the personas like so many ill-fitting hats, vying for the one perfect identity that I could adopt in my life to stave off the adolescent desperation I was just beginning to feel.

The love of story wormed itself deep into my psyche, so much so that I began to embellish the real events of my life to add interest — usually supplying the kind of vague heroics I lacked in real life.

I took to lying. Not about important things, most of the time, but in stories I told to my friends at school. About lady action I’d had in my freewheeling years in Modesto, where I’d lived previous. According to my tales, I was a regular Lothario in the heat of the valley, and had chosen a kind of somnolent sexual retirement in Humboldt County to better understand myself. The ladies would always be there, I explained to my friends. Right then, I just needed to work on myself.

Once that whopper was floated and not shot immediately down, the game was on. I began to weave together all sorts of stories about old adventures, fist-fights, wild alcoholic weekends, anything I could come up with that would bolster my attempts to become cool in the eyes of my peers.

Soon, though, the regular white lies were exhausted. There’s only so many things a boy of 13 can do without his exploits being obviously concocted for the sake of schoolyard credibility. I ran through these fast and loose, and the real whoppers started soon thereafter.

I missed a Monday one week, and by doing so skipped out on a group-project presentation where my participation was vital to success. My friends were incensed at my irresponsibility, so I had to come up with something fast to assuage their ruffled sensibilities.

Having just read Jean M. Auel’s “Clan of the Cavebear” (Yes, I too spent countless hours imagining myself in the furs with Ayla. Jondalar can kiss my ass), I manufactured a tale on the spot to reasonably explain my absence.

A routine doctor’s appointment the week before had resulted in a call from the office early Monday. An obviously excited doctor informed me that an issue had been discovered in the helices of my DNA, a freakish mutation that required further emergency testing to iron out.

I spent all of Monday under lights and in twirling gizmos that radiated every inch of my mostly hairless body, I told them, and last evening well after the office should have closed, the doctor finally came in to confer with me and my panicked mother.

The corpulent physician had with him a checklist covered in scribbles and check marks, as well as a Kodak camera and a strange-looking medical bracelet, like the ones worn by old people and epileptics to warn people of their condition.

In a high-pitched frenzy, the doctor explained to us that the earlier test had in fact shown that I was a genetic anomaly, a leftover branch of the human species walking in the flesh. According to his charts, the doctor said I was nearly 15 percent Neanderthal in origin, and they’d never seen so much genetic information from that species in one individual. The camera was to capture my image for medical journals, and the bracelet warned medical providers of certain medicinal allergies prone to Neanderthals.

I refused the bracelet.

To my shocked friends, I patiently pointed out my looming brow ridge, the fat knuckles on my large hands, my broad shoulders, my big feet, and — I hinted — other large anatomical features that were obvious proof of my primitive ancestry.

I was to become part of an ongoing experiment, I told them, where I’d be tested for strength, agility and intelligence in a secret lab somewhere in the forested mountains of Southern Oregon. I’d receive training to maximize my special talents, and perhaps at some future point the military would have need of my skills.

Looking around at their rapt faces, I was sure they bought the whole story and congratulated myself on a con well sold. They probably thought I was full of shit. It didn’t matter. I was off and running.

It was a few years before I had a chance to sell another story to these same friends of mine. I think they were ready for me.

For some reason, we’d all become transfixed by the idea of mesmerism, hypnosis and the subtle art of planting post-hypnotic suggestions. In the pre-Internet age, we actually visited the Humboldt County Library and checked out several books on hypnosis, several of which claimed to offer step-by-step instructions for lulling people into a catatonic trance where their identities became as malleable as mashed potatoes.

We read about four pages, and decided we were trained. First, we tried to spellbind my friend Josh Edgar. He was a less than compliant subject, and we had no luck.

Next, my friend Mike Parker was subjected to a strange melange of procedure and ritual as we mixed school yard VooDoo and mesmerism together for what we considered maximum effect. He too proved non-compliant, and I was suddenly bored and pissed off.

When it was my turn to fall under the spell, I spiced the narrative up a bit. Suddenly, we traveling through the past lives of a Civil War veteran and other ancient warriors, as a sailor on the Santa Maria, and a gangster in the 1930s who’d lost his gun in a whorehouse.

That was just the beginning. Soon, Josh and Mike peeled back the years and the surface ephemera of identity and got down to spiritual paydirt. They were as gentle as monkeys in the operating room. While I hunched and slobbered in an approximation of what I thought it meant to be hypnotized, they debated how they should leave their mark.

They settled on two post-hypnotic suggestions.

One would cause me to become suddenly, and verifiably, immune to pain. If pain was inflicted upon me, I would simply not feel it. The code word to activate this state was “Mono Rebirth,” after a poster of Mono Lake that Josh had pinned to his wall.

The other one would simply put me back into the hypnotized state again, immediately. I forget the password, but I’m fairly certain it had something to do with a floppy chicken.

When they brought me out of my highly-suggestible state of hypnosis, I was giddy with my own cleverness. I’d really pulled the wool over their eyes, I thought, and I’d have a long laugh at their expense one day when I finally revealed the depths of their gullibility.

Yay me.

Twice that night, they dropped the floppy chicken and I had to quickly pretend I was once again in a state of happy detachment. Still not satisfied, they saved the best for last.

Right before bed Josh managed to weave the term “Mono Rebirth” into our conversation. Nothing changed in my demeanor, as this suggestion was only meant to shift how I perceived things as long as the suggestion was in effect. So I kept talking to Mike, not losing even a single beat as Josh deployed a Phillips head screw driver and raked it hard six inches along the underside of my forearm. The skin ripped slightly, and some blood wicked to the surface. It hurt like a bastard, but I didn’t react. I had a scar there for almost a year.

The conversation continued, and Josh yanked out a small handful of short hairs along the back of my neck. Once again, I didn’t react though the farce nearly came to an end when tears welled and almost slid down my suddenly sweaty face.

Panic set in, and I almost came clean. I expected a pinch, a yanked nose hair, something. But these heartless bastards were willing to inflict genuine torture just to underline their own supposed hypnotic prowess. If they made another move toward my body, I was fit to scream like a baby.

Luckily, that was the extent of their experimentation. As a result, my arrogance knew no bounds. I went to sleep that night favoring one arm and patting myself on the back for the beautiful execution of a practical joke.

The thing is, all these years later, I’m pretty sure they did the same.


James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at faulk.james@yahoo.com.