Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

Joseph Payne Brennan: Levitation

Joseph Payne Brennan



Morgan's Wonder Carnival moved into Riverville for an overnight stand, setting up its tents in the big ball park on the edge of the village. It was a warm evening in early October and by seven o'clock a sizable crowd had made its way to the scene of raucous amusement.
The traveling show was neither large nor particularly impressive of its type, but its appearance was eagerly welcomed in Riverville, an isolated mountain community many miles from the motion "picture houses, vaudeville theatres and sports arenas situated in larger towns.
The natives of Riverville did not demand sophisticated entertainment; consequently the inevitable Fat Lady, the Tattooed Man and the Monkey Boy kept them chattering animatedly for many minutes at a time. They crammed peanuts and buttered popcorn into their mouths, drank cup after cup of pink lemonade, and got their fingers all but stuck together trying to scrape the paper wrappers off colored taffy candies.
Everyone appeared to be in a relaxed and tolerant state of mind when the barker for the Hypnotist began his spiel. The barker, a short stocky man wearing a checkered suit, bellowed through an improvised megaphone, while the Hypnotist himself remained aloof at the rear of the plank platform erected in front of his tent. He appeared disinterested, scornful, and he scarcely deigned to glance at the gathering crowd.
At length, however, when some fifty souls had assembled in front of the platform, he stepped forward into the light. A murmur went up from the crowd.
In the harsh overhead electric glare, the Hypnotist made a striking appearance. His tall figure, thin to the point of emaciation, his pale complexion, and most of all his dark, sunken eyes, enormous and brilliant, compelled immediate attention. His dress, a severe black suit and an archaic black string tie, added a final Mephistophelean touch.
He surveyed the crowd coolly, with an expression betraying resignation and a kind of quiet contempt.
His sonorous voice reached to the far edge of the throng. "I will require one volunteer from among you," he said. "If someone will kindly step up—"
Everyone glanced around, or nudged his neighbor, but nobody advanced toward the platform.
The Hypnotist shrugged. "There can be no demonstration," he said in a weary voice, "unless one of you is kind enough to come up. I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, the demonstration is quite harmless, quite without danger."
He looked around expectantly and presently a young man slowly elbowed through the crowd toward the platform.


The Hypnotist helped him up the steps and seated him in a chair.
"Relax," said the Hypnotist. "Presently you will be asleep and you will do exactly what I tell you to do."
The young man squirmed on the chair, grinning selfconsciously toward the crowd.
The Hypnotist caught his attention, fixing his enormous eyes on him, and the young man stopped squirming.
Suddenly someone in the crowd threw a large ball of colored popcorn toward the platform. The popcorn arched over the lights, landing squarely atop the head of the young man sitting in the chair.
He jerked sideways, almost falling off the chair, and the crowd, quiet a moment before, guffawed boisterously.
The Hypnotist was furious. He turned scarlet and literally shook with rage as he glared at the crowd.
"Who threw that?" he demanded in a choking voice.
The crowd grew silent.
The Hypnotist continued to glare at them. At length the color left his face and he stopped trembling, but his brilliant eyes remained baleful.
Finally he nodded to the young man seated on the platform, dismissing him with brief thanks, and turned again toward the crowd.
"Due to the interruption," he announced in a low voice, "it will be necessary to recommence the demonstration— with a new subject. Perhaps the person who threw the popcorn would care to come up?"
At least a dozen people in the crowd turned to gaze at someone who stood half in shadow at the rear of the gathering.
The Hypnotist spotted him at once; his dark eyes seemed to smoulder. "Perhaps," he said in a purring, mocking voice, "the one who interrupted is afraid to come up. He prefers to hide in the shadows and throw popcorn!"
The culprit voiced a sudden exclamation and then pushed belligerently toward the platform. His appearance was not in any way remarkable; in fact, he somewhat resembled the first young man, and any casual observer would have placed the two of them in the farm-laborer class, neither more nor less capable than the average.
The second young man sat down in the platform chair with a distinct air of defiance and for some minutes visibly .fought the Hypnotist's suggestion to relax. Presently, however, his aggressiveness disappeared and he dutifully stared into the smouldering eyes opposite his own.
In another minute or two he arose at the Hypnotist's command and lay flat on his back on the hard planks of the platform. The crowd gasped.
"You will fall asleep," the Hypnotist told him. "You will fall asleep. You are falling asleep. You are falling asleep. You are asleep and you will do anything which I command you to do. Anything which I command you to do. Anything..."
His voice droned on, repeating repetitious phrases, and the crowd grew perfectly silent.
Suddenly a new note entered the Hypnotist's voice and the audience became tense.
"Do not stand up—but rise from the platform!" the Hypnotist commanded. "Rise from the platform!" His dark eyes became wild and luminous-looking and the crowd shivered.
"Rise!"
Then the crowd drew in its collective breath with an audible start.
The young man lying rigid on the platform, without moving a muscle, began to ascend horizontally. He arose slowly, almost imperceptively at first, but soon with a steady and unmistakable acceleration.
"Rise!" the Hypnotist's voice rang out.
The young man continued to ascend, until he was feet off the platform, and still he did not stop.
The crowd was sure it was some kind of trick, but in spite of themselves they stared open-mouthed. The young man appeared to be suspended and moving in mid-air without any possible means of physical support.
Abruptly the focus of the crowd's attention was shifted; the Hypnotist clasped a hand to his chest, staggered, and crumpled to the platform.
There were calls for a doctor. The barker in the checkered suit appeared out of the tent and bent over the motionless form.
He felt for a pulse, shook his head and straightened up. Someone offered a bottle of whiskey, but he merely shrugged.
Suddenly a woman in the crowd screamed.
Everyone turned to look at her and a second later followed the direction of her gaze.
Immediately there were further cries—for the young man whom the Hypnotist had put to sleep was still ascending. While the crowd's attention had been distracted by the fatal collapse of the Hypnotist, he had continued to rise. He was now a good seven feet above the platform and moving inexorably upward. Even after the death of the Hypnotist, he continued to obey that final ringing command: "Rise!"
The barker, eyes all but popping out of his head, made a frantic upward leap, but he was too short. His fingers barely brushed the moving figure above and he fell heavily back to the platform.
The rigid form of the young man continued to float upward, as if he were being hoisted by some kind of invisible pulley.
Women began screaming hysterically; men shouted. But no one knew what to do. A look of terror crept over the face of the barker as he stared up. Once he glanced wildly toward the sprawled shape of the Hypnotist.
"Come down, Frank! Come down!" the crowd shrieked. "Frank! Wake up! Come down! Stop! Frank!"
But the rigid form of Frank moved ever upward. Up, up, until he was level with the top of the carnival tent, until he reached the height of the tallest trees—until he passed the trees and moved on into the soft moonlit sky of early October.
Many in the crowd threw hands over horror-stricken faces and turned away.
Those who continued to stare saw the floating form ascend into the sky until it was no more than a tiny speck, like a little cinder drifting far up near the moon.
Then it disappeared altogether.

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