Bring Me A Light And Then Bring Me A Light, Part 1

(by The Tobacconatrix, 13 November 2012)

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Bring Me a Light and then Bring Me a Light 
By The Tobacconatrix 

Part 1 

"Put out the light, and then put out the light." 
Shakespeare; Othello 


The AV room was fairly cramped, but there was plenty of light thanks to the 
large one-way window that looked out into the bar/reception room. On either 
side of the window, banks of video monitors showed various views of the 
room. Dr. Beverly Piper checked the video feeds (not for the first time 
today) making sure that each camera was working properly. If there were any 
faults with the equipment, she needed to deal with them now; once the girls 
arrived, there would be no chance to make any repairs. 

Satisfied that everything was working properly, she sat down and allowed 
herself a short break. She had been on her feet all afternoon, and she 
still had a long night ahead, so she knew she should take advantage of 
these few minutes' rest. 

"Good luck tonight, Beverly, this is really it," she said aloud to the 
empty room. She wasn't worried; she had been planning for this for a long 
time and she knew everything was ready, but she found herself getting 
excited at the prospect of it actually, finally, happening. Idly, she lit a 
cigarette and sighed, exhaling a long stream of smoke into the small room. 
The AV room had no ventilation and filled with smoke almost immediately, 
but she didn't mind; she liked the thick air. She breathed in deeply, 
enjoying the smoky atmosphere. She smiled to herself. She was looking 
forward to the next two weeks. 

The relaxing moment was interrupted by the sudden ringing of her phone, 
which sounded startlingly loud in the small room. I must remember to set it 
to silent, she thought to herself as she retrieved it from her bag. The AV 
room was soundproofed, but just in case, she didn't want it going off when 
all the girls were out there. 

"Yes?" she said into the phone. 

"Hello, Dr. Piper, it's Tina - sorry to disturb you." Tina was her PA, and 
Beverly knew that she would be out front greeting the girls as they 
arrived, taking their luggage and sorting out any minor difficulties. Tina 
was a good assistant - she was organised and unflappable, and Beverly 
trusted her to deal with any routine problems that might arise at this 
early stage. 

"Hi, Tina," she said, "Is everything going smoothly?" 

"No problems, don't panic." Beverly could almost hear Tina grinning over 
the phone. Tina knew how important this was, even though Beverly had been 
careful to keep her excitement contained for the last few months. I'm lucky 
to have her as an assistant, Beverly thought. 

Tina continued, "I thought you should know Dr. Luci is here. She's just 
arrived from the station." Beverly gasped audibly, almost choking on her 

"She's here? I didn't think she would actually come." Without consciously 
realising it, Beverly stood up and straightened her skirt. All the tension 
of the last few weeks suddenly settled in the pit of her stomach, and she 
felt like a young graduate about to go into her first interview. 

"Can you send her in here?" Beverly asked Tina. "Actually, see if she needs 
anything first - if she's been travelling she might need to get settled - 
perhaps she doesn't want to get down to business right away. Maybe you can 
find a room for her?" Beverly remembered that Tina was greeting the girls 
as they arrived; that was still important. "Maybe I should come out there 
to help," she said. "You must have your hands full already. Or maybe 
there's someone else available to look after Dr. Luci...?" No that wouldn't 
work either, she thought to herself. We can't just fob the Dr. Evelyn Luci 
off on some temp worker. "Forget that," she said to Tina, realising that 
she was babbling. Tina laughed gently. 

"Don't worry," she said, "She's absolutely fine; I've already offered her a 
drink and a place to freshen up, but she's anxious to meet you as well. 
Shall I send her in to you?" 

Tina really is a very good PA, Beverly thought to herself, and sat down 

"Yes, please," she said gratefully. She put the phone down and took a long, 
calming drag on her rapidly dwindling cigarette. The room was now very 
smoky, but that wouldn't bother Dr. Luci. 

Dr. Luci, she thought again. Dr. Evelyn Luci is here to observe my 
experiment! The knot in her stomach started to return, and Beverly took a 
last drag on her cigarette and then stubbed it out. Everything was planned 
out to the last detail, but the thought of doing it in front of such a 
distinguished observer... The thought made her excited; in many ways. 

There was a short knock on the door. Beverly stood up, ran a hand over her 
hair, straightened her skirt once again, and opened the door. 

Chapter 1 

Louise Hamilton was nervous. She estimated there were about twenty women 
with her but the room was quite spacious and it didn't feel especially 
claustrophobic. Even so, she fervently wished she were somewhere else right 
now. She had found herself a spot off away from the others, and she 
concentrated on trying to look relaxed, smiling politely at anyone who 
happened to look in her direction. Not for the first time, she asked 
herself why she had applied for this course. She had still needed one 
summer course to graduate, and the listing for this one had sounded so 
bizarre she had applied for it more out of curiosity than anything else. 
Now that she was actually here, she wondered again what she had gotten 
herself into. So far they had not told her much beyond what was set out in 
the original posting she had seen. She remembered the first time she had 
read the flyer. 

Cigarette Smoking 101 

Dr. Beverly Piper, tutor 

An intensive two week residential course intended for non-smoking actresses 
and other performance graduates who wish to learn how to handle cigarettes 
convincingly in stage and screen roles. Topics covered will include the 
social and physical aspects of smoking, as well as the ways in which 
cigarettes can be used to define a character. By the end of the course, 
students should be comfortable portraying smokers of various social and 
historical backgrounds. 

The first time she had read it, she had thought it might be a joke, but her 
tutor had confirmed that it was real, and that it really would earn her the 
missing credits she needed to graduate. 

"It's actually a good idea for a course," he had said at the time. "You'd 
be surprised how many roles require actors to smoke. It's a good skill to 
have; like being able to handle a sword, or ride a horse. If you don't know 
how, you probably won't get past the auditions. And it's not just smoking; 
it's smoking like a junkie hooker, or smoking like a first-night opera 
patron, or smoking like an overworked advertising exec, or-" he smiled, 
"smoking like a nervous college student who doesn't know how." 

She had turned beet-red at that. She was always a bit intimidated by him, 
and after talking with him she invariably came away wondering what insane 
fantasy had ever convinced her to become an actress. 

A dark haired young man brushed past her carrying a large box, interrupting 
her thoughts and bringing her back to the present. They made eye contact 
and he smiled at her. She smiled back, trying to give no hint of just how 
out of place she felt here. Mr Jenkins should give me an award for the 
performance I'm giving right now, she thought. A flawless impersonation of 
a young woman who isn't scared out of her wits. She shifted her weight from 
foot to foot as she surveyed the room, looking for familiar faces (and not 
finding any). These damn shoes were killing her already, and it had only 
been half an hour. She was not used to wearing heels of any kind, and these 
were a pair of monsters - five or six inches at least. There was a large 
mirror behind the bar at the end of the room, and she looked at her 
reflection once again. A stranger stared back at her. She hadn't been 
expecting the makeover, and from the snippets of conversation she had 
overheard, she gathered that no one else had been either. 

When she had arrived she had been told by a very friendly young woman named 
Tina that a class of stylists from the local fashion college had agreed to 
split the cost of the accommodations if they could use the drama students 
as guinea pigs. So Louise had been carted off to a team of fashionistas who 
are almost too cliched to be real, and who had proceeded to tinker with her 
hair, face, hands and finally her outfit, until, she thought, my own mother 
wouldn't recognise me. She looked again in the mirror. She almost hated to 
admit it to herself, but she looked great. They had dyed her brown hair jet 
black and cut it into a straight bob. "Louise Brooks!" one of the stylists 
had squealed in delight after learning that her name was Louise. "We have 
got to do a Louise Brooks; she has just the right face for it!" She was 
going to have to look up Louise Brooks as soon as she had a chance. Her 
lips were dark red in contrast to her naturally pale skin and her long neck 
was visible above the (very low cut) black evening dress that left very 
little to the imagination. She had fairly long legs, but usually they were 
hidden under a simple pair of jeans. Now they were very much on display, 
with a sheer pair of black stockings ending in those damn stilettos that 
were already killing her. She felt ridiculous standing there dolled up like 
this, and she was almost grateful that no one she knew was here to see her. 
She would have felt too self-conscious to bear it. Looking around the room, 
she suddenly thought that everyone else here had probably gone through a 
similar transformation. She wondered what they looked like in "real" life. 

Chapter 2 

In the AV room, Beverly sat with Evelyn Luci and watched the girls milling 
around the reception room. The large picture window gave them a perfect 
perspective, and the video monitors provided even more details in high 

"This is quite a batcave you've set up here," said Dr. Luci, and Beverly 
laughed easily. The two of them had hit it off quickly, and any tension 
Beverly had been feeling about having the illustrious professor present as 
an observer had faded completely. Dr. Luci was younger than Beverly had 
expected her to be, and she was very down to earth. Social Anthropology was 
a specialised field, and the community of people doing this kind of work 
was not huge. But Evelyn Luci was a giant in that field, and Beverly had 
always imagined a dusty professor, someone you could imagine living their 
life in a library or archive vault, hardly even noticing the world around 

It was a silly preconception. This was someone who had made her reputation 
studying modern culture and behaviour; of course she was going to have her 
finger on the pulse of the modern world. More so than most, if anything. 
Sure enough, she was a very stylishly dressed and quaffed woman in her 
early forties, and she carried herself with a great deal of poise. Now she 
was looking through the observation window into the room of test subjects 
(sorry, "students" Beverly reminded herself). The twenty-two girls were all 
present now, and Beverly knew that it was almost time to get things 

"So, take me through the set-up so far", said Dr. Luci. "You have 
twenty-two non-smoking women..." 

Beverly nodded. "That's right. They all applied for the `smoking technique' 
course." She still had a hard time saying that with a straight face. She 
was going to have to watch that when she was in front of the group. 

"We had a huge number of applications, since we advertised the course 
through many different channels. Some of the applicants we were able to 
rule out immediately, others were ruled out once we did some deeper 
checking. Many of the college students who applied are already smokers; 
they were just hoping this course would be an `easy A'. But we also ruled 
out anyone who came from a family of smokers, or anyone who had dated a 
smoker. We also made sure that none of the girls on the final list knew 
each other. That was a very important point: every single girl out there 
right now is alone in a roomful of total strangers." 

"Very good," said Dr. Luci approvingly. She reached for the pack of 
cigarettes on the table. "Do you mind...?" she asked. 

"Please," said Beverly, taking one for herself. It was a rhetorical 
question, of course; Dr. Luci was just being polite. Her work for the 
tobacco industry on the differing social role of cigarettes across age, 
class and education was the stuff of legend. It was the work that had 
directly inspired Beverly's own work, and it was why she had invited Dr. 
Luci in the first place. 

"And these are the twenty-two who were finally selected?" Dr. Luci was 

"Actually, there are only twenty," Beverly said with a twinkle in her eye. 
"Two of the girls out there are actually my doctoral candidates. They're 
going to be posing as students and... helping things along at specific 

"So you have a couple of shills in the audience..." 

Beverly laughed. "Relax; it's science. 

"And the ones who aren't your accomplices?" 

"The youngest girl out there is nineteen; the oldest is... forty two." 
Beverly double-checked her notes to make sure she had that right. "They 
come from a variety of backgrounds; there are several students, of course, 
but also a number of professionals. At least one minister's daughter." She 
smiled at that. 

"And they have all had makeovers?" 

"Yes. They were told it was to help cover the cost of room and board for 
the two weeks they will be here." 

"They accepted that?" 

"Tina is a very smooth talker when she wants to be. But it wasn't a hard 
sell, actually. This is a generation that grew up on reality television. 
The idea of a group of girls locked away for an intensive two-week session 
and put through a series of... activities... isn't that alien to them. In 
fact, we want them to feel as unlike their old normal selves as we could 
possibly make them. Hopefully they are all now looking at their reflections 
in that mirror," she gestured to the observation window, "and seeing 
complete strangers looking back at them." 

"So when you say they are in a roomful of total strangers, you mean that 

"Exactly. Right now, they don't even know themselves." Beverly manicured 
her cigarette in the ashtray, and at that moment her assistant Tina burst 
into the reception room and clapped her hands to catch the girls' 

"Okay, said Beverly, "Here we go." 

Chapter 3 

Tina gathered the girls around the bar at the end of the room and faced 
them all, smiling. 

"Welcome, everyone, to this two week course; I'm sorry to have kept you 
waiting this afternoon, but I think we are now about ready for you. My name 
is Tina Montgomery, and I am Dr. Piper's assistant. As you know, Dr. Piper 
will be leading this course, but she won't be arriving until tomorrow 
morning. You'll get to meet her then." (In the AV room, Dr. Luci looked 
over at Beverly, who grinned and hung her head in mock shame.) 

"Tonight, however," Tina was saying, "We're going to take the opportunity 
to get to know each other a bit better, and that's why we're meeting here 
in this room. We're going to have a cocktail reception to give everyone a 
chance to meet; afterwards we will give out everyone's room assignments, 
and show you where you will be sleeping. You're going to be sharing - two 
to a room - but we thought it would be nice for everyone to get acquainted 
first, before we start pairing you off." She grinned. 

There was a murmur of approval from the assembled girls at the mention of 
cocktails. Even Louise smiled at the thought. She was not a big drinker, as 
a rule; an occasional glass of wine with dinner was about as far as she 
went, usually. But this whole experience was making her nervous, and she 
thought a small drink might be exactly what she needed right now. Just to 
take the edge off. Her friends back home would have teased her about having 
a drink, but no one here knew her, so no one would think twice about it if 
she had one now. If anything, she would probably draw attention to herself 
by not having a cocktail. She would hate to be the only one in the room not 

"As you know," Tina said, "This course is all about learning how to smoke 
convincingly in different social situations and environments. As such, you 
will all be smoking over the next two weeks, but I want to stress that you 
will not be expected to become smokers. Those of you who are actors will 
know that cigarettes are essentially one more stage prop that a performer 
can use to portray a character to the audience. If the prop is used 
correctly, the audience accepts the character. If the prop is used badly, 
it destroys the suspension of disbelief for an audience. 

"You should also know," Tina continued, "That after this course is over, 
some of you may well choose to carry on smoking. As the organisers of this 
course we neither condone this nor object to it. Cigarettes are part of 
modern culture, which is why they are also a part of drama. In life, some 
people choose to smoke, and some choose not to smoke. That is a choice that 
everyone gets to make for themselves." 

In the AV room, Beverly leaned over to Dr. Luci. 

"Tina is sticking to a very carefully worded script here," Beverly said. 
"She is absolutely right that some of the girls will choose to become 
smokers after this is over. What she isn't saying is that the rest of them 
will discover that they are smokers, whether they choose to be or not." 

"In theory," said Dr. Luci mildly. 

"Just watch this," said Beverly, and they turned back to the floor show. 

Tina went to the bar and opened the big box that had been placed there. 

"Now, since everyone is here to learn how to handle cigarettes, I thought 
we may as well get started tonight, since a cocktail party is a good 
example of a social situation in which smoking can play a role." 

Louise felt the panic returning. She knew there would be smoking in the 
course, but she had hoped it wouldn't start quite so soon. She had been 
imagining a couple of days of background theory, or something. Looking 
around, she tried to judge whether the other girls were as panicky as she 
was, but she found she couldn't gauge anyone else's reaction. Tina seemed 
to be reading her mind, however. 

"Don't worry," she smiled "No one has to do any actual smoking tonight, but 
I do want everyone to begin to get used to the feeling of holding a 
cigarette while doing other things." 

The young man who had been standing behind the bar now came around and 
began passing out packs of cigarettes and lighters from the box on the 

"While you enjoy your drinks this evening, just practice holding the 
cigarette as if you were smoking it. Think of it as an acting role: you are 
a smoker at a cocktail party, meeting other guests for the first time." 

The young man got to Louise and handed her a pack and lighter. The man was 
about Louise's height, but in her new (and still uncomfortable) heels, she 
stood several inches taller than him. She accepted the strange objects, 
momentarily distracted by the unfamiliar long red nails at the end of her 
own fingers. She looked down at the elegant hands holding the cigarettes, 
feeling as if she was looking at someone else's hands. Louise had never 
held a pack of cigarettes before, but here they were, clutched in her newly 
manicured hands. These must be what the hands of a smoker look like, she 
thought, randomly. It was an odd sensation. 

Dr. Luci watched as the girls awkwardly started to unwrap their cigarette 
packets. "So, they're going to spend the evening holding unlit cigarettes? 
They're going to look ridiculous!" 

Beverly grinned. "Exactly! Tomorrow they will start learning how to smoke 
properly, but I expect many of those cigarettes to be lit tonight, before 
the evening is over. It's always better if they have their first cigarette 

"Hence the free drinks and the unlit cigarettes?" 

"No one really starts smoking when they're sober. These girls think they 
are going to learn how to handle cigarettes, but we plan to turn them into 
fully committed smokers. To do that, we are going to have to fundamentally 
change their image of themselves." 

Dr. Luci frowned. "But you said these girls all come from totally 
non-smoking environments. Smoking is something that has never entered their 
world-view. I doubt if just getting them drunk will be enough to get them 
smoking spontaneously. That's a bit like expecting a group of football 
players to spontaneously become Buddhists after a few shots of tequila." 

"I never said we're `just' going to get them drunk tonight," Beverly was 
silent for a moment. "Are you familiar with Kenneth Gergen's behavioural 
experiment? From 1973?" 

Dr. Luci looked blank for a moment, then a look of understanding spread 
across her face. "Oh, this is going to be an interesting evening," she 
chuckled, rubbing her hands together. "Let the fun begin!" 

Chapter 4 

An hour and a half had passed, and Louise was enjoying herself. She took 
another sip of her drink and realised her glass was empty again. Walking 
over to the table, she put down the glass, alongside all the other empty 
glasses, stumbling slightly as she walked. Damn these stupid sexy shoes, 
she thought to herself as she leaned against the table for support. It 
crossed her mind that they weren't nearly as uncomfortable now as they had 
been at first, but she was having more trouble balancing in them now. They 
really take a lot of getting used to, she thought. The young man from 
before walked past and saw that she had finished her drink. For the last 
hour or so he had been acting as a waiter, circulating around the room and 
making sure all the girls were being taken care of. 

"Another drink?" He asked her now, and offered her a fresh glass. She 
smiled and accepted, reaching out her hand to take the drink. As she did 
so, she realised that she was holding her stupid cigarette in that hand. 
She had momentarily forgotten about it, and it had gotten slightly crushed 
in her fist; it was looking a little sorry for itself. She giggled and 
reached for the drink with her other hand, but as she leaned forward she 
suddenly lost her balance again (stupid high heels!) and stumbled against 
his chest. Incredibly, he managed to steady her without falling over 
himself, or even spilling the drink. She was so impressed she just hung 
there for a moment, leaning on him and admiring his coordination. She could 
feel his hands through the delicate material of her dress. He had a very 
firm grip. Coming to her senses, she righted herself and apologised. 

"Sorry, it's thuse - these shoes," she said to him. These shoes; that's a 
tongue twister, she thought. 

He smiled. "Please don't worry. I understand." He really was a nice man. 
She took her hand off his chest (noticing how nice her red nails looked 
against his white shirt) and once she was sure she was upright and 
balanced, and wouldn't need to grab hold again, she accepted the drink he 
was still offering her. She was starting to understand what Tina had meant 
about getting used to having a cigarette in your hand. Between the 
cigarette and the cocktail glass she felt like her hands had been full all 
evening. She had to keep reminding herself to hold the thing properly. She 
did so now, moving it to her first and second fingers, admiring how sexy it 
looked in her newly manicured hand. Pity it was getting so bedraggled, she 
thought. But that's my fault, clutching it in my fist like that. If it had 
been lit, I would probably have burned myself. She giggled again, and took 
a sip of her new drink. How many had she had? Was this her third? No, maybe 
her fourth; she was losing track. She took another sip. It didn't matter, 
really, the evening seemed to be going well. She had been meeting people 
all evening and talking to them, just as if she were one of the group. The 
awkwardness she normally felt in these situations just wasn't there 
tonight. The other girls seemed to be accepting her as an equal member, and 
she was quite proud of the way she had been able to talk to them, smiling 
at the right times, asking the right questions, generally fitting in, as if 
this were normal for her. For all the rest of them knew, she was the life 
of the party back home. It was fun taking on that persona tonight. 

She looked around the room, aware that the general noise level had 
increased; people were talking louder and laughing more, and a few of them 
were starting to look a bit dishevelled. Well, that's what an evening of 
free drinks will do, she thought, taking another drink of her own. Her lips 
left a thick smear of lipstick on the rim of the glass; she liked the way 
it looked. I bet if I kissed someone now I would get lipstick all over 
them, she suddenly thought. That would be fun. An image flashed through her 
mind of going up to the young waiter and throwing her arms around him. Boy 
would he be surprised! The thought was funny, and she laughed out loud. She 
looked around the room to see where he had gone, but as she turned her head 
she felt suddenly dizzy and she wobbled a bit on her silly heels. She 
reached out her hand to steady herself against the table, but her hand hit 
the table top a moment sooner than she thought it would. She teetered for a 
moment, splashing some of her drink, then steadied herself. I'm in heels, 
she reminded herself, so I'm a bit taller than I usually am. Somewhere deep 
in the back of her mind, another thought flitted past. Am I drunk? That 
thought was a little less welcome, but it didn't stay for long. To reassure 
herself, she took another sip from her glass, but it was nearly empty; she 
had spilled the last of it. And now her cigarette was wet, she realised. It 
was actually looking truly pathetic: crushed, crumpled and soaked. Maybe 
she should take out a fresh one, she thought; then it wouldn't look so 
ridiculous. She still had the pack they had given her earlier in the 

Putting down her empty glass, she dropped the remains of her cigarette into 
it and fumbled for the pack in the small purse she was carrying. It wasn't 
her usual bag (normally she carried her things in a tattered old backpack) 
but was a very stylish black clutch purse that had been given to her to 
accompany the black dress she was wearing. She had a little trouble working 
the clasping mechanism. For some reason her fingers were a little clumsy 
(probably because she wasn't used to having long nails) but she had managed 
it earlier in the evening, so she knew it could be done. She finally got it 
open and pulled out the pack of cigarettes. Apart from the small disposable 
lighter they had given her, the cigarettes were the only things in the 
purse. She studied the pack for a moment: "Marlboro Lights" it said, and 
then some other stuff that was too small to make out clearly. She squinted 
slightly, trying to bring the text into focus, but it wasn't happening. She 
had never handled a pack of cigarettes before this evening, and she was 
surprised by how light it was. Opening the top, she managed to extract one 
of the nineteen remaining cork-tipped cigarettes inside. The filter felt 
oddly spongy, and she could feel it getting squeezed between her fingers. 
It felt funny. It must feel really weird between your lips. Experimentally, 
she touched the filter to her lips and let it sit there for a moment. As 
she pulled it away, it stuck momentarily to her lower lip and she saw that 
her lips had left a bright red lipstick stain around the filter. Wow, she 
thought, her head suddenly filling with images of femme fatales in black 
and white movies. Cool! 

She looked around the room again and surveyed the girls. She had now spoken 
to quite a few of them, so they were no longer just random faces. The curvy 
woman over there with the blond eighties hair was a professional actress 
named Claire, she had learned. She was up for a major part in a stage play 
that would require her to smoke (six nights a week, twice on Saturdays, if 
it went well) so she had signed up for this course to gain proficiency. 
Claire was currently looking a little unsteady on her feet; rocking gently 
from side to side as she talked to a tall, younger girl who had introduced 
herself as Anthea. 

Anthea was one of the most striking people in the room; she was at least 
six feet tall, even without the leather high heeled boots that were 
actually the least dramatic component of her full goth ensemble. Her waist 
was cinched in by a brutal leather corset that amplified her hourglass 
figure, and her lips, eye makeup and nails were all jet black. Her long 
fingers, sticking out of a pair of lacy fingerless gloves, held her unlit 
cigarette delicately. Earlier she had told Louise that she was a literature 
graduate student who was writing her thesis on Virginia Woolf (a lifelong 
heavy smoker). This course was background research for her. 

Standing over by the bar was Anushka, a tall Indian girl with hair that 
Louise would have killed for. She looks like a Bollywood movie star, she 
thought. Even the harsh bar lights made it look as if she was glowing. Wow, 
she's gorgeous. Anushka was absent-mindedly twirling her unlit cigarette in 
her fingers as she talked to a shorter girl in a business suit that Louise 
had not yet spoken to. Shaking her head in response to something, Anushka 
idly brushed a few strands of her amazing hair out of her face. Her fingers 
were long and slender and perfectly manicured. 

In real life, Louise knew, someone like Anushka would never have given a 
girl like her a second glance, but tonight the rules seemed to have 
changed, and they had spoken at length. Anushka had seemed genuinely 
pleased to talk to her. If there had been any condescension, Louise had not 
been able to detect it. It made her feel almost super-human. Here, I am a 
Person, she thought. People notice me, and they include me in their world. 
I am Louise, and I am Here. I am an important part of the group. 

Mostly as an excuse to talk to Anushka again, Louise decided to head over 
to the bar and get a fresh drink. She pushed off from the table and nearly 
collided with a short and incredibly thin girl with auburn hair and red 
hotpants. Caught completely off balance, Louise tried to steady herself but 
this time her feet were having none of it, and she fell over, high heeled 
shoes twisting under her. She tried to grab something for support, but 
unfortunately the only thing she succeeded in grabbing was the Auburn girl, 
who collapsed in a heap on top of her, laughing drunkenly. 

After a few moments of confusion, the two of them managed to untangle 
themselves and pick themselves up. The auburn girl was shockingly thin, 
Louise thought. She looks as if I could snap her in two with one hand. 

"Ooopsie!" the girl finally said, when she had caught her breath. Her eyes 
didn't seem to be focusing properly, and she stood there for a moment 
staring silently at Louise with a slightly goofy expression on her face. 
This girl is plastered, Louise realised. 

"Sorry about that," Louise finally said, realising that Auburn girl was not 
about to continue the conversation, "are you all right?" and then, when no 
response was forthcoming, "I'm Louise, by the way." 

"Louise?" said Auburn. And then, "Looouiiise..." she appeared to be turning 
the word over in her mind, trying to decide how it affected her. She 
pondered for a moment, then looked up at Louise very seriously, put a tiny 
skeletal hand on her arm and said distinctly, "Louise." 

"Okay," said Louise slowly as she got to her feet. She noticed a few 
onlookers were watching them and grinning at the spectacle. Rather than 
finding it embarrassing, Louise felt almost empowered by the audience. 
After all, I'm not the one too wasted to speak, she thought. 

"Well, nice to meet you, strange person," she said in her best stage voice; 
playing to the crowd. "It's been wonderful; we must do this again real 
soon." Auburn girl remained seated on the floor, looking blankly up at her. 
Louise pulled herself up to her full height (which, in these shoes was 
really saying something) and, holding herself erect, moved away with 
dignity. An asian girl in a red dress touched her arm, smiling. 

"I chatted with that girl earlier; her name's Michaela. She's a ballerina, 
she told me." 

Louise smiled at her new informant. "Aren't ballerinas supposed to be 

"I have a feeling the alcohol isn't mixing too well with her - `diet 
pills'," she made air-quotes with her fingers. Louise wasn't entirely sure 
what the girl was getting at, but she giggled knowingly, anyway. The asian 
girl moved off towards the bar, and Louise remembered that's where she was 
headed before the unexpected collision. She started to walk in that 
direction, and it was at that moment that there was a loud "pop" and the 
room was plunged into total darkness. 

Chapter 5 

In the AV room, Beverly was having a wonderful night. She and Dr. Luci 
("Please, call me Eve," she had said; "enough of this `Dr. Luci' 
business.") had been watching the group work its increasingly drunken way 
through the evening. Beverly had opened a bottle of wine (nothing compared 
to the deceptively strong cocktails the girls had been downing all evening) 
and she and Dr. Lu - Eve - had been observing and commenting on the girls' 
behaviour as only a pair of social anthropologists could. 

"You can see that all of them are well out of their normal comfort zones," 
Eve had said. "Watch their body language; the way they interact with 
others. Everything is exaggerated. They're performing." 

"As you'd expect," said Beverly. "Each of them imagines that they are the 
odd one out. They are trying to fit into the group dynamic as they perceive 
it. The alcohol is just complicating the situation." 

"I still say they look ridiculous holding all those unlit cigarettes," Eve 
laughed. She and Beverly had themselves been smoking up a storm all 
evening, filling the AV room with a dense, thick cloud of smoke as they 
watched the action unfold. 

"Well, the more ridiculous they feel, the more likely they will be to 
eventually light up," Beverly said. "Everyone knows that the purpose of a 
cigarette is to be lit and smoked. By deliberately not doing that, they 
will hopefully be feeling a sense of incompleteness about the evening; even 
if it's only subconscious." 

"So far, it looks like no one actually has lit up," observed Eve. 

"Give it time; it's early yet." 

"By the way, how are you able to allow smoking indoors?" Eve asked, 
curiously. "Shouldn't that be illegal?" 

"Normally it is," said Beverly casually, "But because this is a 
sociological experiment in behaviour modification, in which one of the 
crucial variables is the smoking of cigarettes, we were able to argue 
exceptional circumstances and obtain special exemption. It's all a bit 
technical and bureaucratic, but there are provisions for this sort of 

Eve gazed at her steadily. "You bribed the building manager, didn't you?" 

"Yes," Beverly laughed. "We bribed the building manager." 

They watched as a leggy young woman with a Louise Brooks hairdo lost her 
balance and fell against the waiter, nearly knocking him over. He caught 
her and she remained in his arms, gazing up at him, for rather longer than 
was strictly necessary. She eventually straightened up and accepted a fresh 
drink from him, her hand lingering on his chest for a moment, before 
weaving unsteadily away. 

"Who's your bartender?" Eve asked, with a smirk. 

"That's James. He's Tina's brother; he agreed to help out with this 

"It looks like he could be getting lucky tonight." They both laughed. 

"Actually, we've coached him on that," Beverly said, more seriously. "If 
any of the girls make a move on him during the next two weeks, he's 
perfectly welcome to reciprocate - if he wants to - as long as he doesn't 
force the issue. We don't want to deal with any rape charges, after all. 
But we have asked him not to do anything with any of the girls unless they 
are smoking." 

Eve raised her eyebrows. "Interesting." 

"We want the girls to start associating cigarettes with sexual 

Eve took a theatrical drag from her own cigarette and blew a large cloud of 
smoke directly into Beverly's face. 

"Zo you think zmokng iz zexy, do you?" she said in a throaty Marlena 
Dietrich voice. 

"Why Miss Jones, I had no idea," Beverly replied in mock surprise. They 
both laughed. Then Beverly noticed something. 

"Have a look at the Louise Brooks girl. Has she just smoked her cigarette?" 
They both squinted at the window, trying to see clearly. The clouds of 
smoke in the AV room didn't help, but it did look as if the girl had 
dropped a spent cigarette into her empty martini glass. 

"That would be interesting," murmured Beverly. "I wouldn't have guessed her 
to be the first. I had laid odds on the anorexic ballet dancer." 

"I also didn't notice her actually smoking," said Eve. "Or anyone else, for 
that matter." 

Beverly frowned. "Hang on," she said, and turned to the bank of video 
monitors. They could get a better view from one of the cameras. She flipped 
through a series of camera angles until she found a good shot of the girl 
leaning drunkenly against the table. The HD camera showed a clear shot of 
the glass by her hand, and they could now see that the cigarette was 
crumpled and wet, but unmistakeably unsmoked. 

"No, she hasn't smoked it, she just drowned it," Beverly smirked. Even 
leaning against the table, the girl was weaving unsteadily on her long, 
shapely legs. 

"I get the impression she isn't much of a drinker, that one," said Eve 
dryly, watching her. 

"No," Beverly agreed. "Well, none of them are, really." As they watched, 
the girl clumsily opened her purse and fumbled for the pack of cigarettes. 
Her fingers clearly weren't cooperating with her, but she eventually 
extracted a fresh cigarette from the pack. 

"She's taking a new cigarette," Beverly said. "That's excellent. She's 
already accepting the need to have a cigarette in her hand. If we're lucky 
she might even be feeling a bit guilty about wasting the last one. 
Hopefully she will-" 

"What's she doing?" Eve suddenly interrupted. Sure enough, the girl was 
raising the new cigarette to her lips. "Is she going to smoke it?" She 
grabbed Beverly's arm in excitement and the two of them watched 
breathlessly as the girl placed the filter in her mouth and let it linger 
there. Beverly felt the hairs on the back of her neck standing up and she 
shivered with anticipation. She hadn't dared hope it would be this easy! 

After a moment that seemed to be an eternity, the girl removed her 
cigarette and lowered her hand, although she continued to hold it in an 
almost exaggeratedly alluring pose. 

Beverly and Eve had both been holding their breath; now they let it out 
slowly as the moment passed. Eve released her vice-like grip on Beverly's 

"I really thought she was going to do it for a moment there." 

"She probably will fairly soon, from the look of things," Beverly said. 
"And I'll say this: she's going to be one sexy smoker." She looked at the 
digital clock on the wall above the window. 

"By the way, get ready. Tina is going to be switching off the lights in 
about two minutes, and then the fun is really going to start." 

Eve lit a fresh cigarette. "So what is your plan? You mentioned Kenneth 
Gergen; I know his experiments with social interaction in the dark, but how 
are you going to be applying that here?" 

"Well we're not replicating his work exactly," said Beverly. "Gergen 
gathered a group of total strangers together in a completely dark room and 
left them alone for an hour to observe the way in which they interacted. 
Those subjects never saw each other before the lights were turned out, and 
they never got to meet each other afterwards. Also they were told in 
advance that they would be in a dark room. It wasn't a surprise for them. 
But Gergen found that under cover of darkness, social norms and conventions 
did not apply. Strangers were very quickly making physical contact with 
each other; they were hugging, kissing, and more, even within a large 
group. The darkness gave them permission to do things that they never would 
have done had they been able to see each other. The subjects said 
afterwards that they found it completely liberating." 

"But your group have now been socialising for almost two hours," Eve 
pointed out. "They are not strangers to each other." 

"No, but they don't exactly know each other either. Remember, they've all 
had radical makeovers before they met. In a very real sense, they're all in 
disguise. The seventeenth century Venetians used to insist that all 
gamblers going into the casinos were masked, because they knew that with 
identities concealed, all the social conventions of class and station would 
be left outside. Also, the girls are all drunk by now. I think you're going 
to find that things are about to get quite debauched out there." 

As if on cue, there was a loud pop in the room, and all the lights went 

Chapter 6 

For an instant, there was stunned silence in the room, but then what 
followed was total chaos. 

At least, there was the sound of total chaos. Everyone seemed to be 
shouting at once, and not very coherently. Louise found herself enveloped 
in total blackness and tried to fight back a sense of overwhelming panic. 
She blinked, willing her eyes to adjust to the light, but there was no 
light to adjust to. The blackness was complete and unbroken. She was afraid 
to take a step. Somewhere in front of her was the bar, but how far away was 
it? Was there a table in the way? Chairs? People? She could hear voices 
coming from everywhere but she couldn't get her brain to make sense of the 
sounds it was receiving. 

"What happened??" a screechy voice said somewhere off to her side - how 
close? She instinctively turned towards the sound, but of course there was 
nothing to see. And now she was disoriented, she realised with rising 
alarm. Which way had she been facing? Where was the bar? Was she close to 
the wall? She couldn't remember. Why had the lights gone out?? She took a 
faltering step in the direction that she hoped (god, she hoped!) would take 
her towards the wall, and she belatedly realised something else: in the 
darkness she couldn't see the floor, and she was suddenly more unsteady 
than ever in her heels. Why was this so hard? She tried to picture her 
shoes on the floor. The heels were about six inches high, and she was 
effectively standing on tiptoe. So where was the floor? Calm down, she 
thought. Think about your feet. And the floor. Those heels on the floor, 
and your feet on the heels. She thought of her feet, forced by the heels 
into that immense arch, and she was suddenly seized by an acute attack of 
vertigo, as if she was trying to walk on a tightrope. She felt herself 
pitching forward, propelled by the force of those six-inch heels. She was 
falling into nothingness, and there was no one to catch her. She took a 
single, desperate, lurching step into the emptiness - and crashed her shin 
against something (what? a chair? a table? the stoned ballerina?) and 
yanked herself to one side to avoid it. Her ankle twisted, and she went 
over, scraping her arm against something (almost certainly a chair, this 
time) as she fell. Now she was on the floor, and the darkness was still 
total and complete. Around the room she could hear bumps and crashes 
punctuating the panic-filled voices. It sounded as if everyone else was 
just as blind as she was. The feeling of strength that she had had just a 
few minutes ago was completely gone. She was a little girl alone in the 
dark, surrounded by total strangers. What was she going to do? 

Suddenly, a single voice sounded above the general discord. 

"Sorry ladies, is everyone ok?" She recognised the voice as Tina, the girl 
from the beginning of the evening. 

"We seem to have blown a fuse, I'm afraid; we'll try to get the lights on 
as quickly as we can. Can everyone try to remain calm?" The frantic chatter 
filling the room didn't stop, but it did seem to diminish very slightly. 

"Try not to move around too much; we're going to try to find some lights," 
Tina was saying. "Sorry about this!" 

Still on the floor where she had landed, Louise cautiously stretched out 
her hand. Her fingertips touched something metal. She felt around the edges 
of it. It was small and round. A chair leg? Probably. She followed its line 
up until she could feel the edge of the seat. Definitely a chair; probably 
the one she had hit on the way down. Leaning on her other hand for support, 
she let go of the chair and moved her hand through the air, hoping to find 
the wall. Again her fingertips made contact with something, and this wasn't 
metal, but it wasn't the wall either; it was soft, and warm. She touched 
it, running her fingers along it, trying to gauge its shape. It was round, 
and firm, despite its softness. She heard a soft squeal, not angry, and the 
penny suddenly dropped: it was a person! She was poking someone. She almost 
snatched her hand away in embarrassment, but something prevented her from 
doing so immediately. She was just too relieved to have made contact with 
another living thing in the blackness, and she didn't want to let that 
person evaporate into the dark again, leaving her all alone. Whoever it was 
seemed to feel the same way, because the disembodied flesh seemed to lean 
in towards her hand, deliberately rubbing against her like a cat. She ran 
her fingers along the contours of the flesh, stroking it gently (exactly 
like a cat, she thought) and she heard a sharp intake of breath, and the 
flesh seemed to tense and then relax. 

Louise suddenly realised: she had her hand on someone's ass. Her fingers 
had been inching their way between the person's legs, almost to her crotch! 
Wow. The mental image of what she was doing formed in her head and she 
suddenly felt very warm. Not from embarrassment, she realised, but warm all 
the same. Nothing remotely like this had ever happened to her before, and 
she tried to make sense of everything that she was feeling. The darkness 
was still unbroken; apparently Tina hadn't found any lights yet. How long 
had it been? She found she had no sense of time. It had been dark forever. 
She was alone in a world without light or time, with nothing but a 
disembodied ass for company. 

She gave that ass a reassuring squeeze. It's just you and me now, ass, she 
thought. As if in response, the ass moved in closer to her arm. She had 
been leaning over, extending her arm as far as she could, but now she 
didn't have to strain quite so much. The person had moved a bit closer to 
her. The warm sensation Louise was feeling began to get stronger, but then 
just as suddenly it was obliterated by a sharp, stabbing pain in her other 
hand. That hand was still on the floor, and someone had just stepped on it. 
Louise let out a shriek of pain and tried to yank her hand away. The foot 
lifted away, and a moment later the ass was gone as well. The two body 
parts had obviously belonged to the same person, because a moment later 
Louise heard a dull thump and a girlish grunt of pain. It sounded like 
whoever it was had lost her balance and fallen over in the dark. 

"Are you all right?" she asked the darkness, and she heard a soft moan from 
somewhere nearby. She reached out her hand towards the sound and again felt 
soft flesh, although it felt different from the ass this time. She could 
feel soft silky clothing, loosely stretched across the body. Someone's 
blouse? The woman had definitely fallen over. Louise's hand was suddenly 
grabbed by another hand, and pressed closely into the folds of the silky 
material. The woman had taken her hand and was pressing it into her bosom. 
Louise could feel the woman's breasts, rising and falling with her breath. 
They were soft and supple beneath the smooth fabric. There was no bra. 
Louise could feel the hard nipples under her fingers. They felt like very 
nice breasts. Good breasts, good ass, thought Louise, randomly. She 
remained like that for a moment; the two women each enjoying the presence 
of the other in the blackness. 

Into this little world, Tina's voice suddenly intruded like an unwelcome 

"Okay, folks, bear with us, we're just trying to find the circuit board," 
she said. "Hopefully we'll get this sorted soon. Is everyone still ok?" 

We're more than ok, thought Louise, we're great. She squeezed the bosom, 
for reassurance. 

"In the meantime," Tina continued, "does anyone have a flashlight? Or 
anything at all?" 

I have nothing, Louise thought to herself. Her mobile phone would have done 
the trick, but it was in her suitcase - she didn't have it with her. She 
couldn't imagine anyone else here had anything like that either. After all, 
this was a cocktail party, not a mining expedition. 

And then, amazingly, there was a single, very faint burst of light from 
somewhere off to her left. It was gone in an instant, and it wasn't very 
bright, but after the total darkness it was like a flashbulb going off in 
her face. Where had it come from? Suddenly it appeared again, and this time 
it remained, not very bright, and also not very steady. Louise still 
couldn't make out the room, but she could see a few shadows and shapes now. 
The shadows were not still, however; they were dancing and flickering in an 
odd way - it was almost worse than the darkness. 

It's a candle, she thought. Someone had a candle. Who brings a candle to a 
cocktail party? Suddenly another dancing light appeared somewhere in front 
of her. Another candle? What was going on? Then it hit her. The cigarette 
lighters! They had each been given one! She even had one of her own! 

As she processed this realisation, she saw more flames appearing around 
her. Each one produced a little dancing locus of light that seemed to 
illuminate the hand that was holding it, but not much else. Still, light 
was light, and Louise felt the real world starting to return. She regarded 
it with mixed emotions. Where was her purse? With her free hand she groped 
in the darkness until she found the little clutch bag. In the faint, 
flickering lights she could just make out the shape of a woman lying next 
to her. She couldn't see who it was, but whoever it was was clutching 
Louise's hand to her chest. That suddenly felt weird to Louise. She 
developed an overwhelming urge to have light of her own. The lighter would 
be in her purse. She self-consciously pulled her hand away from the woman's 
soft breasts, and felt for the clasp on her purse. Getting it open, she 
managed to feel inside, and her fingers closed around a rectangular shape. 
That would be the pack of cigarettes. She continued to feel around it until 
her fingers closed on the unmistakable shape of the cigarette lighter. 
Taking it out of the purse, she felt the little metal grooves of the gear 
at the top of the lighter. Now what? She had never actually worked a 
lighter in her life, and she couldn't even see this one. Didn't you turn 
the wheel, or something? She tried that; the little wheel rotated under her 
thumb, and the lighter sparked, but did not light. Trying it once again, 
she managed to press the little button, and the flame held for an instant, 
until she let go and the lighter was out again. A third attempt, and the 
flame held steady. She had light! She could now see her own hand holding 
the lighter, and she could just make out the shape of the chair she had 
crashed against. She looked around and saw that many other lighters had 
been lit as well; the flames were creating conflicting shadows, all dancing 
in different directions. It's like being at a rock concert, she thought. 

She could now make out more details of the woman lying next to her. She 
seemed to have long wavy hair that was currently falling over her face, 
hiding her eyes. The flame made little dancing shadows across her nose and 
mouth. Her lips were soft and full, and looked dark. She's wearing 
lipstick, Louise thought. Her blouse was very low cut, revealing her 
generous cleavage. Cleavage that Louise had been fondling a moment ago, she 
realised. She looked down and saw the woman was in a tight severe pencil 
skirt. It must be split at the back, Louise thought. That's where my hand 
was. Was this someone she had spoken to earlier? She tried to place her, 
but she couldn't see the woman's face clearly enough, and her brain 
couldn't make any connections. It kept going back to their encounter in the 
darkness. Try as she might, she couldn't imagine that the mysterious figure 
she had been groping in the dark was someone she might have had a 
conversation with earlier in the evening. It was as if these were two 
separate realities, and her brain refused to make a bridge between them. 
The woman raised herself up on her elbows and looked over at Louise, a thin 
smile on her full lips. 

My god, thought Louise. What must she think of me? I practically molested 
her. She tried to smile apologetically to the woman. She wanted to explain 
herself, but she couldn't find the words. How could she possibly explain 
what she didn't understand herself? Then the woman slid over next to 
Louise, moving closer to the light of the flame. 

"Thank you," she whispered in Louise's ear. "I was really panicking." And 
she kissed Louise gently on the cheek. 

Louise felt her breath catch in her throat. I was panicking too, she wanted 
to say. I didn't know what I was doing, she wanted to say. I thought you 
were going to hate me for it, or worse. She wanted to say all that and 
more. She wanted to cry. She didn't even know who this woman was, but she 
had a bond with her that she had never had with anyone before. She wanted 
to tell her that, but she didn't know how to begin to say any of it. So she 
did the simplest thing: she kissed her back. 

She delicately touched her lips to the woman's cheek. Her lipstick felt 
slightly sticky against her skin, and she let her lips linger for a moment. 
The woman's hand moved up and touched Louise's chin gently. Louise turned 
her head slightly, rubbing against the woman's smooth fingers. Their lips 
made contact for an instant, and Louise felt the shape of the woman's lips 
against her own. Then the woman's mouth opened, and Louise felt a tongue 
start to work its way into her own mouth. 

Louise had been holding the lit cigarette lighter all this time, her thumb 
pressing down to keep the flame active. Now she released it, and their 
immediate circle was in darkness once more. She opened her mouth wider, and 
their tongues met. Louise could taste alcohol and lipstick, but she wasn't 
sure whose mouth she was tasting. It no longer mattered; it was 
intoxicating. She felt a hand on her breasts, and then another beginning to 
work its way down her abdomen. She took a deep breath and embraced the 

The two of them were occupied like this for some time, so it took Louise a 
little while to become aware of a harsh, acrid smell that started to fill 
the room. When it did eventually filter through to her consciousness, she 
knew at once what it was: someone in the darkened room had lit a cigarette. 

Chapter 7 

Beverly and Eve had the best seats in the house. Although the lights had 
gone out, they had been watching everything unfold on the video monitors, 
which gave them a perfect view of everything that was happening in the 
room. All the girls were clearly visible, looking surreal in the harsh 
electronic green of the night vision cameras. 

They had watched as the girls panicked and stumbled about blindly; falling 
over furniture, falling over each other, groping desperately at anything in 
the dark. 

"What will you do if someone seriously hurts themselves? Eve asked. 

"We're fully insured," Beverly said, briefly, and they continued to watch. 

Two women had been chatting at the bar; a tall Indian girl and a shorter 
woman in a well-tailored business suit with her hair tied up in a 
conservative bun. The two of them were now feeling their way towards each 
other, each groping desperately in the dark. As soon as they made contact 
they pulled each other close, clinging together like a pair of castaways in 
a storm. 

Elsewhere, two women were comically standing back to back, inches apart, 
both forlornly sweeping their arms in opposite directions, away from each 

A tall girl in full Goth gear had fallen over the ballet dancer, who had 
already been on the floor even before the blackout. She continued to lay 
there with the Goth sprawled on top of her, content where she was and 
apparently unconcerned by the lights, on or off. 

The girl with the Louise Brooks hair took a couple of drunken, lurching 
steps, swaying violently, and then collapsed in a heap, scraping a chair 
and coming within an inch of cracking her head open on the edge of a table. 
Beverly saw this and winced. 

"That could have been very nasty," muttered Eve mildly. 

Tina, standing behind the bar (well away from the others) made her 
announcement about a blown fuse, and promised to find some lights. She then 
remained were she was, making no attempt to leave the room. 

"Convenient, that your cameras are all on a different circuit from the 
lights," said Eve dryly, indicating the brightly glowing video monitors. 
Beverly laughed. "With the light out, will they be able to see us through 
the mirror?" 

Beverly shook her head. "No; we checked that. This room is very well 
isolated. And that room has no windows, so there isn't any light filtering 
in from outside. Right now it is pitch black in there. Tina and I tested it 
yesterday, and it really affects you, even if you are prepared for it. 
Which they aren't." 

They continued to watch with interest. The girls had now been groping 
around in the dark for several minutes with varying degrees of success. 
Those who had managed to find others were clinging together for dear life. 
Even the goth girl had her arms wrapped tightly around the ballet dancer. 
The Louise Brooks girl, on the floor, had managed to grope her way towards 
another woman and had succeeded in laying her hand on the other woman's 
bottom. They saw the other woman's face on the camera as she registered 
surprise at the unexpected contact, and then something else. 

"Look at that," said Beverly. "Those two would not be doing that right now 
if the lights were on, that's for sure." 

"How long are you planning to leave this?" asked Eve, curiously. 

"Well, that depends on them, really." Beverly paused for a moment. "We 
collected all their luggage and personal belongings when they arrived, as 
they were taken in for the makeovers. So none of them will have mobile 
phones, pocket torches or anything else like that right now. But they do 
each have a cigarette lighter; it was given to them when they received 
their cigarettes." 

Eve nodded in understanding. "So they can have light whenever they want." 

"Exactly. But so far none of them seems to have made that connection. I'm 
curious to see how long it will take." 

"Actually, I'm not sure if they are heading in that direction," said Eve, 
indicating the monitors. Sure enough, around the room the sense of panic 
seemed to be subsiding slightly. Those who had found others seemed to be 
drawing strength from each other, and what had started as simple human 
contact was starting to evolve into something more complex. The Indian girl 
and the businesswoman, who had found each other almost immediately, were 
now kissing openly - or it would have been openly if anyone could see them 
- running their hands along the contours of their bodies, savouring the 
feel of each other. The Louise Brooks girl and her new friend were also 
doing well; both were on the floor now and they were getting increasingly 

"Remind me to re-read Gergen when I get home," said Eve, watching all this 
unfold. "I may have to try this next New Year's Eve." 

At this point, Tina, who had been standing discreetly behind the bar the 
whole time, raised her voice and again appealed for calm, asking if anyone 
had a flashlight with them. Nothing happened for a moment, then suddenly a 
slightly older woman with a frizzy Eighties hairdo and large shoulder pads 
patted her shirt pocket and managed to locate the lighter inside. She had 
been standing off to one side when the lights had gone out, and she was 
still by herself now, looking panic stricken. Her hands shook slightly as 
she tried to work the unfamiliar lighter mechanism by touch alone. Suddenly 
the lighter engaged and the flame flared up, blinding the night vision 
camera for an instant. 

"Finally," said Beverly. "I wondered who would be the first to work it 
out." As they watched, a Japanese girl in a summer dress produced her own 
lighter and lit it easily, followed closely by a tall woman with short hair 
and designer glasses. 

"Those are my two interns, Kumiko and Jordan," Beverly motioned towards the 
monitors. "They were instructed to wait until someone else found their 
lighter, and then light their own." 

There were now three separate light sources in the room, and it made the 
images in the cameras look even more alien, with harsh green shadows 
dancing in the flickering lights. The effect on the girls in the room, 
however, was dramatic. 

Girls that had been locked together started to draw apart slightly. The 
businesswoman had been running her hands through the Indian girl's flowing 
hair and licking her neck gently. Her own hair had been pulled loose from 
its bun and was spilling across both their faces. Now she drew back to a 
more respectable distance, wiping her mouth self-consciously, and pulling 
her hair back from her eyes. The Indian girl straightened with dignity, 
pulling her own hair back and adjusting her dress where it had been pulled 
out of shape. The Louise Brooks girl, whose hand had been buried deep in 
her new friend's cleavage, pulled back, clearly embarrassed. Other girls 
were starting to find their own lighters now, and more and more lights were 

The dynamics of the room were clearly starting to change as well. Women who 
had been isolated now moved in towards the others, and other pairs began to 
move together. More conventional social norms appeared to be re-asserting 

"Spoilsport," Eve said to Beverly. "They were having such fun!" 

"Yes, but that's not what this is about," Beverly pointed out. "We're 
trying to turn them into smokers, not lesbians." 

Impressively, several of the girls appeared to be still clutching their 
unlit cigarettes, although others had obviously lost them in the confusion. 
The Eighties woman, who had been first to find her lighter, now stood with 
an unlit cigarette in one hand and her flickering lighter in the other. She 
looked badly shaken up by the whole experience, and seemed very unsteady on 
her feet. The ballet dancer had somehow pulled out her own lighter and was 
repeatedly lighting and extinguishing it, apparently transfixed by the 
dancing flame. The goth girl, unlit cigarette in hand, sat next to her with 
a steadying hand on her back, watching the flame nervously, probably afraid 
that the dancer was about to set fire to the room. 

The Louise Brooks girl was still lying alongside her friend, her long 
killer legs stretched out, holding her lighter over the two of them. They 
looked for all the world like a pair of lovers enjoying a moment of 
post-coital intimacy. Their cigarettes were nowhere to be seen. 

Tina had left the room - for real this time - once the lights had begun to 
appear. Now she popped her head into the AV room and greeted the two 
doctors. She stopped when she saw the smokey air of the small room. 

"Wow, I see you've been having fun in here this evening," she smiled. 
Closing her eyes, she took a long, deep breath of the second-hand smoke. 

"Would you like a cigarette?" asked Eve, smiling at her. She picked up the 
pack and handed it to Tina, but Beverly shook her head. 

"Not yet, Tina, sorry," she said firmly. "You're going back in there, and I 
don't want you to smell of cigarettes when you do." 

Tina nodded with resignation. "I know, I understand. I'm getting a little 
desperate though." She looked wistfully at the pack of cigarettes for a 
moment, then handed it back to Eve. "How long should I give it before going 
back in?" 

Beverly looked back at the video monitors. "There's no hurry. You're 
supposed to be off dealing with the fusebox right now, so it's reasonable 
for you to be gone for a while. Now it's up to Jordan and Kumiko." Tina 
nodded again, and moved farther into the room. "You should probably wait 
outside," Beverly added. "You're going to smell like an ashtray just from 
standing here." They laughed. "Do you have your phone? I'll call you when I 
want you to go back in." 

"No problem," Tina said, and started to leave. "How's it going, anyway?" 

"Wonderfully," Beverly assured her, and Eve nodded in agreement. 

"Now get out; I'll fill you in later," Beverly said sternly. "Tomorrow 
you'll be able to smoke all you want, but not tonight." Tina went out, 
pulling the door closed behind her. 

Eve turned back to Beverly. "So what's your next move? What are your 
interns planning to do?" 

Beverly looked up at the monitor. "See for yourself," she said and pointed 
at the monitor. Kumiko, standing off by herself, lit her cigarette and blew 
a large cloud of smoke into the room. A few moments later, Jordan, at the 
other end of the room, did the same. 

Chapter 8 

Louise had never known a night like this. Ever. Under normal circumstances 
she was a fairly straight-laced young woman; she dressed sensibly, rarely 
drank, didn't smoke, didn't party late into the night (unlike some people 
she had seen in college) and tried to be a generally responsible 
individual. She considered her love life to be fairly normal; she dated, 
but didn't sleep around. She had had sex a few times, but had not met 
anyone she would have considered to be "the one", as they say. Not that she 
was looking, of course. In her mind she was young, with plenty of 
experiences still ahead of her. There would be plenty of time for that 
stuff to happen when it happened. 

However, she had never imagined that her experiences would ever include 
rolling around on the floor in the dark with a woman whose name she didn't 
even know. And she had never imagined that she might be enjoying it this 

At first the smell of the cigarette smoke was a minor annoyance in the back 
of Louise's mind; not really worth dwelling on. She had better things to 
focus on right now after all. Like the buttons on this woman's blouse. She 
couldn't see very clearly in the almost non-existent light, so she was 
having to feel her way around the blouse, trying to find a zipper, or a 
clasp, anything that would allow her to pull the stupid thing off. This 
necessarily required a great deal of groping, prodding and probing which 
her companion seemed to be enjoying very much. And her companion apparently 
was under the impression that Louise's dress was fastened between her legs, 
because her hands kept going there. There were no buttons or zippers down 
there, but Louise was in absolutely no hurry to say so. 

She managed to work her hand under the woman's blouse, and ran her fingers 
along her firm nipples. The woman moaned, and Louise kissed her again, then 
ran her tongue down the woman's neck. Her skin was slippery with sweat, and 
she could smell the excitement and arousal on her friend. 

That's when she started to really notice the cigarette smoke. It was 
intruding on their little reality, and she wished that whoever it was would 
put out their cigarette and give them their privacy. Then it dawned on her: 
this had been a cocktail party, and they were here to socialise and 
practice holding unlit cigarettes (was this still the same night?). They 
were in the middle of a roomful of people. 

That thought was hard to process. It didn't feel like a crowded room; they 
were still in darkness - she could barely see her own partner (partner? 
companion? lover? Just who was she anyway?) and the idea that other people 
were there was just an abstraction. But the cigarette smoke was real, there 
was no denying that. It got into her nose and tickled the back of her 
throat and reminded her of the original purpose of the evening. She paused 
in what she was doing for a moment and sniffed at the air. The cigarette 
smoke refused to go away. Now she sensed that her companion was smelling it 
too. The hands that had been doing such wonderful things to Louise's 
well-being stopped their southward advance. She felt the breasts rise as 
the lungs sampled the smokey air. 

"Sombody's smoking," whispered Louise. For some reason it felt wrong to 
speak any louder. 


They pulled themselves into an awkward sitting position, extracting their 
hands from their respective garments. Louise noticed in passing that her 
panties felt rather damp. She looked around the room, but everything was 
still very dark. She could see pinpoints of light - cigarette lighters - 
but it was not enough to make out any details. Who was smoking? She 
couldn't tell. Had the others assembled together? Perhaps she and her 
friend were the only ones who hadn't noticed. God, how embarrassing! Maybe 
they had all been watching them! She patted the floor next to her and found 
her purse. Right next to it was the cigarette lighter, exactly where Louise 
had dropped it. She picked it up now and ignited it. 

The flame created a little circle of light around them, and Louise saw her 
friend's face clearly, seeming to hang magically in mid-air. It was shiny 
with sweat, and it seemed to Louise as if it was glowing in the firelight. 
The face smiled. It was smeared with lipstick, which made the smile seem 
oddly crooked. It was the most beautiful thing Louise had ever seen. 

"What are they doing?" her friend whispered. 

Louise strained to see, but it was just too dark to make anything out. 

"I don't know. Somebody's smoking." She had already said that, but since it 
was the only piece of information she possessed, she said it again. She 
tried to listen for sounds that might give them a clue, but a hush seemed 
to have descended upon the room. She had a sudden conviction that everyone 
else was doing the same thing, trying to listen for someone to give 
themselves away. There was an almost palpable feeling of anticipation in 
the air. 

Before the lights went out, we had all been holding unlit cigarettes, 
Louise thought. She had no idea what had happened to hers, and her friend 
didn't seem to have one either. Someone obviously still had theirs, and now 
they were smoking it. Who? There was absolutely no way to tell in the dark 

The whole purpose of the unlit cigarettes had been to get used to the idea 
of having one in your hand. This was an acting lesson, thought Louise. A 
training exercise in the correct way to handle a prop, like that fencing 
class she had taken last year. Well, she and her friend had obviously 
failed the first lesson; they had dropped their cigarettes at the first 
sign of trouble. If they had been lit, we would probably have started a 
fire. Perhaps the power failure was even part of the test. Maybe they're 
watching us right now, observing and taking notes. No, that's just 
ridiculous paranoia. Even so, Louise decided, they should probably join the 
others and see what's going on. 

Her friend, as if reading her mind, whispered to her, "Maybe we should see 
what's happening." 

If we do, thought Louise, we should really have our cigarettes in our 
hands. She was still holding the lighter, but with her other hand she 
pulled the pack of cigarettes out of her purse. There was no way she was 
going to be able to extract a cigarette one-handed, she realised, so she 
offered the pack to her friend. Her friend hesitated a moment, then slowly 
took the pack and flipped it open, then removed two cigarettes, one of 
which she handed back to Louise. 

Louise took the cigarette and started to get up, but before she could move, 
her friend did something unexpected; she put the cigarette in her mouth. 
Louise was momentarily surprised; she hadn't been planning to smoke the 
cigarettes, just hold them, as they had been doing all evening. Did her 
friend know something different? Louise looked at her in the dancing flame 
of the cigarette lighter. The smeared lipstick gave her mouth a slightly 
rakish expression, and the dangling cigarette seemed to complete its 
symmetry. It looked as if it belonged there. Was it Louise's imagination, 
or was the smell of cigarette smoke in the room intensifying? Later, she 
would wonder why she hadn't simply asked her friend what she was doing. She 
would also wonder why she had never thought even to ask her friend's name. 
By then, she was going to be wondering a lot of things about this evening. 
Right now, however, her brain was operating along different lines. Her 
friend had a cigarette in her mouth, and Louise was holding a cigarette 
lighter. So she moved it towards the tip of the cigarette, and the flame 
made contact. There was a sudden sharp smell of burning, and the tip of the 
cigarette began to glow. Complex spirals of white smoke began to rise from 
the cigarette, beautifully lit in the glow of the cigarette lighter. A few 
wisps of smoke dribbled out of her friend's lips. She gave off a very faint 
cough, and took the burning cigarette out of her mouth. The cigarette drew 
a wake through the smoke cloud as it moved through the air. It looked like 
every black and white Hollywood movie Louise had ever seen. 

With her free hand, Louise's friend gently reached over and took the 
lighter out of Louise's hand. The flame went out briefly as the lighter was 
transferred from one woman to the other. They were plunged into darkness 
again, and Louise could clearly see the red, glowing tip of the lit 
cigarette. For an instant, that burning cigarette was the only thing Louise 
could see of her companion. Then the lighter was again lit, and the flame 
sputtered into life. Louise knew what she was supposed to do: she raised 
her own cigarette to her lips and placed the filter in her mouth, just as 
she had done experimentally earlier in the evening. Her friend touched the 
flame to its tip, and the cigarette began to burn, gently. Louise detected 
a hint of an unfamiliar taste in her mouth as the smoke began to rise, and 
she inhaled slightly, analysing the unfamiliar sensation. The taste 
suddenly intensified as the smoke was pulled into her mouth, and she felt 
as if she had been slapped in the face. She had a sudden overwhelming urge 
to cough, but she fought that with every ounce of her strength; the moment 
was too intimate for that. Lauren Bacall hadn't coughed in To Have and Have 
Not, Barbara Stanwick hadn't coughed in Double Indemnity, and Louise wasn't 
about to cough now. Coughing was something novice little girls did with 
their first cigarette, and right now Louise did not feel like a novice 
little girl. 

Taking the cigarette out of her mouth, she released her breath and saw a 
vague, unformed cloud of smoke fill the air in front of her. It caught the 
light of the flame, and drifted across the face of her companion, who was 
watching her closely. They had been leaning in towards each other, and 
their faces were just inches apart. Now her friend brought her own 
cigarette back to her lips and sucked on it gently. Louise saw the tip glow 
brighter as air was sucked through it. She watched as her friend opened her 
mouth slightly, and a fresh cloud of smoke escaped from her full, red lips, 
filling the air between them. 

For the first time Louise understood - truly understood - the power of the 
cigarette as a symbol of sexuality. She looked down at her own burning 
cigarette, and saw the red marks her lipstick had left on the filter. The 
white smoke spiralling up through the space between them seemed to her the 
perfect expression of what was developing between the two of them. 

This is our smoke, thought Louise. Our moment together. The outside world 
had once again receded completely from Louise's thoughts. There was only 
Louise, her friend, and their two cigarettes; nothing else mattered right 
now. She returned her cigarette to her lips, and sucked on the filter very 
gently, feeling her mouth fill with more of the acrid smoke. She had always 
hated the smell of cigarette smoke, and she tried to avoid smokers whenever 
she could, but now her attention was held by everything else about the 
moment. Her friend's face and lips, the magical dancing smoke between them, 
the flickering firelight, all combined to make her former dislike of the 
smell seem trivially irrelevant. 

She opened her mouth, expelling more smoke into the air, and her friend 
suddenly leaned in and kissed her. She opened her mouth wider and their 
tongues met once again. She could taste the bitter cigarette smoke in her 
friend's mouth, and she ran her tongue along those lips, savouring the 
sensation. She felt a sudden, overwhelming warmth between her legs, and she 
knew her panties were dripping wet. If they had been standing, she knew for 
a fact that her legs would have given way at that moment. As it was, the 
world seemed to tilt and spin, drifting away like the billowing cigarette 

She slumped against her companion, and they sank down together, clutching 
their cigarettes and each other; lost in their own private smokey world. 

Chapter 9 

The rest of the night had gone by for Louise in an increasing blur. They 
were barely disturbed when Tina had eventually returned, bearing more 
apologies and a small battery-powered torch, to say that the power would be 
out until they could get an electrician in the morning. 

They also took it in their stride when Tina had further explained that the 
power failure meant the Wi-Fi was down, and they couldn't access the room 
assignments, so would the girls possibly mind pairing themselves off for 
the night? 

She noticed in passing that a number of the girls seemed to have already 
grouped themselves into pairs. She saw the statuesque Anushka standing with 
her dishevelled business-suited friend, smiling secretly, and in the dim 
light she thought she caught a glimpse of a few wisps of smoke escaping 
Anushka's lips. 

She squeezed her own friend's hand in the darkness and clutched her purse 
with its cigarettes and lighter as they followed the bobbing light of 
Tina's torch up the dark stairs and towards the room that would be all 

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