The Apprentice Who Dazzles

Digital drawing. At center, a man seen from thighs up, facing forward with head raised up, eyes and mouth slightly parted. He wears a sparkling shirt with a ruffled front, fancy cuffs, and ornate belt. A sparkling half-cape hangs from his left shoulder and is tied over his right shoulder. His right arm is bent, hand raised to his temple. A dangling earring with linked golden hoops hangs from his left ear. His shoulder-length hair is loosely pinned behind the ear.

The stars in the sky twinkle.

But the stars on Earth…they dazzle.

When I first heard him say that, well it sounds dumb, but I felt as if I dazzled.  Just for a second.

I shook my head and left the room.  I was standing in the back—there had been no seats left by the time I got to his session.  So I was able to sneak off without anyone noticing.

Or so I thought.

But he had noticed.

I won’t tell you his name.  And you’ll soon see why.  But I will tell you mine.  It’s Hema. 

It means “golden,” which is funny, because I can’t stand gold.  And because gold is so…you can say it with me.



I was a follower at first, appropriately skeptical, doing my own research, purposely searching for proof that the “man who dazzles” was not what he seemed. 

Not only did I not find anything incriminating, but the more I learned about him, the more I was…I’m not going to say the word.  Well, at first, I was just impressed.  And I was embarrassed to admit it to anyone I knew.  I told two friends who I trusted not to ridicule me.  But I still got some mild teasing. 

I found detractors, bad reviews for his products, and a few eloquent articles by critics whose opinions I respected, and usually agreed with.

But that only made him seem more legitimate.  Of course, any savvy public persona who was cheating people wouldn’t have all the negative press wiped from public view.

I challenged myself to attend a live session, to watch him teach his mindsets and methods, to see him “dazzle” in person.  I was disappointed that I was not disappointed.  I wanted to confirm my suspicions that he was a bag of air in a pretty package.  I wanted to confirm that the package was put together by someone else’s painstaking work.  A skilled and nimble makeup artist.  A highly proficient team of tailors, guided and supervised by a gifted and diligent wardrobe consultant.  A speech writer, a vocal coach, a media specialist. 

But I saw him in person, putting on his own makeup.  And yes, he had someone writing his copy, but when he gave that person feedback, I was surprised at how much he knew about…well, sentence structure.

This “man who dazzles” seemed to be the real deal.  Under the smoothed down hair, and the pressed suits, and the glinting gold cuff links, the rings, the chains, and that slight brush of coppery glitter just at his temples, there was substance. 

There was a man who could teach others to dazzle as well.


I wanted to meet him and talk to him.  I’d never felt that way about anyone who wasn’t just a person I’d met in my life.  He wasn’t a guy who caught my eye in class during college.  He wasn’t someone I met at a work meeting and hit it off with and became friends with.

So I signed up for a three-day conference on developing your inner charisma, or something.  I wasn’t really interested in the rest of it.  But he was the keynote speaker for the first night. 

I stood in line to meet him afterwards.  A lot of people did, so it took a while to get to the front of the line.  And in that time, I got more and more nervous.  By the time I introduced myself to him, my mouth was so dry I could hardly swallow, my armpits and back were soaked, and my heart was pounding so hard, I could have sworn that I heard it. 

He looked as fresh as ever. Dewy but not dripping.  Eyes sparkling and hypnotic.  He even smelled fresh, like spearmint.  He was so tall and I spoke so softly that he had to lower his head to hear me.  And when he did, one of his earrings dropped loose from the strands of his silvery blue hair.  I watched the earring sway and glint.

I hadn’t offered my hand.  I remembered that he didn’t like to be touched.  Good thing, too.  My palms were cold and sweaty.

I dared to raise my head and meet his gaze.   

That’s when he surprised me by telling me that he had remembered me.  He’d seen me sneak away.  He raised a brow and winked to let me know he was just teasing, but I was still thrown.  I didn’t even notice when he’d taken the book from my hand, and signed it, and given it back.  My eyes were locked in place.  He breathed in.  He seemed to glow from within, and I…I swayed on my feet.

I’d seen a few people in front of me have that reaction when they looked at him eye to eye.  I was embarrassed to be one of them.

By the time I got home, though, I didn’t care.  Because I was drained.  I’d expected to be anyway, so I didn’t think much of it.

I wasn’t shy.  I did like being around people, under certain circumstances.  But most encounters, even the good ones, left me feeling drained.

No, I wasn’t shy.  But I was reserved and cautious.  But that also meant that I wasn’t too good at knowing how to take a reasonable risk.  I either wouldn’t take it.  Or I’d take it too far.

This was the moment when I should have decided to let it go. 

But I couldn’t let it go that I’d been too dumbstruck to say anything at all, to even ask the questions I’d written down, the ones that I had meant to ask to throw him off.

So I dared to write to him with those questions, part of me longing for him to answer, part of him hoping he never would.

He answered.

And I wrote back.

I admitted to him what I had only admitted before to one of my friends.  Because it sounded conceited and shallow.  I didn’t just want people to respect me and admire me.  I wanted them to be dazzled by me, to be swept off their feet, maybe even a little flustered.  The way people were—the way I’d been—when they met the “man who dazzles.” 

We went back and forth for a while, before I told myself that I was fooling myself.  The person who was writing to me was probably one of his assistants or the person who handled his mail.

But one day, he extended an offer to me.  One I refused…at first.  But ultimately accepted.


The offer was to become his protégé. 

He sent examples of other people who had come before me.  They were all successful, of course.  And of course, I got the old “results may vary” disclaimer.  That was all fair enough. 

I wrote back saying that I had a hard time believing he’d choose a random fan to become the person he’d tell all his trade secrets too.

When a magician picks an apprentice, wouldn’t he at least want her to know a little magic first? I asked in my letter.

I wasn’t the first one to be suspicious.  So the application, orientation, and training, would all be in person.  And I would get paid for all of it.

This was another chance for me to bail out of the plane before it crashed.  

I guess I just saw the sparks coming off one wing and thought to myself, Let me just wait and see what happens.

Of course, it was all on the up and up.  I started.  I got my first paycheck.  And then the next.  Several paychecks later, I bought myself a jacket. 

The money didn’t suddenly disappear from my accounts.

I wasn’t paying my dues or helping an assistant of an assistant with some task that didn’t need to be done in the first place.  And I wasn’t one of a dozen other people who was also chosen.

I was his only apprentice.  And I was working directly with him.  He taught me what he did day to day, and how he did it.  He taught me techniques that were well-known standards, and he taught me how he tweaked them.  He taught me how he put his various and famous looks together.


“I’m not so much into make-up,” I confessed one day, while I was helping him try on coats for an appearance on a morning show.  “You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but my thing is clothes.”  I was about to hand him a fushcia-purple waistcoat when I stopped myself, and passed him an orange cream windbreaker instead.  He nodded, and with a shrug he had it on.  He gave his hair a quick toss.

“You don’t have to tell me,” he said.  “I’ve been getting extra compliments on my outerwear lately.”

I smiled.  “I’ve never been able to really afford having the kind of wardrobe I’d like, and have it be designed and made by people who were earning a very healthy wage.  But I wouldn’t want to be at your level.  I want to be able to repeat outfits and pieces—definitely coats—without being whispered about in the streets.”

He laughed.  “Once you learn everything I have to teach you, no one is going to bat an eye about your repeating outfits.  No one will be looking at your outfits, unless you want them too.”

He took one of his deep, slow breaths and shifted his eyes toward me.  They sparkled in that hypnotic swirling pattern that always made me catch my breath.

He looked away, and I shook it off.


It sounds like I was in love with the guy, doesn’t it?

I think I thought I might be.

But weak spells are easy to break.

One day, I woke up feeling more tired than I’d felt when I’d gone to bed. 

For the fourth night in a row.

I wouldn’t be able to avoid it now.  I had to go see a doctor.  But first, I would try to take a few days off.  I hoped that rest would help me get better, and help me avoid that doc visit.

I notified my boss, my mentor.  He told me to take all the time I needed.  Of course.

The next morning, I felt the same.  Still crummy.  But that day, I was so drained, I couldn’t even lay in bed and watch movies.  I nodded off.

And the next morning, I couldn’t even get up out of bed.

My mind was awake and willing, and my limbs could move just fine.  But when I sat up in bed, something dragged me back down.  It wasn’t a tension headache.  I didn’t feel any physical sensation.  My mind was definitely trying to make my body rise, and my body was trying to comply.  Something was wrong.  Missing.  Something was missing.  I felt a weird empty and cold spot.  I couldn’t tell where it was.  I wasn’t like having a tooth fall out and knowing exactly why your mouth felt a little off. 

I called a friend who I knew wasn’t working that day. 

“Do you need me to drive you to the hospital?” he asked.

“Let’s start with you just cheering me up—and bring food.”

So my friend came over and cheered me up, and I felt better and better.  After we got through a movie, I got up out of bed.  I showered.  I flexed all my limbs and stared at myself in the mirror.  I paid special attention to my eyes to see if they looked tired.  Maybe they had before.

But now they looked alive and sparkling.  I could have sworn there was a familiar enchanting pattern to that sparkle. 

I took a deep cleansing breath and felt even better.  That cold empty gap somewhere within me was shrinking.  I inhaled again and felt warmth streaming into me.

When I came back out to where my friend was lounging on the sofa, he sat up and his eyes widened.

“Wow,” he said.

He was looking at my eyes.  And I was looking at his.  I knew what he saw.  What I saw was his face, a little pale.  He yawned, swayed a little, and lay back down.

“Ready for another?” he asked with another yawn. 

And then he shivered just a little.

“Are you cold?” I asked. 

He shook his head. 

Before we finished the second movie, I felt better than a hundred percent.  But my friend said he was now feeling tired.

“You gave it to me,” he joked.  “Maybe I should get out of here before it gets worse.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “I still owe you one.  But there’s still time for you to get back to your plans.”

He shook his head.  “I think I want to do this now.  Don’t feel like getting up.”

I sat as far away from him as I could.

By the time he left, he felt a little bit better, well enough to get himself home.

I had been taking shallow breaths all night.  I didn’t take a deep one until he messaged me that he was home safe.

Had I dazzled my friend?

But that wasn’t how it was supposed to go.  I hadn’t done anything on purpose.  No techniques.  But I had passed my exhaustion on to him.  I didn’t know how, but I had.

There was one person, only one person I could ask.

But I wouldn’t ask him.

My hackles went back up when I saw my friend’s almost unnoticeable shiver. 


I did what I hadn’t done in a long while.  A year almost.  I watched him.  But this time, I was watching from the inside.  And maybe he wasn’t expecting anyone to do that.  Because it didn’t me long to figure it out.  It was all out in the open, really.  Mysterious illnesses.  Hospitalizations.  Sudden deaths.

I thought maybe he’d find me out, read my mind somehow.  Or just figure it out when my behavior changed a little. 

If I figured it out, some of my predecessors must have too.  Did he strike a deal with them to keep quiet?  All of them?  Why was he taking this risk?

Maybe he was lonely.  He had people around him, friends, fans, followers.

But what he didn’t have was someone around him who was just like him.

I hadn’t even noticed that he was turning me into what he was.  Because I didn’t know what he was.  How could I?

He walked in sunlight.  He was a living being.  He ate food.  I’d even seen him eat garlic bread.  I’d brought him a bandage when he accidentally stuck himself with a silver pin.  And a stake to the heart would kill anyone.  So that wouldn’t prove anything, would it?

Blood isn’t the only thing that gives us life.  Breath gives us life too.  And as blood is connected to the heart, breath is connected to the soul.

It’s funny how putting a name to something can sometimes help you to see a thing that you already suspected was real.



So what was my next move?  Keep going?  Keep letting him drink of my soul?

Keep drinking the souls of others?  My friends?  Strangers?

Is that what made him so dazzling?  He was showing what most of us keep inside?  The radiance of a human soul.

But it wasn’t his own soul he was showing.

It wasn’t his own skills and talents he was using.

I had a speech planned.

But every time I tried to speak, something would happen.  The phone would ring.  Someone would walk in. 

I would chicken out.

So one day, when we were wrapping up a few things in his office, I tossed the speech and just asked the question that had been on my mind, a cowardly question.

“How long do you plan on doing this?”

If he said, “not long,” I could let myself off the hook about doing something.  Hence, the coward part.

“Doing what?” he asked absently, taking a sip of soda.  The tiniest little sip.  “My job?”


He turned to me with a smile on his glossy lips.  All that glamor.  That was stolen too.

I didn’t smile back. 

This was not a risk I wanted to take.  But I was about to take it, and take it too far.  There was no middle ground on this one.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.  “You’re not worried about the show?”

His eyes were sparkling, and that sparkle was spinning.

“I want to know if I’ve managed to figure it out,” I said.  “There’s a certain profile that a person has to match.”

I paused to make sure he was paying attention.

When his smile began to fade, I continued.

“Your reasons for not hanging out with celebrities is not because they’re fake, but because they are using their inner ‘dazzle.’  They’re using so much of it that there’s none left to drink.  They…regenerate the dazzle, but use it up again too quickly.  So they’re not worth the effort.  You once confided in me that you’d met a few people who didn’t have any dazzle in their souls.  But that’s not quite true.  What you call ‘dazzle’ is an energy all human souls have the capability to make.  But for some people, it’s so deep down, it’s not accessible, even to themselves.  They might be able to reach it, with some help.  But they’re not worth the effort either, not for you.”

That spinning sparkle whirred.  I felt the sparkle in my own eyes respond, whirring in the opposite direction.  There would be no hypnosis this time, sir.

I continued.  “For other people, that dazzle is simmering on the surface, but again, maybe burns out too quickly.  You’ve got to get close, close enough to touch, but without touching, or the spell is broken.”

I took a step toward him.  He didn’t move.

“Some people just won’t let it happen,” I said.  “Many are put off by you.  It’s as they have some natural instinct.  Others are drawn to you, but too easily drained.  For your protégé, you needed someone who would strike the right balance.  A steady drip of dazzle you could keep on drinking.  Someone whose soul you could steal.”

His eyes stopped spinning.  “Hema, who have you been speaking with?”

My eyes stopped spinning, too. I tried not to heave a sigh of relief.  “Myself, and I.  Me was also there, but she was pretty quiet.  Mostly just listened.”

He inhaled deeply.  I was fairly certain he wasn’t trying to drink my soul in that particular moment.  But it was hard to tell.  Maybe the thing I’d found, the way to block his psychic fangs from biting me, was working.

“Okay, it’s not quite time for us to talk about the next level,” he said.  “But you’re obviously an advanced learner so—“

“I’m a cow, actually.  A prize cow.  A cow you can milk and keep milking for a good long time to come.”

His brows pinched in a wince that appeared truly sincere.  “Don’t put it that way.”

“Why not?  Cows are great.”

“You’re more than that.”

“Yes, I am.” I raised a finger and pointed it at him.  “I’m like you now.”  I took another step toward him.

He raised his hands.  “Yes!  That’s what you wanted.  Remember?”

“We all make mistakes.  This one was a doozy for me.”

I felt invisible fingers now, brushing against my cheek, my lips, and just under my nose.  I’d always felt them, now and then, but I didn’t know what it was.  I’d thought it was goosebumps or a blush.  A reflex in my own skin. 

I could do the same.  My…unseen limbs were clumsy, but I could feel them the way I felt that cold and empty space inside me.  But if I wanted to reach out to him, I’d have to drop that shield I’d put around myself.  I still couldn’t quite believe it was working.  I had to be cautious, in case he was lulling me into thinking I was safe. 

I had prepared for this turn, braced myself for him to pivot from dazzling to dangerous in a heartbeat.  But I still felt my stomach lurch. 

I took another step toward him.  He still didn’t move.  He didn’t move away, or move back.  He didn’t move toward me either.  His brows were furrowed and his jaw was set.  I’d never seen this expression on his face before.  But I recognized it.  Anger.

I hesitated.

But then I saw the sparkle in his eyes flicker out. 

I had never seen that before either.  But I knew what it meant.  Fear.

I took another step toward him.

“That won’t work,” he said.

“Couldn’t hurt to try.”

“It’s too late for you.”

I hesitated again.  “So does that mean it’s not too late for everyone else?  That’s good to know.”

Before I could take another step, before I could reach out and touch him, the door to the room burst open.  I didn’t turn to look.  I knew who it probably was.

It was his evening security guard.  He asked the guard to escort me out of the building.  He told the guy that I was fired, effective immediately. 

Those invisible fingers retreated. 

Maybe I could dazzle him, in this moment when the sparkle in his own eyes had flickered out.  I wouldn’t even have to take off the pendant that hung under my shirt, the one that was protecting my soul from the vampire that wanted to drink it.  The one that protecting me from drinking the souls of others.

He’d have me watched.  Maybe he’d even have me ruined in the public eye.  I could prevent it all if I just tried now.  If I could just dazzle him into forgetting that I ever existed.

But I knew I wasn’t strong enough.  I had practiced spinning the sparkle in my eyes for weeks.  But in the research I’d done, there was a lot more to the hypnotic patterns.  I wouldn’t be able to hold my own if he got himself together.

That was a risk I couldn’t afford to take.  Not yet.

“Leave me alone,” I said, before I turned away and let the guard walk me out.

From behind me I heard, “And you’ll do the same?”

I pretended not to hear.  And I kept walking.

I had lost a part of my soul I would never get back.  But the rest of it, dull and dazzling and everything in between, was still here. 

I would not take it for granted again.

Copyright © 2022  Nila L. Patel

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