Throwing Voices
A boy gets a ventriloquist dummy for his birthday which starts out fun but soon turns terrifying.
For my eighth birthday I ask for it. And I get it.

I tear the blue wrapping paper from the rectangular box, and there, through cellophane window he is looking at me, his eyes open, his mouth just slightly parted, a silly grin on his face.

“It’s the Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist dummy,” says Dad. “The one you wanted.”

I smile at him. Charlie is perfect. I run my hand over him - black tuxedo, white-collared dress shirt, black dress socks, polished black shoes, felty black top-hat, and his trademark eyepiece - the glass monocle fitted over his right eye.

I reach up, behind his head and find the string. I pull it and his mouth opens.

“Nice to meet you,” I mumble, trying not to move my lips. It leaves my lips sounding more like, “Eysh oo eat oo.”

Mom laughs. So does Dad. I practice all that day and even get a little better at making it sound like Charlie, not me, is doing the talking.

I play with him all night. And all week. And all month. I am getting good. I hardly move my mouth when I make the sounds and sometimes it even looks like Charlie is alive. My friends and my parents are impressed.

But then one day I come home from school and his wooden face looks different. It is still happy and smiling. But his mouth is half open. I pull the string and it opens wider. It won’t fully close all the way. I show Dad.

“Sorry champ,” he says. “It had a thirty day warranty. We can’t send it back. I’ll take a look at it when I get some time and see if I can fix it.”

It’s OK. He can still talk. But he looks a little ... crazy .. with his mouth half open and his eyes wide open. Maybe he is not smiling anymore. Maybe he is startled. I don’t like the way he looks.

Tonight I put him on the shelf above my bed, the same as every night.

I sleep in the basement, in the room to the side of the stairs.

My bed sits against the back wall. Sitting on bed, looking straight ahead, there is a mirror. When I look in the mirror, I can see my bed, the shelf above the bed, and myself. I am looking there now. And as I look, I see something move above me on the shelf. I turn away from the mirror and look up at the shelf. Charlie is slumped over, his torso laying over his legs, his face looking down directly at me, eyes wide open, mouth half open.

He he has fallen over and come to rest doubled over. But he does not fall.

I go to sleep.

It is morning and I wake up. I yawn, open my eyes, and scream. Charlie is next to me on the bed, his nose nearly touching mine. Mom comes running.

“It fell off your shelf,” says Mom, after I my heart stops pounding and I am calm. “Has it ever happened before?”

“No,” I say. “But he did slide part way down the shelf last night before bed.”

“You just have to make sure to put him to the side of the shelf. If he falls off right above you and his head hits yours, it could leave a big lump, or bloody your nose.”

“He is not leaving me alone,” I say. “He did it on purpose.”

“You are imagining things,” says Mom. “Dummies don’t do anything on purpose. They are just wood and fabric.”

I decide that I do not want him on the shelf above me. I put him on my dresser, underneath the mirror. I can’t see him when I am laying down.

In the morning, I look up. He is not on my dresser. He is on the floor, face down, on the other side of the dresser from the side I put him on. Mom and Dad say he has slipped down in the night, just like when he fell off my shelf, and that I am remembering wrong.

The next night I leave him on the dresser again. In the morning he is still there. He has not moved. Maybe I am remembering wrong.

But maybe not. The very next after that one, I find him on the floor.

I do not like this and I tell Dad I do not want Charlie in my room anymore.

“It slides off in the night,” he says. “His clothes are cloth. His body is light and floppy but he has a big, heavy head pushing down all night and he slides off the smooth dresser top. You are scaring yourself. Maybe you should store him on the ground. Maybe under your bed? Be brave, champ.”

I decide to be brave. I put him on the dresser again, this time to do a test.

I close my eyes and pretend to be asleep. I am not asleep. I am listening. I hear a sliding noise. I hear a tap, something knocks against the dresser. My skin goosebumps and my heart pounds. I hear another slide and a thunk. Without a sound, I tiptoe and turn on the light.

Charlie is face down on the floor, arms and legs pretzeled over his back. One arm slides off and comes to rest at his side.

I turn him over. His mouth is fully opened. I reach up behind him and pull his string. Nothing happens. The string is slack. His mouth does not work. His big eyes stare up. Now instead of looking startled, he looks like he is about to take a bite. I feel like I am falling over, but I do not fall over. I feel like I am not in my home, like I am somewhere else I have never been before.

“You’re just a stupid dummy,” I tell him. “And you don’t even work right.”

I open my closest and put him in the corner on the floor. I turn off the light. I lay back down in bed. I get back up, turn on my light, open the closet, grab my clothes hamper, and dump my dirty clothes over him. Then I put the hamper in front of the pile he’s under. I close the door, turn out the light, and lay back in bed. I think about going upstairs to Mom and ask if I can sleep in her bed.

I am thinking about this when I drift off to sleep. I’m awakened by a noise. A bump.

I open my eyes. I have been dreaming about a scorpion that can fly and is chasing me. The image is still in my mind.

I hear another bump. It comes from the closet.

I sit up in bed and look toward the sound. It’s very dark, but I can see the gold closet-door handle gleaming.

Peering into the blackness, lit only by my alarm clock, my chest gets tight and my lungs can't seem to get air.

The hairs on my arms stand up.

The gold handle on the door turns slowly, and the door hinge creaks.

I decide to run. I leap from the bed.

As I do, in the faint light I see a flash of white and black dart from the closet and scurry toward me.

I scream. Before I reach the door he wraps himself around my legs.

I fall to the ground.

I roll over onto my back, screaming again. He is scrambling up me, his cloth arms and legs flailing. I grab his head, roll over on top of him, and start punching his face.

I’m on top of him, throwing punch after punch. I feel the monocle break under my left knuckles and a sharp pain shoots through my hand. The next blow lands on his arms. He is protecting his face.

I hear footsteps running down the stairs. My door bursts open. The lights flash on.

“What’s going on?!” Dad bellows.

I don’t look up. I can see the dummy clearly now. His face is smeared in blood, the floor around him dotted with crimson. I keep hitting him over and over. Dad grabs my arm. I stop and look up at my hand, just above his where he’s grabbed my wrist. It is covered in blood.

He lifts me up.

“Buddy, calm down! Whats’ the matter? What happened?”

I can’t speak. I look back down at the dummy. His jaw is broken, hanging from his face by a string. His eyes still wide, looking directly at me.

“You had a nightmare,” says Dad. “It’s just a doll. It was a bad dream.”

Mom walks in. She sees my hand and gasps.

The rest of the night I cannot sleep. I am trembling.

Dad takes the dummy out back. I hear the garbage lid open and close. He comes inside without the dummy.

Mom cleans the blood from the carpet and bandages my hand.

“We’ll take you to the doctor in the morning and see if you need any stitches,” she says.

I ask Mom and Dad if I can sleep in their bed. They say yes and they soon fall asleep. I cannot sleep.

I think I heard scraping noises outside the bedroom window. I wake up Dad.

“It’s just a cat,” says Dad.

I have never seen a cat in our neighborhood and so I do not sleep. I am watching the bedroom door all night. Morning finally comes.

“Where did you put the dummy,” I ask Dad.

“In the trash,” says Dad.

I go outside and stand in front of trashcan for several minutes. I finally decide to do it. I step forward and lift the lid.

There is no dummy in the trashcan, just the glass shards of a shattered monocle.