photo of Vintriloquist Doll

The Ventriloquist by Alex Johnson

As a boy, Henry was strange and unpopular, the kid who is always slightly out of focus in group photographs or represented in his absence as a cryptic smudge on the lens. He wanted badly to participate in the games and social rituals of his peers, but they were frightened by his frenetic, lurching mannerisms and subliminal inserts into conversations, which invariably produced a moment of uncomfortable silence, mass head scratching and such phrases as “well…” and “I think that just about killed the vibe.”

So Henry spent a lot of time alone, rifling through catalogs of novelties and magic tricks, hunting for the key that would unlock the door of solitude. As he was musing over the applications of a pair of trick glasses billed as “X-Ray Specs” and mentally picturing the Mickey Mouse boxer shorts and odd bone configurations he might reproach his classmates with, he came across an ad for a pamphlet that promised to train the buyer in ventriloquism.

Henry was excited by the phrase “throw your voice,” which he invested with pugilistic significance, as though his voice might become a fist, a sonic boxing glove pounding the faces of his tormentors to a slushy abstract. Immediately, he knew he had found the perfect solution to his problems. At the post office, on a whim, he took a first, intuitive stab at ventriloquism, and smiled with satisfaction as the clerk whirled about to address a large package covered with brown tape that had begun to make clucking sounds.

When the pamphlet arrived, Henry threw over everything to immerse himself in the secrets of the ventriloquist’s art. He amazed and astounded his family and peers, eliciting Mr. Ed from potted plants and screams for help from can-trapped sardines. As he grew older, his ability with the thrown word drew large audiences. He was invited to parties where he stunned guests with the weird revelations of doilies and the cryptic insights of cocktail napkins and watercress sandwiches.

One day, feeling reckless and exulting in his fortune, he decided to throw his voice as far as he could. He aimed at a clock tower in the center of town, ten miles away from his house. Summoning all his strength, he blasted his voice across the neighborhood.

But something had gone wrong. So successful was the projection that his voice had embedded itself in the tower, to the dismay and eventual civic pride of the community. He was never again able to retrieve it. Subsequently, when he passed through town on his way to a job as a data entry drone, he would hear a whisper: “You look kind of wound up, kid. What’s the matter, clock tower got your voice?” Henry sighed inaudibly, flipped off the building and trudged on, cursing the insolence of inanimate objects and his condemnation, once again, to the prison of silence.

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Alex S. Johnson is a college English professor, journalist and author of such works as The Death Jazz, Doctor Flesh, and Black Tongues of the Illuminati. His articles and stories have appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer and Bloodsongs magazine.

Lead image“Ventriloquist Doll” (via Flickr user Jamie Durrant)