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I had a son, then two, then none.

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Short Story

It is with much distaste that I am about to pen the tale with which I shall regale you. For involved heavily in it is none other than my own son, of whom you may have heard about on the radio recently. I expect you to believe not my tale, for I myself often find the events increasingly ludicrous as they replay in my mind’s eye. Indeed, it could be that I have unconsciously changed certain aspects of a day’s elements due to the overwhelming nausea that this tale arouses in my bosom. Yet of the events specifically concerning my son do I perfectly, frightfully hold in clearest memory. Oh, have we not time to dwell on his freckled cheeks? His vibrant blue eyes? His small fingers? Know once more that I wish not to record this for all of the disbelief it shall inevitably arouse amongst my neighbours and friends–these words shakily scratched come only at the request of our local police department.

My son, whose name was–is–Alexander, early on became infatuated with the concept of ventriloquism. Often would he sit before the television in wonder at the sight and performance of Paul Winchell. So too would he scan through daily newspapers, finding short columns regarding other schoolchildren and their talent shows–of which ventriloquism was rampant–and bring them to me for inspection.

It was shortly thereafter–in the midst of his plunge into the subject–that he came running to me one evening only just as I had begun making supper. His blue eyes twinkled as he entertained me with the apparently extravagant fact that his own school was to put on a talent show, just as he had seen in the papers. At length he proceeded to beg and grovel, admitting–with what must have been great difficulty–that he would sooner toss all of his worldly possessions into the sea than fail to give the grandest ventriloquist act ever witnessed by human eyes to his peers and mentors.

True it was that the idea repelled me. While I gave leave for sweet Alexander to revel in his interests, I myself had no affection for the art of anthropomorphizing carved wooden fiends. The very presence of such a thing brought an uncanny twitch to my eye and to my heart a knotting sensation. Breathing life into the already-dead is not a gift of humanity, nor shall it or should it ever be; and thus should I be absolved of having to witness its feeble attempts.

But the love for my son was and remains great, and so it was that I gave into him.

It was in a nearby independent shop that I found what I sought–a dummy of seemingly perfect countenance. Snuggly it wore a miniature suit–indeed the blazer was superior to my own–and white undergarments. Upon its head sat a Chaplin-esque bowler, and tufts of what the store owner cheerily told me were horse hair were slicked back atop its wooden scalp. Its face was one of pure bravado, with swaggering eyebrows and a pearly grin. Dead were its eyes and within them I could see plainly my own revolted expression.

In triumph did I came home that evening with the little man packaged under my arm. When I presented it to my son–who had been rooting through the latest Daily Herald–he gave me such an embrace and let loose such a squeal that still to this day have I never heard so melodious a sound. To his new friend he bestowed the name Alexander II, and then proceeded to begin practicing his craft at once.

Now, it must be noted that the talent show was still not for some time, as I had decided early on that if I was to buy my son such a foolish gift, he was to have mastered the hobby well before actually putting himself on display. And so it was that every night after supper young Alexander practiced–either in front of me or in a room nearby–and so quickly was he enraptured by the little man that he began to bring it with him wherever he went, school or otherwise.

It is only in recent days that I have mourned my fateful decision to let him do so. For at the time I thought nothing of it, and kept to my own daydreams and concerns. The practicing became so commonplace that I now hardly batted an eye at the thing when it was brought into the room, whereas before I had had reactionary cringes. I still did not find pleasure in looking at it, nor did I ever–EVER–wish to be left alone with it, but the mere presence of it in the house became something like owning a cat.

One evening Alexander II sat down with my son and I to sup. Ordinarily, I would never have allowed this, but the talent show was now a mere three days away, and Alexander had insisted that he spend every waking moment with his hand ingrained in the ligneous body. So it was that as I served him his soup–ah, I remember plainly, it was mushroom!–the dummy sat to his left, upon the table in such a way that it was impossible for me to see his hand or arm.

After seating myself and concentrating furiously on my boy rather than our guest for a number of moments in agonizing silence, I finally ventured to ask how his day at school had gone.

What followed was difficult to comprehend and remains even now a laborious struggle to relate to you. My logical mind still rejects the incident in the manner of which I recollect it, but my heart–oh, my poor heart!–chooses to succumb to what appeared to me to be the unshakable truth. So know that while I shall tell you what I will, even my own mind–which was present, indeed–refutes still the awful scene.

My son looked up at me in reaction to the question I had posed, but made no attempt to respond. Indeed, he appeared very weary and slack-jawed; perhaps even pale! I had not noticed, so busy had I been with my own trivial life.

I opened my mouth again to comment on this sight, but–alas!–before I was able, another voice answered my question. “Oh, very good indeed! We are doing quiet well.” This voice was one that had been drilled into my eardrums to an excruciating degree as of late–it was, of course, the voice of Alexander II! Alexander had altered his common voice in an effort to give life to his wooden friend, and had spent the weeks since the dummy arrived at home perfecting his sound.

With abject–yet concealed–horror my gaze gravitated to the little man. His black eyes stared soullessly into the invisible beyond, but in that moment I could feel his blindness vanish and his eyes follow the thick line of tension to my face. His already stretched grin unhinged like a snake’s when he spoke, his wooden mouth gaping and shutting in an unnatural swiftness. “Is something wrong, Father dear?”

I began to feel my appetite seep out of my pores and it must have been that if a mirror had been held up to me, I would have been exposed as a lucid white. Looking back to my son, there had been no change in his countenance–he blinked stupidly, his freckles no longer shined, and the first signs of drool were noticeable at his lip’s edge.

The single bulb hanging over the dining room seemed to me to be dying. The household darkness crept into the kitchen from empty rooms and stretched out thin tendrils to poke and prod at the normalcy of an everyday supper. I shuddered–at this the little man’s eyes seemed to shimmer in a manner almost akin to Alexander’s, though evidently more malicious.

With an effort I rose, strode around the girth of the table and snatched Alexander II from my son’s grasp. Instantly I knew I had made a miscalculation, as the exposed hand of Alexander shot up to latch onto my own arm–the one that held the dummy. My son’s face was suddenly one of enmity: wrinkled was his nose, bared were his teeth and venom exuded from his eyes. “Return him!” His voice was not its usual tone; instead it sounded raspy and worn, and contained nothing but the heavy-handed hammer of hate.

After a few ticks of silence–I was too shocked and frightful to respond–he let loose my arm, and his face fell to that same tired one which it had been before. He did not apologize, but sat still as if he had been drained now of all life. It was difficult to believe that he had only just held me with a grip so strong as to belong to a fully grown man.

“When the talent show comes, then again you shall have him,” I muttered. My son said nothing, and so I went to an empty closet in the hallway. There I stashed Alexander II on the lone shelf and shut the door as quickly as I could. It was only afterward I noticed my entire body quivering as one does when terribly excited or unintelligibly afraid.

The following day passed by with little disturbance, therefore I do not recall much of it. I remember only the despondent nature of my son, whom without his wooden accomplice seemed lost to the world. He stopped speaking almost entirely, and he no longer ventured to turn on the television or flip through the newspaper. Woe, indeed! My son seemed drained–my poor Alexander!–of all his hopes and enjoyments. His eyes no longer twinkled and the blue faded to a cloudy grey. His skin remained pale as if he were ill, but never once did he complain or admit to any discomfort.

No, it was I who felt the discomfort! If only I had realized sooner; if only I had thought to speak to him more directly. It is true what they say: aches within the bosom build, and until set free therein they live to torment and rot. But always–always!–must a tipping point come, and with it some explosive consequence. Forgive me, for here tear stains mark my page and I worry that emotion enough may end my tale without logic, who stands always outside and knocks.

But alas! How shall I tell you of that fateful night? The stars were high and bright within their velvet blanket when I was woken by a creak downstairs. At first I thought–hoped!–that perhaps I had dreamt it, and that such a terrible sound had not occurred. Creak. Ah! There it was again! Had there ever been a more horrific sound? So soft it seeped into my very bed, and there began such a midnight chill as I have never had. It was then that I knew where from the utterance issued–the hallway closet!

I staggered from my bed and crept down the stairs in a hunched manner, until I set foot on the main floor. Careening about a corner, I came into the lit hallway. And there stood my son–in his crimson silk pajamas–before the closet, the door flung wide open. He stood rigid and erect, with his legs spread wide as if to brace for impact.

From within the sable darkness of the closet, I could see the still blacker eyes of the little man. It was then that the dummy raised its wooden head–without any help at all!–and met my gaze. In horror and error I stood in stunned silence, dread coursing through my veins. Alexander stepped forth into the closet, and just as the door swung shut I caught a glimpse of the little man’s arm–horror! oh, horror!–rising with stiff fingers outstretched towards my boy.

The slam of the door echoed in the quiescent house and spurred me into action. I leapt to it, wrenching and wringing and yanking–it had no lock!–upon the handle, but to no avail. I began pounding on the door, crying out in a voice that sounded, to my own ears, disillusioned.

It was moments–nay, hours?–later that the door yawned open and I was sent sprawling to the tile floor. From out of the shadows stepped my boy–oh, my Alexander!–and stood over me. No longer did he appear ill or frail. His colour had returned but with a cost. The twinkle in his eye, oh what been done?! It was now of something wretched and fell, and I feared to look upon it. At length a ghoulish grin spread upon his lips, and then he threw back his head and cackled–oh what sheer terror that sound! Horror! Horror!

Drained of strength, I remained crumpled on the floor as he tore by me and unclosed the front door. Out he went, and into the night he vanished.

Still lost is my son, somewhere in the hands of nature. I know not where he might have fled, nor indeed, why he fled in the first place. Hazy my mind feels when I recall the events of that awful night, but the memories themselves are sharp!

I have not removed Alexander II from the closet, nor have I looked at it since the evening my son left. I have left the closet to the abled fingers of the police, who have, since looking into that tiny room of horror, assured me that there is nothing out of the ordinary with the space nor so the dummy that resides within it. I did not ask, but it seems to me that they have left the little man there still.

It is now with great pain and sadness that I wait every day and every night for news about my son. In recent nights, I have sometimes been awoken by the small sound of a miserable whimper coming from the hallway closet. From it comes the repeated phrase, “Father! Still I live! Father! Still I live!”

I shudder to think of it, and wish no longer to speak of this most terrible business. That blackest sound of all things must reside within my broken imagination, for it seems to me to come from a wooden mouth.

Oh, my poor Alexander! My little boy! My son! Come back to me!

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