Authors: Tim Curran
Tags: #Horror, #dummy, #ventriloquist, #puppet
“Tell me about him,” Kitty said. “You might be the only one who can.”
You could see Bascomb didn’t like the idea at all. There was something there, bad blood maybe. “Okay…I mean, shit, I suppose it’s time to tell somebody. Answer me something first…have you seen McBane? Have you talked to him?”
It was Kitty’s turn to look frightened. “Yes, I have.”
She chewed her lower lip, picking her words carefully. “Honestly? He and that dummy scared the hell out of me. There’s something wrong there, something real wrong.”
“Oh, you’re damn right, sister, there sure as hell
something wrong there.” Bascomb paused, lit another cigarette off the butt of the last. “What I tell you…it stays between you and me, understand?”
Kitty promised him it would.
“Okay, all right then. Now, like you probably already know, I handled ventriloquist acts for years. Dozens of ‘em. Some good and, well, some not so good. My uncle could throw his voice and my old man made dummies and puppets, that sort of thing…so I know the business backwards and forwards. Ain’t a lot I don’t know about ventriloquism. Now, most people think vent artists are nuts and some of them definitely are. But for most it’s just a gag, a neat trick they can pull off. End of the day, they put their dummy in a trunk and that’s that. Then there are the other kind…”
Bascomb said that some ventriloquists were natural introverts, quiet as mice, but when they had dummies on their laps they channeled all their repressed thoughts and secret desires through the things. Made those dummies do and say things they would never dream of saying or doing in a million years. Those were the dangerous ones, the ones that developed a personality so strong for their dummy that often it overpowered their own. It became sort of a symbiotic relationship, one feeding off the other. Without the ventriloquist, the dummy was just a piece of wood…but without the dummy, the ventriloquist was trapped by his own inhibitions.
“Codependency is what I’m saying here, Miss Seevers,” Bascomb told her. “And like a codependency in the real world, sometimes it’s beneficial and other times…well, destructive. I knew a vent artist who slit his wrists when somebody stole his dummy. Can you imagine what it must have been like for that guy? Like somebody had stolen half of his mind, half of his soul.”
Bascomb let that sink in for a moment, then went on to explain the mechanics of dummies themselves. “Vent dolls are an art form. These days, most guys buy ‘em straight off the rack same way they would a suit. There’s companies that mass produce ‘em. But in the old days, vent artists would make their own to start with until they could afford a guy like my old man who was a craftsman. Every dummy my old man made was a custom job, handmade of the best materials—hardwood joints, brass mechanisms, aluminum return springs, oak headsticks, glass eyes and shell winkers. The vent told my old man exactly what he wanted and got his money’s worth. One-of-a-kind vent dummies we’re talking here. Priceless in their own way.
“Yeah, my old man was one of the great figure artists, right up there with Frank Marshall and the McElroy brothers. All of his figures would have at least thirteen or more animations…so, you get the picture, I know dummies. I know a good one and I know a bad one…and Ronny McBane’s dummy, Piggy? That one’s in a class all by itself. I’ve never seen such articulation in my life.”
Sure, Bascomb told Kitty, Piggy seemed almost human at times and very often, Ronny seemed less than that. There was a symbiosis there, too, but a bad one. Maybe something more along the lines of parasitism. Bascomb managed Ronny’s act for two years and it almost cost him his sanity. He had heard of performers arguing with their dummies, had seen it once or twice, but never anything like this business with Ronny and Piggy. The arguments often got very ugly with Piggy running down Ronny to the point of being vicious. It was unpleasant to imagine, but positively unsettling to actually witness. Bascomb said it got to the point where you were thinking that Piggy was the master and Ronny was the puppet.
“I’ve seen some screwed up ventriloquist / dummy relationships in my time—knew a guy once who slept with his dummy, kept it there in bed with him when he was doing it with a woman—but the Ronny/Piggy thing was far worse, I tell you.” Bascomb paused, dragged off his cigarette. “If you talked with McBane, then I’m betting Piggy was there. Ronny doesn’t go anywhere without him and maybe it’s the other way around, who can say? But if you did, then you might have noticed some…
things about that dummy, maybe how it moves when Ronny’s nowhere near it.”
Kitty told him she’d seen that, all right. “It was weird…it gave me the creeps. How can he do that?”
Bascomb shrugged. “You tell me. I’ve seen some good gags in my time, but this is something else entirely. I had a guy, a good vent artist, tell me it wasn’t possible. That the only way Ronny could do that was by using his mind, telekinesis or one of them Stephen King things. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you in all honesty…there’s something unnatural about Piggy.”
But Kitty didn’t need to be told that.
She’d never forget what she saw in that dressing room. The look in the dummy’s eyes, wicked and sadistic and completely evil. That was crazy thinking, sure, but it was exactly what she had thought at the time: Piggy was not just a wooden figure, but something sentient…and not altogether sane.
Bascomb said that Ronny was real strange about it all. Not just the fighting, either, there was more. Lots more. He mothered Piggy and Piggy could barely tolerate Ronny’s presence. You couldn’t have imagined a more clear cut case of split personality.
“One time, oh shit, one time McBane had a bad show. I don’t know what happened exactly, but things just never got off the ground. He couldn’t get the chemistry going between himself and Piggy…I mean, you know, between those personalities of his. Things got nasty out there and it was not funny, I’ll tell you that much. Piggy was running him down, telling the fucking audience—excuse my French here—the worse things you could imagine about Ronny…that he was a mama’s boy, that he had some kind of mannequin that he masturbated over. Shit, it was bad. Real bad. Embarrassing, downright spooky. Because, you know, the people out in the audience, they figured Ronny had snapped, using the dummy to sort of mentally castrate himself…but me? I wasn’t so sure by that point. I wasn’t so sure of anything.
“So the show ended, thank God. The management was crawling up my ass and it was hard all around. But Ronny still had another show to do in an hour or so…two shows a night, that’s how it worked. Well, the owners told me that if Ronny pulled that shit again, they were calling for the guys in the white suits. It was that goddamn bad. So, I went to the dressing room to check on my boy…” Bascomb paused here and it wasn’t for effect. His complexion had a yellowish tint to it, his eyes filled with pain. “I…well, I went into the dressing room, right? I mean, I walked right in there and Ronny’s on the couch, eyes closed, breathing deep and even. Looks like he’s asleep. I would have sworn he was asleep. There was blood all over his hand and arm…I looked closer and, Jesus, I could see
embedded into his wrist. Some of them had broken the skin and I thought, oh Christ, Ronny has really slipped the old peg now, he’s biting himself. And that’s when I noticed Piggy was sitting up in a chair in the corner, in the shadows. His…his eyes were open and shining and he started talking. He said to me, he said,
You better get the fuck out of here before you piss me off…before I start telling you things about yourself you don’t wanna hear…”
Bascomb was shaking badly after that.
Some confessions were good for the soul, maybe, but others were destructive and dangerous. This one was one of those.
He had to use both hands to light another cigarette. His lips were gray and twisted like two dead worms pressed together. “I know…I know Ronny must have been awake, must have been screwing around with me, but I wasn’t sure, I just wasn’t sure. I started getting whacko ideas that maybe Piggy had bitten him, disciplined him for making a mess of the performance. But dummies…they don’t bite people, do they? I mean, no, they don’t have teeth and they couldn’t bite if they wanted to…because…because they’re only dummies…right?”
Kitty just sat there, something white and cold in her vitals. She wanted to tell him, yes, dummies are just dummies…but she wasn’t so sure anymore herself. She wasn’t so sure of a lot of things. And teeth? Yes, Piggy had teeth. Long teeth like the Big Bad Wolf. Awful, crooked teeth.
She’d seen them.
Bascomb seemed to recover after a moment. “Oh, I could go on and tell you other things, things that would turn your hair white. Shit about that dummy, about Piggy…well, none of it’s good. Far as I’m concerned, Ronny McBane is insane. And Piggy? Well, that’s something I don’t want to think about more than I absolutely have to. Now, I don’t know the full picture here, but I do know that there’s something spooky about the McBanes themselves. I’ve picked up bits and pieces, hard not to, and what I heard I didn’t like. Suffice to say that Ronny’s mother was some kind of fanatic and I’ve heard stories about him being abused and the like. Bits about Ronny having a brother and sister who died under some pretty suspicious circumstances.”
Kitty sighed, soaking it all in and beginning to wonder—and not for the first time—just exactly what she was getting herself into here. This wasn’t just some crazy ventriloquist and his dummy, this was something more. Something that had a history, something that was black and tangled at its roots.
“Is the mother still living?” she asked.
“No.” Bascomb stopped there, hesitated, maybe wondering if he should go any further. He looked decidedly older than he had when he began talking. “What I’m going to tell you here is just…well, it’s second-hand stuff. I can’t really corroborate any of it.” He paused again, licked his lips with a tongue dry as a strop. “Apparently, the mother was murdered…well, at least, she died violently. That’s how the story goes. They found her in bed a few years before I took the act on. She lived alone, no cats or dogs, yet they found her all mauled and mangled. Bitten up. Something had torn her throat out and from what I hear, whatever it was, it took its time.”
Kitty wanted to know more, grisly as it all was. What had been at the old woman? What had been chewing on her? But she could see from the look on Bascomb’s face that he was playing it straight with her; he was telling all he knew. When he was done, he dismissed it all with a wave of his hand, but there was something in his eyes…something very frightened.
He went on to tell her that while he managed Ronny and Piggy, he got word that they were having problems with some caretaker out at Harvest Hill Cemetery. No, Ronny had not admitted it to him, but Bascomb had heard, all right. When you manage an act, when you pour your blood, sweat, and tears into something like that, you find out things. Apparently this caretaker was having problems with Ronny and the dummy. They would go into the family crypt at night to visit dear old dead mom. Far into the wee hours of the morning they could be heard in there—Ronny and Piggy—shouting and singing and shrieking out things to the dead woman. The caretaker described what went on in there as being “profane.” Which, Bascomb fully admitted, was a pretty arbitrary term when you came down to it. It depended entirely on the user.
“Did you find out what that was?” Kitty asked.
“No and yes. Ronny wasn’t defiling her or her coffin if that’s what you were thinking, but the conversations in there…well, that combined with the racket of them fighting and screaming, it was just bad. The caretaker said he found blood in the crypt after they left…Ronny’s, I suppose.”
He told her about Eddie Bose.
“Eddie was a good kid, a real perfectionist, you know? He was one of the best vent artists on the circuit,” Bascomb explained. “Well, he took a real interest in Ronny and Piggy. He knew what he was seeing and what that dummy was capable of was, well, not right. And he was an expert, he knew all the tricks. As you can imagine, Ronny being the way he is, he did not want another ventriloquist around. But Eddie wasn’t about to give up that easy…”
Eddie Bose was among the best.
He was expected to go to the top of the business and maybe he would have if he’d left things lie. But it wasn’t his way. Ronny’s dummy was like no other and Eddie planned on finding out how and why. If there was a secret there, a revolutionary mechanism that made Piggy do the things he did, then Eddie had to know what it was. What ventriloquist wouldn’t? Bascomb said that Eddie began following Ronny and the dummy around. Ronny didn’t let Piggy out of his sight, but sooner or later, he would have to. He would have to sleep. And when that happened, Eddie planned on borrowing Piggy and finding out what made him tick.
And it was the worst thing he’d ever done.
“He trailed them back to an old, rotting house up in Edgewater,” Bascomb said, his voice worn now. “That’s what Eddie did. It was Ronny’s mother’s house…some big old mausoleum they should have torn down years before. The perfect sort of place, I guess, for true madness to have free reign. Well, make a long story short, one night Eddie forced a window and went in there. He wasn’t in that godawful place long, but what he saw there, Miss Seevers, what Eddie looked upon in there…well, it ruined him.”
Kitty tensed. “What do you mean?”
Bascomb studied his hands, exhaled through his nostrils. “Eddie just dropped out of the scene. No more gigs, nothing. Well, shit, the kid had real talent and he also had a lot of friends working the vent racket. People had a lot of questions. So, well, I tracked him down. It took weeks, but I found him in a dive downtown…oh, Jesus, I barely recognized him. He was a good-looking kid, I tell you. But what I found in that bar…well, it scared me. Scared me bad. He was thin and spindly, shaking so badly he could barely suck down the whiskey there. Eddie had jet-black hair last time I saw him and at that bar? Well, there were white streaks in it. He wasn’t even thirty and he looked sixty, face full of lines, the left side paralyzed or something. It was hanging loose as a hound dog’s jowls…except down at the corner of his mouth, it was pulled up into this horrible grin like something a corpse might wear. This toothy, sardonic grin that made my guts go to sauce. I asked him if he was all right, if he needed a doctor or something, but he told me flat out that he’d never be all right again…”