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I was running as fast as I could, but I knew it was gaining on me. I swear it was trying to step in every puddle, so I knew it was running faster. I turned my head to where I could see it. Its arms were limp as they swung back and forth in front of its torso, its disjointed jaw bounced up and down, making an uneasy chattering sound, and its plastic-like face was splattered with mud. How could I have ever let this happen?

It all started when my dad came home from work an hour late. Being the realist that I was, I figured he stopped for groceries or something. I guess I was half right when he came in carrying a box about a human child’s size.

“You mind helping me with this, James?” he asked.

As I went to help him carry the box, I got a much closer look at it. It looked like an antique. The box was made of a very smooth decorative wood and the edges of the opening were made of reddish metal. After we placed the box on the coffee table in the living room, I asked Dad, “What’s in the box?”

“It’s a surprise for your birthday tomorrow,” he replied.

“How much did this cost!?”

“That doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t worry about that.”

Expensive. Ever since my mom died, Dad would always buy me far too expensive presents, mostly stuff I don’t need. I really wanted a new mattress for my room. Mine feels like a pile of rocks, and I find it hard to sleep at night because of this. I was still thankful for whatever was in the box, of course, but I have to admit that the thing I was looking forward to most tomorrow was my friends coming over to hang out.

That night, when I was lying in bed trying to sleep, I heard a slight tapping coming from somewhere outside of my room. It stopped as quickly as it started, so I overlooked it. I continued lying in bed trying to sleep. I continued lying in bed trying to sleep. I continued lying in bed trying to sleep.

Giving up, I turned on my phone to see that I had been trying to sleep for a little over an hour. In about forty-five minutes, it would be my birthday.

I began to hear the tapping again. It wasn’t loud enough to wake anyone up, but it was certainly annoying. Unlike the first time I heard it, this time, it didn’t stop, a continuous tap that felt like it was digging into my brain. Eventually, enough was enough, and I crawled out of bed and left my bedroom. I followed the tapping around the house, soon being led to the box sitting on the coffee table in the living room. I sat on the couch and the tapping continued. Not being able to hold back, I began to open the box.

I woke up from Dad nudging my head with his foot. I sat up and looked around to see that I had slept on the floor outside the living room. “What are you doing down there?” Dad asked.

“I don’t know, I…” I couldn’t finish my sentence as I saw the box laying on the coffee table. That’s when I remembered opening it and seeing two deep brown eyes on a beastly-looking doll that slightly resembled a dog. “What’s in the box?”

“That’s why you were sleeping on the floor?” Dad asked me. “Go on and look inside, it's your birthday now.”

I stood up and slowly walked toward the box. I opened it to see not a dog, but a ventriloquist dummy, the only resemblance to the doll I had seen last night being eyes. The dummy had bright red lips, cheeks as big as its nose, and dark brown hair made of the same material that the rest of its head was. The bottom jaw was oddly missing from the head, but I did find it under the dummy’s body, which was wearing nothing, with only its bare fabric body. Its plastic head and hands looked like they were held on by tape. The bottom jaw had a big red lip to finish the dummy’s smile and the string that I would pull to open and close its mouth was the same string that held the bottom jaw to the rest of the head. I slipped the string through a hole under the top jaw where I could grab it behind the back of its neck. I tied the string onto the end so the bottom jaw wouldn’t fall off. The way the jaw hung there made it look much longer than it was.

“Do you like it?” Dad asked.

“Of course,” I replied.

“I saw it in a store window on my way home from work yesterday and thought of how you used to love ventriloquism,” Dad said.

I did always love ventriloquism. I had a ventriloquist act in my school talent show. While I was a talented ventriloquist, I wasn’t a very good comedian. I didn’t get any laughs. I would have been better off if the audience had booed me off stage.

I put on a smile and sat the dummy on my lap. Through the dummy, I said, “Hello James’ dad, I’m Mister Long Jaw. You don’t mind if I stay here a while, do ya?”

Dad laughed as he said, “You can stay as long as you like, Mister Long Jaw.”

The doorbell rang and I jumped up, putting Mister Long Jaw back in the box as I ran to the front door. When I answered it, hoping to see my friends, I was struck with disappointment as I saw my Uncle Zeke instead. I made sure that disappointment wasn’t visible when he saw me, however.

“Hey there birthday boy,” Uncle Zeke said. “How old are you today? I’m gonna need an answer, I really don’t know.”

“I’m thirteen,” I said.

“What? You’re not that old yet!” Uncle Zeke had bright blond hair and even brighter green eyes. Being my mom’s brother, he was the closest I’ve ever seen of her, genetically speaking.

Uncle Zeke went over to the living room as the doorbell rang again. I opened the door to see my two closest friends, Rebecca and Tyler. Rebecca was a kind soul and an absolute freak for the supernatural, and Tyler, while also kind, freaked out with any mention of the supernatural.

“Happy thirteenth, dude,” Tyler said. “That makes Rebecca younger than both of us.”

Rebecca punched Tyler in the arm. “James is only a week older than me.”

I let Tyler and Rebecca in and as we got to the living room, I saw Uncle Zeke holding Mister Long Jaw, jokingly pulling up and down on the string, chattering its teeth. Uncle Zeke noticed me and laid Mister Long Jaw on his lap before saying, “Hey James, would you like to introduce me to Mister Long John?”

“Long Jaw,” I corrected. Uncle Zeke picked up Long Jaw and carried it over to me. As soon as I touched it, the bottom jaw fell off and hit his foot. “Dammit!” Uncle Zeke grabbed his foot and threw the dummy into my hands.

As I picked up the bottom jaw to put it back on, I realized that the knot I had tied on the string was too thick for it to go through the hole. There was no way it could’ve fallen off. I needed to untie it to put it back on. When I got up, I made Mister Long Jaw say, “Sorry, the sight of James made my jaw drop.”

“Wow dude, you’re good at that,” Tyler said.

“You should look into being a professional ventriloquist,” Rebecca said.

“How do you do that?” Uncle Zeke asked.

After a couple of hours of goofing off with everyone, Dad left the room to answer his phone. When he came back, he said, “James, that was the hospital calling; they need me in the ER today. I’m sorry, but I have to go. Keep Uncle Zeke out of the fridge for me.”

“Alright Dad, see you tonight,” I responded.

“The thing is, you might not - they need me to work late tonight.”

“Okay, guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Happy birthday, buddy.”

After Dad left, we continued to goof off until it got late. After Rebecca and Tyler left, I put on a ventriloquist show for Uncle Zeke. “You amaze me, James,” he said, “I don’t know how you manage to throw your voice like that.”

“I don’t either,” I said, “it just kind of came naturally to me.”

“Well, I better get going. I’ll be sure to tell your dad you did a good job keeping me out of the fridge.”

I went to the bathroom as Uncle Zeke left. When I came back to the living room, Mister Long Jaw was gone. I figured that I had just misplaced it, so I just went to bed. I didn’t stay in bed for long though, as I heard a loud bang coming from the living room. When I went in there to check it out I saw that the box that Long Jaw had come in was on the opposite side of the room. This shocked me; there was no possible way for it to have gotten there. I was too tired to worry, so I picked up the box and locked it in my closet.

Once again, I wasn’t quite able to sleep on my current mattress and eventually, I began to hear the tapping. I was expecting it to sound like it was coming from my closet, but I quickly realized that it sounded as though someone was knocking on the front door. I got out of bed and walked over to the front door. The knocking stopped as I got over there. I looked through the peephole, but saw nothing. I turned around to go back to bed when I heard the knocking again.

I went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife for protection, but just the thought of ever needing to use it made me uneasy. Once again, the knocking stopped as I approached the door. I looked through the peephole and, again, saw nothing. I slowly opened the door to see no one around. I grabbed my house key from right inside the door before closing and locking it as I went outside - I didn’t want anyone getting in while I was out.

I started looking around the house when I noticed something in the bushes. It looked like a hand, and it was a hand, Mister Long Jaw’s hand. Somehow, Long Jaw got outside and was thrown into the bushes. I figured this was just a prank that Tyler, Jessica, or Uncle Zeke was playing on me, so I said, “Haha, very funny,” before grabbing Mister Long Jaw and unlocking the door… which wouldn’t open. The top lock was locked as well, but I hadn't locked that one earlier.

I gripped the knife tighter as I unlocked the top lock and went inside. If this was a prank, it couldn’t have been any of the earlier suspects, because none of them had keys to the house. That’s when I thought “Dad.” He didn’t need to go to work; it was all a part of his elaborate scheme, a prank beyond all pranks. So I yelled, “Dad, this isn’t funny anymore! Give it up!” No response.

I heard my phone ringing, so I put Long Jaw down on the couch and went to my room to check who it was. It was Dad. Of course it was - he heard me yelling and called me to avoid suspicion. I answered saying, “Dad stop, this isn’t funny,” to which he responded, “What are you talking about? Listen, we need to talk.”

My heart skipped a beat. He was talking pretty loudly on the phone, but I didn’t hear his voice around the house, and that was ignoring the background noise of all the different sounds that a hospital has. “About what?” I ask.

“Uncle Zeke,” Dad replied, “Did you see anyone around when he left?”

“No, I went to the bathroom as he left. What happened?”

“Someone was in the back seat of his car and stabbed him in the back of his neck, causing him to crash. He arrived here a few minutes ago. We don’t know if he’s going to make it.”

I dropped my knife before dropping to my knees. I looked around my room to see that my closet door was slightly open. I grabbed my knife again and stood up, walking toward my closet door. I opened my closet the rest of the way. Nothing was in there, that was the problem.

I ran to the living room to see Mister Long Jaw sitting upright in its box with its bottom jaw laying on its lap.

“What are you?” I asked.

All realist thoughts fled from my head as Long Jaw quickly fell down on its back, the box snapping shut around it. That’s when I told myself, “Enough of this.” As I walked over to the box, knife in hand, I opened it. The dog creature I had seen before jumped out at me, pushing me onto the couch. I tried grabbing it, but it wasn’t showing any signs of stopping, so I sliced at it with my knife, causing it to let out a loud whimper and fall back onto the coffee table. That’s when I looked into its dark brown eyes.

I woke up to my dad shaking me on the couch. “James, James, are you okay?!” Dad screamed.

“What happened?!” I asked.

“That’s what I should ask you,” Dad replied, “I came in here and you were passed out on the floor with cuts all over your face.”

“Mister Long Jaw, the dummy, it’s alive,” I said, “it did this to me.”

“James, I’m going to need you to tell me the truth,” Dad said.

Why was I stupid enough to expect him to believe that? I had to tell him a lie instead.

“We went outside yesterday and I fell into some bushes, that’s why my face is cut up and my mattress is uncomfortable so I chose to sleep on the couch. I must’ve fallen off.”

“Why didn’t you tell me your mattress was uncomfortable? I would’ve gotten you a new one,” Dad said. “Here, I’ll get you one tomorrow.”

“Why not today?”

“Because it’s eleven o’clock at night today. You didn’t think it was morning, did you? Well, you’re going to have to spend one more night on that mattress. I need the couch so I can watch my shows.”

“Alright,” I said as I stood up. That’s when I remembered something - the knife that I was holding had disappeared. However, it wasn’t long before I found it, since the blade was sticking out of my bed right where I would be sleeping. Like my mattress could get any less comfortable.

That night, I had a dream. You’d expect it to be a nightmare, but instead, I dreamt up a plan to get rid of Long Jaw, pretty much chaining up the box while it was still inside and lighting the box on fire. The problem was, Dad wouldn’t appreciate it if I lit my birthday present on fire, and it’s not like I could tell him that I didn’t like it so he’d take it back; I clearly enjoyed playing with it. That wasn't the only problem though; the big problem was that Long Jaw was threatening me, and I’m pretty sure it was the one who attacked Uncle Zeke, who I later discovered had died from his injuries.

That morning, I called Rebecca and Tyler and told them everything. Tyler responded, “Yep, I’m out. You guys can’t mess with me,” and hung up, and Rebecca responded, “You shouldn’t have read the yellow card.”

“What yellow card?” I asked.

“The yellow card with the spell on it that brought Slappy to life in Goosebumps? That is what you’re referencing, right?” She sighed. “Never mind, talk later, okay?” And she hung up as well.

I texted both of them to come over as I put Long Jaw’s bottom jaw back on. I then walked over to Dad’s room to see if I could get him in the mix, but was instead met with a note that read, “James, I’m out getting a new mattress for your room. Love, Dad.” I guess Dad’s never going to find out what happened today.

When Rebecca and Tyler arrived, I picked up Long Jaw and showed it to them. “He looks like a dummy,” Tyler said, “and I’m not talking about the doll.”

“Hang on, Tyler,” Rebecca protested, “maybe it’s just hiding its true self.”

“Forget this,” Tyler said, “I should’ve realized that a living ventriloquist dummy was stupid. I’m going to the ice cream place down the street. If either of you want to join me, you’re welcome.”

Tyler leaves and Rebecca frowns. “Oh, go on, I know you like him,” I said.

“Thank you, James,” Rebecca said just before she left.

“Tyler was right, you are stupid,” I said before throwing Long Jaw across the room. I sat down on the couch and began to cry. I then turned my head to see Long Jaw sitting up, staring at me. That’s when I thought of something. I picked up the box and threw it at Long Jaw, who flung its arms and legs in the air on impact. I walked over and picked Long Jaw up and threw it on the chair. I snapped a picture and picked it up by its neck and felt a small crack under its mouth. I threw it back down, but this time, it turned its head to face me, and its bottom jaw fell off.

I felt sick and ran to the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror. My face was drenched with sweat. I turned on the cold water to cool off, but before I could wet my face, I noticed a cold red liquid on my hand. I ran to the kitchen to grab a knife and a permanent marker and then to the living room. Long Jaw wasn’t in the chair, but instead within the box that was now back on the coffee table. Long Jaw had a small stream of blood dripping from the crack on its neck.

I threw it back on the chair and scribbled its eyes black with the permanent marker, but a voice whispered from behind me, “I don’t need eyes to see you, James.” I turned around to be met with a searing pain from Long Jaw biting my arm. I kicked it off of me, back into the chair. Its limbs, which were until this point limp, jolted around sporadically before it stood up on the chair, staring me down with its newly blackened eyes.

I darted out the front door and past Dad’s car as it began to chase me. I stupidly ran into the woods, because I was instead paying attention to the fact that I had dropped my knife when Long Jaw bit me. The puddles splashing behind me made me realize it was running faster than I could. I looked behind me to see that its arms were limp again, swinging back and forth, and the mud from the puddles had splattered all over its face. I took out my phone and video called Rebecca and Tyler. When they answered, I showed them Long Jaw behind me.

“Don’t stop running, dude!” Tyler yelled.

“I’m not going to stop running!” I yelled back. I put my phone in my pocket before I noticed that the splashing had stopped. I turned back to see a limp ventriloquist dummy on the ground, so I went back for it. I pulled out my phone to show my friends on the video call. “What did you do to it?” Rebecca asked.

“I, uh... nothing,” I said.

“It’s a trick!” Tyler said. “Keep running!”

I instead pulled off the tape that connected Long Jaw’s head to its body and used the puddle water on its face to wipe the blackness off its eyes to see that its eyes were now blue. “It’s not possessed,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” Tyler objected. “It was just chasing you.”

“Rebecca, remember those videos on possessed objects? How do the objects function?”

“Well, often, they make stuff float around or move when they shouldn’t,” Rebecca said. “There was a series of fires caused by paintings of crying children.”

“Exactly,” I said, “so Long Jaw isn’t possessed.” I picked up the dummy and began to head home.

When I got home, I saw that Dad’s car was in the driveway. I chuckled – what I’d do next would be quite hard to explain if Dad saw me. I went inside and grabbed a box of matches before dragging the box out to the front yard. I told my friends how possessed objects tend to affect their surroundings, and that’s why Mister Long Jaw fell limp when he got too far away. It was the box that was possessed, and as I brought the lit match towards the wooden case, I heard the whisper from before say, “No, don’t do this. Please, I’ve finally returned!”

I lit the box on fire, and aside the rising heat from the flame, I felt a cold breeze run by me, and I felt clean. I hung up the video call and went inside with my new ventriloquist dummy.

Immediately, I brought the dummy to the bathroom, washed the mud off of it, and taped its head back on, before looking into its soft blue eyes. “Welcome home, Mister Long Jaw.”

When I left the bathroom, I looked around for Dad, but as I walked by his room, I saw the note was still taped to the door. I opened the door slowly to see Dad’s dead body hanging over the side of his bed. On his back was a note that read, “Don’t you recognize your dad’s handwriting?”

It’s been years and I’ve never quite gotten over it, but with my mom, Dad, and Uncle Zeke dead, I had no one to go to. I was brought to an orphanage, but nobody was interested in adopting a teenager, especially one whose father and uncle were murdered, with no suspects ever charged. That doesn’t matter to me, though. The truth is, I don’t want to be adopted. I prefer it here where I can entertain the younger children with a ventriloquist act starring Mister Long Jaw, who I kept as a reminder that Dad loved me. Sometimes, when I look into its eyes, I feel Dad looking back at me.