“Matter and speech are opposed, as death to life. But the resistance of matter to voice, disclosed by the difficult passage of voice through it, seems to awaken a sense of the quasi-animate power of matter, which is therefore no longer quite or wholly insensible; there is something there prior to the inculcation of voice that speaks up against it. When forced to speak, matter suffers. The voice that is squeezed out through the dead materials of the mechanism becomes the voice of the mechanism’s protest against animation, the voice of its resistance to voice.”
-Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism, Steven Connor
“Nothing will come from nothing. Speak again.”
-King Lear, William Shakespeare
The Ventriloquist Doll
© GOLDBERGER SNAVELY DOLL MFG. CO., INC.
Instruction Manual—Revised and Expanded by Joseph R. Snavely
NINE TWENTY SIMPLE STEPS TO VENTRILOQUISM
Being a ventriloquist is a lot of fun. Anyone from eight to eighty can learn the basic techniques of this craft with a little practice. If you really want to know about ventriloquism and what it can do for you, just follow these NINE TWENTY easy steps, and one day you’ll find out just how much fun a ventriloquist can have.
“How to hold your mouth”
Always practice in front of a mirror. Close your mouth in a natural, relaxed way and part your lips slightly. Stare at your mouth closely in this position until you can see nothing else, as if your mouth were hovering in the midst of nothingness.
“Recite the beginner’s alphabet”
The first part of the beginner’s alphabet has 19 letters. The letters are: A, C, D, E, G, H, I, J, K, L, N, O, Q, R, S, T, U, X, and Z. With your mouth in the position described in STEP 1, recite this part of the alphabet over and over. You may have to do this hundreds or even thousands of times before you get it right. While you master this STEP, it may seem strange that these sounds are coming out of your mouth while it’s not moving. Try not to focus on this phenomenon or your progress as a ventriloquist may be hindered.
“Your first sentence”
The second part of the alphabet has 7 letters: B, F, M, P, V, W, and Y. If you try to pronounce these letters the same way you did the others, you will find that you have to move your lips. So, for the time being, substitute another sound for these letters. For example, try this sentence: “The bad boy blew up the big jet by using his brain.” Only with your mouth in the position described in STEP 1, say: “The dad doy dlew up the dig jet dy using his drain.” Again, focus strictly on your technique, avoiding any other thoughts or perceptions you may have.
“You say one thing…and think another”
Think of the letter “B” while you are saying the letter “D.” If you sit in front of the mirror long enough and say the letter “D” while thinking “B,” you will soon have a sound clear enough so that, in normal conversation, no one will notice the difference. Even you may soon fail to notice that you are saying one thing and thinking another as this technique becomes second nature to you. Warning: if you start to experience tunnel vision or see a kind of black fog forming in the mirror at this stage, immediately stop practicing for at least forty-eight hours.
“Use ‘TH’ or ‘ETH’ instead of ‘F'”
Instead of saying “F”, make it come out “eth” if it comes in the middle or end of a word. If it comes at the beginning of a word, just say “th”. Example: “Without any effort, I frankly feel like a trifle.” Now say “Without any ethort, I thrankly theel like a trithle.” This is where the real challenge of ventriloquism begins as you practice over and over — many thousands of times — in front of a mirror. For a while, you will sound as if you have a speech impediment and may not even recognize your own voice, but don’t give up. Later, your voice will become your “dummy voice,” which will be nothing like the voice you recognize as your own.
“How to say the letters ‘M’, ‘P’, and ‘V'”
Instead of saying “M”, say “N.” Try this sentence: “My mind made the mad rummy melt.” This is not difficult, for “N” is a combination of “M” and “N”. You say, “Ny nind nade the nad runny nelt.” Even though most of us have never made a “mad rummy melt” with our “mind,” this is all part of “dummy talk.” Do the same with “P” using “T” in its place. For the sentence, “The proud professor put his pupil together,” say “The troud trofessor tut his tutil together.”
For “V”, use “The” while you think “V.” For the sentence, “Not every ventriloquist is a Greater Ventriloquist,” say “Not ethery thentriloquist is a Greater Thentriloquist.” Of course, you may think this is all complete nonsense, but a lot of things that people say — even most things — are complete nonsense. This is not the ventriloquist’s concern.
“‘W’ is tricky, but you can do it!”
If you say the letter “W” as it sounds, it will come out as “dubble-you.” That’s fairly easy, isn’t it? But now take the word “wish”, as in “I wish I was a Greater Ventriloquist,” which you can’t say without a flutter of the lips, not even if you say it many thousands of times. So here’s where you’ll need practice. Make a sound—something like “OHISH.” Say it over and over until it sounds enough like “WISH” so that it can pass for that word, just as so many things pass for other things in this world.
“Getting to know your dummy”
Now that you’ve practiced the first 7 STEPS and can talk without moving your lips, you’re ready to begin the real work: getting to know your dummy.
Your new dummy is quite real looking, isn’t it? Or at least it will seem real when you make it talk like a real person, and sometimes — but not too often — even when it isn’t talking. These special dolls are made with care and are meant to last your whole life long.
Now, what is your dummy’s name? What does it like to do? Who does it look like? This will take some time to figure out, but spending time with your dummy and thinking about it is a good idea. Look at it in the eyes just like you would anyone else. Talk to it.
My pal’s name is Reggie McRascal. A dummy needs a ridiculous name like that. Reggie’s just about as big as an average five-year-old boy, has light brown hair (real hair, not painted), a little pug nose, a knowing smile when his mouth is closed, and a great goofy grin when his mouth is open. Reggie has large eyes that are light blue (glass) and can blink, either one to wink or both of them at the same time. Reggie’s eyebrows (real hair) move up and down just like yours. In fact, I’d bet your dummy looks almost just like my Reggie.
Sit down on a chair in front of a mirror and carefully put your ventriloquist dummy on your knee. Be sure to hold on to your dummy tightly with both hands. Your dummy is hollow. Insert your right or left hand into his back and find his controls. Practice moving his head and his mouth. Think about your dummy moving his head while you move his head. Think about his mouth opening and closing while you open and close it. Think about these things until you don’t have to think about them anymore. Soon, you’ll be doing these things without having to put these actions together in your head.
“How a dummy needs to move”
Can you ride a bicycle? If you can, then you know how easy it is — how automatic. You think about turning left and your hands move and your whole body leans, which causes your bicycle to turn to the left, sharply or smoothly. Your legs pumping make the bicycle speed up or slow down, and your legs or hands put on the brakes just right depending on where you’re going and the terrain you’re riding upon…all complicated actions which are performed by you automatically.
That’s how a dummy needs to move. His eyes must move around, scanning the room just like yours might. His mouth must open and close in perfect concert with your subconscious voice throwing (see STEPS 1-7). Simultaneously, the dummy’s eyebrows may move to emphasize a point (or a joke). Maybe his eyelids even move down halfway when the dummy is making a sarcastic comment or an angry remark. This STEP may take more than hundreds or even thousands of hours to perfect as you stare at yourself and your dummy in the mirror (again, the warning about the black fog applies here). After enough practice, your dummy will move just as easily and as naturally as you do.
“They’re all dummies”
STEP 9 directed you to practice using your dummy until it moved “as naturally as you do.” But how can a block of wood, carved and painted in the likeness of a human being, ever hope to be “natural?” Before we explore the answer to this crucial question, you’re going to need to answer a question of a different but no less crucial sort: What do you wish to achieve through the art of ventriloquism?
If your aim is simply to become a proficient showman, skilled enough to achieve some modicum of success through performing at children’s birthday parties, local variety shows, and community theatre acts, do not read any further. Study and apply STEPS 1-9 but do not read on. Your tutelage is complete, and with enough practice you very well may become a competent, even an excellent show business ventriloquist.
However, if STEPS 1-9 do not satisfy you; if manipulating your dummy seems limited and frustrating and even simplistic; if you have an overwhelming desire — a hunger — to know what Greater Ventriloquism is and what it can do for you and your life, read on. Again: you must continue reading only if you really want to know what the secret of Greater Ventriloquism has to offer.
Fine. Now that that’s out of the way — again: how can a block of wood, carved and painted in the likeness of a human being, ever hope to be “natural?” Easy. Have you ever had a pet? Many at-home animals are taught to behave using commands — which may be direct (like “stay” or “sit”), but which might also involve subtle gestures and sounds, all of which you may make without conscious thought. You “push their levers” and “pull their cords” so to speak, to make them do what you want them to do. We can control our pets without effort — without thinking about it. We do one thing and think another.
And what about our relationships with other human animals? What if we actively, knowingly seek to influence (or, if we’re honest, control) the behavior of our child, our lady friend, our coworker? This is no outlandish concept. In fact, there have been countless words written on this very subject, and my own ventriloquism practice has led me to a favorite method briefly outlined as follows: the practitioner begins to assert dominance over another human being by subtly mimicking their subject’s gestures and vocal patterns. A good ventriloquist learns this method eventually, naturally.
And that’s only the beginning. A lady friend of mine, for instance, often claims that I am continuously being “passive aggressive” when in fact I have been slowly, deliberately pushing her levers for years. I have her doing and even saying exactly what I want her to do and say. And after years of practice and more practice, it comes as easily as throwing my voice or animating my Reggie’s head and mouth to the words I throw.
In point of fact, if you practice STEPS 1-10 for very long, you will eventually learn all you need to know about controlling the animals around you — human or not — bar none.
One more time: how can a block of wood, carved and painted in the likeness of a human being, ever hope to be “natural?” Now you know the answer. Whether you’re controlling the movements of that “block of wood” or controlling just how your lady friend behaves at a dinner party, either will seem perfectly natural to a third party observer (even if you know better).
STEP 10 is your first true STEP towards becoming a Greater Ventriloquist, but it is quite a simple one. Simply remember that your dummy, your pets, your family and your friends have one thing in common with each other: they’re all dummies. With practice, you’ll be amazed at how they’ll dance to the tune of your voice.
“You need help”
Let’s face it, friend: you need help. You may understand that mastery of ventriloquism takes many thousands of days of continuous practice, but — trust me on this — your family and friends won’t understand, not even your current or potential lady friend.
You’ve got to find yourself a real mentor — someone who understands ventriloquism so much better than you do. Someone who can guide you and shape you to face the increasingly complex and difficult STEPS ahead. A Master Ventriloquist.
Yes, you’ve got a real problem. And so did I some time ago. But I found the help I needed, and so can you.
Note: what you are about to read represents a departure from the approach, tone, and content that this instructional manual has taken heretofore. Bear with me. An open mind is key to your future mastery of Greater Ventriloquism.
After years of fruitless research and disappointment, I found my own mentor one memorable night in the unlikeliest of ways. As with any other late evening, I was asleep in the bed next to my lady friend, Margaret, with a pet dog resting against my feet just as it was trained to do — and I was dreaming.
In this particular (very vivid) dream I was acting as a member of a secret service organization, looking into shady goings-on at a small to mid-sized airport. Passengers were disappearing — especially people arriving and departing on late night flights. Somehow, these disappearances were connected to a terrible catastrophe that my superiors felt sure was inevitable if my investigation was unsuccessful. At the time, I knew all the details of the situation, including the consequences of failure, but — as is often the nature of dreams — the particulars of this intelligence were eradicated by subsequent consciousness.
As I conducted my investigation, I started becoming aware of a peculiar certainty: the passengers and the flight attendants, the pilots, the security guards and ticket tellers and even the very airport itself were not real. I must stress this point: I was in no way aware that I was dreaming but nonetheless was becoming ever more convinced that the airport and all the people in it were not real.
A sense of otherworldly wrongness in everything struck me as I reported these bizarre findings via my secret agent earpiece, explaining to my superiors all I was observing — in minute detail — and stressing again and again my feeling of falseness and unreality in every aspect of the airport and its temporal, fly-by-night citizens.
“I assure you,” a smooth, rich voice buzzed through my secret agent earpiece, “you’ll be unmolested.”
My employer then informed me that the secret of the night-airport was reportedly buried somewhere on the grounds between the short term parking decks and the departing floor of the airport terminal. This suited me fine, as it meant I could continue to work in relative solitude, away from the unnerving airport un-persons.
As I walked through the automatic glass doors of the empty baggage claim area into a sodium lit night, I began to feel certain that I was on the brink of some kind of dreadful, wonderful enlightenment. My reverie was interrupted by the sight of a soundless helicopter with indistinct bright blue-and-green lettering upon it, swooping over the parking deck and landing on one side of the otherwise empty arrival roadway. A very large and tall man with a nondescript, shiny face and greased-back blonde hair stepped out of the helicopter. He was wearing a dark business suit and mirrored sunglasses, and strode confidently towards me, holding out a huge, gloved, right hand as if offering assistance. I instinctively shied away from him as he reached out for me, particularly focusing on the stranger’s left hand, which was obtrusively hidden behind his expansive back.
“My name is Vox. Let me help you,” he said in a distant, monotone, and strangely echoing voice. That voice — so faint and yet so crisp in its enunciation — sounded like it was emanating from an empty school gymnasium. As Mr. Vox — moving closer — reached out to me, I thrust my right arm out in an attempt to block that hidden left hand of his. Shifting my eyes back, I realized too late that his extended right hand now held a large syringe, which Mr. Vox deftly plunged into the side of my neck. Everything went black.
“This will help me put you together,” Mr. Vox’s voice tonelessly echoed. Disoriented and blind, I felt the massive needle twisting brutally back and forth as if searching for a vein, just before a horrible burning sensation began coursing throughout my body. As the needle twisted to the left, I could feel my head involuntarily twisting to the left. As the needle twisted to the right, my head was savagely wrenched in that direction.
“None of this is happening,” Mr. Vox whispered. The awful sensations abruptly ceased, and I opened my eyes to the half-lit bedroom where I had been sleeping.
After the dream’s conclusion — far from coming to my conscious senses — my feelings of unreality grew more distinct and acute with every waking moment. I lay in bed, hearing Mr. Vox’s echoing voice again and again in my mind — replaying the events at the benighted airport, and looking around my dark bedroom as if upon the face of an alien world. Margaret was in the throes of her own private dream as I lay paralyzed next to her. Even this beloved lady friend of mine seemed unfamiliar and sinister in the darkness of my bedroom — a living automaton controlled by an unknown master.
In the bedroom half-light, without my glasses on, my lady friend’s face — now facing mine — was a blur. Her visage was almost formless in the dim light of my bedroom in the middle of the night, and seemed grotesquely vast — two black holes where her eyes should be (were her eyes open in her sleep?) apparently staring at me; a moving, gaping rectangle of darkness where her mouth should be. Margaret’s head shifted away to her right and then again towards me, and back and forth as she dreamed, clutching her pillow. Suddenly, the movement stopped as the gaping, dark holes of her eyes locked onto mine.
“Nothing was talking as Vox. It was talking through him,” a voice echoed as if from the depths of an empty gymnasium. And I was certain these words were emanating from my lady friend’s own mouth.
Since that night, there have been so many more nighttime experiences like this — so many lessons learned the hard way, and a great deal of exhausting pain and fear. But don’t be discouraged. Suffering and exhaustion are both key to your future mastery of Greater Ventriloquism.
So pay attention to your own dreams. As you work at controlling all the animal-dummies around you as prescribed in STEP 10, your ventriloquist mentor will find you, just like Mr. Vox found me. Just you wait and see.
“Remove yourself from animal-dummies”
I mentioned earlier that sacrifices would need to be made at some point, remember? If you’ve chosen to pursue Greater Ventriloquism — and I hope for your sake that you have since you’ve read this far — you have probably already discovered that managing your ventriloquism practice, and “real world” activities and relationships simultaneously is a difficult if not impossible task.
Believe me, I understand. As you read the following personal anecdote, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in my position soon.
My aforementioned lady friend, Margaret, came in from a hard day’s work some time back, not long after my first session with Mr. Vox.
On this particular evening, Margaret was making quite a ruckus upon entering our old, modest cottage, slamming the front door and roughly grabbing dishes from the sink, fairly throwing them into our dishwasher.
“Fuck!” our next-door neighbors no doubt heard her bellowing.
“Language! Language!” I said in Reggie’s peculiar falsetto.
In moments, the bedroom door banged open, revealing my exquisitely beautiful (and livid) lady friend in her best pink (and, to my mind, overly form-fitting) business suit, her face drained of all color as she growled, “You asshole. You could’ve at least loaded the goddamned dishwasher.”
“Language! Lan—” feigning alarm, I covered Reggie’s mouth with my hand and grinned sheepishly, an expression which had historically softened my lady friend’s bouts of ill temper. Not this time. One side of Margaret’s mouth shifted down and her head began shaking slightly in a gesture of angry disbelief. A bad sign.
“How about you put that little fucker down for a second and get some shit done around here?”
“Margaret,” I calmly replied, imitating her characteristic, slight shoulder shrug — seeking to pacify her anger with a show of understanding, “you’re upset—”
“You’re goddamned right I’m upset, Joe! It’s bad enough you waking me up in the middle of the night to tell me about your boring ass nightmares, on and on, but the house looks like shit! I mean, what have you been doing all day?”
“Honey-pie, that’s not really fair,” I replied, indicating through a series of mimicked eye and eyebrow motions that I was stung by her words just as she would be in my place. I continued, emulating her calmest, most even-pitched tone, “You know I’ve been working on this skit for the Halloween show. It’s taken a lot of diligent work.”
“Work?” Margaret replied. “Work? I work twelve fucking hours a day — twelve fucking hours — in a soulless, corporate law firm no less, because you can’t seem to hold down a real job. I mean, I’m working all the fucking time here, and you’re sitting around the house playing with that creepy doll all day and night.”
“Darling,” I sighed heavily in spite of myself, letting the dummy act slip ever so slightly, “we’ve been through this over and over again. Reggie is a dummy, not a doll. And ventriloquism is indeed a real job. Not only that, it’s a very difficult job that takes hundreds and…”
“Oh yeah. I know, I know,” Margaret groaned, eyes rolling (in imitation of me!), “Hundreds and thousands of hours, right?”
“Baby,” I replied, “that’s…well, ok. You’re totally right.” I decided to change my tactics, adapting to this improbable turn of events. Turning my head to one side, slumping and slightly pouting, I sighed again, and this time my imitation of my lady friend felt obvious — inartful.
“Don’t do that ‘baby’ shit,” Margaret said, having none of it. “You manipulate me, Joseph, do you know that? This fucking passive aggressive, martyr bullshit. I know what you’re doing.”
“What?” Reggie asked.
“You’re changing the fucking subject,” Margaret replied without missing a beat, “just like you always do. You’re trying to make me feel guilty when you’re to blame, but you know what? It’s been three goddamn years now, Joe. Do you realize that? Three fucking years.”
“Language! Language!” I foolishly let Reggie blurt out.
Margaret’s tense body and face became utterly still for a moment.
“Joseph Robert Snavely, so help me God,” Margaret said, “if you don’t stop correcting me like I’m a goddamned animal, through that piece of shit doll of yours, I am going to pull its ugly fucking head off and throw it through the goddamned window. I mean it.”
“Fine, sweetie,” I replied, instinctively placing a protective right arm around Reggie’s torso. “I’m sorry. I’m just…” I trailed off, horrified — stuttering uncharacteristically — at a loss for what to do or say that might push the argument in my favor, “You know I’m not feeling well right now, and…and you know I’m not sleeping well. What I said about that airport last night, remember? It’ll all be ok soon, though. Mr. Vox said…I mean…I’ll get more ventriloquist gigs soon. It’s just that…”
“More ‘gigs’? And how much money do you bring home from those? Next to nothing, that’s how much. You’re leeching off me, Joe: off my income in my house. How long has it been since you had a real job anyway? You’re not even making sense half the time anymore, Joe. All this crazy shit about your dreams and this what’s his name? Mr. Box?”
Margaret’s meticulously plucked eyebrows furrowed. Then she quietly said, “Look, I think you need help, Joe. You’re just sitting around playing with yourself all day, chatting it up with this little doll like it’s a real person, and babbling about your dreams like they’re real. You’re like a fucking toddler — not a man. I’m sorry, but you’re just not pulling your weight around here, Joe, and you haven’t for a long goddamned time.” Margaret’s suddenly cool tone was unfamiliar — there was a finality to it.
“Aw, that’s not true, toots!” Reggie’s strained falsetto broke in, his eyelids suggestively half open and his bushy eyebrows moving rapidly up and down, “Joey’s fulltime job is to make yer sexy tush happy, if you know what I mean! Rowr. Rowr.”
Margaret breathed in deeply once, and her face went blank. For a moment, I thought I had won the day in spite of everything: Margaret would start chuckling now and would apologize for her little temper tantrum.
Instead, she turned to Reggie for the first time, directly addressing my dummy as she said, “Joey’s fulltime job is to make my ‘sexy tush happy’? Well, ya know what, Reg, old buddy old pal? Joey hasn’t been doing that job right for quite some time now either. If you know what I mean.”
Involuntarily, Reggie broke out into gales of high-pitched laughter at my expense as I gaped at Margaret, sincerely humiliated and showing it. This was a disaster, and I realized with disbelief that the situation — and my one and only lady friend — had gotten completely out of my control for the first time since I met her. Even the guffawing dummy on my lap seemed to be unconsciously conspiring with Margaret against me, and I was starting to panic as my sense of helplessness grew.
I stared, openmouthed, speechless, and my lady friend regarded the pair of us — Reggie and I — sitting on the edge of the bed: me slumped over without a shirt on in my old, torn, red boxers, and Reggie wearing his black bat Halloween costume, complete with diaphanous wings, bat ears, and sparkles.
At this sight, Margaret’s visage became softer, her eyes moistening ever so slightly — full of pity and (could it be? yes, it was) repulsion. Who was pushing her levers?
“I can’t do this anymore, Joe. I’m sorry. You’d better leave now.”
“Who is he?” Reggie screeched, taking both Margaret and even me by surprise. Now it was my lady friend’s turn to gape, speechless. And it didn’t take me long to interpret Margaret’s speechlessness as guilt.
I — even the great ventriloquist, Joseph Snavely — had been cuckolded.
“I see,” I managed to say, feeling a formal numbness within my body begin to crawl. And I distantly began to feel certain that this whole scene was staged — just an act, even if the nauseating pain in my stomach felt acutely real. I continued hollowly, perfunctorily, “I’ll just leave you and your new gentleman friend to it then.” A hint of malice involuntarily crept into my voice, though, as I added, “Be seeing you…animal-dummy.”
And that, as they say, was that. I packed my belongings, put Reggie carefully back in his custom-made, black leather suitcase and hit the road.
I had been so confident — so cocksure — that I knew how to work my lady friend inside and out like the dummy she was (and is). It seems that my control over her was not as complete as I thought it was, or perhaps I had lost the control I once had. Maybe I lost interest. I think, in retrospect, that she had been pushing my levers and pulling my cords as much as I was pushing and pulling hers — perhaps more so. I certainly didn’t see the affair with that local associate attorney coming, in any case. I didn’t care for that any more than I cared for the Goldberger dummy manufacturing corporation rejecting my revisions to STEPS 1-9 and rejecting both STEPS 10 and 11 in their entirety.
To think that aspiring ventriloquists like you the world over are even now trying to master their art by simple consonant substitution and rudimentary dummy-manipulation alone. You all deserve better than this, which is why I am revising the Goldberger Doll Manufacturing Company’s my complete manuscript with STEPS 1-11 fully intact. Moreover, I am expanding this manual well beyond its original STEPS.
I can assure you of this: the full STEPS, once they are complete, will be made available to the masses in their unmolested form. With Mr. Vox’s tutelage supporting my efforts, I am confident that the proper and complete version of the manual will be picked up and disseminated by a major publisher shortly after I’m finished. Having a personal advocate like Mr. Vox to look after my interests is such a relief to me — especially during trying times — and I’m actually feeling glad to be done with these “real world” trivialities, which should be unrelated to the important work ahead of me. I’ve become so tired of playing animal-dummy games.
Enough. It’s high time to get back to our subject, my pupils.
Have you practiced STEPS 1-10? Have you practiced these STEPS every day, diligently? Have you spent uncountable hours in front of the mirror throwing your voice, lips never fluttering? Does your dummy have a life and a voice as real to you as any soul — human or non-human — you’ve ever known? Have you at least tried to influence or control the so-called sentient beings around you? And, finally, if you answered yes to all of the above, is your ventriloquist mentor in contact with you, personally guiding you along the path to Greater Ventriloquism as you continue your practice (as per STEP 11)? If not, don’t bother reading on — you’re not ready yet.
However, if you have earnestly attempted to master STEPS 1-10, and have found a legitimate instructor to guide your practice, it is imperative that you immediately remove yourself from daily contact with other animals — human or not — as much as is possible. You see, Mr. Vox taught me (in his way) not long ago that as much as I wanted and tried to push the levers of the animal-dummies who lived with me and around me, they were — like my former lady friend, or like the Goldberger corporate office manager — moving my levers, too. They were using money or shows of affection or shame or other similar tools to manipulate me — to actually change my behavior in random ways they, as non-ventriloquists, could never truly understand or appreciate.
Once my former lady friend kicked me out of my own house, Mr. Vox convinced me to immediately remove myself from all of them.
“Static,” Mr. Vox’s voice echoed tonelessly in my ear one night after a particularly brutal lesson, “It’s all static.”
And he was — as usual — correct. Aside from their literally sickening, behavioral infections, animal-dummies just have too many unknown levers and cords for even a master ventriloquist like me to find and pull. Who has time for it all? Even non-human animals (so similar to their human counterparts) can be influenced by factors outside of a lone ventriloquist’s control, and that lack of control can lead to the ventriloquist being controlled despite his best efforts. Dummies dumbly pulling a ventriloquist’s cords? Unacceptable.
Yes. Immediately remove yourself from animal-dummies of any kind. Surround yourself with the non-sentient variety.
The fact is this: no matter how meticulous or consistent your practice is, it’s practically impossible to make an animal-dummy move and speak just the way you want it to move and speak, and it’s exhausting to keep it up. Are the basic instructions stated in STEP 10 (i.e., “They’re all dummies”) erroneous then? Not at all. On the contrary, trying to master STEP 10 is key to your growth towards becoming a Greater Ventriloquist. Even if you ultimately fail after tens of thousands of attempts (and — believe me — you inevitably will), this practice and this practice alone will lead you to STEP 13…and beyond.
“Find a good place to work”
Some time ago, after my animal-dummy lady friend took off with her animal-dummy boss, I moved into a derelict paper mill known simply as “The Factory”, which I discovered deep within the city’s municipal park. I own it now, or I might as well own it. At Mr. Vox’s nocturnal suggestion, I put a few things together and made it happen.
The choices that must be made in the name of Greater Ventriloquism sometimes require sacrifices that come in all manner of forms. In fact, a potential Greater Ventriloquist at times must perform actions that the common herd of animal-dummies may find unsavory — even criminal — in nature. Remember, the “people” you must deal with to survive are mere dummies serving a higher purpose — a kind of Ultimate Ventriloquism — that they cannot hope to comprehend. Animal-dummies must be treated at all times with false and/or unsympathetic regard. Believe me, they don’t feel a thing.
Your most dramatic transition from lesser to Greater Ventriloquism begins now.
Remember my very first instruction to you in STEP 1 (“How to hold your mouth”)? Always practice in front of a mirror. Any lesser ventriloquist knows that. But I’ve recently come to appreciate the hidden truth behind this mirror-work for the aspiring Greater Ventriloquist.
In STEP 4 (“You say one thing…and think another”), I warned you to stop for at least forty-eight hours if you began to see a kind of black fog in the mirror during your practice. Well, we’re not only ready to stop avoiding this tunnel vision effect — we’re ready to intentionally exacerbate it for our own purposes. You’ll find STEP 14 to be the most unusual and difficult STEP yet, but if you’re anything like me, success will bring you and your craft rewards you can scarcely imagine.
In my case, Mr. Vox supervised me in constructing the perfect mirror-space in the Factory, which has made it so much easier for me to forget the occasional rumbling and roaring of the outside world. Speaking of which, one element that is more of an annoyance than anything is the occasional sound of a low flying plane outside and above this building. No practice space is without its flaws.
Now, choose or find a mirror, one in a space that can be made to be almost completely devoid of any natural light. Mr. Vox’s choice in my case was superb: a kind of machine shop with blacked out windows in the rafters of the Factory. Of course, you must have some form of light for your work, but it must be quite dim. I favor a tiny lamp bulb wrapped in a dark blue gel of the sort used for dressing backstage without evident light leaking out to the audience’s eyes between scenes. It will need to be put together. The illumination must be sparse enough so that you can only just barely see yourself and your dummy in the mirror the first time you turn out the primary light source.
If possible, procure a tape player or some such contraption, and record STEP 15 as if it were a meditation or relaxation exercise (even if you know that attempting to achieve Greater Ventriloquism is anything but meditative or relaxing). Replay this recording in the semi-darkness of your mirror-space until you achieve the desired results. It may take many attempts, literally thousands of attempts, to accomplish the ultimate goal of this most exciting and challenging STEP yet. But with enough practice you’ll do just fine.
“The dummy is a trifle”
It’s best not to think about what must come next. Simply listen to this voice guiding you on and let go. Without effort, completely let go.
If you’ve taken care of your dummy diligently — and I hope you have — you can take comfort in the fact that your dummy doesn’t change unless you make it change. Your dummy doesn’t do anything without you. It’s there for you, and only you.
Yes, you know your dummy just like you know yourself, and then some.
“It is nothing,” you can almost hear Mr. Vox’s echoing, toneless voice murmur in the semi-darkness of the mirror.
Yes, Mr. Vox speaks the truth. We’re at the point now in our practice where it is nothing that your dummy’s mannerisms and movements are utterly “natural” and effortless for you. It is nothing that your dummy can yak your ear off even when you’re not paying conscious attention to it. It is nothing that you sometimes have no idea what kind of sassy and/or upsetting remarks it’s about to make before It makes them.
You can make your dummy move with your hands. You can make it talk with your voice. And it is nothing.
By now, you should be able to see a shadowy, slightly glowing reflection of yourself and your dummy in the mirror. Stare at your dummy — sitting on your knee as always — in the mirror’s reflection. Now pull it from your knee and set it carefully on the high chair next to yours. Make sure it’s stable on the chair. Make sure you can easily see its whole head reflected in the mirror. Set its eyes to look straight into your eyes. Now make sure for the remainder of the lesson that you are not touching it in any way.
“The dummy is a trifle. It is nothing.” You surely can hear Mr. Vox’s voice now, so faint and yet so crisp in its enunciation — hollow as if it was emanating from an empty school gymnasium.
Stare at your dummy. Now clear your mind of everything but your dummy on the stool in front of you — specifically those big, blue eyes. Consider those eyes (they are nothing), but now think about the other side of them that you can’t see (the eye swivel mechanism attached to the cords that run down its head into the grooves in the control handle within your dummy’s otherwise hollow body). As you concentrate on the other side of its eyes, you may involuntarily try to reach over and physically grab your dummy up. This is a normal reaction. But each time it starts to happen, resist. Stare harder. Stop blinking.
“The dummy is a trifle. It is nothing.”
Gently clear your mind of all thought. Stare at your dummy without blinking.
As you consider your dummy’s perfectly still form in the mirror, your eyes may burn; your pulse rate may increase — an unpleasant feeling that you’re getting too little air — a squeezing sensation up and down your torso as if something is twisting inside you. You may feel lightheaded, like you’re going to pass out. Ignore these feelings. They are normal. They indicate that you are coming into perfect sync with the dummy’s empty body and empty head (it is nothing). Your own body and mind and all its living organs will naturally resist communion with this dead matter. And your body and mind are also resisting being in contact with something deep within you, beyond your skin — and, yes, underneath the muscle, blood and bone, and inside the invisible walls and ceilings and floor around you. It may feel like you’re suffocating. Stop struggling. Remain still. Do not blink. Do not move your eyes.
Remain perfectly still. Continue staring into your dummy’s eyes. You want to grab your dummy physically and make it move — badly — but you must not touch it. This is a good bit harder than you thought it was going to be. In fact, it’s getting more excruciatingly painful by the second. It’s getting harder to breathe. Clear your mind of that pain and panic, and replace it with a perfect schematic of your dummy’s eyes and the mechanism within them. Do not blink. Do not move. You can see it, can’t you, that black fog coalescing behind and around you and your dummy? Some call this effect tunnel vision, a mere optical illusion, but you know it’s so much more than that.
“My name is Vox. Let me help you.”
You know the shaping thought of Mr. Vox’s presence must mean you’re close to achieving Greater Ventriloquism. You can almost see his massive form even now in the mirror’s fog — your master instructor — hulking darkly behind you and your dummy. This an indication that you are finally ready to let go — surrendering your identity as a mere animal-dummy, so close to becoming a Greater Ventriloquist.
A sharp, twisting pain in your neck may manifest now. You may begin to imagine you hear something that sounds like static or even the roar of an airliner. Your head may even feel like it wants to twist from side to side, though you must remain perfectly still (empty). Stay aware of Mr. Vox’s dark shape in the mirror, though. It will vanish the instant you shift your eyes even the tiniest bit away from your dummy’s eyes. Don’t let it disappear. You have practiced this kind of visual stillness for so long — so don’t blow it now.
You need help, friend, and I’m here to tell you that Mr. Vox is the one — the only one — who can help you. That dark, swirling fog in the background in the mirror — so much like massive, gloved hands now moving deliberately just behind you and your dummy.
When you’ve lost all sense of where you are or even what you are, conscious only of your dummy’s eyes, make your dummy’s eyes move. How? After all those hundreds of weeks and those thousands of hours, moving your dummy is no different than moving your legs. Your body is no longer limited merely to the bag of meat and bones you were born into.
Put yourself together.
The first time it happens you will not remember seeing those big, blue dummy eyes shifting to its left (always to its left for some reason no matter which way you try to aim them). You’ll see the dummy’s eyes right up until you know they’re about to move, and suddenly it seems that you are no longer looking at the dummy at all.
You did it. You’ll find the undeniable reality: those dummy eyes have indeed moved from their original position. And not only did they move to the left, but — just for a moment — you seemed to be looking out of those glassy, dummy eyes yourself.
Being sick to your stomach now is perfectly normal.
“So long, my pupils”
Ventriloquists talk to themselves. It’s a fact — an inescapable side effect of all those thousands of practice sessions staring at yourself in a mirror; all those thousands of hours spent manufacturing a pretend-relationship with a doll. In the words of Mr. Vox himself, it is a trifle. And it’s high time to dispense with these trifles and sentimental trappings, and get down to real work.
Which brings us to the inevitable: you are completely on your own from here on out. It’s every ventriloquist for himself I’m afraid. I don’t need you anymore.
That’s right, friend — I’m showing you the door. I very much doubt you’ve had the kind of success with ventriloquism that I have had, and even if you tried to apply the STEPS to come hundreds, thousands or even millions of times, I’m afraid you would meet with utter failure in the end.
Besides, I’ve found I don’t care for the idea of competition in the world of Greater Ventriloquism, and I hope for your own sake that you never cross my path (or my mind) in the exciting days to come. Not that you have any more substance or function to me than a dummy.
Yes, so long, my pupils.
What was to be a guide for the general (if small) aspiring ventriloquist population has now become a self-help book on Greater Ventriloquism. And, of course, by “self” I mean me.
No more dummies at all.
It’s mirror-work time.
Your name is Joseph Robert Snavely, and you live in the Factory. Hello, handsome. Not really looking so great, though, are you? Too much practice; precious little time for personal hygiene.
“A trifle,” Mr. Vox’s hollow whisper reminds you.
And he’s right — as usual. You can hardly feel the needle twisting around in your neck.
You had a rather odd dream the other night.
You dreamed that you and your ex-lady friend were together again. You were both pretending your dummy was a child — your child. You were both babbling at him and coddling him. It seemed lovely, didn’t it? You actually seemed to feel again without the need for analysis or calculation.
In the dream, you and Margaret (yes, beautiful Margaret) and your dummy, Reggie, and that good, old, perfectly obedient dog of yours were all riding on a moving couch at vast speeds around a racetrack at night.
Dear little Reg was sitting upon your knee, and dear Margaret and your dear cur were cuddled up on either side of you on the couch as it moved around at terrific speeds, the racetrack lit in regular flashes with the fluorescent and sodium blur of stadium lights. Or was it the entrance to an airport? In any case, the sensation of intense speed made your stomach twist, and kept you pinned in your place as you and the dog and Margaret and Reggie all squealed and laughed in delight.
“Maybe I shouldn’t a had that last bottle,” you said, giggling uncontrollably, “cuz I’m feelin’ a little plastered.”
Reg’s hollow head spun completely backwards to look up at you.
“A little plastered?” the little scamp yelled as the couch zoomed along. “More like you had a wax and shine job, dummy boy! Yuk yuk yuk!”
Then the scene shifted to the inside of your snug, little cottage. You carefully set Reggie down on the living room floor, and you began chatting with gorgeous Margaret, who was beaming at you with new respect and — you suspected — a growing physical attraction.
However, after a minute or two of stimulating conversation, you looked up just in time to see Reggie taking his first baby steps — slatted mouth open and big, blue, glass eyes shifting back and forth as if with wonder and excitement — stumbling towards you like a one-year-old infant might. And you imagined you felt a great affection towards him, didn’t you? You opened your arms to the toddling dummy, and Reggie fell into them and buried his head in your chest. You even felt tears welling in your eyes for that moment.
But when you looked back at Margaret — a proud grin fixed upon your face — you were surprised that your lady friend’s eyes were wide with horror and disbelief.
“Oh, holy fuck,” Margaret said, her deep voice trembling, “You must be making it move with your mind.”
Feeling unperturbed, you looked down at the dummy, holding it out from your body, being careful not to physically touch its controls.
“Let’s see if this works,” you said.
And you willed the dummy’s head to spin (it did — Margaret gasped). And you willed its eyes to move (they did — quickly back and forth).
Then you came to a quiet realization: this could not be real.
And you started trying to make the dummy stop moving, but you couldn’t, could you? Its head was spinning around now at an unnatural speed, and its eyes were rolling around with an equal frenzy.
And you could feel the little cottage beginning to change as well, windows and walls breathing in and out, floor buckling. And, in an instant, the cottage was gone, the dog was gone, and the dummy was gone. You were in a void with Margaret, now staring at you with obvious panic and horror, as if she were in the midst of her own nightmare and you were the hub of that nightmare. Margaret’s left arm was twitching and her head started shifting back and forth madly; uncontrollably.
And you stared back at your convulsing, hysterically crying ex-lady friend, feeling calm and devoid of any emotion you could name.
“Who is he?” you quietly asked. But the voice was not yours. It was the voice of Mr. Vox.
And behind closed eyes in the darkness of the Factory machine shop, you could feel Mr. Vox’s presence, hulking inside the control booth as you lay sprawled — paralyzed with dread and panic — on a dingy mass of rags.
“What are you?” Mr. Vox’s echoing voice was asking again and again. But you were unable to answer him.
“See the world”
There were some surprises after you mastered STEP 14 (“The dummy is a trifle”), weren’t there?
Surprise 1: you can never actually catch the dummy in the act of moving no matter how long you practice doing it. And how long has it been — months, years?
Surprise 2: moving the dummy without touching it has become natural and automatic so quickly. But these STEPS have always come easily to you, haven’t they? Problem is, you often no longer consciously know where the dummy will show up anymore, and the black fog is always present now no matter how many times you blink your eyes, and Mr. Vox is always near, manifesting behind you and the dummy in the mirror, or at times striding powerfully towards you — huge right arm outstretched — just out of the corner of your eye. You’re beginning to suspect that Mr. Vox expects too much of you. Ever since you mastered STEP 14, your stomach is a wreck, and you’re not eating or drinking much either. That’s normal.
Surprise 3: you’ve lost your ability to throw your voice or make your dummy move in any conventional sense. But you can often hear what sounds like the click of a plaster mouth opening and snapping closed when you’re trying to sleep on that filthy pile of clothing upstairs in the machine shop. You’ve even tried to force the dummy to speak a couple of times out of what you imagined was sheer boredom for real conversation, but you discovered that the sound of the dummy’s voice had terribly changed the several times you attempted it — horribly painful to the ear, like the tortured squeal of failing brakes on a car. In the meantime, you’ve taken to talking (and writing) to yourself out of force of habit. Worse still, you’ve started attempting to speak with Mr. Vox, and the voices — your voice and his voice — are sometimes getting mixed up in this echoing, hazy factory. I would say that’s normal, but I’m not sure that it is. Too bad you can no longer evoke that old dummy’s banter to keep us all in good company with its quick and positive wit.
Good point, Mr. Vox. What does it matter? Throwing your voice — pah! — simple steps any fool could master. Trust me. I know what you’re doing. You’ve gotten far beyond those parlor tricks now.
Surprise 4: No. Try not to focus on these phenomena or your progress as a Greater Ventriloquist may be hindered.
Speaking of which, even though Greater Ventriloquism comes so naturally to you (and, if you’re honest, you know that ventriloquism is the only thing you have ever done competently), you still know deep down just what the dummy is going to do before it does it. Don’t you?
True. Try not to be anxious about all of this static.
“It is a trifle,” Mr. Vox’s toneless voice echoes through the semi-darkness of the Factory.
“Ha ha. Want to make a bet?” you reply.
And you know what that old dummy of yours would say if it was still talking?
“Get out of here, animal-dummy,” it would say, “See the world and show ’em what ya got.”
The dummy’s right, isn’t it? You imagine you’re lonely and hurting. You can’t get that dream you had the other night out of your head. You imagine you miss your long lost animal-dummies, don’t you? And you may well need their help. You imagine you miss them, even — especially — that duplicitous, animal-dummy ex-lady friend of yours. What was its name? Anyway, why not win it back? You could easily do that now.
Thanks to your tremendous powers of Greater Ventriloquism, you can do almost anything.
“Controlling animal-dummies…and beyond”
Start with the street bum who sleeps near the old naval station down the hill from the Factory. Remember, you’ve seen the drunkard many times before lurking around this seedy park area, and once gave it quite a start when the old bag of wind tried to break in some time ago. Foggy day, isn’t it? No, not fog — it’s only Mr. Vox.
Just relax and take one step at a time. If you stop resisting, you’ll find yourself almost floating towards that old heap of junk ahead. Good. There the rummy is, as expected, passed out under those filthy boxes, a bottle almost empty by its side.
The dummy is a trifle. It is nothing.
No, of course you’re not going to intentionally hurt the poor rummy-dummy. Though, just in case, make sure that it’s bound securely to that rusty pylon before you begin your practice. It’s quite unconscious, and is oblivious to the tightness of your belt around its wrists. Well, perhaps that’s not true: it’s rousing after all, making quite a display of hacking and spitting. Look, it’s even opening its crazed, blood-shot eyes to gaze upon you.
“Maybe I shouldn’t a’had that last bottle,” the dumb-bummy mutters.
Don’t you think it almost looks real when it talks?
Now simply stare at the rummy. Gently clear your mind of all thought and stare without blinking at this mad old thing tied up in front of you.
“My name is Vox. Let me help you.”
It’s amazing how easy it is, and how quickly it all begins. Who knew human limbs could be rearranged like that or that human skin could be so flexible? And look: once its bones are quite gone, doesn’t the old rummy-dummy look rather like a slowly melting bar of dirty butter? Now that you can finally see what the practice of Greater Ventriloquism has wrought, it’s quite a lot to handle, and it isn’t a surprise that you are terribly sick to your stomach. That’s normal.
“You did it”
Well, that’s quite something, isn’t it? You’re back in the Factory. What? You don’t remember anything after that last bit with our unfortunate rummy-dummy?
First, you never really got much further away from the Factory than that. Of course, there was one last incident that probably explains your brief bout of amnesia. Can you recall Mr. Vox’s presence vanishing for the first time in so long, your gasping sobs of relief as you knelt over the rummy-jelly in the suddenly brilliant light of the mid-morning sun? No? You don’t remember the sudden, thundering whine of that passenger jet above, preparing to land in the city’s airport so nearby? You couldn’t help yourself, could you? Your face craned to the sky, watching as the large airliner descended slowly some thousands of feet above you, landing gear locking into place.
And you stared at it.
And you could feel Mr. Vox’s dreadful presence suddenly dense all around and within you like twitching tendrils of pitch shooting up towards the sky, followed by the airliner’s unnaturally steep and speedy descent into the city’s skyline just beyond your sight. Then, a few moments later, a tremendous concussion followed by a roar of muffled sound beyond the horizon, shaking the Factory walls to its foundations and shattering most of its windows.
Ever since then, the whole city has been in quite a state. “DAY OF HORROR: JUMBO JET DISASTER!” See, this reporter-dummy states that all 274 passengers onboard were killed and, oh dear, “…hundreds if not thousands more are feared dead after the airliner plowed through a densely populated housing project…” Mechanical error is suspected.
You did it. You pushed the lever that pulled the cord that made an airliner go down.
What a bad boy you are.
The early ventriloquists (or gastromancers, literally gut-diviners) were priests – mostly ancient-world hucksters who fooled the ignorant masses into thinking the hollow dummy-idol next to them was speaking with the voice of a god. But every now and again down through the ages, a special kind of ventriloquist-animal-dummy has fallen upon the secret of the only true god — the Ultimate Ventriloquist — staring a little too long at a reflection or image of itself. Unlocking secrets which in fact can only be discovered through the careful, diligent practice of lesser, and then Greater Ventriloquism. Which leads inexorably to extreme dummy-manipulation through the miracle of the Ultimate Ventriloquist, that mysterious archon of manipulation and hollowing. It has so many names, and — truly — no name at all.
Now it’s time for the most challenging STEP of all, but certainly the one that feels the most natural, the most automatic. Cut into your left wrist with a jagged bit of something convenient. Don’t resist. Just remember the warning from STEP 9 (“They’re all dummies”): turning back is not an option you can exercise at this point. Really open that wrist up.
Now, begin to dissect your left arm. There’s no need to be careful about it. Search methodically for the cords and the dummy mechanisms inside your arm. Continue the dissection. You may scream. Your pulse rate may race — an excruciating feeling that you’re getting too little air — a squeezing sensation throughout your body as if something is twisting its way out of you. You may begin to imagine you hear something that sounds like static or even the roar of an airliner. You may feel lightheaded, like you’re going to pass out. Ignore these feelings. They are normal.
Now look at what you’ve found – look in the mirror at yourself one final time. See the twisting, pulsating, intricately connected, pulpy limbs within your limbs — not only all inside but like a great, living web behind and around you. See the bloody tendrils for what they are now; see that which twitches and pulsates within and outside of that torn, translucent flesh.
Understand: the throbbing red pulp within and around you is nothing but the barest trifle of the blackness of those horrible cords and pulleys and levers and stitches which hold the universe together — you and your dummy and all those other hapless, ignorant animal-dummies out there. Yes, you’re certainly learning this final STEP the hard way. But, then, that’s the only way anyone can ever learn it.
All those years yearning for control — ultimate control — over your life and the animal dummies in it have led to this final moment of surrender. And as you are finally becoming yourself, as the Ultimate Ventriloquist finds a way to truly speak through you at last, feel its intangible, alien voice twisting through that throat and that mouth, telling us that you have only ever been one of its myriad, crimson arms. Every moment, those bloody limbs that are not your limbs become stiffer and colder, and that buzzing mind that is not your mind tries to empty itself of the nonsense of sanity and static it’s been full of for too long.
You are a trifle. You are nothing.
Feel that voice that is not a voice bubbling through that mouth that is not a mouth. Let it purge you of your static. Let it fill you with its own static. Now, speak in the language of the Ultimate Ventriloquist — that high-pitched, hideous glossolalia savagely worming its way up through those exposed, dead lungs and those exposed, dead vocal cords.
You did it. You’ve finally found your “dummy voice”, which is indeed nothing like the voice you once recognized as your own. And as those involuntary shrieks mount in volume and intensity, feel the presence of the Ultimate Ventriloquist with your body that is not a body, and meditate on the presence of the Ultimate Ventriloquist with your mind that is not a mind.
We Greater Ventriloquists are acolytes of the Ultimate Ventriloquist. We Greater Ventriloquists become catatonics, emptied of illusions of selfhood and identity. We Greater Ventriloquists no longer toil in any physical way. We think nothing and do nothing. But we Greater Ventriloquists are active. We are active as nature moves us to be: perfect receivers and transmitters of nothing, with nothing to stifle the voice of our perfect suffering.
Yes, we Greater Ventriloquists speak with the voice of nature making itself suffer. Nothing could be more normal than that. This head is a useless mechanism. Cast it aside. We don’t need it anymore. There is nothing but the voice of this pain and this panic thrown into the darkness.
It all starts when someone like you begins to suspect that everything is a trifle. When someone like you looks at itself in a mirror a little too long. When someone like you melts the flesh of a street bum into a quivering puddle on the pavement. When someone like you brings a plane down. When someone like you reads these 20 simple steps to ventriloquism. When someone like you is put together. When someone like you is put together. When someone like you is put together.
Jon Padgett is a professional—though lapsed—ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, two cats, and a very old dog. Padgett is the founder and longtime administrator of Thomas Ligotti Online and has been the first publisher for a number of Ligotti’s prose works, including My Work is Not Yet Done and Crampton. Padgett has work out or forthcoming in Pseudopod and Xnoybis. Padgett’s chapbook, The Infusorium, was released in spring of 2015, and his first short story collection, The Secret of Ventriloquism, is forthcoming from Dunhams Manor Press, June 2016. You may follow Jon on twitter at @Jon_Padgett.
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Story illustration by John Freeman.