“The One-Two Punchline” | Novella | Written by McConnaughay | 10 - Mishmashers Mishmashers

“The One-Two Punchline” | Novella | Written by McConnaughay | 10

Chapter Five

1.

As Jimmy pried his eyes open and free from sleep’s tight grasp, he was pleasantly surprised to discover his head did not throb from a hangover. He still felt like death killed over, but, at least he was spared by the physical side of his bad decisions.

His cellphone had a few missed calls that read like a hierarchy of all the people he had burnt bridges with in recent days.

Dalton was at the top of that list, having recently left him a voicemail. Jimmy shut his eyes, rested the back of his head against the pillow, and let it play out.

Hey, … Jimmy, it’s Dalton, and, uh, I know I am probably the last person you want to hear from right now, and I, uh, I get that, I do. I had something come up and I wasn’t allowed to step away from it. But, I know that is really no excuse for what I did, and I am sorry about that. It sucks, and I know it,” Dalton fumbled with his words, a far cry from the calm, collected way he sounded when he was performing something rehearsed. “I do still want to have dinner with you and say goodbye, … if you will have me for it. Let me know in the next couple of days if you still want to meet up. Thanks, and I am sorry, once again. Bye.”

For a reason that only Jimmy’s brain could understand, he swatted at the phone like he was trying to hit the snooze button on his alarm clock. When he finally slapped the right part of his mattress, he clutched his phone and brought it up toward his face. The light had since flicked off, leaving the reflection of his screen staring back at him.

* * *

Jimmy’s eyes watched the mirror while he brushed his teeth, the foam around his lips resembling a rabid animal. “And just when you thought that you couldn’t be any more unhinged.”

Jimmy nearly leaped out of his body and left it behind as the remark met his eardrums. This was not a trick of the eye or an illusion. The words had been said and said aloud! They were not thoughts in his head. Jimmy spit out his toothpaste and let a small stream of water from the faucet lead down the drain. He stared at the mirror intently; anger and sheer terror filling him.

He felt the warmth that pulsated from his throat and clasped his hands around his neck.

How are you doing this?” He said, staring in the mirror with bloodshot eyes.

He tightened his hands around his neck, until, at last, came a response, “How are you doing this, how are you doing this, how are you doing this,” the voice, … his voice, repeated again and again.

The only problem was that he was not the one that said the words. “What,” Jimmy began, but was too taken by what had happened next to finish his thought. More so, he was taken by what didn’t happen. The voice did not stop. For a moment, the vocals overlapped, speaking in unison.

Jimmy’s eyes widened. He released the stranglehold around his throat and the voice stopped. It had been like he swallowed a parakeet, and it was now ready to repeat his words on command.

2.

After cursing ones’ boss, it is not ideal to call in on them, but that was exactly what Jimmy did. As far as he was concerned, he had a more important situation to contend with at the moment.

His first reaction had been to check himself in to the nearest hospital. Whatever was happening, it was not a normal thing. Then again, the doctor had known about it. They had to have been aware of it. They were the ones who prescribed the medication meant to repress it. They wanted to lock it away and swallow the key, whereas Jimmy never even had the chance to know what it was.

Doctors would be of no use to him. If whatever it was became too much to handle then he would gobble up some medication and it would be dealt with. Plain and simple.

He wanted to understand what was happening to him. The echo, or whatever it was, appeared to operate on command. At first, he believed it was because of what he said and the way he clasped his hands around his throat, but, upon inward inspection, he found that it could be more inconspicuous than it.

It did not matter where he had his hands so long as he applied focus and intent toward his throat; that seemed to provoke it.

It did not matter if he said the words aloud prior either, if he repeated the words over and over again in his head, they made themselves known. He imagined it was not unlike a wizard focusing all of their energy on their magic wand.

The longer he practiced, the more he found himself able to accomplish with the “trick,” finding ways to speak faster and in unison with himself. It was a learning process, but with careful deliberation, he saw clear signs that marked his improvement.

What he was unsure of, however, was what he was even improving on.

Jimmy sat in his computer chair and ran his fingers over his keyboard, punching in inquiries in the search engines about his predicament. The results were less than ideal, citing mental illness and other unhelpful and unrelated essays.

Regardless of that, Jimmy started to feel better the longer he had to wrap his head around it.

It seemed unfathomable at first, but, against all odds, he fathomed it, or convinced himself he had.

Not only did he learn to live with it, but his fear started to dissipate in favor of excitement!

He tapped his fingers on the keyboard again. As it turned out, any ventriloquist dummies that were worth a damn were also worth a damn lot of coin. Especially if you expected them to be presentable on a professional level. Then again, maybe that is what Jimmy should have been after, considering he was only now starting out.

Jimmy considered the thought and chuckled. If he decided to become a ventriloquist, he would start out as the very best ventriloquist ever. Ventriloquism was a dying art, however, which meant, unless he outright revealed his hidden talent, it would not matter how efficient he might have been with his techniques.

Once the fear became excitement, the excitement soon became outright giddiness, he had a “hidden” talent. He had something special about himself that no one else had.

He looked over at his cellphone on the desk in front of him. If he had David Nix’s number right now, he would have a talent better than anything Dalton could ever dream of. In fact, maybe he was thinking too small. Imagine a one-man duet, it would not have even mattered that Jimmy had no prior singing experience to speak of.

Unless it was all in his head.

The thought had occurred to Jimmy once or twice already but he kept stuffing it down to the inner recesses of his mind. He felt certain, absolutely certain, about what was happening to him. This was not hearsay or speculative at all, Jimmy had shown himself indisputable proof.

He had tested it! Wasn’t that how it worked? A hypothesis that can be proven and repeated over and over should eventually graduate into a fact, should it not? But, there was a reason the doctors prescribed him the medication they did. No matter how certain he might have felt, he had no reason to think how he perceived things was not all over the place.

It was such a difficult to swallow that his foundations of reality might have been built on sand. However, in turn, it was because of the pill he didn’t swallow that his reality had changed altogether.

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