I spotted Slappy, the evil ventriloquist dummy from the Goosebumps books, steaming milk at the Starbucks next to my apartment. His pimple-faced manager was shouting at him and called him a blockhead for screwing up a customer’s pumpkin spice latte. When I got to the front of the line, I ordered my to-go caramel Frappuccino and asked what a dummy like him was doing working as a barista.
“With all the craziness these days,” he said, spraying whipped cream atop my drink, “nobody’s got time to be scared of me anymore.”
“What about R.L. Stine? Maybe he could help.”
“Robert won’t return my calls, and a dummy has to eat.”
The people waiting behind me started to complain, so I asked him if he could sign my copy of Night of the Living Dummy on his break. He said sure, and I left a decent tip.
I found the book in a box buried in my closet. After all these years, the pages still smelled like one of those old Scholastic Book Fairs. When I was a kid, my dad and I would hide under the covers with a flashlight and read Goosebumps books. He’d give each character a distinctive voice, but his Slappy, high-pitched and nasally like someone with a cold huffing helium, scared the crap out of me. But when he closed the book, he magically transformed back into my dad, and I knew everything would be all right.
I felt bad for Slappy. I wanted to help him revamp his image, wanted to tremble in fear of him once again. However, every idea I came up with involved me taking time off work, and I’d used up all my paid time off and couldn’t afford to be late on rent. Plus, my electric bill was a couple of months overdue, and my car was making this dinging noise. I shouldn’t have even been buying coffee at Starbucks. My life was too messed up to make a difference.
During Slappy’s break, I found him outside the Starbucks, puffing on a cigarette. I handed him the book and said, “When I was a kid, you scared the bejesus out of me.” He thanked me and signed the inside cover. That night, I was lying in bed rereading Night of the Living Dummy when I decided to call my dad.
“Hey, dad, remember those old Goosebumps books you used to read to me?”
“Could you do the voice you used to use for the ventriloquist dummy?”
“I’m going to get you, you little brat,” he said, sounding like Ray Romano after a generous hit from a party balloon.
I hung up the phone, turned off my bedside lamp, and rolled over to try to get some Zs. Just like Slappy, I had work to face in the morning.