Flash Fiction Fridays: The Joke's On You
Real Dummy Hong
By Cleveland W. Gibson
The cobra killed Len Hong, and his dummy, Real Hong, died too.
“My poor master,” Real Hong cried for the last time.
In Baofengba church, Yunnan Province, Len’s large family gathered with his ventriloquist friends. All loved the great entertainer who achieved worldwide success due to his pink-nosed donkey, whom he requested be placed in the plain coffin with him.
On the day of the funeral, the distraught family watched from the pews. They cried as the age-old Chinese rituals unfolded to calm the spirit of the dead.
First the red candles were lit, then carefully placed between the pine branches by Len’s coffin. Two young girls next scattered small red and green balls of paper onto the top. Then, sticks of incense sent aromatic smells through the church, as masses of flowers surrounded the coffin.
Rachael Su Hong, Len’s widow, watched as eight men entered the church beating drums. The leader carried a wooden dragon-head, which he shook to the beat of the music. The activity brought on more crying; then followed the cakes and wine to be passed around the congregation.
In silence, villagers watched as seven-year-old Archie T. Hong knelt by the coffin and called out: “Please. The nails, my father. Don’t get hurt.” Archie's voice sounded weak. Chinese customs dictated a son warn his dead father about the nails before they were hammered into his coffin.
“Thanks, I’m fine,” a voice sang out. “Fine”
The congregation recognized the voice of the dummy Real Hong. All eyes went to the coffin in disbelief.
Rachael gasped when she heard Real Hong. She sucked in her cheeks, her mouth quivered, and she dabbed at her eyes with a paper tissue. With a startled look, she stared at Len’s friends from the theatre. She had no idea who might have played such a cruel joke on her and her son. She studied the faces of those in the congregation.
From the back of the church, two coolies ran forward. They had their instructions and quickly took off the coffin lid. Len’s family surged forward. They watched as the village doctor Rupert Chang, examined Len.
A few moments later the kindly Dr. Chang pronounced Len dead for the second time.
“Dear me. And Real Hong?” Rachael asked. She pointed to the coffin.
The grey haired doctor quickly examined the dummy.
“Sorry. Real is dead too,” Dr Chang said.
“No mistake there,” Len’s brother Stanley Hong said.
He indicated the dummy. “Who could mistake his voice? I mean this is the dummy Len created for a laugh. No question of identity here; we all heard Real Hong, him with the silly laugh and large pink nose, didn’t we?”
Cleveland W. Gibson was born in colonial India in an atmosphere of colour, mystery and intrigue. In the UK, he worked in the government, trained as a life guard and was a road race director for over ten years. Since taking up writing, he’s published over 200 short stories, poems and articles in more than eighty-five countries. Gibson is the author of a children's mystery, Billabongo, and the science fiction novel, Moondust. His current project is a fantasy novel, House of the Skull Drum. To learn more about Cleveland, visit Bewildering Stories and Grey Sparrow.