Whoa! Hey! Jesus kid, what the hell is wrong with you?! What in the name of all that is holy do you think you’re doing?!

What? You were “only yawning”? ONLY YAWNING?! How could you be so careless?! Do you have any idea how dangerous that was? Here you are, moments away from oblivion and completely oblivious to it!

Let me give you some free advice. It’ll cost nothing except for your time and gratitude— Don’t walk away from me! This might just save your life one of these days!

Listen close: always cover your mouth when you yawn. Always. No exceptions. Completely cover. Nostrils too, just to be on the safe side. Because if you don’t, there’s gonna be hell to pay. Big time, mister.

Ever had the displeasure of standing under a tree and yawning up at it only to have a bird drop a bullseye from directly above? It was Poppin’ Pete all along!

I see I’ve got your attention now, though I’d wipe that scowl off your face if you know what’s good for you. Your parents may have told you that covering your mouth when yawning is the polite thing to do. I’m sorry (and also kinda glad) to be the one to tell you this, but your parents said that to protect you from the truth and also because they’re dreadful liars.

It isn’t about manners at all, but something much more lurid. I’ll lay it down for you real quick: the secret reason why you need to cover your mouth when you yawn is a spooky, ghoulish man by the name of Poppin’ Pete.

Here, hold my hat and let me tell you his story.

The name should already give away his despicable nature, but I can tell by your blank stare that you need a primer: Poppin’ Pete’s called that because whenever you’re yawning, he’ll appear out of nowhere over your shoulder like Bloody Mary in a mirror. It’ll only be for a split second, but it’ll be just long enough for P.P. to reach around to the front of your face and “pop” a little “gift” in your gaping maw. And by “gift” I don’t mean an actual gift like candy or money, which should have been obvious (I’m not doing these “air quotes” for fun). Poppin’ Pete’s choice of gift is always the last thing you would want in your mouth. Marbles, clumps of dry dirt, used, still-wet tissues filled with mucosa (or much worse), and sometimes even live bugs. If you’re not careful you’ll choke on any number of different mouthables in Poppin’ Pete’s weird arsenal!

Don’t believe me? Well he doesn’t need your consent to exist, your majesty. He’s real! And he’s always watching every one of us. He’s been behind you your entire life, hunched down out of sight, fingers curled into claws, butt sticking out slightly, just waiting for you to yawn. And then he pounces! Well, he gingerly reaches around and expertly pops a ‘lil something in your mouth, aiming for that hangy thing that dangles at the back. And if he hits it he counts that as triple points. Maybe he keeps a tally of all the points he gets in a ragged notebook.

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You’ve seriously never heard of him? Jeez, the kids of today! Ever heard of the Boogey Man or Cropsey or Consumption Kate? Well they all cover their mouths when they yawn because they know what’s good for them, unlike Mister Know-It-All here. You could honestly learn a thing or two from those monsters.

Pete’s probably got you good a few times over the years and you’ve never even known it. Ever had the displeasure of standing under a tree and yawning up at it only to have a bird drop a bullseye from directly above? Of course you have. Everyone has! It’s a part of being human. Well, I hate to break it to you, but birds can’t aim for shit. It was Poppin’ Pete all along! Doing what he does best. He’s a real piece of work, this guy.

Roller-boarding away won’t make a difference. He’ll follow you everywhere! Though I’ve never left this township, and Poppin’ Pete is rarely spoken of beyond the corner of the street I’ve lived on my whole life (Maytard Street), but I tell you he’s deadly! And he can appear anywhere in the blink of an eye provided a yawn is in progress!

“I bet he’s not as fast as The Flash!” you seem to be incredulously thinking behind that insolent, hat-backwards-wearing grimace. Um, idiot, as if The Flash could be everywhere at once! Grow up. Even if he were running the fastest speed imaginable, he’d still only be on earth. It’s not like he can run to Mars. What’s he gonna run on? Space? The Flash wishes he was Poppin’ Pete.

No, Poppin’ Pete’s ubiquity lies not in his speed, but his omnipresence. He can literally be anywhere, much like God or Waterbears, but I believe Poppin’ Pete uses a more sci-fiy mode of transportation.

My theory is that he is an inter-dimensional being that somehow got irrevocably caught in a never-ending worm-hole that dumps you out at the precise moment a person is yawning, only to yank you away a moment later when the yawn has concluded. It would be like an eternal series of waterslides for him, only the ride always ends with a quiet, impotent yawn rather than a “Yippee! Let’s go again!” like most waterslides. No wonder he’s become so bitter and vindictive!

Sure, go ahead and laugh. I was once like you, a stupid dummy that didn’t believe in anything. But I’ve found faith through the constant dull fear and at times absolute dread at the prospect of having something unwanted put in my mouth at an unexpected time.

Okay, that’s enough laughing now. Stop that.

Can’t you just be serious for one second while I tell you about a very real and dangerous threat? Oh, you might think his antics could be somehow cute and endearing in a way. Maybe he has a cheeky grin and a twinkle in his eye as he gets up to his own brands of mischief, confusion and inconvenience? Well, big surprise, but you’re wrong. Trust me, he is a sadistic, cruel motherfucker. There is no twinkle in his eyes. They’re both matte black. And he wears a bowler hat just to be more of a douche.

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He and I have a long, complicated history. The first time he appeared for me I was sitting in bed watching TV. I might have been snacking. I can’t recall what the snack was though. Anyway, I’d probably been mechanically throwing snacks into my mouth whilst watching the TV hypnotically when all of a sudden I yawned and felt something thrust into my mouth from out of nowhere. I spat it out on the ground and inspected the obstruction. It was a piece of popcorn. Popcorn! That bastard! I spent the rest of the evening working out my theory about this strange man who gets off on making people cough and gag and spit stuff out, and I vowed to get revenge if it was the last thing I ever did. I may have then found some more popcorn that he’d dropped into a bowl on my bedside table and ate that, because why waste?

I set an elaborate trap for him once, hoping to pull Pete into the real world and beat the shit out of him. But he’s always been one step ahead of me. He never showed up at that car park at midnight. I was left standing there with all the fishing wire and nets, shaking my head, feeling the fool. ‘You won this round, Yawn Man. But one day it is I who will be over your shoulder, putting things in your mouth when you yawn.’

No one truly knows why we yawn, but if I had to guess it would be because we’re tired or something. Dunno, the two just seem linked somehow. Or it could be a genetic thing from the time we were apes and roared a lot. A yawn is like a really pathetic roar. How evolution has made less of us in some ways.

When we yawn we’re also virtually defenseless for its 5-or-so second duration and left open to all sorts of attacks like tickling, Chinese burns and horse bites, as well as kicks to the groin if yawning when you’re standing with your legs slightly apart and an arch-enemy is close by. But Poppin’ Pete does none of this. He contents himself with slipping things into people mouths at moments that no one can expect or anticipate. It’s really annoying!

Most folks say that Poppin’ Pete is an urban legend, but to me he’s an urban shit-heel. There is certainly nothing legendary about him. In fact, I… wait… Oh my god! Is that guy over there about to yawn? Now’s my chance to catch Poppin’ Pete! And if not, maybe I’ll just pop a little something in that guy’s mouth instead. Seems like a funny gag to do, now that I think about it.

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