by Ron Riekki
The following excerpt of "Teeths" is from Silver Webb's All Hallows' Eve: The Thinning Veil, an anthology of 13 wicked tales, now available in our bookstore and on Amazon.
Mystery is manifold. Nothing proved that more than examining Josh Black. He seemed ordinary, but he most definitely was not.
With glasses, Three Stooges Moe haircut, neighbor-hand-me-down jeans shorts, tennis shoes with more holes than shoe, and freckles like his face was splattered with blood, Josh reeked of cuteness. And the very recent missing front tooth sealed it all; he would make the women who went to his mother’s triangular-shaped church simply faint. Josh’s mother told him this at the dinner table.
“If you roll your eyes any harder, they’re going to come out of your head,” said his mom.
“And land on the table,” his father added.
Josh’s mother had the tired eyes of a waitress. Josh’s father had the tired eyes of someone who had recently admitted a gambling addiction to the family; he’d lost a significant amount of money on a horse that died of a heart attack mid-race.
Josh smiled. Miraculously, his tooth was no longer missing. Josh pointed at himself with both thumbs so that his parents would notice the regenerated tooth. At first, they were shocked. Then Josh poked the tooth with his tongue and it fell onto the table, clinking, settling by his father’s plate.
“Don’t do that,” said his mom. “Throw it in the garbage.”
“No, you don’t,” said his dad, and he explained the tooth fairy.
This was Josh’s introduction to the creature—a being that seemed to have its whole strange existence dedicated to teeth.
“Just like dentists,” said his mom.
“Except a dentist can’t fly,” said his dad.
Josh was at a point in his life when everything felt possible. At night he’d walk home, cutting through the shortcut path by the bluff, and he could see the monsters behind the trees, waiting for him.
Josh wanted to hear more about what a fairy was, but his father didn’t seem to exactly know or didn’t want to explain. Instead he told Josh to put his tooth under his pillow and, if he was lucky, he’d wake up and under his pillow would be money.
Josh couldn’t sleep that night. He tossed and turned on his homemade multicolored quilt with its schizophrenic colors.
His father explained that the tooth fairy only came when you were asleep. If you didn’t fall asleep, he’d never come. Although, Josh noticed, sometimes his father said, “she.” It was like the tooth fairy could become any gender it wanted. It was a shape-shifter. Josh stared into the dark of his room and wondered if the clothes dresser was actually the tooth fairy, patient for him to go to sleep and then it would transform.
In the morning, Josh awoke without checking under his pillow. He showered. He did this Christmastime too; he didn’t go straight to the tree to see what presents Santa brought, to see if this year he passed as good and not naughty; instead he’d shower or eat or read in bed. His parents would ask if he was coming and he’d say soon. You had to savor things. His parents called Josh “strange.” So did his teacher, and his classmates. And the child psychologist who quit after two sessions, telling his parents that until Josh wanted to actually try at counseling, he was just wasting everyone’s time.
After the shower, Josh pulled the pillow back. Nothing was there.
There was a second pillow on the bed. Josh pulled this pillow back, and on the bed was an old used quarter.
The magic of it was incredible.
Josh’s mouth, he realized, was full of potential quarters. He felt along each tooth and calculated that his mouth was worth at least five dollars.
At the breakfast table, he was silent.
His parents left him alone when he was like that. They knew he could get “intense.”
With each bite of cereal, he considered if he needed teeth. He wondered how you yanked them out, what tool you would use.
It was Saturday. He had the entire weekend to extract another. When his father napped, he went to the garage. He found some tools—abrasives, drills, blasters, vices, anvils, saws. But it was the ice pick he took from the kitchen drawer that he felt was the smartest way to go.
Josh placed the pick on the gums near his weakest tooth, the one that would be the easiest to punch out of his head. He tapped the pick’s end and the pain was instant. So was the blood. But the tooth was unmoved. He found a dirty garage mirror and gave a bloody smile. Whoever designed this world with teeth fairies and bloody-faced children was a very twisted individual. Josh loved that.
He put away the tools and the ice pick, not even washing it in the sink. There wasn’t enough blood for anyone to notice.
He had a better idea.
Twenty-five students were in his class. Each had about twenty teeth. Five-hundred teeth in total. Which would be about a hundred dollars. At least.
He’d do it one student at a time.
He’d start with Marcus James Berenice.
Alcohol does incredible things to an elementary school student. And to Marcus James Berenice, a boy infamous in the town for drowning his neighbor’s puppy, the alcohol turned him into a vessel in which Josh could do anything he wanted.
And what he wanted were the white things in Marcus’s mouth. One would be good. For now. But more would be pure joy. The problem, of course, was how to accumulate them. The idea was simple: get Marcus in a state where he was thinking even less than he normally did and then convince him that he should try to knock out one of his incisors. Josh would tell him it’s what tough kids did.
Marcus said he’d only do it if he got to punch Josh in the face first. Josh agreed. He thought it might dislodge one of his own and he’d double his money.
The punch from Marcus was brutal, and off the mark. It landed on Josh’s nose. A perfect miss. Josh’s blood soon filled the tree fort. Albeit, there was no tree to the fort, considering it was just a bunch of boards they’d slapped together in an old field that was an illegal local dumping grounds. Josh leaned back and tried to swallow the blood; with its thick stream, he felt like he was drinking himself. He was.
“Just think,” said Josh, “this is what we do at church too. Except it’s Jesus’s.”
Marcus had no idea what Josh was talking about. He was contemplating that he had to punch himself in the face now, hard enough to soon be even more toothless. He told this to Josh.
“What do you mean ‘even more toothless’?”
“I lost one a few days ago.”
Josh forgot about his nose, asking what Marcus had done with the tooth.
He’d thrown it away.
“Then let’s go.”
“I’m not going in the garbage,” said Marcus, but then realized he no longer had to punch himself. It seemed like a good substitute.
The dump smelled, but the trashcan at Marcus’s house was unacceptable. Josh felt his way through decayed mash potatoes and used tissues. He’d run away from the can, breathe in some fresh air deeply, and then run back again.
After going through its entirety, Marcus realized there was a second filled garbage bag. The tooth, thank heavens, was in the second bag.
Josh turned on a hose in the back of the house and bathed himself in the cold, holding onto the tooth.
Marcus, sober now, told Josh that he was by far the most insane boy he’d ever met and he couldn’t wait to tell everyone in the school what had happened. He asked, “Why you want my teeths so bad?”
Josh plopped Marcus’s tooth into his own mouth and pretended to swallow it.
Marcus took a step back. Drowning puppies was one thing, but swallowing a stranger’s tooth was another.
On the walk home, Josh slid Marcus’s tooth in and out of the spot where his once had been.
That night, Josh slept in such a peaceful state that one would have wondered if he’d ever wake again. He did. He showered, extra long this time as the smell of junkyard and trash still clung to his hair.
When he came back to his room, he examined both pillows. He wondered which contained the quarter. He lifted the one with a bloodstain; it was remnants from his nose bleeding during the night. Nothing was underneath the pillow.
He lifted the other. Nothing there either.
He threw the sheets off of the bed. Then he saw what he didn’t want to see—his mother in the doorway, frowning.
“What in the globe are you doing?”
“Remaking my bed.”
“Well,” said his mother, “you don’t have to be so dramatic about it.”
Josh went to his door and dramatically closed it in his mother’s face. On the back of the door hung a black robe that Josh often forgot about. He never wore it because he looked too much like the Grim Reaper with it on; it was a gift from his grandmother before she passed away. Before people die, they tend to give morbid gifts.