Many years ago, there was a young man living on this street called Tom. Now, Tom was a young, healthy man, but was beginning to tire of the same dismal dinner of baked beans, tinned peas and the leftover vegetables from his landlady Maud’s weekly stew. After a few months, his diet and lifestyle began to take its toll. A dull ache emerged in his back teeth . It had begun with a momentary spasm of sudden, shocking pain that lasted the full heavy bite of his cold, black carrots. The spasms became more frequent. Tom resigned himself to the fact that he would have to visit the dentist.
Once he thought this, Tom immediately wanted to drink a bottle of whiskey and hit his head against a wall until the offending tooth fell out. The only dentist he knew of charged a lot of money, and had very red skin and hair, something he imagined was symptomatic of being constantly covered in patient’s blood.
Tom’s landlady Maud bustled in, holding a large steel pot of what smelled like terrible stew, and looked at him sharply.
‘What’s the matter with you?’
Tom looked around dolefully.
‘Riddled with toothache I am. I can’t get a grip on it at all.’
Maud rolled her eyes.
‘You lads can’t handle a bloody thing can you? Pull the thing out!’
‘I can’t! I tried but I couldn’t get back far enough to-ow!’
She grabbed the side of his face roughly and felt the back of his jaw.
‘Open your gob.’
He dutifully opened up and she recoiled.
‘Jesus boy, it’s a cesspit in there, are you not able to clean your teeth at all?’
‘I do! It’s just so sore lately that –‘
‘Christ. This won’t fix itself.’
Before she said the words he knew she was going to, Tom was gripped by a sudden and immeasurable dread.
‘You’ll have to go see someone.’
‘I can’t! I can’t afford it and – I just can’t!’
She trailed off and folded her arms.
‘My sister’s husband’s sister knew a fella before, he went to this chap across town..Worked out so he didn’t have to pay half of what you’d pay Red up the road there.
Tom thought of the red-faced dentist running his hands through his red hair, brandishing rusty equipment and grinning, exposing red gums and too white teeth.
‘Yes. I’ll ask them during the week when I see them. Can’t have you dying of something stupid in that lovely room of mine, you never can get the smell of death out of a place.’
A week of increasing pain later, Tom woke up one morning to find an envelope beside his mattress, with his name in block capitals. He tore it open and unfolded a large sheaf of paper. On one side there was a rough diagram, on the other, scribbled instructions.
Go to the top of the street
Left, till Mrs Reilly’s (you’ll know it, all the cats)
Up the down bit of the road
Down the right till Pa’s house (no cats at all)
Past the old school, follow to the park
When you’re almost at the end of the street, turn back 5 yards.
Posh looking house, steel knocker
Knock after 6, three times.
The dentist does take some money off the price, more if you tell him a bit of a story.
Don’t touch anything.
Tom felt a little dizzy, and read through the instructions again. There was no sign-off at the end. He flipped the page over and looked at the crudely drawn map. The map was no more intelligible the second, or even the third time he studied it. Tom sat on the mattress and felt depressed. He picked up a tin of beans and ate a few mouthfuls, wincing. He looked in the back of the spoon after he was finished to inspect his teeth.
Tom had taken to checking his teeth every couple of hours during the day. This operated in tandem with his newly vivid dreams, which consisted of his teeth very slowly but surely slipping out of his gums over the course of a day. In the dream, he tries to push the teeth back into the gums but every tooth he tries to push back in, simply serves to push another tooth out, until the penultimate scene where Tom is forced to hold all the teeth in with his hands, unable to talk or breathe properly and so resigns himself to letting go of them. Standing in front of the mirror, Tom watches silently as he takes his hands from his mouth and a cascade of teeth slip out, down the sink, bloodying his shirt.
He took a mouthful of water and swished it around before spitting a considerable amount of blood into a bowl. He put on his jacket and hurried out the door, map in his pocket.
Tom set out from the end of his road and tried following the map as directly as possible. The first two times, he ended back up squarely in front of his own house. The third, he ended up outside an old shack that seemed to be infested with …something furry. But on the fourth try, he managed to arrive at a shabby, imposing Georgian house. He had walked by it the first two times because its every orifice was choked in ivy, and felt as though he had missed the house in the blink of an eye, but chose not to dwell on it.
He banged the steel knocker three times. There was no answer. He knocked again, another three times. Still, no answer. He stood facing the door in silent anger. Turning around, he made to storm off in a huff, when he tripped. Brushing himself off as he stood, he saw the door half opened.
He tentatively put one foot over the threshold. Fully inside the door, he faced into a long, well-lit hallway. He walked to the end of the hallway, and to his right saw a small flight of stairs going down into the basement.
He looked around, grabbed a candle and made his way down the steps.
A thin voice piped through the darkness and concrete walls.
‘I’ve been waiting for you all day.’
He could not see very well in the clammy dark, but was hesitant to move anywhere near the voice. He waited for it to speak again.
‘Tom? Come into the right there, the light is rather dull down here I’m afraid.’
Suddenly, the basement hall was illuminated. He looked down the now-lit hallway, and saw a large door at the end of it.
‘Tom, come. I don’t bite!’
Walking towards the door, Tom was hit by a hot burst of moisture in the air. It smelled familiar, but with an underlying sourness, like warm butter in a bin.
Once in the door, the smell was not as overwhelming. It was not as well-lit as the hall, and Tom squinted around to get his bearings. There was a large, black leather dentist’s chair in the middle of the room, with a small table attached to its side. Facing this was a desk, covered in papers and an array of tools.
‘Ah, you made it.’
Tom started. Behind the desk was a man. He once again felt as though he had missed something in a the space of half a second.
‘Wha-I – I didn’t see you get here.’
The man chuckled.
‘I was here all along.’
Tom looked at the man. He was very round, and almost translucently pale. Tom could not tell if the man was sitting down or simply very short, the desk covering his entire lower half. He wore a very tight medical cap on his head, and several pale hairs sprouted from underneath it. The most notable thing about his appearance was the fact that he was wearing small, very round sunglasses, perched at the tip of his button nose, which appeared to be covered in a light sheen of sweat.
‘Are you nervous Tom? I have a lot of people come to me very anxious and worked up over simple problems that tend to…. run away with themselves.’
‘Well, we haven’t been properly introduced yet. My name is Dr Paul, it’s very nice to meet you Tom.’
The dentist did not make any gesture to shake hands.
‘Yes, nice to meet you too. How did you know it was me?’
The dentist laughed.
‘You have some good people looking out for you Tom.’
Tom waited for further explanation and when it was not offered, he cleared his throat again.
‘So.. do you want to tell me why you’re here?’
‘Ahem… yes. Em. My back teeth… They’re really sore. And now so are my front teeth. They didn’t hurt at the start but now they do.
‘And why is it you came to see me specifically?’
‘Well… I was told that you very kindly charge people less than the usual fees…And I was wondering would I be eligible for this and I-‘
‘Say no more, I don’t need to be privy to your personal affairs. Let’s see what we can do.
‘Take a seat, please. Now Tom.. There is one catch in the agreement we choose to make, as you may have suspected. You’re an intelligent boy, and I appreciate you must think there is something…off about my situation.’
Tom breathed in deeply.
‘As you can see from my glasses, I do not see very well. In fact, I am fully blind. My license would have been taken off me when I began to lose my sight. I had been practicing for 25 years and then, my body betrayed me. I had good friends Tom, good friends like you do. They helped me relocate and set up my small word-of- mouth business here, where I can do some small good for other good people, and not have to fear the state taking me out on some irrelevant detail. I have relearned my trade through utilising the best parts of all my senses and intelligence. For the procedure to cost an affordable rate, the patient must understand all of this and agree to my conditions, which is that the patient must wear a blindfold throughout.
‘Ah, consider it a matter of personal comfort, an insecurity even. I prefer the patient and I to be on an equal footing, I find it adds to their understanding of my work. If the patient does not want to agree to this, that is also entirely fine. I bear no ill will to those who may feel somewhat uncomfortable in such a situation.’
Tom fidgeted in his chair and weighed up his feelings.
‘Ah! Are you sure now Tom?’
‘No, yeah it’s grand. I’ll do it.’
‘Ok Tom, I’m just making out a form here for you to fill in after we have a look and see what’s going on. I’m going to give you a small amount of dilute anaesthetic that will numb the gums for you, just in case I need to dig a little deeper to get to the bottom of things. The vial is on the table beside you, and there should be a stack of blindfolds beside it. I’d like you to put on the blindfold now, and to take the vial immediately after. I expect you will be nervous, but don’t worry, I’ll talk you through everything.’
Tom found the blindfold and the vial. He popped the lid off the vial and took a deep breath. He was hit again by the smell of hot butter as he tipped the solution into his mouth, but did not find this strange. Lying back, he rolled the sweet liquid around in his mouth, already feeling the numbing effects as the pain in his teeth faded.
‘How are you feeling Tom?’
Tom felt as though he had fallen asleep for several hours. He could not tell where the dentist’s voice was coming from. He blinked under the blindfold, seeing nothing but blacker darkness. As he went to reply, he found he could not move his mouth.
‘Ah, the drug has taken effect. A very excellent recipe if I do say so.’
The dentist sounded closer. His voice had climbed several pitches. Again, Tom tried to reply, but found he could not even remember which muscles he had to use in order to do so.
‘Ah Tom…. don’t upset yourself. Just relax.’
Tom heard an oozing sound as something in the room began to move. It was very slight, but unmistakable. Tom blinked furiously under the blindfold and was horrified to find he could not move his head. When he tried to move his arms and legs he found he had been restrained with what felt like very tough rope. A high chuckle came from the side of the room, and the smell of sour butter became even more pungent. He tried shaking his head and began to thrash his arms and legs as much as possible. They were so tightly bound that he managed only to hurt himself with the force he was using, but he continued.
As he tried to break free, his blindfold slipped slightly to one side. The room was very dark, and out of the corner of his eye Tom saw something coiled, white and monstrously large beside him, latching onto his leg with its small round mouth. He felt something breathe hotly on his ankle, and wet himself suddenly. The thing sucking on his leg seemed to notice this, and slowly moved its baleful head up to meet Tom’s eyes. It appeared to be looking at him but had no eyes, only a small wet hole for a mouth.
The giant worm spoke with so much moisture it got flecks on Tom’s face. It oozed up to his face, almost as though to kiss him, and the sweet earthy smell from its mouth made Tom want to retch. He felt his stomach contract as he noticed the dentist’s clothes crumpled in the corner, and the pale hair sprouting from its giant white head. The worm rubbed the part of its face where the eyes should be on Tom’s cheek, its skin so thin Tom could almost hear the blood pulse through it. It continued to stroke his cheek with its face, and its breathing became more and more shallow. Tom faded in and out of consciousness, gasping intermittently in an attempt to breathe through the bile in his throat. The last thing Tom saw was the giant worm licking where its lips should be, with a long, thin white tongue. His body came back to life just in time for him to feel the worm’s tongue slip wetly into his own mouth, engorging and pulsing inside Tom’s oesophagus until finally he did not breathe anymore.
Anna Walsh is from Mullingar and holds an MA in Creative Writing. Published in Headstuff, the Bohemyth, Poethead and Dead King Mag, amongst others, she is currently working on her first book.