Gary Tildton sat in the waiting room. There was the light sound of soft music, a purely instrumental remake of a pop hit from decades ago. There was no one else waiting with him and he looked around at the drab gray rug and the plastic chairs up against each wall. The fluorescent tubing above him flickered and as he glanced up he noticed that one panel of lights was actually in a constant state of flicker, staying only half lit.
Across the room a frosted glass window was slid mostly shut, an occasional woman’s voice cackling out as a receptionist or hygienist made small talk while going about some form of paperwork. Gary looked at the magazines on the table next to him, read the same headlines he had just read ten minutes ago, decided again that none of them interested him, and went back to staring at the door that led to the dentist’s office next to the frosted glass window.
With a ruptured slide the door suddenly opened and a troll-like woman leaned her head out. “Gary? Gary?”
Gary looked up and smiled at her.
“Doctor Fenwick will see you now. Follow me.”
Gary stood up and walked into the tiled back rooms of the dentist’s office. It was somehow cooler, and the soft music of the waiting room fell away into a strange clinical silence. There was background noise, the shuffle of papers, the clicking of a pen, footsteps and murmured conversation, but they might as well have been the sounds of a new radio station that was being piped in, all Gary saw was the receptionist leading him past empty rooms and finally into his own empty room.
She smiled as she lifted the armrest of the brown vinyl dental chair and waved Gary in. He sat down gingerly, settling in as the armrest fell into place on his side. After a few seconds of trepidation, he felt the chair fit into the natural contour of his body and he reclined and manage to relax as he stared around the room.
An LED light hung on a crane over his legs, ready to be swung into place over his mouth. He could hear the gargle of water on his left and he tilted his head to see a small porcelain, circular bowl with a thin chrome pipe pouring a constant stream of water into it.
He took a deep breath and tapped his hands on the arm rests to the beat of the last song he had heard in the waiting room, wishing he had grabbed a magazine on his way in, then remembering that he hadn’t been interested in any of them. He tried to look back at the door, but he was forced to crane his neck around in such an odd fashion that he gave up. He went back to tapping the arm rests.
Gary spasmed in the chair as a cheery woman’s voice suddenly addressed him. “My name is Mandy, I’ll be the oral surgeon who is extracting your wisdom teeth today. This is Cindy, she’ll be assisting me.”
Gary smiled and nodded to the two woman that had appeared. His startled heartbeat continued and he found himself anxious and nervous, none of which was helped by noticing that the assistant, Cindy, was a very attractive young woman. He smiled at her and when she smiled back, her long eyelashes flashing, he was stunned for a few seconds.
“So,” the doctor said, “you’ve opted for twilight anesthesia, Gary, using an IV and some gas. This will knock you out pretty good, although for some patients there is still a sense of consciousness. And depending on your reaction to the IV we may not use gas at all. Does that sound like the choices you made earlier, and are you still comfortable with them?” Gary’s chair was starting to recline as some unseen lever was pushed, and the doctor smiled down at him.
“Good!” The doctor said cheerily. “Now, we also have to restrain you as, while under this anesthesia, some patients try to stand up, or dance, or will even relax so much that they slide down and out of the chair, if you can believe that! So that’s why my assistant is buckling you in right now, for your own safety.”
Gary looked down and saw the adorable Cindy using a thick and well-used strap to bind him across the stomach, pinning his arms down.
“And now the IV.”
Gary quickly glanced around the room, knowing that looking at the needle would just make him nervous. He felt a pinprick on his arm and began tapping his foot anxiously waiting for more.
“Okay,” the doctor chimed cheerily. “The IV is already in place, that wasn’t too bad, was it? Now we’ll just wait and see how you react.”
Gary looked down, surprised to see that an IV was, indeed, already in his arm. What shock he felt was mild though as he began to feel like he was drifting through the air. A slow dumb smile appeared on his face and he heard the doctor and assistant talking, to him possibly, like their voices were being played on a deep speaker on the other side of a wall.
“Okay he seems cognizant still. Better apply the gas,” the doctor said.
Gary felt a gas mask cover his mouth and nose. Although “felt” was too strong a word as it was more that he was aware of the mask because he could see it, but not because it was attached to his face. The air tasted odd for a few seconds as he breathed in and out and a voice told him to count slowly while he did so, which he found funny because he wasn’t sure he could move his mouth to count.
His head fell back into the chair more fully, he could hear the material rustling against his hair, although the he wasn’t sure where either his head or the chair were.
“He’s out,” the assistant said.
“Agreed,” the doctor answered.
Wearily Gary stared up through a fog and saw the white ceiling. Then a light swung out on a stand and was pulled to hang over his face. He heard a “kathunk” and there was a bright light shining down on him, blinding at first, but his pupils did their job and protected his eyes. It was a bright circle just above him and he felt like he was swimming as the room floated all around him.
Then the light was being moved about a bit, and through the fog Gary knew that something was opening his mouth. He could hear it being opened, and he was pretty sure he could see it happening, but he couldn’t feel a thing.
A brace of some sort was being inserted to keep his mouth nice and wide. He then heard the familiar sound of suction, and he knew that the hose-thing they used to keep your mouth empty of spit was in. He closed his eyes, or tried to consciously close them, thinking it might be best at this point to just fall asleep, and he was sure that he at least blinked, but he continued to look lazily around the room.
The walls were all distorted, he chuckled mentally to himself at how slightly off everything seemed. Things were just sort of wavy and weird. And metallic and shiny. It was like he was in a strange rendition of the dentist’s office.
The doctor’s face was melted and drawn out long and suddenly Gary wanted to run, to flee, to scream out, but all he could do was lay there. The doctor’s mouth expanded to reveal four extra rows of teeth, all of them triangular and ridged, sitting in layers in her gray distorted jaw. As she leaned over him saliva dripped down from the corners of her mouth, gooey and strange, and Gary dimly noticed the assistant wiping it away with a rag.
Gary’s eyes lolled about and he saw a stainless steel tool, something like a pair of thick pliers, being handed to the doctor. He knew they were in his mouth, he could hear them rattling against his teeth. He could hear the doctor and assistant talking, though he wasn’t sure what they were saying as a crackling sound filled his head along with the rattling of the pliers and his heartbeat pounding in his head with fear, and he realized his teeth were being cracked out of his jaw.
The doctor’s mouth opened, triangle teeth cascading back into darkness, and again a long trail of saliva splashed against his face. He saw the assistant mopping it up with another gauze pad, this time it came away stained dark red with blood and Gary wanted to cry.
“These will make a fine addition to our harvest,” the doctor said.
The cute assistant only nodded, her mandibles clicking together in a rhythmic chatter as her compound eyes reflected a hundred different tools protruding from a hundred different mouths.
There was another crack that vibrated through Gary’s skull and the pliers were removed. Gary noticed the doctor’s hand and the grotesque fingers, many inches long, each with dozens of knuckles. As the fingers dangled over his open mouth he struggled to squirm away, willed his body to move, but only sat there and watched as two impossibly long fingers reached into his pried open mouth and, almost daintily, plucked out a now mostly freed wisdom tooth.
Holding it up in the light the doctor examined it, and a forked tongue probed it and cleaned it off. “An excellent harvest indeed.” Her tongue continued to clean and polish the tooth.
The assistant’s mandibles chattered angrily.
“I am cleaning it!” the doctor barked. “Not tasting it. Do not be foolish.”
The mandibles chattered more, loudly, entering into a shrieking whine at times, a scream that made Gary want to sob and he screamed inside his skull begging his body to pass out.
The doctor glanced down at him.
“You are disturbing him!” she yelled. “He will remember!”
The two heads above him fell into a grim silence. The doctor reached an appendage towards a control panel on the wall. Her lengthy fingers tapped over it, and canned music began to play. It was much like the music from the waiting room, but there hadn’t been music in the office itself when Gary came in and the doctor was looking at him and when he turned the cute assistant was worrying over him, shining a pen light in his eyes. She really was very cute and he tried to be charming through a mouth of gauze and a sucking hose, and failed, but he thought he saw the assistant smile at him.
“He’s relaxed,” she said to the doctor.
The stainless steel pliers were again wedged into his mouth and after more cracking two more teeth were removed.
But at the fourth tooth the doctor seemed stymied. A long blade of shiny nickel was brought out and there was some commotion in his mouth but he couldn’t feel anything. He heard the mandibles chattering again as the doctor leaned over him, concentrating, spittle splashing over him from her rowed fangs and the handle of the large blade bobbed in and out of his vision as she sawed at his jaw.
The pliers returned, but the doctor rattled them against Gary’s jaw with little effect. Struggling to get better leverage she partly straddled him and her knee dug into his stomach as she gripped the pliers and Gary stared into her face, into the eyes like dark red marbles wedged into her catfish-like skin and he burned the memory into his brain in terror.
There was an intense crack that reverberated throughout Gary’s skull, then, like an echo, a smaller, crunchier noise as the pliers wiggled.
The doctor seemed crestfallen. The chattering mandibles of the assistant reached a frenzied clacking.
“I can save it,” the doctor grumbled loudly.
More clacking from the assistant.
Another set of pliers was taken out, these with an end that tapered into a point, and the doctor plucked and hovered over Gary’s mouth, some of her fingertips resting against his face, stabilizing the other fingers that were handling the pliers. Her gray palm balanced on these multiple arches of knuckles as she removed piece after piece of the final tooth. Each piece was placed gingerly on a pad held by the assistant, who clearly was not happy as her mandibles snapped together sporadically.
“They will still fetch us something on the market,” the doctor said. “They are fine specimens, perhaps we’ll grind them for powder.”
There was a disgruntled chirp from the assistant.
“Do something about all the bleeding,” the doctor said, her fingers withdrawing from his mouth. The assistant leaned over and Gary felt nauseous as he saw himself refracted in a thousand compound eyes, and as she buzzed a hairy proboscis uncoiled from her lower chin. A sucking noise filled the room and then the bristling proboscis retracted and she began mopping Gary’s face with gauze and rags, each one maroon with blood by the time she was through.
She chittered at the doctor who came to loom over Gary once again.
“Agreed,” the doctor said, and from a nearby table she plucked up a needle and thread. The fingers descended into his mouth again and he felt nothing as he saw her sew with speed and precision. She hovered over him, tilted her head this way and that, examining him and her work. “One last look,” she said, and seven knuckled fingers gripped the lamp and drew it down and over Gary’s head. The light was bright, intense, and filled everything Gary could see.
He sat and waited, and sat and waited. The light was out, or moved, he wasn’t sure, and he heard the sink next to him gurgling with water. He took a deep breath, and had the oddest sensation because it was the first time in a while that he had been able to control the taking of a breath. He saw movement on his side and thought he glimpsed the assistant sitting next to him, but then Doctor Fenwick was back. “Well hello there. Cindy said you were coming around.”
Gary blurrily glanced over and there was Cindy. She blinked her long eyelashes at him and smiled.
“The procedure went very well. We had some problems with the last tooth, but we managed to retrieve it all and things look good overall. I have a prescription here for some pain medication to be taken as needed,” she said and she gave Gary a slip of paper. “And you’ll need to schedule a return visit to get those stitches out, and so I can check to make sure the healing is going well of course. But you can talk to the receptionist about that. How are you feeling?”
All of Gary wanted to vomit or run or sweat or all three. He was beyond disoriented and somewhere in the back of his head there was the sound of a lingering, unreleased, scream.
He glanced at Cindy and was given another fluttery smile and things began to seem more normal. Gary shrugged so used to not being able to do anything, and he found it strange again when his shrug was accomplished exactly how he wanted it and then he said out loud, “Okay,” hoping he sounded cool.
“Great. Well Cindy will show you out and, again, talk to the receptionist for a check-up appointment. You have somebody coming to pick you up?”
“My mommy,” Gary said, instantly regretting his choice of words and realizing that maybe he wasn’t quite 100% yet.
He followed Cindy out of the backrooms of the office sheepishly, barely noticing as she smiled at him and then he spoke to the receptionist and before he knew it he was sitting back in the waiting room, looking down at the same set of old magazines.
His mom showed up and led him outside, being annoyingly, overly careful, as they made their way down to the where her car was parked.
“So?” she asked as she started the car. “How are you feeling now that it’s over?”
He took a deep breath and began to feel, for the first time, the odd soggy swelling that was puffing up his whole jaw. He had the strangest flood of horrible memories, but they were foggy and distant somehow and he only had a vague sense of foreboding, a strange tinge of unease, instead of any clear idea of what he was remembering.
“That good huh?” his mom said. “Well what kind of ice cream do you want? They said cold foods like that were good if you can handle them, and I think we deserve a treat.”
“Chocolate chip mint,” Gary said, suddenly excited for ice cream.
And with that, the foggy memories dissipated and were lost.
Joseph Devon: Hailing from New Jersey, Joseph is sarcastic, caustic, abrasive, and yet a surprisingly good cook. As the eldest member of the arena’s cadre, Joseph has come to rely on discipline over flash and dozens of rewrites over bursts of creativity. He also sometimes remembers where he put his dentures. Joseph grew up fighting for attention over loud guidos and even louder New Yorkers and polished a knack for concise, striking imagery. A fan of most anything silly, Joseph also has a depth hidden under his love of talking animals that can rope in unsuspecting readers and make them think before they realize they’re reading anything of substance. Joseph is the author of the first two books of the Matthew and Epp trilogy, Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions and is hard at work on the third.