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When I woke up in the morning, I knew something was off. It wasn't until after my morning shower and shave that I figured it out. Not until my toothbrush slipped into a new gap in my smile. I froze, bristles bridging the gap, as I tried to understand what happened. Slowly, I removed the toothbrush from my mouth and stared in the mirror as I pulled my lips back, part smile, mostly grimace.
There it was, under my whitewashed, paste smeared lips and set in the sudsy white teeth was a little black window.. Upper set, one of the front ones. I'm not a particularly vain person, but this was upsetting. Missing teeth were for yokels, the homeless, people who got into fistfights over sports. I wear a suit, I go to meetings, I have a secretary. Now, here I was, looking like I was dirt.
What made this deterioration worse was that just a few weeks ago, I had noticed my hair was thinning. Now this. My anxiety flared and my mind exploded with reasons why my tooth could have fallen out. Was it because I only brushed my teeth once a day on the weekends? Or was it something with my gums? I went through the day with my upper lip curled over my teeth and my mind filled with every possible reason why my tooth was gone. My secretary scheduled a dentist's appointment for me later in the week. I didn't tell her why.
The next morning, I was missing another one. Bottom, towards the back. No blood, no pain. There was a hole, I couldn't keep my tongue out of it, but that was it. Physically, at least. On the inside, I felt a constant, claustrophobic panic. At home, every couple of minutes, I would tear off my sheets or get down on all fours, spreading out like a stretching dog, fingers splayed, praying that some part of me would touch these lost teeth. They had to be somewhere. Maybe the dentist could put them back in.
On the third day, my front three teeth on the top and bottom were gone. I almost cried. I was single and all I could think about was how no woman would want someone with such a fucked up mouth. Every few minutes I reached into my mouth to push and pull on my teeth to see if they were loose. That is until I began to the worry that I was making them loose with all the tugging. I didn't go to work, I just called my dentist a half dozen times, trying to get him to see me as soon as possible.
The anxiety burned me out. So, after I carefully brushed my teeth, I went to bed early. I don't know when I woke up, but when I did I saw him. I don't know why I didn't scream or jump back against the headboard. Somehow, I just stayed still and watched him through slivers of open eyes. In the dark I could just barely see the outline of his hunched back. His face was pale and waxy, his thin, round glasses caught the little bit of streetlight that came through my window. When he put his hand in my mouth, I tasted leather. Short, fat fingers pinched one of my teeth. I felt a quick, sharp slice into my gum and then just a gap where my tooth was. He took four more, then creeped out of my room. The floorboards didn't squeak and my door hinge didn't whine as he closed it. I didn't even hear the front door open and close. All I heard was a car starting and pulling out of my driveway.
I didn't go anywhere the next day. My dentist's office called, but I didn't answer my phone or listen to their voicemail. I didn't move out of my bed. The hunger didn't bother me. I had fewer teeth than a Jack O'Lantern and I couldn't imagine trying to chew with my asymmetrical maw. My mouth was dry, but when I thought about water I thought about floods and mudslides washing away hills and houses and gums and teeth sliding down the back of my throat on a wave.
I couldn't call the police. "A man is stealing my teeth at night," might as well be the password for a mental asylum. Instead, I tried to fight sleep. Every light was turned on, every TV on its loudest setting, my stereo cranked to its limit.
When I woke up, it was in the silent dark and he was there.
He took three more that night. When he left, I followed. Where I walked, floorboards squeaked and hinges whined, but he didn't look back. I saw his car, some old steel boat with fins and white walls. After he pulled out, I ran to my car and went after him. He had to know I was behind him. I kept my distance, because that's what spies and detectives do in movies, but at this time of night we were the only two cars on the road. And, I realized, he's seen my car before.
We headed for the boondocks, rural roads I'd never been on. They were dark and narrow, turning back and forth, rising up into fog, then dipping down again. Trees flanked us. No moon or stars, just headlights that shined on the reflective markers on the guardrail. I didn't know what time we started, but it felt like we'd been driving for hours. Maybe he was trying to lose me, but... I hadn't seen any other roads.
Finally, after a long, curving ride up and then down a mountain, I started to see familiar roads. This guy was fucking with me. All we did was go in a big circle. These were the streets that took us out into the backwoods. The exact streets.
We were going back to my house.
But it wasn't my house. It looked like my house, but at my house the mailbox is to the right of the driveway. Here, it's to the left. And in the yard was the birch tree I had cut down two years ago.
He parked his car and walked inside. I followed right behind. I knew where he was going and how to get there. The layout was the same as my house. Only the furniture was in different places. I walked back to my bedroom and pushed the door open with my fingertips. He had turned on a small lamp on the nightstand (mine had three drawers, this had two) and he was already at work.
In my bed, under the covers, was a lump of flesh. Someone, maybe the man, had sculpted crude arms and a neck and a soft, dented jawline. On the top of its head was an uneven, sparse tuft of hair. Brown. Same shade as mine. Two small holes for a nose, angular divots where the eyes should be. The sheets rose and fell with shallow breath. I watched him open up the lump's lipless ovoid mouth and with crafter's precision carefully set my teeth into its gums. After they were in, he grabbed them, wiggled them, tugged on them. They wouldn't budge.
Slowly, he turned from his work and looked at me. His face was yellow in the dim lamplight. The eyes behind the glasses were little more than pinpricks of pupil. Over his shoulder, the lump stirred. It struggled to breathe, each exhale was a muffled internal scream. It tried to rise, tried to push itself up with boneless, flipper-like hands, but they just smashed useless against the mattress. The groaning breaths became more frustrated and angry as it struggled to prop itself up. When the lump finally shimmied itself against the head board, it joined the man in staring at me and I stared back. First into its empty sockets the same dull, slimy pink as a newborn baby.
The room was getting smaller. The bulb in the bedside lamp explodes and the only light comes from the man's tiny eyes. Thin bolts of blazing yellow that cut right through the pitch dark of the room, illuminating little island of his sickly flesh. The pupils spread, the light widened, revealing more and more of his face. His mouth was opened. Wide. Unhinged. All I could see was teeth, sloppily spiraling around the inside of his mouth until they disappeared into the dark of his throat. All I heard was the struggling breaths of the lump, now loud as thunder, but still maintaining that muffled quality. My eyes traced the spiral of teeth, straining to follow them into the cavernous black esophagus. I fell in and rode the spiral down.
I woke up in my house. My real house. It was a few more nights before all my teeth were gone. Then I started to lose my fingernails and toenails. Last night, he took my lips. Now, there's just a gaping black hole in my face.
I don't know what he'll take next, but I saw myself half-formed in that bed. I know there's a lot of work to be done.
Written by ImGonnaBeThatGuy