Teeth

I carried the heavy sack of teeth on my back for two hours. A whole night of jumping through the veil and two damn hours carrying four blood-soaked teeth, and for what? So a bunch of human kids can wake up tomorrow and find $3.50 underneath their pillows? I’m getting too old for this tooth fairy shit.

Merryl is waiting at the drop off. The pool of liquid magma he’s standing by casts deep ominous shadows on his face.

He waves me over with two bony fingers.

“You’re late,” he says, pushing against his temples like I just ruined the delicate balance of space-time with my tardiness.

“There was a situation with a cat. Bastard chased me around the house for half an hour while I recharged.”

He blinks. “A cat.”

I try to laugh it off, waving my hand in front of me as I throw the sack of teeth at him. He doesn’t bite. Not metaphorically, at least. He’s got teeth sharp enough to rip my head off if he wanted to.

His face turns sombre as he rummages through the sack in front of him.

“Four teeth. Four.”

Sweat breaks on my forehead and I wish it didn’t. He can smell fear, they say. Still, it takes every ounce self-restraint not to jump at his throat. “I’m sorry Mr. M. Dry night. And the neighbourhoods you gave me… they’re…”

“They’re what?” He snarls at me, exposing row after row of shark-like teeth.

“Well… they’re all uptown, you know? You guys always give me the shitty neighbourhoods. The ones who don’t believe in this crap. And for what, huh?”

“Maybe you ought to do your job better. Terry brought in sixteen teeth tonight. You know how many teeth that is or do you want me to count it for you?” He kicks my sack of teeth. One tooth rolls out and settles by my feet. I look at it, encrusted with dried up blood and phlegm.

“Come on Mr. M. I spent two hours dragging those teeth over here. My back hurts. I feel like I’ve been hit by a—”

“I don’t care you dumb, pathetic, sorry excuse for a tooth fairy. You make me sad.”

“You know what? Fuck you. Fuck this job. And fuck you twice, Merryl. There, I said it. Fuck this Mr. M. crap.”

Merryl’s face is so red it glows brighter than the magma by his feet but when he speaks his calm makes me feel like I just tried kicking in a door only to find it’s already open. “You think we’re messing around, don’t you? Yeah I know your type. I’ve been doing this since 1925, kid. You walk in, ask for a job delivering teeth. Be a tooth fairy, easy money, your mum said, didn’t she? Think it’s going to be easy. Jump the veil a couple times a night, collect your bounty. Just like that, huh? You think we’re doing this because we like spending money on this crap?” He grabs a tooth from the sack and throws it into the boiling pool. The tooth sizzles as it hits the magma and, for a second, it floats, then it sinks. “Would you be happier if I showed you?”

“What?”

“If I showed you? Would you get back to work?” His tone is dark. I’ve never seen Merryl this grim before. “And if I showed you, would you swear to me you wouldn’t tell a soul. Would you swear on your life? Because I’m telling you, if you speak of this, with anyone, I will have you killed.”

Then he grabs me by the neck of my robe…

…and we’re standing inside a room. White walls, white floor, white ceiling I bet I could touch if I tried. A solitary fairy at a desk in the middle of the room (the only furniture other than the chair she’s sitting on) sits thumbing through a ledger. She seems unaware of our arrival. She licks her thumb and flips to the next page.

I open my mouth to protest but Merryl’s look shuts me right the hell up.

“Mr. M. What brings you here today?”

“I’m sorry for the interruption Dolores, but I’ve got a friend here I’d like to give the tour to.”

“Another one of your tooth-fairies-gone-rogue I take it.”

He nods. She doesn’t look up from the ledger. She points at a door that wasn’t there a second ago. What the fuck’s going on here, I want to ask, but the sanctity and the silence of the room envelopes me. Even Merryl is less intimidating in here. He looks… small.

We walk through the door and it closes behind us.

“Now do you understand why we need the teeth?”

We’re in an upside dome of sorts. Small, spheres of red liquid cover every inch of it as far as the eye can see and in the middle: a mountain of white, shiny teeth sitting in a pool of white liquid feeding into the spheres of red. The mountain of teeth rumbles and shrinks, just a tiny bit, and the liquid moves.

The red spheres pulsate.

I feel my skin contract, turning into tiny little bumps. I take a step back only to find Merryl’s arm, surprisingly strong, holding me in place. “What’s going on here, Merryl? What the hell is this place?”

“Look closer,” he says with a whisper.

I do, and I don’t see what I’m supposed to see. Not immediately at least. Then the mountain moves again, and the liquid pumps into the spheres, and they pulsate and I see a shadow. Shadows, one in each sphere. My mind doesn’t make sense of it at first, when it does I feel my mouth turn dry.

“Fairy foetuses,” I whisper to no-one in particular.

“We can’t reproduce, you see? Not after the war with those fucking glabber bastards.”

Words are stuck in my throat. I want to scream. I want to run and forget everything I’ve seen. But my feet are frozen in place.

“So we grow children. But we need the calcium, you see, from the teeth. Human teeth. We melt it and use it to grow the bones. That’s why we pay good money for the teeth. Without them, we’d be long gone.”

A thousand different questions reel through my mind. I pick one. “How long?”

“Since 1923.”

“I was…I was born in 1926.”

“I guess you were, weren’t you? That makes you batch number 1.”

His words swirl in my mind and we’re back by the pool of magma. There’s a tooth by my feet. I pick it up and hand it over to him. He smiles as he takes it and looks at his watch.

“So… you think you got another shift in you? Or do you still want to call it a night?”

I pick the sack off the ground, empty it and I’m gone.

 

Virus

They couldn’t see what I was seeing. Not from inside the vault they call home. That I called home, at least until half a minute ago. There’s no windows, no cameras to see the Outside. Why would there be? Everyone had been told the Outside would be destroyed by the war. And if not by the war, or the nuclear missiles, or the fallout, it would be destroyed by the hole we’d punch through the ozone layer. There’d be nothing to see but dirt and sand and collapsed skyscrapers on the horizon, the last remnants of humanity from before.

But the world’s not destroyed. It’s green and blue as far as the eyes can see. The sun doesn’t burn my eyes; the wind doesn’t tear the airtight suit I’m wearing; and the skyscrapers stand as tall as my father told me they used to, long before even he was born. Oxygen is optimal, or so say the sensors in my suit. No radioactivity.

How long has it been like this? How long has the world been fixed? I feel my heart pounding harder and faster in my chest. My fingers quiver in the thick gloves.

“Adam, you’ve got sixty seconds of oxygen left. Come back, now!” Chris, from mission control, speaks to me using a low-range radio signal that’s paired with the receiver in my suit. The suit doesn’t transmit back. Why would it? There was supposedly nothing out here to describe that couldn’t wait until getting back to the vault. How terribly wrong they were.

Was it ever destroyed or had we been living in the vault, wasting away for three whole generations, for nothing? Because someone somewhere made a mistake, jumped the gun, and led people into a vault to live their lives in fear of nothing, nothing at all.

No wonder every scout we sent out never came back. They weren’t dying… they were running away.

“Adam? Thirty seconds. Come on!”

I ponder going back, but who would believe me? Even if someone did believe me and went out to verify my claim, what guarantee would I have that they’d come back?

I unlatch and pull off my right glove first. The cold wind sends a chill from my fingers up to my shoulder and my suit hisses for a moment, as the sudden rush of air replenishes the diminishing oxygen inside. Then the other glove comes off.

“You can’t survive out there, Adam. Please. You need to return to the vault.”

“Why would I? You kept us all in the dark,” I reply as I search for the latch on the back of my helmet. “You lied to us. You told us it was unsafe.”

“No, Adam. We didn’t.”

I stop my search for the helmet latch when I realise that was an answer, an answer to a question they shouldn’t have heard.

“You can hear me.”

“Yes. The suit transmits back. We just… we never told anyone because…”

“Because what, huh?” I finally find the latch, grip, and pull. The helmet loosens at the neck and I pull it out of my head slowly. I take a deep breath, the fresh air—truly fresh, not that recycled crap we breathed down in the vault—filling my lungs and I cough it back out. My body’s not used to it. But it sure as hell feels good. “Tell me, mission control, tell me why you didn’t tell anyone? More lies!” I hold my helmet upside down, like I’m talking into a fish bowl.

“No. No lies. You’ve taken the helmet off, haven’t you?”

“Yes, and I’m getting the hell outta he—” The words get stuck in my throat. I cough again, harder this time, and a spatter of blood fills the inside of the helmet I’m holding in my hands.

“What the fuck?!

That’s why. The world isn’t safe, Adam. No-one ever lied to you about that.”

I run back to the metal door. “Let me back into the vault, goddammit!” I pound it with my fists but every pound is weaker than the one before it.

“I can’t let you in, Adam. You know the rules.”

I turn around slowly and slide down to the soft grass, my back against the door.

“I guess… I guess this is goodbye, huh?”

“I suppose it is, Adam. I tried, man, I told you to get back in here. I tried.”

I laugh and it burns my chest. Through the helmet, I hear someone punching metal. A control panel, maybe.

“So, what is it? Virus?”

“No-one knows for sure. Everyone who knew is dead, and they told no-one.”

“Doesn’t matter though, right?” I feel a smile creep on my face. For years I wondered what was out here. Now that I finally find out, I’m going to die before I can experience it. Each breath I take comes coupled with an increasing price of pain, and soon, I know, I won’t be able to pay for it. “Thanks for trying anyway, Chris. I wish you could see this, man. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”