I prodded at the fragment of my front tooth, which jutted from the gums like a crumbled gravestone.

My phone balanced at the back of the sink, next to the tap. An open article on Doctor.Net stared up at me from the screen. I’d decided to give it a cursory Google before I went through with it. ‘Why you should leave dental work to your dentist’ read the headline.

But Doctor Caldwell had only offered a procedure called bonding. Which would use a tooth-coloured composite resin. Good, but not good enough. Who’d want a tooth half normal and half almost the same colour? Not me, that’s for sure.

Yet, as I held the syringe in a grip that trembled, questions arose. Was this a wise decision? I countered that with would they let the website continue to operate if it could be dangerous? And the answer to that: no. Or, rather: most likely not.

Besides, the contents of the vial had the same translucent-purple hue as my mouthwash. And four out of five dentists recommended that. So, how bad could it be? I considered myself fortunate to have stumbled across the site at all. The banner declared it to be ‘dentistry’s best kept secret’.

“To hell with it,” I said to my mirror image.

And pierced the roof of my mouth with the needle.

Sharp pain jabbed, short and jagged. A gasp escaped me, air out of a punctured tire. I had to concentrate on keeping still, to not waggle the lodged syringe about. I eased the plunger down. The purple fluid disappeared into my flesh, cold and fuzzed-out. Liquid pins and needles.

The syringe came free with a wet pop. I wheezed, a stupid, drunken smirk plastered across my face. Oh my god, I tried to say. What came out sounded like, “Oh I ohd.” My numb gums tingled, sensationless. Even my lips vibrated and throbbed. It chilled my tonsils and the back of my throat — as if I’d chugged an ice slushie.

According to the misspelt box — Growth Hormone: Trick you’re body! — it could take up to 48 hours to work. Still, I couldn’t help but stand at the sink and stare at the mirror of the medicine cabinet. I swore I could already feel things moving.

I forced myself to leave the bathroom. It’s like they always say. A watched pot never regrows its tooth.

I went about that night’s meal. Brought a pot of water to the boil, added some sad noodles of spaghetti. Plopped a tin of tomato sauce into a pan and proceeded to burn it. I added a handful of the spices in my cupboard — some opened for the first time — and chucked them in. I had no idea what to do. I grabbed a wooden spoon, got a dollop of the red stuff and tasted it.

“Mm, op aad!” I said to my empty apartment. Mm, not bad.

The spoon had dipped halfway back into the sauce when I spotted something white. It bobbed to the surface. I reached for the pearl nugget, the temperature of the pan forgotten. I burned my fingers upon entry, but I fished that unidentified floating object out of the juice.

The tomato-stained fragment of my tooth rolled in the palm of my hand.

Time slowed.

I inhaled.

And ran for the bathroom.

I kicked the door open and swatted the light switch, a red sauce stain smeared across the wall. The ceramic of the basin thumped against my belly, and my mirror image grinned at me.

Lo and behold, my front tooth had fallen out. The absence gaped — a single ebony key lined by ivories. The sight reminded me of childhood, back when it would be normal if a tooth fell out. Memories of hidden teeth beneath pillows, of waking to find a single solid coin.

I smiled at my reflection and tilted my head, this way and that, to get a proper look at the newly-vacated spot. The gums throbbed, and a small bead of blood trickled from the hole. But all in all, I couldn’t tamp down the excitement that brimmed in my chest. I slapped the basin. “Ha!”

And then the tooth next to it dropped from my mouth.

The other central incisor clattered to the basin and rattled down the sink.

Ot?” What?

It disappeared into the blackness.

My tongue felt for the gap and knocked something loose.

A clatter of enamel.

Another tooth bounced into the basin.

I grabbed it before it could drop into the unplugged hole, brought it to eye level. A lateral incisor. My tongue darted, side to side. The left one.

The right canine dropped next, a kamikaze plane. Fell from its socket and rolled off my tongue like a euphonious word. Ping-ponged across the rim and spun around the lip — a misshapen basketball. And then — gone.

After that, the rest scattered in a hail of calcium.

A toothless scream shredded my throat, and I scrambled to plug the sink. All the while trying to avoid swallowing any of the loose teeth. They could block my airways. Or rip a hole in my gut.

One after another they toppled out of my mouth. The bloody fragments skated over the ceramic. Small crimson trails left in their wake, streaks against the duck shell blue.

“Oh I ohd! Oh I ohd!Oh my god! Oh my God!

I grabbed handfuls of my disembodied teeth as if to cram them back into my gob. I let them trickle through my fingers — molars, incisors, and cuspids. They tinkled into the basin, the world’s least valuable coins. The rattle they made reminded me of rain.

I looked up into the cabinet’s mirror, mouth agape in an ‘O’. Fleshy gums simpered at me. Raw. Bloodied. Pink. Toothless. I screamed and thumped my fists against the sides of the sink. “No! No! No, no, no! Tears stung my eyes, hot and shameful. I armed them away.

I seized my phone. I’d call my dentist, I’d call an ambulance. The emergency services — anybody. They’d know what to do, right?

A pause.

But what would I tell them?

I glared at the box on the cabinet. Growth Hormone: Trick you’re body! They’d tell me off for sure. Tell me I’d been stupid, that I’d been an idiot. Who injects something they bought off the internet? And who does it without reading the manual in its entirety?

The microseconds tick-tick-ticked away.

It hit me.

The manual.

Check for this sort of thing in the manual.

Hope — a single flame in the darkness.

I snatched the box from the side and tore it open. Fragments of cardboard floated to the floor in snowflakes. I pulled the paper and unfurled it, a fifteenth-century explorer with a map. Different languages and warning labels jumped out in various bold headings.

I searched. And found it.

GH may effect other tooth asa result. Don’t not panic! This is normal. All tooth should be back good as new within the timeframe.’

I sighed and scrunched the paper together. A sheen of sweat sparkled on my brow. I chuckled at myself. Normal. Expected. I hadn’t lost all my teeth. And now that I laughed, was that a small pearly stub where my first broken tooth had been? Poking through the tender flesh?

I got right up close to the mirror and opened my mouth wide. I prodded at the yellow-white nodule. Smooth and hard and pointy.

A tooth.

I yelled an unintelligible cry and punched the air. It worked. All that panic for nothing.

I stuffed the instructions back into the box. But what to do with the expended teeth? I couldn’t very well wash them down the sink — they might block it. In the end, I scooped them all up in my hands and deposited them into the bin. They clacked together. I entertained the thought of homemade maracas, then discarded the idea. That would be madness.

I slurped and sucked at my pasta, the world’s biggest toddler. I did so with a gummed-up grin on my face. No doubt if anyone had observed me, they’d have thought me a few fragments short of a puzzle. By the time I’d finished, tomato sauce painted half my face.

I didn’t brush my teeth that evening, as I didn’t have much to brush. But I did use mouthwash — the translucent purple one. It stung the open wounds a tad, but I had to grin and bear it.

Of course, I didn’t sleep an awful lot in the night. That’s the trouble with teething. I understood why babies made such an awful racket about it, now. It bloody hurt. Well, I suppose fragments of bone did force their way through my flesh. Understandable.

When my alarm bleated its six o’clock screech, I silenced it and groaned. My whole face ached. A dull throb pulsated through my skin, and every inch of my flesh felt tender. I rolled my tongue around my mouth, so sure they wouldn’t be there.

But my tongue came into contact with several pointed bits of bone.

I opened wide and poked a finger about. All present, as far as I could tell. Molars and incisors and canines. The lot of them. And my front tooth — which I’d chipped when I faceplanted against a marble step — shone there in all its glory. Completely formed, straight and smooth and perfect. No jagged edge, like the ridges of a mountain range. I clapped my hands and laughed. “Yes!” I shouted loud enough to wake the neighbours.

One faltered heartbeat later, my smile turned to a scream.

My whole face burned, every inch on fire. My nerves sparked with the input, their frayed ends frazzled. Alarm bells rang in every sensor of the brain: RED ALERT.

I brought my hands up to my cheeks.

And froze.

My heart fluttered high up in my chest, a hummingbird mid seizure. Cold sweat leaked from my pores, gooseflesh prickled all across my skin. Hot panic brimmed inside me and the acidic taste of bile stung the back of my throat.

I ran my fingers over my forehead and nose, across my cheek, chin, and lip.

“Oh no,” I said to the semi-darkness. “Oh god no.”

I staggered to feet that didn’t feel like my own, drunk. On legs made of sticks, I stumbled my way down the hallway and bounced from wall to wall, an out-of-control pinball. My hands stroked the wallpaper. I used the walls for guidance as my vision swam and pirouetted.

I barged into the bathroom. The door smacked against the wall with a hollow bang. I stood there in the shadows for a second, unsure whether to proceed. I flicked the light switch. My fingers trembled. The streak of tomato sauce had dried to the black-red of coagulated blood.

I crept over to the basin, eyes down. I counted, as the tears fell to the rug with a dull patter. My fingers gripped the edges of the sink in a white-knuckle grip, the ceramic cold beneath my fingers.

“One, two, three…”

5th March 2021

Written for the #BlogBattle prompt: “Fragment”

17 thoughts on “Chompers

  1. Gary

    I thoughts chompers might have been something Lanolear like at first. Chomping through the past and swallowing procrastinators who hadn’t moved on! Teeth though…. great until they are not. Risqué internet use et voila. I did think this might have been a formula by some demonic vampire dentist. Drop the canines and grow these instead. Minor side effect being a desire for red blood corpuscles.

    I digress. Wonderful use of why not to self diagnose on Google. Or, pull your own teeth. Great suspense at the end too. What will he see? What do we think he’ll see? The mind boggles!

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Now there’s a thought. A self-aware parody, with Joshua as a character — like King in DT. The chronic procrastinating creator gets eaten alive by his own creations as a result of endless dithering… Would I have the nerve to murder myself in a story? Haha!

      I know exactly what he sees in the end — I toyed with the idea of revealing it to the camera eye, then decided against. I think the not knowing might be a bit more effective in this instance. Leave the reader to guess! 😉 I don’t always like this route, but it felt right here.

      • Gary

        Haha, obviously you’d have to add a disclaimer about events entirely fictional and ant bearing on real persons entirely coincidental. King in the DT was a good reference. I’ve often thought that…more so when my own creation did a psychic link to me as his scribe!

        In truth after The God Strain and I am Corona…I’m steering well clear of those types of prophecies! Writing my own death might come to pass sooner than I’m anticipating!!

        In this instance I agree. It’s a Hammer touch. Infer don’t show. I just thought maybe you’d run out of words on the word count haha. Ooh there’s a horror story for your own death plot. A Word Count. A sanguisage watcher of words that slowly consumes a writers soul for procrastinating. The more you procrastinate the more he eats which means the more you procrastinate. Withering away until only a husk remains… 🥺

        I digress. Definitely no need for showing here. I think it works best as an ending too. The sort of thing that (book wise) infers there’s more to tell. Perhaps leading to an epic series 😳

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Haha. Reminds me of the excellent disclaimer at the start of hilarious Return of the Living Dead. “The events portrayed in this film are all true. The names are real names of real people and real organizations.”

        Yes, I can see how the sensation of tempting fate might steer one away from one’s own demise… I’m not sure I’d actually go through with offing myself in a fictional world. My characters tend to meet rather unpleasant ends. Although one might think that the more horrendous the death, the more my own impending doom might become less ominious. Or perhaps life will imitate art and I’ll prophesise how I’ll actually bow out…

        Ooh, that’s rather poetic! A dried up — literally and metaphorically — old husk, clutching on to life with a white-knuckle grip, the last vestiges of sanity rapidly abating…

      • Gary

        I remember that haha. Imagine though. A writer that finds everything they compose coming to pass. Write you win the lottery and you do, if you despise someone erase them. The Dark Half comes to mind a bit there. Or a writer empath that takes on the harm caused in such prophetic writing. A friends cured migraine becomes the writers possession. That might cause a short writing career wrt your horror takes haha.

        I once did a piece with my antagonist where he was talking to God. Not as anything more than a case of why did you cast me down? Nothing to do with Gods as such, just a self reflecting moment of despair where I learnt he once wanted to be a farmer… quite surreal really!

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        A bit like Death Note — I never watched it, but I heard it focuses on this theme. Any name you write in the book will result in the death of its owner.

        Wow, small beginnings, big consequences. I quite like the idea of the impact seemingly small events can have later on down the line. A man gets denied his desire to be a farmer (why? how?) and follow this set of knocked-over dominoes down the line to the person he becomes. Did you ever see the movie Looper? The events of that come to mind.

      • Gary

        Same here, never watched it but am aware of it. I rather feel we should both avoid such potential for prophetic writing!

        Have to admit, the concept of unconnected events creating huge impacts is something I find appealing. The idea of even a small child turning over the wrong stone creating a multitude of historic changes. Turning right instead of left, in one of my own pieces stepping into a road at the wrong moment. Hmm, looking at that incident that way totally alters my gambit there 🤔

  2. aebranson

    I confess I half expected there would be a hippopotamus! 🙂 Lots of good imagery in this piece. There were all kinds of bits that made me chuckle, like the misspellings in the instructions (never a good sign) and the delusion that the internet wouldn’t keep up anything dangerous. Not humorous, but another bit I liked, was the description of the tomato sauce having dried to color of coagulated blood. When the initial growing back of the tooth was described (yellow-white … pointy) I expected he’d wind up growing a mouthful of fangs. Doesn’t seem that he did, but in the end I imagined he wound up with teeth growing out all over his face. Nice touch on not telling us exactly!
    Sharing a nightmare common among us was another nice touch. If I remember correctly, dreaming of teeth falling out is indicative of stress. And it’s a little more horrific than skipping classes all semester or showing up in your underwear. Another job well done!

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Haha, I’d forgotten about that conversation! I can see how you’d think that with the title. Thanks, AE! Yes, it was the latter part — the teeth coming out of the skin — that the nightmare centred around. If teeth falling out is indicative of stress, what, I wonder, is my dream indicative of…

  3. cathleentownsend

    Great use of unique metaphor in your opening hook! I’ve been wanting to do more of that, but my tale this month just didn’t lend itself to that.

    “Why should you leave dental work to your dentist?” Hmmm…let’s see, now.

    Lots of metaphors throughout, and they really worked well. I think my favorite was the hail of calcium. And the homemade maracas were hilarious.

    I can see how this would be scary as a nightmare, no matter how it ended. Kudos to you for combining horror and humor. Those are tough to get into the same short story. : )

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Thanks, Cathleen! I actually worried that I overused metaphors and similes and such. I am very glad that they worked. 🙂 I think the absurdity of it all means you have to embrace the hilarity — to do otherwise might make you go mad…

  4. cathleentownsend

    I think humor gives you license to do a lot of things. For instance, old fantasy tropes that I’d normally turn my nose up at are okay if its intentionally funny. At any rate, because this tale is also humorous, I don’t think you have to worry about overusing the metaphors. : )

  5. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    I like how this started off as a funny piece and then turned into a horror tale.
    What could have gone wrong? Hmmm
    As always, very well crafted.
    I have to admit that I reread the ending twice because I felt like I was supposed to know what he saw and yet I wasn’t sure. Thankfully, from the comments, I see that was intentional. Phew. I knew I was tired. Maybe I should give my brain an at-home spa… I bet Amazon has something for that.

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Yeah, the boundaries between the two is a bit wishy-washy! The nightmare terrified me, but when I woke, I found it hilarious. It’s all perspective, I guess!

      I was torn between the big reveal, or letting you guys imagined what happened to the poor sap. I normally like inspecting every gory detail, but it didn’t feel right here…

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