In The Land Of The Wooden Molar
Cody waits at the top of the stairs, in front of an office door without a number. Cody can’t completely recall if he has an appointment somewhere behind this door, but he knows he’s here for a reason. He hums to himself. When he hums, he can sometimes remember lyrics. The words often tell him his appointment schedule. He knows he’s been going from appointment to appointment for some time.
Cody’s phone rings. He picks it up.
“It’s Dr. Harley’s hygienist on the line,” says a faint voice, “we’re scheduling you in.”
“What’s wrong with my teeth?” Cody asks.
He stares at the door in front of him.
“We’re checking up,” says the voice. “Are you standing outside right now?”
“I’m outside an office,” Cody says.
He’s pleased to have a timeline.
The hygienist’s phone hums louder as the message fades. He knows messages can be informative, but he misses out due to bad connections, or maybe it’s the noise inside his mind, coming from a wide gap between two teeth that he can sometimes reach with his tongue. There’s been a rushing in his brain lately, and hot air escaping from the inside of his mouth. A stocky man appears at the bottom of the stairs. He carries a block of wood under one arm, and a canvas bag and a small chain saw in the other. He’s balding with a red-grey beard and a wide, smiling face.
“Slim Carmichael?” Cody asks.
“You know me?” asks Slim, stepping up the stairs with the wood under his arm.
“I know your name” Cody says. “but your face escapes my mind.”
“I teach wood sculpture at the University,” Slim tells him.
He drops his block and reaches towards his face. He pats his jawline. “perhaps you took a course.”
“I like the look of sculptures,” says Cody.
The office door opens.
“Come in, people,” says a burly, soft voiced fellow dressed in white, holding a large pair of forceps. “I’m Darren, Dr. Harley’s hygienist.”
He clicks the forceps together as he ushers Slim and Cody into a room with a dentist’s chair in one corner, and a workbench at the side. A large vice sits at the centre of the bench.
“Your job awaits, Mister Carmichael,” says Darren.
Slim grins and plunks down the wooden block. Then he opens his toolbox and brings out some sharp looking carving tools.
“Cody here will be your patient,” says Lance.
“How do you know my name?” Cody asks, and Lance grins.
“From your face, of course.”
The dentist office is decorated with carved wooden animals like tigers and wolves, cougars and bears. They sit on a shelf above the workbench, and on a small thin legged coffee table by the dentist’s chair.
“This is a bit of a studio office,” Cody remarks.
“Let’s get you on the weigh scale,” Darren tells him.
Cody stands on an ancient, rusty device that rings up his poundage with one jerk.
“A hundred fifty, not bad,” Darren announces, “now sit on the dentist’s chair and open your mouth very wide.”
Cody nods. “It’s dark in there,” he points down his gullet.
Darren gives Cody a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles with thick lenses, and some ear protectors.
“Put these on. You’ll see better, and it’s going to get noisy.”
Cody blinks, pulls on the offered items. He sits and opens his mouth. Darren holds Cody’s chin with both hands.
“Open wider,” he says, “much, much wider.”
He peers in.
“Yes, there’s a gap,” Darren affirms, “definitely a gap.”
The hygienist takes a small flashlight and pushes it past Cody’s lips. The light is so bright Cody sees his cheeks brighten in the dental mirror above him.
“The gap goes all the way down to hell,” says Darren.
Cody looks away to all the animal set-pieces on the coffee table. He notices that their teeth are prominent, very white and sharp. Darren retracts the flashlight, takes a tape measure from his white-shirt pocket and sticks the end in Cody’s mouth. Then he makes some notes on a piece of paper and hands this paper to Slim.
“Shouldn’t Dr. Harley be here?” says Cody.
“He’s operating remotely,” Darren tells him. “I’ve got him on the zoom.”
Slim sets his chain saw down on the counter and pulls the starter cord. The machine starts with a roar. He takes out several scalpel like implements and begins slashing away at the block of wood with the saw and the carving tools. Shavings and chunks fly everywhere. Cody sees Slim’s arm muscles bulge, his face turns beet red from the effort.
“We’ll have this done in no time,” Slim screams.
“Do I need freezing?” yells Cody.
“No,” Darren tells him. “Slim’s molar will slip on like a new coat.”
Slim turns off the chain saw. Cody’s tongue probes the back of his mouth. The opening feels deep, very wide, and hot air gushes out.
“Wow, it’s burning!” Cody jumps.
His tongue feels speckled with sores. Darren hands him a glass full of ice.
“This will cool the hell,” he assures his patient.
The ice melts as soon as Cody shoves it into his mouth. He feels the water flowing down into some unknown place behind the hole.
“We’ve got to plug this up before it totally erupts,” Darren says. “We’ve got a hot one.”
Slim laughs as he carves the somewhat diminished wooden block, and his white teeth gleam under the fluorescent lights. He works quickly, poking holes in the wood and spinning the block around, until Cody sees its shape is changing to resemble a giant molar.
“How is that piece going to fit in my mouth?,” he asks.
Darren points to the vice. “He’ll use the machine.”
“Hygienist, can you spin the handle for me?” Slim asks.
Darren turns the vice handle and the sliding jaw moves out.
“That vice has great capacity,” says Slim.
He fits the block of wood into the vice and closes the sliding jaw, wrenches the vice handle and the wood shrinks under the pressure. The sculptor heaves his whole weight on the handle, sweat rolls down his neck.
“Get smaller, get smaller!” he yells, his biceps bulging.
He releases the vice and turns the wood in another direction, then tightens up again. Darren holds up a phone.
“Dr. Harley approves the work,” he tells Cody.
Steam comes from Cody’s mouth and fogs up the spectacles.
“No worries. Your protective glasses are solid lead,” Darren remarks. “How’s the shaping?” he asks Slim.
“I’m rounding the edges,” the sculptor answers, and in fact the now-tiny molar is almost invisible within the vice. There’s water spread all over the workbench and below.
“We’ve got some strongly concentrated matter here,” Slim states.
He uses tweezers to lift the wooden tooth out of the vice. He passes the sculpture to Darren, who lays his phone down and uses both hands to hold the tooth in front of the screen. Cody hears voice from the phone, fading in and out.
“Dr. Harley says the molar looks good,” Darren says, “it’s appropriately dense. Should plug up further problems.”
Cody sits in the chair with his mouth open and vapour billowing out. He can’t see anything because of the steam.
“Who better but a wood sculptor to hew that gap?” says Darren, standing in front of Cody, holding the tooth in his pair of forceps. He’s put on glasses with two microscopes for lenses.
“Let’s do it,” says Cody. “I just want to get this over with.”
Darren lunges forward with the forceps and the molar plunges into Cody’s gaping mouth. Cody sees the hygienists’ pupils widen behind the microscope lenses. Darren’s lips are set, his face purple.
“I’m going to screw it down,” says Darren, “cut off the dragon.”
Slim dashes over to join him. They both locate Cody’s gap and push down with the forceps. Cody feels the tooth sink into place, fitting exactly between the teeth. The pain in his mouth vanishes.
“Lucky I have such a skilled artist as Slim helping me out,” he thinks.
He feels the weight of the tooth.
“Are there any rough edges?” Darren asks.
Cody doesn’t feel like talking. He doesn’t like opening his mouth at the best of times, but he rolls his tongue around the inside of his mouth and says “It feels fine.”
“Don’t chew on that side for the next twenty-four hours, until it sets,” Darren informs him.
Slim stands back.
“For payment, I’m going to take all the art in this room,” the sculptor says, “most of it is mine, anyway.”
He picks up his empty cloth bag and starts dumping in all the carved wooden predator animals from the coffee table. The jaguar goes in, and the piranha.
“If this operation failed,” Slim says, “you’d be one of those set-pieces.” He laughs. “They were once living and breathing like the rest of us.”
He shoves another wooden cougar into his sack.
“Your work took a lot of skill,” says Cody.
He feels better now the operation is over. He takes off his glasses and ear protection, and passes the items to Darren.
“Let’s do the after-weigh,” says the hygienist.
Cody places his feet upon the old scale.
“I’ve gained seven pounds!” he exclaims.
“It’s the tooth and its density,” Darren tells him, “what’s important is that the fire’s kept down, that we don’t have an eruption.”
Cody moves his jaw. Everything seems smooth and easy.
“Why doesn’t it feel heavy?” he asks.
“That’s what they call a paradox,” Slim calls from his bench.
“Yeah,” says Darren. “That’s a fantastic word for the tooth, Slim. I love it.”
When Slim and Cody walk back down the steps, Cody carries the sculptor’s full bag of wooden carvings over his shoulder.
“Anything else I can do to help?” he asks, as Slim fobs open his shiny black S. U. V.
“Put the bag in the trunk,” Slim says. “What will you do with the rest of your day?”
“I’m not sure,” Cody replies, “I’m not sure if I have another appointment.”
“Well, my advice is, don’t jiggle the new tooth.” Slim grins and hops in the driver’s seat.
Cody shuffles along the street, feeling his wooden molar.
“I guess that visit accomplished something,” he says to himself.
He begins to hum a song. He hopes the words will come soon. He runs his tongue along his teeth to see if there are any more gaps. He can’t find any. He sits at a bus stop. A young woman with a missing front incisor stands looking at him.
“I saw you come out of that dentist’s office.” she says. “Did they put a wooden molar in?”
The woman wears black-framed glasses with lenses so thick Cody can’t see her eyes.
“They did,” says Cody.
“I had an appointment there too,” she says. “They’re trying to turn us into wood.”
Cody’s mind is quiet. There are no hot air leaks in his mouth. He nods his head.
“I suggest writing down your visions,” she says. “Don’t let them tamp your power
“You think there’s some kind of dental plot?” he asks the woman.
She starts to hum. “They won’t be filling my teeth anytime soon,” she sings.
Cody listens to the lyrics.
“It’s a wonderful melody,” he says. “You have a great voice.”
His head feels clean and new as he listens to the woman.
“You could be the dragon man,” she sings, “you could take a flaming stand.”
Cody stands up. “I hear your message,” he says, “in your beautiful tone. I’m heading back,” he tells the woman, “to have a few words with that hygienist.”
“Excellent,” she nods, and turns away, smiling. “Take back your power.”
The back of her hair is braided with tangles of coloured strings.
Cody moves towards the dentist office, he rounds the corner and lopes up the stairs, he’s possesses so much energy now that he has a purpose. He strides through the open door.
“Darren?” Cody yells. “Are you there?”
No-one answers. The dentist chair and the workbench await. The pair of forceps stands up, held erect in the vice. Cody moves forward, loosens the vice handle and lifts out the tool.
“If they could put the tooth in with this, I can take it out too,” he thinks. “I have my power.”
He stands in front of the window and uses the shadows on the glass as a guide. He lifts the forceps, opens wide and pushes them into his mouth hole.
“I am my own dentist,” he says.
He stops for a moment and wonders. If he takes out the tooth, the static and noise will begin. He won’t be able to hear people’s words above the humming. If he doesn’t take it out, he’ll have a clear head, but he’ll be cut off from self-determination. His hands tremble, then he bears down, moves the forceps backwards, and yanks. The tooth comes out easily. He pulls out the forceps and looks at it. It’s white with a bloody root.
“I’ve taken out the wrong one,” he says.
He feels no pain, only warmth bubbling out of the hole. He puts his tongue over the warmth and holds down the bubbling. He shoves the liberated tooth into his pocket, lopes out the door and descends the stairs.
“I need to find Slim Carmichael,” he says. “The man with skills. He’ll know what to do.”
He turns around at the bottom of the steps and looks back at the office. Someone is staring at him, he can feel the eyes. There’s a rushing in his head, and his phone rings.
“This is Dr. Harley,” says the voice from the speaker. “I think you need to make another appointment.”
Then there’s only a humming, and the door at the top of the stairs closes with a crash.
Harrison Kim lives and writes out of Victoria, Canada. He worked many years as a teacher at a Forensic Psychiatric Hospital. Many story ideas come from those years. Stories have been published at "The Horror Zine," "Literally Stories," "Bewildering Stories," "The Cabinet of Heed," "Storgy," and others. His blogspot is here: https://harrisonkim1.blogspot.com
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