Dr Dentine Takes A Nemesis - A Short Story by Jeremiah Strickland
The little girl had been on her knees at the edge of the woods, building what appeared to be a miniature house from twigs, leaves, acorns, bark, and rocks. She was talking to herself, quite a lot, for at least as much time as it took Brandon to go to his secret hideout in the woods, play at the serious task of securing it, and come back to the clearing behind the apartment building where they both lived.
“Why are you doing that?”
She had been aware of him watching her for some time. “I’m building a house for the fairies.”
“There’s no such thing as fairies.”
She glared at him. “Just because you’ve never seen one, doesn’t mean there aren’t any. There are lots of them in these woods. I can tell. That’s why I’m making this fairy house, so we can be friends.” She carefully placed an acorn in the center of a room under a ceiling of leaves.
“There are no fairies or elves or magic. Those are made-up for stories.” He didn’t say it to hurt her. Still, he felt he should add, “There are probably aliens, though. Outer space is really big.” Just in case she still wanted to believe in something.
She ignored him, beginning to frame up a new structure with twigs.
“I’m Brandon. My mom says these woods are private property, but I have a fort in here that no one knows about.”
“My mother is a fairy queen.” She broke sticks for roof beams.
He sat down next to her in the browning grass. Swarms of bugs buzzed around him, bothersome creatures that Brandon was sure existed for a greater purpose than swatting at. “I’ve seen your dad on television. He’s that superhero dentist.”
The roof was being carefully laid. “Dr. Dentine.”
“Dr. Dentine. Yeah! I like that show.”
“If you stop talking for one minute, you might hear the fairies singing.”
“Were you talking to them? Before?” An awkward karate chop was thrown at a triplet of gnats.
“Yes, but they don’t talk. They sing. That’s how they communicate. I’ve heard the fairies at my old house singing my name.” She sang, “Mer-ry… Mer-ry,” imitating the fairy song.
“It was probably a bird. I’m going to be a scientist when I grow up. A scientist needs proof.”
“Mer-ry… Mer-ry…” She continued singing at the woods. She called out to the fairies, “That’s my name!” To Brandon, she said, “Only it’s not ‘Mary’ like a normal girl’s name, it’s ‘Merry’ like ‘happy.’”
“Like Merry Christmas?”
“Yeah. My Christmas.”
It was not the first time that she had heard this. She struck down the structure she was building with a grunt and started again.
Brandon scratched his arm. “Do you think I can have your dad’s autograph?”
“Do you think you can fly away?”
He fidgeted, but remained. It was not the first time that he had been asked to go away. “Do you believe in the tooth fairy?”
She sighed. After a moment, she picked up the sticks she had broken for the roof beams and held them out for Brandon. “Build a fence for them.”
He accepted the sticks. A bird sang a song, deep in the woods. He didn’t think it sounded at all like it was singing his name.
It was breakfast for dinner again. Merry slathered on the syrup, thinking that it was funny that her dad had spent his day telling children that sugar was bad for their teeth, and then he came home and fed her pancakes with as much syrup as her heart desired. “What a hippogriff,” she said aloud without realizing.
“What’s that, honey?” asked her dad as he took his seat at the table with his own stack of pancakes. He was a tall man with pronounced cheekbones but did not otherwise look like a superhero. It was a perfect secret identity.
“What’s it like being famous, Dad?”
He finished the syrup off, making fart noises erupt from the plastic squeeze bottle. “Oh, I wouldn’t say I’m famous. The old show was only on public access. No one watches that really. And the new show… Well, I hope lots of kids are watching.”
She stuck her fork into the center of her pancakes. “Yeah, but, people have seen your show. You’ve gone to schools to talk to classes, so kids know you, right? So, what’s that like?” She leveled the pancakes into a drippy vertical and took a sideways bite from them.
He shoveled bacon into his mouth, talking as he chewed. “Did your new friend recognize me? I saw you playing with that little boy.”
“He’s not my friend, he’s some dumb kid.”
“We don’t call people names, Merry.”
“Well, he’s dumb. He said he doesn’t believe in fairies. He just wanted me to get him your autograph. I only let him help me with my fairy house so he’d shut up.” She also spoke with her mouth full. Syrup was running down her arm from her knuckles.
“If he’s a Dr. Dentine fan, he must not be that dumb, eh?”
Merry continued to eat her pancakes, feigning ambivalence.
They ate loudly, filling the room with wet sounds. Her dad began, “Your mother and I-“
Merry’s eyes chucked spears at him. “We don’t have to talk about her every day.”
For a moment, her gaze had Medusa’s stoning effect on him. Then, he tried again. “When I was a boy, I used to collect baseball cards; thousands of them. Well, hundreds, I’m sure. I kept them all in my special black binder all covered in stickers. I went to games with my mom and dad, and they would take me to the seats above the dugouts after the game so I could try to get autographs on the cards.”
Merry’s elbow was getting glued to the tablecloth by syrup. She lifted it, watching the tablecloth rise like a teepee until it unstuck and flattened out against the table. “Did you get any?” She lowered her elbow back down to get it stuck again. Stick. Unstick.
“Lots and lots and lots! I was so proud of them.”
“What did you do with them?”
He chuckled. “Admire them. Show them off to my friends. We saw these guys on TV every summer, and it was like I had taken a piece of them for myself. When I went to dental college, I left them all behind in my room. There was an electrical fire at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and all of my autographed cards burned up with half of the rest of the junk in that place.”
Stick. Unstick. “Grandma and Grandpa’s house burned down?”
“Their old one, yeah. The house I grew up in. Anyways, do you know what happened because I lost those cards?”
Stick. Unstick. “I don’t know.”
“Eat your pancakes, honey. Do you know what happened? Nothing happened. Everything stayed the same. I didn’t really have a piece of those guys. I didn’t know a thing about them besides their stats on those cards or what I saw of them on TV. Well, a person is far more complex than their statistics or what you see of them on TV or the Internet or whatever.”
“I don’t understand the point of this story, Dad.” Stick. Unstick.
“You don’t?” He sat back, swallowed, took the last bit of bacon into his hand. “It was dumb is what I’m saying, I guess. Collecting autographs. It was pointless.”
“So you agree with me, right? Brandon is dumb?”
Shelly sat in the floor at the foot of her bed surrounded by papers, the contents of the now empty open drawer of her dresser. Brandon had mentioned that that TV dentist had moved into their building. That had made her wonder when Brandon was due for another appointment, and that had sent her to the “file drawer” to look for the paperwork from his last dentist visit. The drawer was in complete chaos, so the only logical way to continue was to quickly organize it. This had started over an hour ago. She was keenly aware that dinner should have been cooking and that the laundry was due for a rotation. In her hand was a sheet of coupons for a pizza joint Brandon always wanted to order from but didn’t seem to enjoy much when they delivered it. All the coupons were expired.
From the TV in the living room, she heard the aforementioned dental superhero saying, “You are your own planet, children. No! You are your very own, self-contained Universe!” It was that episode they kept rerunning.
Brandon was lying on the couch, ignoring the show, amusing himself by counting by thirteen in an Irish accent. He had reached three thousand and sixteen when she called out to him, “Brandon, are you hungry?”
“Three thousand and twenty-nine. Three thousand and… What, Mom?”
“Your cells are stars and planets. They form solar systems, and those systems are your organs, which come together to set you into glorious, living motion!”
“What do you want to eat?”
“A spoon of peanut butter!”
“And there are alien invaders. Oh, yes, they are out there, orbiting like vultures, lying in wait from the darkness of their satellite outposts!”
She stood in his doorway, still clutching the sheet of coupons. “Real food, dude.”
“That’s what I want,” he whined in that terrible, put-on accent.
She whined back at him in her own attempt at an accent. “But that’s not what I’m making.” Hers sounded more Australian.
“We call these alien scum by names like ‘dirt,’ ‘disease,’ and ‘neglect.’”
There was a knock at the door. On the other side of it was a disheveled little girl with long blonde hair. Desperately, she asked, “Can Brandon play with me?”
“You must be Merry,” Shelly smiled. The little girl did not look at all merry.
“Uh huh.” Merry looked around Brandon’s mom impatiently. “I need to show him something.”
“Are we defenseless? Are we doomed to succumb to these otherworldly oppressors? No, ma’am! Not on my watch.”
Shelly hesitated. It was getting late, but… “Brandon, honey!” she called out. “Your friend is here.”
“Oh, we’re not friends,” Merry said, blunt as a hammer to a finger. “I have to show him something.”
“On my watch, we will floss. We will brush our teeth. We will battle plaque, gingivitis, gum disease, and any other otherworldly combatant who dares an invasion!”
Brandon timidly approached the door and hid behind his mother. “What do you want to show him?” Shelly asked, bewildered by the girl’s candor.
“Scientific proof,” was the little girl’s cryptic response.
On the TV, our hero methodically placed his fists on his hips as the camera zoomed in on him. “I am Dr. Dentine!“ he proclaimed with his cape flapping. His smile was perfect.
“Can I go, Mom?”
Shelly sighed. They weren’t friends? Maybe they could be.
“I am Earth’s first line of dental defense!”
“Yeah, alright, you’ve got an hour. An hour, mister, then you come back and you eat whatever I’ve made for you, even if it’s raw broccoli with fresh cut grass. Got it?”
“Okay, Mom.” He maneuvered around her and followed Merry down the hall. God, Shelly hoped that they could be friends.
Merry led Brandon behind the building and into the woods. When they were just deep enough for the trees to obscure their home, she turned to him and insisted, “You can’t tell your mom about this. Fairies don’t have any enemies except for grown ups. That means your mom too.”
“Why would the fairies hate my mom?”
“Fairies don’t hate anything, stupid! People are their natural enemies because they destroy their habitats when they build new McDonald's and parking lots and stuff. And because grown ups don’t believe in them. Except for my mom, but she’s a fairy queen.”
“I don’t believe in them, but my mom doesn’t let me eat at McDonalds. We’re vegetarians. Well, she is. I eat chili dogs when I stay with my dad.” He gasped at this unexpected admission, covering his mouth. “You won’t tell her, though, right?”
Merry turned and continued into the woods, leading Brandon to a clearing, their obvious destination. At the center of a small ring of dead, charred grass was a sculpture of a human canine tooth, made from human teeth. Brandon approached it cautiously, circled it, and looked up at the canopy of trees above. They were burned and withered in a circle like the grass that surrounded the tooth below. Brandon’s stomach dropped to his feet.
“See,” Merry said.
Birds sang, maybe names. “You… A kid couldn’t have made that. Your dad is a dentist. He made it.”
“No. I told you, this is proof.”
Brandon didn’t notice the mosquito on his arm. “Okay. I believe in fairies now.”
“Good. If you tell anyone about this, I’ll tell your mom about the chili dogs.”
His eyes widened.
“You want to touch it?”
He reached out, hesitated, and then let his thumb and forefinger grab onto an incisor. “It’s glued together.”
“What do you think it’s here for?”
“Obviously, the fairies loved the houses I made for them, and they made this to thank me.”
“Why make this?” He tried unsuccessfully to remove another tooth with his fingers. “Why not just sing your name to you like they did before?”
“That was at my old house. These are different fairies… Maybe different kinds of fairies, I’m not sure.”
“How do we say thank you?”
“We sing.” To the tune of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, she began to sing, “My name is Merry; I’ll be your friend. This is some kid who lives here too.” It went on like that. She took Brandon’s hand into hers. He listened to her repeat the song a couple of times before he joined in.
The woods came alive with wind and lights. The trees waved branches of leaves in a hysterical hello. A thousand birds sang a hundred thousand names, like the tuning that precedes a symphony. An ethereal voice filled the children’s minds. Telepathically, it sang, “Mer-ry…. Mer-ry…”
Merry’s dad had been sipping wine at his desk, mining mythology on the internet for Dr. Dentine story ideas when he dozed off. He awoke from his dream of planting dragon’s teeth with a start. There was a barrage of frantic knocks on the door. A little boy was on the other side, tears running behind his glasses, chest heaving. He snorted snot and swallowed.
Merry’s father dropped to his knee and put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Are you Brandon? What is it, son? Where’s Merry?”
Brandon gasped, started, stopped, and started again. “Dr. Dentine?”
“I’m Sebastian. What’s wrong? Spit it out!”
“Bill wants to see Dr. Dentine.”
Sebastian raced through the woods toward the alien, propelled by paternal duty and ferocious self-directed anger. He was going to lose Merry, just like he had lost her mother. He was helpless, helpless against the cancer, helpless against this monster. It stood only a couple of heads taller than Merry and had its arm around her shoulder. It wore men’s briefs and a t-shirt with a sunflower in a pot on it. Its head was too big for its petite gray body. Its knees were backwards, like an insect. Its eyes filled most of its face with stark, black, mathematical coldness. There was no nose or mouth.
“Daddy, this is Bill,” said Merry, as if talking in her sleep.
“It’s okay, honey,” Sebastian lied. “Let her go!”
“Bill’s an artist.” She pointed to the sculpture. “He made that for you.”
“Come here, baby. Come away from that thing.”
The creature allowed it. Merry came to him slowly, looking from him to the alien and back. When she was in his arms, he asked it, “What do you want?” It simply cocked its head like a curious dog.
Merry tugged his shirt. “He can’t talk to grown ups. He says their minds are too made up.”
Without warning, Sebastian found that he could not move. His arms came apart, crucifixion-style, against his will. He levitated up from the forest floor. If he could have screamed, he would have.
“Daddy!” Merry jumped for him, but he was beyond her reach.
Brandon bolted at the creature, a howling fury, screaming a primal animal’s scream, but he too was stopped against his will.
Merry screamed, “Don’t take my daddy!”
Bill cocked his head to the other side, communicating something to her.
A small, seamless, white disk floated down through the leaves in front of Sebastian, stopping directly in front of his face.
Merry called to him, “He wants you to open your mouth.” She sniffled.
Sebastian kept his mouth shut.
Bill straightened his head.
“He can make you do it,” Brandon’s voice quavered from his frozen position.
Sebastian opened his mouth. He felt the disk hover inside, just too big to fit. It was cold and rubbery, tasting metallic.
“He says to bite it,” said Merry.
He bit down hard, feeling the disk give to his teeth.
“Now let it go,” ordered Merry, sounding again like she was talking in her sleep. Sebastian did as his daughter said.
The disk hovered away from his face before zipping back up beyond the trees. Brandon fell to his butt, free from the creature’s grasp. Sebastian lowered to his feet where his daughter embraced him.
Bill cocked his head. A beam of light blasted down onto him from above.
“He said thanks,” Merry told Sebastian.
“You’re welcome?” Sebastian managed.
The alien slowly ascended to its waiting craft. The three humans watched, relieved but disbelieving. “I want Mommy,” Merry said into her father’s side. He held her tight.
Eventually, Sebastian spoke. “What the hell just happened?” he asked his daughter, the boy, the trees, anyone or anything who might know.
Brandon knew. He said, “He wanted your autograph.”
|Ship Of Theseus, the mind-bending new novel by Jeremiah Strickland, is now available from Shiny Red Nothing! Get your copy today!|