When I woke up in the morning, I knew something was off. Pretty soon I realized that I was missing a tooth. Upper set, one of the front ones. I’m not a particularly vain person, but losing a tooth upset me a lot. My anxiety flared and my mind exploded with reasons why my tooth could’ve 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.
The next morning, I was missing another one. Bottom, towards the back. No blood, no pain. There was a hole there, I couldn’t keep my tongue out of it, but that was it. I made an appointment with my dentist and didn’t talk to any one.
On the third day, my front three teeth on the top and bottom with 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 just led 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 that’s when 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 glasses caught the little bit of streetlight that came through my window. When he put his hands 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 mouth.
He came back that night and took three more. When he left, I followed him. 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. The only light came from our headlights. I didn’t look to see what time it was when I got in the car, but it felt like we’d been driving for hours. Maybe he was trying to lose me, but… I haven’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 up on the roof of this house is a chimney, but the one on my house had to get dismantled years ago. Little things.
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. Most of the crap inside was the same, except for those little things. 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 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. I watched him open up the lump’s lipless ovoid mouth and with crafter’s precision carefully set my teeth into its mouth. After they were in, he grabbed them, wiggled them, tugged on them. They wouldn’t budge.
He turned and looked at me. His face was yellow in the dim lamplight. The eyes behind the glasses were little more than pinpricks of pupil. He opened his mouth. Wide. Unhinged his jaw. All I could see was teeth, sloppily spiraling around the inside of his mouth until they disappeared into the dark of his throat. I 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.