April 24, 2024 Short Story

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth Artwork by DALL·E
Old Skeezer died many years back, before my time even.  He was the town miser who lived at the end of Southbrook Road. He’d had a wife once but no children. I heard that his wife had begged him for kids but Skeezer didn’t think they were worth the expense. And kids were all that she wanted. The one person who claimed to have been in the Skeezer home, an HVAC repairman, reported that Mrs. Skeezer had covered the kitchen walls in magazine photos of smiling toddlers. I suppose she spent her time clipping and pasting images and then poring over them. Their home had once been beautiful when Skeezer’s wealthy parents kept it up but when Skeezer inherited the place, it quickly fell into disrepair. He was too cheap to spend any money to fix it up again.

The legend goes that he had a whole room full of gold bars. He didn’t trust the bank so he stored his wealth in his home and kept the place under the tightest security. I don’t know how his wife lived with him. No one ever saw her around town. It’s a mystery how those folks got groceries into the place. 

Mrs. Skeezer predeceased her husband. Allegedly she came down sick with something serious. Something deadly. Old Skeezer counted every last penny and I guess he didn’t believe she was truly ill because he refused to pay for medical care. Or else he just didn’t care. You can take your pick. She must have died eventually but there was no funeral. Likely he didn’t want to pay for that either. 

No one can say exactly when either of them departed this realm. Her body was never found but Old Skeezer came to light one spring day when inspectors visited to check on the house’s gas. They found his body rotting on one side of the place. 

The kids invented a whole story around Skeezer and his wife. It went something like his wife haunted the place and Skeezer knew it so one day when he was up on the roof cleaning the snow–he did this work himself despite his age and to prevent the roof from caving in–he wished for her to make gold bars rain from that very roof. Only one day they did when he was out there burying some of his treasure as if no one would ever find those mounds of dirt where he’d dug holes. His precious gold clobbered him on the head and killed him. The tale made sense because the gas inspectors reported that the corpse’s head was smashed in and they had to take fingerprints to identify it. And also any woman would want vengeance after living with a husband like that who wouldn’t give her children. Or pay for her medical care. 

Once he was gone the estate fell to greater ruin. The paint peeled from the sides of the home once and for all, exposing rusty tin underneath. Bricks crumbled. Windows cracked. The yard went to waste too. It was always unkempt when the couple was alive but it grew into a total wilderness once they weren’t. 

The kids had a field day going to the haunted house and playing games like Bloody Mary in what was left of the bathroom off the master bedroom. Some reported that the window shutters would flap like a hummingbird’s wings when there was nary a breeze on a torpid summer day. Sometimes at night the front door would stand open on a pitch black house that no flashlight could penetrate. The children would urge each other to run in and out, wagering toys and games and such for the one who was brave enough. Little Charlie made the mad dash when he was just eight years old and no one ever saw him come out. Or saw him again for that matter. 

In winter the kids dared each other to walk the ridge on the icy roof, the very roof from which gold bars allegedly rained down on Skeezer when he braved its frozen ridges to do a job someone else could do better for a little money. If anyone could make it across the entire length of the roof without slipping and falling off the side into a snowdrift below, he made a wish. The problem was the ridge was cracked and ice filled all the gaps. One after one the children slid and rolled off the side of the roof. No one got hurt because of all the snow cushioning the drop. Only one day little Natalie made it across and as she jumped off into the pile of snow below, she wished for a dog. 

The next day some mangy mutt met her outside the school building. Natalie was overjoyed. She didn’t care that the fur stood up all over the beast or that his breath smelled like fresh blood. She took him home and when her mother wouldn’t let the cur come inside, she implored her father to create a house for him outside. He did. Wherever Natalie went, her dog Lucky went too. Some of the other children were afraid of Lucky but that didn’t stop Natalie from traveling everywhere with him. 

They say that one day when Natalie was doing her homework in her bedroom, Lucky came to toy with her feet. He didn’t usually play games with her so she was glad and took a break from her studies to enjoy his attention. He pulled at one sock and she eased it back on past her ankle. Then he tugged at the other sock and she smoothed it back into place. She giggled as they went about this. Lucky’s eyes shone in adoration. He wouldn’t leave her alone and when he exposed some of her calf with his shenanigans, he licked the skin there; Natalie doubled up with laughter. He got one sock entirely off her foot and started lapping at her toes and sole. She laughed all the harder for it tickled. She joined Lucky on the ground. His long, pink tongue explored her face and tears leaked out of her eyes for all the mirth he brought her. She moved the big dog onto her lap and he allowed her to pet him as he never had before.

“I love you, Lucky. I’m so lucky to have you.”

For a moment they sat cheek to cheek and Natalie felt that her dreams really had come true thanks to the fateful wish at the Skeezer estate. 

Before she could repeat the sentiment to the dog amid waves of childish ecstasy, Lucky put his nose to hers, tapping it gently. Then his large maw flew open and his dagger teeth latched onto the fat of her cheek and he bit off one side of her face. Then the other. Then more. Her lips vanished. Her nose disappeared. Flaps of what once was her cherubic face gaped open like putty. It was a moment before she registered the pain and shock and let loose a violent scream that was heard by all in the house.

Her father rushed into the room. All he found was blood on the floor, scraps of flesh and all of her baby teeth with a few adult teeth that had begun to grow in. He thought of the last time he left a crisp dollar bill beneath her pillow in the name of the Tooth Fairy. Then he blacked out. 

The remainder of Natalie was gone. So was Lucky.

Kids at school learned of Natalie’s disappearance as well as that of her wild-looking dog and invented tales about the attack they imagined. Natalie’s family did not release any details. They said only that Natalie fell ill and passed. And that they got rid of Lucky.

Robert was a year older than Natalie and in the next grade up at school. Everyone knew that Lucky had come to Natalie after she had traversed Skeezer’s perilous roof and made a wish. There was something–or rather someone–that Robert craved and he felt he would do anything to get her. Sonia. Sonia of the satin skin and rose petal mouth. Her eyes were black pearls swimming in pools of hot chocolate. Sonia was in Robert’s class but she paid him no mind. The only boy in whom she found favor was Derek. They sat together at lunch, chose one another as partner during class exercises and walked home together when the day was done. Robert lacked the courage to even try to speak to Sonia, which made her feel altogether out of reach. 

One afternoon Robert shored up the courage to go to the old Skeezer residence by himself. It took him several attempts to climb the rusty, dilapidated siding because Robert was not a physically agile or athletic boy. He was slight, puny. But through sheer force of  will, he managed. Traversing the length of the roof was easier for him than getting on top of it. He weighed so little. He closed his eyes for a moment, raced across and before jumping off the side, he cried out in his childish, high-pitched voice, “I wish for Sonia to pay attention to me!” He flew off the side, found himself submerged in powdery snow and gasped. Then he made off like a bandit who had stolen all of Skeezer’s gold. He ran and ran, not stopping once until he arrived home. 

The very next day a wave of news spread its tentacles throughout the town. The Anderson home had burned to the ground and no one knew why. Sonia Anderson perished along with her two parents, her brother and her cat Zooky. Robert was home after school when he heard the news. He couldn’t believe it. It’s true that Sonia hadn’t been at school that day–he had searched for her everywhere–but he had just made his wish at Skeezer’s the day before. He hit his head against the wall of his little bedroom over and over until his mother heard and came in to stop him. She had known about her son’s crush because she found his love notes to Sonia when she cleaned his room. She consoled Robert. He was feverish. She fed him chicken soup and gave him medicine to help him sleep.

Robert fell into a deep slumber haunted by dreams of Sonia. When there was a rap on his window sometime after midnight, he didn’t open his eyes. When he felt something frigid on his forehead, he mumbled to his mother, “Mother, I am sleeping. Let me rest.” 

“It’s me. Sonia,” a gravelly voice said. 

Still Robert tried to sleep. 

“Robert, wake up. I have come for you, my love. I always loved you. You never came for me.”

Robert’s eyes opened. Before him, sitting on the edge of his bed with its long arms draped over the blanket beneath which he lay was a monster covered in boils and scorched skin where bloody, oozing pustules stood at attention. The creature had no hair. Its eyes were glowing red orbs. The skin over the face was ragged and stretched thin like strips of cloth on a decayed mummy.

Robert screamed. The monster covered his mouth with surprising strength. Robert tasted blood and rot. He continued to scream but the monster muffled his voice. 

“I am here for you, my love. It’s me. Sonia. Death cannot keep us apart. Join me now.” 

The monster used what was left of its other hand to smother Robert. His body jerked about as all breath and life left his body. When he was dead, the creature got into bed and cradled Robert’s lifeless form. 

The next morning his mother awoke and came for her son but there was no one there. No one in the house. No trace of Robert. All she found were yellow and red stains on his blanket and sheets from Sonia’s gaping wounds. And all of Robert’s teeth: baby teeth and some adult ones too. 

I am the only one to tell my own tale of Skeezer’s wishing roof. No one cares when an old lady like me has hopes and dreams. I had been taking care of my husband Chester for years. Our kids were all grown up and once Chester succumbed to dementia, they found it too painful to visit him and see that once robust and lively man reduced to a bag of cancer and forgetfulness who couldn’t remember he had children in the first place.

But I wouldn’t have left Chester for anything. My children were always my great loves but I didn’t choose them. They just happened and took on a life of their own. I chose Chester. He chose me too. I’d had four beaux pursuing me, each more handsome than the next and one more devoted to me than the last. Chester wasn’t the most handsome of the group and he didn’t come from means but he was the sweetest and the most persistent. I knew he would be the most heartbroken were I to marry someone else; his earnest love undid me. I couldn’t have loved him more. So you see, I chose Chester. 

I swore an oath to stay with him in sickness and in health and I took it seriously. But as his health declined and declined, I began to miss my swain, my love. Where was he? Was he still in that shell of a human whom I bathed and fed daily? Had the cancer stolen his character or had the dementia? 

I was desperate. I needed to do something. I went to Skeezer’s wishing roof. I knew I’d need help climbing the siding because I was just an old lady. Able-bodied still but aged and rickety. I suspected no one would help me. Everyone knew the stories of how children making wishes came to a ghastly end. I knew the problem was in what the children wished for. They weren’t precise enough. They left a loose end to be tied by the malice of Skeezer’s dead wife, the demon who took souls. I was a mature woman. I would use my words wisely. I knew every letter counted when it came to wishing on Skeezer’s roof.

Sweaty and ragged, I did get myself up on that roof, but not without falling a few times off the sides. At one point I feared I broke my hip. 

When I finally succeeded, I almost slipped down the slope of the roof but I grabbed hold of a craggy branch nearby and I climbed to my feet. My resolve never wavered.

I have a fear of heights so once I was erect at the end of the ridge, I took a deep breath, squeezed my eyes shut and charged across. I opened my eyes just in time to jump and I said in a whisper because I had no more breath, “Old Mrs. Skeezer, I wish for my husband to be happy and healthy again.”

Falling into the snow was not an ordeal. There was some ice in there but also enough of a flakey cushion to support my old bones. I was pleased with myself. I had accomplished what I set out to do, a fearless woman in her senescence. I took my time walking home. I’d endured more physical activity than I had in decades. 

It was a lovely winter’s stroll. I was proud of myself and  confident that I had worded my wish just so that I had not invited any evil interpretation. 

When I arrived home the snow was shoveled and there appeared to be a fresh coat of paint on the house. Everything was colorful and vibrant as though the man of the home were in his full capacity to take care of it. My wish had come true! I wanted to savor every moment so I walked around the house. I saw a pile of fresh firewood and all of Chester’s tools neatly organized into bins behind the house. Chester was back! My Chester!

I went back to the front and put my key in the lock—I always locked the door on my way out—but the door was open. An oversight in my haste and anxiety. I pushed my way through and I began to salivate at the smell of freshly fried bacon emanating from the kitchen. 

Chester had his back to me; he was busy at the stove. I stared at the glorious sight. It had been so long since Chester cooked up breakfast as he always liked to do when he was well, when he was free of disease.

“Chester!” But he didn’t turn. “Chester!” I said again.

It was only when he turned to one side that I saw that my Chester looked as he had when we were still in the early days of our marriage. He was so young! He looked so healthy, so happy!


“Come on down, kids! Jane! Breakfast is ready.” He began filling plates with eggs and bacon. I knew he couldn’t hear me but I watched in wonder, marveling at young Chester. My god, he was a looker. Did I know this at the time?

A beautiful blonde woman descended the nearby stairs to the tune of two giggling and prancing children. My Lily and Tom! Mere children again! My eyes brimmed with tears. I often revisited old photo albums from when they were young but nothing, just nothing could compare to what I saw with my own two eyes. 

But who was this woman?

“We’re right here, Ches. Guess who lost a tooth!” She laughed.

Lily cried out, “I did, Daddy! I did!”  

Who was this woman and what was going on?

Lily ran up to Chester and he picked her up, swinging her in the air. “That’s my big girl!”

The three sat down at the set table and began to pour themselves orange juice and dive into the bread basket. Chester served the woman first. “You first, Jane. My sweet.”

Jane? That was my name but this woman looked nothing like me. I was not just visiting a panorama of my past. Things were different.

This other Jane tilted up her face to receive a kiss from Chester. My Chester. 

But if this woman were me, where was I? How was I here looking in on this scene? Did I even exist? 

It was then that the paralysis started tingling throughout my limbs. First my feet. I couldn’t move them. I felt the prickling sensation there and I tried to wriggle my toes. Nothing. Then my calves. Thighs. Torso. I panicked. How could I stop whatever was happening? I felt my eyes bugging. It was like a giant nutcracker were squeezing my head for all the stress I felt. And helplessness. My lower body was like a tree trunk. Immovable. I bit hard into my tongue as the disgusting sensation stole my torso. Then my arms. My chest. I felt nothing below my neck. Meanwhile Chester and his family enjoyed their breakfast, laughing together and telling innocent jokes.

The tingling reached my chin and seemed to slow down as it inched its way up my face. Before long I was just a pair of eyes and a brain that could still think. Then nothing. All was black. Vertigo. 

No one but me knows the truth about any of these stories. I know from the great beyond but only through whispers I have picked up on that people I once knew in life shared amongst themselves. I was alive when Natalie and Robert lived and died. From the other side of the veil I can watch the living; it gives me no joy.

Now I roam the earth like the other victims, like Skeezer himself, like his wife. I visit Chester’s new wife sometimes to keep her on her toes. I watch to make sure she takes good care of him. If she doesn’t, I’ll lure her to the roof. Everyone has a secret desire about something.