The Whole Tooth

The Whole Tooth
by Steven P. Bouchard

Two kids were studying the grotesque doll in front of Earnest’s carnival tent.

“It might grant you a wish if you’re worthy,” the carny said, straightening his tie.

“Yeah, right.” The girl was maybe 11, the boy, a few years younger. He stared in awe, while she had a typical preteen look of disdain.

The old carny came around the doll’s footlocker. “Right as rain. Push that little button, and if he loses a tooth, you get your wish.”

The doll was four feet tall and dressed in a suave ringmaster’s suit. If it weren’t for his bulging, bloodshot eyes and the set of oversized teeth protruding from his blackened gums, he might have been considered dapper. But Granddaddy never was a dapper man, and he’d have thrashed anyone who even suggested it.

“He’s ugly,” said the boy, making a face.

“Yep. Just as ugly as in life.”

“He’s not alive.” Again, that head-wagging attitude. Granddaddy would hate the girl.

“Not now, but he used to tromp around just like you’un do.”

“No way,” she said.

“Way.” Earnest laughed. He’d dealt with scores of kids and knew how to win them over. “See, this here man was a right ol’ coot. Any toys come onto his property, he stole ’em. On Halloween, he’d give out bags of popcorn tossed with little rocks. And every chance, he’d be telling the little’uns there’s no Santa, no Tooth Fairy—”

“Hey!” The girl looked sideways at her little brother.

“Now, now, missy. I didn’t say that,” said Earnest. “This nasty’un here used to. But we know better, right? We know he was just kidding, but real mean-like.”

“It’s just a story, Tommy, don’t worry.”

Sure, just a story Granddaddy must hate reliving time and again. But penance was a long-waving flag. Truth being worse than fiction, Earnest left out the nastier facts, telling just enough to rope in the kiddies.

“If he was real,”—the boy was getting hooked—“how’d he get like this?”

“There’s the clincher. See, he was such a right old baddie that the kids all ganged up and made a plan.” And wouldn’t Granddaddy be right raging if he knew who hatched it all? “They all saved up their teeth for months, and come Feb’rary’s new moon, tucked ’em all under their pillows with the same wish.”

“What was it?” There was a shine in the girl’s eyes. He had her, too.

“Well,” he scratched at his thinning hair. “Don’t know exactly, but it had to do with giving something back.”

“Huh?” The boy crinkled his nose.

“Did it work?” asked the girl.

“Lookee here!” Earnest waved towards the grotesquerie. “You can see it did, sure.”

“What’s the button for?” The boy had edged a little closer to the base of the doll’s platform.

“Wishing!” The pronouncement was soft and fierce, like a late winter wind, and Earnest could almost see the chill travel along their spines.

“Huh?”

“Oh, come on.” The girl scowled. “How’s this ugly dude grant wishes?”

“That was all in the kids’ wish. He was cursed with this form, and to make amends for his cruelty, has to grant wishes.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“It’s a pretty sad fate if you’re a nasty’un like he was. ’Specially since every wish makes him drop out a tooth.”

The girl eyed the monstrous face of the doll. “Then why’s he got all his teeth?”

“Cause new’uns grow back, so’s he can never stop granting wishes. See how tiny he is?”

The boy gazed up at the doll on the footlocker. “No, he’s pretty tall.” The kids both giggled.

“Sure, but he used to be taller’n me. Near seven feet if I’m an inch. But new teeth takes bone, so he shrinks each time.”

“Is that why his eyes are all like—” The girl puffed out her eyes and set the kids to laughing again.

“Sure is. His skull’s been squishing his eyes out for years now.”

“Ew.” They stopped laughing.

Earnest knew this was one thing his granddaddy must hate: all these little eyes staring and nothing he could do about it.

The girl cocked her hip. “That’s kinda sad.”

“Sad? Well, you never knew him in life! You wouldn’t think so if he broke your toys, and beat your backside, and broke your little brother’s neck—”

Earnest stopped yelling. It wasn’t often he went off, and it usually meant losing a kid’s interest.

“You’re kinda mean.”

“Well …” Earnest stepped back, hoping to regain their trust.

“You should let him go,” the girl said, with an air of authority.

It was Earnest’s turn to laugh. “Let him go? And just how am I supposed to do that, missy?” Throw him in a dumpster? Chop him into kindling? Nope, I’m gonna ride Granddaddy’s little curse right to the end.

“Wish it.”

Cold claws gripped at Earnest from within. Granddaddy seemed to smile and cock a lazy eye in his direction. “No. No, no, no, missy. Can’t be wishing for that. Wishes got to be for good things.”

“It’d be good for him,” she said with a shrug.

“Wishes are for puppies, and toys, and candy.”

“Looks like he had too much candy already,” said the boy.

“Well,” said Earnest. “I can see you kids don’t have need for any wishes, so just run along and catch some rides.” He turned his back and started towards his tent. Time for a few nips and a nap.

“I wish …”

She wouldn’t.

“I wish old ugly here were free, and you were in his place.”

No. Granddaddy couldn’t possibly grant that. He turned just as the boy hit the button and the kids ran off screaming happily into the fair. Earnest stared at the doll, unable to move.

There was a grinding sound as the thick lower jaw began to move slowly in and out. A small, yellowed tooth dropped and thunked off the base of the doll stand.

Earnest paled. Two bulging eyes, bloodshot and brimming with decades of anger, turned his way and blinked. A ghastly black smile crept up Granddaddy’s face.


Copyright © 2015 Steven P. Bouchard