Aches and Pangs

by Adrian Ludens

The man living inside Pete’s mouth had a terrible toothache. It wasn’t something Pete could feel, but he knew all the same. Call it preternatural knowledge. Or, just call it a hunch.

Pete didn’t think it fair that the man should suffer, so he’d made an appointment with Dr. Wendy Morris, DDS. Perhaps she could help.

He sat in her waiting room, turning the pages of a battered magazine, but paying no attention to the contents. Pete felt self-conscious. He hadn’t always had a tiny squatter inhabiting his mouth.

He’d first noticed the man just days after he and Melody had broken up, or after Melody had broken up with him, if truth be told. The ache in his heart seemed unbearable until the interloper first made his presence known. Then the hurt seemed to recede; Pete had a more pressing situation to occupy his mind.

Somehow, the man disappeared or found shelter whenever Pete ate or brushed his teeth. But if he had to give a presentation at work, his lodger had a terrible habit of sitting way back in Pete’s mouth, his feet dangling close to his tonsils. He’d drum his legs and it gave Pete the worst feeling, like he might gag or throw up in front of his colleagues.

Whenever Pete encountered a woman who spoke to him, sometimes flirting, oftentimes just being polite, the man always chose that moment to sprawl out on the tip of his tongue. Pete didn’t know how he could explain the tiny man’s presence so he always just smiled at the women and walked away.

There were others. This was something else Pete knew. The man inside his mouth had another, even smaller man living inside his mouth. That man, Pete knew, harbored an even tinier man encamped within his mouth. Russian nesting dolls, Pete thought. And each had their own aches and pangs. Pete felt them all.

“Pete?”

The hygienist, a young woman with her blond hair pulled into a severe bun, stood in the doorway leading to the treatment rooms. Pete set the magazine aside and rose, smoothing his dress shirt before he followed the hygienist.

“So you have a tooth bothering you today?”

“Yes and no.” Pete frowned. Now that the moment had arrived, he wanted to turn back.

The hygienist motioned for him to sit down, a quizzical look on her face. Pete slid onto the examination chair.

“Let’s take a look.”

Pete felt for the little man’s presence but couldn’t sense him. Then he remembered the man’s proclivity for disappearance during mundane matters like eating and brushing. On the heels of this came the realization that the man living in his mouth usually made his presence known in more challenging social situations. Perhaps this visit wouldn’t work out after all; if the tiny man wasn’t visible, how could anyone fix his toothache?

Pete eased open his mouth anyway.

The hygienist let out a yelp and stood up so quick her stool skittered backward and toppled. “What… what….” was all she could manage.

“Maybe you’d better get Dr. Morris,” Pete said, his teeth clenched shut.

The young woman nodded. Her features had drained to the white-verging-on-gray color of skim milk. She hurried from the room. Moments later Dr. Wendy Morris entered the treatment room.

“Open, please,” the dentist said after she’d righted the overturned stool, sat down on it, and rolled to Pete’s side.

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth. Pete watched her eyes widen. Her mouth fell open in surprise. Pete saw twin glints of light reflecting from between her teeth; someone peering out from within.

Pete relaxed. He had found someone wholly equipped to provide care—both his and the tiny man’s. Dr. Morris, Pete felt sure, understood.

He settled back and closed his eyes. Once the tiny man’s toothache was cured, Pete thought he might work up the courage to ask Dr. Morris out for coffee. Maybe they could work together on trying to heal his broken heart. It could be a collaborative effort between all of them.

 

Adrian Ludens is the author of two collections: Bedtime Stories for Carrion Beetles and When Bedbugs Bite. Recent and upcoming publication appearances include: Cranial Leakage 2 (Grinning Skull Press), D.O.A. III (Blood Bound Books), Dark Horizons (Elder Signs Press), and Let Them In 2 (Time Alone Press).  Adrian is a fan of hockey, many genres of music, and exploring abandoned buildings. He is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association. For a cover gallery, links to free stories, news and more, visit www.adrianludens.com.

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