Henry Buckler had never caused any trouble before. This morning, however, he stormed into the dental office and straight to Anita’s desk. “Mr. Buckler,” the young, petite nurse said pleasantly, looking up from her paperwork, “I don’t recall you having an appointment today.”
“Is Bernie in?” he asked tersely, clearly agitated.
“Why, yes. He’s –”
“I need to see him.”
“OK,” she replied, unsure how to proceed. “If you’ll. . . uhm. . . have a s–”
“I need to see him now.”
Dr. Holbrook heard their exchange from his office and walked out into the waiting room. Fortunately, no other patients were present. “Is there a problem here?” the white-haired man asked.
Henry was relieved. “Bernie, I need your help.”
“So I heard.”
“I. . . I’m sorry.”
“Have you seen Dr. Hennessy about that root canal yet?”
“Please, it’s really important.”
“I’m sure it is,” the dentist went on, “but that doesn’t give you the right to treat my nurse like that.”
“It’s OK,” Anita said shyly.
“No, it’s not,” Holbrook continued. “I’ll help you, Henry. Of course I will. But you can’t barge in here and –” Buckler quickly apologized, and Anita demurely accepted. “Was that so tough?” Bernie asked his old friend.
“Can we talk?”
Holbrook turned to his nurse. “Mrs. Watson is coming in at 10:30 for her cleaning, right?”
“OK, Henry. I’m all yours until then. Exam Room 1.”
As Holbrook closed the door, Buckler sat fidgeting on the foot of the exam chair. “How’s the family?” Bernie asked.
“They’re fine,” Henry responded, aching to dispense with the small talk.
“And your job at the university science lab is keeping you busy?” he asked, approaching his patient.
“What can I do for you?”
“I want you to pull my teeth.”
“Every one of them!” Henry stressed. “You can fit me for dentures or I’ll gum my food. I. . . I don’t care.”
“You can’t possibly mean –”
“Can you do it?”
“Of course I can,” Holbrook answered.
“But?” Henry prompted him.
“I’m against pulling healthy teeth. Any dentist is.”
“They’re not healthy.”
“Of course they are!” Bernie protested. “I’ve done enough work on them. Those teeth of yours are in good shape.”
“I’ll find another dentist then!” Buckler said, rising quickly.
“Henry. . . ”
“I’ll pay you twice your usual fee. I want them all pulled. . . today.”
“Not possible,” the man in the long, white coat told him.
“Why not?” Henry pleaded.
“Well, for one thing, I don’t have the time. I have other patients coming in.” He briefly put a hand gently on his friend’s right shoulder. “I wouldn’t pull all your teeth in one visit anyway,” he continued.
“Why not? I’m fine with it.”
“But your mouth won’t be! If I pull even one tooth, it needs time to recuperate, to heal.”
“How many teeth will you pull in one visit?”
“My rule is no more than three.”
“Three?” Henry complained.
“Why do you want me to pull all your teeth?”
“They’re evil,” Buckler answered after a bit.
“All of them are.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just do. Like the guy who tells you it’s gonna rain because his knee starts to throb.”
Only then did the doctor notice Buckler’s heavily bandaged thumb. “What happened?” he asked.
“My teeth bit me,” Henry answered.
“You mean you bit your thumb.”
“No, I mean my teeth bit me! They got mad because I was trying to pull one out with my fingers. It bled pretty well for a while.”
“Henry,” Holbrook went on calmly, “what you’re saying –”
“I had to yank it out of my mouth like you pull something away from a dog. The teeth wouldn’t let go!”
“Why would they do that?”
“They didn’t like what I was doing. They fought back.” He took a couple of steps on his shaky legs and turned to face his dentist. “I think they like the taste of blood. They probably got used to it with all the work I’ve had done here.”
Holbrook chuckled slightly. “You’ll forgive me,” he said, “but that’s ridiculous.”
“Tell that to my thumb.”
“Teeth don’t have taste buds.”
“I think mine do.”
“How did your teeth get to be. . . ‘evil,’ Henry?”
He stepped closer to Holbrook – face to face. “I think it’s all those dental x-rays.”
Bernie shrugged off that idea. “Any radiation you were exposed to was minimal.”
“But with all the work you’ve done, you’ve taken a lot of x-rays. I think I finally hit my limit.”
“Radiation doesn’t collect inside your mouth,” Holbrook assured his friend. “Believe me, x-rays are harmless.”
“Then why do we all wear lead aprons?”
Holbrook sighed and continued, “Trust me: Radiation did not turn your teeth against you. Nothing did.”
“Maybe radiation along with their taste for blood –”
“Maybe I caught an infection – something from the lab – a virus. . . whatever,” Henry suggested, his anxiety increasing. “Things were already building up, and the x-rays pushed it over the top!”
“Henry,” his friend responded calmly. “I want you to calm down.”
“Please.” Buckler reluctantly sat back down on the exam chair. “You look tired,” the doctor went on. “Have you been sleeping?”
“Not much. My teeth grind together at night. It. . . It keeps me awake.”
“They shouldn’t be grinding,” Holbrook stated, surprised.
“Well, they are. I can’t even eat. I put some food in my mouth, and I can’t close it! It’s like I have lockjaw or something. My teeth refuse to chew the food no matter how hard I try.” He glanced at his thumb. “They have no problem biting me though.”
“Well, that’s not right.”
“So you’ll pull them?” Henry asked hopefully.
“No, but I do want to have a peek to see why you can’t chew.”
“You won’t see the problem,” a despondent Buckler told his friend. “They won’t let you.”
“If you say –”
Buckler suddenly began coughing violently. After a few seconds, Bernie asked, “Henry? Are you OK?”
“Tooth,” Henry squeaked, clawing frantically at his throat.
Anita ran into the exam room, the door closing itself behind her, and hurriedly administered the Heimlich a few times. Henry Buckler coughed and coughed, made frantic fingernail tracks along his throat, and finally collapsed. Anita knelt and checked for a pulse. “He’s. . . He’s dead,” she announced. The young nurse rose, befuddled. “That should have saved him.” Suddenly, there was a loud pop sound. A single, gleaming-white bicuspid slid from Buckler’s open mouth and clacked onto the floor. “A tooth?” Anita said, disbelievingly looking at her boss. “He choked on a. . .”
The other popping sounds started slowly, but quickly sped up, like popcorn in a microwave. Somehow mobile, all of Buckler’s teeth exited his dead mouth, gathered into a pile, and started making chewing sounds. They then split up into small groups of fours and fives, “walking” on their roots, and continued to chew. “My God!” Holbrook exclaimed. “They do want blood.”
Anita screamed and turned quickly for the exit. The teeth weren’t about to let that happen. They leapt into the air, landing on whatever exposed skin they could find – arms, necks, faces – and began rapidly chewing. Anita screamed in great pain, blood gushing from her eyes. “I can’t see!” she cried out. “Help me!”
Holbrook tried to go to her, but the flying ivories kept him busy fighting for his own survival. Anita collapsed, her eyeballs dangling from their sockets like tiny Slinkys, while the teeth made a meal of her.
Swatting his attackers away as best he could, Holbrook managed to make it to the telephone. He fumbled for the receiver, but all the teeth – there wasn’t much of Anita left to chew on – ganged up on him, opening many gaping, spurting wounds. He screamed and let go of the receiver, before dropping dead beside his once-pretty nurse. The dial tone was the last sound he heard.
“Doctor?” Mrs. Watson called, surprised to see no one in the office. She moved about uneasily on her clicking cane. “Anita?” She walked to Exam Room 1’s door and knocked a few times. “I’m here for my cleaning!” The teeth were happy to hear her. They were still hungry and had been struggling to open the door to greener – redder – pastures.
The elderly woman barely had a chance to scream at the blood-drenched sight at her feet before the ivories attacked.
Stacking nearly all of them on top of each other, the teeth were able to reach the doorknob to the exit. Even pulling hard with dental floss though, they were unable to open the door to the outside world and all the food they would ever want.
A wisdom tooth, which was not in the stack, heard the car. He alerted the others, who rapidly dismantled their tower, gathered in a smile shape on the rug, and waited for the doorknob to turn.