So a couple months ago I was looking at a list of open submissions for literary journals. I found one that seemed interesting. They were looking for something “spooky, scary or skin-crawly”. So I sat down and wrote a short-story for it. They politely declined my story, so now I am posting it here. I am not a huge fan of the horror/suspense genre, so this was entirely new for me. It was quite fun, though. I wanted to tell a story where the whole “Tooth Fairy” mythos made sense. Something where the questions: Why teeth? Where’d he/she get the money? What were they doing with the teeth? Had answers.
I paused and looked at the boy sitting in the chair in my office. Kevin’s parents had come to me to try and help him get over his anxiety so he could get more sleep. He had the tell-tale dark circles under his eyes, but he was wide awake, almost disturbingly so. I recognized the look. For years, I had that look – hell, I still had that look. The look of knowing.
He had stopped talking, waiting for me to respond. I put down my pen and looked directly at him.
“I believe you, Kevin,” I said. “I really do.”
The tension seemed to flow out of him for a second.
“Really?” he said, with some small hesitation.
“Yep. The tooth fairy never made sense to me either,” I replied. “At least not until I was about your age. Some random fairy sneaks into your room during the night, takes your old baby tooth and leaves behind some change? Where’d the fairy get the change? What does he do with the teeth? None of these questions ever made sense to me. The boogieman just wanted to take you away and eat you, nice and simple. Vampires were just looking for a snack. Trust me, I believe what you’ve told me.”
I then told him my story:
I first heard about the Boogie Man and the monsters under my bed when I was four or five years old. I remember my older brother, Marcus terrifying me with stories about all the scary things that go bump in the night. All the dark things that live in your closet and inside of your shoes. They all terrified me. Most of them were described in horrifying detail by him. I will never understand why Marcus and I always had such discussions after dark. Upon hearing these descriptions, I would run terrified and screaming to my parent’s bed, seeking safety from the most terrifying things from this side of reality.
My father would sigh then lift me into bed, where I would promptly snuggle against my mother and whimper in her embrace until I slept.
“You’ve got to stop coming into our room, Sean,” said my father, early one morning.
“But the monsters will get me!” I shrieked.
My father would roll his eyes and resume his never-ending job search in the newspaper’s “Help Wanted” section.
My mother asked me, “Sean, why do you think that the monsters want to get you?”
“Because Marcus told me so!” I said.
Both of my parents looked at my older brother and began their weekly admonishment of his behavior – in stereo.
But once the sun began to slip behind the house across the street, I knew that the dark things would be coming. The imps and demons and werewolves would all be hunting. They would all be hunting for me.
This, of course, gave me nightmares and caused my parents to seek out professional help. Since we really had very little disposable income at the time, my parents took me to the cheapest therapist in the yellow pages.
“We just want him to get over this obsession. He needs to start getting regular sleep,” said my mother to my therapist, Carol Deacon.
“Sean, why don’t you tell me about the monsters?” asked Ms. Deacon on our first meeting.
So I told her all of my fears. The boogieman, the swamp monster, vampires, scarecrows, strawmen, and banshees. Ms. Deacon dutifully took notes and nodded her head. She asked amplifying questions like, “How tall is the boogieman?” and “If you don’t live near a swamp, how will the swamp monster even find you?”. Even then I was skeptical of adults. I could tell that she was just trying to placate.
She asked about my parents and if they fought. She asked about my older brother and if he was the person behind all of my fears.
“Marcus told me about them, but he’s just as scared of them as I am,” I said.
“Really? A ten-year-old boy is as scared of the monster under your bed, as you are?” she asked.
“No. Not the monster under my bed. He’s scared of the one under his,” I replied.
“So they are different monsters? Are they related?” she asked. “Like are they both boogiemen or werewolves?”
“No. Marcus says that it’s a different monster under every bed and in every closet,” I said.
She paused and scribbled notes.
“Sean, the next time you come, could you bring me a drawing of any of these monsters?”
“Sure thing, Ms. Deacon!”
Two weeks went by and I provided the requested art. I had doodled monsters with huge arms and horns. Dark, hooded people with too-long arms. And there were lots and lots of teeth. Ms. Deacon looked at them each in turn, then set them on her desk.
“So Sean, why do you assume the monsters want to hurt you?” she asked.
“Because they are hiding, and they don’t want me to give them away, I guess,” I said.
“Oh? Who are they hiding from?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Sean, the next time you find yourself scared of a monster, just close your eyes and say aloud: “I’m not scared of you.”,” she provided.
All of these questions were making me distrust her more and more. She wasn’t listening to me. It’s hard to be little. You see the world and you see things so clearly, but you don’t always have a full understanding. Looking back on it now, I guess that’s why people comment on how children are so candid and honest. Little kids just don’t know that they are supposed to ignore some of the things they see and hear.
After my final meeting with Ms. Deacon, she spoke with my parents. They couldn’t afford to pay for more sessions, and she didn’t feel that she was really helping. It’s really sad, she really was trying.
My evenings of terror continued, right up until I lost my first tooth. That’s when everything fell into place.
“You’d better rinse out your mouth,” said my mother, as she shooed me towards the bathroom. “Over the sink!” she called after me.
A few minutes later I returned proudly displaying a small, still-bleeding, gap in my bottom set of teeth.
“Well, we’ll need to wrap up your tooth and put it under your pillow tonight so that the tooth fairy can come claim it!” she said.
I held a tissue to the gap to staunch the flow of blood from my mouth and looked at her somewhat puzzled.
“Tooth Fairy?” I asked.
“Yes, the tooth fairy comes and claims your tooth and will leave behind a small amount of money in exchange,” she said. Like a visit from a magical, tooth-crazy, cat-burglar was just a completely normal event. I had always thought that Marcus was trying to mess with me about the Toothfairy.
That night, I packaged up my tooth and placed it under my small pillow and then began my eyes-clenched-shut sleep routine. I listened to every groan and pop the house made and identified the ones that were my parents going to bed and which ones I had identified as monster-related. About an hour after the normal time for my parents to be in bed is when I heard the window open. I laid as still as a corpse. I felt my pillow begin to lift slightly and I barely opened one eye to sneak a peak. There was a person, with long, pointed ears and pale green skin leaning over me. I tried to keep from jumping and running but decided to try Ms. Deacon’s recommendation. “I’m not scared of you,” I said. Then I opened my eyes. The pale green man froze, his right hand was reaching under his cloak. When I say still, I mean, he went unnaturally still. Not breathing still. I looked directly at him.
Before he could run, I asked him, “Are you here to take me away like the boogieman?”
He wore a breastplate and a short sword, but they were mostly hidden under a tattered, patchwork cloak. From his belt hung a leather sack. He said nothing. Just stayed still and stared down.
“Well, if you’re here to hurt me, just get it over with. I’m really tired of being scared,” I said. I tried very hard to not tremble.
“Ummm, no. Not here to hurt. Here to protect,” said the being.
I looked at his still mostly outstretched left hand and pointed at the folded-tissue package holding my tooth.
“Are you the Toothfairy?” I asked.
“That’s a name I’ve been called,” he answered. But still he didn’t move from the spot. That’s when I noted that he was still staring down. Staring at the dark shadow cast by my bed.
“You’re here to protect? Me?” I asked.
“Listen, kid, I’ll give you a dollar if you’ll just go back to sleep,” he said, still staring at the shadow under my bed.
“A whole dollar?!” I said, a little too loud.
“Quiet!!” he hissed. “Yes. A dollar.”
“Why are you trying to protect me?” I asked, more than a little skeptically.
Without turning away from me, he rolled his eyes and pulled what looked like a phone from his belt and spoke quietly into it, “Sandy, get over here, please.”
I just watched him. There was a monster in my room. And it was talking to me.
“Trying? Ha. More like succeeding,” he replied, turning back to face me. “You’re still safe in your bed with all your fingers and toes. Just let me give you the dollar and you can just snap off to sleep. I’ll just be on my way.”
“Why teeth? Is it any tooth?” I asked.
He slumped his shoulders and pushed his cloak off his shoulder, showing his right hand resting on the hilt of his sword. He took a quick look at me and the door to my room and frowned, clearly considering his next move. Then he suddenly whipped the blade from its sheath and stabbed the shadow under my bed. There was a sharp, squealing, thrashing sound from beneath me. I jumped back in shock, but then he pulled the blade back. On the end was what looked like a very fat, very small man.
“Kid, there’s more in the Dark than just the night and shadow,” he said. He looked at the small man, poking it with his finger to check and make sure it was dead. He turned the tiny person’s pockets out, then tossed the body out my window. The change he found in the dead man’s pocket went into the leather pouch on his belt. There was the “ching” sound of the coins hitting others in the sack.
“That was a boogieman. There’s a whole nest of them near this house. Probably because there are so many children in this neighborhood. My job is to try to keep them at bay,” said the tooth fairy.
“That was a boogieman?!?” I asked trying to keep my heart from beating out of my chest.
“Yes, well a young one. The full-grown ones are much bigger,” he said as he held his hand up over his head indicating their size.
“I pay you for the tooth so that you keep leaving them for me. If the boogieman could get it, he could walk around in the daylight and better hide from the things that walk during the day. Then he may decide to hunt me where I sleep. So I go around and try to collect all of the teeth of the children in the area, leaving behind the change I collect from any of the monsterlings I find.”
I was just shocked. I had been right all along. The monsters were real. And apparently many of them just walk around in broad daylight wearing a piece of a person.
“So there are monsters just walking around during the night and nobody notices?” I asked.
“Not at night. At night, they are hiding. They walk around during the day. Trying to find better places to hide and hunt.”
“So the boogieman from under my bed is gone?” I asked.
“Well, one of them. They’re really not all that bad when they’re little, or all that scary. You just need to keep from leaving any fingernail clippings or teeth around. They collect them and walk around during the day, knowing that these items make them appear human enough to be ignored by the monsters of Light.” said the tooth fairy.
“There aren’t any monsters during the day,” I said. I was so sure of myself.
“The real monsters are the ones that are about in the day time, and they hunt the night time monsters. Why would you think that only the Dark monsters are the ones to be scared of, child?” he asked.
“What happens if they lose the piece of human they’re carrying, do they burst into flames because of the sunshine?” I asked.
“Of course not. They can move without one of your teeth, it’s just more dangerous for them. It’s how they hide during the day,” he scoffed. “There are way worse things in the Light of the sun than some shambling boogieman.”
He said this last part and visibly shuddered.
“Look, kid. It’s been all sorts of wonderful to just sit here and be all exposed in the Dark like this, but I have to go. A Sandman will be coming around here any minute and he’ll make sure you get some rest for the next few nights. You’re not the only visit on my patrol tonight, and I’d really rather not have to deal with a worse infestation in the future. Boogiemen are easy enough to deal with, but there are way, way worse things in the Dark,” he said.
He reached into the pouch on his belt and took out a handful of coins, and dropped them on my bed. To six-year-old me it was a small fortune.
“Just make sure to put any teeth you lose under your pillow, and we’ll take care of the rest,” he said.
He lightly stepped back to my window and helped pull a short, stocky man into my room. The stocky man straightened himself. He took care to dust his plaid robe and fix his drooping nightcap. He re-tied the belt of his plaid robe and brushed off some dust from his bunny slippers.
The short man yawned, then walked to the side of my bed. He waved back at the Toothfairy dismissively, then down at the hoard of money and shrugged. The Toothfairy had already left via the window.
“You’ll want to get comfortable,” he said. “You’re about to fall asleep.”
I looked at him confused and he just sighed. He reached into one of the pockets of his robe and absentmindedly pitched a small pinch of sand or dust towards my face and I just dropped. When I awoke, the sun was up. I had slept through breakfast. I hadn’t missed breakfast since I was a baby.
For the next few years, as I lost all of my baby teeth, I dutifully placed them under my pillow. From time to time, I had a few more conversations with my tooth fairy about the creatures of the Dark. The night I placed my final baby tooth under my pillow was the night where the Toothfairy woke me.
“Look, kid, there’s a lot more in the world than you’ll ever need – or want – to know. The adults forget things, they ignore the things they don’t want to think about. It’s better that way. I just keep doing my job and trying to keep the worst of the bad from getting out of hand. Remember, watch for the things that nobody notices,” and with that he left.
I finished telling Kevin the story of meeting a Toothfairy and a Sandman. He just sat there, watching me.
“So yes, Kevin, I believe you when you say that there’s a monster under your bed. I really, really do. I promise,” I said.
“Trust me, there’s way worse out during the day,” I told him. “At least the Toothfairy and a few others are on our side.”
Kevin was smiling when he left my office. I closed the door and settled back down to my desk. I finished writing up my notes on his case then slipped them into a folder in my cabinet. I stepped to my window and looked out on the office park courtyard. The small statue of a dancing cherub stood in a small fountain with its back to me and sitting on its head was a mockingbird. I paused to watch the small bird, wondering about its life. It watched some unknown, unseen thing in a tree nearby, then It turned and looked directly at my office window.
In the next instant, I watched as the cherub’s hand grabbed the bird and flung it at my window. I instinctively ducked. When I looked back out the window, the small cherub was pointing at my window. I smiled and remembered what I had been told all those years ago: “Why would you think that only the Dark monsters are the ones to be scared of, child?”