by Daulton Dickey.
Dentistry isn’t what it used to be. In my younger and less vulnerable years, I’d service fifteen or twenty patients a day without incident. Scrape teeth, inject lidocaine and extract teeth, and then I’d go home and distract myself. Thoughts of work rarely assaulted me. But now I can’t go near a person’s mouth without an armed bodyguard and an exorcist, and the day haunts me well into night.
Just this morning, a scruffy-faced man ambled into my office, complaining of a toothache. My alarm bells sounded on seeing him. His greasy hair and unkempt beard alerted me to potential trouble. And those eyes, black and hollow, dug into my flesh and raised every hair on my body.
‘I got an awful pain,’ he said.
My nurse seated him and eyeballed me, telegraphing SOS by flickering her pupils. I returned the message and, with a flick of my wrist, called Sancho into the room. His name was—honest to god—Sancho Panza and he stood six foot eight inches without shoes. He sauntered into the room, clutching a crucifix, and hovered over me. I couldn’t see his face but I knew his routine: fire mad-looking eyes at the patient, a sort of pre-emptive warning shot, and grimace.
‘Where’s the pain?’ I said.
The man pointed.
‘Number twenty-nine,’ I said.
My nurse wrote it down.
In the old days we’d take x-rays and get to the root of the problem—partial pun intended; but that technological sorcery didn’t do us any favors anymore, not since the Luddites opened a wormhole in these here United States. Now the same cause triggered every dental problem.
I knew, and my nurse and Sancho Panza knew, what awaited us. Drill into number twenty-nine and break loose hell and her many-eyed minions. Part of me wanted to shove him out of the chair and send him on his way, but the sweat beading on his forehead and the treble in his voice told me the poor bastard was in pain, and I had an ethical duty to ease his suffering, even if the thought of drilling into him inspired nausea and a feeling like trying to hold in a massive shit.
We shackled his feet and strapped his arms to the chair. My nurse rolled her eyes into the back of her head, so only the whites showed, and chanted, in a monotone: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; you make me happy when skies are grey; you’ll never know, dear, how much I love you,” and on and on.
As the nurse chanted, Sancho sprinkled holy water around the chair and dipped his thumb in it and rubbed it on the tops of my ears. The man convulsed in his chair. He shook and screamed and tried to break free. But titanium reinforced the straps. He wasn’t going anywhere.
As the nurse chanted, Sancho recited verse from the Book of Esther—an odd choice, I thought, because Esther was a secular book—and the man screamed and spewed slime and saliva across the room.
I pressed the drill to his tooth and turned it on and ground a hole near his gum line. A stench like singed hair flowed outward. The man’s screams pushed the stench toward me. Then it mutated: sulphur and death replaced singed hair.
Green pus spilled out of the hole and pooled in his mouth. My nurse stuck the wand into his mouth and tried to suck out the pus, which evaded the vacuum.
‘Get it,’ I said. ‘Get it.’
‘This ain’t good, Doc,’ Sancho said.
‘Say the words,’ I said. ‘Keep saying the words.’
Sancho recited. The nurse chanted. I drilled into the man’s tooth as the nurse attempted to vacuum out the green pus. But it slid to the left, slid to the right; it zigged when she zagged and zagged when she zigged.
‘Say the words. Keep saying the goddam words.’
The pus pooled together and formed a bead. It leaped out of the man’s mouth and lunged at me. I dropped the drill and rolled my chair to the left. The pus missed me and slammed into Sancho’s face, slipping into the poor bastard’s mouth as he mangled the pronunciation of Ahasuerus.
He dropped the crucifix and wrapped his hands around his neck and made an awful choking-slash-dry-heaving sound. Then he backed up. He hunched over and, growling, spit onto the floor. Black bile drained from his eyes, nose, and mouth.
My nurse whimpered. Tears streamed down her face.
The man in the chair had, at some point, closed his eyes and steadied his breath. I poked his arm and he twitched. At least the poor bastard wasn’t dead. But then … Sancho, poor Sancho:
He sat in the Lotus position, eyelids clenched.
My nurse whimpered.
‘Sancho,’ I said.
He opened his eyes. Black pools infected with grey whorls stared back at me.
‘I see it, Doc,’ he said. ‘It’s beautiful.’
‘What’s it look like?’
‘Like our world, only humans is replaced with some kind of lizard people. And the smell … it’s …’
‘They watching the TV,’ he said. ‘I mean, it’s on. In the office.’
‘Sancho?’ My nurse cried. Then she passed out and collapsed, smacking her face on the base of the chair.
‘A lizard-man is talking,’ Sancho said. ‘Front of a big crowd, like a rock-concert-type crowd. He’s some kind of politician. I think a president. He’s actually … sounds like he’s actually inspiring the people. Sounds like he actually does what they voted him into office to do.’
‘It’s all an illusion.’ The man in the chair was staring at me when I swiveled my head to look at him. ‘They put it in your head,’ he said. ‘These visions.’
‘Ain’t no wormhole.’
‘Then what is it?’
‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Control.’
Sancho jumped to his feet and hunched over and started barking. He reared back and stomped his feet and shouted and screamed.
‘What’s wrong?’ I said. ‘What is it?’
‘It’s all messed up, Doc,’ he said. ‘All messed up.’ He barked and screamed and stomped his feet again.
‘What’s going on? Sancho? Speak to me.’
‘Ain’t no one got time for this talking bullshit,’ he said. ‘I got to go out and find a dog and train it to attack reindeer on sight, stop Santa Claus from ruining a perfectly good holiday.’ He barked and screamed and stomped out of the room.
I glanced at the man in the chair. He smiled.
‘Why they always say that?’
‘That’s the third bodyguard I lost this week,’ I said. ‘Fucking Luddites.’