cw: human teeth, graphic sensory descriptions
The Monster’s Teeth
He wasn’t meant to be here.
He knew he shouldn’t touch anything when he was in the Big House, and his mother had told him to stay in the kitchen.
He could hear grown-up voices shouting and calling from all over, some commotion and cries of “Fetch the doctor” and gossip from the parlour maids. The kitchen was too hot, too crowded, and half the staff were rushing in and out when they had no reason to be, just to hear the latest from the cook and the housekeeper, who had repeated their stories a hundred times and had enough tea and biscuits to repeat it a hundred times more. Normal service was suspended.
He didn’t understand what was going on, only that there were too many people.
Nobody noticed when he slipped away into the quiet panelled corridors where he could breathe, and snuck around the grand staircase to the other side of the house. Here was the master’s study, the smoking room, the big, long dining hall, and he crept into the first empty room he could find as a place of temporary solace.
He wasn’t meant to be here.
The study was an avalanche waiting to happen, drifts and peaks of papers and books everywhere, coloured chalks scattered on the bare boards with the rugs rolled up in thick sausages, the grate empty and cold.
He shouldn’t touch anything.
He knew that.
But there was a cabinet full of tiny drawers, none of them labelled – or if they were, the labels were in such tiny, spidery writing that he could barely make out the words. Thomas, said one. Araminta, said another.
He opened the drawers one at a time, and the tiny boxes slid out, contents nested in hanks of wool.
Tiny milk pearls with bumpy ridges, pronged roots embedded in the softness underneath.
He opened others, unlabeled. The contents of these were bigger, yellowed, decayed. Their roots were rusty, stained. He didn’t understand, but he was transfixed.
Each drawer contained more treasures, pitted and ulcerous, pearly and perfect, molar and premolar, cuspid and incisor. They rolled hard and sharp between his finger and thumb, gritty and salted under his tongue, grating under his own teeth as he bit them to test their authenticity, like a man biting coins.
Chips scraped off in his mouth like tiny shards of eggshell, little bits of grit that felt wrong in his mouth.
He explored the bumps and hollows, the points and planes, growing used to the contours and forbidden taste of iron and salt.
He made the collection his own by touch and taste, placing the possessive stamp of saliva on each and every one he could find no matter how his taste buds rebelled, detecting traces of chemicals and cleaning fluids, until the collection was entirely his own.
Sliding the last drawer back in place, he heard his mother calling his name.
“Dicky Pendle! You’re for it, when I find you.”
He snuck himself into a musty corner of the study and waited for the door to open, for the heavy hand of righteous fury to descend on his shoulder and yank him out for a belting. It didn’t matter, when he had a bright new secret to keep.