Don't Cheat The Tooth Fairy

Don't Cheat The Tooth Fairy
Copyright (C) 2002 By William Campbell

     Craig held the front door open for his daughter. The six-year-old stomped her snow boots on the mat, then went inside and sat down to pull them off. Gail stayed in her Outback. Here it was, ten-thirty at night, freezing cold, and snowing, the least his ex-wife could do was get out of the damn car and walk Hannah to the door.

     Craig stepped down off the porch and walked sock-footed through the snow to Gail's car. The electronic window glided down.

     "In case you didn't know, they've already cancelled school tomorrow," Craig said, trying to sound friendly.

     "They have? For Hannah's school or yours?"

     "Both." Craig gazed at the snow falling under the street light. The ground was already covered. "They're saying we're up for fourteen inches."

     "Okay. Thanks."

     They were silent for a moment. The wind picked up, whispering through the bare tree branches as the snow continued to drift. She adjusted her coat collar, pulling it around her white uniform. "Well, I'll call you when I get off."

     "Sure." Craig leaned toward the open window. "You know, since there's no school tomorrow, I was thinking she could just stay here with me. You'll need to get some rest anyway?"

     She didn't look at him. The wipers streaked across the windshield. "I'll think about it."

     I'll think about it. Her way of saying no. God, he hated that passive-aggressive crap.

     Gail took the window back up. Craig walked back to the porch, his socks wet and his foot cold to the bone. The Outback's headlight caught big, round snowflakes as she backed out. He watched her put the car in gear and head to work. A small part of him hoped she'd end up wrapped around a tree. He went back inside and closed the door behind him.

     Bev had come downstairs while he was outside. She helped Hannah with her boots and snowsuit. "Show Daddy your tooth."

     Hannah grinned, showing him the gap in front where her tooth had been. Last weekend it had been loose, but had stubbornly refused to fall out while he had Hannah. So, instead, Gail got the honors. It was one of the things he missed about custody.

     "See, Daddy. I lost my tooth!"

     "Well, look at that," Craig said. "It finally came out."

     "Uh-huh. It came out today."

     "Today! That's great." He could play Tooth Fairy after all. "Let me see it. We can put it under you pillow tonight. Do you know who will come?"

     Hannah lost her smile. Her gaze slid away and her shoulders fell. "I know. The Tooth Fairy."

     "Hey, kiddo, what's wrong with that?"

     "Mommy said the Tooth Fairy only comes to houses with real mommies."

     "Is that what she said?" Craig tried to sound jovial, but he couldn't keep the pain out of his voice.

     A glance from Bev. An expression that said, the nerve of that woman.

     "Well, for future reference, the Tooth Fairy is magical and can come here, to your mother's, or anywhere."

     "Anywhere?"

     "Of course! That's how Tooth Fairy magic works." Craig picked her up, holding her against his hip with one arm. "But you know what happens if you forget?"

     Hannah's eyes grew wide with anticipation as he brought his free hand up and wiggled his fingers like a menacing claw. "What?"

     "You get tickled!"

     The girl laughed as his fingers dug in. She squirmed and tried to push his hand away. Each time he worked his hand past her guard, laughing with her.

     "Okay, little one," said Bev. "It's way past your bedtime."

     Father and daughter chimed, "Ahhhh."

     "And that goes for you, too, Mr. Teacher. Some of us still have to work tomorrow."

     "Okay, you heard Bev," he said to the girl. "It's upstairs with you. Brush your teeth and climb in bed. I'll come read you a story in minute."

     "Winnie The Pooh?"

     "Yep. Pooh bear it is." He set the girl on her feet and watched her climb up the stairs like it was the most grueling experience of her life. He stayed down with Bev to lock up and turn off the lights.

     "Can you believe that woman?" Bev said. "That little girl would have loved to show you her tooth. Did you see how disappointed she was?"

     Craig nodded, feeling a little defensive. He'd fought for custody, and had ended up getting dragged through the coals by Gail's lawyer. He thought about taking her back to court and asking for longer weekends or school night, but he didn't want to chance losing his summers with Hannah. Gail was a real pussycat as long as things went her way. To challenge that was to wake a starving tiger. The woman knew how to push his buttons.

     "It's not my fault."

     Bev's gentle hand touched his cheek. "And I'm not saying it is, Sweetie. Don't go there."

     He already was there, thoughts spiraling down a dark path of what-ifs and why-nots.

     "Why don't you play Tooth Fairy anyway," she said. "Who cares if we have the tooth? Put a dollar under her pillow and we'll tell her the Tooth Fairy came. It'll make her happy."

     They stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Craig flipped off the light, and then stood there for a long moment, listening to the water running in the upstairs bathroom. Hannah should have finished brushing her teeth by now.

     "I don't know," he whispered. "I'd like to, but it feels like...like cheating."

     "Then don't, if that's how you feel. Just stop second guessing yourself. Let it go. You're married to me now, and you're happy." A pause as her eyes found his. "Right?"

     He wrapped his arms around her waist and produced a weak, "Yes."

     A skeptical look from Bev. Craig rolled his eyes, sighed, and then said "yes" again. Firmer.

     "That's the spirit, Loverboy. Now let's get upstairs. I think we've got a little girl playing in the sink."

#

     Craig couldn't fall asleep. He'd read to Hannah. The girl had conked out as soon as Pooh had gotten stuck in Rabbit's hole. Bev was already sound asleep when he'd crawled into bed.

     The wind howled outside, the storm picking up. He laid in bed and stared at the ceiling, thinking.

     The deal with Hannah's tooth bothered him. Just another one of Gail's digs. Another in a long list.

     During their six years together, Gail'd had three affairs that he knew of. He'd filed for divorce, and asked for custody of Hannah. He didn't know if he'd win, but given Gail's track record and him being an educator, he thought he had a better chance than most dads.

     But Gail's lawyer turned out to be a perfect match for her. A dirty, low-down shyster. Within a week, she and Hannah were in a shelter for battered women, and her lawyer was shouting abuse. Although the charges were entirely false and unsubstantiated, the accusation alone was enough for her to win custody. In one fell swoop, she had Hannah, the house, and all of their belongings. The divorce was over before it had really started.

     Gail got him again when Hannah started school. Hannah should have gone to his school, but a month before the first day of kindergarten, his ex-wife had sold the house and moved into a different district across town.

     Then there was Beverly. Lots of little digs there. Gail was obviously threatened by Bev's involvement with Hannah, and drilled the girl that Bev was not Mommy, and she didn't have to listen to a word Bev said.

     So, her keeping the tooth was just another on the list.

     Forget it, he thought. He sat up in bed. To hell with her. Gail could keep the damn tooth for all he cared. Craig pulled on a tee-shirt, tightened his pajama pants, and went to check on Hannah. Maybe leave a dollar himself, like Bev suggested.

     He stepped into the soft glow of Hannah's Donald Duck night light, casting a wide shadow across the sleeping child. She looked so peaceful and restful. Not a care in the world. Her eyes darted back and forth under her closed eyelids, and he wondered what she might be dreaming. Pleasant dreams, he hoped.

     He pulled her covers up and thought about going back to get a dollar out of his wallet. It would make Hannah happy. She wouldn't care if the tooth had been left under her pillow or not.

     Bev came up behind him and put her hand over his wrist. "Hey there, love," he whispered. "I didn't-"

     Sharp pain stabbed into his wrist. Numbness came over him. The world suddenly became a void, as though he had been sucked into a tunnel. He couldn't feel anything except the pain digging into his wrist.

     The feeling evened out, and he saw that it wasn't Bev behind him but was something monstrous. Human in form, the creature stood an inch taller than Craig, barrel-chested, plump. The thing that held his wrist was covered in teeth.

     Teeth jutted out from every part of its body, covering every nook and cranny from head to toe. Incisors, molars, bicuspids. Teeth of every shape and size. Many were small, deciduous, but others had been permanent teeth. Some were white, well cared for, brushed regularly, while others were yellowed and decayed. It breathed, teeth scraping against each other as its folded wings slowly rose and fell with each breath.

     The creature blinked, tooth-covered eyelids sliding over slate white enamel eyes.

     His lungs tightened. He fought for breath, struggling to free him arm, but the creature's grip was too tight.

     The it suddenly let go, and was gone. Vanished. Just like that. He stepped backward, knees knocking as he rubbed the ring of tooth marks left around his wrist. What was that? Had he been reading too much Hufflalumps and Woozles?

     Hannah's pillow shifted as she rolled over in her sleep. No, what he saw wasn't the pillow shifting, but something snaking under the pillow. Was he seeing more things? Could the monster still be there, yet invisible somehow? Craig thought of that thing's hand under his daughter's pillow and shivered.

     It wanted Hannah's tooth.

     The movement stopped, and the creature reappeared, seizing his arm again. The room brightened as the feeling of numbness overcame him again. No, the room hadn't gotten brighter, he realized. What had happened was his shadow had disappeared. He and the creature stood directly in the glow of the night light, but neither one of them cast a shadow.

     Craig and the Tooth Fairy were both invisible.

     No. Impossible, he thought, and couldn't decide which, the Tooth Fairy or the invisible part.

     The creature growled, as if disagreeing with him on both accounts, and lifted him off the floor.

     "Bev! Bev!"

     No response from his wife. Hannah lay sleeping, oblivious to the monster that held her father. Its grip tightened, and Craig was afraid it was going to snap his hand off.

     "I don't have her tooth! I don't have it!"

     The creature pulled him close to its studded body until they were face to face. Its lips pulled back into a snarl, revealing a mouthful of perfect teeth. The cleanest, whitest teeth he'd ever seen. And razor sharp. Its mouth parted, and inside, Craig saw that its palate, tongue, the insides of its cheeks, even the little piece of flesh that hung in the back of its throat (it was called the uvula, he thought, one of his fifth-graders was asking about it the other day) were covered with teeth. As it slowly closed its jaw, the teeth moved together like clock gears. A machine made to render and chew.

     Its enamel eyes stared into his, waiting. A white-knuckled fist squeezed Craig's heart.

     "I-I don't have her tooth. I don't have it! She-she left it at her mother's house. I don't know-"

     In the space of a blink, he found himself transported. The creature let go of him, leaving him alone in a dark room. Craig couldn't see a thing. He reached forward, turning in slow circles as he felt for a light switch.

     His fingers fell upon the round curve of a lampshade, which he almost knocked over before reaching under it and finding the switch. He squinted as the light came on.

     He recognized the bedroom set. The pink bed frame and matching dresser were Hannah's. He and Gail had bought them together before the divorce. The Tooth Fairy had taken him to Gail's house. Hannah's room, to be exact. Gail had put her in the basement after he'd moved out. The room had no windows, and was a mess with toys and dirty clothes on the floor. Didn't Gail ever have her clean it?

     The bed wasn't made, and the Barbie sheets were wrinkled and misplaced. Hannah's pillow rose above the mattress, and then flopped back down, thrown by an invisible force. The friendly neighborhood Tooth Fairy at work? It had to be standing right in front of him, yet he couldn't see it.

     Run. He should turn and run.

     Instead he stood there. The creature snapped into view. Sharp pain around his wrist. He winced at the snap and crackle of teeth rubbing together and the Tooth Fairy's angry growl. It hadn't found what it was looking for.

     "Of course it's not here," he said. "Her mother probably has it."

     With that, he was whisked to yet a new location.

     This one he recognized instantly. Gail's hospital. They were standing in front of the nurse's station. Gail was behind the counter, talking to another nurse. Neither of the women reacted as though Craig had popped out of nowhere. Anything the Tooth Fairy held must also become invisible. He listened to his ex-wife's conversation unseen.

     "You think I did the right thing?" Gail said. "I mean, I'm the mother, right? And Hannah lost her tooth at my house, so it only makes sense that I should be the one to put it under her pillow."

     "You're talking, girl."

     "Hannah's only six. What will she care if she gets the money tonight or next week? It's only a lousy dollar anyway."

     The creature's grip tightened.

     "Hey, don't blame me," Craig whispered to the creature. "She's the one you want to talk to."

     "Girl, I'm telling you, you're the only one there for her. I know what it's like to be a single mom. You got to do the Tooth Fairy thing. Santa Claus. Soccer. Girl Scouts. You name it, you're the one who has to do those things. I mean, you know her father ain't gonna be there!"

     "Right." Gail nodded, her expression smug.

     "Yeah, right," Craig whispered. "You should have seen what happened last September. Hannah was all excited about becoming a Daisy Scout. Her mother had bought her a uniform and everything. Took her to two meetings, and then nothing. She was too busy to go anymore. Poor girl." Not only had Gail put Hannah in the basement of her house, she'd put Hannah in the basement of her heart.

     Craig suddenly realized what he'd been talking to. The creature stared at him, head in a curious tilt as it blinked.

     A light flashed behind the counter. The creature's tooth coated wings fluttered at the sound of the sudden alarm.

     "Easy, girl," Craig said, amazed how comfortable he had gotten around the creature.

     "That's Griffin again," said the black nurse. "I'll get it."

     Gail switched off the blinking light. "Oh, let him wait. Since he's come-to, he thinks he needs something every five minutes."

     "I hear you. Better get it now though. He'll throw a fissy if we keep him waiting."

     The black woman left, slipping inside a room down the hall. Gail sorted through a stack of folders. The Tooth Fairy let go of his arm, disappearing from his sight.

     The drop from the invisible world to reality came hard and cold. He didn't have shoes on, and the tile floor carried a coldness that went straight to his bones.

     His shadow appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Its sudden appearance was unnatural, and unnerved him.

     And then he noticed the blood. His blood. A pair of incisors had broken through his skin. He pressed his palm over the wound and stepped backward, suddenly feeling light-headed, dizzy. He backed into an empty gurney, shoving it against the wall.

     "Gloria? That you?"

     Shit! He couldn't let her see him. She would totally freak if she found him here at the hospital, and nobody on the planet would believe his story about the Tooth Fairy. Part of him still didn't believe it himself.

     She turned around. Craig ducked.

     "Gloria? I wish you-"

     Her voiced suddenly cut off. Craig waited, but didn't hear another peep. He slowly stood up and peered over the counter. His ex-wife was gone. Disappeared. Vanished. As invisible as the creature that held her.

     "Sam, if you call me with some cock-a-mamey thing like that again..."

     Gloria was returning from the room down the hall. Craig had to get out of here. He couldn't be seen.

     He slipped into a room, and hid behind the closed door, staring through the narrow window like a fugitive. A chart hung on a hook inside the door. He read the patient's name. Tackett, Claire. A backward glance found the patient laying in a coma under the blue light of the life support machine. At least he didn't have to worry about waking her. He kept his eyes on Gloria.

     She returned to the nurse's station and went to work doing something behind the counter. She didn't seem the least concerned that Gail was gone.

     Of course. They were nurses. They were used to sudden calls. As far as Gloria was concerned, Gail had left to check on another patient. She wouldn't suspect that her co-worker had been abducted by the Tooth Fairy.

     Craig snickered. Next he'd see Santa Claus, followed by the Easter Bunny. Why not make it a parade; I'm only losing my mind.

     No. He was perfectly sane. The sight of his own blood brought him back.

     He found the bathroom, reached in and flipped on the light, then pulled a hand towel from the rack above the sink and wrapped his wrist.

     He'd gotten himself into a situation. How was he going to get home? Walk five miles through a raging blizzard wearing nothing but pajama bottoms and a Beefy Hanes shirt? Wait for another fairy tale creature to whisk him away?

     There was a phone by the woman's bed. He picked it up the receiver. "Miss Tackett, I hope you don't mind."

     No response from the coma patient. He dialed Bev.

     She picked up. "Hello." He'd woken her. He imagined her waking up alone in bed - that nice warm bed - and wondered if she'd realized he was missing.

     He took a breath to answer her, but paused, feeling a sharp grip through the towel. The Tooth Fairy forced him to set the receiver down. A moment later they were back home in Hannah's bedroom.

     "Hello? Who is this?" Bev's voice came from the other room. He realized that she was still on the phone. Craig grinned.

     The creature held out its free hand, showing off its new treasure: Hannah's tooth. Now it also grinned, and Craig saw fresh blood in its razor teeth. Craig didn't want to know how it had gotten the tooth from Gail.

     The tooth, as if guided by a magnet hidden under the creature's tooth-covered hide, bounced up its arm until it found a nook near its shoulder, then uprighted itself and embedded its root in flesh. The tooth had found a home beside two other new teeth, adult in size, covered in blood.

     An instant later a crisp dollar bill appeared in its palm where the tooth had been. The Tooth Fairy grunted, gesturing for him to take it. Craig studied the creature. Under its jagged exterior was a human contour. He watched its wings rise and fall, then took the dollar from its hand. The creature pointed to Hannah.

     He understood, and slipped the bill under the child's pillow. He glanced back to see if it was pleased, but the creature was gone. The feeling of cold had returned, and he hadn't even noticed.

     "Craig, what are you doing up?"

     Bev had given up on the phone and crawled out of bed. She walked into the room and stood behind him, sliding her arms around his waist. "Just playing TF," he whispered.

     "TF?"

     "Yeah. TF. I got the inside scoop." He pulled his injured arm close to him so she wouldn't see it. He didn't think he'd tell her what had happened.

     "Really?" She kissed the back of his neck. "Well, how about scooping back to bed?"

     They watched Hannah sleep for another moment, then left. He followed Bev to the bedroom.

     The towel had loosened. He unwrapped it, and saw that the bleeding had stopped. The wound wasn't as bad as he'd thought. Either that, or it was healing quickly. More Tooth Fairy magic? Craig stuffed the bloody towel in the hamper, then climbed into bed, snuggling against his wife's warm body.

     "I'm glad you decided to do that. It'll make Hannah happy."

     "Yeah," he whispered. "Me too."

#

     The next morning saw clearing skies as the blizzard moved on. Only half of the expected fourteen inches had fallen; still enough to close schools. Bev had to go to work, and was busy packing her lunch when Gail called. Craig took the phone.

     He finished the call in time to catch Hannah rushing down the stairs, waving the crisp bill like a victory flag. "Look what I got! Look what I got!"

     Craig hung up the phone, then swept Hannah into his arms. "What is it?"

     "A dollar. The Tooth Fairy brought it!"

     "See. That Tooth Fairy is a clever one," Bev said, squeezing the girl's nose. She went back to packing her lunch. "What did Hannah's mom want?" she asked Craig.

     "Oh, good news. Looks like we got Hannah for the day. Seems she has an emergency dentist appointment."

     "Mommy's going to the dentist?" Hannah asked.

     "Yep. And you get to stay here with me."

     "Mommy really needs to brush better. Or else the Tooth Fairy won't like her teeth."

--The End--

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