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The Devil and the Dentist
Mildly alarmed, a middle aged man stepped under an iron arch. This is Peter, a rather affable character.
Tentatively, he walked a bit further, out from under the arch, crossing the threshold into the estate. A path, black as pitch, wound its way up stairs, often losing itself then finding itself again.
A man stepped out from the shadows-- a butler, in uniform. Peter jumped violently. He hated it when people did that. Gave him the shivers. The butler smiled cruelly.
“We’ve been expecting you.”
Oh, lovely, Peter thought. They’ve been expecting me. The butler’s smile grew. Peter dully noted the butler’s sharp canines, irritated-- it appeared there was a private joke that he clearly had no part in. Peter hated private jokes.
“Right this way,” the butler gestured before disappearing. As much as Peter squinted, he couldn’t find where he had gone. Peter hated when people did that too.
Peter also hated the darned path that was decisively indecisive, wandering about every which way, and how it couldn’t just make life easier and go straight and be marked clearly. Peter wasn’t sure if he was walking on the right path or not anymore. He examined a nearby tree, cringing at its garish face. A little paranoid, he continued down the path.
He sighed unhappily.
“Sir?” the butler asked. Peter jumped.
“Don’t-- don’t do that!” he gasped.
“Don’t do what, sir?”
Peter huffed. As it happened, Peter didn’t like when people asked questions to which the answer was perfectly clear to, either.
“Never mind. You were saying?”
“We’ve arrived, sir.”
“Eh?” he said, somewhat stupidly. Then he saw.
A dark looming mansion towered threateningly over him. It was, altogether, quite intimidating. Peter had read somewhere that certain houses often resembled their owners, and hoped that wasn’t the case with this house.
“Sir?” The butler smirked.
“Yes?” Peter turned.
“Well, aren’t you going to go in?” Peter goggled a little at the mere suggestion of entering such a menacing structure.
“In... there?” his voice had the slightest hint of disbelief.
“Yes, sir. Why? Are you-- scared?”
Peter managed to scoff. “Scared? Pfft.” The effect was a bit off with uneasiness so clear in his eyes.
“After you, sir,” the butler said politely.
Oh, dear, Peter thought to himself. He stood in front of a door of solid wood. A brass knocker sneered, a demon face twisted in fury. Hand shaking, Peter reached for the knocker, and flinched when the face moved.
“No need to knock,” the demon face snarled. “He’s been waiting for you, numbskull. You clearly aren’t going to last, are you?”
“Sorry!” Peter squeaked. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” he apologized, surprised by the peculiar knocker.
“No wit, intelligence, or bravery whatsoever. He is going to be disappointed, Peter.”
Peter flinched. “I’m sorry!” Being scolded by inanimate objects is a much worse punishment than one would think: in fact, it was a perfectly beastly situation.
“You will be.” The door swung open. Peter hated cryptic remarks. A hall way, lined with large oil paintings, led to the heart of the mansion. Small lamps dimly lit the way to a single door at the very end of the hallway. It was open.
Nervously, Peter peered in. The butler waited patiently, two steps behind him. An armchair faced a crackling fire on the other side of the otherwise dark room.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” a wispy voice hissed. “But I’ve heard tell that you’re much less than what I was hoping for. Come before me so I can see for myself.”
The butler nudged him sharply, and Peter timidly shuffled forward.
A small, shrewd man sat in the armchair, eyes beady. “You’re a dentist?”
“I run a small dentistry downtown-- in the city. I-- I have a couple of degrees.” Peter’s voice cracked nervously. There was something, something about this man... he gulped.
The man grunted. “Any experience in torture?”
“Torture,” the man affirmed. “You don’t look the sort. Are you quite sure you’re a dentist? That’s why I sent for you, you see. I need a new torturer-- the professor is losing his touch. See, he used to be quite a pleasant man, prattling on about Dutch trade in the Renaissance, making victims cry of boredom. However, he just got into World War II-- not that I mind, of course, it was one of my favorites after the Hundred Years War-- but the victims aren’t scared anymore.”
“That sounds lovely,” but not my cup of tea, Peter whispered in his head. “However, I-- I just fix people’s teeth. No torture-- maybe you have me mistaken?”
“I suppose it could be a misunderstanding. But I have a guy in the basement who needs to be... interrogated. We have a collection of the finest, sharpest, pointy, and most awkward dental instruments in the art here-- perhaps you’d like to have a go at any of them? We have the equipment for root canals and teeth pulling and braces and surgery-- Vincent, take him to his room. All of the supplies should be there, and we can see what he says then,” he ordered the butler.
“Wait-- wait. Torture? Who are you? I can’t torture anybody. I just fix people’s teeth. I just fix people’s teeth,” Peter repeated nervously. He ran his palms against his pants.
“Is that what you tell yourself, Peter? ‘I just fix people’s teeth’? How do they feel, hm? I’ve heard tell that this one spy operative has employed your devices and techniques in specialized interrogation. I wonder why? First you use nasty tasting toothpaste. Then-- all of those pointy tools. You’re telling me you’ve never had any fun with those? Cutting and poking and prodding? I shiver at the sound of metal scraping on teeth. No easy task, to make me squeamish, mind you. But dentists usually do it for me-- oh yes. And those braces? Have you ever had to wear braces, Peter? No? Never had to steel yourself from giving into temptation of gum and caramel and popcorn? Never had to be the gangly adolescent in the corner, eh? Never had a lisp, or to speak around a large metal obstruction? Never had to endure taunting? No? Perhaps we should make you the tortured, then, instead of the torturer.”
Peter listened, wide eyed. All he ever wanted to do was just fix people’s teeth. He couldn’t stand talking to people whose teeth crossed and stuck out and were all annoyingly wrong. He was perfectly innocent.
“I can’t torture you, Peter. I’m just too impressed by your work-- though clearly you’re not at your finest tonight. But I suppose I can’t blame you for being a little... surprised. I’m not exactly your everyday employer. But I promise, the rewards-- and the pay-- is good. Very good. You and the professor can discuss techniques-- he’ll be in the library.”
“Delightful,” Peter whimpered. He hated being intimidated. Collectively, this wasn’t proving to be the best experience, following the sound of a broken glass. He hated when people broke things.
“Quite,” the man agreed. The fire behind him snapped and crackled, whispering. Flames licked the man’s face, highlighting it dramatically, turning his eyebrows into severe slants, his eyes seeming a bit red, his ears seeming pointier.
“Excuse me for asking, but-- who’re you, again?” Peter asked.
“Me? Why-- I’m the devil, you fool.”
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"The greatest gift you can have, is the gift of imagination." - Anthony Abbott
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