She looked like such a cute little girl. You had no idea she was such a light sleeper.
“Please. Let me go. You can have more money for the tooth. You can take everything I have on me, just let me go.”
The girl does not release her tight grip around your chest. If anything it becomes harder and harder to breathe. Her fist has you completely covered from wingtip to the bottom of your ankles.
“What do you want it for?”
She shakes you impatiently. “The tooth! I know you give kids money for their teeth, but what do you do with the teeth? Nobody in my class knew.”
You swallow as hard as you can with the pressure around your chest. “We never speak of it.”
She stares at you with eyes that seem far more dangerous than a six-year-old should be able to have.
“Tonight, you will.”
“But . . . But you don’t understand. I can’t. No please don’t shake me again.” You whisper. There’s no way the agents of Emperor Enamel could hear you, but if they did . . . “I’m under an enchantment. It’s impossible for me to tell you.”
“If you don’t tell me what you do with them, you can’t have my tooth.”
“No!” If there was anything worse than telling the girl, it would be not bringing the tooth back. “I’ll . . . I’ll think of something.”
“All right. I can’t tell you what we do with the teeth, but I could, maybe . . . show you?”
The last comes out as a squeak. You watch the little girl’s eyes widen and you brace yourself for her response.
“Cool! Are we going to fly?”
To get to where you’re going, you’ll need to turn time inside out, then poke a hole through that with the power of rainbows, positive thinking, and a thorough understanding of special relativity.
“Yes. We’re going to fly. But you have to promise me that when I show you, I can have the tooth.”
She nods enthusiastically, and loosens her grip. You grab a handful of gravity, swirl it about until that becomes a small black hole, and then blast that with the belief in Unicorns and Pixies that’s pouring off this little girl. It’s not a particularly elegant portal, but usually you’re only transporting something which doesn’t exist –you– and a tiny little tooth. She’s much bigger, and that much reality is hard to move smoothly. Better just use brute force.
You expect that she might hesitate at the swirling mass of colors, but she basically drags you through your own portal. Then you stare out at the great blackness lit only by the City Eternal and the thousand pin-pricks of light which have pierced the curtain.
“Are we in outer space?”
“Um. It is a space. And it’s outer to . . . something.”
“Oooh, what’s that?”
You pull her away from the light of the City Eternal. If she’s surprised by your strength in this place, she doesn’t show it. She may simply not have noticed. “No, no. We’re going this way, to the toothpaste lake.”
“A lake made of toothpaste? Yuck!”
She is not wrong. It’s especially disgusting given that the lake is made up of toothpaste that’s been spat out by millions of children over the years. You set her down at the rocky shores and cover your nose against the unappealingly minty breeze.
She does not hide her distaste. “Why are we here?”
“You wanted to see what we do with your teeth. We use them to keep what’s in the lake happy.”
“What’s in the lake?”
You point at what it is. When the huge mass crests over top of the surface of the lake, you can barely repress a shudder.
“What you’re looking at is the Gryphohydranargon.”
She giggles. That’s less than promising. You probably shouldn’t have tried to give a name to one of the Unnamables, but in your head it sounded scarier.
“Part Gryphon, part Hydra, part Narwhal, and part Gorgon. She was born with seven thousand teeth. We had to make so many trips to collect her baby teeth that we finally brought her here. This was the only water we had because . . . well tooth fairy.”
“Does she miss her Mommy?”
You’re stunned into silence. You’ve never thought of that.
“No idea. The point is, thousands of teeth. Look at them. TAnd over the years we’ve given her more and more teeth and she’s absorbed them. Almost one of every three teeth we get, The inside of her mouth is so sharp she can bite her way through the fabric of reality and come into your room at night.”
“There’s no water in my room.”
“Um. . . Well, no, I suppose there wouldn’t be.”
“And even if she came, I could just give her some gum to chew on.”
“Gum. She must love to chew, so I’d give her some gum.” She goes so far as to pull a piece from the pocket of her pajamas and toss it to the Unnameable. One of the seven heads snaps it up and begins chewing. You hear the creature . . . purring.
“So what do you do with the other teeth?”
“Ah, well, you see, I could of course show you what is done with the other teeth, but it’s really quite alarmingly dangerous and there are . . .”
“Well, yes. I mean, no, I don’t think that’s . . .” You can tell when you’re beaten. “All right. Yes. There is one more place I suppose I could show you, but I really must insist that we be very careful on the way there. I’ll need to borrow your shadow for a minute, if you please.”
“Look, you’re quite a bit bigger than me obviously. I need an energy source to take us where we’re going and you’ve got that great big shadow. Oh, never mind, just hold on a moment.”
You certainly don’t have time to explain such highly scientific principles to a six year old. You take her shadow and stuff it into a pocket of gossamer and moonlight. The anti-light in the shadow forms a vortex in the light, and you use the momentum of that churning to power a very simple tesseract. Truly you only need to move a few feet in distance, but it does go through about nine different planes of existence.
She squeals in delight. Well, why not? You always considered yourself a craftsman, and what’s the point of travel if it doesn’t leave one feeling giddy with delight afterwards?
You arrive on the Plateau of Periodontists. No idea how it got that name. “Big wide desert with not much to look at” probably didn’t look good to the emperor when he made the maps.
“Very well, now from here on, we must proceed –“
“THAT WAS SO COOL!!”
“– in the utmost silence.”
From behind the dunes of the white sand (well, someone has to collect the pieces of chipped teeth lying all around macadam playgrounds and such) a dust cloud forms. The Molar Militia has heard her and they will be upon you in seconds.
“Oh, dear. We should perhaps . . .”
“They’re so teeny!”
“Yes, well, proportionally, those spears are rather large on them, and they certainly can kill me, if not you. We should go!”
You used a lot of energy to get here, but no time to be subtle. You’ve got to get her away and quickly. You can skip a few dimensions and go straight to number eleven.
“This might be less pleasant than the last trip.”
And then you fold yourself inside out and turn your blood into soda pop.
“That was ickier than last time.” The girl holds her nose, as though she still smells the eighth dimension, which is possible.
“Shh.” You insist. The trouble with anything above the ninth dimension is that it’s nearly impossible to get anywhere accurately. You were hoping to to get to the wall of great city, but you could be several kilometers away, or even . . .
In the palace of the Enamel Emperor.
“Where are we?”
“This is the palace of his royal imperial majesty, lord of all the lands from the Toothpaste Lake to the Dentin Mines, sovereign of all he beholds, and supreme ruler of the Tooth Fairy council, Throckmorton Olivier Oglethorpe Thaddeus Haverford the 32nd, the Enamel Emperor.”
You ought to have gotten that right, they drilled it into you since the age of three hours.
“Is he like a king or something?”
You wince. “Emperor, please. I understand he’s a bit touchy about the difference.”
“What is the difference?”
She stares at the shining walls all around her. “Do I get to meet him?”
You sigh. You were going to get found out anyway. “Yes. Yes, I suppose you must. Look, it’s very rude to deny an emperor anything, so will you please just give your tooth to him? I promise I will still show you what happens to the teeth if it’s still within my power to do so.”
She looks at the tooth in her hand. “Okay.”
“Good. He might let us live that way.”
“Come on!” You are not particularly familiar with the palace, but finding the Emperor is easy. You just go to the closest part of the palace that you’ve never been allowed to go to before.
“WHO GOES THERE?”
“I SAY WHO GOES THERE?!”
“OH, TURN OFF THE DRILL, MARVIN, WILL YOU?”
You understand why the Emperor’s guards use dental drills. What could instill more fear in their opponents? But it does make it difficult to have a conversation.
“Oh, it’s you.” Marvin comes to play Bridge at your house once a month. “What’s with the giant?”
“This little girl would like to present her tooth directly to the Emperor.”
Marvin gives you a skeptical look. “You messed this one up pretty bad, and you’re trying to put a good face on it, ain’t you?”
“Well needs must.”
He shakes his head. “Well, lucky for you, his Imperial Majesty is not engaged in any important state business like a nap. He’ll see you.”
The Emperor sits on a throne putting him just about at eye level with the girl. Slowly, making sure to stop for frequent bowing and grovelling, you make your way to him.
“What, precisely, is going on?”
“I am Field Agent Number 24601. This young lady wishes to present you with her recently lost baby tooth herself. I could not deny her such a sweet request.”
“Here you go, your highness.” She very nearly shoves the tooth in his face.
“She means Imperial Majesty!” It comes out as a squeak.
The Emperor takes the tooth from her. “Very nice,” he says, examining it. “You take excellent care of your teeth.”
The little girl smiles, showing the missing one off to full effect.
“Now rip out the rest of her teeth and throw her in the dungeon for her sheer audacity.” The Emperor casually waves you away.
You grab the girl and tuck a rainbow into a pocket of extra-dimensional space before the emperor can change his mind. You generally consider yourself more of a craftsman than this, but no point in being fancy just now.
“Ow!” she says.
“Sorry. Had to be a bit slapdash here. We’re at the second Unnameable. Do you see that mountain over there?”
“Fun fact. Not a mountain. Great hulking beast bigger than our entire city. The only way we could keep it from attacking us was to build that wall over there. Made entirely out of baby teeth. Serves the dual function of being sharp and jagged and making it wonder what sort of ferocious thing could have amassed so many bones of it’s enemies.”
She stares at the second Unnameable. “It looks lonely.”
“Probably. Come on.” So saying, you turn gravity off for just long enough to power a trip with the girl’s memories of birthday cake. It’s not up to your usual standards, but should be more comfortable for her. You can at least do that.
“All right, see the tiny cave lined with teeth? Evil Wizard in there. Made himself immune to every form of damage except a bite. Tried to take over the world about a thousand years ago. We threw him into the cave and then started lining it with teeth. He’s still trying to crawl out, so we keep lengthening the cave.”
“Doesn’t it hurt him?”
“Well that was rather the point. He was really not a very nice man.” You check your watch. Plenty of time left. “All right. One more quick stop.”
This one is just for show. You grab a diamond from the floor of the cave (there are dozens) and turn it into a lump of coal. Using that energy, you bounce the darkness of the cave around itself until it becomes half as bright as a quasar. You step into that dark light and arrive at your destination. Only a handful of fairies could do that.
The river isn’t exactly water. You’re not actually sure what it is. That’s sort of the point. It flows directly at the Tree of No Endings. It’s called that because no one has ever seen the top of it. But you’re not looking for the top.
“Aren’t we going back to the emperor?”
“Ah, yes, about that. You see, he would like me to go to the dungeon, and I would like to, well, not.” You hand her the lump of coal. “Throw that into the air once I’m gone. It should explode into a shower of diamond dust and get somebody’s attention. They’ll get you back to your home.”
“Wait. Where are you going?”
“This canal runs straight down into the roots of that tree. From there . . . well no one has any idea. I’d say it’s been a pleasure, but, well you’ve pretty much ruined my life. Toodle-pip!”
There is always a boat docked on the Root Canal. No one knows where it comes from, but it’s always there waiting to take someone who needs passage. You untie it and wave to the girl. The current takes you, growing steadily faster as you careen to the darkness under the roots.
When one life ends and another begins, there is usually a moment of remembrance. In a moment, you’ll be sure this was a dream of a fairy who could do the impossible, but for now, you know you’ve changed from that form to this larger, more oafish one. Your clumsy tongue searches your mouth and you find the gap you expected. You roll yourself over and stick your gawkish hands — small with lots of growing to do, but somehow impossibly big — under your pillow.
A small, cool metal coin rests there, assuring you that you have something to start your new life with.