Josh Pilsner awoke to the unsettling drone of a drill. What type of drill, he could not discern through the fog that enveloped his consciousness. His eyes slowly opened and quickly snapped shut again. A blinding light from above penetrated his eyelids. He was in a seated position. That much he knew, but little else. His head was throbbing. Everything was thick and cloudy. That horrible drill whizzing again somewhere to his left. He tried to open his eyes once more, and finally managed to do so, very slowly.
There was a woman to his left. Was he in a hospital? There was that hospital smell; a gagging mix of sterilization and death. The nurse had her back to him, preparing something. Had he been in a wreck? What was the last thing – Ah! He remembered now. He was at a restaurant. Did he drink too much? Get behind the wheel? Oh my God! What if I hurt someone else? His neck muscles protested with dull shards of pain as he turned his head to survey the hospital room. He emitted an involuntary groan as he did so. Bright lights, a hospital bed, shelves of medical supplies, tubing running from the wall, maybe oxygen or something, a stainless steel tray next to him with surgical instruments, a very bright light stabbing him in the eyes from above, and – wait a sec – . Surgical instruments? What the –
The nurse was standing in front of him now, looking down at him like a curious bystander who is checking on a bicyclist who’s been hit by a car.
“Hey there, sweet lips,” she said with a cheery expression that didn’t match the tone of her voice. “Looks like I didn’t give you enough anesthesia.”
“What happened,” he mumbled. “Did I get in a wreck?”
The nurse was turning around to grab something, and that was when he noticed two things. One, there was a peculiar feel to his mouth, a swelling numbness and a strange vacancy of texture he felt when speaking. Two, the nurse in front of him, clad in black, had wings. He moved his tongue around some more and realized what was missing. A tooth. A front tooth at that. He pushed his tongue through the space over and over, unable to yield to the fact that one of his front teeth was no more. The nurse with dragonfly wings turned back around. She was holding a very large wrench. Not the kind of large wrench you would use for turning a nut on a 4×4 truck, but the kind of very large wrench you might use to turn a propeller on a cruise ship. The comically-oversized kind. A strange juxtaposition between the small framed nurse with wings and the shiny wrench that must have weighed 50 lbs.
“Sorry about that sport. I’ll use a little more anesthesia this time. K?” She made an apologetic face that offered no real sympathy and then raised the huge wrench like it was a small umbrella.
Josh noticed something on her wrists and hands as she did so. It was blood. He peered down at his white tank-top. Blood was everywhere. He looked back up at her (and he hated to admit this, considering the circumstances) rather angelic face and saw an expression that could be considered bored amusement.
Josh whimpered, “Is that my anesthesia?”
The nurse’s answer was matter-of-fact. “Cheapest there is. I need you to count backward from a hundred.”
Josh made an attempt to block the blow. That’s when he realized his hands were tied behind him.
“Ninety – . . . “
Josh Pilsner awoke to screaming. At first, he thought it was himself, but then realized he was too groggy to move, much less gather the power to scream. His head was moving back and forth and not of his own volition. The pain was now unbearable. His mouth was wet with something, and he felt like he was drowning. He began to gag and fight for breath, but it wasn’t much of a fight. His head stopped moving. There was a slurping sound as something foreign was inserted into his mouth. He managed to open his eyes in time to see the winged nurse remove what looked like a handheld vacuum cleaner. He blinked through tears to catch the nurse as a smeared, tangled image.
“Don’t worry. It’s a Dyson.”
She sat it back down on the table and Josh could already feel his mouth filling back up with blood. The nurse grabbed something from his right and placed her tiny hands on his head. Her fingers clamped like a vice grip. Something metal, scraping his teeth. A sickening sound. A probing, alien object in his mouth, searching, then finding purchase and a tug. A shooting pain that forced his eyes shut. Now he found the strength to scream. He stopped screaming and for a moment was completely disoriented as the sound continued. But after a few anxious seconds, he realized the screams were emanating from another room. Another room? My God. What kind of place am I in?
“Rere ayum eeyeh?” he garbled. How many teeth am I missing?
The cute (how could he continue along that line of thought?) nurse with wings put her hands on her hips in mock exasperation. Then she picked up the wrench again.
“Your body doesn’t react very well to the anesthesia.”
Crimson spittle flew from his mouth as he screamed, “Ahht’s behawse ihs hotah fuyeeng anehethya. Ihs a gohamn weench!”
She stared at him without saying anything for a moment. Josh had the nagging impression that accosting a 95 lb girl who picked up 50 lb wrenches was not the best protocol in a situation like this. He wasn’t sure what the word ‘protocol’ meant, but it sounded right. While still holding the huge wrench out to her side with one hand, she uttered a question in threatening monotone.
“Do you want me to get the really big wrench?”
She stared at him, waiting. He stared back wide-eyed, unable to answer. He thought of what a bigger wrench might do if she used it as anesthesia. “No, ayam,” he replied as courteously as possible.
“A tough guy, huh. No an uh steesi ah, huh.”
She played with the words, mocking his inability to enunciate properly under said conditions. No bedside manner at all, he thought, and kept it to himself.
“Ruut appened?” he asked, red drool cascading from the corner of his mouth. He felt weak. Sluggish.
“Speed dating,” she answered. “Anesthesia hasn’t worn off yet, I guess. Friend introduced me to it. Definitely a quick way to get the most numbers. Best ROI.”
“Awr Oh Eyah,” he mumbled, silently cheering as she put down Anesthesia.
“Return on investment, duh.” She gazed at him searchingly for a moment. “You’re not really an investment broker are you? I knew you were lying!” she blurted out.
“Oh arah oooh,” he countered and immediately wished he could take it back.
“Fair enough,” she said, grabbing a large set of bloody pliers to his right. His head lolled away from the sight as he grew faint. “But a girl’s got to make a living, ya know?” The nurse with wings leaned in, pressing her knee into his groin to hold him in place.
“AAAAIIIIIITTTTTEE!” Josh screamed. She stepped back, perturbed.
“What, Bleedy Gonzales?” She shrugged with one dainty hand on her hip and one holding the pliers above her shoulder. She was hot in a Gothic kind of way.
“Ooh ayah ooh?” he garbled.
“Who am I? Well . . . you know what? You’re not going to remember any of this anyway, so who cares? My name is Flora Ide. I used to work for the Preternatural Calcium Recycling Corporation. Very high volume. Very competitive with a commission-only based salary. Do you have any idea how many people just throw away their teeth when they fall out? Do you have any idea how many people don’t even believe in us?” She stared at Josh, searching for some semblance of understanding.
Josh wanted to be on her side at this point. He really, really did. He shook his head in the affirmative. Satisfied, she continued.
The only real money is in the pre-pubescent, middle-class division. But I kept getting assigned to the elderly division in Russia. Graveyard shift. Ever tried to dig up a coffin that’s under six feet of frozen tundra? Didn’t think so. And then when you’re down there, freezing your wings off (so she does have wings), boom! You’re liable to find that grandma has an empty grill. Is ‘grill’ the right word nowadays?” she asked.
Josh shook his head emphatically. He did know what that word meant. And as long as she was talking, she wasn’t pulling. His eyes were still watering. Whatever was clamping his hands together behind his back was slicing into the wrist. He was trying to remember how many quarts of blood was in the human body, and then attempting to compare it with the total amount on his clothes and the floor, all the while making very sure to give this nurse his full attention.
“Urah ooph aree?” he asked.
“A non-believer?” she said with disbelief. “Even after all this?” She bowed up, her shoulders swelling, and inhaling deeply, was suddenly airborne, flitting around the room with awe-inspiring speed and agility. Her wings but a blur. Then she landed in front of him hard enough to crack the concrete beneath the linoleum. She grinned ear to ear, the buzzing of her wings subsiding. There was a piercing shrill from the next room.
“Anyway, there was a huge layoff a few years ago,” and as she spoke, she flitted suddenly forward with no warning and he felt a slight jerk, then more blood filled his mouth. She had plucked out a tooth, by hand, in under a second. “Did you catch that? That’s skill. That’s professional workmanship. But they laid me off anyway. So now, “she explained, turning back to the pliers, “I’m with a group of freelancers in a little, out-of-the-way building. We’re a little more proactive, but we pull in a lot more money. Say, would you like some pulp fiction to read while I continue?”
She looked serious. How could he pretend to read right now . . . to make her happy somehow, so that maybe she would . . . and then she busted out laughing.
“Get it? Pulp fiction?” she looked him directly in the eyes, askance.
Josh tried to smile, his puffy lips spreading wide over his bruised and battered face, a gaping, bloody maw dotted with a few lingering vestiges of teeth. Insecurity and fear spreading equally over his countenance like a tidal wave of terror.
In a dark corner of the room, where the overhead light wasn’t working, Josh finally made out the blob where it looked like part of the ceiling had collapsed. What looked like crumbling bits of drywall was actually a humongous pile of teeth. She said, “Out of the way place,” he thought. Somewhere you could torture screaming people with complete disregard for the noise, or the fact that you had wings growing out of your back. He tried to push the thought from his mind, but could not. As her knee pressed deep into his chest, he ventured one more question.
“Ere ayar ee?”
She stared at him for a moment in awkward silence. A dripping set of pliers hovering over his puppy-dog eyes, begging for mercy that he knew would not come. She was deciding whether or not to tell him. As they were poised there, the wolf and the lamb, frozen in time, the door to the room flashed open and a man stood in the doorway. A man on the top half of his body anyway. He was holding a really big wrench.
“Do you need this?” his guttural voice boomed, echoing like a tsunami of despair in the tiny space.
Josh answered for her.