By John J Barnes
It had come to this, building and creeping slowly like a cancer with the inevitable and often foreseen end within close proximity.
Stu Bradley had not expected this though, this so-called point where you finally realize that you’ve hit rock-bottom. The tension
lingered for months before everything became terribly thrashed out of proportion. And that was the easy part. The sensation was
wholly unnerving now. He had floated out of himself, no longer in control, deeply withdrawn and forced to observe the world from
some hidden corner in the back of his mind until it was safe to resurface.
He almost broke down the bathroom door in his dash for the sink, and the cold water he splashed in his face only provided menial
comfort. What if I can’t come back; Stu thought, straddling the sides of the porcelain by the webbing of his hands. What if my body
decides to stay here, never to recover? This is what hell must be like.
He looked up from the porcelain and into his reflection in the mirror. His curly locks were frizzed wildly except for the front which
had been matted to his skull. The dim overcast of incandescent light bulbs above the sink pronounced every flaw in his face. There
was a yellowish hue to his complexion and his eyes held dark, drooping circles beneath them.
“I’m done,” he said, staring at himself with a sordid sense of pity.
A sudden knock rapped briefly but gently on the door. Stu jumped.
“Mr.Bradley,” a cautious female voice said from the other side. “Mr.Bradley, are you alright.”
At first, nothing would come out. It was as if his body refused contact with anything in its current condition. “I—I’ll—be right out,”
he finally said.
“Doctor Reed would like to speak with you,” she responded. “I’ll tell him you’ll just be a minute.” The female voice held compassion
for Stu’s obvious vulnerability.
Stu then recognized it immediately. “Okay, thanks Merry.”
She spelled it like she wanted it.
After a few more deep breaths, Stu wiped his face, posed for the mirror one more time, and stepped out. Merry was standing just
outside the door, knowing he needed more than just a consoling voice to put him at ease.
“That was bad Stu,” she said, looking up at him from under a worried brow.
Stu nodded in concordance.
“In the middle of a patient? I don’t know if Reed will keep you around this time.” She crossed her arms over her perkily lifted breasts.
“Maybe it’s better this way.”
“Well, I’m gonna miss you,” she said frankly, uncrossing her arms and embracing him tightly around his torso. Her head only made it
up to his chest.
He patted her on the back. “I just wasn’t cut out for this.”
“Will you at least try to give it another shot,” she said hopeful, pulling herself from his chest.
“I tried Merry,” he said. “I’m just not the guy for this medical stuff; I have a real problem with people barking orders at me.” There
was a pause. He could sense that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. “I’ll see what Reed says.” And her flare returned.
“Thank you,” she said, smiling. “I don’t know who I’d talk to around here if you left.”
“Maybe you can make friends with Winehouse.”
“Ew,” she said, and winced, still smiling. She gave Stu a friendly slap on the chest and tittered. “Just tell me what happens.”
“Okay,” Stu said as he watched her dress dimple on her backside as she walked away. And then everything didn’t seem so bad.
Merry; he thought. She had a way with words, a way with attitude. Nothing seemed to affect her, and her upbeat nature made up for
any deficiencies which might fail her sexually. There weren’t many though. If not for her, Stu might have been gone a long time ago.
She spelled it like she wanted it.
He didn’t know if it was done deliberately or just mere coincidence, but that’s how she wanted everything, merry.
As he walked to Dr. Reed’s office, he glanced back wondrously at Merry. A strange portentous vibe ran through his veins, as if he
were playing against someone’s suggested advice. He quickly recognized it as his own gut instinct. Merry; he thought again. If not for
her, he would have been spared of this foe.
He stopped just short of the redwood door with the gold-plated nametag on the front: Chester Reed, DDS. He held out his fist to
knock and paused with fickle restrain. He could just end it now; walk out without saying a word. And later he would get the phone call
to not even bother coming back and that would be just fine. At least he didn’t have to hear it face to face, where he could read the
old man’s twisted facial gestures.
That’s not you; he thought. This is the right thing to do, and hopefully he’ll understand. His hand twitched back a few times before he
finally connected with his knuckles.
“Come on in,” a muffled, mature voice said from the other side.
Stu went in; the vibe hung over like a threatening raincloud.
“Take a seat,” Reed said without looking up from a stack of papers he had been rummaging through. He gestured his hand toward
the chair facing his large oak desk.
Stu took a moment to survey the office; it had only been a few months since he was last in here for his interview, but it seemed a lot
longer. Rainwater slid down the two bay windows in thick, silky waves, casting a dim, bluish glow throughout the room. The smell of
brand new leather hung freely in the air and the most dominant color was a dark mahogany brown; befitting for a man of such high
Stu sat down and watched as Reed finished organizing several inventory reports before tending to him. The doctor looked unusually
young for a man who owned his own dental practice. He had broad shoulders, a full head of silvery white hair, and wore
contemporary suits of high value.
“You obviously know why you’re here,” he said, placing forms into their respective piles.
Stu paused for a minute. A grandfather clock, which hung on the wall behind Reed’s desk, ticked with steady repetitious beats, adding
to the uncomfortable silence.
“Yes sir,” he finally said.
Reed pushed aside a final paper he had been looking at and glanced up from beneath his thin-framed reading glasses. “Son, you
should’ve come to me,” he said frankly.
“Yes sir, I just had—“
“You know I used to be a dental assistant once,” Reed interrupted. Stu nodded.
“Yessir, five years working my way through college,” He said reminiscently. “That’s what made me take the job to the next level, sort
a say. Contrary to what anyone might say or think, I know it’s a rough gig.” Reed spoke of his time as if it were a necessary evil to be
endured only once. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Stu nodded, agreeing to go along with anything the man might have said. He felt as if he was now attending a therapy session rather
than sitting through a lecture of reprimand. Then, he realized he had done something unintended. Stu brought something out in Reed
which they could both relate to. And Reed was obviously fond of it, seeing a bit of himself in the boy.
Reed placed the tips of his index fingers on his lips and twiddled his thumbs in thought. Stu shied away from his stare, not wanting to
sway any decision the doctor might be making in a negative way.
“I’m going to put you on night call,” he said, sucking a wisp of air in through his pursed lips. “I think it will be a good spot for you to
cool down a bit and gather yourself, interested?”
Night Call; he thought. How completely wonderful. No hectic schedules, no conversing with pushy patients, and no constant blaring of
the telephone. How could he say no?
Stu opened his mouth and found that his initial surprise had sealed it, flabbergasted. He had walked in here cowering and thinking that
this was to be his short speech before being canned. This was unexpected.
“Yes sir, thank you,” Stu said, forcing the words out.
Reed smiled pleasantly. “Just don’t let what happened today ever be a repeat.” He raised his eyebrows, reminding Stu that he was still
on thin ice.
Stu nodded, humbled.
“Dr.Winehouse was prrrreeeetty pissed at what happened. If you’re having a problem, find some help. You can’t let things sit and
wallow inside until it’s too late, especially if that time comes during a wisdom tooth extraction with a sedated patient.”
“I know doc, I just had a little nervous breakdown is all.” Stu said, knowing perfectly well that that was the understatement of his life.
He had had a complete mental breakdown.
“Well, maybe this will help a bit,” He said, sitting comfortably back in his chair. “It’s a month’s duty. You’ll work with the doc on call
and the night clerk. I think his name is—“Reed squinted one eye to think about it and finally gave up. “You’ll find out. You and the
doc will carry a pager and come in when you have a patient. The night clerk will buzz you. My advice—once you’re in stay in, because
chances are that you’ll get another patient right when you decide to leave. Be there the night after next. Give your body some time to
acclimate itself, alright?”
“Alright,” Stu said, still trying to recover from this meeting’s unexpected turn.
“Okay then.” Reed stood up from his chair and held out his hand. Stu followed his lead.
“Thank you sir,” Stu said, taking notice to Reed’s clammy, calloused hand.
He smiled and bowed slightly, insinuating that the meeting was over.
Stu caught on quick, already had one foot out the door when he heard Reed say something he didn’t quite catch.
“Excuse me sir,” he said, arching his back so that his head would clear the door.
“I said be careful at night, that’s when we get all the weirdoes,” Reed said, grinning. He then cocked his head back and muffled a
Stu nodded, forced up a grin. There was something awkward about that laugh, something maniacal.
Stu told Merry the news before he made his way out into the parking lot. She was thrilled that he wasn’t fired, but down in that she
wasn’t going to see him for a month. The entire ride home breathed a fresh sense of rekindled joy for Stu. It was a far cry from the
episode he had earlier. He even had a hard time believing it had happened at all. He always wanted to pull night call, and he had to
have a panic attack which placed his job in jeopardy to get it. Maybe it’s a job just reserved for the nutcases; he thought, giggling.
Then he recalled the last thing Dr. Reed told him just before leaving the office. That’s when we get all the weirdoes. And that laughter,
that high joking laughter drew suspicion up in Stu’s mind.
He pondered the possibilities of just what kind of weirdoes he was to encounter during the night and brushed it off, thinking that he
was reading much too far into it. But that laugh still lingered in the back of his head like an unwanted memory he just couldn’t shake.
He slept soundly that night, despite trying to divulge the mystery behind Reed’s hideous cackle, the last night he would sleep for a long
It was close to three thirty in the morning when the man in black stepped through the front doors of the clinic, like Johnny Cash’s
forthcoming return from the grave. He was immediately met with watchful eyes by the three on staff. It was Stu’s third night at work,
having already been previewed to two of Reed’s self-proclaimed “weirdoes” the two nights previous.
His first night went fairly well. He had gotten to know Jennings, the night clerk, and found that they both shared a common interest in
reading genre fiction of the occult. They would talk about it in between strands of incoming patients; Jennings would always have a
novel on hand for such occasions. The doctor on call, Dr. Medlin, had been a dream to work with thus far, always diligent about
responding to his pager, always laid-back.
They had five patients the first night, four of which were simple cases, solvable by pain meds and a consult to a doctor with expertise
in the field particular to the patient’s needs.
The first strange case which brought clarity to Reed’s laughter was a burly biker, fresh from a barroom brawl. The man had a
handlebar mustache and was completely clad in leather. He limped through the doors, two of his buddies helping him along the way,
moaning and clutching a bloody lip. Considering the fact that it was a baseball bat that had done the damage, he considered himself
lucky. And when he moved his hand away, they could see that his bloody lip had actually been a bloody mess. He was missing two of
his molars with the surrounding three teeth jarred loose.
Medlin recommended that he to go to a doctor on the snap, but he didn’t listen. If it’s in the mouth, it’s the dentist’s problem. That
was the association taken by the general public even though that was not always the case. Medlin gave him some moist gauze to bite
down on to stop the bleeding and sent him on his way with something to lessen the pain. The biker left with a smile on his face and a
newfound propitiousness for the dental profession.
The following night proved to be even stranger. When the lizard boy walked in—dubbed so by the three on staff after he left—Stu
was freed of any assumptions he might have had about the burly biker being the extent of the weirdness which lurked around at night.
Leonard Lawson was the boy’s name, though he insisted on being called Slither. The boy was thin-framed with arms sleeved in a
collage of colorful tattoos and dawned studded black in a carefully planned attempt at expressing individuality; the epitome of social
Leonard Lawson, Slither, had come in exceptionally docile for someone in his condition. He had tried to file down his teeth into points
and managed all except for one. Stu and the rest, but especially Stu, couldn’t begin to fathom the amount of pain Lawson must have
been in. When asked how he managed to get through them all without going insane, he put it simply: Whiskey. And the time it took to
place protective resin over the exposed nerves felt endless. Slither left completely numb from cheek to cheek with more pain meds,
Motrin, something a little stronger (Medlin handed them out like candy on night call). They even finished the last tooth and smoothed
rough edges on the rest per his request; another satisfied customer.
The man in black took long, brooding steps upon his entering the clinic. The heel of his shiny ebony loafers clicked ominously on the
tile as he approached the front desk.
“Help ya sir,” Jennings said, failing to meet eyes with him.
The man placed his hands on the counter, exposing a set of dry, cracked fingernails as large and as pointed as guitar picks. Jennings
took notice and his lower lip started to quiver uncontrollably.
“I have a chipped tooth,” the man said in a low guttural voice.
Jennings slapped his hand over his mouth, staring at those fingernails as if they held the essence of death within their thick, chitin
construct. “O-o-okay, y-y-you h-have to fill o-out some paperwork,” he stammered, bringing a clipboard and a pen from behind the
desk. His trembling hands brought the pen to tap obtrusively against the metal clip.
The withered hands snatched it like a cat pouncing on a bird and Jennings froze, horrified by the cold sensation of the man’s skin.
“Something the matter?” The man in black said, sensing fear.
Jennings shook his head and the man retreated, clipboard in hand, to a vacant seat in the empty waiting room.
Stu and Medlin, who had been watching silently from the hall, walked behind the desk to where Jennings sat, passively glancing up to
get a better glimpse. The man sat, legs crossed, and flipped up one of the finished forms, shielding his face.
“He stinks of the dead,” Jennings whispered on the edge of breaking his vocal folds. “Something’s not right with this one.”
Stu glanced out into the lobby; the man had lowered the clipboard, revealing a deafly pale face, wrinkled and weathered to show that
he lived a stringent life. His raven black hair receded and ran the stretch of his neck, neatly tucked behind the ears. Stu could feel his
presence from across the room and in the depth of tranquil thought had not realized that he had been staring at him all this time.
Stu swung his head away, embarrassed for having been caught rubbernecking. He turned and noticed that Medlin had retreated back
into the treatment room, having lost interest in childish folly long ago.
“Just calm down, its night call remember?” Stu said, trying to console Jennings and knowing it was really to ease his own mind. The
clipboard skipped on the counter as if had been thrown. The man was too impatient to rid himself of it before he reached the desk.
Stu doubled-back and pulled the health history forms.
The name was in perfect old English cursive: Vincent R. Morrow
The handwriting in itself brought forth an unyielding discomfort. The penmanship looked to be misplaced from another time, one
very early in history.
“Mr. Morrow,” Stu said, meeting the man’s low stare. From up close Stu could now see that Morrow’s eyes were a rich cobalt blue.
The black suit was disheveled and faded. “Come with me sir.”
“Is that an invitation?” Morrow inquired.
Stu paused to think about what that meant. “Take it as it is sir, but if you want your tooth fixed it’s an option.” He knew Morrow was
being coy, but he would follow along just as craftily.
Stu walked him back to the treatment room where Dr. Medlin was writing up some charts.
“Evening sir,” Medlin said, Morrow didn’t answer.
Stu looked over his shoulder to see those blue eyes staring profusely into his, searching for some weakness to play upon. He whipped
his head forward and looked at Medlin. How could he be so obtusely naïve? Couldn’t he see this man wasn’t right?
Morrow showed himself into the cushion of the operatory recliner, laid back and crossed his arms across his chest in a very familiar
position. Stu could feel his previous anxieties start to resurface deep from within his loins. He caught the scent of Morrow’s breathe
as he leaned over to drape him with the patient napkin. It smelled of musty Earth and coppery metal.
Medlin made some annotations on the chart and ordered the proper course of treatment. “Composite on number eleven,” he said,
strapping on a cup mask and his custom optically-enhanced glasses. He donned a pair of latex gloves and pulled the overhead light
near Morrow’s mouth, flipping it on.
The room had already been set up; the stainless steel instruments lay neatly displayed on Stu’s side of the room. Stu put on his mask
and gloves and preceded to hand Medlin a cotton swab dipped in topical anesthetic.
“No numbing,” Morrow said. His voice seemed to rumble.
Stu awaited orders from Medlin patiently until receiving the no-go sign. Medlin gripped the high-speed drill from the dental unit.
“Open sir, were gonna smooth out the rough edges on your tooth, then place the filler.”
Morrow opened his mouth with an unnaturally wide grin. Stu hesitated to look in at first, fearing the thought of what he might see.
Number eleven was a canine, the meat ripper of the teeth. But not on this man, on this man it was one of two meant to inflict
puncture wounds to siphon from.
When he finally did look, he was relieved to see two perfectly normal canine teeth in Morrow’s gums; one with a large chunk taken
out of it. Vampires heal themselves, he thought, and it added to his comfort. He was now sitting calmly at ease.
The procedure went fast. The tooth-colored resin had been placed, shaped and smoothed to Medlin’s liking with one final step
pending. Composite resin is a light-sensitive substance, to be cured with a unit which emits pure ultraviolet rays.
Stu pulled the pencil-thin device from the counter behind him, stared at it wondrously, and decided that he had made his decision. He
set the timer on twenty seconds (standard curing span for that particular material), and placed the tip over the tooth, minding that the
orange visor, meant to protect his and Medlin’s vision, was in place.
He could hear himself breathing heavily through the fibers of his mask. His heart pounded in his chest with anticipation. His tensions
were growing again. Why the worry? Why is he feeling that same sinking he had felt three days ago? Why was he crawling back into
“Well?” Medlin said impatiently. “You forget how to press a button?”
He felt like he had just pushed a button to detonate twelve tons of dynamite, and the unit came on, filling Morrow’s mouth with
glowing blue light.
Stu released his breath and shut his eyes. Thank you, he thought, and then he heard the sizzle. The sound was like the effervescent
bubbling of club soda being poured into a glass. It was immediately followed by a harsh cry of pain. His eyes shot open and there was
a forceful pressure in his chest. His chair rolled over the linoleum until it slammed into the counter behind him; he dropped the light,
but it didn’t break.
It all happened too fast. His brain needed time to catch up. Morrow glared at him with an enormous, lipless grin, seared off by the
light. Stu could read blame all over the creature’s stare, as if Morrow thought he did it on purpose, and he felt his blood curdle.
Medlin was still next to him, too petrified to move. Morrow was ignorant to the instruments of dentistry, but now that it knew they
were something of a threat to his survival, he was forced to defend himself.
Stu watched with a blend of fascination and horror as Morrow vacated his seat. But this was not done in the traditional sense.
Morrow literally flew from the chair, twirling wildly before connecting with the ceiling. He stuck by the tips of his fingers and the toes
of his low quarters, like a fly on the prowl for food. His face became leathery and creasy. The once normal canines drew down from
his palette like the fangs of a deadly viper ready to strike. His eyes flickered in a kaleidoscope of color until they finally settled on
emerald green. Stu thought it to be the darkness within deciding which color best suited its current mood, like a teenage girl choosing
her prom dress. His head jerked back and forth with the expedience of a cockroach’s reflex, deciding between Stu and Medlin.
Medlin snatched up two instruments from his tray table and held them up in cruciform. Stu immediately felt vulnerable and went for
the light unit. Morrow growled and snarled with the virility of a rabid dog; a far cry from the hissing they expected to hear from the
Stu dove. A wind coursed past him like a fast car blowing by a pedestrian hitching on the side of a highway. He clutched the unit,
aiming it crazily in all directions.
Morrow was gone.
The wretched, gargling scream from out in the lobby got their attention. They ran out, anti-vampire instruments in hand, to see
Morrow lifting Jennings high off the ground by his throat. He used a free hand to run a rigid talon through him from groin to
sternum, spilling his innards. He discarded the body like a piece of rancid meat. His lip had healed back into its entirety—apparently
they can’t heal tooth structure after all, Stu thought.
“You’re going to pay for your deception boy,” Morrow said, staring straight into Stu’s soul.
Stu brought up the curing light and held it out, shining a bright blue spectrum from its tip, a wielded scepter. Medlin held his self-
made crucifix out as well. They could see in his eyes that he was not willing to be hurt again, even if it meant that he could take one of
them with him.
“You won’t see me coming,” Morrow said, his eyes turning crimson red, and he was gone once again, this time for good.
Stu and Medlin looked at each other with uncertain eyes. After their composure had somewhat returned and they were confident that
Morrow was gone, they phoned the police, keeping their improvised weapons close by they arrived.
No amount of comfort could be had. Merry tried her best to talk Stu into giving it just one more shot, but he just couldn’t bring
himself to do it. He quit Reed’s practice the very next day.
Medlin had problems of his own, mainly in the form of recurring nightmares which now cause him to drain five hundred a week on
The police report was standard and by-the-book, and an APB was put out for a man with Morrow’s description—though Stu felt a
few eyes veer toward him on account of the episode he had three days ago. If not for Medlin being there, he’d probably be a suspect.
Jennings’s funeral had been nice and short. Stu thought he must’ve been a loner because it wasn’t very full. While kneeling in the pew,
his mind had not been on praying but something else:
Three weeks. Three weeks and nothing. Still no sign of Morrow making good on his promise to make him pay. Then something it
occurred to him as he looked across the aisle to the fourth column of seats and saw the worn, drab eyes of Dr. Medlin. The man was
a wreck. This was it. The bastard’s going to make us suffer with anticipation until we crack. Then he’s going to fly down one night and
put us out of our misery.
The swell in his stomach made him feel more miserable than he could ever remember, but he didn’t feel like crawling into himself
anymore. The anxiety which would normally have burdened him was channeled into some omnipotent lust for retribution.
He glanced up at the beautifully-rendered portrait of the crucified Jesus and whispered, “Thank you”. Stu crossed himself, rose from
the pew, and started to walk down the aisle toward the door. Medlin took notice and followed despite his wife’s best attempt to
“Stu, what’s the matter,” Medlin whispered, but he already knew the answer.
“I’m not waiting anymore,” Stu said, causing a few heads to turn from their prayers.
Medlin nodded. Stu could now see the raccoon-like circles beneath his eyes in all their glory—evidence of many sleepless nights. They
came to a silent agreement right then and there. Their heads lowered and they took notice to the stone font which stood between
“You don’t happen to carry a flask, do you doc?” Stu said with a touch of humor in his tone.
They both looked at their reflections in the pure clarity of the water, hopeful, with a taste for revenge on their tongues.