Short Story Contest # 172 Theme: "Teeth" courtesy of @Lancie Congratulations @Lancie, you are on a roll with this fresh version of a classic horror story. ______________________________ Tooth Fairy [2550 words] It’s a clichéd urban legend. Something, a picture or a video or a phone call, will trigger horrible events leading in messy and senseless death. A friend of a friend’s cousin’s colleague’s sister who knew someone who had a heart attack after not forwarding on cursed chain mail. That sort of thing. My friend Mike and I were always combing the depths of the internet for the unusual. I loved games. I loved the escapism. As I became a teenager, I lost interest in Mario and started looking for games that appeased my twisted sense of surviving fear, that rush of winning against darker and darker odds. That night, as I flicked between forums and hugged my mug of strong sugary tea, I heard the bloop of a message on one of the open chat boxes. Mike’s avatar popped up. I found it!! He was typing furiously. When nothing coherent came through I typed back: Found what? The game! I found it! I found Tooth Fairy! What is that? I asked after a moment, trying to think what he meant. I’d not spoken to Mike in a few days, I didn’t remember him mentioning a game called ‘Tooth Fairy’ It’s a game with a real vengeful ghost inside that rips your teeth out if he catches you!!I It’s really freaky!! That makes no sense I responded with a wry smile. Then I suppose curiosity got the better of me. I raised a cynical eyebrow. Where did you get it from? Another message pinged onto the screen. I got some weird linkfrom a guy I game with in like Hondurasand it tookmethrough all these levels and I played some freaky mini game and then I got a download as a prize! It’s Tooth Fairy! I tried to find the site again but it’s moved. It’s like some black market floating island of downloads!! Are you sure it isn’t a virus? I replied. No Virus!!!!!!!! Mike typed back almost instantly. I could sense he was jittery, eager to get this going. I looked at the clock and saw it was after midnight now, and I should really begin to think about winding down for work. Let’s do it. I’m game if you are! Mike had emailed me the download. Come on. It’s quick. Let’s have a look. This is a multiplayer mode. Talk to you in a minute. Fine. I replied and set my mug down. I accepted the download and watched as a string of white bars ran across my screen. A folder appeared in the centre of the screen with a single icon inside. I looked closer at the black and white pixels, a strange smiling little pumpkin head grinning, almost leering at me. I hesitated just for a fleeting second and then clicked. I picked up my headphones and slotted them over my head. “Yo!” Mike said, his voice echoed a little as though he were far away. “Yo?” I laughed. “Is ‘yo’ back in fashion?” “Just play, dude!” “Dude??” But there was no time to berate Mike for speaking like an out of touch teenager. I watched the screen dissolve into thousands of tiny black and white squares. Mike and I were low resolution men with square heads standing in a room with square blood splats on the grey walls. Writing flickered across. Come and find me. If you don’t play, I’ll kill you! “This looks cheap as hell, Mike.” I said, almost scolding him. “Who made this?” “Just play.” We moved our characters over to a door and stepped into an identical room. This next room had a square desk with a scattering of white on top. I approached. These are the teeth of those who came before you. Use these as breadcrumbs to find your way. There is one way in and one way out. I collected the teeth. In the bottom left corner of my screen: 61 Teeth. “Kind of gross,” Mike said in a voice filled with awe. I sighed. “How do you drop a tooth?” We button mashed for a while and then I heard Mike woot in triumph. “It’s T!” “Of course,” I said. An oddly realistic looking tooth now sat on the floor between us. We continued through five more identical rooms, then finally into a long corridor which began to split off in different directions. As we moved left another message flicked up on the screen. Come and find me. Another series of rooms, one after the other, all the same graphics of grey and dull red began to make me feel like a hamster on a wheel. There were grey tables- I guess they were meant to be beds. Sometimes pixel skeletons would appear in corners as I went passed, vanishing again into the artificial darkness. “Is this meant to be a hospital?” I said. “Not very original, is it?” “Come on, it’s brilliant!” Mike said. His voice was so excited, like he was on the verge of laughing. Finally we walked into a room with bars across the windows. In the centre was a reclining grey chair and more of those square blood splatters on the floor. “What’s that?” Mike asked. He dropped a tooth. “Don’t know. Looks a bit like a dentist’s chair?” “Come and find me.” I paused. “Mike?” “Where did that come from?” I lifted one of the sponge leather headphones up and tentatively turned in my chair. They began to crackle and whine. I winced and removed them. When I spun back round to the computer the game had gone, and I was back to the original folder with the leering pumpkin head. Except now he looked more like a skull, and below it was another folder entitled ‘Single Player’. I put the headphones back on. “Mike? Did your game crash? You there?” I checked his chat window and saw he was offline and cursed sharply under my breath. His stupid game must have been bugged. And yet, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from clicking on the new folder. “What the hell is this?” I clicked on the new folder. Again, the white bars loaded across my screen and I was back in the corridor.Come and find me! The white words jerked quickly and then vanished. “Ok then,” I muttered, half amused. I began to trek through the corridors, turning left and then right into identical rows of nothing. On the third left turn I came to a set of double doors which I passed through. The graphics seemed to change on the other side. They were more realistic. I was in an outdoor space, a courtyard or something with walls tangled up in ivy and bloodied skulls. I dropped a tooth and began to move through this new area. It was the same as the previous corridors, identical at every turn. I passed another right then left, or was it left then right? As I decided I should probably back track and drop some more teeth I heard the soft padding of footsteps. Don’t Turn Back flickered on the screen. So I pressed on, though I could still hear the footsteps. More teeth, more corners. Finally though, I began to feel irritated. I didn’t know what I was looking for, the game wasn’t scary. I began to hunt for a save button but there didn’t appear to be any menu. “Whatever,” I groaned and tried to minimise the game screen. Don’t Turn Back flicked up again. Come on, dude, find me. “Sorry game, need to sleep.” I tried again, pressing the buttons. Every time I did the same message appeared. I frowned. “Weird.” I held down the power button and waited. “I said don’t turn back!” A voice snarled in my ear. I whirled around and froze. “I said don’t turn back!” My heart violently hammered against my ribs. I forced myself to calm down. It was just my room. It was just a game, and maybe Mike was right about it. On screen now was a new scene of a large stone block surrounded by candles. Who will you sacrifice? The selection came up as me or Mike. “What?” I whispered. I shook my head and crouched under the desk. “Bye, game,” I said and pulled out the plugs. I remained there a moment and breathed deeply, letting the rational side of my brain take over. Slowly, I backed out and stood. The game was, of course, still running. Haha! NOPE! Flashed up in red. I watched the cursor slide down the screen and select Mike’s name. The screen flickered and crackled, a puffy face with a big toothless grin flickered in and out. I yelped and shot backwards and hit the side table where my lamp sat, knocking it off onto the floor. With quivering hands I rested it back in its place. It’s just a game kept running through my head but I couldn’t slow my breathing, yet I forced myself to go back to the chair and view the screen. On the stone slab now was a mangled body, its face shredded and all the teeth missing from its mouth. I cringed and carefully moved my character around the edge. The footsteps had picked up behind me. Run! Flickered all over the screen. I moved on, heading for another set of doors. The next screen was a graveyard, with wiry trees reaching up to the dark sky like bony fingers crying for help. I felt a chill begin to crawl over my skin as I moved the character through the graves. Birds flew, and then a hanged body dropped down from a branch. I jumped back in chair, but clenched my jaw and carried on. There were more footsteps behind me. Not just the one person, it sounded like there were loads of people coming up behind me. Don’t Turn Back! So I moved on through the graves, dropping teeth as I went. There were names scratched on each one and as I hovered the mouse over the writing a text box briefly appeared with the names. Sarah-Jane Leigh, James Arkwright, Dan Pond, Tim Booker. Mike Carlson. I wiped my eyes and hovered over the last tombstone. It was still Mike’s name. “What the fuck is this?” I spat. Behind me, my small lamp began to flicker. Whispering began to fill my room. Low at first, just the one voice but within a matter of seconds more mumbling voices and laboured breathing began to rise around me. Beside the text box the little pumpkin icon appeared. Clicky! Scrawled next to the icon with one of those stupid sideways smiley faces. I paused, not liking where this was going. Click it!! Flashed again, bigger and bolder. “Fine!” I cried and clicked the icon and recoiled. It was the same scene as the mangled body with the teeth missing from the mouth, but now it was real. Now it was Mike’s living room, his laptop flung to one side and real blood pooled around him, making his blue sofa crimson. You’re almost there! Come into the house! “And what if I don’t?” I shot back. I waited for a response, looking around my room. The whispering stopped as suddenly as it began. All I could hear was my own ragged breathing and my heart humming in my chest. The picture was gone. You’ll end up the same way. Wanna see some more? “No! I’m playing the fucking game, aren’t I?” I screamed and steadied myself. I felt hot and sick. My stomach was in my chest and my heart was pounding in my temples. Let's go! The voice hissed loudly. MOVE IT! The screen crackled again and the big grinning head glared out. In the dim light it seemed like the glass of the monitor was bending and blistering. A sudden searing pain began to clamp on my wrist. I screamed and clawed at the pain, watching as a crescent of teeth marks punctured my skin. It'll bleed next time. Let's go. Hands quivering, I moved forward into the house. I heard laughter, a low slow chuckle of twisted pleasure. What’s the matter? I thought you wanted to be scared? There were shadows lingering at the edges of the room and up the grand stair case. They hunched away from me as though they were cowering. Their shoulders shook, maybe like they were crying, but they made no sound. I went up the stairs. Red footsteps seeped up from the dusty floorboards to the left. I took a breath, dropped a tooth, and followed the footsteps. “Almost there,” the snarling voice whispered into my ear. I closed my eyes and held myself firmly in the chair. I was finishing it, real or not, I was finishing the damn game. I went through the maze of corridors and after a few minutes I came across a red door. Come on in! I narrowed my eyes and looked at the tooth count in the corner of my screen. No teeth left. I entered through the doors and stopped. A twisted figure with limp dislocated limbs handing by his wonky hips hovered above the ground, dripping blood on the floor beneath him. The droplets hissed and crackled as they evaporated into smoke. He began to half laugh, half sob. His empty mouth opened from ear to ear, jaw gaping down to his chest. I recoiled. “What the fuck are you supposed to be?” I wailed. “What is this game? Are you some kind of dead internet paedophile? A serial killer with a coding hobby? Did a dentist murder you??” Laughter shrieked through my room, splitting my ear drums. I'm the Tooth Fairy! Behind me I heard the bulb in my lamp pop. The light went, and I was bathed in the fuzzy glow of the computer screen. My body seized up. “Follow the teeth. Quickly. Run. Let’s play.” The figure lurched at me, his long arms flailing as he moved, flickering in and out of view. “Shit!” I cried and smashed at the keyboard. “Follow the teeth?” I held my breath. I could hear the laughing and the crackle of his movement behind me as I tried to guide the character back. Don’t stop! Don’t look back! Run Rabbit Run! Back through the house and the shaking shadows now still and starring at up. Back through the graveyard. Round the courtyard with the skulls in the ivy now weeping blood and screaming. Through the pixel hospital, the skeletons upright and grabbing at me. Following my teeth breadcrumbs I scooted round the dentist chair and back to the first room. I panted, though I’d not been the one running. The game went silent, the screen went black. “Did I do it? I drew in a breath, every fibre in my body shaking. “Did I do it?” It felt like an age before the searing pain started to swallow my body up. It felt like I was being crushed and expanded all at once. It's OK. The final voice I heard wasn't the sly snarl of the game, it was Mike. His calm, soft voice reassuring me from the pixilated dark. It doesn't hurt for long. He was right. It didn't hurt for long. I was the 62nd tooth.