I don’t know how to begin. It might not matter where I begin. You might not even believe this. I don’t even know if I do. It’s been almost two days and I’m still hoping this is an awful nightmare and I might wake up. Any minute now I might wake up. Please, please wake up.
This all started yesterday. I brushed my teeth when I went to bed the night before. They were all there. I didn’t count them or anything but they’re my teeth, so what I’m saying is…have you ever chipped a tooth? You know when it’s happened. Almost immediately.
My teeth were never great, I mean I chipped one once on a bean and cheese burrito. It was one of my wisdom teeth and there just wasn’t enough room in my mouth for all of them, so it broke, you see? Oh God I’m panicking again. I’m rambling all over the place when I need to just spit it out. Tell you what happened. What I’m trying to say is they were all there, my teeth were all there when I went to bed and when I woke up yesterday morning–even before I opened my eyes–I knew they were gone.
Somebody reading this might think if I can chip my teeth on something as soft as a burrito that maybe, just maybe, I don’t take care of my teeth or something. Well, I do. I have to admit if I were you, I would probably think that too. I really would…but you see there’s a fatal flaw to that logic…this didn’t only happen to me…
It’s the entire apartment complex. Every building. It’s every resident of Evercrest Grove Apartments.
I don’t wake up right when my teeth disappear. They’re already gone when the sun begins filtering in through the window. I don’t like to sleep in so the curtains are usually in the tie-backs, tied open, but it isn’t the sun that wakes me. It’s the screams.
At first I don’t know what’s happening, you see, the sun is bright and cheery outside. There are birds chirping. I live on the second floor and right outside my window is an oak tree. There’s a nest with chicks in it. They’re bluejays, I think. Some kind of bluebird. Their mother has a mealworm in her mouth. She gobbles it up and presses her beak to each of the chicks in turn, chewing it for them…feeding it to them. I realize that the entire time I’ve been watching this that I’ve been hearing the other tenants of building 8, specifically Mr. Harper screaming his head off through my bedroom wall. He must be in his living room because I can hear him so clearly.
There’s two other voices as well, clear ones, coming from downstairs. They’re engaged in conversation that can only be described as rapid, loud and terrified. That has to be Raj and Priyanka Patel. He is normally very loud and I can hear him through the floor all the time…I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say anything but a shy, quiet-voiced ‘hello’ when I’ve passed her on the walk outside but this morning she’s talking loudly, and panicked and her voice is shrill and piercing. I can’t understand what she’s saying because it’s in another language but she sounds like she’s in the other room. Close enough to be in my kitchen or something.
I want to say that I am confused at first, because that seems like it would be the normal reaction to waking up to the sound of all of your neighbors having a collective conniption fit, but that would be a lie. I probably would have been screaming too if it weren’t for the shock. I think I’m in shock. I’m not reacting at all.
When I run my tongue across the space where my teeth should be, my eyes grow as wide as eggs and I wish, my God I wish that I could separate my mouth from the rest of me and melt into the mattress, leaving it behind. My hands are clutching at my sheets, twisting them into knots and it isn’t just because I don’t feel my teeth. They’re for sure gone–that was part of the problem but it isn’t the entire problem–there is something else in my gums instead…and it’s moving.
My tongue recoils to the back of my throat and I begin gagging. I’m taking shallow rapid breaths and trying to move backwards away from my own mouth but I’m only succeeding in driving the back of my head further into my pillow. I begin to cry.
I live in an end unit, 8-2A, and for a long time the only voices I hear are Dylan Harper nextdoor, who is taking turns between screaming and sobbing at the top of his lungs and the Patels downstairs who seem to be arguing in loud, rapid-fire Hindi. Soon I begin to hear other voices coming from outside.
A woman is shouting what sounds like “Please, please, please, what’s going on? Someone help us!” and a baby is crying it’s head off. I say what she’s saying “sounds like” this, but it’s hard to really tell because it sounds like she is shouting this without her teeth. I finally get out of bed and move to the window. It’s Layla Carter holding her two year old, Mia. She lives on the second floor too, a few doors down in 8-2D. She’s in her night robe and slippers in the parking lot. There aren’t many people outside but those that are out there with her seem to be moving quickly from one place to another. Two of them are rushing past her on the sidewalk rushing from either direction with their hands over their mouths. A third is running from my building to his car. I think it’s Ethan Anderson from 8-1B but I can’t tell for sure at first because all I see is the back of his head. He runs right past her as if she isn’t even there. It looks like he’s trying to get out of here as quickly as he can.
Momentarily, I wonder if Layla might have made the mistake of stepping into Ethan’s way would he have completely disregarded that she was holding a baby and shoved her right to the ground?
He reaches his car, which is just on the other side of the street, next to where mine is parked, and opens the door. He’s about to climb in but he stops suddenly. He spins around and I see that I was right, it is that creep Ethan. His face goes pale as his eyes start to widen. He looks as though he’s just remembered he’s forgotten something and that something is awful–like he’s just remembered he can’t leave right now because he might need to close the living room curtains so the body he’s dissolving in the barrel on his living room rug isn’t in full view of anyone passing on the sidewalk–that’s how terrified he looks.
No, I’m sure he doesn’t actually have a body down there but the man is a creep and my imagination is going wild in the midst of this chaos. Ethan rapidly shakes his head, closes the door to his car without getting in and walks quickly back to the apartment he came from. This time Layla does step into his way and Ethan takes her by both shoulders and sternly moves her aside so he can pass. She’s still screaming in hysterics but he looks like he’s about to be sick.
Finally ready to face myself in a mirror, I turn away from the window and with my head lowered in plaintive acceptance, I walk to the bathroom. I close the door behind me but I don’t turn on the light right away, standing in the darkness, I’m looking for my courage.
I know what I felt with my tongue. It’s still in the back of my throat.
I don’t know if I can handle seeing what I felt with my eyes.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath and flick on the light.
Most of the other bulbs in my apartment are on dimmers. I installed them myself. I take them with me from place-to-place when I move. I put the old switches back when I move out. The bathroom is not. There’s not much of a point. This is where you’re supposed to look at yourself naked and it needs to be bright and gritty and raw. The lights are that clear blue-white, the LED bulbs that make you look like you’re standing under halogens. No blemish or gray hair needs to go unseen in this room. It’s where I, laid bare, expect myself to bear all.
I lean into the mirror and open my mouth and what I see is even worse than what I imagined. My whole body begins to shake and I begin to sob at this naked truth.
My teeth are gone. I knew that. In their place, growing out of my gums are 28 writhing little worms. Yellow and segmented and squirming mealworms with little black eyeless faces. I shut my jaw quickly and clench my eyes closed as I feel a faintness wash over me and my ears begin ringing. Woozily, swooning, and without opening my eyes, I grip the counter to steady myself. Taking a deep breath I open my eyes and lean closer to the mirror so I can see more clearly when I’m ready to part my lips again…but I’m not ready yet. I need just a second. I take a few quick, shallow breaths as I work up the nerve and telling myself I’m ready for a better look–that I need to take a better look–I open my mouth wide.
My ears are still thrumming as with tinnitus and with the ringing there, I recognize that this is the first time all morning I haven’t heard anyone screaming or crying or panicking or carrying on. It quite possibly the most unsettling quiet I’ve ever experienced in my life…
But just on the edge of that abhorrent quiet is a gentle whispering sound. My eyes grow ever wider as I watch the little eyeless worms that have replaced all of my teeth open dozens of tiny little mouths to speak in hushed tones. They don’t speak all at once, but three or four voices whisper things to me together in unison.
you’re right about ethan downstairs. he’s a creeper. he’s on the sex offender’s registry… and it’s not because he was in college dating a high schooler. it’s kids.
A few of them laugh at this and then…
layla was in a cult you know that? the leader is mia’s father. daddy “rescued“ her, see? keeps tabs on her now, night and day. every day she’s looking for a way to sneak back. sneak away. but she don’t do it ‘cause daddy will just come take her back away again.
More laughter followed by…
priyanka patel seems like a lovely housewife but little does mr. raj know that when he’s working hard at that little store they own, she’s working hard on dylan harper nextdoor.
Snickers follow this secret too.
I find myself less horrified than I was moments ago. Don’t get me wrong, my mental state is still hovering near the desire to throw up or be dead, but I’m now suddenly fascinated as well.
“‘Ow do oo know dis?” (How do you know this) I manage to gum my way around the words.
They reply the same as before, randomly four or five of the worms begin to speak in whispered, hushed tones. They speak the same words at the same time and the effect is chilling and highly unsettling under the hum of my bathroom lights.
Molarion of the Shadows, Denthraxis our dark lord, seeith all secrets, even yours, stephen church. nothing is hidden from his omnipotent eye.
you must serve The Dark One and hail his all-knowing might and power!
As those four or five worms finish, the rest open their mouths and I begin to hear all 28 of their quiet voices speak at once in some language I’ve never heard in my life, but with the rhythm and tonation that could only be that of solemn prayer…
Denthraxis Molarion, ph’nglui inna, fhtagn, chtenff intuitus frangit propositum, n’ghft sgn’wahl hostes y-r’lyeh contremiscant in vacuo risu carentium dentium ph’nglui inna.
The secrets continue throughout the day and the Whisper Worms, as I came to call them, are forthcoming with answers to my frequent questions.
victor chang is the neighborhood bicycle thief. he has four bicycles in his living room right now. sells them at pawn shops.
They whisper to me, and in response I decide to change the topic asking them: “Where is this Denthraxis Molarion from?” I don’t need to carefully enunciate my words. They simply understand me because they are a part of me. They’re fused with me, growing as they are from my gums. I feel them squirming uncomfortably, deciding whether or not they should answer me at all…then they do…
in sumeria he acquired the name, Denthraxis Molarion, by which we now praise him but the hittites knew him as Denthraxis Tarhunza and minoans before that worshiped Denthraxis Gnossionyx…the elamites before the minoans knew him as the all-knowing Denthraxis Kheshmari in their native tongue. he is one god, everlasting, and has gone by names that are legion.
I consider this for a moment and after the moment passes, they tell me:
lily wallace, the old woman down at the end of the hall is spying on everyone.
“Everyone knows that,” I say, but it comes out all gummy and wrong.
but did you know she looks through your trash?
I reply that I did not know that.
we didn’t think so.
Feeling bolder, I ask: “What brings Denthraxis here now?” (although the words that come out of my toothless mouth sound more like “ut rings Benraxus ere ow?”)
the great dark one Molarion was summoned hence by a follower–a resident of your village of evercrest grove apartments.
“Oo us it?” (Who was it?)
this secret we shall not divulge, stephen church. the secrets of the summoner shall not be shared.
“Ut or ut easom?” (But for what reason?)
the summoner is one of Denthraxis Molarion’s cherished ones…a priest of our ways.
“Oh, I ean why id e summom him?” (No, I mean why did he summon him?)
he wished to avoid the recurring cost of his rental fees. forevermore. such is the power of Molarion, The Darkest One.
Three to five voices gives each of these replies but after speaking the words “Molarion The Darkest One,” they all begin to chant in unison, another strange prayer.
f’hai, Dentatus, wgah’n nafl serpentem y-hlirgh sapientiam wgah’n, Molarion zie’ghei Denthraxis n’ghft y-ai y-og wgah’n ordiri ph’nglui! ph’nglui! ph’nglui!
It is about 5:00 in the afternoon, and I’ve called out from work. I assume everyone here has because the Whisper Worms have explained a lot of things to me. Their master calls them the Psyktar Rumalarvae and their job is to make us his loyal followers. They explain to me that we are each forbidden to leave. If I do try to leave, they explain, the men at the gates will kill me for my efforts. Eight men with guns quickly made deals with Denthraxis Molarion’s minions in the morning to ensure that their darkest secrets remained untold. They posted themselves guard at the gates to the complex in exchange for the Whisper Worms’ silence.
There were rules. Denthraxis’s followers must be kept small in number–no more men or women than the number of that of a small village–else the darkest of secrets that everyone under his influence kept hidden would carry less power. Secrets are more powerful kept close at hand, in small groups. If I do manage to escape the complex, the Whisper Worms will share the one secret that would destroy me with everyone here. I’d go to jail…
I too was told if I shared any of what has been happening here since yesterday, they would share that secret with everyone in the complex, and I’d probably be arrested, but I just don’t care anymore.
I couldn’t do the thing that they asked. I watched it happen. So many people did what they asked…
I don’t think I’m ready to tell you what the secret that they held over my head is yet, but I suppose I’ll have to and soon because they’re coming. I’m going to do it just so they don’t have any power over me anymore. There won’t be any consequences or jailtime. They’re going to kill me, so none of it matters. Just trust me when I say it’s bad.
Yesterday, I still think I can’t let any of this happen. I think that I can’t let them tell my secret so I just wait like every other resident, behind the gates of Evercrest Grove Apartments, for whatever comes next.
Then they make their request.
kira foster has decided to contact the news media and bring them to the village of evercrest grove apartments! this must not be allowed! make your way to building 4, apartment 4-2C. rip her limb from limb. the secrets of the Psyktar Rumalarvae must be kept. the Psyktar Rumalarvae shall only be made known to those within Denthraxis Molarion’s hold! rip her limb from limb! now shall commence the bloodening!
Before I know what I’m doing, I’m standing in front of building 4. It doesn’t seem real. I know what’s about to happen but it doesn’t seem real. Sofia Vasquez and Jamal Wright hold Kira Foster’s arms, one on each side and they pull her from her apartment. She is red-faced and screaming, her mouth open in a terrified “O” with her own mass of Whisper Worms squirming in her gums. From where I stand below, they look like long squirming yellow teeth. Tears streak down her face. They bring her to the landing’s railing. She struggles against them but there’s two of them and one of her so it’s no use. Another man who I don’t recognize swings the hatchet and it hits her square in the stomach. He hacks and he hacks and he hacks and so many residents of Evercrest Grove Apartments are climbing the stairs and over the railing to rip her apart. To keep their secrets untold.
Kira Foster was almost eight months pregnant. I went to her baby shower.
Horrified, I run.
they’re coming for you. you can’t keep this up forever, stephen church…
Three or four voices whisper this to me from my own mouth.
we’ve already told them, stephen church. they know your darkest secret. there’s nothing left for you but the bloodening.
The secret doesn’t matter. They killed a pregnant woman. I talked to her at the mailbox every day for five years. I’d known her for five years.
Two months ago, I hit a kid with my car. I kept driving. He couldn’t have been more than nine years old. I stole his future. Just took it. I didn’t tell anyone because I was afraid of what it would mean for mine.
I don’t have a future now.
That’s my darkest secret. It was 11:00 in the morning and I was already drunk. I haven’t had a drop to drink since but that’s not really something to be proud of either. I should have come clean much sooner–not because my secret is getting exposed but because it’s the right thing to do.
It doesn’t matter now.
I’m sitting on the roof of one of the buildings. I’ve been here since yesterday. When I was running, I ran by the groundskeeper’s shed. There was a ladder in the grass next to it, so I grabbed it, took it to the next building I passed and climbed. When I got to the top, I kicked the thing over so nobody could follow me.
Every time they lean it against the building, I kick it back down. They don’t have another one but I have no delusions. I can’t do this forever. Eventually I’ll have to eat…
eventually you’ll fall asleep, stephen church…
Is what the Whisper Worms that squirm and wriggle in my gums repeat over and over again in their whispers…and I know they’re not wrong.