More bad news, it was all there ever was at that time of the morning. Gloom printed in black upon grey, dramatic photos showing the worried faces of important people or the devastated faces of anonymous masses caught in some abject tragedy. Things were hurtling out of control and there was nothing anyone could do about it, just observe and report.
With eyes fixed on the broadsheet, David Haynes spooned another mouthful of Muesli between his parted lips, used his tongue to push it to the back of his mouth and brought his teeth down. There was a slow crunch punctuated by a loud crack and white-hot pain.
‘Ah bugger!’ David exclaimed, dropping the spoon and forgetting the misery of the world. He raised his hand up to the left side of his jaw which had already started to throb.
‘Oh, I heard that!’ Emily Haynes said from across the table, ‘are you alright, sweetheart?’
‘I think I just cracked that bloody new tooth,’ David said in a voice thick with tongue. He wiggled the tooth and felt it come loose, ‘yeah, I’ve buggered it on that Muesli.’
Emily came over with a bag of peas from the freezer. Gently she removed David’s hand from the side of his face and pressed the bag against the afflicted area. David winced at the change of sensation.
‘I’d better call Dr Mills and get you an emergency appointment,’ she said, leaving David to hold the peas.
Presently Emily returned to the kitchen with the phone, she was listening to the person on the other end.
‘He’s just here,’ she said, ‘shall I pass you over?’ At the response she held out the phone to David.
‘Hello, Mr Haynes?’ It was Dr Mills in his practiced soft tone.
‘Your wife tells me the enamel you had fitted the other day has come loose. I’m terribly sorry to hear that, it must be quite painful.’
‘It is, yes. Are you available for me to come in and get it fixed today?’
‘I’m afraid not. I’m about to leave for some important business in Stoke and I won’t be back until tomorrow. It’s lucky you caught me, I was just picking up some things from the practice.’
David did not feel very lucky. He rolled his eyes.
‘I’ll refer you over to one of my colleagues near Winchester,’ Dr Mills continued, ‘it’s a bit of a drive but he is one of the foremost experts on this kind of work and I’m certain he’ll have space for you today. I’ll call ahead and tell him you’re coming.’
‘Fine, fine,’ David replied, he just wanted it sorted. ‘What’s the address?’
Dr Mills ran the address off, David jotted it onto the newspaper, thanked Dr Mills and hung-up.
‘That’s a bit of a way to go, isn’t it?’ Emily said, looking at the hastily scribbled note.
‘Apparently he’s an expert.’
‘I’d drive you but Tom needs picking up from football in an hour.’
‘I’ll be alright, it’s only my tooth,’ David said. He got up from the table and took his keys, ripping off the corner of newspaper with the address.
‘OK, I’ll see you this afternoon,’ Emily said, worry written on her face. ‘Be careful, won’t you?’
Dr Mills had not been lying about the remoteness of the location. David drove for almost an hour into the countryside to reach the practice. The satnav directed David from the winding country road onto an uneven gravel lane which ended in a large security gate. The gate opened as David approached, Dr Mills had kept to his word.
David parked outside the practice, his was the only car in the car park. The building looked as if it had fallen from space into the small clearing in the woods, it was too sharp, too clean. It must have been built recently, David thought. He locked the car and entered the building through the large black doors at the front. The sharp eyes of the receptionist were fixed on David the moment he opened the doors, she had been waiting for him.
‘Mr Haynes, I assume?’ she said. David nodded, the pain in his jaw had resumed. ‘Dr Mortis is just making final preparations for the procedure, he should be ready any moment. Please take a seat,’ she gestured to a lone chair a little down the hall from the desk.
David planted himself on the chair, the throbbing was intensifying, becoming unbearable. He couldn’t help but pry at the tooth with his tongue, as if his body were telling him it was a foreign object and had to be expelled. He worked it one way, then the other feeling it jostle inside the gum. With a slight tearing sensation, the tooth plopped free into David’s mouth. His eyes widened, and he looked at the receptionist; she was busying herself with something at the desk. Tentatively David reached into his mouth and pulled out the tooth for examination. It was a shocking sight; the enamel had started to blacken towards the root and there was a dark goo wrapped around the base. David wiped it off with his thumb to reveal strange markings underneath, carved into the tooth. The markings almost looked like the Viking runes he had seen Tom studying for school, though these were far more elegant, somehow less functional than the Viking runes. It seemed impossible that this could be any language meant for man. His head swam as he gazed at the tooth, transfixed. He started to reach inside his mouth again to inspect the gum.
‘The doctor will see you now,’ the receptionist said, David’s hand snapped away from his face, the other instinctively clasping the tooth. ‘Just through that door at the end of the hall.’
Without looking at the receptionist, David rose from the chair in a daze and made his way down the hall. The door was heavy, stained a red so dark as to be almost black. David twisted the golden knob and shouldered it open.
‘Ah, David!’ said a raspy voice that was present and yet as if spoken from a great distance, it came from a lone shadow stood in the centre of the treatment room, the light cast down onto the chair concealed the face. ‘I am so pleased to finally meet you. Please, come and be seated.’
David felt off balance, as if he had just woken up. He went to the chair and sat, though the whole situation had started to feel quite peculiar. Dr Mortis leaned over David, and through focusing and defocusing eyes, David studied the face. The mouth split the gaunt lower half of Dr Mortis’ face into a wide grin, ear to ear. The eyes were sunken, empty sacks hung underneath which contradicted the tautness of the cheeks and forehead. The skin was sallow and grey. The doctor looked very unwell indeed, David thought. He turned away from the terrible sight.
‘I understand you’re having some trouble with a new tooth?’ Mortis said, ‘let’s have a look, shall we?’
‘Doctor… the tooth came out in the waiting room,’ David said, and he held it out for Mortis. ‘What are these markings on it? Have you ever seen anything like that before?’
Mortis’ eyes widened momentarily before snapping back to slits. The smile remained.
‘Nothing to concern yourself with, David,’ he said, taking the tooth and placing it on the stainless-steel table beside him. ‘Now please, lie back, I must inspect the gum for signs of rot.’
David complied, and Mortis leaned over him, his gloveless hand pushing David’s tongue down as he peered into David’s mouth. The doctor shook his head and turned to the table.
‘I’m afraid we will have to put you under for this David, it would be quite painful were you awake for the procedure.’ Mortis was readying his equipment. ‘There have been some… complications.’
‘Complications?’ David said, sitting up. ‘What do you mean? What’s happening?’
‘My dear, David,’ Mortis cooed, ‘please do not concern yourself, this will not take long.’
The doctor turned to David with a large antiquated syringe, coils of polished steel wrapped around a glass tube. It looked nothing like any medical syringe David had seen before. As Mortis’ arm neared, his sleeve rode up. Terror gripped David at the revelation it presented. On the doctor’s wrist, just beside the bulbous blue veins there was a tattoo, a succession of runic shapes, sinister variations of those on the tooth. David bolted up from the chair and swiped the doctor’s approaching hand away.
‘What the bloody hell are those?’ he cried, his senses returning. ‘What is this? Who are you?’
‘David, please, just sit back down and allow me to proceed. It is for your own good. There is nothing to fear.’ As Mortis spoke he slid around the chair, syringe primed.
‘You stay away!’ David said, backing towards the door, ‘you bloody stay back, you hear!’
Mortis slithered forward slowly, he coiled and prepared to pounce. David took the initiative and plunged into the doctor, knocking him backwards into the table. The apparatus crashed and scattered across the floor, the syringe shattered as it hit the tiles. The two men grappled each other amongst the strewn dental tools, David felt he had the upper-hand, but Mortis was uncommonly strong for a man who appeared so frail; he heaved David off himself and threw him across the room into the ornate cabinet which stood tall and wide at one end. David hit the floor and the doors of the cabinet swung open, he stared aghast at the contents. The inside was lined with red silk, and hung up were rows of bizarre instruments, wrought in brass or gold, each inscribed with elaborate patterns made of the ghastly runes.
The treatment room door was opening, David saw his chance. He scrabbled to his feet and past Mortis, straight through the gap in the door. The force at which he hit the receptionist sent her flailing into the wall, David drove on. He reached the end of the hall, into the waiting room, past the reception desk and stopped dead; the entrance was barred. Thick steel rods had been slid across the huge doors. There was no escape.
Hearing the approaching noises from the treatment room, David spun around and made for the nearest door; the bathroom. Inside he used his body to barricade the door, twisted the lock and stood panting, eyes darting around the room, pleading for a way out.
‘David, come now, stop this nonsense,’ came the sickly-sweet voice from outside the door. ‘Just come out of there and we can have you fixed right as rain. You won’t feel a thing.’
To David’s despair, the room was a dead-end; just a sink, a toilet and a mirror opposite the door, not so much as a porthole to access the outdoors. He looked into the mirror and saw the panting animal he had become, he looked feral; eyes wide, nostrils flared, mouth curled into a snarl. He felt something loose inside his mouth and spat it out, a black tooth skittered across the floor. Bewildered, David left the door and bent to pick it up. He wiped the black goo off and stared in horror at the rune embossed into his own tooth. Another was loose inside his mouth and he reached in, bringing out a molar, this one crumbling with rot, still just enough to see the sickening runes carved all around. David glanced up to the mirror, opened his mouth to look inside. His gums were consumed by black rot, his teeth hung like pegs out of the putrid mess. The door had started to throb, terrible noises swirled around the hall, otherworldly growls and yelps. David stood, staring hopelessly at his ruined face as the door started to buckle, the growls rose to cries. Suddenly the hinges gave, and the door swung open. Chaos cascaded into the room.