I was sprawled out in the pink vinyl chair when he entered the room with a steel welder’s mask. I had met this dentist, “Dr.” Calvin, twice before. The first meeting occurred nearly seven months ago at my last checkup, and the second was in the parking lot as I waited for the office to open. Neither of these prior meetings saw his face so opaquely covered.
From the first meeting, he struck me as an odd man, from his hairstyle to his dress to his mannerisms. His head was adorned with golden curls closely trimmed in front and loosely dangling in back. The man wore tight faded jeans he might have been trapped in for the past twenty years. I had never seen anyone under the age of twenty-five in his office, yet he spoke to his patients as if we were all the youngest and most innocent of creatures. “I’m now going to check on your upper teeth,” he would say from a distance with the hand gesture of a timid crossing guard. I wasn’t very confident in his knowledge of dentistry, but I went to him nonetheless. He was brief, he was painless, and he was free—thanks to insurance. Had I known what he planned to do with my mouth though, I would have sacrificed all of those things for any other dentist.
“Hullo, John,” he said in the hollowness of a tin robot from outer space.
“Um, hello, Dr. Calvin,” I said, trying not to shake in the chair.
“Oh, you can just call me Cal,” his voice echoed through the mask.
I tried to study the man, to make sure it was indeed my dentist, but I could see no part of his face or head. The clothes matched for sure, but that was not enough to determine identity. There was a momentary urge to spring from the chair, but the vinyl clung to me, refusing to let me out of the man’s office.
“Let’s get you some gas,” the man in the welding mask said.
“Gas? Why do I need gas? I am just here for a checkup,” I yelped.
“New procedure,” he said as he jammed the gas mask over my nose and mouth with his ungloved hand. “Now just relax.”
My head now pinned to the chair by the force of the mask, I couldn’t see but I could hear the dentist activate the gas with a gentle “tsssssssss” followed by a rush of air into my lungs. I tried to fight him off, but my arms would not budge from the armrests. I gave up and started to doze just as he lit the blowtorch, its long flame laughing menacingly at me.
When I awoke alone in the chair, my mouth felt different. At first I couldn’t really feel anything, but then I began to wiggle my tongue around, searching for my teeth. As I was exploring, the dentist returned, sans mask.
“How’s it feel?” he asked with a smile, his curly mullet flowing freely.
“I fees weir,” I mumbled.
“Not surprising. That was the first time I’ve ever done anything that extreme. I’ll have to monitor how you react closely.” He approached as he spoke, flashlight in hand. “Now open up wide.”
I opened my mouth as wide as I could, but my jaw was stiff and budged only a few inches.
“Very interesting,” he mused with the flashlight shining into my barely opened mouth.
“Wah sho intreshting?” I asked.
“I can’t even see it.”
“I can’t see the bomb.”
“Yes, the bomb. I can’t see the bomb.”
I gave the doctor a quizzical look that said much more than my broken speech.
“John, I have performed something revolutionary here. I have removed all of your teeth and inserted a nuclear bomb in your mouth.” He spoke like a mad scientist.
My hands flew to my jaw and began prodding around, searching for something to disprove what I knew couldn't be true. It was obviously a joke, but I still needed some confirmation. Of course I still had teeth, and of course there was no bomb in my mouth.
“Hey, be careful there,” the dentist yelled in a panic. He dropped the flashlight and grabbed my wrists. “Do you want to kill us all?”
“Wah da puc ar oo taleen abow?” I tried to wrestle free, but his vice-like grip was far too strong. The dentist’s hands were powerful from years of working in mouths.
My arms still restrained by his bulky dentist hands, he looked me in the eyes and spoke in a no-nonsense voice that varied greatly from the clumsy demeanor he had first brought into the office. “Look,” he began, “you have been equipped with a nuclear bomb in your mouth. You are the product of an experiment, and you are the first of your kind. The smallest of false moves will result in mass destructions. Use your gift wisely.” With that, he released my arms and departed from the office. “Oh, and don’t brush. Or eat solid foods,” he added before disappearing for good.
I sat motionless in the chair for quite some time, the temptation to touch my nuclear-armed mouth running rapidly through my body. But I never gave into the temptation. I didn’t know how I was to use this so-called gift, but I would try my best to use it wisely. After all, I was now the most powerful human being alive.
I drove straight home and went to bed, telling no one about what had happened. I spent three days lying still in bed, not eating, not drinking, not brushing. At the end of the third day, I arose from the bed and tried talking. “I have a nuclear bomb in my mouth,” I said cleanly before giving a closed-mouth smile in front of the mirror.
Perhaps I had dreamt it all. I couldn’t possibly formulate a normal sound without teeth and with a nuclear warhead installed somewhere in my mouth. I pulled back my lips. Sure enough, my teeth were gone and a tiny device that I supposed could be a nuclear bomb was in their place. I thought for a moment about how dangerous nuclear bombs were and how I had the power to wipe out a whole population.
“I have a nuclear bomb in my mouth,” I said with fists raised to the sky. “I have a nuclear bomb. A nuclear bomb. I’m more powerful than the United Nations!”
I ran out of the bathroom, out of the small apartment, down the three flights of stairs, not bothering to close the door.
As I rushed into the sunlight, I felt the surge of nuclear energy run through my veins. My molecules were moving thousands of times faster than the average human’s. I wasn’t even sure that I was human anymore.
“Hey, watch where you’re goin’ you scrawny punk,” a man said.
“Go to hell. I have a nuclear weapon in my mouth,” I shouted.
“Lunatic,” a woman said.
“Suck my dick,” I yelled at her.
“Watch what you say, little boy,” a man in a suit warned.
“Shut your face. I have more power in my mouth than the whole country combined,” I hissed.
“Then use a breath mint,” an ugly passerby shouted.
These people were idiots. They didn’t understand the enormity of what had happened, but there was no point in wasting my time with them. I needed to move onto bigger and better things. I knew exactly where to start.
His name was Oleander. What a stupid name. He was an ugly son-of-a-bitch straight out of the army or the navy or something like that. When I was thirteen, I came home and found him on top of my screaming mother, who was face down on the coffee table. My dad was out of town on business, and I came home early after another crappy day at school. I told him to get off my mom and he told me that he was trying. I called the cops. He beat the crap out of me on his way out the door before they got there. The cops arrested him, but he never served any time because of his military background or something like that, so I vowed my revenge. I kept track of his residence, stalking him weekly, knowing that one day I would find the means to pay him back. Today was the day. That filthy rapist was about to be blown to smithereens.
I took a cab to Granger and Midland, stopping at a convenience store to buy a toothbrush on the way. I told the cabbie to keep the meter running as I departed from the car and ascended the cracked cement stairs to Oleander’s rundown excuse for a home. Rather than using the doorbell, I pounded on the door, screaming his name.
After a few moments, Oleander, all two-hundred fifty pounds of him, opened the door.
“Who are you?” he asked, the twelve years since he had last seen me erasing any knowledge of who I was.
“I’m John the Nuclear Bomb.”
“Get lost, pussy. I’ve got a nap to take and a woman to screw.”
The ogre tried to close the door, but I jammed my foot inside the doorway before he could slam it shut. I ignored the pain that shot through my foot and up into my spine.
“Look, asshole," I winced, "you messed with the wrong kid. Don’t you remember who I am? Think back twelve years ago. Think really hard.”
“I did lots of stuff twelve years ago. Now get lost.”
“You screwed my mother,” I shouted, my eyes burning with the beginning of tears.
“Oh, it’s the little sissy boy who called the cops. I couldn’t recognize you with all the scars. Damn, I sure did a number on you.”
“I have a nuclear bomb in my mouth now,” I shouted.
“You should really have that checked out.”
He was about to push me out of the way when I unveiled my toothbrush and brought it up to my jaw.
“What the hell are you gonna do with that?”
“Get down on your knees and beg for forgiveness or I’ll blow you sky high.”
“Alright kid, do what you gotta do. Let’s see the fireworks.”
I opened my mouth and placed the brush gingerly inside, ready to somehow trigger the detonator.
“Wait a minute, kid,” Oleander said with a sudden look of concern. “Won’t you blow yourself up too?”
I hadn’t thought of that.
I paused, my hand shaking violently, tears beginning to stream down my face. Oleander laughed before kicking my foot out of the way.
It was all a lie. I had no powers. I was just a worthless, prematurely old fool incapable of even chewing my own fingernails. I had lived my whole life as a coward and now I was still nothing more than a coward. I couldn’t defeat Oleander. I couldn’t get back at former bosses or ex-girlfriends or stupid jerks from high school. All I could do was walk around with stinky breath and eat Jell-o and drink fluids. If there was anyone I needed to get back out now, it was that damn dentist, but there really was no point in that either.
I stared at Oleander, standing on the porch pondering my next move, and decided that it was time to prove once and for all that I wasn’t who they said I was. So I decided to just blow it all up for good. All of it. For good.
I fiddled in my mouth with the toothbrush, watching Oleander’s face closely, hoping to catch his grimace of hopeless despair as the explosion consumed his body right before my eyes. There was no explosion. I was a helpless imbecile, standing on a doorstep with a toothbrush dangling from my lips.
As the triumphant Oleander slammed the door in my face, I knew I had but one choice: I had to confront Dr. Calvin. I needed to know the truth behind my newly cumbersome mouth. I would barge into his office and demand answers. Either he would confess that there was no bomb in my mouth, or the dentist turned welder would enlighten me on how I could use what he had deemed a gift. If it turned out to be the former, I would bludgeon him to death with the toothbrush for making a fool out of me. If the latter, I would return to Oleander’s residence and finally receive the recompense I deserved for the way he had defiled my mother.
When I returned to Dr. Calvin’s office, the receptionist gave me a warm but unsure smile. “Hi, John, welcome back,” she bubbled while biting her fingernails. She watched me closely, and I couldn’t tell if she was worried I would detonate the office or if she wanted to jump in my pants. She was kind of cute, and for a moment I thought about flirting even though she was obviously a few years older, but my business was with Dr. Calvin, not her.
“I left something in Dr. Calvin’s office,” I mumbled through my armed mouth before walking past her desk and into the patient area. It didn’t take long before I saw the dentist, sans welder mask, playing in the mouth of a patient who sat in the same pink chair that had held me captive hours before.
“Calvin,” I shouted forcefully, dropping the formality of his undeserved title.
The man turned around, his mullet bouncing on the back of his neck, his eyes as wide as quarters. “How can I help you?” he stumbled. “Is there a problem with your teeth?”
“What teeth, you bastard.”
Dr. Calvin turned to his patient. “I’ll be right back, Emily,” he said soothingly. “I think John is reacting negatively to the anesthesia I gave him earlier today.”
I had never been courageous my entire life, but I felt different standing in the blandness of his office. I felt a surge of energy, possibly nuclear, pulsating through my body. It was different than what I had felt standing on Oleander’s porch. This was real power. I knew I could stand up for myself whether I was a wired bomb or not.
“Tell her the truth, you mad scientist,” I demanded. My enraged fists clenched tightly, my veins bulging bright blue streams along my arms. The fluorescent lights began flickering and the various dental gadgets began buzzing sporadically.
“Careful,” Dr. Calvin warned me, his arms outstretched in caution. “Just calm down. We don’t want you to do anything you’d regret.”
“You made a fool out of me,” I shouted as the room transformed into an eerie light show. I began to approach the dentist who was still armed with sharp instruments designed for heavy plaque removal.
“Easy John, easy. You don’t know your strength here. Just remember, if I go, you go too.”
Paying no heed to his warnings, I removed the toothbrush from my pocket and brought it slowly to my open mouth. “Don’t move or I’ll blow us sky high. I just need you to answer some questions for me,” I said slowly like one of those bomb negotiators from a cop movie. The lights continued to flicker, the gadgets continued to whirl, Emily continued to look terrified from her chair, and Dr. Calvin slowly moved toward me, hand still outstretched.
“Give me the toothbrush and we can talk.”
“No way. I want answers first.”
“Okay, okay. Can we at least let Emily leave?”
I looked at the woman in the chair. She was rather cute. More attractive than the receptionist and probably a little younger. Of course, at this point, she likely thought of me as a lunatic, but that was better than most women had viewed me in the past. In this moment I was strong and powerful. I needed her as a witness.
“The girl stays.”
Dr. Calvin gave her an apologetic glance. I could see her partially cleaned mouth clenched in fear.
“Relax, Emily, I’m not going to hurt you. I just need a witness,” I said soothingly. I unclenched my fits, and the lights ceased to flicker. It seemed like she relaxed a little, her grip on the pink chair loosening slightly. “Now, Calvin, tell me: did you really plant a bomb in my mouth?”
With a look of both pride and shame, the dentist nodded his head affirmatively.
“Can it be removed?”
“Perhaps. But it would be too risky. It might detonate.” Calvin’s worried look informed me that he was telling the truth.
“How do I use it?”
“Well, there are two ways. You can detonate it with any object by pressing it just right, which will create an explosion large enough to wipe out a few blocks, or you can harness the nuclear energy to create several mini-explosions. If harnessed correctly, you can direct the power of the blasts away from you.”
His explanation of my power made my head swell, which in turn made the lights flicker again. I was certainly intrigued and my anger had almost completely subsided. Glancing at Emily, she looked more than a little impressed.
“You mean you have a nuclear bomb in your mouth?” she asked almost longingly.
I smiled at her briefly and then glanced back at the dentist. I had to show off my strength. Closing my eyes and opening my mouth as wide as I could in Calvin’s direction, I channeled all of my energy. The lights flickered on and off menacingly. The dentist's drills whirred on and off. I began to feel my body being drained of its energy. The urge to stop swept over me, but I refused to surrender. My body went cold just as I heard a mini-explosion and my body crumpled to the floor.
When I awoke, Emily was holding me in her arms, a half-cleaned smile inches from my face. At the precise moment my eyelids opened themselves, Emily planted a restorative kiss upon my lips. “My hero,” she cooed.
“Huh?” I asked with what little strength I had left.
“You defeated the evil Dr. Calvin. I’ve always hated going to the dentist.” Her smile half gleamed at me.
I looked around the room and noticed a small pile of ashen rubble where Dr. Calvin had stood before me what may have been hours before. At first I felt bad that I had reduced him to such matter. After all, he had been the one to bestow the gift upon me. Then of course I realized the infinite wisdom I had once heard about a gift being a curse. He had deserved his fate. And now I was finally a hero.
With all my strength, I reached my neck up to Emily, my lips engulfing hers in a fitful passion on the immaculate dental office floor. After only a moment, I felt her tongue penetrate deep inside my mouth, her fluoride-flavored saliva mixing with mine, her passion revitalizing me.
Long before any sexual climax occurred, the lights flickered and she turned to ashen rubble in my hands. I stared at the ashes and contemplated my curse for a second before tossing them into my mouth. I tried to swallow the dusty flakes, but my mouth was too dry. I filled a tiny plastic cup of water in Dr. Calvin's sink and choked down the ashes. They burned on the way down, settling heavy in my stomach. Having Emily's remains inside my body was strangely filling. Bloated, I forced myself to burp, releasing a small explosion inside my body. I opened my mouth and watched a tiny mushroom cloud puff up into the stale dental office air.
"I'm John the Nuclear Bomb," I said with a laugh as I headed for the exit, not bothering to stop and schedule my next appointment on the way out. I didn't plan to go to the dentist ever again. I was my own man now, and I'd follow whatever rules I made. And the rest of the world would too, starting with that prick Oleander.
Nathaniel Tower lives in Minnesota with his wife and two daughters. He writes weird fiction, juggles, and manages the online lit mag Bartleby Snopes. His short story collection Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands is out now through Martian Lit. Find out more about Nathaniel at http://nathanieltower.com