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Don't lose your teeth on Halloween

by Anjolene Bozeman 4 months ago in fiction

Sweet Tooth Horrors

Art by Anjolene Bozeman

I never understood, when I was a young child, why we lived by the rule. No child under the age of ten was allowed to eat candy apples on Halloween. Not just candy apples–no taffy candy, no hard caramels, not even regular apples were safe. Because of this, trick-or-treating became an old folktale we never got to experience; instead, we celebrated the holiday in costumes with sugary drinks and zombie-themed dinners. This was a tradition for the people who lived near Lake Berryessa.

Rumor had it that something lived in the water, sinking boats and dragging victims to the bottom of the lake to feast on their flesh, tearing people limb from limb. No one was safe, not even children; I found this out from personal experience. However, I was never ripped from the drylands and drowned at the bottom of the lake like the urban legends suggested. Nor was I sucked in by the giant sinkhole that swallows up the lake, allegedly filled with souls that died from a ghost town flooding many years ago. What I found was far more sinister. Something slept in the dark abyss of that sinkhole, awaiting the one night a year they could feast. Creatures that emerged from the waters, settled in the fog, and waited.

The icy autumn waters of the lake warmed in the California sun that day. A cloudy fog rose, dense with blue and grey pigment, making it impossible to see through. It was the perfect hiding spot for what rested just above the water. I was five years old when I saw them for the first time.

Although our Halloween wasn't a typical celebration, it was exciting nonetheless. I eagerly awoke that morning, calling all my friends to invite them over to our Halloween feast. Mom made chocolate pudding decorated like dirt with worms and jello-filled beakers that resembled toxic chemicals. She even made cinnamon sugar popcorn, my personal favorite. I played all day in my Count Dracula costume, chasing my younger sister around the house, screaming, “I vant to suck your blood.

Everything went as expected that day, and around six o'clock, my friends from school started to show up. We played games and danced to Monster Mash, as children do. It was glorious, genuinely nostalgic; even my older sister had come from a few towns over to celebrate. But to this day, I almost wish she hadn't. I don't blame her, no; I couldn't. But if she hadn't, I would have never noticed her candy apple in the fridge.

The sticky coating glistened and shined, practically glowing. Hues of red added a compelling element of desire, poking through the thick layer of light-brown chewy goodness. My sweet tooth had gotten the better of me, mouth-watering for just one bite of Diana’s apple. Surely she wouldn't be mad at me; she was my sister after all. One sneaky taste wouldn't harm anyone. It's Halloween, and I was forbidden to have such a wonderful delicacy. Surely she would understand, right? I thought to myself, eyeballing what was soon to be my most regrettable decision.

I reached my tiny hands into the refrigerator, balancing on my tiptoes, hypnotized by the tempting treat in front of me. I licked my lips, drooling as I grasped the white stick, plucking it from its parchment paper wrap. I wish I had put it back. No–I wish I never touched it. Instead, I took that bite, that one single, delicious bite. The sticky-sweet taste of buttery sugar wrapped around my tastebuds, melting in my mouth. Both sweet and tart, the perfect balance was soon ruined by the horrid taste of iron. When my teeth plunged into the apple, one of my front teeth pulled loose and cracked away from its root, dislodging itself from my gums and finding a new home in my sister's apple.

Panicked, I dropped the apple. Blood-filled saliva dripped to the floor, coating my chin in spitty, bubbly gobs of crimson. I stepped back, afraid. I had never lost a tooth before, and the pain was still sharp and unfamiliar. My hands trembled.

“Ma...Maa… MOMMY!” I yelled, wishing for a comforting hug and calm words. At that moment, I was met with much more fear and panic. My mother rushed to the kitchen, but came to an abrupt stop when she saw the apple on the floor and the blood dribbling down my chin. She stood frozen in the doorway, holding her hand over her mouth, silent.

“No...” she whispered, stepping back. “No sweet baby, no, why? You know the rules.” She turned off the playful tunes and walked away from the kitchen.

“Mom!” I yelled, chasing after her, grabbing at the fabric of her shirt. Tears flooded my eyes, and snot bubbled from my nose. I knew I had broken a rule but, was it really that bad?

She turned, batting my hands away from her. “No, go to your room now!” Her cheeks burned red, and her brows narrowed. I had never seen such a look on her face.

I sobbed, running to my room and slamming my door. How could one bite of an apple warrant such a drastic reaction? I listened as she shooed the other children from our home. Once silence fell over the house, I heard faint arguing with my sister; soon, she left too. Heavy steps echoed down the hallway, and my mother opened my door. Hushed and cracked, she muttered, “Ben, you need to come with me for tonight.”

I faced her as she stood in the hallway. No longer was she pink with anger; now, she looked rather pale and sullen. “Mom?” I whimpered.

She shook her hung head, tears falling lightly from her eyes. “I'm so sorry, Benny,” she whispered.

My mother took me to the farmhouse in the back that night and left me some blankets and pillows. She explained this was where I needed to sleep for the night and that she and Beth, my younger sister, would be sleeping in the basement. She kissed me on the forehead, wetting my face with tears as she told me she loved me. Then she disappeared behind the large barn doors, locking them behind her as she left.

Alone and nervous, I stood staring up at the giant doors, wondering if what I did was worth this kind of punishment. For hours I cried until my eyelids became too heavy to lift, and I drifted off into a sad slumber. As I slept, I dreamed. I dreamed that candied apples surrounded me, and though I resisted, I was forced to indulge, biting into apples over and over again. Every bite I took tugged at my teeth until they ripped from my jaw. I screamed, begging for the torture to end. Letting out a weak sob, I woke from my sleep choking on liquid pouring from my mouth.

The same metallic taste from earlier filled my mouth and coated my tongue in a thick sticky ooze. I spat, gobs of blood spewing from my mouth. This time I really did scream, screeching at the top of my lungs so loud I could feel my voice tearing in my throat. I subconsciously used my tongue to explore my mouth, finding the gaping holes left behind where my prepubescent teeth should have been. My tongue slid over those craters in my mouth, mashing my taste buds against them. Applying pressure added an immense amount of pain to my already aching gums. I could feel the sleek, wet, sliminess of my gums drenched in my fluid. I wanted to vomit.

Mommy!” I cried, spitting as I screamed. But mother never came.

I crouched and scoured the inside of the barn for some explanation. My eyes darted around, searching for some kind of explanation. That was when I heard something: a buzzing sound that vibrated hard in the drums of my ear. The buzzing shifted from one ear to the other, zooming around my head. I panicked and fell back as the buzzing grew louder, this time in numbers. Before I could open my mouth to scream again, tiny hands wrapped themselves around my lips, prying them apart by force. One set of hands turned into four or even five, tugging and pulling at my lips. Horrified, I tried to keep them shut, letting out hummed screams, desperately attempting to get away. As I waved my arms in front of my face, I could hear uninterpretable sounds, like an animalistic language.

I cried uncontrollably, fearing for my own life. The moonlight had peeked just enough through cracks in the barn roof, allowing my eyes to focus on what, to this day, are the most terrifying creatures I have ever seen. Tiny winged fairies with serrated teeth and black eyes flapped and buzzed around my mouth. They were covered in leather-like skin, pale and wrinkled in shades of gray and green. Spines poked through their skin, hunched and rounded as though they were malnourished. Four spider-like legs with claws protruded from their sides. This time I couldn’t help it: I let out a scream that could shatter glass. With full access, they wasted no time shoving their limbs into my mouth, fingers wiggling around the inside of my cheeks. I could taste the salt from their skin on my tongue. They clawed at my gums, searching for what was my last remaining tooth.

I thrashed and yelled, feeling them rip the final tooth from my gums. I felt my gums stretch and tear as it slipped out. More iron-filled fluid gushed inside my mouth, and I watched as these creatures fought one another, chewing and sucking on the tooth they had pried from my mouth.

That was the last of what I can remember from that night. I passed out after that, watching them wrap their leathery lips around my final molar. Seeing them lick their long serpent-like tongues around my bloody baby tooth was too much for a five-year-old to handle. I remember waking up to my mother holding me, sobbing, rushing me inside as she apologized. I remember the aching pain that radiated in my mouth for weeks to come and the trauma that still resides with me today.

They come from the abyss and rest in the fog. The fog moves over the water, and they wait until Halloween to feast. This is the one day a year they come out to fill their tummies with the sweet taste of children’s teeth—the milk teeth of all who lose a tooth on Halloween. I understand now. The rule was not some kind of mental torture. It was there to protect us from them.

fiction

Anjolene Bozeman

Read next: Regan's Discovery

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