Simon Webster thought he'd seen it all in his twenty-odd years as a dentist, however, the new patient in his chair, a Mr. Hood, had a cloven tongue. Dr. Sy, as everyone called him, had examined smooth, furrowed, and fuzzy tongues; pink ones, gray ones, and the black-brown tongues of smokers; tongues disfigured by trauma or tumors, but never one with a cleft down the middle and two wiggly tips. The patient's mouth was otherwise unremarkable, no decay, happy gums, and a pleasant smile. But his serpent tongue had mesmerized Sy, who sat there, bug-eyed and mouth open.
"It's a beauty, ain't it, Doc?" said Mr. Hood, laughing. His considerable gut shook when he laughed. "And the ladies just love it, know what I mean?"
Sy nodded despite having absolutely no idea what ladies love, except that it wasn't him. Sy's kind, thoughtful nature was well-obscured by his spindly frame, high-pitched voice, and balding pate; the only women who gave him the time of day were those with sore gums or fractured molars.
"I got this tongue from my Daddy," said Mr. Hood, his dark eyes twinkling, "as well as a few other, shall we say, endowments."
Although the office was air-conditioned, there were beads of sweat on Mr. Hood's forehead.
"But at least I didn't git his tail."
Once again, Sy's eyes popped and his jaw dropped, a new and unflattering look.
Mr. Hood burst out laughing. "Just messin' with you, Doc!" he said. He took a folded handkerchief from the breast pocket of his jacket and dabbed at his sweat and tears. "Ain'cha got no sensuh humor?"
"Sure I do," said Sy, without much conviction. He realized the visit was going poorly but still hoped to find some rapport with this strange man. "You know, you're a regular comedian, Mr. Hood. If you don't mind me asking, what do you do for a living?"
"Sebastian, please, call me Sebastian. What do I do?" He chuckled. "Well, I help people git what they want. Money, power, sex . . . whatever their li'l heart desires."
Sy was doing his flabbergasted flounder imitation again, for the third time in the patient's short visit. He wondered if years of working with mercury was starting to catch up with him.
"Well that's certainly, um . . . interesting," said Sy. "In any case, you have a very healthy mouth, Mr. Ho -- er, Sebastian, and Gladys, my hygienist, will be right in to clean your teeth. It was nice meeting you and, uh, I'll see you again in six months."
As Sy went to stand up, the new patient grabbed his hand and squeezed it powerfully, even painfully. Sy yelped, pulled himself free from the man's grasp, and retreated a safe distance to examine his hand. There was a business card in it but no obvious fractures. The card read:
Sebastian Hood, Esq.
Free Estimates 666-1020
"Great to meetcha, Doc!" bellowed Mr. Hood as Sy endeavored to walk, and not run, out of the room. In the doorway, the dentist glanced back at his newest and strangest patient. Immense in his ivory suit, Sebastian Hood lounged serenely in the dental chair, stroking his beard and sweating profusely: a pasha on his desert throne. He smiled at Sy and held an imaginary phone to his ear. Call me he mouthed.
Sy hurried out of the room and almost ran over his hygienist in the hallway, grabbing Gladys by the shoulders and stopping mere inches from her face. Up close, he noticed her gray irises had little flecks of green in them and he caught a whiff of her fragrance, a subtle flowery scent -- primrose perhaps -- and it felt so nice holding her, it was like . . .
"Are you going to propose or tell me about the new patient?" asked Gladys.
Sy jumped as if she'd dropped a live hand grenade at his feet.
"Um, tell you about the new patient, of course, uh . . . not that you're not a very, um, marriageable woman, I mean . . . uh, please don't see this as workplace harassment, I would never --"
"You're so cute, Dr. Sy," she said, giggling. "Is there anything you want to tell me about Mr. Hood?"
"Um . . . no, he's very healthy," said a beet-red Sy, staring intently at his shiny black loafers, "Just don't shake his hand." Gladys smiled as Dr. Sy fled the scene, then proceeded into the room where Mr. Hood lay waiting.
It was a clear, starlit Saturday night with a warm southerly breeze and a thousand possibilities in the air. As usual, Sy was home alone, watching baseball and drinking lite beer. His favorite team, the Devil Dogs, was getting blown out once again. The D-Dogs were in last place, playing in ugly uni's before sparse crowds in a musty arena already scheduled for demolition.
Still, they were pro athletes, thought Sy. Just look at them, strutting in and out of the dugout with their jungle-cat bodies and bartender goatees. And check out the women in the front row, smiling, waving, and winking at their favorite players. Oh my!
I wasn't a half-bad baseball player, thought Sy.
Little League Sy had been smooth, quick, and sure-handed. In high school and college, however, the coaches couldn't see past Sy's weak physique and he never made the cut. Deprived of the jock's swagger and already losing his hair, Simon, as he called himself then, sipped soda in the background at parties and watched better guys get the laughs, the small touches, and the knowing eyes from girls. Simon simply studied, and before he knew it he was graduating dental school at the top of his class. There were nine people at his graduation party.
Sy wondered, How would an extra thirty pounds of muscle have changed my life back then? Heck, how would thirty pounds of muscle change it now? He imagined himself at the gym, promenading past rows of babes on bikes, his massive, ripped arms bursting out of a tight tank top. Oh yeah!
Sy looked down at his lite-beer belly and patting it, forgot all about his little fantasy and decided he needed a beer. He opened the refrigerator and reached for a bottle, but then stopped and picked up a little rectangle of paper lying next to the six-pack.
It was Mr. Hood's business card. How'd that get in there?
Sy cracked open a lite-beer ("Manly taste yet only 12.5 calories!") and returned to the game, flipping Hood's business card in his free hand. The card felt warm but Sy knew it couldn't be since he'd found it in the fridge.
On TV, one of the Devil Dogs absolutely crushed a hanging slider for a three-run homer. As the player circled the bases, shoulders back to display his pumped-up chest, Sy celebrated, jumping up and down and waving Mr. Hood's card. The card suddenly got red-hot and Sy dropped it before it could burn his fingers.
What the hell?
After checking the skin on his fingertips, Sy got down on all fours and slowly crawled around until he spotted the card under an end table. He regarded it warily, as if it might bite.
The card called to him. "Free Estimates," it purred, "huge pecs," it hinted, "great sex," it suggested. "Call six-six-six, one-oh-two-oh," it cajoled.
Why not? thought Sy.
Sy was at the gym, resting between sets of bench-presses -- today's workout being pecs and tri's -- when he looked up and locked eyes with Shawnee. Shawnee, whose given name was Sharon, was once fat and flat-chested. But she'd discovered diet pills and breast implants, and now looked like a starving refugee trying to smuggle a couple of melons out of a Red Cross center.
Sy and Shawnee spoke briefly -- she was currently a dog-groomer with aspirations of becoming a game show hostess or a neurosurgeon -- and they agreed to have coffee together after their workouts. Then Shawnee strolled away to an empty spot in the corner, and began languidly touching her toes, her spandexed bottom working the room.
Sy imagined Shawnee sans spandex and knew she'd add a fun and exciting chapter to his new and increasingly-epic "Book of Nookie." Nevertheless, he found himself thinking about Gladys, his hygienist. She was smart and funny and quite interesting. She might end up in a different book, the "Book of Love."
Shawnee was lying on the floor now, her lean legs scissoring open and closed, open and closed. Sy looked on appreciatively, thinking, Gladys may be funny and smart but she sure doesn't look like that, she's sort of flat-chested and fat.
Sy started another bench-press set, ten reps at two hundred pounds, and remembered the fateful call to Mr. Hood, six months ago to the day.
"Thirty pounds of muscle? No problemo, Doc, just one teensy-weensy pill a day."
The little pink pill had worked like magic. Not only did Sy's flab turn to steel but his voice dropped down to a sexy baritone. A shaven head and a gold hoop earring completed the astounding transformation from Dr. Sy to Mr. Clean, and when Mr. Clean hit the scene, the women had come a runnin'. Oh yeah!
Sy added twenty pounds to the bar and did another set, slowly inhaling as the bar came down, then driving it up explosively with a loud grunt. He recalled asking Mr. Hood what the pills would cost.
"Let's see howya do, Doc, and we kin set a fair price at my next check-up."
Sy had done well, better than well: he was now bigger and stronger than any of his beloved Devil Dogs. As Mr. Hood's recall visit drew near, Sy had dreaded the day of reckoning. He worried the man might demand thousands upon thousands of dollars, maybe even try to blackmail him over the undoubtedly illegal drug. A dentist's reputation would never survive having his mug shot on the front page next to the story of his drug bust.
Sy had to chuckle as he increased the weight on the barbell to two hundred and forty pounds. Sebastian Hood and his Amazing Tongue had been in Sy's office only yesterday, and what did he want in exchange for the little pink pills?
A million bucks? Sy's first born? His new titanium driver?
"Quality dental care, Doc," Mr. Hood had said, "that's whut I want!" He'd looked down at his big, fat belly and laughed. "You kin see chewin's kinda important to me."
What a great deal, the man had never had a cavity in his life and there wasn't a speck of stain on his teeth. Sy had readily agreed and they shook on it, Sy once again getting the worst of the handshake despite now being able to curl hundred-pound dumbbells.
On the subject of dumbbells, Wilhelm, one of Sy's workout buddies, came by to say hi. The veins on his biceps were the size of small snakes.
"Vat's up, Dr. Zy? Did you try dat lat workout I showed you?" Although he'd been born in New Jersey, Wilhelm affected an Austrian accent and could recite entire passages from "Terminator II."
"No, I did quads and glutes yesterday," said Sy.
Now that he spent most of his free time pumping iron and discussing individual muscles as if they were members of Congress, Sy missed the more cerebral conversations he used to have with his fellow dentists. He noticed Shawnee waving at him, her permanently-erect nipples visible through her tight top from across the room. Sy looked forward to chatting with her over coffee but doubted she could spell, much less hold, cerebral conversations.
"Gotta run, Wilhelm," said Sy, "gotta date," indicating Shawnee with a toss of his head.
Wilhelm checked out Shawnee at length, then grinned at Sy, proudly displaying the new gap between his front teeth. "Hasta la vista, Bay-bee," said Wilhelm, slapping Sy on the back before sauntering over to a wall full of mirrors for a careful evaluation of his anterior deltoids.
On a rainy, overcast Monday morning, Sy woke up alone and cranky, his crotch covered in maple syrup. His thighs kept sticking together as he stepped over handcuffs, marbles, and a rather realistic-looking rubber snake to get to the bathroom. He'd stayed up way too late the night before with Shawnee, who'd brought over an article from a women's magazine, "50 Ways To Blow Your Man's Mind in Bed", and wanted to try them all. Sy had fallen asleep after #32, which involved C-batteries, a woolen scarf, and celery.
In the shower, Sy used a dull blade shaving and managed to nick his chin, his chest, and the back of his head. His monthly expenditure on razor blades, shaving cream, and Band-Aids now exceeded his malpractice insurance premium.
A long queue of school buses made Sy late for work and his first patient whined about having to wait. His second patient questioned his fees, his third didn't show. Patient four worried he was too numb, patient five wasn't nearly numb enough, and patient six felt that the chair was awfully uncomfortable. Sy suggested she'd be a lot more comfortable if she lost some weight or bought bigger jeans, whichever, and then he stalked off to lunch.
Sy walked to a nearby health food restaurant and had time to think while waiting for his meal, free-range shrimp on fetal greens with a bottle of Japanese glacier water. Lately he'd been feeling both conflicted and confused. Dentistry had certainly been good to Sy, he found it challenging and rewarding, both emotionally and financially. He was good at his work and for the most part his patients liked and respected him. But dentistry just wasn't any fun.
Now that he had a fabulous new physique, Sy relished all the attention and excitement that came with it. Every night brought a different party and new friends, not to mention lots of loose women with tight bodies. This part of his life was great fun but it wasn't real, for Sy knew that without the pink pills, he'd be The Invisible Man, not The Incredible Hulk. Further complicating matters was his growing attraction to Gladys, his hygienist. She'd worked with him for over a year now and had gotten to know both Invisible Sy and Incredible Sy: he wondered which Sy she preferred. Perhaps he should ask her out and find out.
Sy's meal arrived and as he ate the free-range shrimp with his fingers, he thought about Mr. Hood. Frankly, the guy was scary, a powerhouse hiding inside a fat suit. He was way too friendly and his mouth was so healthy and immaculate, he didn't really need a dentist. So why was he helping Sy? What did he really want?
Sy's beeper went off, ending his speculation. His first patient of the afternoon had been seated and was getting antsy. Damn! Sy hustled over to the cashier to pay his check, then found the pretty waitress and handed her a generous tip. She gave Sy a shy smile and a small scrap of paper with her phone number on it. These days it was just that easy.
Sy grabbed some toothpicks from a dispenser near the door and walked out into the driving rain.
It was a quiet, sleepy Saturday afternoon, and Sy was happy and horny as he soaped up in the shower. He was looking forward to his date that night with Gladys, she was fascinating to talk to and he dug her quirky sense of humor. They'd already been on several dates and it seemed only a matter of time till they were lovers.
Maybe tonight, thought Sy, grinning.
After rinsing his body, Sy looked down and was forced to admit the obvious: his testicles had shrunk. Had to be the pills, still, the rest of him was pure Greek God, granted, a chrome-domed, gold hoop-ed, slightly-stooped Greek God. If Gladys saw him naked tonight, would she notice how tiny his boys were? More importantly, would she care?
Sy had read a hundred or more books by female authors, and their male protagonists typically had jutting jaws, shocks of thick, black hair, and eyes of azure blue. For the most part they kept their pants on, except for the occasional display of "burgeoning manhood."
Sy tried to recall a single sentence written by a woman that contained the words "nuts," "stones," or "cojones," but he couldn't and had to conclude that women were oblivious to balls, big or small. Hopefully, when the moment arrived, Gladys would focus solely on Sy's manhood, which was burgeoning as well or better than ever.
That night, at their favorite place, Il Daemona Ristorante, Gladys was distant. Despite black tuxedo-ed waiters, red-and-white checkered tablecloths, candles in wine bottles with wax dripping down the sides, and the overpowering aroma of garlic, onions, and peppers in the air, she didn't seem to be having a good time.
"What's the matter, Glad?" said Sy.
"I'm not sure, Dr. Sy." He'd asked her to drop the "Dr." but she hadn't and he didn't push it. "I'm starting to really like you, really like us," she said. "But lately I'm disturbed at the way you talk to some of your patients."
She was right, the pills had made him a bit touchy. He'd snapped on several occasions now when a patient did or said something particularly asinine. Some of his patients were such idiots, it's a wonder he hadn't thrown anyone out the window.
"Yeah, well, I'm sorry about that, Glad," said Sy, "'cause I really like you too. I guess I'm gonna have to start being nicer to my patients -- if I want you to love me."
Gladys blushed and began picking at the dripping candle wax with her fingernail. She was careful at her job and Sy could see she was careful with her heart. He needed to do something terribly romantic, right now.
"Wanna share the bean and arugula salad, Glad?"
Gladys beamed and put her hand in his, and the rest of the dinner went splendidly.
Later, Sy and Gladys were necking in his car in front of her apartment building, but just as Sy's jeans were getting a bit snug in the crotch, Gladys broke it off.
"Sorry, Dr. Sy, but not tonight." She got out of the car and came around to the driver's side window. "We'll make love real soon, I promise, and when you least expect it." She kissed the tip of his nose, giggled, and went inside.
Sy groaned and was wondering what he was going to do with all this pent-up lust when his cell rang. It was Wilhelm, he was at The Lizard Lounge with his twin cousins, Olga and Helga, and they wondered if Dr. Zy was up for some partying.
Sy grinned and pulled away from the curb.
The Lizard Lounge was rocking as Sy elbowed his way to the bar. The bartender, Buzz, a patient, poured him an enormous snifter of Grand Marnier and said, "Salute, Dr. Sy!" Sy was still lit from the wine at dinner and when he swallowed the first sip of Grand Marnier, it burned his throat on the way down and set his brain on fire.
He walked around until he found Wilhelm and his twin cousins, and broke the ice by complimenting the sisters on their identical and quite symmetrical tit jobs. Apparently they'd used the same surgeon as Shawnee.
Sy's drink seemed to have evaporated and he quickly ordered another, and soon after, yet another. The more Sy drank, the wilder he got, but the twins just laughed at his antics and kept stroking his thick, chiseled arms.
Some hammered Goth chick got in Sy's face and asked if he'd seen Dave.
"No, Dave's not here," Sy replied, "but why don't you hang with us?"
The Goth girl, whose name was Dread, pondered this question for several seconds, momentarily going cross-eyed from the effort, then said, "Whythafucknot?"
Dread, Olga, Helga, Wilhelm, and Sy fell into a steady rhythm of drinks, jokes, laughter and sexual badinage. The last thing Sy remembered, he was dipping his index finger in his Grand Marnier and asking the ladies to suck it. And they were.
That night, Sy had the worst dream of his life. He was walking down a typical commercial hallway, all gray polyester carpet and harsh fluorescent light, when he came to a familiar door with "Simon Webster, D.D.S." on it. He entered his office but it was all wrong, there was artificial turf on the waiting room floor, day-glo parrots painted on the walls, and fake palm trees in the corners. Instead of sweet, friendly Martha, a female prison guard sat behind the front desk, reading "Mein Kampf" in paperback.
"Where's all my patients?" asked Sy, glancing nervously around the empty room. Without looking up from her book, the guard replied, "You lost them all, you stupid schweinhund!"
Sy cringed, and in a small voice said, "But how?"
The guard stopped reading and looked up at Sy with great disdain. She wore swastika earrings and had a ragged, raised scar above her eye.
"By walking around like that, dumbkopf!" she said, pointing.
Sy was shocked to see he was naked from the waist down. Worse still, his entire package had shrunk out of sight. There was just a small patch of hair down there, like a sad, lonely armpit.
Embarrassed, Sy rushed into one of the operatories only to find Mr. Hood sitting in the dental chair, puffing on a big, foul-smelling cigar. He wore a black pin-striped suit with a blood-red shirt and tie, and smoke was coming out of his nose, his ears, and the cuffs of his jacket and pants.
"Wh-what are you doing here, Mr. Hood?" said Sy.
"Sebastian, please, call me Sebastian." He laughed and now his teeth were sharp and yellow. "I've come to take what's mine, Doc. It's a little thing, really, you'll hardly miss it." He suddenly thrust a long, scaly claw at Sy who jumped back and fell over his stool, slamming his head against the floor.
Sy awoke from his nightmare lying on a carpet in total darkness. He felt strange objects scattered under and around him. They were shoes, he was in the walk-in closet of his condo, and someone was knocking on the closet door.
"Is Dave in there?"
Sy stood up and opened the door to a naked Dread. Her gaunt body was tattooed, pierced, pimpled and vaguely familiar.
"No, Dave's not here," mumbled Sy. He brushed past Dread into the bedroom, yawning and rubbing his eyes, and then he adjusted the blinds to let in some of the early afternoon sun. As the thick, ethanol fog in his brain began to lift, Sy realized he was wearing two pairs of women's panties, one the traditional way, the other on his head. Wondering what the hell had gone on here last night, he looked at his bed and flinched. The covers were way up in the air like a tent, a tent large enough to cover a baby whale, or in this case, a loudly snoring baby whale.
Oh my God, thought Sy, I screwed Shamu!
He grabbed the bed covers, and steeling himself for a sight that could well necessitate months, perhaps years of intensive psychotherapy, he slowly pulled them back.
Ph-e-e-w! It was just Olga and Helga, huddled together and asleep. Their nude bodies were streaked with ketchup and mustard and there were pieces of pretzel in their long platinum tresses. Although their implants were the size of soccer balls and their drapes and carpet didn't match, Sy found the snoring twins strangely beautiful.
Just then, the doorbell rang.
Sy dragged himself to the front door, yanking the panties off his head en route, and opened it. It was Gladys.
In an instant Sy saw everything: the bag of food with a champagne bottle peeking out, the small overnight valise, the red lipstick and black pumps, and the wide eyes staring at his leopard-spotted bikini bottom.
Think fast, thought Sy, but before he could open his mouth a voice yelled, "Is that Dave?"
Sy looked back towards the bedroom and heard Gladys gasp as Dread strolled out in the altogether, followed by the condiment-coated twins, yawning and stretching their arms w-a-y up in the air. Oh my!
When Sy turned around, Gladys was gone.
Sy was raking leaves behind the rehab center on a perfect autumn day. He'd been off the pink pills for sixty days now, and already his arms had become scrawny and the fringe of hair surrounding his bald pate had grown back, only now it was gray. Sy stopped to rest and took a few sips from his water bottle. The water wasn't from a glacier floating in the Sea of Japan, but it was cold and wet, and it would do.
Sy spied Buster, the orderly, lumbering across the lawn towards him. Buster naturally possessed the size and strength of a Kodiak bear, only he was meaner, and when Sy was in the throes of 'roid rage, Buster had subdued him using only as much force as was necessary for Buster to enjoy his work.
"You got a visitor, Dr. Sy," he said.
"A lady, kinda cute but flat-chested?"
"Nah, some dude in a suit. Gave me his card and nearly broke my damn hand shaking it, the fat fuck."
Sy was disappointed but not surprised. He didn't blame Gladys for keeping her distance and sooner or later, he'd expected a visit from Mr. Hood. He wished the massive orderly could accompany him and somehow protect him from Hood, but this was not Buster's problem, this was something Sy had to face alone. He thanked Buster for letting him know about his visitor and for the thousandth time, for helping him get clean.
"Nice guns," said Buster, smirking, as Sy trudged past him towards the main building.
When Sy entered the visitors' lounge, Mr. Hood was sitting on a tattered vinyl sofa, wearing a seersucker suit and a sweat-soaked Panama hat. There was a small traveling case by his feet.
"Hey, Doc! Howya been?" he said, extending his hand, but Sy kept his hands in his pockets.
"I'm fine, Mr. Hood, I'm finally starting to look and feel like myself again. They told me I could probably leave this place in another week or two. Speaking of leaving, you look like you're going somewhere."
"Matter a'fact I am, Doc, but please, call me Sebastian," he said, smiling widely.
Mr. Hood proceeded to say that he was heading south for a while, lots of places to visit and people to see. Quite a few outstanding accounts to settle also, but that was the nature of the business. "I was just passin' through the neighborhood, Doc," he said, "and I thought I'd stop in and chew the fat a while."
Sy gulped. "So you've come for my immortal soul?"
Mr. Hood looked mystified.
"Well you are Him, aren't you, the Prince of Darkness?"
Mr. Hood smiled kindly and mopped his sweaty brow with his handkerchief.
"Does it mattuh if I am or I ain't, Doc?" he said gently. "Either way you sold a bit of your soul back there . . . and either way you still got the rest of your life ahedda you. Maybe you win that filly back and restart your practice, maybe you don't. S'up to you, Doc."
Sy was embarrassed but greatly relieved to know he still had a future, not to mention a soul.
"Mr. Ho --, er, Sebastian, I must apologize for calling you the devil. Between the pills and the booze, your cloven tongue and the way you sweat, I was just . . . confused."
Sy could see Hood was human, just a roly-poly Southerner with a loud mouth and an incredibly firm grip. And he wasn't a bad guy, really, even if he did get folks in trouble by helping them get what they want.
"I like you, Doc," said Mr. Hood, standing up and smoothing the wrinkles from his trousers. "And I think you gonna be just fine. But if you ever need somethin' badly, just hafta have it, then look in your wallet, right next to your Mastuh Card."
Mr. Hood tipped his hat and said, "Gotta mosey now, Doc."
The man turned and slowly waddled towards the exit, the late afternoon light making his skin look bright red. Before he reached it, the door swung open, probably from a gust of wind, and that same wind groaned like a chorus of the damned.
Curious, Sy looked in his wallet and there it was: Mr. Hood's business card. Holding it close, Sy could see it was printed in blood and there was no doubt about it, the card was warm. He looked up and saw Mr. Hood's smiling crimson face in the doorway, just moments before he disappeared.
Call me he mouthed.
Originally published in Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine.