Selection from the short story "We Could Have Been Huge" - By Paul Lee
Simon The more he thought about it, the worse it got.
He couldn't stop thinking about it.
It kept getting worse.
Simon was lying on his bed in the dark. It was like his brain was accelerating and careening and fishtailing down a greased-up Mobius strip, all pumping and smashing down the brake pedal but the brake pedal is really the gas pedal (and the gas pedal is also the gas pedal). It was like floating in the vacuum of outer space with nothing but a brown paper bag to breathe in.
He was flat on his back, stretched out like Gulliver. At the moment Simon was a tiny terrified presence running in circles somewhere deep in the dark backwoods of his own mind. And he was trying to chew his teeth off. Because they were bothering him.
He'd seen this stupid commercial on TV for something or other. It had featured this guy who, with special effects, was dancing around with this huge mouth and huge huge white teeth, singing and grinning. It was supposed to be comic, he guessed, but the guy's digitally-altered face had looked so distorted that it was unsettling, and the image had stayed with him. Then Simon had started thinking about how uncomfortable it would be to have teeth that big. Like how even when you closed your mouth, your teeth would be so big that it would still feel like your mouth was partially open. He couldn't stand the thought of that feeling. And then he had started thinking about his own teeth and how they weren't really all that small either. They were probably bigger than average. Which meant that maybe he couldn't close his mouth all the way compared to the average mouth. And then all of the sudden he felt that feeling that he had imagined to be terrible, and it was just as terrible as he had imagined. He clenched his teeth together but it still felt like his mouth was wide open. He thought of that old cartoon gag where a shark has its mouth open, just about to chomp the mouse, when the mouse wedges a stick vertically inside the shark's mouth. His own teeth suddenly felt like foreign objects that were preventing his jaws from meeting. They felt like rocks in his mouth. And now what he wanted more than anything was for his teeth to disappear and for his gums to be able to touch each other. In fact he wanted to be able to close his mouth so that they would be so closed that his lower jaw would somehow be above his upper jaw. That would be great, he thought. He couldn't stop wanting this, couldn't think about anything else, and his teeth felt like rocks. He wanted to spit them out.
"Hey," said his teeth in unison.
"What," said Simon. "Get out of my mouth."
"You can't get rid of us," they jeered.
He was trying to stop thinking about it so he could sleep, but his eyes kept flying open. He'd been grinding and tonguing his teeth. His entire jaw hurt and his tongue was worn raw. He kept biting down on all the soft parts of his mouth, hating the way the flesh would give against the inorganic hardness of his teeth. The taste of blood curled in the back of his throat. He could feel the planet orbiting.
He bolted up and went to the bathroom, flicked on the light above the sink. His face was pale in the mirror. Pearls of sweat were clustered on his upper lip. He leaned into the glass and pulled his lips back. His teeth were gaunt white slivers of bone, crooked and embedded in his bright red gums.
"You're not so pretty yourself, Simon," they teased.
He stuck his fingers in his mouth and pried. He pried at his teeth as hard as he could, a restrained sound somewhere between a whimper and a howl coming slowly from his throat. He pulled his fingers out and stared at the saliva and the red teeth marks on his fingertips.
Simon stumbled downstairs and ran out the door of his building into the night, his fingers clutching his teeth. His nails drew blood from the fleshy backs of his gums, and his teeth were clamped down hard on his knuckles.
"You can't ignore us, Simon," said his teeth.
"Stop, please," Simon said, pleading.
"Simon. Simon, where are we going," they asked.
"Oh Simon," they smiled.
He dug his nails deeper into his gums, trying to scrape the feeling away. Pink crescents of flesh came away from his gums, stuck under his nails. Blood welled up in the bottom of his mouth. He kept running, grabbing his lips, striking his teeth with his fist, cutting his knuckles. He clawed his face until his cheeks bled.
As he ran, he stumbled and fell in the dirt. A sharp rock tore his pant at the knee, and he writhed on the ground with a hand on his knee and a hand in his mouth. When the pain subsided, he sat up and took the rock in his palm.
"What are you doing, Simon," said his teeth.
"You don't have the balls," they snorted.
Simon grinned big and brought the rock to his mouth, hard, and again, harder. Sparks flew behind his eyes. His head went numb. He put the rock between his teeth and bit, hard, feeling his jaws close and crunch, until he felt his gums hit stone. He spat bone and blood.
Putting the rock down, he scooped up the mixture of dirt and broken teeth from the ground to examine. It looked just like a handful of old shattered porcelain. They were lifeless.
Simon gripped the rail in the crooks of his elbows and adjusted his feet along the narrow edge of the drop. The concrete was slick. He peered down at the ink-black water, watched it rush relentlessly underneath him and under the bridge. He imagined the initial impact and the coldness, and then he imagined his body being swept away in it, first maybe bobbing in it like a buoy, and then soon getting pulled under, tumbling head over heels and hitting sharp rocks and letting the dark water flood his lungs. He imagined being discovered later by an old man and his dog, halfway beached on a muddy bank on a chilly afternoon, and then getting dragged into an old ambulance, all bloated and gray like an overripe fruit. They would try to identify him with dental records but would discover that he didn't have any teeth. He imagined being sealed inside a wooden coffin at a closed-casket funeral with no one there but himself and the chain-smoking pastor, and he imagined how his body would knock around in the wooden box while they dropped it into the ground and after that it would be maybe like sleeping.
He closed his eyes and clenched his gums together, feeling the sharp broken bits of teeth still embedded in them, and then he did a swan dive.
But his loosened necktie caught onto something, and suddenly he was jerked by the neck so hard it almost snapped his head off. Then he was hanging with his feet dangling over the water. His own weight was tightening his necktie around his neck like a noose. He choked and kicked. One of his oxfords kicked off and dropped into the river. And suddenly a pair of powerful arms pulled him up. He was being rescued. They flopped him violently back onto the bridge like a big fish and he lay there, stunned.
When he stumbled to his feet, a pair of cold hands closed around his neck, and he found himself staring into a face that made his gut drop into the seat of his pants. The face looked too ancient to be alive, its skin nearly decomposing and its wrinkled mouth stretched open and hissing, and he felt its horrible breath on his face. It smelled like the dead. Its single eye bore into him from its sunken socket. Its cold gray iris looked like compressed metal. He started to scream, but something slammed down on his head and he crumbled.
He stood up again, this time like a baby standing for the first time. The world spun and swirled around his head and he could barely see anything, but he knew he had to run and he ran. He moved his legs and he was only dimly aware of what he was doing, but could hear the ground moving underneath him. As he ran, he brought his fingers to his head. He could feel his skull broken, could shift the broken shards of bone around like pieces of a broken plate. He bore his fingers in, past the skull into the warm wet mysteries of his head until he poked something spongy. The taste of strawberries suddenly bloomed in his mouth.
He licked his lips and wedged his finger deeper into a crevice. He thought he heard some music, as if it were playing on a distant radio somewhere. There were mandolins. It wasn't like any song he'd ever heard before, but it still sounded familiar and he started humming to it while stumbling over concrete. He felt kind of happy for a moment. Then world around him shifted purple and he was running upside-down, and suddenly he was lying in his crib in the dark, gazing up at the moon in the window. It was big, white and round, and he reached his baby arms up to catch it, but his hands came together with nothing. It wasn't as close as he thought.
He snapped back to the present, still running. He moved his fingers into another crevice in his head, jammed them deep, and curled his fingers. Time began to slow down. He was still running, but his steps were in slow motion. He floated in the air for what felt like a few seconds before his other foot touched the ground again, like he was Neil Armstrong. Time slowed further and further until he wasn't moving at all, just suspended with one foot frozen in the air. Everything was silent. The river had stopped moving. And then his feet started moving slowly backwards. He was rewinding, running in reverse, now at full speed. The black river was now making a loud sucking sound instead of a roar, flowing backwards. His shoe reemerged from under the bridge and flew back onto his foot. His teeth came out of the dirt and reconstructed themselves in his mouth. The blood on his face and shirt sucked back up into his vessels. He ran backwards all the way home, his tally of steps diminishing, counting down. Things began to rewind faster. He ran backwards out of his office building at what felt like 100 miles per hour until they hadn't hired him yet, and then he was speeding backwards through college, kissing his first girlfriend for the first time, and then wondering whether or not he would lean in for a kiss. High school and junior high blurred by even faster as he flew out of trashcans and fists flew from his face back into the pockets of letterman jackets. He wondered what he wanted to be when he grew up. He ran back further and watched his father's head reattach itself to his body. Pet goldfish flew out of toilets into their pickle jars. And then he was a toothing infant again, and he hadn't learned to walk yet, and so his step tally was at zero, and soon he was lying in his crib, and hadn't yet stretched out his arms, and the moon was still in reach, floating right above him, ready to be grabbed by his baby hands and played with.
He heard short steps approaching close behind him. It was night, and his teeth were broken, and he was running forwards. The river was roaring. He looked up at the sky and saw the moon. It was bright and round. He removed his fingers from his head and began reaching for it, but something smashed his skull again and the moon disappeared and he was dead.