Sam woke up feeling cold. His bedroom window was open, and the chill of autumn had settled on the room like icing sugar. Outside the stars were scattered across the sable dark, and the moon was dying into its left-hand cup. Luxuriant odors of night, of the dropped fruit of the damson tree in the garden, of rotting rain-maches leaves, invaded his bedroom. These smells had marched in on the boots of the figure who sat hunched against the far wall.
Sam shuddered. But the Tooth Fairy seemed exhausted. He or she--and Sam was still unable to discriminate--was hugging one knee. One foot stuck out at the end of the familiar mustard-and-green striped trousers, displaying to Sam the patterned sole of a huge boot. Weak moonlight glimmered in shiny eyes that had been observing Sam for some time.
"We're in a lot of trouble."
Sam sat up. "Why?" Whenever he tried to speak to the Tooth Fairy his heart swelled and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
"Have you ever been in trouble?"
Sam thought about it. He knew what it was like to hear a raised voice. He even knew what it was like to feel a virile slap hard enough to leave a giant red hand-impression on the back of his leg. "Yes."
"I mean big, bad trouble. I mean deep shit."
When the other kids at school used words like "shit," it meant nothing. When he occasionally overheard adults using such language--and the creature in the room talked like an adult even if it didn't look like one--then the words became frightening. They became real.
"I didn't do anything."
The creature snorted. "Didn't do anything," it mimicked nastily. The Tooth Fairy had a habit of choking on its own cynical humor, so that certain words squeezed out with a tiny cough. "You want to know what you did? You saw me, that's what you did. You're still seeing me now. That's enough, kiddiwinks. That's enough for anyone."
"I can't help it."
When the creature said "fuck," its teeth bared. As before, a perfect set of dentures were filed to sharp points. The enamel shone with dull, blue luminosity. The Tooth Fairy spat a tiny white ball of spittle on to the carpet.
"Are you a boy or a girl?"
The Tooth Fairy squinted at him for a long time. "Would you like me to hurt you?"
"I just wanted to know."
"You ask me that again and I'll bite your face off. I mean it."
The Tooth Fairy sat between him and the door. Sam felt his eyes watering. He wanted to shout for his mother, but now he was too afraid of the beast in his room.
"Calm down. I was only pretending to be mad. Shit. I'm sorry. Just calm down. I've got to think of a way out of this for both of us. I mean what I said when I told you we were both in trouble. Bad things are going to happen if we're not careful. Bad things."
The Tooth Fairy scrambled to its feet. It was agitated, moving around the room, touching Sam's things. It stroked a long, elegant and beringed finger across the curve of his football. It twisted the ear of his furry white rabbit. Stumbling against the plastic Crusader fort on the floor, the Tooth Fairy kicked out viciously, sending the fort skittering across the floor, toy soldiers plummeting from its battlements.
"I found my sixpence," Sam tried lamely. "Under the pillow. The morning after you came."
The Tooth Fairy released a thin howl of rage and exasperation, digging the fingernails of one hand into the palm of the other. Sam was terrified to see that the fairy had drawn its own blood. "Fuck! Fuck! Why did you do that? Why? Do you know when I found out you could see me, I nearly put your eyes out? I nearly did that! I could do it now!"
The creature poitned a trembling finger at Sam as it spoke. A mounting rage exploded and it scrambled across the room, leaping on to Sam's bed, pinning him by its bony knees. It leaned across him and exhaled sharply, the full force of the breath striking Sam in the right eye. There was a sharp odor again of bird droppings and horse's stables commingled with damsons and fresh mown grass and a painful, stinging sensation in his eye.
Sam shrieked. It was too much for him. His terror broke. Muuuuuummmm! Eeeeeeeeeehhh!!! Daaaaaaaadddddd!" His scream turned high-pitched.
The Tooth Fairy leapt back, aghast. "No no no! I shouldn't have done that. I'll have to pay for that! No no no! Stop screaming! Just stop screaming!" "Eeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhh!!!" Movement could be heard in the next bedroom. A muffled thump.
The fairy placed its ringed fingers across Sam's mouth. "Stop this! If you ever tell them, it will be worse for both of us!"
His parents' bedroom door squealed at the hinge. Footsteps padded on lthe landing between their room and his. A floorboard creaked. Sam bit hard on the fingers closing his mouth. The Tooth Fairy leaped back in astonishment, staring at the tiny crescent of tooth marks on its finger. It looked at the bedroom door.
"Don't ever tell them!" the creature hissed before leaping on to the windowsill. "Don't ever!" With that it escaped into the night.
Sam's bedroom door opened. Light flooded the room. It was his father, hair tousled, unshaved, eyes like a schoolboy's marbles dug up from the garden. "What's all the shouting about?"
Sam tried to speak but his breath came too short. He tried to say, "Tooth Fairy," but all that came from his mouth was a convulsive sob. He was hyperventilating.
"Come on, Sam. You've been having a nightmare. A nightmare. Now it's gone, eh? All right now. All right now." His father stroked his hair. "You're soaked in sweat, old lad. Soaked. You just go back to sleep because it's all right now."
Tucking the sheets in, his father looked up at the window. "It's freezing in here. No wonder." He closed the window, securing the catch.
"Leave the light on," said Sam.
His father hesitated. "I'll leave the hall light on and the door open. Or you'll never get back to sleep."
Sam closed his eyes in an act of compliance, opening them again as soon as his father had gone. He scrambled out of bed and peered through the window. The moon shone palely on the blue-gray slate rooftops of the neighboring houses. He let the curtain fall back and turned to gather up his toy fort. It was broken on one side. His ragged troops of assorted crusaders, U.S. cavalrymen, paratroopers and Red Indians lay scattered across the floor, vanquished by armies of nightmare. He left them to die where they had fallen.
Sam's eye, where the Tooth Fairy had blasted him with noxious vapors, was sore. He climbed back into bed, and after a short while he was asleep again.
The evening following the second appearance of the Tooth Fairy, Sam was sunk in a chair, quietly gazing into a picture-book. He became aware that his mother's gaze was fixed on him. He looked up at her, and her hard stare didn't falter. Neither did she smile, so he let his eyes dip back into the picture-book, still aware, at the periphery of his vision, of his mother's attention.
"That boy's got a cast," he heard his mother whisper.
Nev grunted apathetically from behind his newspaper.
"He has," said Connie. "Look."
The newspaper dipped slowly, until Nev's eyes and nose appeared above the headlines. "What?"
Sam pretended blissful unawareness of this attention.
"His right eye. It turns inward slighly."
"It's got to be looked at."
Defeated, Nev let his newspaper dip into his lap. "If that boy's not artistic, then he's autistic, or whatever the bloody word is. And if he's not double-jointed, he's blind in one bloody eye."
"I didn't say he was blind. I said he'd got a cast."
"Why don't you leave the kid alone instead of picking and pulling at him all the time?"
Connie wasn't to be placated. "Sam. Put your book down. Put it down. Now look at me. Now look at the door without moving your head."
Sam did as instructed. His mother crouched over him, her eyes owlish and full of overweening concern. His father looked resigned and sympathetic.
"No," Connie insisted. "It's got to be looked at."