The man with the terrible teeth is having a problem.
The man with the terrible teeth doesn't know why his teeth are so terrible, except that they tend to hurt sometimes for no reason. When he grins, people shy away, pale and unsettled, so he never grins. He puts his hand over his mouth when he speaks, hoping nobody catches sight of his teeth.
When he was younger, he used to think it was his breath. His parents would make him brush and floss several times a day to try and make his teeth more appealing. They took him regularly to the dentist-- several dentists, actually, as his dentists had a bad habit of dropping them as patients and never confirming follow up appointments. There was nothing wrong, the dentists would say. The teeth were properly aligned, they were clean, they were sharp where they needed to be sharp and dull where they needed dullness, the enamel was strong and the gums were healthy. Braces weren't an option. There was no need for a retainer.
But all the same, his teeth were bad.
And now, after years of perfect and troubling dental health, his gums are bleeding.
They won't stop bleeding.
He spends the day and much of the evening at work in the university, cataloging books and keeping his mouth shut, feeling the blood pooling inside, drowning his tongue. At first, he swallowed the blood, but it was too much, too warm and metallic, too thick going down his throat. He'd gulp down entire mouthfuls and then, minutes later, he'd have to do it again.
Now he's rushing into the bathroom for the third time to spit into one of the toilets. There's not many people here; the library is four stories tall, and the top floor where he's at, the one designated a silent study floor, where the only things on the shelves are old theses from past alumni, is usually empty unless it's finals week. Only then are the study carrels full of desperate students trying to cram or finish projects.
He spits out a loogie of blood and phlegm and whimpers.
He'll have to go see a dentist.
He hates seeing dentists.
He leaves the bathroom, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, hoping and praying that there's no blood visible.
A quick glance out the window tells him night has fallen; outside, he sees the lights of the town through the upper story window, and anxiety grips his throat. How did it get so late? How long was he in the bathroom, spewing out blood? He hasn't gotten hardly any actual work done today-- he'll have to stay even later to make up for it.
He wonders if his boss is still in the building. He wonders if the dentist office is still open, and if he can still call to make an appointment for tomorrow. He wonders why this is happening, and if he should have just stayed home.
As he walks through the shelves, pushing his book cart, the automatic lights flicker on as he passes. There are motion sensors hidden around the place, not for security purposes, but to trigger the lights; some of these books are old, and having the lights off unless needed protects them and saves the building money. Normally, he let himself be amused by the lights. Even on days when he's tired or sour, having the lights flicker on in his wake woke some childish part of him that wanted to be a superhero. The protagonist in some film noir, standing ominously beneath a streetlamp.
Today, they provide no such comfort.
What is he going to tell the dentist?
Then, the lights on the other side of the floor turn in.
He pauses, confused. Was there someone else still here after all? He wants to call out, but can't; there is already more blood pooling in his mouth.
The lights in the next aisle, closer to him, turn on.
Reluctantly, he swallows down the blood-- how he is learning to despise the coppery taste!-- and says,
There's no answer.
"Excuse me," he says, moving towards the lights, "this floor is closed. If you need, I can escort you downstairs to the--"
The words die in his throat.
In front of him, stalking through the aisles, is a monster.
It's the size of a man, a tall man, but it is not the shape of one. It is too thin in places-- spindley upper arm the width of a broomstick, a waist as thick around as his wrist-- but grotesquely muscular in others. Its forearms reach down to the floor and widen almost conically to accommodate sets of massive claws, and it has no legs; it looks as though it is gliding in a surf of writhing tendrils of darkness.
The creature is black, but not a normal black. Its skin skimmers like liquid, like the creature itself is made from dark oil, and it moves with a languid grace. Its mouth takes up the entire center of its face and travels down its neck, into the center of its chest. And on its forehead, there are three small, reflective plates that he knows instinctively are eyes.
His jaw drops. Blood dribbles from his mouth, soaking the front of his shirt and landing on the floor in thick splashes.
"What are you?" he breathes.
The creature doesn't answer. Instead, it launches itself at him, its enormous maw open, revealing shiny black teeth that glint in the weak light.
The man with the terrible teeth suddenly feels an all-consuming pain in his jaw. He crumples to the ground before the creature even touches him. The monster sails overhead and he writhes on the floor, gasping and clutching his head, blinded by the pain.
The creature turns towards him. This time it doesn’t lunge for him. This time, it moves with slow calculation.
"No," he says, finding his voice. He scrambles backwards, crab-walking on the floor. Blood spills from his mouth, and tears spill from his eyes.
Still the creature comes for him.
"No!" he says, this time louder. Blood hemorrhages from his mouth. It seems impossible that he should lose so much of it and still be alive.
In his mind, he knows he is shouting "no!" again and again, but he cannot hear his own voice. All he can hear is the rush of blood pounding in his ears, and the low, guttural growls of the creature in front of him.
Then, the creature stops.
It lets out a howl of anger and whirls around. With a shriek, it thunders away, through the maze of shelves and into some other part of the library.
The man with the terrible teeth stares, dumbfounded.
Behind and above him, a voice says,
“Are you alright?’
He flinches at the sound, then maneuvers himself to see the source.
There is a man in the library. He is unfamiliar, not a normal patron or worker. He is tall, but not beyond the edge or ordinary. His salt and pepper hair has more pepper than salt, except his goatee, which is the opposite. His build beneath his tailored business suit is stocky, but whether that is because of muscle or because of fat, the man with the terrible teeth cannot say.
The strange man does not offer to help him up, just watches as he struggles to his feet.
“Who are you?” splutters the man with the terrible teeth.
“I’m here to help,” says the stranger smoothly. The stranger reaches around and takes hold of the man with the terrible teeth’s shoulders, leading him towards the stairwell. The man with the terrible teeth is too frightened to argue.
“That thing,” he babbles. “What was it? That thing!”
“I’ll tell you later,” says the stranger. “The important thing is--”
Bookshelves explode up ahead, and not one, but two of the monstrous creatures are there, fighting one another. They snap and bite and claw at each other, shrieking and howling. They roll past in a tangle of alien limbs and darkness, toppling the bookshelves and sending books and loose papers flying.
His legs threaten to buckle beneath him, but the stranger keeps hold and guides him through.
"Don't worry," he says, his voice full of confidence. "Just this way, now."
They travel down the stairwell, leaving the sound of the battling monsters behind. On the lower floors of the library, there's no indication of the monster fight, not even the sound of it. The library is calm, dark, and empty. Even the night guard is nowhere to be seen.
"Where's John?" says the man with terrible teeth, spurting blood.
"The security guard? Don't trouble yourself," says the stranger.
Guilt weighs in his belly like a stone. He wants to follow the stranger's advice, but can't help but notice the man didn't say that John was actually alright.
They make it to the front of the library. The doors are locked, but the man with the terrible teeth has the key. He lets them both outside. He wants to call the police, or animal control, or something, but the stranger makes no indication that he intends to. Once they're outside, the stranger appears, if possible, even more confident, more satisfied. The stranger takes the lead, and the man with the terrible teeth follows.
They stand on the sidewalk outside of the library, in the empty back parking lot, and wait.
The man with the terrible teeth has questions, so many questions, but he cannot bring himself to ask them.
Monsters are real and they’re in the library.
It seems like a bad dream. It happened moments ago, but already it feels distant, as though his mind is trying to obscure the truth from him, even as he stands shivering in the night air with a stranger, soaked in blood.
Just as he's gathering the courage to ask what next, the back doors of the library open, and a boy walks out.
The boy is small-- ten years old? Eleven? Definitely still in grade school-- and looks highly irritated. A private school escapee in a freshly pressed uniform, his collared shirt tucked in neatly to his pressed pants. His pale yellow hair is meticulously combed, and The man with the terrible teeth is reminded of the Mormon missionaries who occasionally knock on his door. The boy shifts uncomfortably as he walks towards them, as though the shirt is too stiff, the collar too tight, but he comes to attention as the stranger approaches him.
"Did you take care of it?" says the man.
Frustration flashes across the boy's face, but is gone as quickly as it had appeared. His face becomes impassive. Remote.
"Yes, sir," the boy says, his tone carefully neutral.
"Excellent. Why don't you have Anton bring the car around, and we can escort our guest home."
The boy nods stiffly and then, seemingly against logic, goes back inside the library.
The man with the terrible teeth has too many questions. His head is killing him, his teeth are aching, and though the flow of blood has finally ceased, he is still drenched in the stuff.
Monsters, he thinks again. Monsters are real, and they’re in the library.
For a split second, he has the sudden, fearful urge to call his manager and let him know. The moment the thought crosses his mind, he is torn between laughing and weeping.
"What's going on?" he says to the stranger, half-gulping, half-sobbing out the words.
The strange man pats his shoulder and offers him a friendly, almost fatherly smile. As he does, an enormous, black SUV pulls into the library parking lot. Though he cannot see the person driving, he can vaguely make out the pale figure of the boy in the passenger seat.
"I'm sorry," says the strange man. "I didn't introduce myself earlier. My name is Simon Brandenburg, and I think we should talk."