09 Aug Mr. Strangeteeth
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"Mr. Strangeteeth"Written by
Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
Apparently everyone is in on the joke or I’ve been living under a rock so I’m sorry if any of this is redundant but I have to reach out because things have gotten really out of hand.
I think the first time I encountered Mr. Strangeteeth was the day I called my cousin Greg a liar. This was, okay, three-ish years ago. I was at a family reunion in the Outer Banks. Grandma booked a spot right off the beach but it rained, like, the whole week. Some cousins and I got bored so we decided to drive into town. We’d come in from the north and the whole land mass is basically one strip, so we piled into Becky Ann’s and Cyrus’s cars and drove south.
It was terrible driving weather and we were all laughing in the back so none of us blamed my brother for taking a wrong turn. To be honest, we didn’t really think you, uh, could? I mean, it’s a straight road up and down. Beach on the left, beach on the right. But what did we know, we didn’t live there.
My sister’s car must have stayed on the right road because she and the three cousins inside were no longer in sight. I remembered Rin was in the passenger seat, so I called her up.
“Where are you guys?” I asked.
“We’re still on the road. Where are YOU?”
“I… thought that’s where we were, too.” I lowered my phone and called up to Cait, who was trying to get the GPS to cooperate. “Any idea yet?”
“Not… really,” she said, pressing hard on the screen.
“Okay, well, if we see anything cool, we’ll text you guys,” she said. “Otherwise, we’ll see you back at the house.”
At least, I think that’s what she said, because the call was dropped and wouldn’t reconnect.
Our car ended up on this tree-lined road where all the plants looked like they weren’t supposed to be there. And it’s not like they were magically adapting to this climate. I mean they all looked sick. I think I even saw a cactus in the ground, but I was distracted when Liss said she saw a town through the trees. We thought she was joking at first, but Cait saw it, too, so Cyrus turned the car down the first side road he could see.
So Liss was kind of right. It wasn’t a town, it was more like a bunch of shops connected together on stilts in case of flooding. Not uncommon. Most of the stuff we’d seen in the Outer Banks was built like that. There were only a couple of other cars in the lot, but it was a sign of civilization at least, and that’s really all we were looking for.
Cait said she’d stay in the car to figure out how to get back. Cyrus offered to stay with his fiancée, but she said that was fine, he could text her if there was anything worth checking out.
These details might not seem important to you, but they feel crucial to me. I’ve turned the events over and over in my head again. Who was where. Who did what. How it could have turned out differently.
I think I’m lucky.
So there were 3 of us – Cyrus, Liss, and me –who ended up darting through the rain to the shops. We wandered from window to window under the long blue roof.
“Everything’s closed,” Cyrus said.
Liss pressed her forehead to the windows as we walked along the white wooden planks. (At least, I assume they once were all white. Most of the paint had stripped away.)
Cyrus jumped up and down on the wooden walk.
“It feels like it’s going to break,” he said.
I scowled. “Then don’t do that.”
But I jumped on the beams, too. He was right.
“Yeah, this feels really old.” I looked up and saw Liss had gone off ahead. She was looking in one of the last windows.
“Is that the end?” I shouted. I wanted to leave. The rain was leaking through the roof and the wind was pushing it sideways onto us. I felt like the soggy wood was about to give way. I kept thinking about landing on a misplaced cactus.
“Yeah, I think… WHOA!” Liss jumped away from the window like someone had pulled on the back of her shirt.
“Someone’s in there!”
“I guess? She waved at me.”
So obviously we had to go check it out.
I can’t remember what the store’s name was on the sign, but I remember thinking it was something pretty normal for the area, like “Sadie’s Treasures” or whatever. The store was full of the same nautical knick-knacks we’d seen everywhere else, the same shirts that said things like “OBX LYFE” and “DON’T TOUCH ME, I’M A MERMAID.” But the shelves behind the counter were full of glass candy jars. The counter had hollowed out spaces for displays, but there weren’t any treats on the shelves.
As we entered the store, this hot, stifling smell surrounded us.
The woman behind the counter didn’t seem bothered by it.
“Hi kids,” she said.
We’re almost thirty but when we said hello, we sounded like children.
“Where you from?”
I didn’t want to tell her, and apparently neither did Liss or Cyrus. Liss mumbled, “New York?”
“Oo, fuuunnnn,” the woman said.
The woman had this, like, bizarre manic aura. She stood like she was sitting back on her hips. She never showed her teeth when she talked. Her arms sat on the counter like they were heavy. Her eyes were covered in smudged mascara. I couldn’t read what was on her faded black T-shirt. Her hair was knotted back with pieces of twine into large, messy knots. I wondered why her store was the only one open today, and then I felt kind of bad for her.
But the three of us averted our eyes and started wandering around the shop until it felt like we’d done our time and could leave. I looked at the candies behind the woman’s head. Some of them were melted into total mush. They kinda looked like preserves, but completely rotten. It would explain the smell. But doesn’t the Outer Banks specialize in, like, seafood? Not peaches or whatever?
Liss scrolled on her phone. She said to me, quietly, “I can’t check in.”
“Yeah, I can’t find it listed.”
I was staring off into space when Liss and Cyrus said, “Thank you, thanks,” and drifted towards the door.
We were almost out. Almost.
“Do you wanna try a sample?”
We turned around. She had a spoon in her hand with some kind of crunchy brown thing on it.
“It’s Sweettooth. We make it here. Try some.”
Cyrus said no and no one was surprised, he was never big on candy. I took a piece.
“Is it vegan?” Liss asked.
The woman looked at Liss and then at the piece of candy, and I was wondering if the woman knew what being vegan was or if she had no idea what was actually in the candy, even though she said they made it at the store.
“Sure,” she said.
“Eh, that’s okay, thanks,” Liss said.
I think the way Liss and Cyrus were side-eyeing the candy made me want to try it more so I could reaffirm myself as the crazy one of the bunch. And I did. I put it in my mouth and it was the texture of undercooked popcorn. But it tasted sort of chocolate-cinnamon-y, and there was this other flavor, this rich quality to it that I can only describe as being like meat juice. But it wasn’t BAD exactly, it was just strange, like tasting barbecue crickets for the first time.
I bought a bag of it. Liss and Cyrus stared at me, so I told them, “The others will never believe this unless we bring something back.” Cyrus joked that if we’re going to bring them back strange candy, then they better be at least getting us Starbucks from the actual town we were looking for.
We drove back up the road and it was strange again how it was like we were supposed to have gone there. I mean, I was really thinking at this point that it was Becky Ann who took the wrong turn. On the way back, Liss called up Rin, and she said they’re already heading back to the house, because there really just wasn’t much to see around that part. Like a Harris Teeter or something. My phone buzzed in my hand and I saw reception had come back for me, too. I had a Snapchat from Brittany of their group with two trays of Starbucks.
We got back to the house and went up to this loft space away from our parents so we could talk about where we’d been. I pulled out the bag of candy and showed them. It didn’t have any nutrition facts on it or anything, just a branding stamp and a piece of masking tape to hold it closed. Rin, Becky Ann, Brittany, and Greg were all on the verge of trying it until I described what it tasted like. I didn’t say that my stomach felt weird because I thought it was car-sickness, but in retrospect, I don’t think it was.
They were all hesitating when we were called downstairs for dinner. And we forgot about it for the rest of the night, caught up in games and gossip and food comas. Around eleven, we broke out our liquor stash, so we weren’t exactly in the headspace for trying strange candy. We were more interested in the cold pizza in the basement fridge.
The next day was sunny so we all actually swam a bit. After the post swim showers, we were all looking for something to do that didn’t take much brainpower. We ended up outside on the prickly grass with the bag of candy. Liss and Brittany wouldn’t go into the grass because there burrs in it and they’d both gotten pricked before, so they sat on the cobblestone driveway.
Cyrus didn’t want to eat the candy, but he was all for throwing it around. I volunteered the bag because it was way over-stuffed and I still felt sick, and now I was suspecting the candy. So we all started tossing it up in the air to try to catch it in our mouths. Cait joined Liss and Brittany in trying to take goofy, artsy pictures of us mid-throw. Rin ran up to the balcony that faced the driveway. She wanted to try to get a birds-eye-view with her Canon.
For the best mid-air shot, Rin would shout, “1, 2, 3, Go!” and we’d toss.
So it was Greg, me, Becky Ann, and Cyrus in a square, tossing the candies up, and across, and laughing when the weird globs hit our faces. Cyrus would spit out the candy if he caught it in his mouth. Becky Ann pulled off a small piece to try it, but she was not about it, so she started spitting out her successes, too.
Greg said it was alright and he would eat the ones he caught, although I wondered if he was just saying that because most people didn’t like it.
Rin started laughing hysterically from the balcony. We kept asking, “What? What?” So she ran down to show us the picture.
While Rin was coming down, the others pulled up their pics from the last round to see if they caught anything that was as funny. Liss’s picture ended up at the sky, Cait’s had taken before we tossed, and Brittany had been clearing some memory from her phone.
We looked at Rin’s picture. Becky Ann pointed at the picture and said, “Whoa Greg, from the way it blurred, it looks like you have two sets of teeth.”
“Exactly!” Rin said.
We were all kind of laughing because it totally did look like that. Our mouths were all gaping open and everything was in focus except for his mouth and jaw.
Greg wasn’t laughing. He kept asking Rin about the picture, if she was sure it was last one she took, but Rin said yes, it was, and she pulled up the details, and the time stamp was right, and then Greg made us all shut up. He said, “That can’t be the last picture you took. I dropped my candy. I was bending down when you took it.”
I mean I guess you can imagine what the conversation was after that, which wasn’t much of a conversation, it was all of us assuming that someone was wrong or someone was joking around and then finally we landed on maybe he was lying, lying just to be creepy and weird, because we were bored and we all kind of like stuff like that. But it broke out into an argument until we were called in by our parents to help with dinner. And for the rest of the trip, we didn’t talk about it anymore because it was really tense and we were out there to have a good time. You can have a stupid blowup over a stupid thing with your friends but you have to be a little more careful with your family because there’s a certain point on the Richter Scale where it will become a part of family lore. And it was hot out and we were hungry and we’d all been eating too many ice cream bars and drinking too little water, so we were thankfully just all old enough to know when to quit.
I hid the bag of candy, what remained of it, in my suitcase. I felt bad, like weirdly ashamed, because I was the one who bought the candy. It was like we were yelled at after having fun, but we didn’t really know why. I also blame some of Greg’s and my bad moods on the candy. My stomach really felt nauseous consistently for the rest of the trip.
I thought that was the end of it. We all left the beach house. We went home.
Then Greg was in the hospital.
His mouth had been hurting, Liss told me. It got worse the week after we got back. He went to the dentist, and they said it might be a root canal. They took some tests. But he couldn’t sleep. He was in so much pain. He went to the ER.
They kept him there. All of his teeth were infected. His gums were in terrible shape. Root canals in every tooth. When he’d been fine before. Clean bill at the last dentist appointment.
It was almost a year before he could have solid food again.
When I heard this had happened, my mind immediately went to the candy. My mouth felt fine, but my stomach was still in bad form. I pulled the bag of candy out of my suitcase and immediately knew that have been a mistake to even pack it. It smelled bad, like it had in the shop we bought it from.
Then I noticed the stamp on the bag. I thought it was the store’s logo, or the name of the candy. But it said, in a light red circle, “Mr. Strangeteeth.” And I thought that was weird, because that definitely wasn’t the name of the store, though I had a hard time remembering with the store was called. And the candy wasn’t called that, she had called it “Sweettooth.” So who was Mr. Strangeteeth?
So then I spent a good long while lying on my couch in an awkward position staring at Google Maps, trying to find that business’s location in the Outer Banks. But I doubted it would be there, since I remembered Liss said it wasn’t on Foursquare. And then I looked at Google Earth but I just saw a lot of trees that were even taller than the ones that we’ve seen before, so even if the unusual plants were there, the tops of the taller trees were probably covering them, as well as the road, and then at some point it just wouldn’t zoom in further, which I guess makes sense because you can’t expect the Google truck to go exactly everywhere, I mean if Google trucks make Google Maps then who tells THEM where to go?
I pulled out some souvenir placemat maps of the Outer Banks and I didn’t see any landmark that sounded like it encompassed the shop. So I kind of gave up. But when I showed the candy to my roommate and the stamp on the bag, my stomach almost dropped when she said, “Oh yeah. I’ve heard of Mr. Strangeteeth.”
She can’t remember where she heard of him from, or even if he is a “he” or if he is the name of a store or brand. But I felt a little sad, like some of the mystery and adventure had been taken away. But then the next day I didn’t feel sad anymore, I just felt curious, so I typed “Mr. Strangeteeth” into Google. And I got a few results. But the results didn’t seem to have very many descriptions and they lead to non-sequiturs or Error 404 pages.
So then I start getting weirded out. I would text people I knew if they had heard of Mr. Strangeteeth and they would say yes. But it was the same deal. They would not know where they’d heard of him or what he was. And if I said, Does he have to do with anything with candy? Some of them would say, Oh maybe, but most of them said, No I don’t think so.
And then I called some souvenir shops in the Outer Banks, ones we’d been to early during the trip, and I said I was trying to find this location there, and I would mention the name Mr. Strangeteeth. And they would say yeah maybe they’d heard of him, until finally one person transferred me to another person who transferred me to another person and I stayed on the line and I wasted way too much time but in the end it was worth it because they said they knew who he was. They said they knew Mr. Strangeteeth.
That was the nickname of a local man who had jumped from the balcony while he was staying at his beach house. The storyteller didn’t remember which house it was. But she remembered the story because it was a small town and any time an ambulance goes through there, everybody sees it.
It was a bright sunny day, which was weird, I didn’t picture it being a sunny day, because for some reason I don’t picture bad things happening in the daytime. But she said it was a bright sunny day and he jumped from one of the balconies on the house, no one’s really sure of his motivations, they assumed it was to try to kill himself, but he didn’t die, he got up. His face had hit a rock so his forehead and eyes were basically intact and his nose was little busted but mostly his teeth, his teeth and his jaw were completely wrecked. And he landed on one of his arms, just one, like he only put one of his arms out to catch his fall while the other fell slack behind him. So his elbow bent backwards completely. And a lot of people saw this happen a lot of them kids, who saw the blood hanging from his mouth all of his teeth gone or at jagged angles, and then he walked onto his front porch and he just sat there. He sat there until somebody called him an ambulance.
Many people saw this happen, but I don’t know why that story spread around, especially because no one seems to know where he is, if he did exist. And I don’t know why that thing with Rin’s camera happened or the candy shop, I don’t know how it’s connected, or maybe it isn’t and all of that was just my brain trying to remember something everybody else also knows. But mostly, I feel like I’ve been left out of this. So if you’ve heard of him, you can say that you’ve heard of him. And if you haven’t, then that’s fine, I mean maybe I’ll feel a little less alone, but probably I’ll just not believe you. Somehow everyone knows him except for me. Or, I guess, I was the last to find out.
I mean, it was two, three years ago that I found the candy. Maybe the woman said it was called “Strangeteeth” and I heard wrong, or misremembered. Maybe Mr. Strangeteeth is just an urban legend I managed to never hear.
I don’t know why it matters that I feel so left out and so alone. I don’t know how that makes a difference in my life now. You know, I still have the candy. And I don’t know why there’s a part of me that wants to eat it. I don’t know why there’s a part of me that hopes that it destroys me. But if it does, maybe I’ll just sit on the porch, letting myself fall apart in plain sight of everyone. Until somebody calls me an ambulance and takes me away.
Credit: Vix Pyrrhus
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