It is a hot day in this dusty grey city. Abe and the rest of the demolition team created much of the dust by tearing down this derelict old building. Long ago, it was considered a trendy boutique hotel. This area of the city was once a favoured place of bohemian artists, writers, intellectuals, and their hangers-on. It was a kind of Soho wannabe. In the forties and fifties, you would see the fashionably shabby elite taking coffee or wine at the sidewalk cafes and bars, discussing weighty subjects with self-serious smugness, talking a little too loud with contrived transatlantic accents, cigarettes in long holders held in stylishly limp hands waving around to accent a particularly insightful point. They loved art or what they considered art; the more outrageous, somber and disturbing, the better. They didn't smile much, preferring disdain and intelligent contempt.
But time passed. They outgrew themselves and most conformed, after all, married, had children, got reliable jobs and saved for retirement. The few die-hards that didn't leave developed liver and lung problems and became shabby for real-it was no longer a fashion statement. The hotel became dingy as well. Room prices lowered and then lowered again, and it began to attract the low-income, the addicted, and other ne'er do wells. And now it is condemned. It is being torn down along with the other derelict buildings in the area and will be home to industrial warehouses, scattered with a few coffee shops and fast-food restaurants to cater to the employees these warehouses will require.
Abe has worked for this demolition company for the better part of two years. The money is not great, but not too bad either. It is enough to pay his share of the rent on the dark, dank basement suite he shares with his roommate. He is 40 years old, has a middle-age gut, is losing his hair, and he doesn't care. He quit caring about anything much a few years back. A sad story, boring in its commonness, and certainly nothing remarkable about it: his wife left him. She didn't mind about the gut and the hair, but she did mind his pot use. He is more than a daily user. He is more like an hourly user. The old wake and bake and carry right on until he (thankful) drops into oblivion every night. The pot that brings him such relief has stolen everything, and he doesn't care.
The smash and crash of the wrecking ball have come and gone, and now it is down to the details. He uses a jackhammer to clean up bits and pieces of stubborn concrete, and then he sweeps up the mess. The acrid dust of the concrete flies in his face, but he uses a bandana to protect his lungs. Kind of a waste of time given the state of his lungs from his constant toking, but he doesn't care. The boss hollers for the crew to take their morning coffee break, and that is his signal to find some out-of-the-way spot to top himself up with a reefer. The boss and the others know where he is going and what he is doing but look the other way as this city's labour shortage is brutal. They need every man they can get, even the stoners.
Break over, he goes back to sweeping, nicely buzzed, when his broom hits something. Something soft. Small. He reaches down to grab it and shake the dust off it, and it looks like a rag doll. He turns it over to look at its face and drops it in horror. The doll has mismatched button eyes and a wide, evil clown-type grin, and its mouth is full of teeth...real teeth! Human teeth. Perfect white adult human teeth, far too big for the small doll's head. The teeth are not in the proper order. There are incisors where the front teeth should be, next to them the molars and then the front teeth. "What the fuck?" he mumbles under his breath.
He picks up the creepy doll and pulls back the cottony lips to see how the teeth are fastened. They are held in place by wire, wire now rusty with age, but wire. Someone has drilled holes into the top of the teeth, sewn them in the fabric with the wire, and then covered the whole mess with puffy red cotton lips. The doll's body feels full of something hard and small, crunchy, like pebbles. There is a small split down the side seam of one of its legs, and he pulls it closer to see what is inside. Teeth. More teeth. The damn thing is stuffed with teeth! Baby teeth, adult teeth, some rotten and worn, broken or with huge cavities, others pristine. Why teeth? And were in God's name would someone get all those teeth?
The boss hollers at him to get back to work, so he takes the gruesome thing, tucks it in his backpack, and returns to work. He is rather glad to have something for his fuzzy mind to puzzle over while he does this mindless task.
When he gets home, he takes out the hoary doll, shakes it to remove the last of the dust and has a good long look. What is this thing? He lights a joint and turns on his old laptop. He doesn't use this computer for much other than watching porn and playing internet poker, but now he types into the google search bar "doll with real human teeth."
There are results for dolls with teeth (not actual and not creepy) used by dentists as a teaching tool for children. There is an article about a doll's head made from a coconut shell with real teeth set into drilled holes. This was found in the Florida Everglades, and archaeologists think it was a voodoo doll from the early seventeen hundreds. And then- bingo!
There is an article from a site called WikiArt about an artist who lived in this very city, in the same hotel they are now demolishing. Jauna Dell Mortem. That was her real name, but she would only answer to Faerie. Not Fairy mind, but Faerie with the accent on the last syllable. She lived there for a while when the hotel was in its hay day. She was an eccentric androgynous type before it was cool to be eccentric and androgynous. She never cut her hair, seldom combed or washed it, wore men's fedora hats and ratty hand-me-down coveralls. She rarely wore shoes of any sort, even in cold weather. She was briefly but intensely popular for creating macabre pieces made from genuine human parts and pieces.
She made a piece from a gnarly oak stick with human skin stretched over it and stitched together on the underside with several thick strands of long grey human hair. It was complete with an actual fingernail, manicured to a sharp dagger-like point and painted blood red. It resembled an elderly human index finger with swollen joints. She would not confirm where she got the skin from, but it was rumoured that the skin was her own, peeled from her inner thigh and then tanned. The fingernail was clearly not her own as she constantly chewed her nails down to a bloody pulp, but she kept her source a secret. The wealthy collector who bought it kept it locked under glass as the artist had hinted at its power to deliver a curse if pointed in anger at someone. On the buyer's passing, his wife donated the dreadful thing to a macabre art museum in London, and she was glad to be rid of it. It still resides there today and is still safely locked under glass.
Her most famous piece was a huge painted skyscape of the city. She had used her own feces as paint, and that "paint" had unique, intricate and subtle variations in colour. How she got all these colours, she would not say but swore she added nothing to change the colour. "It is simply a matter of diet," she would say. When asked about the reddish sunset behind the skyscape, she said, "Hemorrhoids, darling."
She signed only with an understated "F" on all her pieces. On the finger piece, the tiny "F" was scratched on the underside of the nail. With the feces piece, the "F" was hidden and barely decipherable in the corner of the roof of one of the buildings, a shade darker than the surrounding brown. You would think it would have a lingering smell of, well, feces, but it didn't. Instead, there would be a distinct smell of fresh cut thyme emanating from it at odd hours.
There were other pieces too. The intact bones of a young child's ribcage that had been fashioned as a jail for a coiled stuffed snake, its mouth wide open to show fangs. The "jail" also had a bow made from a dried umbilical cord tied neatly on the stub at the top of the backbone.
Another piece was a human testicle emptied and stretched over a baseball and tattooed with eyes that were both squinted and crossed and a crow's beak attached where the mouth should be. She had covered the top of the "head" in what looked like blond pubic hair (it was). The word "pecker" had been burnt into the skin across the "forehead." The more grisly her work, the more popular. She never advertised her art for sale or showed anything in a gallery, but word of mouth did her selling. She let the would-be buyers argue amongst themselves until the highest bidder went home proud to own a "Faerie."
As her popularity grew, she started dropping hints that her masterpiece was soon to be revealed. She said it had taken most of her life (at this time, the guess was she was in her mid-forties) to create. When people asked the theme, she merely smiled wide and stuck her tongue through a gap in her mouth where an incisor was missing. Anticipation rose, and she received offers in the hundred thousand dollar range for this piece, sight unseen, but she would not accept. She started to refer to everyone as 'doll,' wet tongue pushing through the tooth gap. The art sleuths at the time anticipated the masterpiece to be some sort of doll with teeth. Her fans were frantic and tried to curry her favour with wildly expensive meals and drinks and offers to be her patron. She ate and drank but took no money. She was beholding to no one. When they asked her when it would be ready, she smirked and told them, "When it is done, of course."
Then she disappeared. No trace of her, no goodbye, just gone. The police checked her modest apartment after the missing person report was lodged, but nothing seemed amiss. She was not there but had left behind a few of her personal possessions, although no artworks in progress, finished pieces, or tools she may have used for her creations. Eventually, her belongings were auctioned off as collector pieces for outrageously high amounts as her fame and notoriety only grew with her disappearance. To this day, there are some who are still seeking her "masterpiece ." If found, it would be reportedly worth millions.
Astounded, he looks at the hideous doll and picks it up. He examines it closely, searching for an "F." And there, under the doll's faded gingham skirt, almost hidden under the hem, is a small, sloppy "F" embroidered in black thread.
Millions!! He could be holding on to millions. This ugly, disgusting find could change his life!! He imagines his life with millions. He would buy a fancy high-rise penthouse with floor-to-ceiling windows and a doorman who would call him sir. It would have private underground parking where he would park a perfectly restored classic candy apple red mustang. Maybe he would get hair implants, buy the expensive pre-rolls instead of rolling his own joints, and drink "boutique" beer. He imagines the luxury of waking up and having nothing to do but watch porn, smoke pot, and play internet poker and video games. Maybe his wife will come back. He lights another doobie to celebrate. Hell, he even pops open a can of Coors.