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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

11/3/17 Friday Challenge: Entry #3

Fiction: “A Toothsome Tale,” by James Westbrooks

“Ow!  Damn it!  Damn it!”  My wife dropped her fork and slapped her hand to her cheek.

I held my own fork halfway to my mouth and stared at her. So did the people at the table beside our booth. “What’s wrong?  Did you bite your tongue?” I asked.

“Owww!  I think I broke a tooth!” she said with a grimace. I could tell that she was rolling something around with her tongue. I leaned over the table and put my finger on her chin.

“Open up,” I said. “Let me see.”

“Wait.  Wait,” she said, and held her napkin up to her mouth. She spat into it and looked down. Mixed in with half-chewed barbecue was a piece of tooth and a bone fragment. She hissed in pain and anger. A waitress arrived at our table and asked if there was a problem.

“I’m afraid there…”  I began.

“Yes, there’s a problem,” my wife interrupted. “I just broke a tooth on a piece of bone in your barbecue.”

“Oh,” the waitress said. “I should probably get the manager then.”

“That would be great,” I said. My wife gave the girl a withering glare as she turned and went toward the kitchen area.

“How bad does it hurt?” I asked. The glare I got in reply was only slightly less withering than the one the waitress had received. My wife wrapped the pieces of tooth and bone in separate napkins and put them in her pocketbook.

“Why are you keeping those?” I asked.

“In case the manager wants to act like this isn’t their fault and we have to talk to a lawyer.”

“Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

When the manager arrived, he was effusively apologetic and ensured us that the restaurant would transfer enough funds to us to cover any expenses involved in repairing my wife’s tooth, and of course, there would be no charge for our meal. He went to his office and returned with a form signed by him that stated that the restaurant accepted responsibility for the injury. He gave us his card and asked that we keep him informed of my wife’s condition.

The next day my wife called me at my office and said that she had managed to get an emergency appointment with her dentist, Doctor Shiraz. She’d spent about two hours in and out of the chair but all was good now. She said she would save the details until I got home.

When I arrived from work I asked her about the visit and was rewarded with a smile.

“It went well,” she said. “They pulled what was left of my old tooth, scanned it, printed a new tooth in their lab, and installed it.”  I could tell from the way the way her face shifted that she was toying with something in her mouth. “Check this out.”

She picked up her phone and held it out to me. I took it and looked at the image on the screen. It showed a table of data in green letters and numbers.

“What’s this?”

“It’s data that the tooth collects and sends out over Wi-Fi.”

I looked at the screen and read what was displayed; Temperature: 98.7, pH: 6.8. Last brushing: 2 hours, Last Cleaning: N/A. Several other items were listed but I ignored them and looked up at my wife. “The tooth,” I said. “Collects this info and sends it to…”

She held her up hand to.  “Wait a second.”

“What?”

“Just a minute,” she said.  Her gaze focused somewhere over my shoulder for a few seconds. She blinked and then said, “Okay, now what were you saying? Oh yeah, the tooth collects all kinds of data about my health and the inside of my mouth and stores it in a database, and you can see it on your phone if you want to. It even warns you if you’re biting too hard so you don’t damage the tooth.”

“Well, that’s okay, I guess. But why did you interrupt me and go full zombie?”

“Oh, you see, I wanted to keep some of the money from the restaurant, so I chose the payment plan where you receive ads every couple of hours. It cut the cost by seventy-five percent.”

“Alright, now I know you’re joking. How do you get ads through your tooth?”

“That’s what I asked Doctor Shiraz when she told me about it. The tooth receives the ads over the Internet and uses bone conductivity, or something like that, to send sounds to your ear. So you hear stuff like it was on the radio.”

I still wasn’t convinced that she was serious and started to say so, when she spoke again. “Here comes another one. You can feel the tooth vibrate against your tongue. Hey, can you hear it?”  She put her open mouth up to my ear and, sure enough, I could hear a very faint humming that varied in pitch and volume.

“What?” I said. “That’s for real?  What’s it saying?”

“It’s about Doctor Shiraz. It’s giving her office hours and location and something about these teeth.”  She hesitated. “Okay, it’s done.”

“So,” I said. “Every couple of hours you’re going to zone out for seconds at a time?  What if you’re driving or something?”

“Oh, don’t worry. Doctor Shiraz said that once I get used to it it’ll be like listening to the radio and I probably won’t even notice.”

“Uh huh,” I said. “I think I’ll do all the driving until you get to that point.”

She laughed and we went to the kitchen to make dinner.

¤     ¤     ¤

Over the next few days my wife became accustomed to the interruptions from her tooth. The only change I noticed in her behavior was that she developed a double-blink whenever an ad came through. However, eventually there was change in her conversational style. I noticed that if anyone asked her about something that she wasn’t familiar with, she would repeat their question, pause, then go on to answer at length. When I asked if she wanted to go see a new movie, Along the Way, she asked “What are the details about the movie Along the Way?”  Before I could answer, she nodded and said sure, it sounded great.

“So,” I said. “If you think it sounds great, why did you ask for the details?”

“Oh,” she said. “Did I forget to tell you? They pushed out an upgrade to the tooth and now I can get all kinds of information just by asking the tooth. I guess that makes it a smart tooth.”

“I hope you realize all the puns I can make about smart teeth.”

“What puns can be made about smart teeth?”

“You’re not asking me, are you?” I said. She held up her hand and groaned. I groaned too.

¤     ¤     ¤

The following Monday I was at a conference a couple of states away where I made presentations on my company’s products. The talks were well-received and I spent the rest of the week meeting with existing customers and prospective clients. I spoke to my wife every night and noticed that her appearance became more and more disheveled as the week went on. I asked her if anything was wrong, but she just waved her hand and broke the connection.

¤     ¤     ¤

When I arrived home late Saturday morning, my wife met me at the door in her bathrobe. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair was tangled and greasy. When I stepped inside the foyer, she leaned against me with her arms hanging loose at her sides.

“What’s wrong, hon?” I asked.

She shook her head and mumbled. “Can’t sleep. It’s the voices in my head. Dentist says it must be spam.”

“Can’t they block it?”

“She says it’s not her issue. I had to contact the company that owns the patent to try to get a spam blocker. They say they’re working on it and will call back.”

“Did you turn off the router so the tooth can’t get on-line?”

“Yes, but it didn’t help. The Talbots next door are out of town and left their Wi-Fi on.”

“Well, there’s supposed to be a dead spot in the park. Let’s get you cleaned up and we’ll go there for a bit so you can get some rest. Have you had lunch?”

“No,” she said, as she started to shuffle toward the bathroom. “Can’t focus on cooking.”

“We’ll get something on the way then. What do you want to eat?”

She bumped against a table in the hallway and knocked her purse to the floor. All of its contents spilled out. As she picked up her things, I noticed that she still had the napkin with the bone fragment in it. She unfolded it and stared at it for a moment. When she turned back to me, she smiled and said, “Barbecue.”

 


 

James Westbrooks is a “database guy” by profession and has written code since before it was cool. He spends his off hours reading SF and horror and writing the same. His haiku have been published on tinywords.com and was a winner in the SciFi haiku contest at the Nippon 2007 World SF Con in Tokyo, Japan. In a previous creative period he was an avid filker and had several songs in Xenofilkia, a filk fanzine. James’ current projects are a series of Cthulhu Mythos stories set at Miskatonic University. He resides in South Carolina with his wife and too many bicycles, computers and comic books.


Editor’s Note: This story was written in response to the 11/3/17 Friday Challenge. We received so many good stories in response to this challenge that we’re running new stories daily all this week. We encourage you to comment on the stories and to vote for your favorite as soon as the polling widget goes live, as the author of the winning story will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate. Thanks for participating!

Another Note: We’ve learned that the polling widget is not accessible in some web browsers, particularly those found on smart phones. If you can’t see the polling widget in the upper right corner, here’s a direct link to it:


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