The Curmudgeon


Sunday, August 01, 2021

The Father of Teeth

Text for today: Premolars ccclxxii-ccclxxxix

When the mists cleared, however, the Father of Teeth found himself in the middle of a chalked pentagram, with a smug magician staring at him from beneath a canine-shaped hat through halitotic billows of incense.

"Well?" said the Father of Teeth insolently; whereupon the smug magician produced a wand and thrust it into a smouldering brazier, which flamed a livid green reminiscent of the Father of Teeth's saucier tartar. "Well?" said the Father of Teeth, more insolently still; and stepping out of the pentagram he seized the now nonplussed magician and bit off sundry small appendages.

"Somebody shall pay for this," the nonplussed magician said, hopping about in great annoyance. "I have it on the best authority that with the proper rites you can be caught and bound to the will of your captor."
"What authority might that be?" asked the Father of Teeth.
"A certain long-dead necromancer," said the nonplussed magician; "I have his mortal dust in a test-tube within the folds of my robe, but with my digits so much less profuse than recently I find myself somewhat stumped as to retrieval."

So the Father of Teeth gnawed a hole in the robe and pulled out the test-tube, which crunched delightfully between his seventeenth-least capped incisors. Ignoring the shrill remonstrances of the nonplussed magician, the Father of Teeth chewed dust and glass alike most thoroughly, and then expelled the resulting potpourri into the very centre of the pentagram. Even as the nonplussed magician gibbered, his long-dead necromantic predecessor gurgled and bubbled into wizened shape and form, though much discomfited by the embedded granules of his erstwhile container.

"Well?" said the long-dead necromancer, in an impolite rustle.
"You have much to answer for," said the nonplussed magician, angrily waggling his stumps. "I tried your formula for calling and binding this person to my will," and here with an untidy gesture he indicated the Father of Teeth, "but he is unbound, as you no doubt observe. What have you to say for yourself, and how may the matter be repaired?"

With horrid and hissing deliberation the long-dead necromancer pulled from his foot a shard of glass, and a small cloud of dust puffed out in its wake. "The fault," rustled the long-dead necromancer, in a voice like yellowed pages crumbling, "lies not in my formula, but in your application. I meant it but metaphorically."
"Metaphorically," shrieked the magician, now more nonplussed than before; "and pray what was the literality which your metaphor disguised?"
"I forget," rustled the long-dead necromancer, using the glass shard to scratch himself in various locations, for most of which no metaphor could be sufficiently obscure.
"You forget?" repeated the nonplussed magician. "But the dead remember everything; that is why we call them up, and why so few wish to join them."
"I forget, nevertheless," rustled the long-dead necromancer; "for my dust has been polluted with the remnants of a glass test-tube, besides certain other substances which it were better not to mention."
"For that you may blame this person here," snapped the nonplussed magician, wagging his stumps anew to indicate the Father of Teeth.

"Gentlemen," said the Father of Teeth, "there is no need for all this trouble over little old me. In magic all is metaphor, as you are both well aware; therefore a magical text, written metaphorically and then interpreted literally, takes on a metaphorical morphology of its own. The living truth of one age is mere dry dust for the ages that come after, and the most transparent glass becomes obscurer the more it is masticated."
"What?" said the nonplussed magician, while the long-dead necromancer grinned and hissed.
"Also," said the Father of Teeth, "in magic there are certain gestures, which must be carefully calculated lest they take on additional and unpredictable connotations, especially once a few digits have been removed from the equation."

Too late the nonplussed magician saw the scattered stubs of fingers and toes which littered and leaked across his ceremonial floor; too late he saw the spattered issue from indiscreet waving of his stumps. Some seven dark drops had fallen in the region of the pentagram where the long-dead necromancer stood; and three of the seven had fallen upon the chalked boundary. With a grind and tinkle of glass, the dust of the long-dead necromancer extruded itself into a long, thin thread, the width of a drop of blood. Before the nonplussed magician could ask another question, his throat was fully occupied, inside and out, by the long-dead necromancer's dry response.

The messy dispute lasted some considerable time, towards the end of which the long-dead necromancer suddenly recalled that the Father of Teeth had offered to proof-read the draft of his grimoire and refine some of the metaphors; but by then reminiscence was his sole resort, as the Father of Teeth had already sneaked out the back way.


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