Toothache 1: The Tooth Worm

I awoke at 03:22 this morning with such a furious throbbing in my jaw I thought I was under attack. Yelling, I lashed out, but quickly realised there was no intruder, only the most dreadful toothache, a monster that gnawed through my jaw as if burrowing a way out.

Stars danced on front of my eyes. Even when I lit the lantern, those stars kept spinning so crazily it felt like something was trying to unscrew my head.

I gulped down two paracetamol from my emergency supply. Useless. I squeezed my jaw with both hands; but that only agitated the monster worse. I paced about the room until the throbbing got so bad I considered knocking myself out. But I couldn’t trust myself to do it right. Besides, I’d only wake with a headache to add to the fury in my jaw.

Nor could I beg Ganhook for help. I’d woken him once before to report a strange wail I’d heard out in the courtyard. Turned out to be Stein Cat performing some full moon ritual. Ganhook had been so annoyed he forced me to scrub the kitchen floor before I could return to bed.

And Aisling would be no help. She’d a thing about dentists. Face down a dragon? No problem. Go to the dentist? Not a chance.

I’d heard somewhere that swooshing whiskey around inside your mouth calmed toothache, so I stumbled down to the kitchen and took a swig of Ganhook’s homemade brandy. The instant it hit my teeth, the ache flared up, blurring my vision, and sending the bottle crashing to the ground.

A flame sparked up in the hearth. “What’s all this racket?” Sparks crackled. “Too early for racket.”

“Toothache,” I said, hoping for some useful suggestion.

“Tough.”

Annoyed, I said, “Not that you’d understand pain.”

“I burn all day, don’t I? How do you think that feels?”

Amid my misery, I managed a laugh. I sat by the fire, and said, “Sorry for waking you.”

More flames rose, the heat somehow soothing the ache.

“I’m up for the day now,” Sparks replied. “I’ll help if I can.”

There wasn’t a lot Sparks could do. I stared into the flames, concentrating on Sparks’ white-hot inner core, wondering just how Ganhook had managed to tame a fire breathing demon.

Ganhook ambled in an hour later, and said, “What’s wrong?”

“Toothache.” Though I tried to sound tough, the word emerged as a squeak. “Can you help?”

Ganhook examined my jaw, and said, “Probably a peraquit.”

“Sounds like a bird.”

“It’s an airborne infection. Nothing a tooth worm won’t fix.”

Before I could bring myself to ask what a tooth worm was, he disappeared into one of the kitchen’s ‘hidden’ rooms.

He re-emerged holding a wooden casket filled with dried out maggots. Each of the stumpy things had a long beak and a pair of claws that looked ideal for burrowing through flesh.

He handed me a worm. “Pop it in your mouth. It’ll react to your saliva and hunt down that peraquit. You’ll be right in a few days.”

My stomach turned. Though the thing was barely a quarter inch long, I’d rather have eaten one of Sparks’ hottest coals. I shoved his hand away. “No way! That . . . thing’s not going in my mouth!”

“Fair enough.” Ganhook shrugged. “It’s off to Gutwretch Street with you.”

As if whatever was in my jaw had recognised the address, the ache flared up worse than ever, blurring my vision and forcing me to grab a chair for support. Was there really some living thing inside my teeth? I said, “How about some pain relief?”

Ganhook sighed. “I already offered you pain relief. Begone. How can I enjoy my breakfast listening to your sob story. The world’s full of sob stories. There are countless poor souls who’d happily trade their troubles for your peraquit.”

I could have screamed with frustration. That was just typical Ganhook. Nothing was ever easy. ‘Learn by doing,’ he liked to say, which was another way of saying ‘Learn by suffering.’

He was no tooth fairy. That was for sure.

Furious that he wouldn’t give me any pain relief (which I knew he had tons of), I stormed back to my room. Though I hoped Ganhook’s diagnosis was wrong, and that the pain would ease over time, I spent the next few hours tossing and turning and pacing about the room. Aisling sympathised. She advised me to visit Gutwretch Street, adding she wasn’t going near the place.

I didn’t blame her. We’d only ever seen the top end of the street, but it was enough to put me off ever returning. The place looked like a cross between some bizarre carnival, an avenue of mausoleums and a giant puppet studio. All of the buildings were built from timber and stone, and all were designed as advertisements for the doctors and dentists that worked within them.

Chiropractors were housed in buildings that looked like winding spines.

Buildings shaped like feet housed foot doctors (whatever they’re called).

I presumed the hearts housed Cardiologists.

On and on it went, lungs, legs, livers . . . and several really disgusting ‘constructions’ that didn’t hide the fact that if you had a problem with your ‘butt’, that was where you should go.

Only one of the buildings had looked like a great brain, though, which surprised me because I figured anyone who went to Gutwretch Street needed their head examined at least twice.

Bundled between the buildings were countless shacks and stalls selling countless remedies and medical equipment. And the smell of antiseptic, camphor, blood and other bodily fluids was everywhere.

It’s noon now, and I’ve had enough. But I’m never, ever, ever going to use a tooth worm. Which only leaves one option. I don’t want to venture to Gutwretch Street alone. So, considering Aisling wasn’t interested, I asked Shinytop.

“Dentist!” he cried. “No way.”

This shocked me. Normally he was keen to get out of the compound, and his reluctance unnerved me. “Why not?”

“Got caught breaking into a dentist’s once. For the gold teeth.” Shinytop sighed. “Strapped me in his chair and ripped out two teeth without any painkillers before I agreed to do a job for him.”

“I thought you never got caught.”

A long pause followed before he said, “I was young then.”

It was one of the worst excuses I’d ever heard. It also made me laugh, which caused the ache in my jaw to worsen.

I’m off now. Will post again whenever I’m fit too.