Motes in the Air. Short Story.

He was tired, so incredibly tired, but that wasn’t too surprising really, it had been a long stressful day. He had been late to work, again, after his alarm didn’t go off. He had fled the house, only taking the time to dress before racing out to his car. The drive in to work was slow and frustrating, throughout the journey people drove slowly, braking when the lights turned yellow, stopping well before they had considered turning red. When he finally arrived to work he had to run up the stairs, the lifts were out of order again. Then his boss chewed him out for a good fifteen minutes, during this ritual embarrassment he wondered if he should point out that the yelling was distracting everyone more than him arriving late ever could. It was true too, he was guilty of it himself, whenever the boss tore someone to shreds, everyone stopped what they were doing to watch, sure they pretended to still work, eyes firmly staring at the screen, with occasional clicking and the quick stutter of typing, but really, they were all straining to catch every single word. After getting yelled at he finally sat down and logged in to his computer, almost immediately three reports that needed to be finished today at the latest flashed up on his screen, along with two others he had never seen before that he had apparently needed to get done last week.

The day passed quickly, if stressfully, he worked through lunch, eating a flavourless dry sandwich from the shop downstairs, crumbs falling into his keyboard. He had managed to get all the reports done, barely, and just as he was about to sign out another one came in, one that needed to be done before the morning. He would have signed out and left it till the morning, after all, he could easily point out it should have been sent to him earlier, that the day ended at 5 and the report was clearly marked as coming in at 4.59. But he didn’t, he stayed late and finished it, on his own time of course, as the boss wouldn’t sign off on overtime. It was probably illegal, but if he said something, his boss would say he had volunteered to stay late and finish it. After finally leaving, he walked down the stairs, tired but glad the day was over. The bus was late, he waited for it for almost half an hour, trying not to fall asleep on the bench. He had been on the bus ten minutes before he realised he had drove to work that morning and cursing, he had left the bus and walked back to his own car. He would have left it, but with the way things were going, it would have definitely been broken into during the night and the cost of getting the window fixed would probably be more than the car itself was worth. So he had walked back to his car, praying that it wouldn’t rain, and luckily enough it hadn’t. The car started on his first try, despite his fears. The drive back was equally slow and annoying, though he had missed the traffic rush of people leaving work, he still managed to get stuck behind people going at least twenty kilometres below the speed limit.

Finally, he had gotten home and once inside, he collapsed on the couch, breathing deeply, glad to be home. It was almost eight o clock by this time, dinner was pasta with some kind of red sauce that he had found, lurking in a jar in the dark depths of the cupboard. It was an ok dinner, the sauce mostly flavourless and slightly slimy. By the time he had eaten and changed it was half nine and he spent the rest of the evening watching mindless television, too tired to do anything else. He watched the end of some crime show, the killer was a lamp salesman who wired lights to electrocute the victims, he had missed how they decided the accidental deaths were not so accidental, but he was sure it was from some kind of sudden brain wave that there were too many people dying followed by a montage that proved it wasn’t just a production error. After that there was some kind of plastic surgery thing, he had flicked through all the channels before settling on one. He generally had no problem with plastic surgery, if someone felt bad about themselves and found this to be a way to fix that bump on their nose that always bothered them or to get rid of a few wrinkles, who was he to judge. But this show seemed to be revelling in showing off the worst people they could find, women with comically large breasts and lips going in to get everything inserted into them until they looked like strange, fleshy mannequins. Once the show had finished he decided that it was enough television for the night, there was nothing good on anyway. He was tired but the tiles of the bathroom were cold, jolting him awake, he looked in the mirror, ignoring the low hum of the extractor fan. He looked tired, his eyes puffy and dark. He pulled his skin back, trying to dispel some of the wrinkles. He hadn’t noticed how old he really looked, he was thirty five and it was starting to show. A year ago he was still mistaken for early twenties, even asked for ID a few times while getting the odd bottle of wine or a 6 pack but since he started his new job the requests grew further apart. He prodded at his face for a moment, watching as wrinkles briefly disappeared before returning again with full force. Sighing he picked up a tube of toothpaste with one hand and grabbed his toothbrush with the other. Once the toothpaste was on the brush, he ran it under the tap, wetting the bristles. He’d brush his teeth then head to bed. Tomorrow was another day, it would be a better day and tomorrow in work, he could scour the job ads. They wouldn’t care, there was a high turnover in the office and no one seemed to wonder why or really care.

He was brushing his teeth, mouth full of minty foam, when he first noticed something wasn’t right. There was a grittiness in his mouth, as though there were bits of sand rolling around. He hadn’t eaten anything that would explain it and the sensation hadn’t occurred before when he had used that toothpaste. He spat out a glob of white foam and peered at it, trying to see the little dots that were causing the feeling. It appeared normal and a quick blast of water from the tap washed it down the drain. He began brushing again, the feeling temporarily gone. After a few seconds, it returned, this time it seemed worse. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, but it was slightly disturbing. He began to brush faster, figuring the sooner he was done the sooner the feeling would be gone. He spat out the foam build-up a few more times, each time the feeling going and each time the feeling returned. The feeling began to increase, then he noticed that the pieces were bigger, they were no longer fine, gritty pieces, they were now small lumps. He spat out the foam, then rinsed out his mouth, rolling the water around. The grittiness was back, filling the water, small chunks floating in the water and banging into his teeth. He spat out the water, then opened his mouth, using the mirror he moved his head around, trying to look in and see what the hell was going on. As he looked, he realised his teeth were slightly smaller, but that couldn’t be right, it was in his head, wasn’t it? He ran his tongue along his teeth, trying to determine their size, when the grit returned, the more he rubbed his teeth the more there was, he realised that it was his teeth. He spat into the sink and looking closely he could see the white bits slowly sliding down the sinks edge. He bared his teeth at the mirror, trying to figure out what was going on, he tilted his head and pulled down his lips, the gums looked fine, pink and healthy. He prodded a tooth with his tongue, testing it. It gave way easily, before falling out and into the sink. It bounced around the ceramic surface for a few seconds, each time it landed it made a soft plink, before it fell down the drain. Horrified, he looked at the space where his tooth had been, seeing his tongue clearly through the gap. A small noise escaped his throat and, as if signalling, three more teeth dropped from his mouth, two going down the drain, the third stopping at its edge. He picked up the remaining tooth and tried to examine it, it looked fine in the few seconds he could see it before it crumbled beneath his fingers, leaving nothing but a fine, milky white residue on his fingertips. The dentist, he’d ring the dentist first thing, they would be closed by now of course. Another tooth dropped from his mouth. He began to panic, should he go to the hospital? What would he say? His teeth are falling out? That was hardly something you could go to A&E for. Was it? Another tooth fell. He clamped his lips shut, hoping that would stop the mass exodus. Another tooth worked its way free, he could feel it, rolling around his mouth, crumbling slightly every time his tongue touched it. He kept it in as long as he could until he could bare it no longer. Then he leaned over and spat it out. Four more teeth left with it. He looked as his teeth, he was already down nine teeth, which only left twenty three. Another tooth dropped from his mouth, his eyes widened and before he could think about it or stop it, his hand flew to his mouth, clamping itself firmly against his lips and cheeks. Beneath its pressure, he felt his front teeth cave in, as they gave way, the pressure began to knock out the side ones. He forced himself to relax his grip, to release his face. The teeth rolled around his mouth, sharp edges and angles, knocking others free from their moorings. Trembling slightly, he leaned over the sink and opened his mouth, not spitting this time, just allowing them to fall free. The room was filled with the noise of teeth hitting the sink. Finally it stopped, he opened his mouth as wide as possible and peered in, one tooth was left, a molar, standing lonely and proud at the back of his mouth. As he watched it looked as if it shivered slightly, then it pulled itself free and joined the others in the sink. His gums were still pink and healthy looking, but now where there should be teeth, there were only pale pink humps. He looked at the teeth in the sink and carefully prodded one, it turned to dust as soon as he touched it. He drew his hand back quickly, rubbing his fingers together subconsciously. They felt dirty, greasy.

He didn’t know how much timed had passed as he stood, staring into the bathroom sink, at the teeth that crowded it, but it seemed like a long, long time. When he finally moved his muscles were sore and stiff. He backed away from the sink carefully, as though it contained something dangerous and he left the bathroom without turning his back on them. Once out of the room, he went to his bed and sat down, trying to keep calm. Trying to rationalise things. Your teeth don’t just fall out for no reason right? So there must be an explanation. Maybe some rare gum disease. It wasn’t too bad. He could get dentures or something right? Replacements, no one would have to know. His tongue explored the new territory of his gums, he didn’t like it, it was solid but still seemed to give way. At least it happened before he went asleep, he could have choked on his teeth, or that strange dust they were turning into. He felt laughter bubbling up from somewhere and quickly he tried to stifle it, worried that if he started laughing he would never stop. He managed to stop it, barely, and the laughter returned to where ever it had come from, instead, tears filled his eyes and began to roll down his face.  He reached up and scratched his head, a sudden itch forming. Something didn’t feel right though. He moved his hand away from his head and looked at it. His nail was hanging off. There was no pain, no blood, just pale, white skin where his nail had been not too long before. As he watched, it fell from his hand, landing on the floor. His hands trembled as he examined his nails, they appeared normal, he felt one with his fingers, they felt normal, but when he rubbed his fingertips together he could feel the grit. The trembling seemed to shake the nails free and one by one they fell from his fingertips until they were all gone. He prodded at where his nails had once been and like the gums, there was no pain, nothing to say that anything had been there only a few minutes previously. His breathing quickened, uncontrolled as panic rose to the surface, breaking his thin veneer of calm. As darkness closed in he realised he was hyperventilating and, as he tried to control it, he passed out. He wasn’t sure if the faint had transferred into regular sleep, but it seemed as though hours had passed while he was out, he sat up, then shivered as something tickled his head. He reached to scratch it then remember that he had no nails. As the thought was realised, his hand hit his scalp. He felt along the top of it, feeling the strange bumps and contours of his head, turning slowly, he turned and looked at the bed, there in a rough halo was his hair.  He looked at his arms, they still had hair, but when he ran his hand along one, the hair came away easily. He stood, then went back into the bathroom, the sink was empty, though he didn’t notice. His skull was the same colour as the rest of him, pale white. He knew it should be paler, but it wasn’t. He spent a few minutes exploring his skull, before leaving the bathroom again. On his way out he turned off the light, he couldn’t bear to see himself again. He sat on the bed and decided that yes, it was time for the hospital, something was seriously, seriously wrong with him. As he reached out for the phone, he felt a sudden wave of tiredness, his hand dropped to his side, and he fell backward, until he was lying on the bed, his feet still resting on the ground. His body was too heavy to support, he tried to lift himself up and failed. The tiredness was strong now, weighing him down, he tried to fight it, but was unable. He yawned,brething in a great breath of air before he fell asleep, giving into the darkness.

The next morning he didn’t show up for work and his house was empty. There was no sign of him, the only unusual thing about his disappearance was that there was a strange layer of dust on his bed. With the light shining on it, it almost looked like the vague outline of a man.

About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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