an original short story


Nancy B. G.


Author retains sole copyright. May not be copied, recorded or published, in whole or in part, without the author's express permission.

This is a work of fiction. None of the characters portrayed in this story are meant to represent any actual person(s), living or dead.


It was a a mundane row of houses, in an ordinary suburban town. The street was a right-hand turn off the main road, leading to nowhere special. The tree-lined street mainly consisted of residences dating from the turn of the century, with a few interlopers from the post-war housing boom of the fifties and sixties. There was one exception to these, however.

A mere block from the main road, at a corner where the residential street intersected with another row of houses, there sat a modern, tan stucco medical office building, dating from the late 1970's. It took up rather a lot of room, two entire building lots. The parking lot to one side of the building was always full of cars. Yet, the dental office wasn't overly big or too intrusive. Despite its modern appearance, it seemed almost to blend in with the scenery, like camouflage. Which is why the locals didn't put up a fuss when it was built there.

Laurie walked past the dental office every Monday through Friday, on her way to catch the bus to work. She repeated the processes again at night, and whenever she needed to walk into town for a quick shop. Laurie paid scant attention to the buildings she walked past. After a while, they all looked the same to her. The petite, blond twenty-nine year old woman was usually only interested in making it to her bus on time. She did notice, however, that the parking lot of the dental office was nearly always full of cars. Which either meant that either they were very good at what they did, or, they didn't charge much for their services. In this day and age of rising insurance co-pays, Laurie decided that it was most likely the former reason, rather than the latter.

Working in a call center for the past four years, Laurie was a customer service representative. She was very good at her job. Personable and pleasant with her callers, she was also sensible and patient. Something she needed to be. Especially after a trying day, attempting to calm down and reason with some woman, who was freaking out because she didn't receive her free introductory gift with her order. Or that rough guy, who was threatening to sue her and the company, because he didn't get his refund instantaneously through telekinesis or whatever. What a misery he was!

Priding herself on knowing the products and the brand from top to bottom. Laurie also took real pleasure in knowing how to handle people. With the refund customer, she went into what she called her “Doris Day” impersonation. The more rough and bullying the man's tone, the sweeter, more patient and more ladylike was Laurie's response.

Finally, she calmly pulled the headset away from her ear with a bored sigh. Though the ear piece was several inches away from her ear now, she could still hear him. He was hurling epithets at her and the company so loudly, it had been hurting her eardrums. While he was frothing at the mouth like a rapid dog, Laurie wondered how this man's mother ever put up with his little tantrums. Smirking, she thought that this was the type of fella who'd probably enjoy a good spanking. In the end though, all was well again. Laurie smiled at the computer screen, as it showed that his refund had been posted last week. Asking politely if he'd checked the post today, there was a brief pause, as the man admitted that he hadn't. Laurie waited as he went to go through his in-coming mail. The man came back and meekly told her his check had arrived. Before hanging up, he even sheepishly apologized for screaming at her.

“She shoots, she scores!” Laurie whispered to herself, punching the air with vindication, a big grin on her face.

After hours, she'd get together with some of the other reps, at Beaner's Bar down the street. There, Laurie would allow herself to let out some of the pent up stress that came with dealing with people all day. A public who could, in turns, be angry, neurotic, petty, tearful, ill-mannered, lonely, narcissistic, sad, confused, paranoid, mean-spirited, boneheaded and sometimes, unfortunately, completely bonkers beyond all reason. To her friends, as they walked from their office tower to the bar, Laurie supposed it was easier to treat someone like rubbish, when you couldn't see them face to face.

Thursday night after work, found her with the others at their usual dark corner table, well away from the juke box. There they would all bitch and moan and joke about the customers and their little idiosyncrasies. The bar's old nicotine stained ceiling would ring with laughter and moans, as the office staff shared anecdotes and complaints, commiserating with each other.

Laurie promptly filled them in on the two 'highlights' of her day. Her friends laughed uproariously, after she was cajoled into giving them her best Doris Day impersonation. And so she did, supplying both parts of the conversation. Which made her friends laugh even harder. Laurie decided that those two acting courses she took in community college, had finally proved their worth.

During a lull in the conversation, Laurie was sat contemplating ordering another glass of white wine. She was surreptitiously keeping a weather eye on on a tall, lean, dark haired man whom had entered the pub a few minutes earlier. She'd never seen him before. He was eying her, as well, if she wasn't mistaken. His hair was combed back neatly, and he was dressed all in black. Black shirt, jeans and shoes. Oh Jesus. She hoped she wasn't falling for some priest. As if reading her thoughts, the man turned slightly in his chair. Laurie breathed a sigh of relief, when she saw that he was wearing a dark red necktie. Not a priest then, thank god.

The middle aged man was sitting at the end of the bar, pensively sipping what looked like a shot of whiskey. He was unconsciously tapping his foot in time to a popular seventies rock song by Boston, which was blaring out of the juke box. A couple of drunk women were on the tiny dance floor trying, none to successfully, to dance. Laurie's co-workers were laughing at them. But, she only had eyes for the tall man. He didn't appear to be wearing a wedding ring. That was a good sign.

Laurie noticed that whenever she looked at the man, he looked away. But, when she looked away, he was staring right at her. Almost right through her. He had such piercing dark eyes. She could tell, because of the mirrored beer advert hanging on the wall beside her. It held his reflection, in reverse, allowing her to watch him unnoticed.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a co-worker asking what she planned to bring to the office party the next day. Laurie had forgotten she'd signed up to bring some cupcakes. She'd have to leave the bar early, if she was going to stop at the bakery before it shut for the night. Sighing at her memory lapse, she made her excuses and got up to go. Laurie looked for the man at the bar. Much to her surprise and disappointment, he was gone.

The next day was Valentine's Day. The office was throwing a little lunch hour get-together, downstairs in the employee's cafeteria. It was a pot-luck bring-and-share deal. They'd converted a corner of the room into a little party floor, with tables and chairs grouped around in a circle, with a long table in the middle. Red and pink streamers hung from the ceiling, and cardboard valentine hearts were cello taped to the walls. A CD boom box sitting on an empty chair, cranked out some oldies.

The main table was covered with red paper tablecloths, and was heaving with all sorts of homemade foods in Tupperware bowls, salad bowls, platters and slow cookers. A smaller, separate table held beverages and desserts. Laurie watched as many of her co-workers flocked to sample the sweets.

Betsy, the chubby, loudly dressed middle aged rep who sat in the cubicle next to Laurie, was dishing out a dessert onto her plate. Laurie stared at it, wondering how anyone would even think of eating something like that. To her, it looked like jellied green alien vomit studded with mini-marshmallows. A card on the table next to the dish said it was 'Lime & Pineapple Surprise.' Laurie raised an eyebrow. She hoped it wasn't the sort of surprise that had you being rushed to hospital in an ambulance. You never could tell at these pot-luck things. That's why she usually stuck to food which was clearly recognizable as such.

“Cheap bastards.” Betsy hissed in her ear. “Bring-and-share. Who're they kiddin'? Management's just gotten too stingy to order pizzas and soda. You know, like they used to do. Before Bush's financial wizards crashed and burned the economy a couple of years back. Next thing you know, the company will be asking us to buy our own office supplies. Or worse, take a pay cut. The office supervisors had to pay for all of the plates, cups and decorations this year. Out of their own pockets! Jeezus, I'm telling you. How pathetic is that?”

“Yeah, Betsy, I know. But, I wouldn't let the big boss hear you say that.” Laurie said softly, nodding towards a portly older man in a three piece suit, who was in the corner chatting up the office's young, pretty receptionist. The one who was always forgetting to give people their phone messages. Laurie shook her head. The girl looked like she was barely out of high school. It made her feel old, just looking at her. She guessed the company hired her instead of an experienced woman, as another cost-cutting measure. “He's probably just looking for excuses to let some of us go. So he can hire new people who'll work for less pay and benefits.”

Betsy nodded her agreement. “I told my husband just the other night. I've an awful feeling this company is about to hit an iceberg without any lifeboats for the crew. When it sinks, it'll be taking us down with it.” Shaking her head, she took her spoon and tried her dessert. Betsy's eyes lit up with delight. “Oooh, that's yummy! You should try some of this lime surprise, Laurie. Trust me. It tastes much better than it looks.”

Laurie eyed the dessert distrustfully. “Erm--no. I'll take your word for it, Betsy. Think I'll just stick to coffee and cake.” She made a face. “That stuff that was supposed to be lasagna was enough of a surprise for me, thanks.”

Getting herself a something from the table, Laurie went over to the coffee urn. Carefully balancing her plate and fork, while pouring herself some coffee, her mouth watered with desire. The dessert looked fab. It's card said it was a 'German Chocolate Layer Cake Compliments of Acheron Dental Associates.' Of course, she adored chocolate. She'd heard some women say that it was better than sex. Laurie shook her head. Only people who couldn't get a date would say that chocolate was better than sex. That said, in her book, it did come to the wire a very close second. She down across from Betsy, who was now sinking her teeth into one of the cupcakes Laurie brought. Betsy stared longingly at Laurie's cake.

“Oooh, didn't see any cake on the table. How could I have missed that?. Is that all chocolate?” She asked, between bites. “Aren't you gonna' try one of these cupcakes? You paid for them. You ought to at least eat one, get your money's worth out of it.”

“Nah. Limiting myself to just one dessert today. Gotta' watch my figure. I reckon I'm going to need four hours at the gym, for every bite of this cake.” Laurie leaned towards her friend and flashed Betsy a conspiratorial smile. “But if this tastes as good as it looks, it's absolutely-positively so going to be worth it.”

That said, Laurie stuck her finger into the rich, gooey dark chocolate frosting on the cake. As she licked it off, her head titled back and her eyes closed with the pleasurable sensation. She gave a blissful groan. Then she dove her fork into the cake, bringing it to her mouth, sniffing the chocolaty goodness, like a sommelier with a fine vintage wine. Opening her mouth, she inhaled the cake, and closed her eyes once more, preparing to be transported to chocolate lover's heaven. She chewed with careful slowness, savoring every moment.

Ow! Shit!” Laurie yelled abruptly, her hand grasping her right jaw as her eyes flew open in shock and pain.

You could have heard a pin drop. All the chatter and noise in the cafeteria stopped abruptly. Every eye in the place turning to stare at her. Reaching for her red paper napkin, Laurie opened her mouth and spit out a large, hard chunk of hazelnut...and a big piece of her tooth.

“What the hell? Oh, no! You've got to be kidding me!” She moaned, holding her jaw and staring in disbelief at the white tooth nestled in the red napkin.

“My word, look at that! Isn't that a shame. And such a nice cake, too.” Betsy consoled her, making sympathetic tsking noises while staring at the tooth, “Looks like you need to call a dentist.”

Saturday morning found Laurie walking up to the dental office she always passed on her way to the bus stop. She'd called from work Friday afternoon, and was told, because it was an emergency, that the dentist would make room in his schedule for her the next day. As she turned into the car park, she saw that, as usual, it was full of cars. Laurie wasn't in too much of a hurry, though. Like many people, she dreaded going to the dentist. Not to mention that this wasn't exactly her ideal way to start off the weekend. She paused in front of the entrance, took a deep breath, and opened the door.

Going in to the lobby, she was surprised to find that it was completely empty. Laurie reasoned that if the building was unlocked, and there were cars outside, then there must be somebody on the premises. Yet, there was no sign of a receptionist, or even of a receptionist's counter. There was nothing posted to indicate where patients should check in . Her gaze took in a long row of chairs off of the lobby, but all of the seats were empty. It was completely silent. Not so much as a muttered voice or child's whine could be heard. There wasn't even the monotonous drone of jazz or classical music, which these kinds of places usually had piped in to allegedly help patients relax..The building seemed to be utterly deserted. As if it were holding its breath, waiting for something to happen.

“Hello?” She called out, looking around, confused. Laurie was suddenly confused and uncomfortable. It felt as if she'd entered a strange house while the owners were away from home. “Are you open, yet? Is anyone here?”

Laurie stared out the tinted lobby windows at the cars outside. How could there be so many cars, and not a soul to be seen? Perhaps the parking lot was also used as some sort of commuter parking deal? Park your car, take a bus downtown or wherever. But, it was Saturday. Something just wasn't adding up here.

“That whatever thing is lost, we seek it, ere it comes to light, in every cranny but the right.” Came a male voice from directly behind her.

Giving a startled yelp, Laurie spun around. Coming face to face with the tall, lean dark-haired man she'd seen at the pub the other night. As before, he was dressed entirely in black, with a burgundy tie. Only this time he was wearing a white lab coat, as well. He was standing close to her--too close she felt, for comfort. The man smiled down at her, his dark eyes simmering with something she couldn't quite put a finger on.

“Cowper. The poet, not me. I'm Dr. Flagtius. And you appear to be lost. How might I help you?” He said softly, almost seductively.

“Erm--I have a ten o'clock appointment? To fix a broken tooth?” Laurie said uncertainly. For some reason, in this man's presence, she suddenly felt more discombobulated than ever.

“Ah, yes. My new...patient. How very kind of you to be so prompt.” The man's voice had a smooth and sophisticated quality to it, its tone almost mesmeric.

He gestured towards an set of gold elevator doors, situated in the middle of the wall. Which gave Laurie another start. How very odd! She'd not noticed that before. As a matter of fact, she could have sworn that particular wall had only a few framed French impressionist art prints on it, mere moments before. Maybe she shouldn't have downed so many Jello shots at the pub last night. But, they had helped to dull the pain in her tooth.

“You must get a lot of business, judging by all the cars out there.” She said nervously, as Dr. Flagtius lead the way towards the elevator. “Strange, though.”

Dr. Flagtus stopped abruptly and faced her. His expression suddenly unreadable, he asked. “And what is it that you find so strange, my dear?”

“That even though your lot is full, there's no one here. And now that I think of it, in all the times I've walked past this place, I've never seen anyone leave.”

“Well, what can I say?” He shrugged casually, “Our waiting room does have an exceptionally good supply of magazines.” The dentist said flippantly, giving her a wink as he pushed the call button for the elevator. Somehow though, Laurie didn't find that answer very reassuring.

The doors finally opened, and the pair of them stepped inside the elevator. It reminded her of one of those creaky old lifts they had in quaint turn-of-the-century hotels. As the door closed and the dentist shut the gate, Laurie started to have some misgivings.

Despite its ancient appearance--which was strange in itself, given the relative newness of the building, the elevator had canned music piped inside. She had expected the perky sort of music that her grandmother used to listen to: The Ray Coniff Singers, Johnny Mathis, One Thousand and One Strings, or whatever. Instead, it was a familiar rock-opera anthem by Queen. As it poured out of the ceiling, much to her discomfort, Dr. Flatius grinned with delight.

“Oooh! I love this song!” So saying, he began rocking to the beat, singing along. She turned away and rolled her eyes at the ceiling. Oh god. If the man started playing air guitar, she was so out of here! No painful tooth was worth all this.

As the dentist pressed the button for his desired floor, Laurie was puzzled. There only seemed to be one button to press. The letters were faded with age, but the button appeared to be labled, 'ELL'. What could the 'E' stand for? LL usually meant Lower Lobby. Extra Lower Lobby? Laurie shook her head. Nah, that would be ridiculous.

“I hope you're not in too much discomfort with that tooth.” Dr. Flagtius suddenly said to her, having stopped his elevator karaoke routine.

He stepped in close, his body nearly touching hers. She could smell the spicy musk of his aftershave, almost feel the heat emitting from his body.

“Er--yeah. I'm managing it just fine, thanks.” She answered, sidling away from him.

Why did the elevator seem to be taking forever? It seemed to be going down and down and down.

“It was nice of you to squeeze me in on a Saturday. Will this take long?” She asked, for want of anything else to say.

“It depends.” He said cryptically. “Fine dentistry cannot be rushed, you know. Speed prostitutes superiority. I believe that quality and patience are happy bedfellows.”

Why is it, when he said 'bedfellows,' she abruptly felt like she needed a shower?

“You know what would've happened if Michelangelo had rushed his statue David?” He continued.

“I don't know. What?” She heard herself asking.

“David would've ended up looking like Pee-Wee Herman sunbathing in a nudist colony in the Antarctic.” The man shuddered. “Bleurgh! What a disaster that would've been! Michaelangelo would've been lucky to get a job painting an outdoor toilet, never mind the Sistine Chapel.”

Just then, the elevator finally stopped. “Ah. Home at last.” Dr. Flagtius said, happily. “I swear I spend so much time here, I might as well make it my permanent address. Oh wait. It is!”

Laurie breathed a sigh of relief as the doors slid open. So glad to be finally getting out of there, that she didn't quite register everything the dentist said. But, as she stepped forward to leave, she froze in sheer terror. Her heart felt like it had leaped to her throat. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest. A thin icy shiver ran down her spine. She suddenly felt like she was going to pee herself.

Through the metal grill that blocked the open door, she saw nothing. It was pitch black. Yet, it was hardly silent. For, the air was filled with terrible screams and agonizing moans. They weren't close by, but seemed muffled, as if from somewhere just beyond whatever walls were separating her from whatever terrors lay beyond her knowledge.

Laurie backed up until she was pressed against the far wall of the elevator. “Wha--? What's happening?”

“I've had my eye on you for quite some time, Laurie.” He snickered. And I saw you watching me the other night. Gaggin' for a shag, were you?”

“What!” Laurie protested, going from shock to utter confusion. “How dare you? I never...”

“Oh, you've been a very naughty girl!” Dr. Flagtius chortled, rubbing his hands together.

“What the...what are you talking about? What is this place?” She stammered.

“Well you see, business is good, but it could be better. So I thought, why not advertise? Do some telemarketing. I know, I know, people hate telemarketers. But that's the joy of it, you see!” The dentist prattled on, as if Laurie were already in on the same page. Which she wasn't, of course. “Get 'em while they've got their snouts in the trough. When they're most likely to do damage to their teeth and whatnot. We give 'em a call, they chew, bite down on a bone, and ouch, I need a dentist. Hey, guess what? That's why we called you tonight! And boy have we got a deal for you! Easy-peasy, puddin' and pie, doesn't that tooth just make you cry?”

“What the hell is this?” Laurie shouted at him.

“Precisely!” Dr. Flagtius shouted, practically jumping up and down in his enthusiasm.

“Precisely what?” Laurie said again, starting to feel like a parrot. There were more screams. She shivered, backing into the farthest corner from this obviously mad dentist. Then, the thought hit her. “ mean this is Hell? I'm in Hell? No, no way. It can't be. This is some kind of joke, isn't it. Am I on camera or something? Am I being punked?”

“No, this isn't Candid Camera. That's Purgatory's department. We're in a sub-section of Hell. This is the devil's dental office.”

“Oh sure. Uh-huh. Right. Since when does the devil need a dentist?” She asked, humoring the crazy man. v “It's not for Him. It's for sinners. Only, we're not getting our quota of baddies of late. So, we've been on the lookout to hire someone who can really get us back in tip form. And I've been personally monitoring you, Laurie. You're very good! No, really! One of the best telemarketers I've seen in a long time. You lead that refund jerk around on a string, the other day. By the way, if it makes you feel any better, he's scheduled for an appointment in two year's time. For a hundred year molar extraction--without Novocaine, of course. That used to be the standard punishment for most chronic assholes...and conservative politicians. Same thing, really. Listen!” He points his finger at the ceiling. “That's a former senator from Kentucky, screaming like a little girl. Music to my ears. And wait till you see what we have in store for the folks at the Westboro Baptist Church. One hundred eternal root canals! The gift that keeps on giving! Anyway, I digress. Unfortunately, the Big Boss has added two whole new punishment departments, and business has fallen off here, of late. You know how some of the devil's minions are, always into the latest trend.”

“Pun--punishment departments? I can't believe this is happening. I must be in some alcohol-induced dream or something.” Laurie muttered, shaking her head.

“Nah. If it were a dream, you'd be snoring.” He grins.

“This is insane.” Laurie mutters. But, Dr. Flagtius keeps on, as if he hadn't heard.

“There's this new sub-section of Hell's IT department. It's getting more popular with every passing day. You know how the devil's minions are. Always into the latest trend. The latest punishment is forcing sinners to sit over burning coals, while trying to download the Adobe version of the five hundred thousand page step-by-step highly technical instructions for getting out of Hell....with the slowest and worst dial-up service ever invented.... a printer constantly running out of toner cartridges and a Windows 2000 computer. Ah well.” He shrugged, in a 'what can you do?' kind of way. “The big guy downstairs gets bored easily. He likes to come up with a few new punishments every hundred years or so. Gotta' keep up with the times, you know. Unfortunately, the more punishments there are, the less work me and my staff have to keep us occupied. That's why we need your help.”

“I--I don't believe this. This can't possibly be real. You're mad!” Laurie sputtered, clutching her purse to her chest. She pulled out her cell phone and held it out towards him, like a vampire's victim clutching a cross. “Get me out of here, or I'm calling the police.”

“No service down here.” He said straight-faced. “You're in a dead zone.”

“Somehow I knew you'd say that.” She murmured, as she punched up 911.

“Look,” He said, leaning over and placing his hand against the wall next to her, and giving her his most charming smile, “I'm quite sincere, Laurie. I really could use your help. And I promise, if you decide to come to work for me, we can give you a starting salary of a hundred thousand dollars per year, plus a really great benefits package.”

“Benefits? Hell comes with benefits?” Laurie heard herself asking. Why was she even considering this?

“Yup!” He smiled warmly. “Hell's not all gloom and doom. That's just some propaganda the PR people in Heaven cooked up, to keep people in line. We here in Hell offer excellent benefits to our loyal staff members. Including a two-hour lunch every day, shopping and clubbing trips every weekend, an employee pool and spa for keeping fit and relaxing after work, and eight weeks vacation every year. Anywhere on planet Earth. Any place in time. With anyone you choose. Even that really buff guy you like to watch work out at at the health club every Wednesday morning.”

“What? How did you know about....”

“Oh! And I nearly forgot! Sorry. I should mention that your perks would also includes a nice, fully furnished condo on the beach, overlooking the lake of fire. Soundproofed of course. Won't do to have the screamers keeping you awake at night. It comes with a thousand channel TV, a rockin' stereo system, wi-fi, all the latest video games and a fully stocked kitchen. And,as an added bonus, by working for a dental office, you'll never have to worry about tooth decay, ever again. So? What do you say? Do we have a deal?”

“Is this for real?” Laurie asked skeptically. She still thought she was being had.

“Absolutely!” Dr. Flagtius beamed at her. “And I promise,” he added, placing his hand on his chest where his heart would have been...if he had one. “Despite the fact that this is Hell, I really do try to be a nice boss. I won't throw fits or make threats. That's so Middle Ages, if you know what I mean. If you're really in there pitching away, but still not meeting your quota, we'll just do lunch. Try to find a new sales strategy that works for you.”

“Uh--about my tooth....” Laurie said. It was beginning to throb again.

“Full dental package. All inclusive. You'll never have to wait to be seen, and never have to pay a dental bill, ever again. Or any other type of bill. Hell's credit card takes care of all of that.”

“Hell has its own credit card?”

“Of course! Zero percent interest, automatically paid in full ten seconds after you use it. Good anywhere that takes plastic. Just another perk we like to offer our staff.”

“I'm really not sure....” She shook her head.

“Did I mention this also includes a daily supply of Swiss chocolate on your desk?” He said softly, smoothly, enticingly.

“Erm--where is this office of yours?” Laure said.

Back                         Home                          Next

Your Name or Alias:      Your E-mail (optional):

Please type your review below. Only positive reviews and constructive criticism will be posted!