By Ken Korczak
In the more than 12 years I have been writing my Minnesota Mysteries column, I have grown accustomed to getting a lot of strange calls from readers, and people from all walks of life with their own stories of the paranormal to tell.
But perhaps the strangest call I ever received was from an elderly man who would only identify himself as “Elden.” Elden told me he was desperate to tell someone his story — someone who would listen, believe him and not laugh at him. I tried to put Elden at ease. I assured him that after 12 years of writing stories of the strange, I had heard it all.
But I was wrong.
That’s because Elden proceeded to tell me that for the past 8 years, the four wisdom teeth in his head had each become a kind of conduit or receiving station which channeled the voices of four disembodied spirits from another world, or some other dimension.
Elden theorized that the metallic dental work in each of his wisdom teeth had somehow tuned into the electromagnetic signal of these four personalities, whom now transmitted their conversations through his teeth. At first, Elden was alarmed at these four new voices that seemed to be emanating from the back of his jaw, and which he could hear as clearly as any human voice. But his distress soon faded as he continued to listen to the conversations of these new ghostly “guests” being channeled through his teeth. In fact, he quickly grew to know and love each personality.
Elden said that each of his four wisdom teeth had their own name. The two wisdom teeth on the top were Carl and Boyd, and the bottom two Sal and Velma. Carl was clever and smooth, often making his points with a gentle and witty sense of humor. He also made excellent use of colorful anecdotes to make himself better understood. His remarks were well balanced and showed a clear understanding of world events. Carl projected kindness and intelligence.
Tooth Boyd was a basher. Boyd usually tried to force his opinions on the others with or without facts. He employed trumped-up statistics he felt the others could not refute. He interrupted frequently, especially when Carl or Velma had the floor, or in this case, the mouth. Still, Boyd’s bark was worse than his bite.
Velma, the lone female wisdom tooth, was smooth. She had a gentle southern accent which grew more sumptuous with each passing year. If she was less intelligent than Carl and less forceful than Boyd, she was more persuasive than both. Her charm and feminine wit were irresistible. Elden could not imagine his dental forum without her silky elocutions to make it complete.
Sal, it had to be admitted, was the least gifted of the chatty choppers. He typically made his points by grunting in agreement with Boyd or shouting “Yeah!” after Boyd listed some fact or statistic. Sal would then repeat that fact as if it were his own, adding a twist at the end to make it sound original. It was clear that without Boyd, Sal could not hold his end of the conversation. Sometimes, the others thought of Sal as an ordinary molar. Yet, Sal was harmless, and he filled the chinks in the jawboning nicely.
One more thing about Sal. Although he was the palooka of the foursome, he was not-so-secretly in love with Velma, a fact which sometimes slipped during the simmer of a strong debate. For example, during one particularly heated discussion about aging, Sal, forgetting himself, extravagantly described the way the gums still snugly hugged Velma’s “hard, sleek enamel, with grace and style.”
Blurting this out, Sal immediately halted and blushed. An awkward moment of painful silence hovered among the four grinders. But they soon recovered and were off to less controversial topics. Verily, Velma agreed most often with the cool-capped Carl, although this stopped well short of romance. After all, and interestingly, Velma was positioned opposite of Boyd, while Carl and Sal shared the food processing duties on the other side of the jaw.
Sometimes when Carl and Sal had a french fry pressed between them, Carl could feel Sal’s palpable longing to be smashing tubers against Velma instead of Carl. Carl said nothing about it. His detached deportment was the personification of discretion and dignity. As the years passed, the character of each wisdom tooth expanded, becoming more complex and profound. Because Elden listened to them while falling asleep, his vast unconscious mind brought greater dimension to their individual personalities. Eventually each became as real to him as if they were independent, conscious beings. Certainly they were beloved friends.
Then one day, tragedy struck.
Elden awoke one morning with intense pain in his mouth. It was a tooth ache; a bad one. He got an emergency appointment to see a dentist. Hours later he was in the chair, mouth agape. It took the doctor only minutes to find the problem. It was a wisdom tooth. It was rotten. It had to be pulled. It was Velma. Yes, the foursome’s only female member was facing the end.
Elden swooned in disbelief. After so many years he could not imagine life without this luxurious personality to enrich his daily existence. Deeply agitated, he pleaded with the dentist for options. “Doctor! Can she be filled, or crowned, or (and here Elden gasped) how about a root canal?” The thought of Velma being drilled to the base of her existence, and having her nerve destroyed by bits of whirling steel was a nightmare, but at least she would live on. Or would she? And how? What would be her quality of life? Would she still have her mind, or would she be a mere shell, an eerie doppelganger? In the end, no options remained. The dentist assured Elden that extraction was the only recourse.
Elden asked for a few minutes alone to masticate his circumstances. The dentist, mildly puzzled, and perhaps wondering why Elden referred to the tooth as “her” and “she,” nevertheless left the room. Elden mustered his strength and listened mournfully as Carl, Boyd and Sal said their teary goodbyes. Already, Velma, throbbing and shooting pain throughout the lower side of Elden’s face, was not answering. She was gone. Sal broke down and wept bitterly. Boyd and Carl grew silent, calcified with grief.
The extraction process was grim. Tongs of cold metal reached in like a demonic mantis grasping it’s prey with steel claws of cool precision — without mercy. In just seconds Velma left the warm, moist darkness of the mouth and was floating upward toward the light. She passed through it and was lost in the brilliance. Elden requested maximum gas to numb himself during the procedure. He dreaded that moment when he must again breathe pure air and face life without the velvety voice of Velma vibrating in his lower jaw.
After Velma was gone, Carl, Boyd and Sal seemed out of sync. The conversation just didn’t flow like it had before. Sal had gone listless. He was soon extracted as well. Carl and Boyd, alone now, had no chemistry together. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Boyd soon abscessed. Elden underwent dental surgery and requested that Carl be cut as well. He abhorred the thought of Carl alone at the back of his mouth, pining for Velma and the others.
After his four friends were gone, Elden told me the loneliness has been almost unbearable. Elden’s wife died several years ago and his children are all grown and live in other cities. The eight years he had with those four wonderful personalities channeling their bright spirits though his teeth were among the best years of his life. I felt at a loss for something to say to Elden, to comfort him. But said that just telling me his story helped, and that he hoped that when my readers heard about it, well, at least someone would know about the wonderful unexpected gifts that can come to any of us from a universe that is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.
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