By: Catherine Olaso
Teenage ghosts hound me, plague me – compel me to their hidden, rotting corpses left unclaimed and un-eulogized and beg me to dig them up. It’s a gruesome task, but what choice is there?
The siege is worse when I drive by secluded walking paths, dirty alleys and abandoned lots – dark zones that breed and shelter violence. In these places, the voices come faster and louder – a combination of TV static and a dental drill set on high.
I manage the cacophony jarring my skull most of the time, but occasionally, a single ghost’s voice breaks through the rest – someone exceptionally persistent, stubborn, demanding. A hint of relief comes only when I listen, really listen, to whatever I’m meant to hear.
It doesn’t help that I inspect condemned buildings for a living. I wanted to be a dentist ever since Dr. Wilson yanked my wisdom teeth that summer I turned sixteen. I smiled around wads of gauze jutting from my mouth when he handed me a clear container displaying the enormous, sharp cusped teeth – my trophy after the pain. But I couldn’t pass the entrance exam for dental school and landed a crappy City job instead.
My afternoon inspection route leads me to a dilapidated apartment complex. I pull my city-issued pickup against the curb and grab my hardhat. The single-story building is weathered and graffitied, the windows boarded; though I can see holes big enough to climb through as I unlock the door to apartment one.
Inside, the place looks and reeks like all the rest. Dark, dank, dusty – the stench of urine and mold seeping from filthy carpets and gutted kitchens. My nose burns enough to make my eyes sting. I leave the front door open and click on a flashlight, my silhouette an eerie projection against the blood spattered wall opposite me. Violence rings in my ears as the constant voices spike to a deafening pitch. Pain! Pain! Pain!
Summoned into the bathroom, my pulse shrieks the horror my voice cannot. I can’t breathe as I absorb the cruelty staining the porcelain fixtures – every crimson streak evidence of heinous torture.
The tattered shower curtain surges out, squeezing me in an angry grip. Mildew crusted vinyl strains against my skin, choking me. Floundering, I manage the words, “I can’t help you if I’m dead. Let go.”
The curtain slackens, limp. This one really wants my attention. My breath levels while I watch a name and address take shape on the dusty mirror. Dried blood distorts some of the letters. I blink, and nearly miss the added image of a teenage boy, his face hidden within the shadows of his blue hoodie. His rage crackles inside the tiny bathroom, heightening into a palpable friction. The light bulb above my head explodes. I duck against the shower of glass. “Easy, kid. I know the address.” Strange … I know all of the addresses the voices direct me to.
Twenty minutes later, I park beside a chain-link fence and cut the pickup’s engine. Mid-day, and the city dump stinks worse than the apartment I just left. I nod at the attendant and follow the voices urging me toward a hollow landfill south of the main gate. A rusted piece of sheet metal serves as a makeshift shovel. I dig where he tells me to, the other voices echoing his in a riotous frenzy. Here! Here! Here!
The sleeve of a blue hoodie catches the edge of the metal. An arm. It scarcely registers before the cops descend, guns aimed at me and dogs restrained on jerking leashes. “Get on the ground!” An officer yells.
I submit in a shocked daze. What’s going on? I’m not a criminal.
I’m cuffed, Miranda’d and hauled into the police station. I flinch when the detective slaps a picture of Cory’s dead body onto the table in front of me. Cory … the boy in the blue hoodie. The voices swell to an excruciating fervor when Cory’s photo is followed by a dozen others. The gruesome images are identical. I can’t look at them anymore.
“Took us awhile to realize our killer always returned to dig up the corpses after enlightening us with anonymous tips.” The seasoned detective leans in to meet my eyes. “Some kind of sick thrill twice?”
I swallow. There’d been a lot of bodies to unearth lately. The voices …
“They were missing – I found them.”
“Is that what you call it? Mr. Addler, you murdered kids! Thirteen teenagers to be exact.”
“No! I see their ghosts, hear their voices, they come to me for help.”
The detective’s brow tightens. “Try revenge, Mr. Addler. They come to you for revenge and reparation. Hell, you should see ghosts, because it’s you that created them.”
Thirteen pale faces crowd me, accusation and vengeance in their milky eyes. Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Their chant claws my gut – worms through my soul. I shut them out. All of them.
Too much stress … I’m suffocating. My eyes twitch and my voice deepens. “Those kids … they’re all I hear!” My hands shake. “I want a lawyer.”
The detective straightens. “You can see a lawyer. And you can see these too.” He produces a Ziplock bag filled with wisdom teeth and holds it to the light. “What do you bet these are perfect matches?”
My pulse pounds in my ears. I close my eyes, pushing the haunting, leering faces of thirteen children further away. Sweat beads my forehead.
“Background check showed you couldn’t make the cut. You started a private practice?” The detective shakes the bag. “That’s right Mr. Addler; our search warrant paid off. Dental records are on their way. I’ll take any statement you want to give.”
I clench my jaw, fighting vivid, brutal memories. I’m not a murderer!
I start to speak, but the bag shifts. Each polished tooth glints under the fluorescent lights. My breath hitches. I can’t look away. The detective’s voice fades.
Beautiful teeth …