“You teach literature don’t you?” The question was casual, conversational.
Her answer was a terrified bobbing of her head, up and down. In her defense, the metal bracket holding her mouth open and her tongue out of the way prevented actual speech.
“You know the Poe story ‘Berenice?'”
Another uncontrolled nod. Spittle formed at the corners of her mouth and he used a clean, white handkerchief to dab it away, then grimaced when he noticed that the bubbles of saliva held traces of blood from the metal cutting into the corners of her mouth. Untidy, that.
“He did it wrong, the man in that story.” He kept the conversation going as he reached for his favorite pliers. Needle-nose, with a cushioned grip. “He waited until she was buried before he went after his prizes. Miraculous that she still had all of them intact, especially considering the general lack of medical care or balanced diets in that era.”
The brunette with the wide brown eyes twisted frantically in her chair, but the zip-ties didn’t have a millimeter of give in them. She was there to stay.
“Grave-digging is such filthy work. Mud and bugs and gore… much easier to choose a live subject.” He leaned over her, pushed stray hair away from her sweat-soaked brow with almost tender care. “This is going to be… extremely painful.”
The pliers closed around his selected target. Smiling as he worked he twisted, tugged… pulled… until his quarry came free, root and all.
“Your dentist must be very good, my dear,” he said to the woman whose screams couldn’t quite make it past her throat. He lowered his voice to a reverent whisper: “You have lovely bicuspids.”
He let the small, white object fall into a metal bowl.
He expected that she’d react to the sound, but his expectation was met with great silence.
She had fainted.
No matter, she would wake soon enough, and they’d begin again. Wash, rinse, repeat, until he had all thirty-two.
Old Egaeus would have been proud.