Inside the tent, the place was hung with bead-string curtains. The beads were all tiny human teeth. What a décor!
I swooped to the roof, grabbed a fold of cloth, hung out, and pinged. An old woman was sitting at a table. A crystal ball glowed in front of her. She said, “I see a small dark stranger.”
I said, “I see a weird old witch.”
She looked at me and cackled, “Hee, he-he-he heee! You got that all right!”
“You the Tooth Fairy?”
“The same.” She scried her crystal ball. “And you are Mischief, private ear.”
“Fast hacking,” I said. “That ball got internet?”
“The Tooth Fairy sees all, knows all, tells all,” the Tooth Fairy intoned.
“Good, because I’m here to ask you a few questions.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Just two things. How. And why.”
The Tooth Fairy smiled. Her teeth were small, yellow and crooked. “I’ll tell you… but first you must catch me!”
She turned into a firefly and flew out of the tent.
I yelled, “Magic? That’s cheating!” Then I launched myself after her.
I followed her out of the tent, into the yard, through entrance 17, and into a twisty corridor. It split in two, and I took the left-hand fork. The corridor made a dizzy twist kata, into the fourth dimension. Then the corridor turned upwards and curled into a left-handed corkscrew. Next it opened into the air.
I pinged. I was flying up Church Way in a left-handed corkscrew. Traffic was light: a small dragon, a bevy of witches, a Yeti and some robots. Someone was flying next to me, corkscrewing right-hand. He looked like me, but was he a mirror image? Or my previous self? Or maybe the shape-shifting Tooth Fairy, pretending to be me?
I said, “Are you her or are you me?”
He wavered, startled. He said, “Who? What?”
That sounded familiar. “Oh, brother! You’re me, all right. Here we go again.”
“Again? You mean… this is a time-loop?”
I sighed. “I knew you’d say that. Look, I’m busy. I gotta go, now.”
“All right. Tooth mouse.”
He wailed, “Tooth raat?”
“Not rat: mouse. Tooth mouse,” I said, and then flapped off into hyperspace.
I flicked ana, into the fourth dimension, to wing my way through time back to where-and-when I was. Time loops. I hate those things.
Blip it, the magic lady had me flying in a circle! Well, at least I’d closed off the time loop. You mustn’t leave them hanging open.
But enough with talking to myself! Back to the chase!
Back to the fork in the corridor. I took the other branch this time.
She was waiting for me there, blip it! She gave out that creepy cackle. “Hee, he-he-he heee! I am a robin, and I shall fly, far far away!”
And once again, she used magic. She turned into a robin, and flew away.
Now I don’t know that much about magic, but I do know some, and the first rule of magic is: Two Can Play That Game. So I said, “Then I am an eagle, and I shall overtake you!” And I turned into an eagle, and the transformation chase was on.
Just before I caught her, she said, “I am the Sun, high in the sky!” and she became the Sun; but I said, “Then I am the Moon, and I shall eclipse you!”
And I became the Moon, and I began to eclipse her, but just before totality she said, “I am an electron, flying on the solar wind!” She became an electron, and she rode the solar wind; but I said, “Then I am a photon, flying at light speed!”
I flew at light-speed, but just before I caught her she said, “I am a squid, hidden in the dark deep ocean!” and she became a squid; but I said, “Then I am a whale, sounding for squid!”
I pinged for her, and echolocated her, and swam towards her, but she said, “I am a marlin, and I shall outswim you!” She became a marlin, and she swam away, faster than me; but I said, “Then I am a fisherman, and I shall catch you!”
I stood at the end of a pier and cast my net for her, but she said, “I am a cat, and I shall slip away from you!” She became a cat, and she slipped away from me, off the pier and into town. But I said, “Then I am a dog, and I shall chase you down!”
I chased her through the town, down a street, and into an alley. It dead-ended, and I had her cornered. “Talk!” I barked. “Talk! Talk! Talk!”
She arched her back, bristled her fur and spat, “I’ll talk!”
I sat down and said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah?”
She yowled, “I useta be a Goddess!”
There was a flash of light and a blat of noise. When my ears and eyes cleared, I saw that we were back in the tent. I was hanging out by a fold of ceiling-cloth, and she was seated at a crystal ball. It was like we hadn’t moved at all.
“A Goddess!” she continued, as if nothing had happened. “I had temples and priests, and best of all – believers!”
“So what happened?”
“What else? They stopped believing! Nowadays, all I’ve got to live on is kiddy faith! No more nutritious delicious grown-up belief for me to eat!”
“You eat belief?”
“Oh, didn’t you know? Faith is the food of the gods.”
“But now you only get kiddy-faith?”
“And it’s not a balanced diet! Excuse me,” the Tooth Fairy said. She reached into her mouth and took out her teeth. She gummed a toothless smile and snapped her dentures at me. She put that set on the table, next to the crystal ball, picked up another set and put them in. The Tooth Fairy smacked in her new dentures and said, “Like I said, kiddy faith’s an unbalanced diet: too sweet, too light, no heavy elements. So I lost my old teeth. But, I make do. After all, I’m the Tooth Fairy.”
“Hey, are those kid’s teeth?”
The Tooth Fairy smiled at me. Her teeth were small, yellow and crooked.
I said, “Eeew!”
She cackled: “Hee, he-he-he heee! Kids will believe anything, no matter how gross or weird! And that’s how I survive.”
“But without their belief… you’d starve?”
“Yes! So please, please, won’t you believe in me?”
“Why should I?”
“So you’re a doubter, eh?” she said. “Then watch this, you skeptic!”
She waved her hands over the crystal ball, and it lit up. I flew down to the table for a closer look; my eyes aren’t as sharp as my ears, and sonar doesn’t work on crystal ball displays.
Within was my client and her father. She had just lost a tooth. “See?” said the Tooth Fairy. “He’s got a film canister! And he puts the tooth in!” We watched him put the film canister under my client’s pillow. The Tooth Fairy said, “Oh, look, he removes his hand. But wait! Has he palmed the film canister? Yes! And has he put it away? Yes! And was there another film canister, same size, same shape, same color, with the money in it, already under the pillow?”
I said, “Then your big magic trick is just sleight of hand?”
She said, “Yes. But look! He bungled the swap! Badly! The tooth is rattling around in his pocket! She can hear it! She isn’t fooled at all!”
Inside the crystal ball, my client and her father walked out the door, waited a moment, then walked back in. The second canister was there under the pillow, with the money in it, but you could see in my client’s eyes that she wasn’t buying it.
The Tooth Fairy wailed, “The illusion of me is shattered! I can’t bear to watch any more!” She waved her hands over the crystal ball. It went dark, and she said, “Sheer incompetence! You just can’t get good help nowadays!”
I said, “Was he even trying to fool her?”
“Not very hard!” The Tooth Fairy smiled. “But you see, dearie, that’s the point.”
“Your client’s father is deliberately raising your client to be an unbeliever! And he’s using me to do it!”
“Because of you, the gods can’t feed off of her?”
The Tooth Fairy said, “She’s worthless to them now! Every time she’s tempted to believe in them, she’ll remember what happened with me!”
“She used to believe in you, but now no longer?”
“Exactly! And as for your client’s father – he doesn’t believe in me at all, but he propagated me anyhow! And he did it just to disillusion her!”
“So that’s your scam? Then you are just like your friend Vaccinia!”
“You got it, dearie.”
“You’re a failed myth! You throw the fight, just like Vaccinia!”
The Tooth Fairy shrugged. “A myth gotta do what a myth gotta do.”
I said, “Your failure confers immunity to other myths! And the humans are exploiting this effect!”
“Hee, he-he-he heee!”
“You’re a meme-vaccine! You’re a ritual initiation into skepticism!”
The Tooth Fairy declared, “I am a turncoat to the gods! I’m a parody of divinity! All those high-falutin’ gods and states and corporations… they want humans to believe in them forever. But the kiddies are expected to outgrow me! One disillusionment, one personal mini-Enlightenment, signed yours truly! Hee, he-he-he, heee!”
I blurted, “You’re weird!”
“I get ’em young! Baby teeth, baby mind; they lose ’em both at once!”
I blurted, “So have you! You’re cracked!”
“Who are you to talk?” she sneered. “You’re as bogus as I am!”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You followed me through a transformation chase! I went from a firefly to a robin to the Sun to an electron to a squid to a marlin to a cat! And you went from an eagle to the Moon to a photon to a whale to a fisherman to a dog!”
“Nothing real can do that!” the Tooth Fairy screeched. “But I did, and so did you, dearie! Hee, he-he-he heee!”
“But it isn’t just me. And it isn’t just you. It’s this whole wacky burg!”
The Tooth Fairy said, “Hellen! Sky-city halfway to anywhere! It’s Hell, it’s Heaven, it’s the Hub of the Opposite Sky, it’s overhead yet underfoot! Hee, he-he-he heee! Hellen! Pantopian paradox! Impossible cosmopolis! Hellen: city of dreams!”
“Wait! You mean the entire city – ”
“Illusions! Delusions! Deceptions!” she cried. “I denounce Hellen! It’s a fiction!”
The Tooth Fairy ranted, “I denounce the spirits! I denounce the superheroes! I denounce the angels and the aliens! I denounce the demons and the corporations! I denounce the gods, and I denounce the ’Toons! They’re fictions, all fictions! I denounce you, and I denounce myself! I DO NOT EXIST!”
“You are crazy!”
I had to get away. I flew off the table and out of the tent. The Tooth Fairy ran out of the tent and shook her fist at me as I flapped away.
“Lies! Lies!” the Tooth Fairy cried. “Lies for children! LIES!”