“Tricky Roots” Dark Fantasy by Gracie C. McKeever

"Tricky Roots" Dark Fantasy by Gracie C. McKeever:  Native New Yorker, Gracie C. McKeever (http://www.graciecmckeever.com) has authored several novels, novellas and series most of which can be found at Siren Publishing under multiple sub-genres beneath the erotic romance umbrella. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies Sensuality: Caramel Flava II and Bold Strokes Books’ In Our Words. 

Danny Pearl sat in the dentist’s waiting room beside his mother, one leg bouncing up and down as he nibbled on the fingernails of one hand. He anxiously listened to the drilling sounds drifting from a few of the back rooms and the cries of pain from at least one.

Danny hated the dentist.

“Stop that, Danior.” His mother caught his wrist and pulled his hand away from his mouth. “Don’t be so nervous. You have naturally beautiful, healthy teeth. You always have.”

He hated it even more when his mother called him Danior. Sure, he did have beautiful teeth and he’d heard the stories many times before. His mother never let him forget that he had nipped her as a newborn on numerous occasions when she’d breastfed him, not just with his strong gums, but with actual teeth. The entire family, except for his mother, had been calling him Drac since he was little. She had given him a good sturdy name and refused to use anything else.

“Danior Pearl.”

His heartbeat picked up its pace, pounding so hard it sounded like Phil Collins’ famous In The Air Tonight drum riff playing in his ears when the receptionist called his name.

“Don’t worry, Danior. It’s just a cleaning.” Mom patted his hand before he stood to follow the assistant to one of the back rooms.

The place was clean and well-maintained, yet the familiar antiseptic smells and the sounds of scattered groans convinced Danny he was walking down the hall to a medieval torture chamber and his certain demise.

He couldn’t account for his paranoia.

Aside an impacted wisdom tooth that had to be extracted a year ago when he’d been sixteen, he hadn’t lost any teeth as a young adult. And the extraction had been unremarkable and painless since he’d had IV sedation.

The dentist had been extremely surprised and seemed almost annoyed that his teeth and gums were in such great shape—no cavities, no gingivitis, teeth as white as a Klan member’s sheet and straight as a Republican’s tie. Suffice to say he was an entrepreneurial dentist’s worst nightmare. 

The assistant fixed the familiar blue bib around his neck and neatly arranged the evil-looking dental tools on the instrument tray for use. “The dentist will be with you shortly.”

“But I’m only here for a cle—” She was gone before Danny could finish.

He sat back in the reclining chair, took several deep breaths and tried to relax. When this didn’t work, he craned his head to watch the large flat screen above where a daytime talk show

was playing. At least it wasn’t Little Shop of Horrors or Marathon Man. His last dentist had had a wicked sense of humor.

“Danior, how are we today?”

Danny glanced at the masked man with a start, gaze following him around the room as he examined Danny’s most recent X-rays. “I-I’m okay.”

The dentist sat down on the stool and rolled close. “Head back.”

Reluctantly, Danny obeyed, staring at the dentist’s strangely familiar gray eyes. He lowered his gaze to the man’s name tag—J. Alvaro, DDS—then raised them back to the man’s intense expression.

“I tried to tell your assistant, I’m only getting a cleaning.” If he didn’t know better, he’d have said J. Alvaro smiled behind his mask. There was definitely a twinkle in his smoky-gray eyes as he leaned forward.

“That’s what you think.” Then J. Alvaro, DDS raised one hand and blew colorful sparkling dust from his palm right into Danny’s face.

“Wha—” He couldn’t even get the entire word out before his whole world went black.

* * *

Five Years Later

“Danior! Danior!”

“Over here, please!”

“Can we get your autograph?”

Danny smiled as various items and body parts were shoved in his face.

Paparazzi’s flashbulbs blinded him and fans’ cheers were deafening.

His agent would tell him this was what he had signed up for.

Danny wanted to tell his agent to kiss his ass.

“Over here, Danior!”

He’d gone with the more unique name in deference to his mother but also because it sounded more Hollywood and his agent said it had a catchy cool ring to it. Hearing the still unfamiliar moniker screamed and shouted, however, made him cringe.

Danny signed as many items as he could, smiling all the way to the limousine at the curb and only let out a breath once the door slammed behind Eleanor Blackwell, his publicist.

He leaned back, closed his eyes and sighed.

“You did well, Danny.” She squeezed his thigh then pushed a glass into his hand.

Even after all the Hollywood parties and events he’d attended in the last year, Danny hadn’t acquired a taste for alcohol. Part of his appeal to his fans and his fans’ parents was his clean-cut image, starting with his first gig in a toothpaste commercial, of all things, an image that his agent and publicist had helped him hone as his career took off.

Not that they’d needed to do much honing. Danny wouldn’t know how not to be clean-cut if he tried.

Except for that one slip-up with Ariel shortly after he arrived in California—an act of which he hadn’t been too proud and for which he had been trying to repent ever since—there were no real skeletons in his closet.

He raised the glass to his mouth without sniffing and took a big gulp, pleased that it was only club soda. His people knew him well.

“So, we still have Fallon later tonight, and tomorrow you’re scheduled for The View.”

Danny grinned at the latter. He had interesting memories of that show. It had been playing during his last dental visit. The one he could remember nothing about except sitting in the waiting room with his mother. He’d gone for a cleaning, but could remember nothing after J. Alvaro blew sparkling dust into his face.

As mistrustful as he was of the dentist, he’d never had to be put to sleep for a cleaning and he’d most certainly never been put to sleep in such an unconventional, whimsical manner.

After J. Alvaro he’d stopped going to the dentist. He knew it was self-destructive but since he routinely did all the right things on his own—flossed, brushed, used a Waterpik and had a healthy diet conducive to good dental health—he didn’t think he was doing too much damage.

His parents hadn’t been able to change his mind and once he’d reached his eighteenth birthday soon after that infamous visit, he’d left their home and headed to California, ostensibly to become a working actor, though movie star was a twinkling in his eyes.

From his first appearance on stage in Miss Roddendrum’s second grade class version of Excalibur, Danny had been hooked on performing. Playing Robin Goodfellow for his junior

high’s annual talent contest cinched his passion.

Now he was a regular on one of television’s hottest new hospital drama’s, weekly spouting medical jargon while cutting into dummy chest cavities and having fake blood spurt on him in a manner realistic enough to make him dry heave.

He’d had to get over his aversion to blood quickly, however, once he’d landed the part of medical student Marco Hayes on Mercy Medical.

The press junket today was as much about his co-starring role in an upcoming buddy cop movie with a seasoned and older A-lister as it was about his TV gig. The movie was being touted his big break. It was definitely a breakout role where he shined.

Danny had never expected to hit it this big so soon—what the press called his meteoric rise—especially not since he hadn’t come up through the Disney or Nickelodeon talent mills. He’d succeeded in spite of them.

His first three years in California he’d spent waiting tables and going to auditions. Then he’d landed the toothpaste spot and the rest as they say was history.

Now that he had hit it big, he didn’t know what he was supposed to do with himself besides go along for the ride and become more successful. Yippee.

“Are you listening to me, Danny?”

He nodded and took another gulp of his soda water. “Fallon and The View.”

“Are you feeling okay? We have been running non-stop for weeks now.” Eleanor put her palm on his forehead, reminding him of his mother with her worrying and concern.

His mother whom he had been doing all this for. Sure, passion for the craft had initially lured him in, given him something for which to strive other than a regular nine-to-five, but in the back of his mind he’d always wanted to be able to take care of his parents the way they had always taken care of and sacrificed for him. What was all this for, if not that?

“I’m fine.” Not really. He had a hell of a headache and he had a sneaking suspicion it was caused by a rare toothache and not all the stress from the recent press junket.

Maybe ceasing his regular dental visits hadn’t been such a bright idea. 

That’s what you think.

The only thing missing behind that statement had been the evil scientist’s maniacal laugh—Mwah-ah-ah.

Danny searched his mind for that missing gap of time. What had happened to him between that sparkly dust in his face and the assistant tapping his hand to tell him “All done!” with a cheery-assed attitude thirty minutes later? A cheery-assed attitude that had not suited his mood at all, by the way.

What had they done to him besides a cleaning?

Would he know if he had been violated? He hadn’t felt any different and he knew his mother had done her due diligence before bringing him to that particular practice. If there had been any dirt to be found on any of the dental professionals there, she would have found it.

Had he imagined J. Alvaro’s words and the sparkly dust?

“We’re here, sweetie.”

He wasn’t a sweetie. Far from it. He no longer knew if Hollywood had changed him or if he had always had it in him to be…not so sweet.

Someone who would deny a bond that was so clearly what he wanted, it hurt to remember he’d willingly walked away.

A memory of intense smoky-gray eyes in the dim light of his bedroom flashed in his mind. It was a bedroom in the first crappy apartment he’d shared with three roommates, all would-be actors with stars in their eyes like him, and he didn’t think he’d ever forget that gray gaze—strange yet familiar.

It was the first time he had brought someone home, though his roommates had had no such compunctions and brought home friends and lovers all the time.

Not him. Not until Ariel. His person for a short time. Someone just for him. Something. Not someone or something to please his mom and dad who would have surely lost their shit to know their one and only baby boy was gay.

He’d needed the outlet though, needed Ariel. He’d never taken anything for himself, not like that, never claimed his sexuality since he’d become sexually active as a fifteen year old. He’d been too worried about hurting his parents, disappointing them. It was bad enough that he wanted to leave home and be an actor, but for him to be gay, one of “those people”, would have been just too much for them to take.

He couldn’t do that to them.

Danny opened his eyes to glance out the tinted limousine’s window and saw that they had

arrived at his modest brownstone. No more crappy apartments. No more roommates. No more intense gray eyes either. He’d fucked that up. 

“We’ll be back for you in a few hours.”

Danny nodded and opened the door, beating the driver to the punch and stepping out onto the curb as he noticed someone standing in the shadows near his front steps.

His heartbeat skipped then sped, thudding painfully hard in his chest. In that moment he wondered why he hadn’t taken Eleanor and his agent’s advice to get a security detail. Not a big one. One bodyguard would have done. He’d, however, thought it a waste of time and money.

What would happen if he became more famous? What would happen if he came out?

The limousine pulled away from the curb, taking all his questions with it as the shadow approached, lowering its hoody to reveal a light-brown ageless face. A familiar face.

“Ari.” The name slipped from his lips in a whisper.

Had he conjured his first boyfriend—or at least the closest thing he’d had to a boyfriend—with his earlier nostalgic thoughts? Was Ariel really standing there before him, smoky eyes as intense as ever and seeming to glimmer beneath the ambient glow of the streetlight?

“Surprise,” Ariel said, a smile creeping up the side of his unearthly pretty face.

Fear suddenly suffused Danny at the sight. Fear and guilt.

“It’s time, Danior.”

It all flooded back to him then and he didn’t need any sparkly dust blown in his face for the many images of Ariel—aka J. Alvaro aka Danny’s own personal tooth fairy—to flash before his mind’s eye and coalesce. From the time Danny had lost his first baby tooth, Ariel had been there—different bodies, different sizes—but he’d been there, shapeshifting and easing his way in and out of Danny’s life like a possessive stalker.

Or was he something even more sinister?

“You didn’t think your good fortune would last forever, did you?”

“Good fortune?”

“Enchantment. Charmed. We have many names for what you’ve been given. But they all come with a price. Free ride is over.”

“Is this because I ghosted you?”

Ariel didn’t even flinch, just smirked, his extra sharp canines seeming to grow as Danny stared. “Don’t insult me. We aren’t affected by petty human emotions. No hard feelings.”

Human? Then what did that make Ariel? “It was all a lie?”

“Oh Danior, your fate was sealed long before I was ever assigned to you. Neither of us had a choice.” Ariel’s eerie smile grew and he proffered his hand.

Danny took a step back. “I have choices.”

“Not anymore.”

Danny frowned, shaking his head as he stayed put. He understood if he went anywhere

with Ariel, his life as he knew it would be over. But that was the point, wasn’t it?

“Come.” Ariel took a step forward, canines glinting.

The low-level headache Danny had experienced in the car swelled, like all his teeth

decided to throb at once. Danny stepped forward, chin-first as if compelled, unable to stop himself until he was standing an inch in front of Ariel, close enough to notice the necklace he was wearing—a graduating row of pristine teeth on a leather cord.

Human teeth.

Danny wondered if any were his.

Ariel wrapped his arm around Danny and drew him closed. “It won’t hurt,” he whispered.

Danny shuddered, body beginning to change, shrinking with Ariel’s.

Variegated wings sprouted from Ariel’s back. They looked so delicate, Danny doubted they had the power to hoist them. But they did, fluttering hummingbird-fast as they lifted Ariel and Danny up over the brownstone, toward the moonlit sky. As Danny faded, continuing to transform, Ariel bent his head and finally sank his ravenous teeth into Danny’s throat, drinking deeply and taking them both home

Native New Yorker, Gracie C. McKeever (http://www.graciecmckeever.com) has authored several novels, novellas and series most of which can be found at Siren Publishing under multiple sub-genres beneath the erotic romance umbrella. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies Sensuality: Caramel Flava II and Bold Strokes Books’ In Our Words. 

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