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In the forgotten little village where Gisella was spending the summer with her grandmother, there was a secret. It was an ancient, absurd legend, which Gisella herself refused to believe. According to the old stories, if a child buried their milk teeth in a special, magical spot, the teeth would transform into fairies. It was all just superstition by now because the ancient cemetery of teeth was dormant for decades. However, when Gisella’s very last tooth fell out, her grandmother convinced her to honor the village tradition. To Gisella’s total amazement, the stories proved to be true, although soon enough her miracle threatened to turn into a disaster. Because the legends had forgotten to mention one little detail - the reason, in fact, why no-one used the cemetery anymore - the fairy would look just like the child who had buried the tooth. What’s more, the fairy would also have every aspect of the child’s character exaggerated to its fullest extent. And Gisella would be the first to admit that she knew all too well how to be hateful and obnoxious, quick-tempered and vindictive.
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Illusion Novel # 8
Original title: Il cimitero dei denti
Translated by Laura Whitaker
© 2018 Illusion
© 2016 Stefano Pastor
Graphics: Angela M.
All rights reserved
Many years ago, when I was young, I decided to add my little fairies into my Nativity scene. They were such beautiful statues, and I didn’t see what could be wrong with it. It made such a sweet picture; Baby Jesus surrounded by all those little fairies.
Mum was horrified, and Dad explained to me very calmly and gently that if I didn’t take them out, Father Christmas wouldn’t come to visit me. At that point, I was only four, and I was nothing if not an obstinate child. I would have plenty of presents whatever happened, I thought: from Mum and Dad, from my aunts and uncles and my grandparents. I could cope without one from Father Christmas.
So the fairies stayed where they were, and Father Christmas didn’t come.
I cried that night, and the following year there were no more fairies in my Nativity scene. That year, Father Christmas did come, but it was for the last time. Because when I started school, I made a terrible discovery: Father Christmas didn’t exist!
Looking back now, it seems strange that no-one ever told me that fairies didn’t exist. Maybe they just took it for granted that I’d figured it out, but I don’t remember anyone ever actually talking to me about it.
Not that I still believe in them of course! I’m twelve years old now, and I never let anyone treat me like a child. They won’t fool me again. No-one will! I’m not gullible enough anymore to believe in anything that I haven’t seen with my own two eyes. I’m not an idiot!
The story that I’m going to tell you began this summer.
My parents had sent me off to spend the holidays at my grandmother’s house. It had been a tough year for them - they had continuously argued - but they had eventually called a truce. But ever since they’d made up, they’d been behaving like a couple of lovebirds. They’d decided to go on a second honeymoon, and I would just have been the third wheel.
Therefore, I found myself in a tiny mountain village, whose name was far too long and impossible to remember. One thing’s for sure: there were more letters in that silly name than there were people in the village!
Grandma didn’t live there, she just she went there for a month every year to relax. Exactly why she needed relaxation, I had no idea because Grandma was very old and never did anything interesting.
No-one lived there anymore, except for a few wrinkled old fogies who had never managed to escape. The others were all tourists, just like us.
Piero and Michele were on holiday too. To be precise, they’d been born in the village, but their parents had moved to the city while they were still young. Perhaps the boys were the very reason that the family had moved; they needed to go to school, and traveling from the village every day would have been a hassle. At this point, they only returned to the village during the holidays.
Ours was a somewhat enforced friendship.
Grandma was friends with their father, and we were the only young people for miles and miles around. Therefore, it was practically obligatory for us to spend time together.
I didn’t have anything against them; in fact, they were quite bearable. Piero was almost the same age as me, and his brother was a year older, although he seemed younger in that he was the most easily led. Michele was gullible, and it was just too easy to make fun of him. Piero was more sensible and very creative. He was magnanimous because he often let Michele believe that he was the one in charge, even if it wasn’t true.
I was initially a bit reluctant to get to know them. They were very different to my friends back home, and they didn’t even seem to me to be all that bright. However, they made up for it by being wonderfully gregarious, and by having more or less accepted that I would be the one calling the shots. That was all that was required for us to get along!
However, there wasn’t much to do, and we frequently felt like we were just wasting our lives away in that village of coffin dodgers. Most of all me. There was nothing but forests around the village. Forests and nothing else. What on earth could you possibly do in a forest? Go for a nice walk. And walking wasn’t my thing.
I would have been perfectly happy to just stay in the house playing video games, but Grandma had this ridiculous idea that fresh air would do me good. She tended to forget all the dangers that she was exposing me to allergies, getting lost in the woods, falling over and hurting myself, and above all the unbearable tedium that the whole thing entailed.
There was just one week to go until that torturous summer would be over, when something happened that broke up the monotony. To be clear, it was nothing earth-shattering; just a small, unimportant little occurrence. Anywhere else in the world it would have gone unnoticed, but not in that village.
I lost a tooth.
I’d been waiting for it to happen for weeks, right from the start of the holidays. I’d been wobbling it for ages, and I’d even tried to pull it out the night before, but it hadn’t been the right time. I wasn’t expecting it to happen right there, in the middle of the woods.
It happened easily: I put a hand in my mouth, and I pulled out that little white marble, just slightly streaked with blood.
I didn’t fuss about it.
“Let’s go home,” I said. “I need the bathroom.”
I wanted to check my reflection in a mirror because I was sure that I must look like a hideous, gap-toothed monster. And what’s worse, I could feel a strange wetness in my mouth, and I was sure that I was bleeding. I searched my pockets for a handkerchief, but all I pulled out was a pathetic little triangle of material. Unfortunately, those jeans were too tight to allow me to carry a proper handkerchief.
Piero and Michele were staring at me, open-mouthed as if I’d performed kind of miracle.
“What?” I snapped. “Have neither of you ever lost a tooth? It’s not a big deal.”
Their gormless stares were infuriating. They were acting like complete idiots.
I turned my back on them and checked the extent of the damage with the strip of my handkerchief. Only the tiniest of bloodstains appeared on the cloth, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Shall we go, then?” I asked. My speech muffled given that I was trying to talk with my mouth tight shut so that they wouldn’t notice the ugly hole that had appeared in my mouth.
“No!” shrieked Michele. “What the hell are you doing?”
What was I doing? I looked at me, not understanding what could have caused Michele to react like that.
Piero was embarrassed.
“Are you going to throw it away?”
It took me a few seconds to realize: he was talking about the tooth. Yes, of course, I was throwing it away. What else would I possibly do with it?
“Do you want it as a keepsake?” I asked him, sarcastically. “Go ahead, take it. I don’t use it anymore.”
Damn, now I was in trouble. Even as I said it, I was trembling at the idea that he might say yes.
Luckily, Piero shook his head.
“No, it’s yours.”
He didn’t elaborate, but they both continued to stare at me as if I were a Martian or something.
I was still holding the tooth between my fingers, and now I didn’t know what to do.
I swallowed my pride and asked him.
“What should I do with it?”
They were doing everything but putting their hands in their pockets and whistling. They avoided my gaze and became extremely interested in the foliage above them.
“I’m throwing it away,” I declared.
“Or you could bury it,” Piero suggested, hurriedly.
This completely shocked me.
“Is it not the same thing?”
Evidently, it was not. I’d never seen them look awkward in all the time I’d known them.
I tried to make them explain.
“Why would I bury it?”
Michele just couldn’t shut his mouth. “It might still be useful.”
To me, this sounded like nonsense.
“Useful? To whom?”
Piero came to his brother’s aid. “Teeth are used here when they come out.”
This was a bit more logical. Finally, their behavior was starting to make sense.
“What is their use? Go on, tell me.”
He sighed heavily, resigned to being mocked once again. “Here, we always bury our baby teeth. Every time they fall out.”
I stifled a snort of derision. “I suppose the Tooth Fairy comes to take them away and leaves you a coin in return?”
To my great satisfaction, he turned all red.
“No, it doesn’t work quite like that,” he replied.
He couldn’t be as gullible as that; he was eleven years old for goodness’ sake! And his brother was in on this too, nodding as if he had just said something of vital importance.
I was still clutching that awkward tooth in my hand. I had a furious urge to throw the damn thing as far away as possible, but those two fools seemed genuinely invested in the situation.
And so I took a deep breath and wrapped the tooth up in my handkerchief. Then I made quite sure that they saw me folding the cloth over and over, and dropped it in my pocket.
“Is that OK? Can we go now?”
Michele was smiling once again. I started walking away.
“Later, we can all go to bury it together,” he said, pleased as Punch.
I preferred not to dignify this with an answer because I was starting to have murderous thoughts.
Some hours after lunch, I was standing in my room, in front of the mirror. I had my mouth open, contemplating the gap from every angle.
How long would it be before my new tooth appeared? I looked hideous! I’d never been brave enough to go out in public like this. Was there any hope that everything would be back to normal before school started again?
“Have you lost little toothy pegs, Gisella?”
Great, now even Grandma was getting involved! Toothy pegs! And she’d barged into my room without knocking. There are certain things that I just will not tolerate. Mum and Dad would never have dared to disrespect me like that
I smiled at her with gritted teeth, before realizing that that would make the gap even more noticeable. I immediately put a hand over my mouth.
“It’s nothing,” I said again.
Grandma went to sit down on the bed. She wasn’t past it quite yet, but she didn’t have far to go. She was already over seventy years old, and however much she might try to seem sprightly and full of life, she couldn’t hide the fact that she was one foot in the grave.
That day, she had forgotten her age, because her lips curled into an ironic smile that made her look almost childish.
“Where have you put it, dear?”
I immediately understood that she was talking about the toothy pegs. I pointed to the trousers that I had pulled off and thrown over the back of my chair. “In the pocket.”
Grandma pulled out the little package and opened it on the bed. The dead tooth looked utterly unappealing, and it seemed to have shrunk to a pathetically tiny size.
Grandma continued to smile. “Go and bury it then. Your friends told me all about it.”
I tried not to blush. I felt my ears burning. Those two idiots, I could have killed them! Yes, I could have down-right tied them to a tree and set it on fire!
“It’s a blessing,” continued Grandma. “It’s been so many years now since it last happened.”
Once again, I had the strangest feeling that I had landed on another planet. “What?”
Grandma sighed. “It’s been so many years since there were children in this village. So many years since they buried a tooth. It’s unfortunate.”
I tried to find logic in what she was saying. “Is it a local custom?”
“Yes, you could put it that way,” Grandma admitted.
“What do you know about it?” I asked her. “You’re not even from around here.”
She smiled again. “Oh, I’ve been coming here for many years now. The old folks told me all about it. They talked about the good times when children used to go and bury their teeth in the forest.”
“The good times?” I repeated, like an idiot.
“It’s been at least fifty years since the last time, I believe. It’s been long since any children have been born. By now, they probably don’t even exist anymore. It’s all unfortunate.”
“Who do you mean by them?”
I regretted asking the question before she even responded.
“The tooth fairies, of course!”
I waved my hands as if to defend myself against that crusty old loon.
“You have me on.”
She couldn’t treat me like this as if I were still a four-year-old child! Surely she couldn’t delude herself that I was still that gullible!
Grandma’s expression turned sad. “You can think what you like, Gisella, but you’re wrong. I suppose you’re not planning on burying it, then?”
I was heartily sick of the whole situation.
“Take it,” I said. “Do what you like with it. Bury it, if that’s what you want. But leave me out of this silliness. I don’t want anything to do with your superstitions.”
Grandma stood up with another heavy sigh, without touching the tooth that she had left in the middle of the bed. Her voice was sad. “I can’t do it, unfortunately. Only you can. And you have to believe in it for it to work. You have to believe in them.”
In spite of myself, I couldn’t help but ask: “Believe in whom?”
“In the fairies, of course.”
I refused to leave my room after that, so Michele turned up half an hour later.
I was sure that they had been downstairs this whole time, discussing the situation. It was absurd that they should have chosen Michele as a spokesman, but maybe Piero was too embarrassed to go through with it.
“Your Grandma says that you don’t want to do it,” he began.
The damn tooth was still in the middle of the bed, where it had fallen. I was trying to pretend that it didn’t exist.
I was still in front of the mirror, hoping to see my new tooth growing. “Do what?” I mumbled.
I wanted to see him cringing with embarrassment, turning red. Then he would learn what came of treating me like an idiot.
“You won’t bury the tooth,” he replied, completely straight-faced.
I turned to face him. “Why didn’t you bury yours?”
His face fell. “I wanted to! I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to! But it never happened for me, unfortunately. I’ve never lost a tooth while I was staying here. I even tried keeping them, when they fell out at home, but it didn’t work. You need to bury them right away; you can’t waste any time.”
Was that a veiled accusation? Was he putting pressure on me? Did he seriously believe in all this?
“But you’re actually from here,” I said, accusingly.
“We were too small when we left. We hadn’t lost any teeth yet.”
“But this is completely ridiculous!” I shouted. “It’s just an old wives’ tale! How on earth can you believe it?”
He blushed, giving me the smallest satisfaction. His response, however, was logical. “It wouldn’t hurt to try it, though? It might work.”
“What do you mean, it might work?”
“It might bring the fairies back.”
He couldn’t possibly make such a ridiculous statement with a straight face! He was older than me, for goodness’ sake!
“Is this a game?” I asked him.
I’d given him a loophole. If he’d been as sharp as his brother, he would have jumped on it. In fact, he did catch on seconds later, albeit very slightly too late.
“Yes, yes, it’s a game! Do you want to play it with us?”
Fine, I could agree to that. If it meant so much to them, it wouldn’t cost me anything to make them happy. They would have made my life impossible if I hadn’t done it, and I couldn’t wait to draw a line under the whole affair. A great, big, solid line.
My voice was icy. “If you dare breathe a word to any living soul…”
“No, no!” Piero cut in at once.
I carried on with my threats all the same. “If either of you tells anyone, I’ll kill you. You hear me? If you go around telling people that I bury my teeth, there won’t be a place on God’s green Earth for you to hide, believe you me!”
I was making myself clear, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I looked at that miserable little tooth and shivered. It was starting to look more and more like a corpse.
Michele, on the other hand, was beaming. “We should go, right? We’ve got a long way to go; we might not make it back for dinner.”
I was dismayed. “What do you mean, a long way?” I echoed. “Can’t we do it right here, in the garden?”
Michele burst out laughing, and his laugh was joyful and contagious, if still slightly embarrassed. “But the earth here isn’t magical!”
I was already having regrets about agreeing to this. Deep regrets.
I grabbed the tooth carelessly and stuffed it in my pocket, handkerchief and all.
“Alright, let’s go the whole hog!” I shouted angrily. “But you’re going to make this up to me. You’re not going to play me for a fool.”
Apparently impermeable to any offense, Michele continued to smile.
The desire to knock his lights out was stronger than ever.
Grandma made the little casket for me.
She was waiting for us downstairs, along with a very embarrassed Piero, whose face was starting to resemble a flaming red Christmas bauble. For the first time, he seemed utterly lost for words.
Grandma had improvised with a matchbox, hastily throwing together a makeshift casket. She wouldn’t stop fussing until I’d taken the tooth out of my pocket and placed it inside. Then, she closed the lid and solemnly handed it to me.
“Hold it tight, Gisella. Don’t lose it.”
I shot her an accusatory glare. “I would never have expected this of you, Grandma. I can’t believe that you’re getting involved in all this silliness!”
Michele immediately came to her rescue, thinking unusually quickly. “It’s just a game, remember? We’re just going out to play.”
I wasn’t going to let Grandma get away with it that easily.
“You won’t get me this time! I’m not a little girl anymore! I know that Father Christmas doesn’t exist!”
Maybe that was a bad example, not even Grandma, had the slightest idea what I meant.
I huffed and stalked out of the house with my nose in the air, holding the casket tightly between both hands.
“Get a move on!” I shouted. “Do you want to hang around all night?”
Grandma smiled, unimpressed by my display of disinterest, and motioned to my friends to follow me. “There was a time when you just loved fairies, Gisella”, she said. “You never stopped talking about them. You wanted to meet them so desperately.”
But that was ancient history! I couldn’t believe that Grandma would betray me like this. I refused to turn around, fearing that I would be blushing as red as Piero. I wracked my brains for a suitably cutting riposte, but I came up with nothing.
I settled for yelling at the boys. “Move it!”
They were at my side immediately, wearing stupid grins on their faces that tipped me over the edge and into a rage.
Finally, I found the words that I wanted. “Fairies don’t exist!” I hissed.
But it was too late, we were already far away, and Grandma couldn’t hear me.
We walked for hours. More or less.
It was a path that I already knew, but I’d never followed it right to the end. It wasn’t some magical wood-land path lost in the undergrowth; it was more of a mule track that seemed to be still in use. I could tell because there were barely any weeds underfoot.
I couldn’t keep up my sulk for long, and bit by bit my rage abated too. Piero and Michele hadn’t dared open their mouths again, and I noticed that they looked sad.
“What would a fairy even do with my tooth, anyway?” I finally burst out.
“It doesn’t work quite like that.” Piero tried to explain, and I realized that he didn’t even really know how it worked himself.
“How does it work, then?”
“When children start giving their teeth again, the fairies will make their return,” recited Michele, as if it was a poem.
“Is that what you heard? Who came up with this?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
It was just a legend. A fairy tale. The mountain villages were chock full of legends to tell small children.
“How on earth do you still believe in all this?”
I didn’t want to offend them. Or then again, maybe I did. Above all, I tried to understand how it could be that two boys as old as they were could still believe in such nonsense.
“Everyone believes it,” admitted Piero. “Even my father. The old folks have seen them. Back in the day, there were loads of them around here.”
This just got worse and worse. “They’re just making fools of you, can’t you see that?”
I’d planted a seed of doubt in their minds, by it didn’t take root. Michele seemed to be considering what I’d said, but he finally rejected it. “Nooo, they believe it.”
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