HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year! I know I definitely did. It was weeks of fun and excitement and travel and creation.
The New Year is a time to get started on all of those dreams you’ve been putting off. It’s an exciting time full of momentum that you can use to tap into your creativity in ways you might be afraid to any other time of the year. Is there a fun project that you’ve always wanted to get started on, but have felt like it’s just never been the right time?
NOW’S THE RIGHT TIME!
And if that project just happens to be writing, I would LOVE to help you with that! In fact, one of my 2019 resolutions is to bring you way more tips and tricks to improve your writing on my instagram, youtube, and right here in this newsletter. So if you have any questions about writing, editing, or just finding the motivation to do the dang thing, shoot me back an email and let me know what's holding you up. I’ll do everything I can to help!
But now, on to the Weird!
It is common in the American South for a home to have its fair share of ghosts. For what is a ghost but a struggle that deserves to be remembered? What is the south if not a lineage of ghosts?
Clarance Whittington knew a thing or two about struggle. When he was just six, his father, who operated a steam ship for the US navy, took a nine iron to his wife’s skull one December night while home on leave. It was a tragedy, of course, though when the news was made public, no one in the little Georgia town was particularly surprised. She had, after all, been sleeping with one of the neighbor’s farm hands. Who had, after all, been one of them. There was no doubt it was her husband what done her in—and rightly so. But the guilt overcame him before long. So, as a God-fearing man, he did the only thing he could do. Pistol in hand, he took a walk to the bank, and allowed the police to send him to heaven, before he could send himself to hell.
In the days that followed, the newspaper reported time and again that Mrs. Whittington had died instantly. But Clarance had heard her whimpers turn to moans, and then to silence. He’d heard his father’s spit as it hit the hardwood floor. He’d heard the door slam shut. As horrific as her death had been, however, it was nothing compared to what befell her lover when he was finally discovered, hiding out in a shack down Old Cherry Road. They tied the rope around his neck before asking his name. They drug him bloody through the streets at the speed of a galloping horse. By the time they brought him to the town square, it was anyone’s guess whether or not they’d gotten the right man, his face rubbed clean off by the road. But it was of little concern to them. There was someone to hang, and that was all that mattered. He was sure not the first, and he would not be the last.
In the fall of 1900, Clarence opened his dental practice in nearby Valdosta. The tragedy of his childhood all but behind him, he had entered university at just seventeen, and intended to make a name for himself, come heck or high water. He had grown into a studious sort—a practical man, with little outlet for sentimentality, and little desire to find one. And while he had never felt the field to be his true calling, the world needed dentists—would always need them, in fact—and were willing to pay through the teeth for a good one. So, in late September, he hung out his shingle, and waited for the money to flow in.
His growth, however, was slow. He had not accounted for competition, and the disadvantages of being what those in Valdosta referred to as ‘an outsider.’ His list of clients swelled slowly; that is, until one afternoon when a man in a brown suit came to see him, and from beneath his well-kept mustache, presented Clarence with an interesting proposition.
“When would we begin?” he asked.
“When are you available?” replied the mustache.
“Yes,” said Clarence. “Tomorrow.”
The next morning, Clarence Whittington found himself staring into the gnarled mouth of one Gus Allen Brown. Clarence had not been told much about Mr. Brown, other than that he had murdered a white woman, would be dead within the month, and was currently in a great amount of tooth pain.
“If it was me,” the mustache had said, “I’d as soon let the thing rot its way out. But the state won’t hear of it.”
The thing in question was a lower right molar. It had cracked—pretty cleanly by dental standards—right down the center of the tooth. It would have to come out.
“That’s a nasty crack.”
Mr. Brown only nodded.
“How’d you do it?” said Clarence, then quickly, “the tooth, I mean.”
“Something in my food.”
His voice was like the ripple on water.
“Like what? Something like what?”
Clarence had been told that the inmates were on a strictly soft-foods diet, heavily monitored by the guards on duty for any solid objects that might be used for ill. Whatever had happened, he must have done to himself. Clarence extracted the tooth with little fanfare, just a pair of pliers and a solid twist of his wrist. Mr. Brown barely flinched. When it was done, he didn’t say a word. The guard gave him a rough shove from behind as they walked out the door.
Over the next few months Clarence maintained a steady list of clients, and as a result of his newfound partnership with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department, he saw his practice begin to grow. Though many in the free community of Valdosta now outright refused to patronize his office due to its rather particular list of clientele, the many inhabitants of death row were more than enough to keep him well in business, and to afford Clarence a small amount of luxury. He bought himself a new suit, and a hat to wear about town. He upgraded from the boarding house in which he had been living to a small apartment on the east side of town. And yet even with all of this, there was something about this mode of income that didn’t quite sit right with him.
Though he had done quite well in university, Clarence had not found much by way of friends. This was largely due to the fact that while his classmates were all bonding with one another over an interest in tooth anatomy and the chemical makeup of anesthetics, Clarence wasn’t studying dental sciences for the science part. He was in it for the people. Of all the classes he’d been made to take for his degree, his favorite by far had been Patient Appeasement. He’d learned how to build rapport, to make his clients feel at home in the dentist’s chair. That was really what kept him going.
But these clients never came back. He would see them once—always beaten, always black, always in their final days—and then they would be gone. Not a smile, not a thank you. Nothing. And he didn’t blame them. By the fourth or fifth tooth extraction, he began to feel nearly as hopeless as they must have. What was the point? So the tooth hurt. So their gums were rotting. An hour in his chair could not improve their situation, no matter how he tried. There could be no quality of life. Before too long, they’d be gone, vanished from the world. He didn’t even know their names—just their bite. Nothing else to remember them by.
The first one he saved on a whim. It was a Tuesday afternoon. A young man had been brought in. His right eye swollen to the size of a walnut. The hair on his head the same thickness as his unkempt beard. He didn’t speak, not a word, not even when Clarence asked him a direct question.
“What’s your name, boy?”
Not a word, but there was something, a flinching of his shoulders that made the hair on Clarence’s arm stand up. The same thing he’d heard as a child, hurled at his mother’s lover, as he sat bleeding in the square, face worn down to a pulp. What’s your name, boy? Words now coming from his own mouth.
When the man was gone, all that was left was the tooth in Clarence’s hand. Instead of dropping it back in the tray on the table, he looked at it for a moment, then dropped it into the pocket of his coat. But as the days and weeks wore on, his pocket grew quickly full of these memories. And as happens with ghosts, it wasn’t long before they found their way into the walls.
For what is a ghost if not a struggle that deserves to be remembered? And what is the south if not a linage of ghosts? For Clarence Whittington—until the day his practice closed with the establishment of the county prison—these were not just teeth. These were the ghosts of men—men to be remembered.
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