“Sweet Tooth” by Tiffany Promise
It didn’t seem that late on Halloween eve—the frothy, mossy stink of recently-scooped pumpkin still permeated the air—but only the goth kids remained outside, bleeding themselves silly in the cemetery. I’d been hoping that a few pretend-witches might clutter my un-welcome mat. Their warts a’bubble, moles stuck with hair, I didn’t know if they were paying homage or mocking; either way, I planned to stick photocopies of my best Hex Stew recipe in their buckets (along with the prerequisite chocolate bat bar, of course). But instead, at the very stroke of midnight, a skeleton dude knocked on my door. He was tall, lithe, a sight for lonesome eyes. And since I still had a bucketful of black licorice left, I opened the door. Wide.
“Trick or treat.” His voice sounded like it came from somewhere deeper than the dirt.
“Great costume,” I said, dizzying; the space between his bones seemed to go on forever.
“Thanks,” he mumbled. “Can I come in?” It had been months since I’d had a real visitor, years since anyone had crossed my threshold. And since ground-up boy-bones are an integral ingredient in most love-spell-banishing brews, I ushered him in. He was all black and bone; a pure, unadulterated nothingness. I forgot myself and gawked.
“You’re the prettiest witch I’ve seen all night,” he said, reaching out and touching my cheek. “People always talk about how ugly you are, but they’re wrong.”
“People are idiots,” I whispered. Pulled into the galaxies of his eye sockets, hooked by the emptiness of his hips, I moved closer.
“Can I kiss you?” He asked, reading my mind.
It had been years since I’d been kissed, decades since a little slap-&-tickle, so I closed my eyes and leaned forward. I’m tempting fate, I thought. Nothing good’s ever come from my kind kissing his kind… But I dove in anyway.
His lips were webbed with sugar and he tasted better than anything I’d ever licked. I generally find it tacky to indulge in foodstuffs that fairytale-witches use to lure innocent kiddies; besides, things like frog’s breath and will-o’-the-wisp blood keep me clear-headed and adept at the intricacies of the darkest arts. But as I pushed my tongue into his mouth, I found little nubs of gummy stuck between his molars. Reaching down his throat, I discovered Fun Dip still fizzing his epiglottis. Suddenly, more pig than witch, drooling for his sweetmeats, I hocus-pocused myself into a wee thing and slipped deep inside of him.
Dissolving candy hearts peppered his esophagus while sour worms conglomerated in his tum. A hunk of cotton-spun sugar was wedged in his intestines—still-stiffish, hot pink, and out-of-this-world. I ate him up. I couldn’t help myself. I was risking it all, but I kept on swallowing.
Until, uh-oh! I caved into a candy-coma on his prickly pelvic floor.
“You alright?” he thundered.
“Ughghllgh” I guttered.
I’m not sure how long I slept, but I awoke with an achey start. “Hey,” I squeaked, “I’m kinda stuck in here. Mind helping me out?” I’d only meant our interaction to be a quick romp—an hour at most—but I’d gone and slept inside the guy. Stupid witch.
“Sid Da Kid’s gonna flip when he hears about this,” he said, chuckling. “He bet me fifty that I couldn’t even get a kiss. Wonder how much he’ll cough up now.”
Wait, what? I was a dare? A measly fifty bucks? “If you don’t let me out this minute, you will regret it forever,” I threatened, feeling my temper quickly rise.
“Oooh, a firecracker, huh? Me likey.” He laughed. “You got yourself in there, why can’t you get yourself out?”
I didn’t want to admit that his sugars had sapped my powers. That by acting the part of a spoiled, mortal girl, I’d risked everything. “I will fucking destroy you and everything you love,” I promised.
“I’ll help you out if you just admit how much you liked it.”
“I’d rather eat a razor blade sandwich,” I hissed.
“I bet it’s been years since you’ve been properly boned. You should be thanking me.”
Properly boned? Thanking him? Fury filled me up fast. Expanding, ballooning, in only moments I was back to my normal size; his easy-peasy weak sternum strained against the force of my flesh.
Almost instantly, there was a sharp crack and I hit the floor like a seed. Sticky and sick, I threw up in my hair. It was me or him…him or me, I reminded myself. But slumped against my baseboard, he didn’t look so tough. A walnut shell, a spent cicada skin, a mortal boy that messed with the wrong witch.
“What’s Sid Da stupid Kid gonna say about this? I should be the one getting paid,” I spit, summoning my energy for one last abracadabra.
Bone Boy’s ashes still sit on my shelf, tucked up next to a bottle of nightshade. Someday soon I’ll sprinkle him into a brew and offer a cup to my black-and-blue-eyed neighbor. Or her sister with the pantyhose runs and lipstick on her teeth. Maybe even that convenience store clerk, the one who never lifts her eyes; the punk girl at the bus stop with brass knuckles tattooed over the deep scar on her wrist.
Because their stories are my story are their stories are my story—held firm in hardened hearts, silent against a world full of witch-shaming flames, mother-in-law’s tongues, those lovers of racks and screws. We may keep quiet, but we stay vigilant, ever-summoning the powers of Hecate as we build our graham-cracker fortresses, the mortar a mash of our own spit and knucklebone.
Tiffany Promise was awarded an MFA in creative writing from CalArts in 2010, and an MA in psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies in 2013. Her stories have appeared in Black Clock, Gingerbread House, Blanket Sea, High Shelf, and the Salt River Review. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice, in 2015 and 2019. Having attended Tin House and Sirenland, she’s had the privilege of working with both Eileen Myles and Anthony Doerr on various projects. She spent 2017 polishing her first novel with Francesca Lia Block in Los Angeles, but recently relocated to Victoria, B.C. As a mother, she is particularly interested in exploring mother-child dynamics and the feminization of madness.