The Professor by Casper Rose

On a mild day in late March, Professor Cavanaugh sat on his padded rolling chair organising the various objects which coated his desk. He scooped up a collection of assorted paperclips and pads of sticky notes and encouraged them into a basket held at an angle at the edge of his desk before tucking it lengthways into the drawer. The Professor always worked better with a clean desk, and there was work to be done today. After he was done, the Professor would need to take the spare data collations back to the lab, and then make it back upstairs for his eleven-thirty class.

As he was walking, the Professor noticed a strange feeling on the roof of his mouth, almost as if he had grazed it on a sharp piece of food; he had no idea. He was still running his tongue along the roof of his mouth as a student stopped him in the hall.

“Professor Cavanaugh?”, she was older for a second year, maybe in her mid-twenties, and if the Professor were to be honest with himself, he had no idea of her name. She continued, “Sorry sir, I was just wondering if we had class next week, seeing as the other group won’t have their lesson on Friday.”

Right, the Professor would need to put a notice up soon, “No, I’ll make sure to let everyone know by this Thursday.” He chewed on the inside of his cheek, feeling the irritation move backwards in his mouth.

“Thank you!” she seemed to have started walking away before she was even finished talking.

Distracted, the Professor kept along his way, still chewing on the inside of his cheek. The feeling had moved again, farther back and behind his back teeth. He could not decide if it itched or not, but now that he had begun paying attention to it, it seemed to bother him even more.

Later, the Professor was back at his desk, reading through a syllabus change for the following year. He had forgotten about the feeling in his mouth while he was teaching but, at that moment, it crept back into the inside of his upper lip. Why? He began digging his tongue into his lip, pushing the feeling around. Had he eaten something?

Minutes went by before the feeling settled once more, but only for the briefest of moments. Irritated, Professor Cavanaugh pushed the syllabus away, taking the back hall to the janitorial bathroom downstairs. He leaned over the sink, avoiding the patches of water littered over the basin, turning his head back and forth with his mouth open. In that moment, he thought of himself like a clown whose mouth waited open for a ping pong ball at a carnival. Despite the amusing thought, Cavanaugh saw nothing in his mouth. He took his thumbs unceremoniously shoved them under his upper lip to expose the pink flesh that was, unfortunately, no more pink than normal.

Sighing, Professor Cavanaugh ran his finger along the inside of his upper lip again, feeling for something, anything. In the most irritated patch of his mouth for that time, the Professor felt several tiny raised bumps, but perhaps his mouth was covered in them, if he really felt it. He checked his watch, four o’clock, almost time for him to go home. He must remember to post that notice.  

The Professor stared at himself in the mirror once more, this time at home. He had been home and showered, feeling better having washed off the heat of the day. He still felt hot. The feeling in his mouth had evolved to tingling, and sometimes even – at the most unexpected times – a burning. The bathroom door was open, and the Professor had already confided in her, or perhaps complained, about the feeling. She had half-jokingly told him he had ‘one of those worms’ that get under your skin and crawl around.

“Don’t be silly, Bianca.” Professor Cavanaugh had teased her for her hypochondria, “besides, worms slither, not crawl.”, but the thought played on him. He did not sleep well that night.

The feeling came and went over the next few days, appearing spontaneously to bother the Professor and, with just as much spontaneity, disappeared. Sometimes, it would disappear for hours at a time, and sometimes, it bothered him for as long. Blessedly, the Professor found that if he did his best not to disrupt it, the feeling would settle. Still, it bothered him, and with persistence.

On another of his staring matches with the feeling in his mouth, he scratched at the area in hopes of opening the protrusions and willing them to spill their irritating contents. It stung, and he bled slightly, coating his mouth in a metallic taste, but he was sure he saw a flash of white under the broken skin. This appearance would not be strange, if it had not disappeared a moment later. Professor Cavanaugh felt sick, had he just seen something move inside his mouth? Inside the inside of his mouth?

Weary of the irritation, the Professor pulled open the second drawer with once hand, one hand still pressed into his bottom lip, holding it away from the rest of his mouth. He rummaged for a moment before finding the sharp end of the metal utensil for which he had been looking. Prying his lip away further from his teeth, he dug the tweezers into the wound he had made a few moments before, attempting to grab the thing he had seen. It was gone. Dejected, the Professor set the tweezers on the basin and waited for the thing to return to the front of his mouth.

The next morning, a Saturday, Professor Cavanaugh had his upper lip pinched between his thumb and forefinger and pressed against the side of his nose. Bianca was out that morning, her yoga class. He was pricking and prodding the invisible tingling with the tweezers, breaking the skin and sinking the sharp ends of the tweezers into the wound to pull the thing out. Drool seeped out of the open corner of his mouth and Professor Cavanaugh leaned further over the basin to catch it in the sink.

Eventually, the Professor had worked the entirety of the ends of the tweezers under the skin in his mouth. The pain became searing, and more blood came the deeper he went. Desperate, he kept digging. Finally, his efforts paid off as he squeezed the tweezing ends together underneath his skin and pulled them out, slowly, pulling some of his mouth with them but not wanting to let go of his prize.

When it was out, Professor Cavanaugh stared at the tweezer ends, his hand still clamped firmly on the handle of the small instrument, lest the creature caught in the end managed to squirm free. It was white, tiny, just barely taking up the space at the end of the closed tweezers, and it was moving.

Not seconds later, the Professor felt the tingling return, now damp compared to the stinging in his upper lip. There must be more than one parasite in his mouth. Thoughts crept in of a whole colony of worms living in his body, thousands of them. His skin began to crawl. In the mirror, he could see that the right side of his mouth was swollen, and his teeth were stained red like he would see in the movies.

Professor Cavanaugh was overcome; he had to get rid of this feeling in his mouth. He dumped the tweezer in the sink and ran the water over them to be sure that the thing was gone and pried open his mouth again. The feeling had moved again, and the Professor was forced to make a new incision in his cheek. Using the tweezers once more, he began digging.

Soon, he had found the creature, pale and exposed due to the broken skin inside his cheek. The pain was worse than it had been in his lip, but the Professor was determined to get it out. He had a hold of the worm and was twisting the tweezers inside the wound in an attempt to free it from his mouth, his eyes watering. Suddenly, it came free, sending shockwaves through the entire left side of his face, through his neck. He felt dizzy.

The blackness faded away as Professor Cavanaugh came to. He felt as if a great tiredness had come over him, and a great heaviness too. He lifted his hand to his face – which had already begun to throb – only to find that his arm had stopped about half a foot above the bed. The Professor looked down at the restraints around his wrists. Not yet fully conscious, words floated to him from the other side of a curtain pulled shut.

“Mrs Cavanaugh, I am afraid he will have to be admitted.”

He recognised Bianca’s voice, “I have no idea what happened, all that blood…”

“We’ve stopped the bleeding. He’s on some pretty heavy sedatives.”

Blackness.

Again, the Professor blinked, awake, more awake this time. He could no longer hear his wife. He wanted to scream, what was going on? Adjusting his eyes to the light, he realised the whiteness of the room. Again, words seemed to drift toward him, this time from a farther place. It came to him in pieces.

“His chart says…dose. …was already awake…”

A different voice, “…tweezers. I don’t…said the levator anguli…lost some function of his jaw…”

It all returned to him, the worms. The pain. Drowsily, he listened.  

“…tore his tendon right…couldn’t imagine…”

a young Australian author who picked up writing as a hobby and fell in love. Enjoys profound writing that strives for an emotional response from the reader most of all.

Casper Rose, author.