Dr. Smugspleen smiles. “Yes. It is a very complicated procedure. It would be best if you were unconscious while we do it.”
I frown. “Why?”
His dental assistant, Gruda, smacks the back of my head. “Do not question the doctor. The doctor is always right. The patient is always wrong.”
“I just want to know—”
“Shut up! Dr. Smugspleen, gas her now.” She pulls on her black latex gloves. “Otherwise, I will knock her out myself.”
“But it’s just a simple crown prep.”
“Oh, no.” That smile is still on the doctor’s face. “It’s not simple at all. I could explain, but—” He puts the gas mask on my face. “—it’s too complicated.” He presses a button on the mask.
The stale scent of cheap doughnuts poofs in my face. I fall asleep.
My feet are cold. I try to tuck them under my blankets, but I can’t move them. My hair whips about like Medusa in a bad mood. I try to raise my hands to smooth my hair down, but I can’t move them either.
An insistent sound grabs my groggy attention. It’s rhythmic. Like horses trotting on a sheet of plastic. Like someone knocking and knocking on a Plexiglas window. Like a train clacking on tracks.
“Is she awake yet, doctor?”
I know that voice. Gruda.
“Let’s find out.”
That voice. Dr. Smugspleen.
Someone stomps on my feet, jerking me out of my groggy daze. “OW!” I open my eyes.
Dr. Smugspleen smiles at me. He’s wearing a tall hat with night vision goggles and a long, leather coat. The full moon shines bright and yellow behind him. “Good evening, my dear patient.”
“What?” I had a longer question in mind, but my voice wasn’t ready for long sentences.
Gruda drifts into my line of sight. She’s still wearing her scrubs, but they’ve developed a bad case of metal spikes and buckles. “Are you questioning the doctor’s methods?” She thwacks a crowbar against her unoccupied black gloved hand.
Scared wordless, I shake my head.
“Too bad. I wanted to test my new crowbar on your head.”
“Gruda, the tunnel is coming soon.”
“I’ll leave you two alone.” She walks over to a platform with a silver pedestal made entirely out of dental instruments. She presses a button on the center drill. As the drill whirs out a droning whine, the platform lowers her out of sight.
Dr. Smugspleen grins at me. “As I told Gruda, the tunnel is coming soon. Your cooperation would be greatly appreciated.”
“Cooperation with what? What do you expect me to do?”
“Well. First, I want you to take in your surroundings. Take special notice of what we are on.”
I glance around and finally notice the speeding scenery. But there are no walls, no doors. I look down at the curved metal floor. So smooth. If I tried to run away, I’d slide right off.
My stomach lurches like a zombie with vertigo as I understand.
I’m not in a car.
I’m on a train.
I’m sitting on top of it.
I am sitting in a dental chair on top of a moving train. This is just too ludicrous to be real, but it feels too real to be a dream. My arms and legs are buckled to the chair. So, even if I wanted to risk escape, I can’t. I’m stuck.
“You are on top of The Amalgamator.” He shrugs. “Gruda insisted on the name. I just smiled and humored her.”
“Was this whole kidnapping thing her idea?”
“Oh, no!” He keeps on grinning. “This adventure was my idea. I have plans for you, Ms. Varnes. But first! Tell me. Isn’t my train lovely? I had her shaped and bent and molded to meet my specifications. Did you know that this chair can go up and down like an elevator? Yes. Yes. I know you didn’t.”
“Why haven’t you fallen off yet? The train’s moving pretty fast.”
“Magnetic boots. But enough about that. On to what matters—”
“Where are you taking me?”
“I am taking you to your destiny. I know that you are the only daughter of the Great White Watusi.”
I glare at him. “My mother was Janice Varnes. She was a respectable woman. She did not go by some cheapo porn star name.”
“Deny it if you must. But your denial will not change the reality. Your mother was Great White Watusi, the super villain who destroyed Mega Hero Jimbo.”
My temper spikes, which frightens me. I’ve kept it under control for so long. I don’t want to lose it now. Calm in. Calm out. It simmers down into a plain seethe.
“Your mother was powerful. As was her mother and her mother before her.”
“I am not my mother or my grandmothers. I am ordinary. I am me.”
“I’ve run experiments on your extracted wisdom teeth. Trust me, Ms. Varnes. You are far from ordinary. But I suspect that you already know that. If you agree to work with me, I can help you control your powers.”
I don’t need his help with that, but I am curious. “What do you expect me to help you with?”
“Oh, it’s a small thing. You see, I want to take over Montana, Iowa, North Dakota, and Nebraska. And one day, with your help, I will TAKE OVER THE WORLD!”
“You’ve got to be joking. You’re a dentist.”
“So? Can’t dentists have big, golden retirement dreams?”
“Yeah, but those dreams usually involve a house in Hawaii.”
“I believe in dreaming bigger than that. So, will you help me?”
I don’t reply, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He just keeps smiling and talking.
“Yes. I will be a merciful dictator. As long as my subjects brush and floss after every meal and agree to a daily oral inspection, I will be so merciful.”
“What happens if I say no?”
He giggles. “The tunnel should be coming up shortly. If you say no, you’ll be coming up shortly too. Because your head will be gone!”
“That is a lousy joke.”
“But it could become your reality if you refuse to help me. Time is wasting, Ms. Varnes. What is your answer?”
I can’t say yes. But if I refuse…
He’s smiling. Still smiling. Always smiling. “Come on, Ms. Varnes. Is your answer yes or no?”
I know I have to refuse. But I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die! My fear mingles with my anger, tangling it, spiraling it upwards. Push it down! Calm! Calm!
Please! Please calm!
I can’t hold it in. I can’t do it! I can’t! I can’t! I try to stand, but my legs are buckled tight to the dentist chair. I try to hide my face in my hands, but my hands are buckled to the armrests.
I want to scream.
I want to cry.
I don’t want this.
My anger and fear become one. Its heat overwhelms me. I can’t fight it. The heat races through me, all over me, consumes me whole.
I am fire.
The leather straps binding me melt and shrivel and crack and burn.
Dr. Smugspleen isn’t afraid. He’s happy. Smiling. Giggling. “Join me, Ms. Varnes, and we will rule!”
I stand. My fire melts the train’s roof. “My answer is no.” I run away from him and jump off the train.
I fall like an ember until I remember my mother’s lessons. I fling out my fiery arms and soar up into the moonlit sky just as the train enters the tunnel.