Chattery Teeth by Stephen King
Most recently 5/19/17. Read in Nightmares & Dreamscapes. (1993) I've also listened to this one and absolutely recommend it in that format. Kathy Bates is perfect as the reader and it is collected in Chattery Teeth: And Other Stories.
At a roadside stop, Bill Hogan, a salesman, picks up a set of metal chattery teeth before heading out on the road. He agrees to take a hitchhiker along for the ride, but both the chattery teeth and the hitchhiker make this one ride Hogan will never forget.
Label and UPC system salesman Bill Hogan makes a stop while driving home from a sales trip in Nevada. While at Scooter's Grocery and Roadside Zoo, Hogan notices a few things, namely the ratty-looking young man who is a few cents short for his cigarettes and the collection of novelties Scooter and his wife have in glass cases around the store. Hogan spots the kid a quarter and is unsurprised to get no offer of change back. When it's Hogan's turn to pay for his gas, he inquires about the largest set of chattery teeth he's ever seen. They are metal, huge and wearing spats. (this is a great image and brought up several times. Spats!) Hogan thinks his son, Jack might get a kick out of them, but it turns out they are broken. Scooter ends up giving Hogan the teeth for free while his wife is out of the room.
Outside, a wind and dust storm is brewing and the ratty teenager/young man asks Hogan for a ride. Normally, Bill is not up for picking up hitchhikers. Not since a few years earlier when he was held up by a young woman, whom he did not realize was into drugs until she was already in the car. Against his better judgment, but primarily because of the impending storm, Hogan agrees to take the kid to a roadside stop a few hours away. He quickly realizes that this kid is a shit. This starts with the kid lying and saying his name is Bryan Adams and ends with the kid threatening Hogan with a switchblade. The wind outside causes near accidents a few times before the knife comes out, but Hogan is unsurprised and rather angry that this is happening again to him. He doesn't fly because he was in a commuter plane crash and several people aboard passed in the accident. Instead of doing what the kid asks, Hogan ends up running the van off the road and into a gully. Because the young man was not wearing a seatbelt, he is tossed around the van, whereas Hogan is hurting but still restrained by his belt. "Bryan Adams" tries to go after Hogan and Bill grabs whatever he can find nearby -- the chattery teeth in their brown paper bag -- and slams them against the kid.
For some reason, Hogan feels like the teeth are not completely broken, and actually might have some understanding. He orders them to bite the kid, which cracks "Bryan Adams" up. He taunts the teeth and puts his finger in between the jaw a few times. The teeth do not bite down, but as soon as they are close to the kid's face, the teeth latch on and basically gnaw his nose off of his face. They also bite down on his testicles which is a very Stephen King-ish detail that is added to the story. Hogan passes out. When he wakes up, he hears a weird noise and realizes it is the teeth making their way up the back of his seat. He passes out again. This time when he wakes up, he realizes the teeth have chewed through his seatbelt so he can get up and out of the car. There is blood in the van but no sign of "Bryan Adams." Hogan walks for a bit outside the car until he sees the mangled and chewed body of the teeth dragging the kid away by the hair.
A year or so after the accident, Hogan returns to Scooter's. Scooter has passed away from the cancer that made him appear very sickly during their first interaction. Mrs. Scooter (no name ever given) remembers Hogan from the storm and accident and tells him that she has something for him. She brings out the chattery teeth and tells him that they were on the front porch the day after the storm so they just figured Hogan forgot them. While he is still slightly weirded out by them, Hogan agrees to take them. After sliding them into his pocket, he feels the set of teeth move a bit and gives it a companionable pat before leaving.
Thoughts or Additional Info:
I have read/listened to this story a few times and it is one that I can retell as a story to other people. It is a great story to tell to people who might be interested in reading King's short stories. It also always amazes me that King can write pretty terrifying stories about something as benign as chattery teeth wearing shoes.
"Looking into the display case was like looking through a dirty pane of glass into the middle third of his boyhood."
Memorable Lines or Passages:
"The snakes in pissant little roadsdie menageries like this one couldn't kill you; their venom was milked twice a week and sold to clinics that made drugs with it. [...]But the snakes could still give you one hell of a painful bite if you got too close and then made them mad. That, Hogan thought, was what the current breed of road-kids had in common with them." (p. 182)
traveling salesman, novelties, nevada, horror, thriller, audiobook, kathy bates, teeth, spats, retelling, roadside, car accident
I'm just a short story lover and voracious reader who wants to keep track of the shorts I read and help others remember the ones they've forgotten.