As the fairy and her grasshopper, George, neared the three towers for the second time, they slowed to a trot. “We need to stay quiet and not been seen” said the fairy, and George winked in understanding. Keeping close to the great wall that surrounded the towers and their accompanying buildings, they looked for an entrance at the back. Finding one, the fairy told George to stay where he was, and crept through the huge, iron gate. The courtyard was oppressively warm, and smoky from the towers, which were, even now, chugging out thick grey clouds. Seeing no one, the fairy hurried across the yard, and toward the main building from which two of the towers protruded. The noise was deafening, that same mechanical kerchunk-kerchunk she had heard from her cottage just yesterday evening. An oak door stood to her left, she pushed it open, peered in and, seeing no one, walked into the noise.
A huge machine filled the room. At one end, a chute from an upper room fed into a large grey box, within which the fairy heard that dreadful noise. At the other end of the box, poured a thick, white paste, the consistency of cement but with a far more odious smell. Suddenly, a clattering from above, which made the fairy jump and grab her chest, and the chute filled with hundreds of fist-sized white objects, which the fairy recognised immediately. Teeth.
The paste at the far end of the machine, poured thicker, faster, with this new input of teeth. ‘A paste made of teeth?’ thought the fairy, and wondered what on earth it could be for. Her thoughts were interrupted by a movement to her left. The fairy ducked beneath a thick wooden barrel and held her breath, but not before catching a whiff of that now-familiar leaf smoke. “Steepals!” said Deep Voice, for it was he, “Steepals! Where are you?”. A scuffling from the other room, came as an answer. “Steepals, get out here!”. Steepals, the owner of that other voice the fairy had heard just yesterday evening, came through into the great room, his voice barely audible above the chugging of the machine. “Yessir? Here, sir. Sorry, sir”. Deep Voice looked up at him, for his companion was far taller and skinnier than Deep Voice himself, and sighed. “Steepals, the trolls in the Pasting House are complaining of hunger. Perhaps you could give them something to get them through til second-lunch? We need an efficient workforce and they can’t work if they’re moaning”. Steepals nodded in agreement and scuttled off to find something for the trolls. The fairy looked at Deep Voice, who was rubbing his podgy hands together as he looked at all the paste, collecting in barrels at the end of the machine. Smiling, he reached into his pocket and took out his pipe, filled it and lit it with a firefly match. The first exhalation of smoke drifted close enough to the fairy that she couldn’t help but inhale. Her lungs burned, she felt a – “Cough!” she choked and immediately raised a hand to her mouth. But it was too late. Deep Voice turned sharply, and saw the top of the fairy’s hat poking over the barrel. “Tooth fairy?!” he roared, and the fairy was too frightened to do anything, but stand up from her hiding place and nod. Deep Voice grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her to his side, “Tooth fairy?” he repeated “and just what are you doing here?”
The tooth fairy trembled, unsure whether to be honest, as she always tried to be, or to tell a lie that might save her from his anger. “I… er” she stammered “I… well, I came here to find out what you were doing. I couldn’t leave it. I needed to know”.
Deep Voice smirked. “You couldn’t leave it, eh, tooth fairy? Had to stick your pretty, little nose into my business? Well, you’ll find out now what we do with those precious teeth of yours. And don’t be crying on me when you can’t deal with the truth!”. With that, he dragged the poor fairy through the room and back out into the corridor, across the yard and over to the other building, which carried a sign above it’s door: The Pasting House. The smell, as they pushed open the door, was overpowering and, if you’ve ever spent any time under a bridge, by the river, you would recognise it as the unmistakeable smell of troll-feet. All around, countless trolls sweated over barrels of paste, heaving it from one end of the room to the other, where more trolls mixed it with green leaves and squeezed the paste into fairy-sized tubes labelled ‘Coldate’ and ‘Sensovine’. Fastening on screw-top lids, the trolls threw the tubes into boxes, which were then carried into large carts on the far courtyard.
“This,” said Deep Voice “is the truth about what happens to all those baby teeth. All those teeth you lovingly collect, and carry back on your mute grasshopper”. The fairy looked on. “I still don’t quite understand”, she said.
Deep Voice laughed. “What, my dear tooth fairy, would you call a paste made entirely of teeth?” he asked.
“Why… um… toothpaste…” she replied, and gasped as she started to understand. “Are you telling me”, she asked, looking him in the eye, “Are you telling me that the main ingredient of the toothpaste all Huemans use to clean their teeth is… teeth?”. She blinked, startled.
“Yes”, replied her employer “teeth. And what do you suppose happens to a human when they swallow a toothpaste made of their own baby teeth by accident?”
“I… I don’t know” whispered the tooth fairy “what happens?”
“They grow up”, said Deep Voice. “They lose their innocence, their imagination. Their souls, once bright and full of potential, become cold and dark. Their ability to play, to laugh, simply dies. They become… adults”
The tooth fairy gasped. “You are telling me that because of the teeth I collect, the teeth that you turn into paste, the whole Hueman race grows old and dies? Why?”
Deep Voice paused. “Imagine”, he replied “a land of Huemen where no one ever aged. No one ever grew old, and put away childish toys. What do you suppose would happen?”
“I don’t know. They’d be happy? They could laugh, and play. They could smile in the sun and dance under the moon. All the things we fairies like to do”
“Yes”, said Deep Voice “and nothing would ever get done! No, it is better that they age, that they grow wise. Without my toothpaste, the whole hueman race would be no good for anything.”
The fairy thought for a moment, and shook her head. “No”, she said. “No. That isn’t so. It is the children of the land of Huemen who have it right. What use is war? or taxes? what reason is there to worry about money and status and all those other things? It is the children who have it right, who see the world in all the wonder in which it should be seen”.
“Then you do not agree with what we are doing here? You do not agree with the part you play?”
“No”, said the fairy, who was always quick to make up her mind, “No. It isn’t right”.
“I’m sorry to hear you say that, my dear” said Deep Voice, and then “Steepals! Steepals, get over here! Steepals, the tooth fairy is no longer in our employment. Please pay her whatever is owed and escort her from the premises. Tooth fairy, I am sorry our relationship must end like this, but end it must. We will write you excellent references, of course, but the work we do here is far too important to have people around who do not agree with it. I wish you all the best with your future”. And with that, Deep Voice turned and began a lengthy discussion with a particularly smelly troll about the manner in which he was stacking barrels.
As the tooth fairy left the building, followed closely by Steepals, who was eyeing her carefully, she wondered about her decision. Was it necessary for all huemen to become adults. To leave behind their wonder and their smiles? She didn’t believe so. Walking across the courtyard to where she had left George, her grasshopper, the fairy smiled. Tonight there would be no list, tonight she would not have to make the long journey to the land of Huemen. Tonight she could dance under the moon with her fairy friends and laugh until bedtime, where she would sleep deeply and dream well.
[because it’s time for dinner and I got a little bored. I haven’t written a story for more years than I remember, and I never was very good at finishing them. I wonder if writing a children’s story about the dangers of toothpaste is a particularly good idea?]