The Tooth Fairy of the South Florida Swamps
By Ali Diamond
The town of Boyette, Florida was built on rum, cocaine, and stolen Native American land.
Boyette has a population of less than 5,000 people; and consisted of a couple of trailer parks, a few diners and dive bars scattered about, and a downtown that had a couple stripmalls filled with pawn shops, beauty shops, and Cash 4 Gold places.
Me and my family were part of that population of 5,000. My dad dipped a while back, whether he was still out buying cigarettes or was actually in the belly of the crocodiles that lived in the swamps that surrounded this town remains to be seen. But that just left my mom, in our family’s trailer, raisin’ all six of us.
Understandably, I moved out as soon as I could.
Growing up, I had only two friends. Eliette and Adam Benoit were twins, and were inseparable. Both had fiery red hair, both with tanned almond skin, dark eyes, and both have lived with their grandparents in the spit-and-mud shack at the very edge of town, right next to the swamp, since they were babies. The local lore is that their Papa was lost to a “fishing accident;” and their mama went crazy, searching every night in the neighboring swamps, lookin’ for the body. Until one day, she just never came back.
Because you do not go searching at night in the South Florida swamps.
Despite this, Eliette and Adam were happy kids growing up in a loving and supportive household with their grandma and grandpa. Collard greens and buttermilk biscuits were plentiful, and I’d often wander in with my nose in the air, sniffing like a stray cat about to steal somebody’s lunch. They’d feed me, and then herd us outside where we’d play for hours underneath the scorching sun.
And what else is there to do in a deadbeat, two-bit, swampland town like ours, than go fishin.’ That being said, I hated fishing. Couldn’t stand the feeling of hooking the worm. On the off-chance I managed to catch something; I’d quickly hand it over to Adam, who was more capable than I of fileting the fish. See, I much preferred our camping trips instead.
Once a year, the entire Benoit clan would gather in the outskirts of our little town for a weekend of relative debauchery. We’d go hiking and fishing during the day and when the sun finally set, Grandpa Benoit would recruit the boys to build the world’s largest bonfire, just shy of something uncontrollable. The Benoit bonfires were a local tradition, as were the scary stories told around the flames. Grandpa Benoit would wait to go last, as nothing could top his story about the Tooth Fairy that lives in the south Florida swamps.
He’d wait until the sun was set, the flames were high, and the whiskey was running thick.
“It was the height of summer in 1970.” He’d start, dramatically. “I was hopin’ to enter the local fishing competition, and had spent every spare minute of my time, practicing my technique in the local lakes.”
“The competition was stiff, and the lakes were unusually quiet, so I waited until later in the evening on the day of the contest to head out. There were three of us, and we headed out on Ricky’s boat in hopes of catchin’ something. We entered the swamps a little over that way.” He pointed a little to his left and sure enough, there was a small opening in the thick canopy of Pond Cypress trees.
“It was quiet on the water. Ricky kept tryin’ to make jokes, to break the tension that was building. I still wasn’t catchin’ anythin’ and frankly, I was ready to turn back. We were deeper in the swamp than I’d ever been, and just one false turn...” Grandpa Benoit smacked his knee. “We’d be lost out there. But Ricky refused to turn back. Said he was catchin’ a damn fish. Said he wasn’t gonna lose this competition due to any redneck, hillbilly superstition.”
Grandpa Benoit shook his head. “You see, there’s a sayin’ round these parts.” The fire crackled in his pause. “Don’t take what the swamp doesn’t want you to have. Or you’ll lose somethin’ you love.”
“It’d been five hours at this point, and me and Jean were ready to go home. But Ricky wouldn’t go.”
“Not without casting one more line into the water. And despite our arguments; he dug into the bucket of worms, hooked two of ‘em, and threw the line out far. There it sat, floating gently in the water, as the water rippled faintly in the moonlight.”
“Then suddenly, it bobbed.”
“Ricky went wild. He was yankin’ on that line; but whatever it was, it was fightin’ hard. He tried to get me to pull it up, but I wouldn’t touch it.”
“Then suddenly, the fighting stopped. The line went slack. And suddenly, something drifted to the surface.” Grandpa Benoit paused. “It was a doll. A small, porcelain, dark-eyed, black-haired doll.”
“The doll was… beautiful.” Grandpa Benoit’s eyes started to look misty. “I remember thinking how sad it was she was in the water." He paused. “That’s when Jean grabbed my shoulder, hard.”
“His eyes were wild and terrified, and he was saying something about how we needed to go. Now.” Jean grabbed the wheel from Ricky and started pulling the boat around, but we didn’t make it two feet before we hit something hard.
“The jolt nearly threw us overboard. It tossed all of us to the floor, and our fishin’ equipment went everywhere. Ricky’s expensive fishing rod went overboard; and, cursing, he grabbed the light and shined it on the water where it had fallen.”
Grandpa Benoit leaned back, his face thrown into shadow. Goosebumps crawled up my arm.
“You see,” He said. “There was something else in the water.”
“It was a woman.” He whispered. “That’s what we hit.”
“She was almost totally underwater. The only thing we could see was her eyes, and she was looking up at us.”
“I heard Jean whispering, and I looked back. He was muttering the Lord’s prayer, and I had noticed that he’d wet himself. Then I heard something else. Something faint.”
“Ripples, in the water. She was drifting closer, her dark hair fanning out behind her. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. I couldn’t do anything, as I watched her put one pale, bloated hand on the edge of that small boat.”
Grandpa Benoit put his hand up. “The boat rocked violently, and once again, we fell to the ground and watched as slowly, the other hand reached up too.”
“The thing was pulling itself up. Sitting on the floor of the boat, at first all I could see was the top of her head. Then her forehead, then those dark eyes. Then we saw her mouth.”
Grandpa Benoit paused, looking at us. “Her mouth was like an open wound, extending down into her neck. But in her mouth, lined rows and rows of teeth. Like a shark’s mouth, but filled with teeth of slightly different sizes, colors, and shapes. Nothing matched.” He paused. “And then I realized, it’s because they all came from different human mouths.”
“..teeth.” It groaned. “Give me your teeth.”
Around the campfire, nobody took a single breath.
“THEN BAM.” Grandpa Benoit howled. “SHE TOOK MY TEETH.” His dentures flew from his mouth and landed on the nearest, shrieking child. He had a full set of fake teeth, and loved pulling them out much to the dismay of Grandma Benoit.
The campfire erupted into a chaotic hullabaloo of shrieking, screaming children. Grandma Benoit started rounding them up; and the rest of the adults sprung into action too, gathering up the children that belonged to them. I watched the chaos as it erupted around me, with a smile on my face. Grandpa Benoit told this story every year, and while I knew how it ended, I couldn’t help as a small shiver raced up the back of my neck. Like as if, from the depths of the darkness around me, there were eyes watching my every move.