The Tooth Fairies

by Matt Slaybaugh

about 6,100 words
2019 (I think)

Miles Porbeagle walked with his dad, Andrew back from the ballfield. Miles wiggled a loose tooth with his tongue, and decided it was loose enough. So he reached into his mouth and twisted the tooth until it came out. He showed it to his dad.

"I finally got it out! How much do you think I'll get for it?"

"Oh. We'll see."

Miles probed the gap with his tongue and thought for a moment. "Is the tooth fairy, you know, real? Really real?"

"Well, what do you think?"

"I don't know." Miles thought for a moment. "If she is real, what does she do with all the teeth?"

Andrew remembered a story his grandmother had told him. "She sells them to the Goblin King, who plants them in his garden. They sprout and grow into little imps and gremlins who cause mischief and serve the king. But they always remember their past and will never harm or steal from the one whose tooth they came from."

"I don't think that's true." Miles replied.

They paused outside a neighbor's house, next to a green van with 'Murphy Pest Control' written in large letters on the side. In the yard stood an older woman in a green uniform operating a drone hovering over the house.

"What's she doing?" Miles asked.

"I don't know. Maybe they zap rats with airborne lasers now." Andrew joked.

The woman overheard them talking and turned to wave. She saw the bag of sports gear Andrew was carrying and called out. "Nice day to play ball! Have fun but take care of yourself! I used to play double-A ball 'til I tore my knee!"

They waved back and walked on. Then Andrew leaned close to Miles. "I heard those guys were crooks, you know. When business was slow, they'd let out a bunch of mice and rats into rich neighborhoods, trying to drum up more business."

Miles narrowed his eyes and nodded slowly, and Andrew immediately regretted saying anything about it. Miles still had some of the innocence of childhood. The age of cynicism would come soon enough. No need to rush it.

Back at the house, Bonnie was washing dishes. "How was the game?"

"Good!" Miles answered. "Next time we'll play for money!"

Andrew laughed. "If we do that, I'm not going to let you win."

"Let me win?!" Miles laughed. He pulled his tooth from his pocket and showed it to his mother. "It has some blood on it."

Bonnie leaned over. "Oh, a new tooth! It doesn't look too bad. We just don't want any blood to get on the pillowcase."

Miles said, "Brandon at school got five bucks for his tooth."

"Five?" Bonnie answered. "I don't think our tooth fairy is quite that generous."

"Last time I only got 49 cents - mostly pennies! And she forgot the first night!"

Bonnie looked at Andrew sideways. "She won't forget tonight though, will she?"

But Andrew did forget. After putting Miles to bed, and another beer, and watching some TV, Andrew climbed into bed without another thought.

So, he was surprised the next morning, as he made coffee and heard Miles whooping as he ran down the stairs. "Look! Five dollars!" Miles unrolled the bill and held it out.

Andrew stared at the money in Miles's hand. "Bonnie? Did you see this?"

Bonnie walked in, putting in her earrings. She looked at the money and then at Andrew. "Did you do that?"

"No. I didn't do anything. Honestly. I forgot all about it before going to bed." Said Andrew.

"How many beers did you have last night?"

Andrew shifted his feet and made a sound in between a cough and a laugh. "Honestly!"

Bonnie leaned down to talk to Miles. "Honey, where did you get that?"

"It was under my pillow!"

"Can I see it?"

Miles showed her the bill.

"Hmm." She looked sideways at Andrew but said nothing more about it.

A few months later, Andrew was making coffee again when Miles ran downstairs again, whooping and holding another five-dollar bill. "She is real! The tooth fairy's real! I didn't tell anyone about the tooth that fell out yesterday, but she knew! Look!"

"Bonnie!"

Again, Bonnie walked in. "I heard. Andrew, what is this? This is the second time."

"I swear, I have no idea."

"Miles, is this a joke?"

"No! I just put the tooth under my pillow and this morning the money was there!"

No one said anything for a moment then Andrew asked, "Miles, when you have another loose tooth, will you please tell us? Before you put another tooth under your pillow, will you please let us know?"

Miles nodded.

Bonnie cleared her throat at Andrew.

"What else can we do?!" Andrew said. "Call the police? Tell them someone's secretly putting money under our son's pillow?"

"I thought it was the tooth fairy." Miles said.

Bonnie smiled at him and put her hand on his shoulder. "It is honey. It's just... a lot more money than she usually gives."

She glared at Andrew and then left.

A few months after that, Miles came home from school with a tooth in his pocket. He told his parents about it and Andrew jumped up. "Look. You'll see!"

He pulled the old baby monitor from the attic and set up the camera in Miles's room, pointing at the pillow. Then he hooked the monitor to his laptop to record overnight.

The next morning, Miles was thrilled again, but not surprised this time, to find yet another five-dollar bill. Andrew and Bonnie pored over the video until they finally found a slight movement of shadows around the pillow just after 3am. But no fairy. "There's no one there."

"Miles," Bonnie asked, "are other kids at your school getting the same amount of money as you?"

"Yeah." Miles answered, in between bites of cereal. "We all get five now. Except Kris. Her parents don't believe in the tooth fairy."

"I need to call them." Bonnie said. "The other parents. This doesn't make any sense."

Andrew thought for a moment. "Buddy, do you think you could get any of your friends' teeth from them?"

"What?" Bonnie asked.

"No way." Miles said. "They're worth five bucks each. No one's going to just give them away."

"What about your friend Kris, do you think she would give her teeth to you?"

"She's not my friend."

"Okay, but could you ask her?"

"Why?"

"Then we can put them under your pillow and get paid for them."

"Andrew!" Bonnie said.

Miles's eyes widened. "Oh... Yeah!" He said.

Andrew put up his hands. "Look. I don't want to have to wait months to get another video. If we have a few more teeth on hand, we can get some more video and figure this out."

Later that week Miles returned home with a plastic bottle full of teeth. "I'm rich! Kris only had one saved and she held out until I offered her two dollars for it. When the other kids heard that I was giving money for teeth, a few other kids brought theirs in too. They said they weren't getting five bucks, but they all live in Weston. Maybe they have a different fairy there." He laughed. "Brandon was so mad he didn't think of this first."

That night, they placed one of the teeth under Miles's pillow and set up the recording equipment again. The next morning, they watched the video and saw the same movement of shadows, this time around 3:20am. They did it again the next night and the following morning saw it again around 2:50.

On Friday night, Andrew made a pot of coffee and set up the rocking chair in Miles's room. The lights were out, and he had nodded off by the time his alarm went off at 2:30. He sat silently in the dark, waiting. Just before 3:00 he thought he heard a very faint rustling sound near the pillow. He jumped up and shone a flashlight and saw a tiny creature scurry away. It fell off the bed and ran toward an electric outlet, where it squeezed through one of the holes.

Andrew sat and stared at the outlet until 4:30 before getting some tape to cover the outlet and then went to bed.

"What did it look like?" Bonnie asked in the morning.

"Kind of like... three skinny cockroaches attached together like a snake, dragging a thin tube behind it."

"When do we call the police?"

"We need more evidence. I want to catch it, or at least get a good photo."

"Maybe we should call an exterminator. I've seen the Murphy van in the neighborhood."

"I thought those guys were crooks." Andrew said. "Remember that story about the rats and mice?"

"That's just a rumor. Lynn and Evan use them, and they've been happy with them."

Andrew thought about that for a while and that night took an empty beer bottle and placed one of the teeth in it, then set the bottle in a bucket of gravel, so that it wouldn't tip over, and put the bucket in Miles's room. Andrew took a coffee table book of National Geographic photos and laid it between the floor under the outlet and the mouth of the bottle.

This time, Andrew didn't notice the creature until he heard the plink of it falling into the glass bottle and the scratches as it struggled to escape. Andrew dashed over and plugged the end of the bottle with a wad of paper towel. He turned on the light and heard a crash as a second creature scurried off.

At 8:00 am, Andrew was at the police station to file a complaint. He filled in the proper paperwork and spoke to Detective Gillespie.

Andrew noticed the tattered cuffs of his pants, the spots the detective had missed shaving. The detective took note of Andrew's sagging gym shorts and his t-shirt with a stain over his left nipple.

"Thank you, Mr., uh, Porbeagle. Just so you know. This is not the first such complaint."

"I know some of the other kids in my son's class have seen the same thing." Andrew said. "So... I mean... Well... So, what is it?!"

"All I can tell you is that there is an active ongoing investigation and that this object and your testimony will be entered as evidence."

"Well, what do I do if there's another one?"

The detective shrugged. "Call an exterminator."

When he got back home, Andrew called Murphy Pest Control.

"We got someone in your neighborhood." Said the voice on the other end of the line. "She can swing by and talk to you when she's finished at the other place. What's bothering you?"

"What?" Andrew replied.

"What's your critter?" Then, speaking more slowly. "What is the pest you would like us to remove?"

"Oh. It's some kind of robot, I think? Not a bug or mouse or anything."

"Oh alright. That's not as unusual as you might think. Definitely more common nowadays."

Later, a green van pulled up outside and a woman got out. "Sorry for the smell. Got about fifteen dead mice in the back. And a couple rats. Had to get the rats the old-fashioned way. Name's Doris, by the way."

"Oh yeah." Andrew said. "The ballplayer. We saw you at the neighbor's place a while back. So, what's 'the old-fashioned way'?"

"Shovel."

"Oh. Well, what's the new-fashioned way?"

Doris took a deep breath. "Maybe you've seen our drone flying around? Green? Hovers above people's houses?"

Andrew nodded.

"That thing is a flying solar panel, flies up there and charges and controls our good little critters, who catch the bad little critters."

Andrew was perplexed and Doris continued. "We have these little autonomous robots. Look kind of like lizards, that catch the mice and other unwanted visitors and leave them in a neat little pile for me to pick up."

"Less mess, I guess." Said Andrew.

"Yep. No poison. No traps to set. It's a step forward. Can't say I miss laying glue traps under crawl spaces, but it's a bit weird to spend my time playing with remote control helicopters."

Miles stood in the doorway listening and Doris smiled down at him. "What do you think? Does this look fun? You think you'd want to do this when you grow up?"

"How much money do you get?" Miles answered.

Andrew apologized but Doris just laughed.

"Aren't you the guys who set the mice loose?" Miles asked.

"Miles!" Andrew scolded.

Doris was surprised but after a moment replied. "Well, I think I know what you're talking about. That wasn't us, exactly, though. That was one employee many years ago who was fired as soon as we found out. He was paid on commission of sales and tried to drum up business. Turned out he was a pretty bad dude. Stole a bunch of our equipment before he left. Good riddance. But no. We never do anything like that. Believe me, there are plenty of pests in this town already. We don't need to let go any more."

They walked inside and Doris continued talking. "So, we specialize in critters, bedbugs in particular, but we have had a few calls for 'runaway robots'. Now what in particular do you have? A disagreeable vacuum or something?"

"It looks like a centipede, kind of, or a... Segmented snake."

"Hmm. That sounds like one of our older models, 'ventipede'. That's our bedbug catcher. Have you used our service before?"

"No."

"Because I don't know how else you'd have one..." She pulled out a tablet and punched in some numbers. "Let me pull up your address. Yep, we have the whole layout here."

"How'd you get that?"

"Previous scan. One of our bots has been in here at some point."

"But we've never hired you before!" Andrew protested.

Doris shrugged. "Previous owner, maybe? So, what's this thing been doing? Maybe just trying to get out. They can get trapped after a job. We usually do good inventory, but you know. They're small, and there are lots of them."

"No. It's not trapped. And there's more than one. I've seen them coming in through the electrical outlets. They always go for my son's teeth. He calls it the 'tooth fairy'. It's not just us. Some of the neighbors have seen the same thing. They all go for our kids' baby teeth. They call it 'the tooth fairy'."

Doris nearly dropped her tablet. "His teeth! Are you sure?! I need to talk with my boss."

She turned to go but Andrew stopped her. "Please, before you go, what is it?"

"Well. I don't know, but... Look, when we first rolled out our system, we had to show customers how safe and clean and, you know, how discreet we could be, and instead of dragging dead bugs around, someone had the idea to have the 'pedes sniff out a child's tooth and snatch it from under a pillow. But I wasn't involved with that, and it was years ago. and we haven't used that demo since. I thought we got rid of it. I'll check with my boss. But in the meantime, keep setting traps. But you can't bait them until your kid loses another tooth..."

"No, we have a whole bunch. My son bought teeth from his classmates."

"What? He bought teeth!? Well

Ok. So how many times have you put a tooth out for these things?"

"I don't know. Maybe ten in the past year."

"Ten! I hope you're lying."

"No. One every few months at first but then a whole bunch in this past week."

Doris looked at Andrew sternly. "Now I don't know if this thing is one of ours or if it's running the same code we use now. But let me tell you how these things work. When they find a single critter in a home, they tag the home as threat level yellow. Two or more critters gets threat level orange. Ten or more puts it at red."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, they think your house is infested."

"Infested? With what?"

"Well, with unwanted teeth."

The next morning, Miles came downstairs complaining. "No money! They took the tooth but didn't leave any money!"

Bonnie snapped at him. "Miles! We told you no more teeth under pillows until we figure this out."

"But I didn't!"

Both parents looked at Miles. "Buddy, your mouth is bleeding."

"I had a loose tooth and the fairies pulled it out."

"They pulled it out of your mouth?! Did... Didn't that hurt?"

"A little, but I thought I was getting five bucks."

"Did you see it?" Andrew asked.

"No, it was dark. I heard their wings fluttering and felt their little hands. They left out the window."

"Did you open the window?" Bonnie asked Miles.

"No, they must have."

Bonnie turned to Andrew. "Did you lock the window?"

Andrew tried to remember. "I thought I did."

"Are you still recording his room at night?"

"I think so."

Bonnie and Andrew dashed over to the laptop and pulled up the recording. The monitor showed dozens of ventipedes crawling out of outlets and up the wall to the window. They fumbled with the lock but eventually got it open. Then, from outside, several bird-sized drones pushed at the window until it was open enough for them to fit through. They flew to the bed and hovered like hummingbirds around Miles's head. He lay face-first into his pillow and the drones tapped his head until he rolled over. Then they hovered close for a few moments. Miles said, "Ow." softly a few times. Then they left.

Andrew got out a roll of duct tape and taped over every outlet in the house. Bonnie said, "Andrew. Get Doris back here."

That evening, Doris was back. "Hate to do this, folks." She held out a clipboard. "Boss says you got to sign this."

Bonnie snatched the clipboard and muttered as she read through it. "Indemnify... legal action..." She handed it back. "We're not signing anything. Last night a swarm of your little... creatures attacked my son and ripped a tooth out of his mouth!"

Doris hung her head. "Ma'am. Believe me. I feel awful about this..."

"I don't care how you feel!" Bonnie interrupted. "Get these things out of our lives!"

She turned to Andrew. "Lynn and Evan have her parents staying for the weekend so we can't stay there. We're going to have to get a motel if she can't get rid of these things."

She stormed out of the room and Doris and Andrew said nothing for a moment. Then Andrew said. "No real damage has been done. It's alarming and unnerving. But... we just want to get this taken care of before it gets worse."

Doris nodded.

"Can you explain a bit more about how these things work? How can we stop them? You have that remote, can't you just turn them off?"

"Afraid not." Doris answered. "It's an older system."

"How do you know that? You haven't even seen them."

Doris sighed. "You said the snake things looked like three little cockroaches?"

"Yeah."

"We never used that model after that tooth fairy demo I mentioned to you yesterday."

"You mean..."

"That IS the tooth fairy demo."

"How did it get here?"

"That's the thing. Remember that guy I told you about? Stole a bunch of our equipment? I think he must have stolen that demo. I mean, it must have been him."

Just then, Bonnie called out. "Andrew, that was the police. The detective is coming over."

About an hour later, Detective Gillespie knocked on the door and Bonnie answered. She invited him in, and he collapsed into a seat in the kitchen. "Oh. I hate these fucking robots."

Andrew walked in. "Miles was exhausted. I put him to bed."

"This your husband?" Gillespie asked without getting up.

"Yes, I'm the one who called."

Gillespie sighed. "Oh, right. We talked. Alright. The money is counterfeit. That's how we finally tracked the guy. Former employee of Murphy Pest Control..."

"Yeah. One of their people is here now."

"Here? Well bring them up."

Andrew went in the basement and found Doris, who was placing double-sided tape on the wall near the water heater.

"Oh, okay." Gillespie said, seeing Doris. "So, yeah, it's your guy, Franklyn, selling kids' teeth to a group overseas."

"For what?" Bonnie asked.

"You heard of 'Crispr babies'?"

"I think so."

"They pay top dollar for good sources of pure DNA and stem cells. Right now, we're looking for Franklyn. He's probably going to try to retrieve his equipment, so he should be in the area soon. So if you don't mind, I'm going to sit in the car outside for a while just in case."

He turned to leave but then stopped at the door. "Just stay put for now. For tonight. If Franklyn comes back, we don't him to think we're waiting for him."

"But..." Bonnie said.

"Just one night." Gillespie left and Andrew and Bonnie watched him walk out to his car.

"So, what about that motel?" Andrew asked.

"I don't know." She answered. "I don't want to spend the money if we don't have to. If the detective is here, maybe it will be alright." She turned to Doris. "Do you have a lot more to do downstairs?"

Doris shrugged. "Well, there's more I could do, but I don't know how much difference it will make. We're probably going to have to catch them by hand. The glue just slows them down."

Bonnie rolled her eyes and was about to speak when they suddenly heard a scream upstairs. Bonnie and Andrew ran to Miles's room to find several small robots climbing over Miles's face, probing into his mouth. Andrew reached to grab one and then yanked his hand back after being bitten by one. "Ow! Doris, help us!"

Doris ran up the stairs. "You got to grab them by the tails." She carefully peeled a robot off of Miles's face. "This is a 'zard'. The flying ones, the 'bards', they're harder to catch. Do you have a bag or box or something?"

Bonnie swatted at the remaining robots. "Hurry!"

Andrew grabbed a pillow off of the bed and pulled the case off.

Doris carefully dropped the zard into the case. Bonnie grabbed the case, threw it to the floor and stamped on it.

"Ma'am!" Doris shouted. "You don't have to do that! There is an off switch!"

Bonnie screamed at her and the three managed to pull two more zards off of Miles's before the rest scattered.

"See here?" Doris said, holding one of the zards upside down by the tail. "Just under the throat..."

"I don't care!" Bonnie yelled, panting. She tended to Miles, who had several scrapes around his mouth. "Andrew! Go tell that cop what just happened!"

Andrew jogged downstairs. He opened the front door, and something hit him in the face hard enough to knock him to the floor. He put his hand to his face and felt blood. He looked up and saw three small drones, bards, swooping down toward him. He crawled back inside and slammed the door, catching one in the door jamb, and accidentally letting one inside where it circled around the ceiling. Andrew inched toward the hat rack and grabbed an umbrella. The bard dove at him and Andrew protected his face with his left arm while swatting the umbrella with his right. After a few lunges, he finally made contact and beat the thing down to the floor, where he stabbed it several more times with the tip of the umbrella. He turned back to the one caught in the door and did the same thing.

He went back upstairs and told Bonnie what happened. Doris was deactivating the last of the zards. She called Gillespie's number, but it went to voice mail.

"Doris," Bonnie said. "How many more of these things are there?"

Doris straightened up. "Well, as far as I can tell..."

"Yes?"

"Now, these bots came from a demo, not a normal..."

"Yes? Come on!"

"Let me lay it out. There's a mother drone out there. The 'mama bird' finds a tall tree or streetlamp or somewhere like that to roost and charge up. Normally takes about 3 days to charge her battery in sunny weather. She flies to the ground at sunset and the ventipedes and zards and bards find her and go to charge up, like suckling at their mama's..."

"Okay, okay." Bonnie waved her hand.

"Oone mother drone. If we can find that, catch it, deactivate it, and open up her service panel, I should be able to signal the remaining drones to return to her and we can gather them up."

Andrew looked at the window. "It's dark now. We just got a wave of them. How many more tonight?"

"Yea, so they must have just had a feeding and we're going to see another..." She looked in the bag and then at Andrew. "You got two bards downstairs, right?"

Andrew nodded.

"And trapped how many 'pedes? over the last week or so?"

"Uh. Seven?"

"So... we probably have eighteen more bards and thirty more zards."

"What about the centipede things?"

Doris shrugged. "A hundred and forty or so."

Bonnie howled.

"Ma'am, we'll get the mother and we'll be fine. Just watch the boy. Andy will cover me while I find her."

"Don't leave me up here!" Bonnie yelled.

"Honey, do you want to go with Doris?" Andrew asked.

"Excuse me." Miles interrupted. "Let's all go. Stick together."

The adults looked at each other and nodded.

The four walked slowly downstairs listening for scratching in the walls. Doris led them to the kitchen. "These things have chemical sensors. That's how they know where to go. Normally, they sniff for roaches or mice or whatever, but these were set to smell the blood and bacteria found on a human child's tooth."

Bonnie folded her arms and grimaced.

"And they're always learning and adapting as they go." Doris continued. "Tuning their sensors. When you brought back teeth from several different individuals, the bots broadened their palette, so to speak, and may be looking at a wider range of smells."

"What does that mean?"

"I mean, they're not just going after children's' teeth. They're going to go after everyone's teeth. And not just teeth. Mouths in general. And they're going to keep widening their range of target smells until they get what they're after."

Andrew and Bonnie protested but Doris interrupted them. "But! But, but... When we reset a hive of these things, we use one of three smells: pickles, coffee, or fennel, you know, the smell of black licorice. Keep chewing one of those things, keep that smell in your mouth and you'll probably get ignored. At least long enough for us to find the mother."

"Well, alright then." Andrew started making coffee.

Bonnie looked in the fridge. "I don't think we have any pickles." She stood up. "I don't think we have any fennel, either."

"Easter candy." Andrew said. "Do we have any Easter candy?"

"I think so." Miles said. He ran up to his room and brought back a small stash of jellybeans, mostly white, pink, and black.

"Chew on those black ones."

Bonnie and Miles complained but each took a few black jellybeans. Miles then went to the junk drawer next to the dishwasher and pulled out a roll of duct tape. He peeled off a few inches and taped over his mouth.

They went out to the garage and gathered flashlights and their weapon of choice. Doris had a shovel, Andrew a baseball bat, Bonnie a rake, and Miles a badminton racket.

They each put on hats, gloves, and the heaviest boots they had.

They nodded to each other and opened the garage door. Two bards flew in right away and Bonnie quickly knocked them down with the rake. One was badly damaged and unable to fly, and Doris managed to grab the other one to turn off its switch. Immediately after, six zards scurried in, under the car, and around their feet. They stomped and struck at the zards. Doris had the best luck and the best aim with his shovel, quickly getting three.

While they chased the remaining zards, another wave of bards flew in, and Miles had the most success dispatching them with his racket. Andrew had yet to make contact with any of the robots with his bat, but had twice nearly hit Bonnie and Miles in the head. He tossed the bat away and knelt down to open the bag of sports equipment on the floor. He glanced toward the door. "Incoming!"

Countless black ventipedes began flooding in through the open door. Andrew threw everything he had at them, tennis balls, hockey sticks, ice skates. He threw a Frisbee at them and managed to take out six at once. Bonnie used her rake like a push broom while Miles just jumped up and down on them.

Doris had gotten the last zard she could see and went to help the others but stopped when he saw Miles. "Kid! Hey! Hey!"

Several ventipedes had started climbing up his legs and shirt and were near his face. Doris and Bonnie grabbed him as one climbed over the duct tape on his mouth and up into his nose. Miles screamed through the tape and Bonnie grabbed the tail of the ventipede, yanking it out of his nose with a gush of blood. Miles continued screaming and started tearing off his clothes.

"They're under his clothes!" Andrew yelled. "Come on!"

They carried Miles out to the driveway and were relieved when they saw how easily they could outrun the smaller robots. They got to Gillespie's car and gasped when they saw him lying back in the driver's seat with his face covered in blood.

They stripped Miles and then started running again. Doris carried Miles while Bonnie ripped the robots off his skin and threw them to the street, where Andrew followed, stamping on them as they went. Most of the ventipedes endured several stompings and were still able to scurry off. The ventipedes' exoskeletons were tough and Andrew found he had to roll them on their sides and grind them into the pavement to disable them.

Evan Miller was in his front yard with a can of beer in one hand and his garden hose in the other. "Howdy, neighbor." He said. "Everything all right?"

"Get inside!" Andrew shouted and kept running.

At the end of the street they stopped, panting, under a streetlamp. Miles was naked but for his underwear, socks, and boots, and bleeding and crying. A couple zards caught up to them and Doris simply picked them up by their tails and switched them off. "One on one, they're not so bad."

"We could just wait here for a bit." Andrew said. "Wait for them to come to us."

"No." Doris said. "We have to go back. We've gotten about a third of them. But the rest are waiting for us."

"Let's just go to the motel." Bonnie said quietly. "I'll take Miles. You stay and sort this out."

Andrew paused. "We need to get to the car." He picked up Miles and they walked slowly back to the house, stomping on the few stray ventipedes they found along the way.

Near the house, Doris stopped and pulled out her remote. She jerked her head up. "She's here. There. In the back." She pointed toward the back yard of the house at a large drone parked on the ground next to a hydrangea bush, nearly invisible except for the shine of reflected light on its spinning rotors.

Doris crept closer and closer with Andrew close behind. Bonnie moved toward their car.

Doris was ten feet away when she finally ran toward the drone but tripped and fell, grabbing her knee in pain. Andrew jumped up at the drone and grabbed it but let it go with a yell as the rotors sliced through his fingers.

Bonnie ran to the car and tried the handle. "Andrew! Where are your keys?!"

"Ow! Inside! Where are yours?!"

"In my purse!"

"Where's your purse?!"

"Inside!!"

She looked down and saw another wave of ventipedes, this time emerging from the garage. She took Miles's hand and ran toward Andrew in the yard. Doris limped toward them. The ventipedes were having trouble moving through the grass. Andrew sprinted to the garage and got the bag of sports equipment and a snow shovel.

The remaining zards and bards appeared, circling and surrounding them

Andrew, Doris, and Miles pushed the robots back as well as they could while Bonnie ran to the garden hose. She turned it on, full blast and knocked the bards to the ground. She twisted the nozzle of the hose into them, shouting "Die, fuckers! Die!"

Miles, still nearly naked in his boots, stamped his way across the yard.

Andrew looked up and saw the mother drone hovering far overhead. He took another Frisbee, aimed carefully, and hurled it up. But it missed widely.

Doris was kneeling on her good knee and stood slowly, painfully. "I got this." She said. She rummaged in the mesh bag until she found a baseball. She smoothed the leather with her thumb and tested the weight of it. She watched the drone, then raised her right arm, twisting back. She hurled the ball at the drone, as hard as she'd thrown anything in decades. The four of them watched as the ball missed widely. A moment later was the sound of breaking glass. "Oh, shit." Doris said.

She went back to the bag. "Give me another one." But there wasn't another baseball. Instead, she found a hockey puck. She leaned back and threw again, and this time made contact with the drone. It leaned sharply but then righted itself. Then it slowly flew away.

"Where's it going?"

"That way." Doris pointed.

They jogged out of the yard, with dozens of ventipedes and a few zards behind them. They followed the drone to the park and watched it perch at the top of a tall tree.

"What now?" Bonnie said, too tired to yell. "We can't get it up there."

Miles pulled the tape from his mouth and pointed. "Look."

They looked behind them, a figure lurched out of the darkness smashing the remaining zards with a tire iron. Doris raised her shovel but then lowered it. "Gillespie?"

"Two of those flying fuckers got trapped in my car. Had to fight them off. Tenacious little shits. Must have passed out." He chugged from a water bottle then looked up past the others. "Wonder if that's our man Franklyn up there." He gestured toward a body lying at the base of the tree where the mother drone was perched.

They got to the body, covered in blood, lying on its back, mouth open, with all of its teeth missing.

A ventipede slithered out of Franklyn's mouth into the grass. Doris crushed it under the heel of her boot. She sighed. "It's over."

A second ventipede crawled out of Franklyn's mouth. Again, Doris stomped it with her boot. "Okay. now it's over, probably."

"We still need to get that mother drone, don't we?" Bonnie asked.

"Yeah, the ventipedes are still coming." Miles said, and they all looked down to see several remaining ventipedes limping through the grass.

"They'll go into sleep mode eventually," Doris said. "To prevent their batteries from dying completely. Hey Gillespie, can you just shoot that drone down?"

Gillespie shook his head. "No. I don't discharge my weapon outside of an immediate threat. Too much paperwork. Just throw a rock at it."

The five of them began gathering rocks and hurling them up at the done. Most missed but a few managed to dislodge it from the branches and it fell to a lower branch and then bounced of another lower one and then to the ground. Doris walked over, flipped it onto its back, and popped open the service panel. She plugged a cable into her tablet and after a few moments smiled and closed the panel. "Reverted to factory settings. And all subservient drones put into idle mode. And more importantly, it's shut off."

They looked down and sure enough, the few remaining robots were no longer moving. The five of them began gathering up the robot carcasses, placing them in an evidence bag.

It was after midnight when the family limped back home, leaving Doris and Gillespie at the scene.

Bonnie spat in the sink. "Any coffee left?" I need to get that jellybean taste out of my mouth.

Miles wiggled a loose tooth with his tongue, and decided it was loose enough. So he reached into his mouth and twisted the tooth until it came out. He showed it to his parents.

"How much do you think I'll get for it?"

Andrew took the tooth and threw it in the trash, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change that he dumped on the kitchen table and pushed toward Miles. Then Andrew slumped into one of the kitchen chairs. "Bad news, kid. Tooth Fairy's dead."

END