It starts with a tooth that he finds on the edge of his property while idly searching for material for his lures. The dogs ignore the way he picks it up and goes still, too busy bounding with glee in the dew-dropped late summer evening.
Will doesn’t turn it in for forensics analysis. He leaves it on his fly table that evening, tries not to think about it. Thinks, That tooth is definitely human. Thinks, I shouldn’t go outside, maybe ever again .
But he has class to teach the next day, so he does.
He’s tired, is the truth of it. He’s suffered more facial incisions due to his career choices than seems fair. He’s almost died too many times. Most nights, he sits on the porch with shitty, bitter coffee and his shotgun propped up on his thigh, watching the horizon.
He fantasizes that if he watches long enough, a small figure will appear at the treeline. It will slowly grow bigger and bigger, and eventually, he’ll see its face. Or its lack thereof.
But he doesn’t let the fantasy go farther than that. He never does.
Instead, some nights, he walks towards the treeline, barefoot, grass cold and pliant beneath his soles. He reaches dirt and forest, stands shivering and shrouded in pitch-black foliage. He forces himself to wait before he turns around. And when he does, his house is lit-up and warm, a beacon for him to come home too.
This is the closest feeling he’ll ever have to home.
He sleeps too much now, lets the dogs onto the bed with him. He dreams of teeth, acres of teeth, dreams he is walking on soft grass and when he looks down it is teeth, and his dream-self thinks, How on earth did I grow this many ? When he wakes up, he is too tired to brush, but he pries open his lips in the mirror and counts to make sure they’re all there.
He doesn’t sign up to teach next semester. He stops picking up his phone. One day he walks out to the river and drops his phone in the water and he thinks, This is fine. This is fine. He never walks by the patch where he picked up the one tooth. It still rests on the fly table, but he hasn’t put it in any lures - sometimes, he just looks at it until his eyes blur. He manages his trips into town to buy groceries without a single word to anyone, without even a suggestion of eye contact, no matter how hard the checkout clerk tries.
He makes it a month before Jack drives out to his house and says, “Will.”
“Jack,” he says back from the porch. Winston obliviously wags his tail and pants open-mouthed, excited to have company. “The answer is no.”
“I haven’t even--” Jack cuts himself off, already frustrated. Will resolutely gazes at the driver’s side door Jack has left open, ignoring the urge to go back in and slam the door shut behind him. Jack would just come in anyway. It’s not like he has strong locks.
“Look,” he begins again, straining to sound patient. “I know you’ve shut off from this work. But this case is different.”
“They’re all different ,” Will says.
Jack’s gaze drops. “We think it’s him,” he says.
Will presses his lips together until they nearly go white. “Definitely no, then.”
“It’s -- it’s different, though. He didn't take any organs.”
Will knows what’s coming next.
“He took the teeth,” he says.
“So you’ve seen the case already, then?” Jack says. There’s a hint of suspicion in his voice. A hint of fear.
“No,” says Will, and he sighs and drags fingers through his hair, unruly and unreasonably long. He doesn’t know the last time he had it cut. “He left me one.”
Jack grimaces. “How long ago?”
“About a month.”
“And you didn’t think to call?”
“I dropped my phone in the river.” He meets Jack’s gaze. It’s a white lie. He did eventually drop his phone in the river. Just a little bit after.
Jack sighs. “Well, go ahead and show me, then.”
Will already knows there’s no hope of finding fingerprints on it, so he carries it out in his bare hands. It’s dirty and small and Jack squints at it like it’ll have the killer’s coordinates neatly engraved with a laser.
“I’ll have Zeller and Price take a look at it,” he says finally. “Have you found any more?”
“I haven’t been looking,” Will says. It’s honest. He’s been exclusively searching for lure materials elsewhere, giving the site a wide breadth as though it were a mouth poised, at any moment, to open up and swallow him whole. “There might be.”
“Show me,” says Jack.
It truly is a sight, when they reach it: a neat circle of 31 more teeth in various states of decay from exposure and erosion. Will does a mental countdown. One a day. A full dental set, including wisdoms.
Jack grimly snaps on gloves and sets to gathering them all after photographing the arrangement. “The lab needs to look at these as soon as possible,” he says. “I’ll call you with the findings.”
“No phone,” Will reminds him.
“Go buy a damn burner,” Jack says. “We’ll need you to come in tomorrow.” He starts to walk back towards where his car is parked, towards Will’s beacon of a home.
“I’m not coming,” Will calls after him. Jack doesn’t bother to respond.
“I’m not,” Will mutters to himself. Not going to buy a phone, not going to drive to Quantico, not going to think about the faerie circle offering lain orderly on the edge of his property. Just not. He’s going to fish tomorrow. When it gets cold enough in a couple of months, he’s going to ice fish. He’s not going to visualize amber lights anymore. He’s not.
But the good doctor’s face comes to him unbidden, smiling, terrifying. The good doctor’s voice whispers in his ear, Come, dear Will. You know you’ve missed me.
He shudders. He looks around. All he sees is Jack’s car peeling off the dirt road.
“I don’t,” he whispers. He does.