You think life is weird and then one day you receive a human tooth in the mail.
The thing came on a Monday just like any other, stuffed into a plain white envelope. It fell out of my mailbox when I opened it after work. There was no note of any kind. No return address. Just my name and address printed upon a sticker in the middle in black ink and a couple of Elvis stamps perched up in the corner of the thing to make sure it would arrive at my address. It freaked me the fuck out.
Unsure of what else to do, I called the cops. After repeating what exactly had happened five times to three different people who all made me feel like a combination of an idiot and an asshole, they told me to just bring the thing down to the station.
I had never actually been to a police station before. After my first trip, I would describe the lobby that I walked into as feeling like a mix between a dentist’s office and the locker room at the local YMCA. The scent of chlorine danced upon my nose hairs. The officer behind the counter, a guy who was pulling off having short hair on the sides with a long top that flopped over on its side with magnificent precision, half-greeted me by barely looking up from his phone.
“Hi. I called about the tooth,” I stammered.
“What?” he shot back.
I nervously placed the envelope on the maple counter between us and the little white tooth skittered out from the envelope. The officer set down his phone, picked up the tooth and held it up against the fluorescent light that hummed above us as if he was a jeweler looking at a diamond.
“You weren’t kidding. We thought you might be a prank call,” he said.
“It just showed up in my mail today. I have no idea why.”
“Well, I can tell you one thing. It’s not a crime to mail someone a tooth, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.”
The officer put the tooth back into the envelope.
“Yeah, well, it’s pretty alarming,” I said, my voice rising with every syllable.
“I’ll bet. This kind of stuff happens more than you think. Maybe it wasn’t even intended for you.”
“But it had my name on the address…”
The officer turned his attention away from me and started fiddling with his phone.
“You’d be surprised how much weird stuff happens. My uncle was an officer in St. Louis back in the day and worked on the thing where Chuck Berry was videotaping people in the bathroom of his restaurant. Guy is lucky he can duck walk and play the guitar,” the officer said. He slid over a clipboard with some paperwork. “File a report. Let us know if it happens again. Give me the tooth. We’ll hang onto it and see who it belongs to.”
I was shocked when I received a phone call the next afternoon.
“Mr. Rowley, this is Officer Nguyen. We checked into the tooth yesterday after you filed the report and we got some results.”
“Really, what are they?” I beamed back into the phone with a level of excitement I usually only reserved for sex and sports.
“Your tooth belongs, or, belonged to, George Harden of Murphy, North Carolina.”
The name drew a complete blank in my brain. I had so many questions I wanted to ask all at once, but Officer Nguyen went on before I could ask anything.
“Did you have any connection to Mr. Harden?”
“No. I never heard of him until you said it.”
“Because the interesting thing here is… George Harden was declared dead two years ago.”
Silence lingered on the line for a few seconds before Officer Nguyen spoke up again.
“Now this could mean a lot of things, Mr. Rowley… but again, you have never interacted with George Harden?”
“I promise you, I have never heard the name before. I don’t even know what part of the state Murphy is in either,” I explained, wondering if I was starting to sound defensive.
“That’s okay. Right now, there is really nothing we can do. We’ve contacted Mr. Harden’s next of kin to let him know about what happened, but we don’t expect much to happen from here… Let us know if you receive anything else.”
And I would receive something else.
Another white envelope was staring at me when I checked my mailbox after arriving home after work.
The sight of the thing changed the world around me. Suddenly everything in the little hallway corridor where my tiny apartment mailbox was housed became suspicious. I did a 360-degree scan of my surroundings before dipping into the box and to pull out the envelope.
I could tell there was a little bit more bulk to the envelope this time, but everything else was the same – my name on the front on a sticker and two Elvis stamps.
I opened the thing up in the hallway and hoped no one saw me do it when a severed human ear tumbled out and landed on the dusty floor. My muscles snapped into movement to pick the thing up, stuff it back into the envelope, and disappear into the privacy of my apartment.
“It’s an ear?” Officer Nguyen’s voice seemed incredulous after I told him what had happened.
“Yes, a human ear.”
“Well, Mr. Rowley…your timing is convenient as I was just about to call you. I think there is something you might not have told me when we first talked that could play a part in this.”
My brain seemed as if it fell out of my head. I’d called them about someone mailing me an ear and Officer’s Nguyen made it seem as if I was the one on trial.
“W-what, what do you mean?”
“Have you ever been a public figure, or celebrity, of any kind?”
There it was. He had stumbled upon my deep, dark secret.
“No,” I jumped to answer the question, which was how I usually would answer, before realizing now would be a good time to start telling the truth. “Well,” I added, “not exactly. Kind of…I used to be. When I was a kid, I was the star of a Christian VHS series. It was called Baby Jesus, but it was only really sold around the South and was never a huge hit. My parents produced it and sold it to churches. It was for like Bible study.”
This was all true. In the series, I played a young Jesus who would give Bible lessons to other kids on the screen and play fun games. Each VHS would have a few episodes on it and it was intended to be a safe and fun alternative to the evils of television cartoons for Christian kids. It last for about four years and was a mild regional success even if it had a confusing name… I was not a baby, but I guess pre-teen Jesus didn’t sound right. I was essentially one of those bullet points that would end up on some listicle like “25 Reasons You Know You Grew up In North Carolina,” with “You remember when Jesus was a nine-year-old!” as one of the points.
Officer Nguyen chuckled.
“Yeah. One of the officers down here thought she recognized your name and after some searching online we were able to figure it out, along with figuring out one of your other problems.”
“Your address is listed on your Facebook profile.”
“Fucking idiot,” I muttered.
“You should take it down immediately and modify your privacy settings, or maybe delete your profile. Seeing that you are a person well-known enough that some people recognize you, this could be a stalker case. We have someone watching your mail in case anything else shows up. Other than that, bring the evidence down to the station tonight and we will continue investigating.”
I drove back to my office after dropping the ear off at the station with a smiling Officer Nguyen. On the way there, I made a quick stop at Rite Aid to pick up an inflatable air mattress. There was no way I was going to continue sleeping at an apartment where someone who was compelled to mail me body parts had the address of.
I did some extensive Googling at my office to make sure my place of employment was listed nowhere online — thankfully, it wasn’t.
My intuition led me to some other Google searching after extracting all the information I could about myself and I managed to narrow it down to two topics.
- George Harden
- Who was selling Elvis stamps on ebay
Searching George Harden wasn’t much help. All I could find about the George Harden from Murphy, North Carolina was an obituary from a few years ago that described a “normal” life. He grew up in Murphy, fought in World War II, came back got married, had one son, Gabriel, worked in a mill until he retired and his wife passed away about a year before he did.
Searching for ebay sellers of Elvis stamps would prove to be a little bit more fruitful. There were only two sellers: proudmomto2 and HisWordIsTHEWORD17. Knowing the stamps were a bit of a collector’s item and worth more than the 29-cent value printed on them, I thought it was strange that my pen pal was using them for his postage. I sent private messages to both users asking if they would be able to provide me information on any buyers they have recently had in the North Carolina area and went to bed on my plastic air mattress on the floor.
I awoke the next day to the sound of my cell phone ringing a little after 6AM.
It was Officer Nguyen.
“We found another one that was one its way to you this morning,” Officer Nguyen started before I had really even woken up. “It was a nose this time. Same format with everything. No note, no return address. What I am guessing is George Harden’s nose in an envelope addressed to you.”
“There’s no way you can get some clues on this? Fingerprints on the envelope?” I pleaded through a throat clogged with morning phlegm.
“…it doesn’t actually work that way. We are working on it though.”
Officer Nguyen’s last sentence was ringing through my ears as I continued my own investigation into the matter.
My first lead had gone nowhere as proudmomto2 told me she would never release any information about her buyers under any circumstances and threatened that if I continued any other communications with her that she would report me to eBay.
I was in the midst of giving up my amateur investigation and retreating to the sugary sweet arms of our company snack bar when I received a new message on ebay. This one from HisWordIsTHEWORD17.
HisWordIsTHEWORD17 was much more helpful. He was simple and to the point, explaining it was not legal to divulge any of this information online, but he could mail me a physical copy of the addresses of those that ordered Elvis stamps from him, but without names. He would just need me to PayPal him the money for shipping and $30 for his time to put it together and he would have them to me in a couple of days. I sent him the money immediately after the exchange and wrote for him to mail the info to my office address. As soon as I hit send, I wondered if he’d send me the names if I offered him more money. I emailed HisWordIsTHEWORD17 another email asking if he would include the names for an additional $200. It wasn’t much, I thought, but it was something.
“It’s a package this time,” Officer Nguyen’s voice would gut the normalcy that had returned to my life for around 24 hours.
“What’s in it?” I asked frantically.
“We don’t know yet. It’s with a bomb squad right now, they have to check it for explosives since it is a package this time, but the outside of the thing doesn’t give us anything. Same format.”
“Well shit. Please call me as soon as you have something else,” I said before we ended the call.
I received a call back from Officer Nguyen at around 10PM when I was sitting on my computer, pretending to be working late as the cleaning crew tidied up the rest of the office.
“Mr. Rowley, I am calling you to let you know that we have found the contents of the package. It was an eye, a single eye. We believe to belonged to George Harden.”
“And you have no leads on this?” I asked in an intentionally condescending tone.
“As I said, these things don’t really work how they do on TV. It is a very long, painstaking process and we might never actually even get a concrete lead on this thing, but we are working on it.”
“I’m living in my fucking office right now because of this shit and this is simply not acceptable.”
I shot a look out of my office door to see if any of the cleaning crew were around before getting up and slamming the thing shut.
“I apologize, Mr. Rowley. We truly are doing everything we can on this. We — simply put — aren’t getting much. Hopefully some better evidence will present itself. It usually does.”
“I know. I know. I know,” I said. I felt a tiny bit of sympathy for Officer Nguyen. I knew what it was like at work to be hitting your head against a wall and having people breathe down your neck even though there was really nothing you could do. “I’m sorry,” I said before I hung up.
I was failing to catch back up to my breath when there was a soft knock upon the door. I was sure it was the cleaning crew again. They had actually surprised me last night when I was bedding down and I was praying to God they weren’t coming to tell me that they had told other people about me staying there.
With this in mind, I opened the door up with a friendly smile, but no one was there. At least that was what I thought before I felt a body wrap around me from behind and quickly faded into a sudden sleep.
I awoke sitting, in a darkened room, the only source of light in the thing the flickering of an old black and white TV like a moth in the air of the night. The world was slowly coming back to me, but I was pretty sure I recognized the scene on the TV.
After a few moments of squinting, it came into focus. It was an edition of Baby Jesus and there I was, around age 10, clad in the garb of Jesus, surrounded by kids in a church. I could barely make out the dialogue due to the low volume, but it didn’t matter, I remembered this episode by heart and it all started to make sense.
The shot on the screen cut to a close up of my face and I heard and knew the dialogue at the same time.
“What are the ways that we can appreciate Christ?” I whispered out loud in unison with the broadcast.
I was strapped into a thick wooden chair in the middle of the room that was bolted to the hardwood floor. My brain told me to start squirming, but my body didn’t really want to move at all, I felt as if my blood had been replaced with cement.
“We can appreciate Christ with our taste, our mouth. We can appreciate the food he gives us with our teeth,” my 10-year-old self said on TV.
I watched a close-up of my adolescent mouth biting an apple with my teeth.
“We can appreciate Christ with our hearing, our ears. We can listen to the beautiful music, sound of the birds or conversation with family and friends with our ears.”
On the screen, my 10-year-old ears leaned towards a strumming acoustic guitar.
“We can appreciate Christ with our smell, our nose. We can smell all of the wonderful scents he has put in the world.”
On the screen, I watched a close-up of my young nose sniffing a flower.
A faint, groggy voice shot out from behind me and made me jump in the chair.
“Gabriel loved you.”
I tried to get a glimpse of what was behind me. Strapped into a chair in the same fashion as me was an elderly man clad in boxer shorts and a plain white shirt. He was dried out and grizzled, and looked like he might float away into the air if he was struck by a breeze. More concerning than his body was his face — scabbed and battered. He was missing an eye, an ear, and most of his nose.
Despite all of the alterations, I recognized the face from a recent obituary I had read. It was George Harden.
“It was all his mother would let him watch. You. She taught him the word of God through you. He truly believed you were the son of God. He worshipped you, still does. This was his dream. I, the father and you, the son…”
I noticed an array of missing teeth when George spoke.
“What the hell does that mean?” I screamed. “Why are you doing this?”
“I’m not doing anything,” George said, wheezing, before being interrupted by the pounding of heavy footsteps outside of the room.
“He’s here,” George finished with a gasp.
The door behind the TV slowly opened, trickling in some light from the hallway that cast the stout figure in the doorway in a glorious hue of gold, illuminating his shirtless and chiseled torso that was almost completely covered in tattoos of Christian nature. The man stood there for a few moments in nothing but a white pair of briefs, almost as if he was relishing in me taking in his form for the first time.
The tattooed man strode into the room like a Greek god, pushed the TV stand out of the way and picked up something off of the top of the VCR that I couldn’t make out in the darkness.
“Why are you doing this? Who are you? What are you doing?” I screamed as he approached me, but he walked towards me in silence. I watched as he ignored all of my demands and knelt down to pray in front of me.
For a few moments, I wondered if I was going to be okay. He seemed to believe I was Jesus. Maybe he was going to worship me and I could make my escape. There seemed to be hope.
But it was not to be true. I knew it as soon as I saw what he had taken from atop the VCR: A pair of pliers.
I closed my eyes just as I saw those pliers head towards my mouth, but my lack of sight did nothing to interfere with the feeling of that cold metal vice fight through my squirming lips and latch onto one of my teeth.
I swallowed a heavy and sorrowful gulp of saliva, knowing what was coming next.