Bread City’s the toasting capital of the world, and they ain’t ashamed.
Bread Dog barks.
Bread Subway whirrs.
It’s a nice enough bread metropolis, but the toasting’s savage.
It’s worse than theft or vandalism, in Bread City. Its worse than assault. In the grottos and corners of the city, people’ll toast you as soon as look at you.
The fires of the toasting lick at a bread person’s skin. It gets stiff, but not the way bread likes. It spots with darkness. Then the soul burns away.
Toast always wants your soul.
Under Bread City there’s the cavern of teeth. That’s where Slick Jang Toast is. He’s one of the slickest gangsters in the city but he’s toast in his own petard.
“I ache,” says Slick Jang, to his buddy Doris.
“I hear that,” says Doris.
She’s still bread. She’s still doughy and fresh. But she knows that toasting can happen to anyone. So she stays on Slick Jang’s good side and she doesn’t critique his warmth.
“It’s like arthritis all over,” says Slick Jang. “Not just in my skin. In my soul. In the hollow spiritual fastness where my soul used to be.”
“Soon, Slick Jang,” says Doris.
They’re inching down on rappels towards the teeth. These are the storage teeth. They’re the replacements. They’re used when the Treason Maw’s teeth wear out.
“You’re gonna have teeth,” says Doris, “and then you can eat out someone else’s soul, and you’ll be toast with a soul and a girl named Doris.”
“Amen to that,” says Slick Jang.
His feet hit the bottom of the cavern with a crunch that makes Doris wince. He looks around at all the teeth. Then he begins scooping them up and putting them in his sack. He’s got a sack for the teeth.
He wouldn’t come down there unprepared. He’s Slick Jang!
He loads up all the teeth. He doesn’t even leave one. He puts most in his sack. Some he puts in his mouth.
He gnashes them.
He grinds them.
He snaps with them.
“I got teeth,” says Slick Jang.
Then he puts the sack over his shoulder. He doesn’t look at Doris. If he looks at her, maybe he’d eat her. But he’s not that kind of toast.
So he begins climbing up.
There’s a grinding sound in the corner of the room. It’s not teeth. It’s a giant boulder rolling away from the wall. It opens a corridor. Down the corridor is the Treason Maw.
“Hey,” says Slick Jang, looking down.
“Hey, maw,” says Doris.
They don’t mind the Treason Maw. It’s indiscriminately lethal but it’s on their side. It’s on the side of everybody in Bread City.
The Maw is vast and terrible and in it are many layers of teeth. There is no obvious body. There is no obvious head. It is simply the maw. It is devouring made manifest.
It gnaws its way into the room. Then it begins to gnaw upwards.
“Oh,” says Slick Jang.
Now he minds it some.
“Climb faster, Slick,” says Doris.
They climb faster.
They are only a bit above the floor but it feels like a dizzying height, because below them there is the Maw. The air is still but it feels like a horrible wind, because below them there is the Maw. And Slick Jang almost loses his grip on the rope, because his fingers are toasted and they’re clumsy as can be.
For a long moment he looks down into the endless rows of teeth, and his heart is beating great horrible crunches in his chest.
And then he sees.
“Oh, man,” says Slick Jang.
He can see the blackened spots where it’s worn down some of its teeth.
“Oh, man,” says Slick Jang. “You can’t eat up the treason under the city with teeth like those.”
The maw rises towards him.
The maw grinds and whines.
And Slick Jang turns his sack over. He dumps some of the teeth down to the maw.
“Sorry, man,” he says. “Didn’t think you’d need them today.”
Bread City’s the toasting capital of the world. It’s not ashamed.
It could be so much worse, after all, but it isn’t.