The nutcrackers had gone rabid. At night they worked each other’s back levers to chew the acorn candles on the mantle. Little nibbles at first, on the side facing the wall. Then rivulets down the back once they discovered the wax was softer after the family lit fires. Emboldened by their success, they dreamed bigger. They were face down in the triple chocolate cake with peanut butter buttercream when Sandy came downstairs on Christmas Eve to perform her Santa duties. They lolled side to side in the dim light of the Christmas tree. She armed herself with the fireplace poker. “The fuck is happening?” she asked, holding it like a baseball bat.
“We’re starving,” said the first nutcracker. It didn’t turn to face her. The buttercream was smeared like a bad spray-on tan.
“This is your fault,” said the second nutcracker. It didn’t face her either. “You didn’t feed us this year.”
Sandy lowered the poker. “Feed you?”
“You have to use us,” the first one said.
“This was never a problem with your mother,” the second one said. “She always fed us.”
“My mother’s dead.” And if Sandy had been on her own, she would’ve gotten rid of the creepy crackers with their bulging eyes and the mammoth teeth, but her children had fallen in love with them. Her son made the soldiers reenact famous duels, and their hideous oversized teeth made her daughter feel less self-conscious about what would eventually cause an orthodontia bill from hell. “So you need nuts?”
“Yes,” the first one replied.
The second one lifted its head. “Was that unclear?”
Sandy hid the poker behind her back. “That buttercream is made from peanuts, and it’s mostly butter and sugar. I think we have some walnuts in the pantry.”
The nutcrackers looked at her in unison like twins in a horror movie. Their faces covered in her Christmas dessert. Their eyes lifeless and painted on. The glass dome lay on the counter with a large hole in it, like they’d eaten their way through.
When they were in range, she swung the poker back and knocked the first one into the fireplace. An arm shattered off when it hit the stone backing. The second one swiveled and leaped away unsteadily, but Sandy slapshotted it in. The nutcrackers bucked and rolled. The fire didn’t stop them. They tried to maneuver themselves upright in the thick black smoke. Their voices became faint. The flames burned high and fast. She nudged them back with the poker after they flailed off. Silence.
It had been upsetting to find them ruining her cake, but there was some satisfaction in using a tool her mother would’ve gotten rid of immediately once they’d switched to gas. But Sandy hadn’t hurried. Sometimes objects found a second life if you kept them around, and that unexpected life could be even more rewarding. As the clock struck midnight, she watched the flames lick the nutcrackers like lollipops.
Chelsea Stickle lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Her flash fiction appears in Monkeybicycle, The Molotov Cocktail, matchbook, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and others. She’s a reader for Pidgeonholes. Her debut chapbook, Breaking Points, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press (fall 2021). Read more at www.chelseastickle.com, or find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.