Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire

By Brooke Lilek

*Chestnut: something repeated to the point of staleness; a trope

Phoebe heard a knock on the front door and froze.

An extreme reaction for someone who cannot sense death at her doorstep, but that’s Phoebe.

She tensed before checking the peephole. She found no one out front though. Phoebe threw the deadbolt into place and plopped down on the couch. Within 20 minutes, the knocking returned. But this time it came from the kitchen, a room Phoebe painted a disturbing fuchsia thinking it would fade to a softer color in a few weeks like hair dye.

Phoebe won’t be as bright as the walls of her kitchen, but this wouldn’t be any fun for you if she was.

Removing herself from the comfort of her couch, Phoebe tried to rationalize that the icemaker had kicked on.

Don’t bother believing Phoebe’s rationalizations. Let’s see how I can make her squirm.

She went into the kitchen to confirm her suspicions, but upon finding no ice, she conveniently remembered she broke it last week. Her heart pounded so fast it almost ran out of blood.

What should I make her afraid of? Nothing too easy, I’m taking up Phoebe’s whole night.

It’s all in my head, Phoebe thought. In the living room, she turned on Deadpool 2 to avoid hearing anything but Ryan Reynolds’, “and that is why the man bun is just a millennial mullet.” But more knocking at the door interrupted Ryan’s sultry voice.

She rose slowly and slunk towards the door. Peering through the peephole, Phoebe saw a man in a red jacket holding a pizza.

“$17.23, please,” said the delivery boy.

Pulling out 20 dollars, Phoebe said, “You didn’t stop by earlier, did you?”

“Nope, just this once.”

“Maybe you got the address wrong for another delivery?” She said.

“Yeah, no.” He said taking the money and leaving.

Phoebe set the pizza box on the couch and walked into the kitchen. She scrounged up her last Pepsi, which she dropped upon finding the pizza box open and a bite missing.

Perhaps you’d like more suspense?

Phoebe told herself she forgot she stole one heavenly bite before retrieving her drink.

As if someone could forget that so quickly.

Phoebe inched closer to the open box. The landline rang, freezing her lungs. Relax, it’s probably just mom, she thought, answering the phone.

What kind of scary story would this be if she didn’t answer the phone?

“H-hello?” she said. But only heavy breathing answered, and the line went dead. It must have been a wrong number, Phoebe thought.

Don’t worry, I won’t let Phoebe off that easy.

She looked at the pizza again. Just to be on the safe side, Phoebe threw the bitten slice away. Near the trash bin, she heard strange noises floating up from the basement, almost like a rusted window hinge creaking in the breeze. I should just go check, she thought, I’ll just close the window and it will be fine. She even imagined a raccoon sneaking past her and taking a bite of pizza.

It feels as silly writing that down as it does for you to read it, but I’ve already decided Phoebe doesn’t have much going on upstairs, so here we are.

With a flashlight in hand, Phoebe wandered into the depths of the house. Something deep inside told her turn back and shamelessly eat pizza while watching Ryan Reynolds leap around in a tight, red suit.

But you have entered a scary story, so she won’t do that. Her survival isn’t my top priority. Also, if you’re wondering why she didn’t turn on the light, you’ve learned nothing about Phoebe.

Halfway down the steps she called into the darkness.

“Hello?”

Something grabbed Phoebe’s ankle and yanked her down the remaining stairs.

Oh Phoebe, if only I hadn’t sent you into the basement.

Her head smacked the steps, breaking them from the walls. Cackling flooded her ears as her body slammed against the cement floor. Her vision swam as she looked around for the source of the insane laughter, but she saw no figures, only the glare of her flashlight as it rolled to the opposite wall.

Barely able to lift her head, Phoebe tried dragging herself back up the steps only to be flung backwards by the collar of her shirt.

“Stay,” a voice hissed.

She swung out her arm hoping to knock over her assailant, but her hand passed through what felt like maple syrup, not sticky, just resistant.

“Anybody, please! Help me!” Tears filled Phoebe’s eyes. She was dragged by her hair across the floor; cold concrete rubbed her skin raw. The laughter continued to fill the basement until Phoebe was practically breathing it.

“Please, let me g—” Phoebe started, but the Being gripped her throat. Cracks spread through the concrete surrounding Phoebe’s body. She thrashed her legs to no effect.

This may seem harsh, but if I just let Phoebe off the hook, who would read about her?

Pieces of concrete fell as sections of the floor split farther apart. Phoebe watched the outline of a head darken as her vision faded. Concrete walls rose to surround her limp body. She attempted to pry its hand away from her throat, but with every ounce of strength it gained, she lost hers. She fixated on its ravenous eyes.

Waves of heat beat against Phoebe’s back. The depths of Hell rose to trade her life for the Being’s. She found herself wondering how Deadpool 2 ended and sighed knowing she would never find out.

Maybe I should have let Phoebe eat some of her pizza. A last meal so to speak.