's 2018 Horror Write-off:

The Hungry Nutcracker

Submitted by Daniel Hale (email)

The Hungry Nutcracker

Daniel Hale

Timmy was big for his age, and very, very badly behaved. He was the biggest boy in his class—almost as big as Miss Dew, the teacher—and he loved it. He loved being bigger and stronger. He loved scaring little boys into giving him their lunches or their money. He loved just scaring them, locking them in the janitor’s closet or spitting on them at the playground or, sometimes, when he was really in the mood, taking them to his special place in the woods and giving them the biggest scare of all.

He even loved having to go to the principal’s office, when the scared little boys told their mommies, and he could watch them cry all over again, trying to think of what they could tell without making it worse. Because Timmy always made sure that if they told anyone the whole truth, they’d regret it even more. He told them that if they told everything, then the next time he would do a lot more than just scare them. He’d scare their mommies and daddies and brothers and sisters by what he could do to them.

Timmy lived with his grandma in a big, broken house in the city, where almost all the windows were cracked and the trash man never came. The house was dirty, because Timmy never cleaned, and his grandma stayed in bed all day. She still yelled at him, though, to pick up his things and keep the place tidy. But Timmy decided a long time ago that he didn’t have to do anything if his grandma couldn’t see it, so most of the house stayed a mess.

“Timmy,” grandma would scream. “Did you dust everything like I told you?”

“Yes, grandma,” Timmy would yell back, not looking up from his cell phone as piles of dust shook and moaned.

“Timmy! Do the dishes!”

“Okay!” The things that lived in the bottom of the sink laughed and wrote rude things on the plates

The only thing Timmy did was bring her food, to make sure she never had any reason to get up. If anyone came to the door asking to see her, Timmy would tell them his grandma was very sick, and was trying to sleep. If school called he would fake his voice, and tell them nothing was wrong.

“Timmy is a very good boy,” Timmy would say in his best sick old lady voice. “You should stop being mean to him.”

Timmy did whatever he wanted, and he was never afraid. Nobody could hurt him, or tell him what to do. He was king of his world.

One of the things that Timmy liked to do was play with his grandma’s things. Her house was full of boxes of old junk stacked in the corners, and weird knick-knacks on shelves that were covered in cobwebs. Every day he would find something new: small plates in pretty colors with little pictures on them. Timmy threw them like Frisbees or smashed them on the floor. There were framed photographs in black and white of people in weird clothes. Timmy would break the glass and set fire to the pictures in the barrel that once held fertilizer for grandma’s dead garden. He found a box of old dolls that were mostly naked. Timmy melted them in the microwave or in puddles of chemicals. He lit their hair on fire and pulled off their arms and legs, hacked holes in them with his grandpa’s old switchblade knife (the one piece of junk that he wanted to keep).

One day, Timmy went up to the attic. He’d never gone up there before, because the door was blocked by a stack of cardboard boxes full of photo albums and books. Timmy worked through them all, burning every picture and flushing them down the toilet, until the boxes were light enough to move out of the way so he get to the door and go upstairs.

The attic was a very small room with a low ceiling. Timmy was disappointed; he’d pictured a bigger place with more boxes and junk to break and burn, but there was hardly anything. Just an old toy chest with one small plastic soldier, a fake Christmas tree that was all bent out of shape, and an empty jewelry box.

But then Timmy saw something in the back of the room, where the shadows and dust were thickest. Timmy waved away the spider webs to better see the thing he’d found. It was a box, but not like the other boxes in his grandma’s house. It was made of glass, except for the bottom, which was made of wood. It was heavy; Timmy couldn’t lift it, and he couldn’t figure out how he was supposed to open it.

The things inside it looked like dolls. There were three of them, and they were standing up, side by side.

Timmy knew how to open windows. He left the attic, and went out to the backyard, to the dry square of dirt that used to be his grandma’s garden, now a patch of dead petals and stems and stones. He found a nice one, about the size of his fist, and took it back up the attic. As soon as he stepped back through the door he lobbed it underhand at the glass box, shattering it carefully so as not to break the dolls.

They were old dolls made of wood. Two of them looked mostly broken already, with only one arm between them. One was missing its hat and the hair that went with it, and the other was missing its head entirely. Their fine uniforms of red and gold were chipped and faded, and their black boots were worn to the wood.

The one doll that was still mostly in one piece stood looking at Timmy with round eyes. He’d never seen such a strange doll. It looked like a little man, but the face was owl-like, with a small, triangular pointy nose above its mouth. The uniform it wore was blood red, with ugly yellow buttons and blue stripes. Its hat was tall and round and black. Stringy grey hair fell out the bottom of it like the cobweb that covered the house.

The thing had the ugliest little mouth Timmy had ever seen. A white set of small, round teeth clenched together like the doll was grinning, or just wanted to show them off. Its teeth were spotted with tiny brown stains, and the way they were clenched together made the doll look hungry.

Timmy had never seen a nutcracker before. His grandma never talked about the holidays, and he’d long outgrown the hope that they should ever be celebrated in this house. He had seen pictures of a play his classmates went to on a field trip (Timmy had been in detention for leaving cat puke on Miss Dew’s desk), where it was all on ice and a man called the nutcracker fought the King of Rats. But that had been a handsome, heroic-looking figure on ice skates, not this ugly little doll with dirty teeth.

Timmy noticed the little lever on the nutcracker’s back. He tried to pull it, but it would not budge. It felt as if something was stuck on the inside. He tried to guess where the lever was connected, saw the little bit of space between the two rows of teeth, and understood. The teeth must be stuck together with glue or something, he thought. He put his fingers over the mouth, tried to pry its jaws apart—


The nutcracker opened its mouth as Timmy stuck his pointer finger down its throat. Its throat was deep—far deeper than a doll’s should be—and wet, and cold. The nutcracker bit down before Timmy could think to pull his finger back. The wooden teeth somehow cut through skin and muscle and bone like crunchy toffee, and swallowed the finger whole.

Timmy dropped the nutcracker, shrieking in pain. Blood dribbled out the meaty wound that used to be his finger. He scooted away, clutching his hand to his shirt and crying. He hadn’t cried so much since his dad had still been around, when he beat him for being too loud or too quiet or for no reason at all.

His finger hurt. Timmy remember something about stopping the bleeding, and took off his shirt. He wrapped his hand tightly till the pain was cut off and the shirt was stained all over.

Clack clack.

The nutcracker had somehow fallen on its feet. And it was staring at Timmy. It clacked its teeth together, still drooling blood from its meal.

Clack. Clack.

“Go away!” Timmy scooted further back, afraid that the nutcracker could now walk and come after him. But it did not.

Instead, the nutcracker opened its mouth, and spoke. It had no lips to make the words, but they floated up out of its dark, wet throat anyway. Its voice was like a frog, deep and moist and muck-bottomed.

“No,” it said. It clacked its teeth again.

Clack. Clack.

“Give me back my finger!” Now Timmy was blubbering like the stupid little boys he liked to hurt so much. Tears and snot oozed out his face as he fell apart in a pathetic, weeping pile.

“Why ever should I do that? You woke me up, Timmy, and quite rudely as well. How would you like to be woken by a rock through your window? Well, fair is fair. Your finger is mine, now.”

Timmy wailed. A part of him wanted to pick the nutcracker up again and smash it into the wall until it gave back his finger. But it was a small part of him, the bit that remembered being bigger and meaner than practically everyone. The rest of him was too afraid of what else he might lose if he were to put his hands on the nutcracker again.

“Oh, stop that,” said the nutcracker to the sobbing boy. “Stop that, or I’ll bite out your tongue, next. After that, I’ll have your windpipe.”

Timmy quieted down in the way of children, his sobs petering to whines and whimpering and heaving, hiccup breaths until he clamped it all down.

“Good. That’s good. Finally shut you up. You’re a very bad boy, Timmy. Do you know that?”

Timmy nodded, too broken and hurt not to.

“I hear you downstairs all the time, breaking things. Your grandma hates you. I hear her too, you know. I hear talking in the night about how you ruined her life. She sent your dad away so she could keep you here all to herself. She loves to hate you. She knows everything you do, and she prays every night to get up and come and make you pay for all the things of hers you’ve broken. And one day she will.”

Timmy nodded again. He didn’t dare not believe the nutcracker. He never loved his grandma, never thought of her as much more than an annoying sound to ignore. The idea that she might think about him at all was more surprising than the idea that she hated him.

“Do you really want your finger back?” asked the nutcracker. “I suppose you’ll need all of them, if you ever want to keep her away from you.” It clacked its teeth several times, as though it found the idea very funny. “Do you know how to ask for things that you want, Timmy?”

Timmy nodded again.

“Then ask, you stupid boy!”

He swallowed as more crying threatened to boil out of his stomach. “Please,” he whispered. "Please, can I have it back?”

“There we are, boy. Was that so hard?” The nutcracker chuckled like bubbles popping on the surface of a swamp. “Well, now. Your finger. If you want it back, I shall need something in return. I’ve been asleep so long, and have had nothing to eat in all that time. Your finger is keeping me all lovely and full. If I give it back, I’ll be empty again, and shall never go back to sleep. To bring it back up, I need you to fill my belly so I won’t know its gone.”

“What do you eat?”

“What do I eat? What would you guess, boy? Meat! Meat of all kinds. Not just that of stupid, rude little boys. Find me some meat, I don’t care where and how. Bring it to me, and we’ll see if I can’t keep it down.”

Timmy looked helplessly about the attic, when he spotted several things lying on the grimy window sill: the dried, crumbling bodies of flies and stink bugs.

Timmy used his shirt-covered hand to brush the bugs off the sill, and carried them back to the nutcracker. “Here’s some meat,” he said. “Will you eat it?”

The nutcracker said nothing at the offer (Timmy wasn’t sure if it could see anything with its painted-on eyes), but it opened its mouth. Timmy picked it up. Then, so he wouldn’t risk losing another finger, dropped a fly in its mouth.


The nutcracker’s teeth smooshed the fly into powdery guts, chomping until they were stained gray and green. It did the same with each bug Timmy fed it. The two stink bugs took the longest, chewed down to horrible, smelly scraps of skin.

“You call that meat, Timmy?” The nutcracker belched dust and bug blood. “I can get a hundred bugs to fly down my mouth in the morning before you wake up, if I want to! You’ll have to do more than that if you wish me to give up your tasty finger.”

“But all the bugs are gone,” Timmy whined.

“I don’t want bugs, stupid! I want real meat! Go and get some now!”

Timmy began to cry again, but the nutcracker clacked its teeth in threat.

“Bring me mice, Timmy. Or squirrels. Something small that you can cut up. After that, we will talk about your finger. Or you can cry some more, and I’ll nip out your eyes and bite holes in your cheeks. I can make you feed me the rest of your fingers, and take your toes as well. I will chew you up whole till your nothing but gunk, Timmy, and I will make you feed every last bit you have to me. I can do that. Or you can get me something else. Do you understand? Of course you do. You’re stupid, but not that stupid. Now put me down and get me some food.”

Timmy went to do as he was told. Though he was still terrified by the nutcracker, it had given him an idea. He went down to the kitchen, stepping carefully round the stacks of wobbling, dirty pots and bowls.

First, he stopped at the sink to wash his hurting hand. The water stung the stump where his finger used to be, but the bleeding had stopped. He stared at the crusty scab, brownish red and gummy round the edges, resisted his urge to pick it.

Then, Timmy looked through the cabinets until he found what he was looking for: his grandmother’s mouse traps, all set long ago, to catch the mice that came every winter to find a warm place away from the forest. It was one of Timmy’s jobs to remove the dead mice and reset the traps each year. Naturally, he never did either of those things.

Most of the unfortunate mouse bodies were dry, flattened husks now, looking no meatier than the bugs had been. Others were partly eaten by brothers and sisters who’d passed through on their way to safer places. But Timmy moved aside some dusty jars of homemade jam and found two traps towards the back that seemed to have been snapped recently. The mice were still mostly intact, their broken spines stiffened in place. Timmy picked up the traps, and carried them back to the attic.

“I brought you some mice,” he announced. “Will you eat them?”

The nutcracker sounded pleased. “Very nice, Timmy. It’s been ages since any mice came up here. I used to be able to call them like the bugs, but they got smarter. Mice will be very welcome.”

Timmy was almost proud that he’d found something good for the nutcracker. He showed him the trapped mice, then stopped as something occurred to him. “How will you eat them?”

“With a knife and fork, what do you think? I want you to cut them up and feed them to me, you idiot!”

“Ugh,” Timmy said. “But that’s disgusting! I don’t want to cut up mice. I don’t even like cutting up frogs at school!”

“Oh, come now, boy. Don’t tell me you’ve never wanted to stick a knife in something. Not even those brats in your class?”

“How do you know—”

CLACK. CLACK. “Never you mind. Just don’t make yourself out all squeamish to me. There’s not a bone in your body that shivers at the sight of blood. Now go and get a knife and fork, and feed me that sweet mouse meat!”

Timmy was unsure what knife you used to cut up a mouse. He settled on the rusty butcher’s knife that lay on the bloodstained chopping block in the pantry, and took a fork out of one of the drawers. He brought both back to the attic, and pulled one of the mice out of its trap. He held it by the tail, cringing at its stiff little body. “It smells.”

“Of course it doesn’t, boy. How can it smell with a bar through its back?” The nutcracker clacked at its own joke. “Now cut!”

Timmy brought the knife down before the nutcracker could threaten to eat him again. It sliced through the rat without difficulty, splitting it in half. He felt wet drops of old blood splatter on his fingers.

“Again,” said the nutcracker. “Cut it smaller!”

Timmy picked up the two pieces of rat and set them back together. Then he brought the knife back down.


And again.

And again.

He did the same to the other rat, until he had a little pile of the smallest pieces of rat he could cut.

The nutcracker screamed. “Now feed me!”

Timmy forked up the wet chunks of rat meat as best he could, and brought them to the nutcracker. He held them out to its open mouth, watched its wooden teeth gnash the meat into a moist, bloody paste. He felt more flecks of mashed rat splash his cheeks.

When it was finished, and the last bit of rat was gone, Timmy asked: “Now will you give me my finger back?”

He waited for the nutcracker to answer. But it did not. It did not open its mouth again.

“Hello?” He shook it.

The nutcracker said nothing. Timmy tried to open its mouth, but its lever would not move, no matter how much he pulled. He shook it again (was that something rattling inside?), then banged it against the wall a few times.

“Answer me,” Timmy said. “Give it back!”

He shook the nutcracker again, beat it against the floor until its hat started to splinter. Still it kept its mouth shut. Timmy even tried prying its teeth apart with his fingers, but they would not budge. The nutcracker wasn’t going to speak.

“Give it back,” Timmy screamed. “Give it back, give it back, GIVE IT BACK—”

“Timmy! Are you in the attic?”

Timmy dropped the nutcracker. That was grandma’s voice. It came from downstairs, just below the floor. Her bedroom must be right there, Timmy thought.

“Get the hell down here! Now!”

Timmy looked at the nutcracker one last time. It lay on the floor, still not saying anything. He kicked it as hard as he could, and hurried downstairs to his grandmother’s room.

It was the darkest room in the house. The curtains were always closed; grandma had taped them to the walls a long time ago, to make sure absolutely no light ever got in. The room smelled, the air musty and rank.

His grandma was in bed, like she always was. Her face was the only thing Timmy ever saw, propped up on big, fat pillows. She was wrapped in big, thick blankets that were never taken off or changed, no matter if the room was freezing or hot.

Timmy saw her wrinkly, pruned head turn to watch him come in the door. “Timmy,” she said. Her voice was raspy and whispery, when she wasn’t calling for him. “What were you doing up the attic?”

“I wasn’t in the attic, grandma—” Timmy began.

“Shut up! I heard you! You’re not supposed to be up there! The attic is dangerous!”

“Grandma,” Timmy said. “I swear I wasn’t.” He kept his four-fingered hand in his pocket. He remembered the nutcracker’s words. She hates you.

“Come here.”

Timmy never got close to his grandma if he could help it. He took two very small steps into the room.

“I said come here, Timmy!”

Timmy wanted to run. His grandma looked like a bulldog up close, all flappy skin and beady eyes and fat fish lips. She was almost bald, except for a few dirty, tangled gray hairs. They quivered as Timmy got closer.

“Tell the truth,” grandma said. She still had teeth, Timmy noticed. Ugly yellow teeth that stuck out of her gums like shards of glass. He’d never noticed before, had always assumed she kept dentures like he heard old people do—

A hand—pale and thin and veiny, sharp with overgrown nails—shot out of the blankets, grabbed Timmy by the arm, and pulled him in.

Only the nutcracker, alone in the attic, heard the screaming. Timmy’s and his grandma’s. It heard the slapping, and the kicking, and the crying, and the pain. It heard the sound of the old woman’s spittle flying out of her mouth as she screamed, of Timmy trying to pull away. It heard the door slam, and the running, and the things getting knocked off the shelves. It heard glass breaking and silverware rattling in the drawers. It heard more cries, more screams, more fists punching bruises into skin.

That was all it heard, for a while.

Then it heard Timmy’s footsteps on the stairs. He was carrying something heavy. It hit the steps behind him.

It saw the door open. Timmy was standing there, carrying a big bag on his shoulder, like Santa Claus. Something red was leaking out the bottom.

Timmy saw the nutcracker staring at him. He had scratches on his cheeks, a bruise over his right eye, and stains on his shirt.

“Do you want something else to eat?”

The nutcracker opened its mouth.