Watch for Falling Body Parts

After “What Do You Come For”, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, pg. 12

We were thrilled when the house had a fireplace: real red brick with a real chimney. How luxurious, we thought (without any idea how to use it or keep it clean). This house, small and in a blighted part of town, would have been the height of luxury sixty years ago. Now no one wanted to live here. It was the only house we could afford.

After we signed, the realtor handed us a list of chimney sweeps and a pamphlet on fireplace safety, said “Watch for falling body parts,” then turned over the keys.

We asked ourselves later: had she really said that? About the fireplace? Falling rocks, she must have meant, or maybe leaves that blew in. We chalked it up to nerves, the naivete of first time home buyers (although we were in our early 40s, shh, don’t tell). We thought the neighbors might know. We expected the neighbors to visit, to bring over a basket or something (a welcome wagon, like in the movies), but they only waved from across the street to say hello. Then they pointed to the chimney and said, “watch for falling body parts.”

We wondered if “Falling Body Parts” was a local band that played in the area, someone’s noisy garage music project. Maybe it was “Falling Body Parts,” a non-profit for organ donation that canvased the neighborhood. We said to ourselves, whatever it is, it has to be something super normal. We haven’t yet seen how the middle class lives. We got excited for winter; the house was made ready. We got our plumbing checked and our chimney cleaned and our walls repainted, just like real people. After looking at our address, the plumber and the painters and the chimney sweep all said, “Watch for falling body parts.”

When no one would explain it, we tried to learn more, to figure it out on our own. We searched the internet, asked around, read up at the library, anything to get even a hint as to what this (most likely super normal) phenomena could be. We found nothing. No Wikipedia, encyclopedia, no blog post, no archived articles. We talked it over at dinner, in hushed tones. Okay, say real body parts, sure, but then which ones? Arms and legs? Or hearts and lungs? Would they be dismembered or disembodied? And why? And (the worst of all questions) from where would the body parts fall? The warnings about the fireplace said the parts would be “falling” down the chimney, but where would they actually come from? Murderers on the roof? A rainstorm of corpses? An interdimensional charnel house with a portal to our living room? When they fell, would the body parts get stuck in the chimney? Would they rot? Would we need to burn them? We could keep a fire lit to burn them before they rolled out into the rug, but think of the smell, the cost of firewood. And what if they needed help, the body parts, or if they wanted reassembling? If we got rid of them, we’d miss out on their secrets. We’d never hear any grand wisdom or prophecy confessed by dead lips.

But what if, we whispered, the body parts wanted to kill us, to lurch through the house, eat our brains as we slept. We thought, if that were the case, surely the realtor would have said something more. Surely, she wouldn’t have sold us a house full of murderous corpses. But, we noted, as winter approached, the neighbors went silent. They did not come outside to wave hello. When we called the realtor, it rang directly to voice mail.

Winter came. The cold settled in, and with no one to talk to, we sat alone in the evenings, in front of the fireplace. We held on to our matches. We waited. We watched.

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