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FICTION — The Elf on the Shelf: A Suburban Holiday Tradition

“What do you mean it moved?” I glanced down at the red and white toy in my hand and held it so Dan could see it better. The Elf just smiled its plasticy smile at him.

“I dunno, but I saw it wink – or something.”

I held the Elf up to the light, studying its painted face. “I don’t know what you saw, but these things aren’t battery operated. They just sit there.”

“Yeah, what’s it supposed to do anyway?”

I sighed. “I told you. There’s the storybook and DVD that go with it. The kids asked for it this Christmas.”

“So it just sits there?”

“Well, you’re supposed to move the Elf at night, so the kids wake up and see it doing something new. And the Elf watches to see if you’re naughty or nice, and reports to Santa.”

“So it’s a Santa spy cam.”

“Without the camera.” I shrugged. “It’s a bit of fun, for the holiday.”

“Yeah, right.”

Reaching up, I placed the Elf on the bookshelf, sitting astride a giant book of nursery rhymes. The Elf fell forward, slightly, straddling the book, and as I watched, its hips seemed to move, humping and thrusting against the book cover. “What –” I reached up and picked up the Elf, trying to position him back into sitting.

Stepping back, I studied the Elf; it was cute, sitting on top of the children’s book like that, but –

The Elf looked over at me, and his grin widened.

I must be seeing things, I told myself. The flat plastic face shone dully in the living room lights. “Hon, can you take a look at this?”

“What?” Dan walked over, and glanced at the Elf. “Still the same cheap piece of junk – I can’t believe you paid good money for that thing.”

“But it’s like it moved.”

“No batteries, right?”

I nodded.

“Dunno,” he shrugged. “Might be your mind playing tricks or something.” He leaned closer to the Elf, “Sure is creepy, though.”

The Elf sat on top of that nursery rhyme book, and I was convinced his grin widened again; painted teeth growing whiter. Must be the lighting or something. Shaking my head, I turned back toward the kitchen, “Anyway, it’s almost time to get the kids from school – if you pick them up, I can start dinner.”

“Sure,” Dan glanced back at the Elf. “You’re serious, the kids wanted that thing?”

“Yeah, they asked for it – so don’t tell them about it. I want it to be a surprise.”

*

In the kitchen, I opened a tin of tuna while an enormous Persian wrapped around my legs, looking up and meowing; leaving behind clumps of white hair all along my yoga pants. “Geeze, Jezy, time to get you groomed.”

Jezebel meowed again. Demanding food.

“OK, hold on,” I bent down and picking up the cat food dish, I happened to glance into the living room. The Elf lay sprawled on the carpet. Weird, I thought.

Setting the cat dish on the counter, I walked into the living room, Jezebel still following and meowing plaintively. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you your snack, I just want to see something first.”

The Elf was stretched facedown on the carpet, and as I approached, I thought I saw it twitch, its limbs moving slightly. Reaching out to pick it up, I froze, momentarily stopping, because I knew, knew in fact that as soon I put my hands on it, it would bite me, tiny sharp teeth sinking into my flesh and drawing blood.

I stood above the Elf, wavering, and considered grabbing a garbage bag and stuffing it inside. Like the whole thing never happened.

But what would I tell Dan? He’d say it was a damned waste of money. And he’s probably told the kids about the Elf already anyway.

Taking a deep breath, I picked up the Elf. Nothing. Jezebel meowed again, this time sounding worried.

“Shh, Jezy, I’ll get you your tuna, just let me see where I can put this thing.” I glanced around the living room, and shrugged. Dropping the Elf onto the TV stand, I figured it’d stay there, and at least then the kids would see it.

*

After the rush of the kids sweeping through the house, dropping lunches and backpacks, demands for snacks and asking what’s for dinner, the boys settled in front of the TV and Dan headed out to the garage.

“Mom, have you seen Jezebel?” Alicia leaned in the doorway.

I glanced around the kitchen. The cat food dish was empty. “Uh, no sweetie. Did you check in your room?”

Turning, she raced upstairs, calling out “Jezy, Jezy – c’mon Jez.”

As I turned back to the casserole I was preparing, the sounds of the boys wrestling drifted from the living room; yelling and laughter mixed with cartoons. I called out to them, “Davie, Ethan – you better calm it down. We have a special visitor.”

“What – is one of Daddy’s work friends here?”

“No, this is somebody straight from the North Pole,” smiling, I turned toward the living room. “I’m surprised you didn’t see him.”

“What?”

I stepped into the living room and stared at the TV. Nothing on the stand except the widescreen television itself.

“OK, which one of you guys moved it?”

“Moved what?” Ethan looked up at me.

“The Elf.”

“We got an Elf?” Davie bounced on the sofa, and looked wildly around the living room. “My class has one – we’re not allowed to touch it – it talks to Santa – and does tricks – where is it?”

I pointed at the TV stand. “It was right here.”

Ethan shrugged. “We didn’t see it. Honest.”

“You guys didn’t see it when you turned on the TV?”

Davie shook his head and patted the sofa beside himself. “The remote was right there.”

I glanced at the sofa. A red arm hung over the sofa back, white mittened hand reaching up from the depths of the cushions. “What on earth?”

The boys followed my gaze.

“There he is!” Davie spun around, smiling.

Ethan made to grab it.

“Don’t – don’t touch him,” Davie sat wide-eyed. He put his hand on his brother’s arm. “Only grown-ups can touch the Elf.”

“Alright then, if you boys could move,” I leaned over the sofa as they shuffled aside. The Elf’s body was wedged between the sofa and the wall, and reaching for it, I swore the plastic head rotated, grinning at me.

I jerked my hand back.

“You OK, Mom?” Ethan looked worried.

“Uh, fine, sweetie. Just my back acting up a bit. Let’s get this guy out of there.”

Taking a deep breath, I reached for the Elf, and seized my hand around cheap starched fabric. A sudden jolt of electricity swept up my arm, making my hand tremble, and then nothing.

I stared down at the Elf. Its plastic grin seemed wider, as though it was laughing at me.

But that’s impossible, I thought. Probably a pinched nerve or my tendonitis acting up again, I shook my arm out, and studied the Elf. Red costume and a painted plastic face, just a toy for the holidays, but –

At a faint scratching noise from behind the sofa, I looked down. Desolate mewing drifted towards us, sound strangely muffled. The boys turned toward the noise, both of them now leaning over the sofa back. Davie called out, “Jezy – here Jez.”

A long, drawn-out meow.

“Let’s move the sofa, poor Jezebel’s stuck.” I dropped the Elf on the cushions and tugged at the sofa, sliding it out from the wall. The boys leaned over the cushions, watching expectantly.

As I slid the sofa out from the wall, I startled.

Nothing, except a few forgotten toys pressed up against the return air vent.

The meowing came again, followed by scuffling noises. “Jezy – Jezebel,” I called.

Another meow.

I stared at the heat vent.

Darkness, and hairballs were the only things I could see.

“Jez – Jezebel,” I called again.

A sad meow followed.

Dropping down to my hands and knees, I lifted the grate off the heat vent, and reached my hand inside. Soft fur brushed against my fingers, and I twisted my hand around, trying to grasp the cat’s furry nape. Seizing a tuft of fur, I pulled, and the cat yowled as I dragged it through the aluminium shaft, the acrid odour of singed hair followed.

Sitting up on my knees, I set the cat on the carpet. Jezebel huddled down, ears back, and stared up at me, white coat now patchy and grey.

“Did you guys –” I broke off, confused. How on earth did the cat get inside the heat vent?

“Poor Jezy,” Davie leaned over the sofa back, and reached for the cat.

The cat looked up at him, and bolted, racing through the kitchen to upstairs.

“What’s got into her?” Ethan sat with his arms resting along the back of the sofa. I glanced up at him. The Elf sat beside him, its plastic face peering over the seat cushions.

“Did you move the Elf?

Ethan looked down, startled. “No – I didn’t touch it.” He shifted away from the toy.

As I looked at the Elf, its grin seemed to grow wider, smiling until I was convinced its head would come off.

Davie stared up at me. “You’re not supposed to touch the Elf, Mommy. They’re magic.”

“I know.” Exhaling loudly, I picked up the Elf again, the sound of my fingers scratching the cheap fabric sent goosebumps down my spine. I dropped the Elf back onto the television stand, and forced a smile at the boys. “C’mon, I think dinner’s ready now.”

*

That evening we sat down to burnt tuna casserole; Alicia had already asked to be excused, she said she wanted to give Jezebel a bath. Dan had raised his eyebrows at that, but said nothing.

“I don’t see why she get to go – we’re stuck here.” Ethan dropped a spoonful of food back to his plate, listening to the wet splat of tuna and cheese sauce.

Davie pushed soggy noodles around his plate. “I’m not hungry – can we just have dessert?”

Ethan looked up, hopeful at the sound of dessert.

“Boys, you both know you have to eat your dinner first.”

“But I don’t wanna,” Davie whined.

“Eat – or you get nothing,” Dan looked up from a mountain of tuna casserole.

“But – but –”

I forced a smile, “And besides, someone’s watching; you want the Elf to tell Santa you ate all your dinner, don’t you?”

“I hate the stupid Elf,” Ethan frowned at his plate.

“Shh – he’ll hear you,” Davie said, wide-eyed. “And he can do magic.”

“You’re such a baby,” Ethan sneered. “It’s not really real –”

“That’s enough boys.” I stood up, glancing at the leftover noodles on each plate. “Two more bites – then dessert – got it?”

“Fine by me,” Ethan bent back over his food.

Davie picked up a single noodle, dangling it in the air. “Does this count?”

“Two bites, not two noo –”

A sudden crash interrupted, we all jumped at the sounds of exploding glass and plastic, and stared at each other. Pushing himself away from the table, Dan raced into the living room.

The boys followed behind.

“What the hell?” Dan stood staring. “Goddamit all to hell – the TV!” He then dissolved into a string of curse words.

I peered around his shoulders. The television lay scattered in pieces across the carpet, shards of broken plastic and shattered glass strewn everywhere.

The boys pressed in, “What – what happened?”

“Back up,” I held Davie’s shoulders, “We don’t need you getting your feet cut apart.”

Dan bent over the broken television, and still swearing under his breath, picked up large pieces of plastic housing.

“Where’s the Elf?” I asked.

“The Elf?” Dan turned toward me in disbelief. “Our TV just bit the big one, and you’re worried about a stupid elf?”

Wordlessly, I scanned the living room.

Nothing.

A sense of urgency swept over me. “Where’s that Elf – we have to find it.”

“Hon, I think you got your priorities mixed up there. Let’s deal with the TV – then the stupid toy.”

“I don’t see him,” Davie looked up at me. Worried.

“We need to find the Elf – now.”

Ethan started whipping cushions off the sofa, while Davie lay stretched out peering beneath it. Worry grew into sweeping panic – the Elf was behind all this, it was the Elf – he was trying to get us – first the cat, then the television, and then –

Sudden realization struck me. Alicia. Alone upstairs. Glancing around the living room one last time, I turned toward the stairs.

“Where is –”

From upstairs came the sound of a high-pitched scream.

Davie looked up at me. “I think we found him.”

*

Liz McAdams is a Canadian writer who spends too much time in the company of children and elves. Her work appears in the usual places, including Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama, Shotgun Honey and scattered around Twisted Sister. You can find her at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/

Uh, nice ball there, Elf
Uh, nice ball there, Elf

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