“No daddy!” she protested. “I’m scared of the elf. He comes to life at night and he has those glowing red eyes!”
“Sweetie, he’s not evil, he’s just one of Santa’s helpers. He reports back to Santa whether you’ve been naughty or nice” I brushed back my daughter’s blond hair and held her trembling hand. “The elf on the shelf is friendly, trust me.”
“Daddy’s right.” said my wife. “The elf is just a holiday visitor, here to give Santa a good report. Now I know you’ve been good, so you have nothing to worry about.”
“But he tells me to do bad things at night. He whispers to me in my room, and his breath is really, really bad. And he has those black sharp teeth. I know he’s only testing me so I don’t listen when he tells me to get the poison from under the sink an put it in mommy’s coffee. Daddy I don’t want to go to sleep because that’s when he creeps into my room! Please, get rid of him!” My daughter pleaded, tears streaming down her flushed face.
“Honey,” I said. “You’re just having nightmares.” I glanced at my wife and took stock of the worried look on her face. I could see the daylight fading behind her through the sliding glass doors. I gazed to the deck outside where our cast-iron chiminea still glowed from the fire I had built earlier in the afternoon, orange embers matching the fading sunset. We stood in the kitchen, the smell of our traditional holiday skillet cornbread still adrift in the air. Pots and pans, stacked in the sink, awaited their sentence with the sponge and dish liquid.
It was December 23rd, and fingers of frost had begun to paint the glass of the windows and doors, evidence of the plummeting temperatures outside. We had just passed the shortest day of the year, and darkness was settling in for the night.
“Tell you what,” I looked into my daughter’s eyes. “If you can calm down, I’ll put the elf in a box so he won’t be able to move around tonight.”
I remembered the antique store where I bought the elf a week ago. I could see the strange old woman with the eastern European accent. Her left eye milky and dead. “Keep it in da box.” she grumbled. “is better dat vay.” I still had the box upstairs. It was rusted tin, silver, green and red with german writing on the front and sides.
“No daddy! He’ll get out and then he’ll come after me! He’ll blame me for everything! He told me I could never tell anyone what he said!” My daughter sobbed and jumped up and down.
“That’s enough.” My wife shook her head. “Honey, the elf is just game that parents play at Christmas. Your dad moves him at night when you’re asleep. It’s just pretend, that’s all.”
I glanced at my wife. “Actually, your mom moves the elf, not me.”
My wife looked up at me, anger swelling in her eyes. “What are you talking about? Stop fooling around, can’t you see she’s upset?”
“I’m not fooling around. I haven’t moved the elf once. I thought it was you!” I said and shifted my gaze to the elf on the shelf. He was seated on the fireplace mantle, a foot long figure, red-sleeved arms crossed over a green-vested chest with red legs that danged over the edge. His head was cocked slightly to the side and he grinned that eternal painted-on grin below black dot eyes.
“Mommy, I’m scared!” My daughter climbed up into the arms of her mother, clutching her tightly.
“Jerry, this isn’t funny.” My wife drew closer. “You’re really freaking her out!”
“I swear, I haven’t touched that thing!” We both stared at the elf as the sun’s final rays succumbed to the night. I drew a deep breath and lunged across the room. My hand closed tight around the elf, the cotton stuffed body and limbs yielding to my firm grip. I hurried toward the sliding glass doors, eyes fixed on the embers still glowing in the chiminea. “I’ll take care of this once and for all!” I said. As I reached for the door, I felt the elf’s body suddenly stiffen in my grasp. The cotton transformed into steel-strong sinews and the elf twisted to face me, glowing red, laser-dot eyes staring up at me. An evil grin spreading across the doll’s face. My daughter began to scream and my wife shrieked.
I gasped but held my grip. The elf hissed, sending a torrent of fetid breath into my face and baring rows of black razor-sharp teeth. It squirmed and hissed again, then drove its black fangs deep into my hand. Searing pain spread instantly across my hand and up my arm. I yelped and dropped the thing on the tiled floor. The elf scampered across the kitchen and climbed the drawers like an evil ape, swinging from handle to handle, laughing and grunting, until it crested the countertop. It opened the cutlery drawer and pulled out a paring knife. My wife and daughter scrambled to my side, screaming.
Drops of red blood splotched the floor and I clutched my injured hand. I grabbed a dish towel and wrapped my wound. The elf began to laugh. A low, laugh, full of bass resonance that couldn’t possibly come from so small a creature. It brandished the knife in the air and howled, “Come and get some, daddy-O!” Blood and saliva sprayed from its black fangs as it danced on the countertop.
I lunged across the kitchen, but before I could engage, my wife slammed a cast-iron skillet down onto the elf, knocking it flat.
“Hideous thing!” my wife hissed through clenched teeth.
I grabbed the unconscious creature and ran out onto the deck. I tossed the elf into the chiminea and slammed the door with a “clang”. I watched the embers ignite the ghastly thing and wrap it in flames. I stared in horror as it began to thrash about and pound on the screen of the door, begging in agony to escape the miniature crematorium. I went back inside and hugged my wife and daughter. We packed some things and spent the night in local hotel.
The next morning, Christmas eve, we awoke to a fresh coating of December snow, a silver white sparkling blanket draped across everything. I told my wife and daughter to stay at the hotel while I checked on the house. I walked up the stairs to the deck and noticed immediately that the chiminea door was ajar. Sooty footprints lead up to the sliding glass door. Written by a tiny finger in black soot on the glass was the word “NAUGHTY”.
That was the Christmas we moved to Florida. Now, it’s exactly 3 years later. The temperature in Tampa is a balmy 75 degrees. I swear I smelled burnt fabric 2 nights ago and this morning I noticed tiny, sooty footprints on the patio. Perhaps this is the Christmas that we move to London.
Or maybe I’ll just send my wife and daughter to a hotel while I wait alone with a machete in the kitchen. After all, isn’t that the appropriate behavior for those of us in the “naughty” club?