It showed up on our door, Thanksgiving Day. I was washing the last of the dinner dishes, relieved that my house was finally getting back in order, when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” I yelled, not really expecting anyone to move anyway, as heavily dosed as they were with tryptophan. I opened the door and he was leaning against a small, potted Christmas tree. That was new too. I picked them both up and looked around. I didn’t see anyone.”
I glanced up to see my husband standing in front of me. I held the doll up, “Knee Hugger.”
Walter raised his eyebrows. “A shelf elf? Really?”
“He’s kinda cute…”
“Creepy, if you ask me.”
I looked at the toy, then sighed, “Yeah, uber creepy, but hey, he comes bearing gifts.” I held up the Christmas tree.
“Well that’s… going to be dead within a week.”
“What’s going to be dead in a week?” My daughter looked up from her phone, curious. Her hair was dyed black, the same color as all her clothes. She gasped when she saw the doll. “Is that an Elf On The Shelf?” She jumped up and pulled it from my hand. “Jason’s family puts one of these out at Christmas.”
I should have known… if Kathy were excited about anything, it had to involve him; one more reason for me to despise this unexpected visitor.
“Where did it come from?” Ben asked, and then before I could answer, “I bet Aunt Ellen.”
“Why do you say that?” Kathy asked.
“Because it’s an Elleny thing to do,” Ben said, “and she and Uncle Bob were the last to leave today.”
“Seems logical.” I set the plant down on the coffee table and looked at it, ruefully. Walter was right, I had what he had begun referring to as a black thumb.
“Are we going to put it out?” Ben asked. He knew my aversion to creepy looking dolls. Everyone did. Which of course is why my sister-in-law would have left it, the bitch.”
“Yes,” I said and then when my husband raised his eyebrow, “It will be fun.”
“Ellen will never know if we don’t,” Walter said.
“But I will. Besides, Ellen went to the trouble to leave him for us, the least we can do is use it. I’ll take pictures and send them to her.”
“Of all the things he gets into.”
“Here, let me pick the first place,” Kathy said. She looked around the living room and then moved into the dining room. She looked up and smiled. “Perfect.” A few minutes later, Spike, as she dubbed him, was hanging from the chandelier.
The next morning I found him in the bathroom. I opened up the medicine cabinet and his inane, smiling face was staring back at me. He was holding my toothbrush. I screamed. He leered. My husband came running.
“Okay,” my husband said, “no more hiding him where he’s going to give your mother a heart attack.”
“I didn’t put him there,” Kathy said. “He’s supposed to be in the kitchen, making breakfast.”
Smiling tightly, I pulled out my cell phone and took a picture. “Your Aunt Ellen is going to love this one.” Then I took my toothbrush from Spike and shut the cabinet door.
A few minutes later I walked into the kitchen. There were broken eggs all over the floor. “Kathy!”
“What… oh, wow. What happened in here?”
“You tell me.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Ask Ben.”
“Ask me what?” Ben asked, coming into the kitchen behind his sister.
“Did you do this?” I asked, pointing at the eggs.
Ben snorted. “No.”
“I bet you did,” Kathy said, “when you moved Spike to the bathroom.”
“I didn’t move him,” Ben said. “We agreed yesterday that you got to have all the fun…”
“Well I put him in the kitchen with a bowl, a fork and some eggs…”
“So it was you…”
“No, the eggs were in the bowl when I left, not on the floor.”
“Enough!” I rubbed my forehead. I could feel a headache coming on. I pointed to Kathy. “Clean it up.”
“But I didn’t do it.”
“Fine,” I said, “the damn elf did it. Make him clean it up… but when I come back in here, if those eggs are still on the floor, both you and the elf will be grounded.”
The next day Spike was in the kitchen, on the floor with a bucket and a sponge… the bucket was tipped over and the floor was flooded with water. I slipped and landed on my back. Spike grinned at me. Perhaps it was the light shining through the window and bouncing off the floor, but I could have sworn there was a gleam in his eye.
“I didn’t do it,” Kathy yelled.
I was sitting in the living room, nursing the bump on the back of my head. Kathy was crying, insisting she hadn’t put the elf in the kitchen and poured water on the floor.
“Ben wasn’t here,” I said. “He spent the night at Mike’s house. Your dad didn’t do it…” I looked at Walter and he shook his head, “and I sure as hell know I didn’t do it. So who did?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well you are staying home all weekend.”
“But mom, Jason and I are going out tonight.”
She clenched her fists together and glared at me. Then she screamed, and ran out of the room. I heard her feet pounding up the stairs and then she screamed, “It’s not fair,” before slamming her bedroom door.
“I say we get rid of the elf,” Walter said.
“Be careful,” I joked, “he might come after you next.” I glared at the elf, which was now sitting on the coffee table, next to the tree. Its smile seemed to grow wider. “I think I hit my head a little harder than I first thought,” I said. “I’m going to lie down and take a nap.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Walt agreed. “I’ll take care of dinner tonight.” He picked up the elf, “and get rid of this thing.”
When I woke up it was getting dark. I’d slept almost all day. Heading downstairs, I wondered why the house seemed empty. A note on the kitchen counter explained…
Ben called. He’s staying at Mike’s all weekend. I told him it was okay. I’ve gone to the store. Christmas lights.
That meant it was just me and Kathy. I looked out the window, wondering when Walter would be back and noticed something red in the driveway. Curious, I went to investigate and found the elf.
“What are you doing out here?” I picked it up and went back into the house. He was greasy. “Looks like you were run over by a car.”
The elf grinned, his teeth shinning white through a soot-stained face.
“Hello, Frank? This is Jolene. Walter wouldn’t be there, would he? No? Okay, well if you see him… yeah, I tried his phone, but he’s not answering. He went out a few hours ago to buy some Christmas lights. You’re right, he’s probably buying up the whole store. We’ll probably look like the house in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. Thank you, Frank. Bye.”
I hung up the phone and drummed my fingers on the table. This wasn’t like Walter.
“Refrigerators right there,” I said.
“You’re my mother, you’re supposed to feed me.”
“Dinner was ready a few hours ago. If you choose to not come down and eat, that’s not my problem.”
The doorbell rang and I jumped. It was almost 10:00. No one came by this late.
“That’s probably Jason!” Kathy ran for the door and I followed. “You are grounded, so he can just turn around and go home.”
She flung the door open, but it wasn’t Jason standing outside.
“Ma’am,” the police officer said, looking at me, “there’s been an accident…”
Walter’s breaks had failed. The officer drove us to the hospital. The doctor’s said he would be okay, but he needed surgery. He’d suffered some broken ribs and one of them had punctured a lung. I kept picturing the damn elf in the driveway.
I looked up. Ellen was standing there.
“I came as soon as I heard.”
“You shouldn’t have.” I looked at my watch. “How did you make it here so fast?”
“I was in town already. Is he going to be okay?”
“You look tired. Why don’t you go home and get some rest?”
“I want to be here when he comes out of surgery.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
I looked over at Kathy. She was curled up on a couch, sleeping. “Can you take Kathy home?”
“Sure. Where’s Ben?”
“He’s at a friend’s. His phone was off, so I left a message.
“Okay. I’ll come back later.”
“Did you leave an elf on my porch when you left the other day?”
“One of those shelf elves.”
“Good Lord, no. Those things are creepy.”
“Then who did?”
Ellen shrugged her shoulders. “No idea.
I was tired when I came home the next morning. Walter had come through surgery and was sleeping in his room. They had him drugged up and I needed to get some sleep.
“Mom, I’m worried about Ben,” Kathy said. “Mike called looking for him.”
“What do you mean? He’s supposed to be with Mike.”
“He says he never showed up.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. It’s not like Ben to lie about where he’s going.”
“You mean that’s something I would do, not Ben.”
“That’s not what I mean at all.”
“Yes it is. He’s always been your favorite.” She went running out the door then. “Kathy,” I said, running after her, “get back here.”
“Fuck you,” she screamed and flipped me off.
I went back inside. I didn’t have time for this. She was going to Jason’s, I knew that. I didn’t know where Ben was. I picked up the phone and called the police. Then I went and lay down on the couch. If Ben came home, I wanted to be where I could hear him. That, and the elf was sitting on the stairs and I didn’t want to have to step over it… or pick it up.
My dream was disturbing. Spike swung from the chandelier while I lay on the dining room table. My family sat around me, each eating something red and gelatinous from a bowl. I tried to speak, wanting to know what was going on, but my voice wouldn’t work. I stared up at the elf, and he started laughing at me. Then everyone at the table started laughing too. Walter stood up and reached down and I felt his hands sink into me. When he pulled them back, I saw that his hand was covered with the red, icky substance they’d been eating. Then I realized whatever it was, was moving, writhing like worms. I looked down and saw that my belly was splayed open and the worms were spilling out of me.
I woke up, screaming. The elf was sitting on the couch, smiling. Always smiling. In his hands was a knife. It was covered with blood.
Officer Peterson stood up and left the room.
“What do you think?”
Sergeant Grimes shook his head. “I think she’s doing a good job, if she’s going to go for the insanity defense.”
“She may just be insane. She killed her entire family. Shit, she cut her husband's break line and then held a pillow over his face at the hospital... and says an elf made her do it.”
"No," Grimes said, "she says the elf did it."
"She's going to get off, isn't she."
“Probably go to the nut house. I don’t know why, but there always seem to be more of the crazies during the holidays.”
“Yeah, but this is the first time I’ve heard anyone try to blame a toy for it.”
The Sergeant shuddered. “Have you seen those things? They’re creepy.”
“We have one at home. The kids have been enjoying it.”
“Yeah, well except for Meghan. Last night she woke up screaming. She said the elf wanted to hurt her.”
“One of her brothers had put the doll on her bed. You know how kids are… he put it there and then was whispering to her in the dark, so she would think the elf was talking.”
“Eh, I used to do the same kind of stuff to my sister.”
“Yes?” Peterson looked towards the door and the pretty Lieutenant standing there.
“Your wife called. She says she needs you to meet her at the hospital…”
The officer looked alarmed. “Did she say why?”
“I didn’t really understand what she was saying… something about a Shelf Elf and your daughter.”