“It’s creepy,” Dan balked.
“It’s cute,” Julia countered. “Besides, it’s fun. I mean, geez Scrooge, where’s your Christmas spirit?” Dan picked up the doll and turned it over in his hands. It was the prototypical Christmas elf as imagined by Hollywood in a red onesie, Santa hat and painted on perm-grin.
“I just don’t understand the point,” he continued.
“It’s a Christmas elf; a scout for Santa actually. We leave him somewhere and then move him during the night as though he moved himself for Annie to find in the morning. The story goes that he reports back to Santa every night on whether the kid was good or bad and then returns in the morning. But he’s a prankster too. You should see some of the insane things that people are doing with this thing online…posing it in all manner of crazy situations.” Julia pulled out her cell phone to show Dan some of the Pinterest images she had seen.
“So,” Dan was still dubious, “you think it’s a good idea to introduce another mythical creature to our daughter’s reality? Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny aren’t enough; we need to add something else that she’ll find out is a lie as she gets older?”
“You gotta be kidding me Dan; when did you get so damn cynical?” Julia walked to the other side of the kitchen island and kissed her husband on the cheek. “So you think we should just completely rob our child of her sense of magic, quelling her imagination in the process?” Her husband kissed her back and began looking at the pictures of all the absurd poses parents had put the doll in. It did look kind of fun.
“At least you’re not going to be dramatic about it,” he teased while scrolling through her screen. “So what’s its name?”
“He doesn’t have one yet. Annie’s supposed to name him when we give it to her. There’s a book that goes with it…explains the whole deal if you can deal with the rhyming.” Dan chuckled. “Besides, I’m not asking you to do anything other than play along. I’ll take care of all the ‘elf’ stuff.” Julia did the air quotes as well. “Just don’t be a dick. That can be your Christmas present to me.”
“Not being a dick?”
“Exactly.” Just then they heard the squeaking brakes of Annie’s school bus out front and after a moment the front door slamming shut. They both snickered; it didn’t matter how many times they asked her to not slam the front door, she always did. It was as predictable as the sun and the moon.
“Don’t slam the door!” They both hollered out in unison; smiles on their faces.
“Mommy! Daddy!” Their beautiful, six-year-old daughter came bustling into the kitchen, unceremoniously depositing her “Adventure Time” backpack on the floor in the process. It was the first year they had let her ride the school bus, even though she had been begging to do so for the last three, and every time she got off of it she was in the best moods. Her parents knew the novelty would wear off eventually but not any time soon as the act of transportation with her friends from class instead of her mom or dad, which was all she had ever known, was still new and exciting.
“Elf! Elf! Elf on a Shelf!” she screamed when she saw the doll in her mother’s hands. Both her best friends as well as her cousins all had the Elf on a Shelf last year and she had been asking for one of her own for nearly ten months since. Julia handed her the doll and Annie gave it a big hug, all while muttering, “Elf on a Shelf,” over and over again to herself. Julia looked at her husband with a smug smile.
“Still think it’s a bad idea?” Dan could only shake his head and smile.
“Whatever dear…but this is your deal; not mine.” He put her phone down and took a sip of his coffee. Julia turned her attention back to Annie.
“You have to give him a name now, baby. Do you know what you want to name him?” Annie pulled the elf back from the hug and inspected him reflectively.
“Hmmm,” she thought aloud. “Maybe…Chester; yea, yea…no…Chesty. He can be Chesty.” Dan chuckled again and offered, “How about Chet?” Annie mulled it over, treating it as the important decision it was.
“Chet…Chet…wanna bet? Hmmm. Chet, Chet, Chetty, Chet.” She was testing it on her tongue. “Chetty, Chetty, Chet, Chet. Okay…yea daddy that sounds good.” She held the doll above her head and announced, “Everybody, ladies and gentlemen, I wanna let everybody meet Chet. Chet will be my new little brother…right mommy?” Julia wasn’t sure where that was coming from.
“No sweetie, don’t you remember. Chet works for Santa Claus, he’s going to be telling Santa whether you’ve been good or not. Every night after you go to sleep Chet goes to the North Pole to tell Santa everything you did all day. You can tell him things if you want; like what you want for Christmas, but once we put him somewhere we’re not supposed to touch him.” Annie didn’t seem certain. The words “not supposed to touch him” were coming across as gibberish for some reason.
“Why don’t we go and read the book again? Would you like that?” Annie nodded, her uncertain look giving way to the smile that melted hearts. “Okay baby, go change out of those clothes and I’ll fix you a snack. You can eat it in the living room while I read the book to you again.” The child shrieked with joy. On top of the story she would get to participate in the rare and exotic act of eating in the living room. She couldn’t remember the last time she had gotten to do that. Annie flew down the hall to her bedroom, Chet still in hand and they laughed again. Their baby would never cease to be a fantastic form of entertainment.
The rest of the evening went without surprises and Annie was in bed and asleep by nine o’clock. Her bedtime was eight thirty for the longest time but as she got a little older they found that, even if she was in bed on time, Annie wouldn’t actually fall asleep till around nine. If they let her stay up for that half-hour she would still fall asleep at that time so the extra thirty minutes became family time with board-games, Legos and stories. “Green Eggs and Ham” read by dad brought the evening to a close.
Julia, who had spent most the day researching ‘Elf on a Shelf’ tactics, was actually quite excited to play the game and she already knew what she was going to do on this, Chet’s first night in the house. The idea came from one of the first Pinterest pictures she saw. They had placed their elf next to a knocked over bag of flour, little elf-footprints tracked throughout the spill. It was the perfect combination of cute and mischievous. Maybe it wasn’t Julia’s idea, but this was just the first night; there was plenty of time to come up with some original ideas of her own.
After a short hunt, she set up the bag and spill on the kitchen table and went to grab Chet from the fire-place mantle where Annie had requested he make his first shelf. It was actually a lot of fun spreading his little feet around in the flour, bringing back memories of the days when she played with dolls herself. In addition to the ones in the flour, she left little prints of flour all over the table and then placed Chet right in the middle. True, it was going to be a pain in the ass to clean the table tomorrow, but the pictures she was able to put on Facebook made it all worthwhile.
When Julia settled into bed with Dan she had a huge smile on her face. She loved this kind of stuff. It was like playing Santa, except instead of one night a year, she got to do it for a whole month leading up to December 24th. Dan turned off the lamp and she couldn’t wait until the morning to see Annie’s reaction. Tomorrow was Saturday so Annie would probably be the first to get up. Every other day, Annie would be the first to rise but on Saturdays she and Dan would sleep in while Annie would entertain herself with her toys and coloring books. Julia let sleep carry her away while visions of elf poses danced in her head.
“Mommmy!” Annie came storming into the room and Julia’s first thought was that it was way too early for her to waking them up. “Chet really did move last night!” The young girl threw herself onto her mother’s side of the bed so they were face to face on the pillow.
“Is that right?” Julia was more asleep than awake.
“Yea mommy. He really did go to the North Pole and talk to Santa Clause. Isn’t that amazing?”
“Amazing baby.” Julia agreed, her eyes still closed.
“You can’t get mad at Chet mommy.” Julia smiled at the child’s face even though she was only seeing it in her mind.
“Why would I get mad baby?” Her daughter went quiet for a moment, obviously mulling over the way to present Chet’s bad behavior.
“Well…you see…um…Chet kind of got into your baking stuff.”
“Oh yea?” Julia mused.
“Yea, I’m sorry mommy. I can help clean the mess.”
“That’s okay baby.” She was such a sweet child. “Mommy will clean up after Chet.”
“Okay mommy, thank you. Chet walked through the sugar stuff and then tracked it everywhere.”
“Yea?” Julia prompted.
“Yea. He tracked all over the table and the hallway all the way to my room. He’s in my rocking chair now.” Julia’s eyes shot open in surprise and she had to fight the instinct to slap a still sleeping Dan in the head. He said he didn’t want anything to do with the elf. Part of her was pleased that her husband had decided to play along, but more than a little irritated that he hadn’t included her in his plans. When the hell did he do it anyway? Dan was not the type of man to wake up during the night. She couldn’t even remember the last time he had gotten up to pee.
“Well,” Julia said as she sat up, “I guess I’m awake now. You want some breakfast, sweetie?” Annie nodded in agreement and the two went to the kitchen, leaving Dan to sleep. Julia was actually impressed with his work once she got a chance to inspect it. The footprints he’d made leading down the hall and into Annie’s room were a lot more authentic looking than the one’s she had prepared. It was actually remarkable how evenly spaced they were, like real footprints; this must have taken him forever.
Later that afternoon Annie was playing in the back yard with the neighbor’s daughter while Dan and Julia enjoyed coffee and their computer tablets on the back porch.
“You’re not supposed to leave Chet in her bedroom, you know. He’s supposed to be placed around the house so that she has to get up in the morning and hunt around for him.”
“Huh?” Dan said, looking up from his screen, her comments not registering in the least.
“The Elf on a Shelf. You’re not supposed to put it in the kid’s room. It’s like part ‘hide and seek’.”
“Okay…good to know.” Sometimes inane comments came with the territory of marriage and Dan just shrugged it off and went back to his news article. Julia wasn’t prepared to let it go just yet.
“So you won’t put him in there anymore?” This brought Dan’s full attention and he was confused.
“Why on Earth would I put him in Annie’s room? I already told you before that this is your gig and I don’t want to mess with it.” It was Julia’s turn for confusion.
“Okay…then why did you?”
“Why did I what? Sweetie I got no clue what you’re talking about.” Julia was starting to get irritated; she didn’t like it when Dan treated her like an idiot, which wasn’t often.
“Dan…the games are for Annie…not me, and frankly I don’t appreciate it.” She grabbed her coffee and stormed back into the house, leaving Dan more than a little baffled. It seemed a little early for it to be “that time of the month” but Julia was starting to get up there in years. Maybe her cycles were shifting; that happens to women, doesn’t it?
The topic didn’t come up again and by dinner Julia had forgotten it; or, at very least, put it out of her mind enough to move on with the day. The secret to a successful matrimony, after all, was all about holding the good things closely while letting the not-so-good pass by the wayside. Give and take, compromise and not holding grudges; these were the tenets of happy, long-standing marriages.
Annie was asleep a little after nine even though her Saturday bed-time was a little later, her internal clock unable to make the distinction between days. Julia grabbed Chet shortly after that and set about positioning him in a new location, once again getting some help from the internet. The elf ended up on the kitchen counter next to an opened package of Oreos; sweetened crumbs of cookie and cream filling sprinkled about him. A little smear of chocolate beneath Chet’s smiling mouth was the final touch; that is, if you didn’t include the Facebook update.
Pleased with scene, Julia retired to bed with a Stephen King book where Dan was already asleep. The man might have had a lot of issues but falling asleep quickly and solidly was not one of them; he was a rock. A few chapters of horror later, Julia joined him. The morning seemed to come quicker than normal, a sign of quality REM sleep. Julia rose and jumped in the shower before Dan could gather his senses. Sunday’s were nearly as hectic as the weekdays, trying to get the family ready for church services on time.
By the time she got out, Dan was greeting her towel-clad figure with fresh coffee and a kiss of genuine intensity.
“Morning sweetheart,” he smiled, definitely a morning person. “Saw that little mess you left in the kitchen last night. Get a bit of a middle-of-the-night sweet-tooth?” It took a moment to register before she remembered the Oreos.
“Oh yea…Chet. Pretty good; wasn’t it?” Dan wrinkled his brow.
“Um…what?” Before she could finish the thought Annie came running in to their bedroom.
“Mommy…daddy! Chet is in my room again!” She giggled. “He likes to watch over me while I sleep.”
“Okay baby,” Dan said as he scooped up his daughter in her pink pajamas, “How ‘bout we get something to eat before we get dressed for church. Are you hungry?” Annie nodded gleefully. “Okay then…let’s let mommy get dressed,” and then they were out of the room. Julia was dumbstruck. There were so many thoughts and emotions swirling around she could barely take inventory of them all. Had Dan moved the elf again? Was he trying to play some type of game with her? It wasn’t like him at all; Dan was a practical man who never went in for jokes and pranks. It wasn’t his M.O. What the hell was going on?
After quickly dressing in one of the three outfits designated for church she hurried down the hall to Annie’s room. Just like the little girl said, there was Chet sitting at the very top of her toy shelves. Immediately Julia knew it had to be Dan’s doing because there was no one else in the house that could even reach where the elf was at, although it made no sense. Why on earth would he put it up there? She was fairly certain that he understood the premise and, even if he didn’t, her little outburst the day before should have been enough to keep him from meddling again.
Seeing the Oreo mess in the kitchen only confounded her further. If he was going to move it why wouldn’t he clean up the cookies? She stared intently at her husband as he doted on Annie to see if he would give himself away; a sly smile or knowing wink or…anything. He didn’t. She walked out of the kitchen and took several deep breaths. She desperately wanted to pull Dan aside and let him have it, but she knew she couldn’t. It was a stupid thing to start a fight over for one, but the biggest reason to hold her tongue was an agreement they made the day Annie was born that they would never again speak negatively to each other in her presence. They had both come from broken and troubled homes, Dan’s a little more violent than her own, and they each swore, long before they met, that their children would not go through the same.
So she kept her mouth shut and went on with the day, business as usual, even though it continued to be a thorn in the back of her mind. The day might have been perfect otherwise. After church, they had lunch with the Watsons and their son who was the same age as Annie. When the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ came up in conversation naturally, thanks to Annie, Julia was quick to change the topic. She was definitely not prepared to go through the ordeal with their friends.
After lunch the two families went to the Cineplex to see the newest “Star Wars” movie and then to the mall for Christmas shopping; at least for the women. The men somehow ended up at the only establishment in the mall that served beer…doubtful a coincidence. Eight full shopping bags and a nice little buzz later they returned home for the evening.
Both Annie and Dan were asleep by eight-thirty; one from fatigue, one from beer and Julia set forth to put her plan in action. It was fortunate that Annie could sleep through just about anything because Julia made more than a little racket bringing the step-stool in to retrieve Chet and then the additional twenty minutes she spent digging through Annie’s closet for her secret weapon. She returned to the living room with the doll and a teddy-bear nanny-cam they had long since quit using.
She took no time preparing a ridiculous scenario this evening. Why bother if Dan was just going to mess it up anyway? The Elf on the Shelf went on the fireplace mantle; nothing special, and the nanny-cam, fresh batteries intact, went on the book-shelf directly across the room. This time she was prepared and when he denied messing with her, she would have the proof. With a smug smile, she surveyed her work, wishing there was someone there to pat her on the back.
After changing into her P.J.’s she tried to let Stephen King put her to sleep but found herself re-reading the same paragraph over and over; unable to get her mind off busting Dan. She was way too excited about catching her husband in a lie, albeit an insignificant one. Finally she gave up on the killer clown and turned off her light. Sleep did not come easy.
Monday mornings were always a hectic tag-team of getting both themselves ready for work as well as Annie for school. It was a fine-tuned routine and one which didn’t include going into the living room for any reason. Dan was always out the door by six thirty, while Julia would leave shortly after seeing Annie onto the school-bus a little after seven. On the first step of the bus Annie stopped and turned to her mother waiting in the driveway.
“Mommy…I forgot to look for Chet!”
“It’s okay baby,” she urged her forward, afraid for a split-second that the child would try to get back off instead. “You can look for him when you get home. I’m not going to touch him…okay?” Annie nodded in agreement while giving her mother a snow-melting smile before disappearing into the vehicle. Mrs. Weathers, the bus-driver, couldn’t help but to smile as well at the adorable exchange. Julia returned the expression as the bus pulled away.
Usually she would have just jumped into her car and left but, now that Annie had put the thought in her head, she had to run back inside and see. Chet was, much as she expected, not on the mantle any more. How the hell was Dan doing this? He may have been a heavy sleeper but she was not; the slightest noise or movement able to wake her. She turned to the nanny-cam only to see an empty spot where the teddy-bear was the night before.
“What the hell?” she muttered to herself. Chet was nowhere to be seen; probably back in Annie’s room again. Julia started down the hall to her daughter’s room when something on the floor next to the hall closet caught her eye. It looked like a little chunk of…hair. Upon further inspection it was fur; brown, artificial fur. She turned it over in her fingers wondering where it came from when she thought she saw a bit more sticking out from beneath the closet door itself.
Slightly apprehensive, she opened the closet and threw on the light. What she saw froze her in place while her mind struggled to comprehend. It was the teddy-bear…or rather what was left of the stuffed animal. It had been ripped to shreds, its stuffing strewn about. The camera, which was previously lodged in the bear’s head, lay on the ground next to the fabric carcass, smashed into several tiny pieces. Next to that was Dan’s hammer which normally hung on a hook in the garage.
The whole scene seemed so out of place and…unnecessary. This was not the sort of thing Dan would do, not in a million years. This was something on an entirely different level. This was…sick. Slowly, she closed the door, trying to erase the image from her mind and uncertain of how to proceed. Chet wasn’t in the closet so Julia returned going down the hall to Annie’s room; he was there. Chet was sitting on Annie’s bedside table, arm draped over her alarm clock.
Didn’t she say she forgot to look for the elf? How on earth could she have missed this? Annie was the quintessential precocious child full of curiosity and questions. She had an amazing eye for details; constantly pointing out things Julia overlooked. It was totally unlike her to have not seen Chet. Of course it was possible; it was morning after all and she would have been motivated by the routine and the excitement of the school-bus ride. It was just so unlikely.
Julia picked up the doll and looked at it with disdain. For the first time since she was Annie’s age, she wondered if it was truly possible that an inanimate object, like this toy, could be alive. You’re losing it, girl. Maybe. Maybe she was going insane but what were the alternatives? Dan, the love of her life and the father of her child, was playing some kind of psychotic mind games with her? Annie was somehow getting up in the middle of the night herself and placing the elf in places she could never reach on her own? No…it was actually easier to accept that a possessed toy had been brought into their home.
Annie’s clock said seven twenty; she was already late. “Shit…I don’t have time for this,” she told no one in particular. Unsure what to do with Chet, she ended taking the elf to the study and locking it in the top drawer of the desk she and Dan shared but which really only got used when they did their taxes. She put the key in her purse, gave the desk one more side-ways glance and then was out the door. An hour later she was taking dictation and the entire situation was out of her mind.
The day probably would have passed as average had she not received a call from Annie’s school just after lunch; she wasn’t feeling well. The school nurse said it was a slight fever and nausea and that a strain of flu had been going around the kids lately. It was a little after two when they pulled in the driveway, after having been to both the pediatrician and the pharmacy. Annie was in a fetal ball in the back seat half way to unconsciousness. It broke Julia’s heart to see her like that; so small and fragile looking, her heart-warming, ever-present smile absent. Parenthood could provide some of the best, most amazing moments a person can experience in this world, but it can also scare the living-shit out of you. Just seeing your child sick could be terrifying and Annie only had the flu; Julia couldn’t fathom the pain if it were worse than that. It was part of the reason they had given to St. Jude every year since Annie was born.
It didn’t take long to get Annie into her pajamas and under the covers. In the weakest voice imaginable she asked for a story but was asleep before Julia got past the first page of “Where the Wild Things Are”. Kissing her head gently and closing the door quietly behind her, Julia went to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. It wasn’t even three o’clock yet and she was exhausted. If she was going to make it through dinner she would need a little caffeinated help.
She didn’t make it to the coffee pot, however, as the mess in the kitchen floor impeded her progress. The silverware drawer had been pulled out; its contents spilled about the floor in an unusual, if not deliberate, fashion. The forks, spoons and butter knives were all set end to end angled in haphazard fashion to create several uneven box designs of varying sizes. It was odd, for sure, but what really stood out, as well as being the most disturbing aspect, was the steak knives. They had a collection of ten, very classy, very sharp, steak knives which were now embedded in the floor like little grave-stones.
Surprisingly, her first reaction was relief; there’s no way Dan could have done this. That only lasted for a second before the appropriate degrees of panic set in. She pulled one of the knives from the floor and began to scan the room fighting to keep the thought at bay: was someone in the house? They have an expensive alarm system so it should be unlikely; it was still on and in working order as far as she could tell. But if no one broke in…who could have done this?
Her eyes flicked towards the study: Chet. That’s not possible. It shouldn’t be possible at least. Slowly, avoiding the creaks in the floor, Julia made her way to the study. She could see the desk the moment she turned the corner and her heart froze in her chest. The locked drawer was sitting wide open. As crazy as she might have looked doing it, Julia treated the room as if a ten inch doll might come running at her from any angle. She looked under the sofa, chair and tables; she looked behind and through the bookshelves before she came to the desk.
The wood around the drawer was chipped and broken, a lot of force obviously used to break it open. The elf, much as she feared and somehow expected, was nowhere to be seen and her head began to swim. This couldn’t be real. At some point in the last twenty minutes she stepped into “The Twilight Zone” or an alternate dimension more at home in one of the Stephen King stories she loved. Maybe that was it? Maybe all that horror she had been reading for the last twenty years finally pushed into a psychotic break-down?
The sound of glass breaking in the kitchen broke her spell and Julia spun on her heels at the noise. Checking on it wasn’t her first instinct however; it was her daughter, lying sick at the other end of the house and whatever made that noise was between them. The study had doors to both the kitchen and the hall and Julia, with as much stealth as she could muster, edged her way to the hallway. The view of the kitchen wasn’t extensive as she slid past and, other than the silverware art, nothing looked out of place. Inches from being at the threshold of being able to see around and out into the hallway she was frozen yet again by another noise; this one significantly more disturbing than the shattered glass. It was the pitter-patter of little feet scurrying down the hall…really little feet. It was a distinctive sound, bigger than a rodent and with a different cadence as well. Julia knew the moment she heard it: it was that damned, Elf on a Shelf. It was Chet.
Julia peered around the corner just in time to see Annie’s bedroom door slam shut at the far end. That little son-of-a-bitch! Maternal instincts kicked her into action and she flew into the hall, her socked feet sliding on the wood floor pushing her into the dining room. Bracing herself against the dining room table, she tore off her socks and sprinted to Annie’s door. It was locked. No…no…no…Please God, no.
Julia gave the fire-axe in the garage a moment’s consideration before casting the thought aside. If it was at all possible she wanted to get Annie out of this situation without scaring her as she was at the perfect age for being scarred for life and seeing her mother tear through her bedroom door with an axe like a scene from “The Shining” would most certainly do that. She flipped on the hall light and examined the doorknob; it was a simple interior knob with a lock on one side and a small hole in the other. It had been a long time but she remembered the trick and sprinted back to the kitchen junk drawer for a paper clip.
The entire process of finding the clip and opening the door look less than a minute, made all the more difficult by the tears that were pooling in her eyes. So help me God…if you hurt my baby… She opened the door quietly, but quickly. Annie was fine, still curled in a little ball under the blankets in a fevered sleep. Chet was there too, laying on the pillow next to the back of Annie’s head. There was no movement from the toy but a couple steps into the room revealed the kitchen knife resting next to its hand between it and her baby.
Julia took slow, deliberate, mine-field steps, fully expecting Chet, with his lifeless eyes and painted on grin, to spring to life at any moment and jam the sharp end of the blade into her innocent child’s skull while she slept unaware. The last time she put the knives away she accidentally sliced her finger; she knew how sharp they were. Laser-cut, the salesperson guaranteed they would never grow dull. She was only six steps away from being able to scoop up her daughter and flee this madness.
Five steps. Annie’s medicine had a sedative effect and her breathing was deeper than usual. Four steps. A dog barked somewhere right outside and Julia flinched with some primitive sense that noise would set the nightmare in motion. Chet just stared at her. Three steps. So close. Would she be able to get Annie off the bed before Chet could hurt her? The logistics began to trouble her. Annie was under the blankets; they could be an obstacle. It might be better to go for Chet instead; throw herself on the elf and the knife before he could put it to use. How strong could he really be anyway? Two steps.
Was that movement? Were her eyes just playing tricks on her or did the toy just twitch? Julia was expecting the creature to come to life with such intensity it was quite possible her mind was playing tricks on her. One step. Julia was at the foot of the bed now with a decision to make…a decision that needed to be made quickly: Annie or Chet? Dammit woman! Decide! Several precious seconds ticked away before she made up her mind but she finally did; it was going to be Chet. Fuck that elf!
Her muscles tensed to spring as she planned on launching herself full bare on the demon-toy. The next few seconds happened so quickly it would be hard to properly piece them together again later when she would try to remember. Chet did move. As if sensing her resolve, the elf’s head twisted to the side to make eye contact with Julia…if it had actual eyes. The motion made that much worse with the knowledge that the toy wasn’t designed with bendable joints. Unlike Barbie or G.I. Joe, Chet’s neck shouldn’t have been able to do what it was doing.
Their gaze lasted only a split-second when the front door of the house came flying open. It was Dan’s signature move which he stole from Cosmo Kramer the first time he saw it and continued to utilize long into syndication; people under twenty had no idea why he did it.
“Luuuucy!” Dan was doing his best Ricky Ricardo, obviously in a good mood, “I’m hoooome”. The commotion to enough to make Julia look over her shoulder instinctively and when she turned back to the bed…Chet was gone. In a state of unbridled terror Julia screamed at the top of her lungs, waking Annie and sending Dan running.
“You think I’m crazy.” Julia was pulling the sheet up to her head to hide the tears that were coming for the umpteenth time that evening. Dan was climbing into bed with her.
“I didn’t say that, sweetheart.”
“You said I need to see Doctor Simpson.”
“I said we should consider it. I don’t think you’re being fair to yourself if we don’t consider the possibility that something happened…in your mind. I mean, baby, you realize what you’re asking me to believe; right?” Not wanting to look her husband in the eyes she turned to her side putting her back to Dan.
“I didn’t imagine it. It happened; and you don’t believe me.”
“Baby,” his voice was as soothing as he could muster, “I believe that you believe it.” Julia spun around again to look at him.
“What about the silverware? What about the knife and that damn bear? You think I did those things and what…forgot about it…blocked it out? I mean, really Dan, what are you saying; I, for no damn reason whatsoever, had a psychotic breakdown over the last three days culminating with my placing a knife on our DAUGHTER’S pillow? Is that what you’re saying Dan?”
He sighed and put his hand her shoulder; she was quick to push it away.
“I searched every inch of this house, inside and out, Julia. There is literally…and I do mean ‘literally’, no spot that I didn’t look. Where is this ‘Chet’ now? It’s not in the garbage, it’s not in any drawers; I’m telling you I checked everywhere. You saw me.”
“That just verifies what I’m saying. The little piece-of-shit ran away; he’s hiding…waiting around here somewhere. I know it.”
“Would you listen to yourself? You sound…” he trailed off.
“Crazy?” Julia finished. “What about the bear Dan? You think I could’ve ripped it up like that?”
“And the camera?”
“The hammer.” Julia shot upright in bed, eyes wide and wild.
“The camera!” she screamed again. “The camera…the camera…the camera!” She swung her feet into her slippers and scampered out of the room leaving a befuddled Dan behind. When a couple minutes passed without her return he put his own slippers on and sought her out, finding her at the kitchen table with her laptop computer.
“You want to clue me in,” he asked as he pulled up a chair next to her.
“The nanny-cam came with a website subscription which I think automatically renews. I don’t think I ever remembered to cancel it.” She was in the process of recovering her password for the website.
“Okay…and?” Dan pressed.
“And the website keeps a copy of the video.”
“All of it.” She smiled for the first time all night. “As long as it’s recording a copy of it is streamed to the cloud. Our hard copy re-records every twenty-four hours but it’s still saved online. A-ha!” She apparently found what she was looking for and a minute or so later they were watching full-screen copy of their fireplace mantle and the “Elf on a Shelf” upon it. They watched their lifeless living room for a few minutes before Dan was asking her to fast-forward.
“Okay…okay,” she agreed and then they were watching at eight times the normal speed. Another minute and then Chet was gone.
“Whoa…” Dan exclaimed. “Go back…go back.” Julia found the spot and they watched the video that validated Julia’s claims as unthinkable as it was. The Elf on a Shelf stood with frighteningly life-like movement and leapt to the floor. A full minute passes when the nanny-cam begins to move; being dragged into the hall closet with the occasional red, onesied limb passing through the shot. The video goes black as the door to the closet is closed behind it but they could still hear ripping and, finally, smashing.
Julia and Dan looked at each other in wide-eyed horror, no semblance of disbelief remaining, and then, slowly, around the room. Julia was hoping Dan would spring into action…that he would know what to do, but he looked as terrified and transfixed as she had been at first. A noise from the other end of the house broke their spell as well as the silence. It was a slamming door; Annie’s door, and it was followed by the screams of their child.
Credit: Shannon Higdon
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