The Elf on the Shelf
A Story by Rebekkah Ford
Our backyard was nothing but dirt and a few pathetic bushes that were good at catching garbage. I picked out a couple of Mountain Dew cans and a Snickers wrapper that were between the branches, trying not to prick my fingers.
Why couldn’t people throw away their trash? It was so annoying.
The air was a bit chilly for Arizona weather in December. I could almost see my breath. I shivered, regretting not wearing a jacket over my sweatshirt hoodie.
Looking up at the enormous tree that gave our tiny shit-hole house some nice shade, a feeling of gratefulness came over me and the annoyance vanished. At least we had this beautiful tree to hang out under or climb when things got a bit rough.
I went to the side of the house and dumped the trash into the tin garbage can. As I headed to the back door, something red beneath the bushes I was just at caught my eye, causing me to go back over there. Bending to examine it, I noticed two long red legs. A child’s toy I guessed. I wondered if it was my sister Avery’s toy. Clasping my fingers around the legs, I tugged them towards me.
“An Elf on A Shelf,” I said to myself a bit surprised. I licked the tip of my thumb and rubbed the dirt off his pale face and big blue eyes. They seemed to sparkle in the sunlight as if there was mischief brewing behind them. “I don’t think I’m supposed to touch you. Don’t you lose your magic if I do so? As if magic really exists.” Avery’s friends had an elf like this, and she’d been wanting one for a couple of years now. I couldn’t wait to show her.
“What’s behind your back?” Avery asked when I entered the kitchen. She had a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter in her hand. The sides of her shoulder-length dark hair were pulled back with purple butterfly barrettes, and her brown eyes were filled with curiosity. In the background, I could Bugs Bunny talking to Elmer Fudd. We couldn’t afford cable so we had old VCR tapes to watch and entertain us, even though I could pretty much say each line in every one of them.
I kneeled so I was eye level with her. “Do you still want An Elf on A Shelf?”
“It’s The Elf on the Shelf,” she corrected. I swear there was a thirty-year-old editor in her six-year-old body.
“Sorry, I mean—”
She gasped. “Is there one behind your back?”
“Yup.” I nodded with a grin and showed her.
She squealed and jumped up and down, but then she stopped, and a look of horror entered her freckled face. “You can’t touch him!” Tears filled her eyes, and her bottom lip quivered. “He’ll lose his magic,” she cried. “He won’t be able to talk to Santa Claus for me.” She set the spoon down on the counter and sat at the kitchen table and wept. You would have thought she lost her best friend with how upset she was.
I sat in the chair next to her. “I’m sure he still has his magic.”
“No, he doesn’t. Now Santa is going to ignore us like he always does.”
It broke my heart to see her so distraught and at the same time, it made me angry at our mom for not giving us a father. Sixteen years ago, when I was born, she had no idea who my father was. Ten years later, she repeated the same damn mistake – at a drunken party, swapping partners at what I called an Orgy-Fest. Just the other day, in a fit of anger, I threw that in her face and basically called her a whore. She was stunned as if I slapped her across the face. Without saying a word, she walked out of the house and drove away. I instantly felt bad and bawled myself to sleep. Thankfully, Miss Avery was at a friend’s house that night.
I rose and tugged on the back of Avery’s T-shirt. “Come with me. I’ll show you he still has his magic.”
She sniffed and followed me to my bedroom.
I turned on my desktop, set the elf down and typed in The Elf on the Shelf. I clicked on Wikipedia and scrolled down while reading it until I found what I was looking for.
“It says right here that the magic might disappear if the scout elf is touched.” I locked eyes with her. “Might,” I emphasized. I pointed to him. He was lying on his side next to my keyboard. “I bet you money, he still has his magic.”
Her mouth formed an O-shape. “You’re going to give me your dollars if you’re wrong?”
“I sure am, and it’s the money I’ve been saving to buy my dream car with.” I imagined myself driving a classic convertible white VW bug, my light brown hair blowing in the wind. The popular kids at school would be so jealous, and I’d ignore them. I pushed that pleasant fiction aside and raised my eyebrows and touched my chest with my fingertip. “So, I’m totally serious here, Avery.”
She wiped the tears from her face and sniffed again. “You are. You’ve been saving forever.”
It did seem like forever. I’d been saving up for well over a year now with my babysitting money and cleaning houses in our neighborhood. I’d love to work at a Starbucks or a movie theatre, but I had no way of getting there.
“I have,” I finally said. “But Avery, don’t touch him. Okay?”
She held her hands up as if she were surrendering. “I won’t.” She looked around my room. “Where should we put him?”
Grabbing him, I headed out of my room. “Not here.” I went to the living room and sat him on a bookcase next to our TV. “Here’s a perfect spot for him, and this will be the last time I touch him.”
Avery grinned and nodded.
The front door opened, and Mom walked in. “What are you girls up to?” She had her Denny’s uniform on and smelled like fried food. She looked fried herself. Strands of dark hair were falling out of the bun on top of her head, framing her heart-shaped face.
Avery jumped up and down in a fit of excitement and told Mom everything while Mom set her purse on the floor. She kicked off her shoes, sat on the couch, and proceeded to rub her feet as she listened to my baby sister run her mouth.
“Peyton said if the elf lost his magic, I can have her dollars. The ones she’s saving for a car. Do you remember?”
Mom glanced at me. A guilty expression flickered across her face. Her attention went back to Avery. “I do, which is the perfect time for me to tell you, girls, something that I’ve been working on.”
That’s unexpected. The last time she had something important to say was when . . . she was pregnant with Avery.
My face burned, and my mind immediately raced with ugly thoughts about my mother.
“Peyton,” Mom said, her voice raised enough to get me to look at her. “I’m not pregnant.”
The heat subsided from my cheeks, my chest felt lighter, and a sigh of relief whooshed out of me.
“I had my tubes tied after I gave birth to Avery. You know that.”
I thought about it. Oh yeah, she did. “I forgot,” I mumbled, not looking at her. Instead, I stared at the Charlie Brown tabletop Christmas tree in the corner of the room. Most of the ornaments were from the Dollar Tree, a few were homemade or given to us.
“What’s your news?” Avery asked, plopping down on Mom’s lap.
“A gal in my AA meeting offered me a job that pays really well.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Should you be hanging out with other alcoholics outside the group?”
“She’s been clean for six years, Peyton.” There was a bit of annoyance in her tone. She covered Avery’s ears and whispered, “I’m not going to fuck up this opportunity. I promise.”
I glanced away and thought I saw movement out the corner of my eye where the elf sat. He looked the same as he did when I placed him there. “Okay, what type of job is it and how much does it pay?”
Avery moved her head, and Mom dropped her hands into her lap. “I’ll be trained in as a dental assistant. If I do well, they’ll pay for me to be a dental hygienist, if I agree to work for them for three years after I’m done with my schooling.” She paused and despite looking a bit haggard from a long day of serving food to the public, a renewed energy took over her. Avery must have felt it because she slipped off Mom’s lap and looked at her. The corners of Mom’s mouth turned into a bright smile. “Do you know how much hygienist get paid an hour?” She was practically bouncing in her seat.
“No, I don’t.” I wasn’t sure if cleaning people’s mouths would be a job I’d want to do.
“Twenty-seven to forty-six dollars an hour!”
My mouth flopped open. “Are you serious?”
She stood and placed her hands on my shoulders. “I am, and I’ll work hard so I can give us the life we deserve. I swear to you I will.” She hugged me tightly. “I love you and Avery more than anything. I’ve been a shitty mom. I’ll do my best to make it up to you two.”
I hated to admit it, but I was skeptical. I didn’t believe it. But why then did my eyes filled with tears?
The next morning as I was walking by Avery’s bedroom, I heard her talking. At first, I thought she was reading aloud. I leaned my ear next to her door, smiling at the thought she was reading to her stuffed animals. I used to do that when I was her age and would make up words that I couldn’t read, which resulted in telling my own little story.
“Tell Santa that I want a pink, sparkly bicycle with a white basket in front. Also, a helmet that matches my bike and—”
I opened the door. “Who are you talking to?”
She blinked in surprise and pointed to her left. “I was talking to the elf.” She looked and frowned. “Where did he go?” In a fit of excitement, she jumped to her feet. “He went to the North Pole to tell Santa what I want for Christmas!”
“The elf was talking to you?” I could hear the doubt in my voice. Avery might be taking this whole elf thing a bit far. Then a thought occurred to me, and my heart sank. She was telling this toy elf what she wanted for Christmas, thinking he’d tell Santa, and then on Christmas day, which was two days away, she’d expect to get those presents. When she didn’t, she’d be crushed and think something was wrong with her.
She nodded as if she had a bobblehead on her shoulders. “He did. His name is Mr. Jingles. He still has his magic so you don’t have to give me dollars. You were right!” She laughed and twirled around. “This is going to be the best Christmas ever!”
I stopped her and held her hands in mine. “Avery, please don’t get your hopes up. That elf—”
“Mr. Jingles,” she corrected with a grin. She was missing two front teeth, and her child-like wonder endeared me so that the rough edges in my tone softened.
“Sorry. Mr. Jingles. He may not be reliable enough to get your message sent to Santa Claus.”
“He doesn’t like you,” she confessed. “He told me he didn’t like you because you don’t believe in magic, and he didn’t like the way you looked at him last night.”
I released her hands and laughed. “What?”
“That’s what he told me,” she said, shrugging.
I crossed my arms over my chest. “What did you say?”
“I told him you didn’t mean to upset him, and you’re the best sister ever.”
I hugged her. “Thank you, Munchkin. I love you.” I tickled her side, causing her to giggle and pull away. “Let’s go have some breakfast.”
When we entered the kitchen, I groaned at the mess before us. Flour covered the entire counter, and there were little footprints across it. The cupboard door above was open. The spices and baking ingredients inside were knocked over.
I pointed to the front of the counter, which was also covered in the white powdery stuff. “Did you do this?”
“No, Mr. Jingles did. He was probably going to make us pancakes.”
Mom must have before she went to work early this morning. It made sense. She wanted to entertain Avery, so she made it look like the elf was up to no good.
I sighed. “You’re probably right. Help me clean up his mess, and then I’ll make us some pancakes.”
“Okay.” Avery grabbed a washcloth off the sink while I picked up the torn bag of flour, wondering if this elf on the shelf game was worth the trouble.
“What’s for dinner?” Avery asked Mom. I was at the kitchen table drawing in my sketchbook. I looked up and Mr. Jingles was leaning against the toaster with his arms folded against his chest and his ankles crossed. “I’m hungry,” Avery added.
Mom was unwrapping a pound of hamburger. “Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni.”
“Yay! That’s my favorite.”
I turned my attention to Avery and Mom. “Did either one of you put the elf there?”
Mom glanced over her shoulder at me. “Where?”
Avery gasped and looked at Mom. “You’re not supposed to touch him! Pleeeease tell me you didn’t touch him,” she whined.
I pointed to the toaster and then popped out of my seat, nearly falling over. “He was there less than a minute ago.”
“Did you touch him?” Avery demanded.
“No,” Mom said.
“Mom, Mr. Jingles was there. I saw him.” Chills broke across my skin. The damn thing was alive. But how could that be? Magic didn’t exist.
“He has a name now?” Mom laughed.
“He told me his name,” Avery said.
My face felt cold from the blood draining from it. The room spun.
“Peyton, are you okay?” Mom asked, concerned. “You look like you’re going to faint.”
I sat back down in the chair and took a drink of water in an attempt to calm myself. I cleared my throat. “That elf is alive.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mom said, turning back to the stove and placing the hamburger on the skillet. A sizzling sound filled the room. “You must have been seeing things.”
“We need to get rid of him.”
“No!” Avery squealed, causing Mom and I to jump. “He’s my friend.”
I left the room with Avery chasing after me, begging me not to get rid of him. To keep the peace, I told her Mom was probably right, that I was seeing things. The elf was fine. No harm would be done to him, even though secretly I was hoping to catch him and see if he was real or not. Because to be honest, I had a hard time wrapping my head around a child’s toy being alive. I needed more evidence and was determined to get it.
“Tomorrow is Christmas Eve,” Avery said to me in a sing-song voice as I tucked her into bed. She yawned and hugged her teddy bear to her chest.
“It is,” I confirmed. “And guess what I did?”
“What?” She kept blinking to force herself to stay awake.
“I bought us matching PJs, soap to make a bubble bath, and hot chocolate we can drink while we watch your favorite Christmas movie we have on tape.”
A sleepy smile crossed her face. “See? I told you this would be the best Christmas ever.”
I kissed her cheek. “Every day is what you make of it.”
She closed her eyes. “I love you, Peyton.”
“I love you, too, Munchkin.”
When I stepped outside her room and softly closed her door, something red and white darted across the hallway into the bathroom.
My heart raced, and I was suddenly hyper-aware of my surroundings. The carpet felt soft against my bare feet as I slowly edged my way to the bathroom. The sound of the clock ticking in the living room, a car driving down our street, and a dog barking in the distance amplified in my ears.
I should have a weapon, but it was too late. I reached the bathroom, pushed the door open with my foot, reached around the corner, and flicked the light on. There was toilet paper everywhere as if someone deliberately tped the bathroom. A flash of red and white dashed by my feet, stepping on my baby toe.
I hopped up on the other foot and grabbed the injured one. “Ow!”
A car pulled into our driveway. Mom was home. If I showed her the bathroom and told her what I saw, she might believe me. Maybe.
I met her at the front door. She had an arm full of packages that were wrapped in Christmas paper with shiny gold bows perfectly placed on top.
“Help me with these, please.” She unloaded some of them in my arms and went back outside.
“Where do you want me to put these?” I asked when she came back with more presents and a large holiday bag filled with what looked like candy and baked goods.
“The walk-in closet in my bedroom.”
“Where did you get the money for all of these gifts?” We placed them in a dark corner of her closet.
“Since I’ll be quitting Denny’s, my boss was kind enough to allow me to cash in my vacation pay. I used that money to give you and Avery a Christmas you deserve.”
“Wow,” is all I could say, but then I remembered the elf. “I need to show you something.”
“What?” She followed me to the bathroom and gave me a dumbfounded look when she saw it covered in toilet paper. “Did you do this?”
“The elf,” I said in a high whisper, not wanting to wake Avery up. “Mr. Jingles.”
Mom rolled her eyes. “Clean this up. It isn’t funny.”
“Do you see me laughing? I’m not making this shit up. He’s alive.”
“There are better ways to get my attention.”
“What about the disaster you left in the kitchen this morning. I had to clean it up. Thanks a lot. Maybe you should clean this mess.” I knew I was being snotty to her, but I didn’t care.
Her eyebrows pulled together. “What mess?”
I told her about it, and she didn’t know what I was talking about. She seriously didn’t know, which raised the hair on my arms.
“If you didn’t do, then the damn elf did,” I stressed.
She shook her head and raised her hand to shut me up. “I had a long day. I don’t want to hear it. We can spend more time together once I switch jobs and actually have normal working hours.”
I gritted my teeth. “This is not about you not paying attention to me.”
“Whatever.” She walked away, leaving me to clean up the bathroom and wondering what the hell I was going to do.
That night I slept with my light on and didn’t see Mr. Jingles. I thought I heard him a couple of times and was jarred awake. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep and was looking forward to Christmas being over with.
Avery came out of the bathroom, wet hair combed, and in her Cat in The Hat PJS, the same ones I had on. She sat on the couch beside me smelling like lavender from the bubble bath she just had. I took mine first so I could prepare everything while she was washing up. Mom had popped popcorn on the stove and poured melted butter on it, then salted the batch. A big bowl of it was on the coffee table, along with the hot chocolate I made for all three of us.
“I feel left out,” Mom said, standing in the middle of the room, eyeing our PJs.
Guilt tugged at my heart. I should have bought her one as well, but to be honest, I didn’t want to spend the money. It was my car fund money and at the time I wasn’t sure if she’d even be home on Christmas Eve.
“Sorry, Mom,” I said. “I didn’t have enough cash on me.”
She waved it off as if it was no big deal. “It’s okay. I’ll go put my own pajamas on. Don’t start the movie without me.”
“We won’t,” Avery said.
I gingerly handed a cup of hot chocolate to her. “Be careful. It’s hot.” She held it with both hands and slowly sipped it. “Mmmm, this is super yummy.”
I took a sip of mine. The hot chocolatey taste coated my tongue and mouth in a delightfully smooth texture that had me making pleasurable sounds as well. I bought this hot chocolate at a specialty shop and paid more than I wanted to, but now I was glad I did. It was totally worth it.
“What movie are we watching?” Mom asked, wearing her flannel Snoopy PJs.
Avery laughed. “You know what we’re watching, silly.”
Mom playfully slapped her forehead. “How could I forget? We’re watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
“Duh!” Avery said, making me laugh.
Mom slipped the VCR tape in and sat beside me. I handed a mug to her, and when she tried the hot chocolate, she closed her eyes and made the same yummy sounds we did. Yup, it was worth spending the extra money for this treat.
After we watched the cartoon, which was only a half-hour long, we then watched Home Alone. Both Avery and Mom fell asleep towards the end. I told them to both go to bed, I’d clean up. Mom thanked me, kissed our cheeks and headed to her room. I tucked Avery in who basically slept walked to her bed. While I was in the hallway, I heard some movement in the kitchen. Mom must have decided to get a drink . . . or, wait. We needed to put the presents out. I totally had forgotten about it.
When I entered the kitchen, Mr. Jingles was standing on the counter, up to some mischief I was sure. His blues eyes widened in surprise.
I pointed to him. “You! How can you be real?” My brain shifted out of place, then back again. I was rooted in my spot, unable to move. My pulse throbbed on the side of my neck.
His expression turned hateful. His mouth opened, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying.
“I can’t believe you’re real and why you hate me so much,” I said. When I moved forward to go grab him, he ran and jumped off the counter.
Mom let out a little yelp.
“I think we have a mouse in our house,” Mom said as she entered the kitchen from the south side of the house.
“It’s not a mouse. It’s that damn elf! Where did he go?” I moved passed her, and she grabbed my arm, stopping me.
“Please not tonight, Peyton. We need to get the presents out so Avery will have a wonderful day tomorrow.”
“Fine.” She was right. I needed to think of Avery first. Maybe the elf will leave us alone and disappear in the morning. One could only hope. But I knew I was going to sleep with my light on again, and if I saw Mr. Jingles, I’d do my best to catch him.
After two hours of setting everything up around our Charlie Brown tree, I was exhausted. Everything looked amazing compared to our normal Salvation Army and Dollar Tree gifts. I was actually excited and was looking forward to Christmas. Mom was even going to make her homemade lasagna for Christmas dinner.
I said goodnight to her and went to bed. I kept the light on but was unable to stay awake. Hours later I was jarred out of sleep when something crashed across my bedroom where my desk was. I sat up and blinked several times to adjust my vision. Mr. Jingles was standing on my desk, intently watching me. He didn’t have a hateful look on his face like he had earlier, but his expression was questionable. I wanted to get out of bed and catch him, but I knew he’d be too fast.
“What do you want?”
He jumped off the desk. The quick pitter-patter of his feet, heading towards my bed, had me looking in that direction. Then the edge of my blanket tugged away from me.
“Quit!” I yanked it back. The next thing I knew, Mr. Jingles was right in front of me. I slapped a hand on my chest and shrank back. His eyes were blazing with anger. “What? What did I do wrong?”
“You don’t believe in magic,” he said in a raspy voice. “People like you are what makes it difficult for magical beings like myself to be seen by others. We can’t do our jobs when there are too many skeptics in this world!”
“I used to believe,” I confessed. “But I stopped once I got tired of being let down by myself and others.”
“Never stop believing,” he said, his expression softening. “You too have magic within you.”
“There you are!” I looked up and there standing in my doorway was Santa Claus. No shit. I couldn’t believe it. “We’ve been looking all over for you.” He entered my room and plucked Mr. Jingles off my bed. He pulled his other hand out of his pocket and handed me a bar wrapped in blue and gold paper. “Here you go, Peyton. Mrs. Claus makes these chocolate bars every Christmas. Enjoy.” When he smiled, the corners of his kind blue eyes crinkled. Then he and Mr. Jingles vanished, leaving me speechless.
“Omigod!” Avery squealed, causing me to bolt off my bed.
I ran to the living room, my heart racing. “What’s wrong.” I stopped when I entered the room. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a huge Christmas tree with twinkling lights and pretty ornaments. Beneath it was shiny and colorful presents that I didn’t recognize. Avery was petting the sparkly pink bike she told Mr. Jingles she wanted.
“Wow,” I said. “There is magic in this world. You just have to believe.”
“I believed enough for the both of us,” Avery said, hugging my side. “I told you this would be the best Christmas ever.”
She was right, but not because of the material items in front of us. It was because we were taught to believe good things could happen if you had a positive attitude, if you believed in yourself, and believed you could create the life you wanted like Mom was now finally going to do.
That was the greatest gift ever.
No material possession could ever top it.
I hugged Avery back. “You were right, Munchkin. You were definitely right.”
Rebekkah Ford is an award-winning author who writes paranormal romance and fantasy novels. When her parents were married, they were the directors of the UFO Investigators League, they also had taken on some paranormal cases as well. The way Rebekkah grew up aids her in her paranormal storytelling and probably the reason why she’s fascinated with the unknown.
Rebekkah is also a blogger and freelance writer. She writes versatile and in-depth articles on various topics.
Fun Fact: Rebekkah and her husband converted a cargo van into a camper and plans to travel the U.S. full-time, writing and videotaping their journey as digital nomads. Rebekkah is not only an author, but she’s also an explorer in search of adventure, new discoveries, and to live life minimally and deliberately. She’s a YouTuber (Dare to Live channel) and believes we weren’t born to just pay bills and die. The core message on her and her husband’s channel and website (Exploring Rabbit Holes) is FREEDOM.
Sign-up for Rebekkah’s monthly newsletter. Get updates on Rebekkah’s books, such as new releases, excerpts, giveaways, top secret information and much more! Your information is kept private. Rebekkah doesn’t share, sell, or spam newsletter subscribers.