The day before Christmas and I was sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast. It was pretty early, around 4:30 am. I was up getting ready to go to work. My wife was still in bed, I always get up several hours before her on days I work. I heard a soft scratching noise, and I looked around, thinking it was my cat. But I didn’t see our cat anywhere. I don’t usually, that time of the morning. I’m the only one getting up that early.

Then I heard the scratching noise again. This time, I got up to look around. We better not have mice. They would scare the cat!

A third scratch made me realize the noise was coming from outside the front door. I peeked through the peephole, but saw nothing. I heard more scratching, a little louder this time, more insistent. Alright, alright. I unlocked the door, and opened it a crack.

Standing on the welcome mat was a short little guy, about waist high, wearing a green cloak and a green hat.

“Hello.” he said. “I’d like to step inside for a moment or two, if you don’t mind.”

“Excuse me?” I said, more than a little confused. “Who are you and why do you want to come inside?”

Now it was the little guy’s turn to be confused “Who – ? Why – ? What are you talking about? It’s not like you can understand me anyway? Just let me in!”

“What do you mean I can’t understand you?” I crouched down behind the door to look him in the eye. “You speak better English than most Americans I’ve met. And why do you want to come inside?”

He looked me in the eye, sharp and curious. “Aaaah” he said “You’ve been touched! I guess the whole stray cat thing isn’t working on you.”

“Cat thing?” Now I was really confused.

“Never mind.” he sighed. “Alright, look. You’ve been touched, so there’s no use trying to trick you. I assume you are seeing me as a 3 foot 2 inch high humanoid wearing a green cloak, a silly green hat, and ridiculous gray and green shoes.”

I looked at his feet, and agreed his shoes were most ridiculous.

“I am an elf” he proclaimed. I waited.

“An elf. An elf? You know what an elf is, yes? Makes toys for all the good girls and boys? Santa’s little helpers? You’ve heard of him I hope?”

“Uhh, sure. Yeah, I’ve heard of you guys.” I stuttered. “And Santa. Santa and his elves. Yeah.”

“Right. Good.” he said. “At least I don’t have to explain everything. Alright, here’s the deal. I need you to invite me in, so I can deliver a present for-” He pulled a strip of paper out of his cloak and looked it over. “Rebecca.”

“I thought Santa delivered the gifts. And I thought he did that tomorrow night.”

“Yeah, well, that’s before you humans started breeding like rabbits. There are so many of you that Santa only hits the houses with chimneys, and us little elves get delivery duty everywhere else. There’s so many deliveries that we have to do it in two nights now. Now are you going to invite me in or what?”

“You said you have a gift for my wife, what about me?” I asked.

The elf sighed. “You would have to ask. You, my annoyingly inquisitive friend, don’t get a gift. You are on the Naughty list. And please don’t ask why you’re on the Naughty list.”

“Not even coal in my stocking?” I asked, half-jokingly.

“Really? First of all, you didn’t hang a stocking; you haven’t for more years than you can remember. Second, no, we don’t hand coal out to all the naughty ones anymore. There’s so many of you, the cost would be way too much, plus we’d destroy the world’s coal supply in about two years. It’s bad enough trying to deliver presents to the Nice ones, especially when I’ve got to be interrogated by people like you!”

“Alright, alright.” I said. “Where’s the gift? I’ll set it out for Rebecca.”

The elf glared at me suspiciously. “Just you remember the gift is for Rebecca, not you. If you open it, you’ll end up on the Naughty list again next year.”

“Understood.” I said seriously. “The present?”

Now the elf looked embarrassed. “Well, the thing is… Ummm, I uhh, need to ask a favor.”

“A favor?” I asked “What do you need?

“A box.” he sighed. “I have the wrapping paper and everything; I just need a box so I can wrap it.”

It was my turn to be suspicious. “You ran out of boxes? Really? Well, alright, come on in, I guess.”

I opened the door and he trotted into the kitchen, pulling a roll of dark blue wrapping paper decorated with light blue and white reindeer, tape, and a large wad of tissue paper out of somewhere. I walked into our second bedroom (our storage closet) and found a small box.

“Is this a good size?” I asked as I walked back into the kitchen.

The elf looked up from inspecting my kitchen scissors. “That’ll be just fine.”

He placed the wad of tissue paper in the box, and started wrapping the box as I watched. I noticed he was using my scissors to cut the wrapping paper.

“May I ask your name, or would that be rude?” I asked, truly curious.

He paused for a second and looked at me. “If you’re thinking of Rumplestiltskin, he was not an elf. I take no offense, but I’d rather not tell you my name, if you don’t mind. I’m sure you understand.”

“Ok.” I said, deciding not to push the name thing, but ask a different question instead. “What did you mean when you said the ‘cat thing’ isn’t working?”

“Ahh. Yes. The cat thing.” The elf thought about it for a second. “If it had worked on you, you would have simply seen and heard a cat, and hopefully taken pity on it and brought inside. Once you left for work, I would’ve wrapped the gift and been on my way, no one the wiser! Pretty clever, huh? No, don’t say it. I know it is, ‘cause it works all the time.” The elf looked rather pleased with himself. “I didn’t realize you’d been touched. Otherwise I never would have tried it. Tricks like that never do work on the touched.”

“I see.” I said. I think I had some idea what he was talking about, but I didn’t want him to know I didn’t know exactly what he was talking about.

“All done!” the elf said.

The box was now covered in the blue and white paper, but it looked a little crooked and lopsided. Not too bad, but I probably could have done a better job.

“Ummm…nice.” I said, but not as sincerely as I hoped. “What about adding a bow or two?”

“Ohhhh! I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Naughty Pants!” the elf cried, standing up tall on the counter and alternated between pointing at me and jabbing at his own chest. “You think you could’ve wrapped it better than me! Well, not if you’d been awake for a year making toys, and you’d been out all night delivering them, with only one more night to finish the job. Us elves only sleep one night a year you know! The night after Christmas. Other than that, we are wide awake making toys for all the good girls and boys. So don’t you get all snippity with me!”

“Ok, ok, calm down, or you’ll wake Rebecca!” I said. “And don’t get mad at me! I’m on the Naughty list, remember? You didn’t have to make, wrap, or deliver a gift for me!”

“Oooooh” the elf said mockingly. “I see how it is. The great and humble elfilanthropist puts himself on the Naughty list on purpose, to save the poor over-worked, under-appreciated elves a little bit of effort. Don’t you get all high and mighty with me!”

“Alright, alright” I said, giving up. “That’s not what I meant, but whatever. I’m sure Rebecca will love it. Do you mind if I put it with our other gifts?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“Sure, ok.” the elf said, suddenly not upset anymore. “Feel free to add some bows to it if you want.”

I took the gift out to the living room as the elf started cleaning up his supplies.

I added a couple of bows to the gift, taking them from some other decorations my wife and I had put up around our apartment. I put the gift down and turned around, and the elf was at the door.

“Ok then. Merry Christmas!” the elf said cheerily. “I’ll be on my way and out of yours!”

“First things first,” I said “may I have my scissors back?”

The elf drew himself up again, looking indignant. “Are you accusing me of stealing?”

“No,” I said “I am merely suggesting that perhaps you accidentally mistook my scissors for yours, and placed them in your pocket instead of back in their proper place, in my kitchen.”

“Well then,” the elf said, deflating slightly. “I suppose a mistake may have been made.” He slipped the scissors out of his cloak, and handed them to me.

“Don’t think on it. Anyone could make a mistake like that, especially going on a year without sleep.” I said.

The elf looked at me sharply, as trying to determine if I was mocking him or not. He apparently decided I wasn’t, or at least it wasn’t worth making any trouble if I was.

“Well, it was nice meeting you. It isn’t very often one meets someone who’s been touched. Especially one who hasn’t gone insane afterwards. Well, good day to you, sir!” And with that, the elf was out the door and out of sight.

As I slowly shut the door, peering out into the frozen shadows, I wondered if I wasn’t crazy.

~

This story was inspired by true events. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. (My wife, not Santa. I have my doubts about his innocence.) I really did put out a mystery gift for my wife this morning, while I was getting ready for work, and she was still in bed. The wrapping paper really is blue with light blue and white reindeer, which is unlike any wrapping paper we have. My wife keeps asking me where I got the wrapping paper from, and I keep telling her an elf showed up with the gift and his own wrapping paper, wrapped it using one of our boxes, and left again. I don’t think she believes me. I guess she’s not touched like I am. Either that, or she’s not as crazy as I am.

But on a positive note, I wrote a story from beginning to end! That doesn’t happen every day.

Anyway, may all of you who celebrate Christmas have a very merry one, and all of you who don’t, have a great day!

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