This story was written by Ginu Yang, 16, from Discovery College
Young Post’s Summer Short Story competition 2020 gathers aspiring writers from all over Hong Kong. This year’s theme was to write a creative story inspired by the word “Elf”.
The top entries will form an anthology with the Winter Short Story competition finalists.
The little girl was sitting on the dining room table.“I am an elf,” she said. An elf?
The girl, who could not have been older than six, had a rounded baby face – like all children her age do – with deep, striking iridescent blue eyes. There was something wrong with them, though – the pupils seemed unusually large. Wilson felt uncomfortable. Hardly blinking or moving, she could have been mistaken for a wax sculpture if not for the slow rise and fall of her chest. Her hair was an unkempt mess of soft golden-yellowish hues, a sunset of an entrancing, all-encompassing warmth that envelopes one’s body with a sense of completeness.
“Yes, an elf,” the girl said. “Or to be exact, a woodland elf.”
Wilson sat still on his decrepit wooden chair, eyes transfixed on her. He was approaching 89, and while he was slowing in his age – as his friends liked to joke – he was quite sure he had only one child and she was already married with children of her own. But how did this child get here? She must have done so very quietly because he couldn’t recall seeing her arrive, or even get on to the table, yet there she was.
Perhaps he had left the door open when he had come home from work and the neighbours’ daughter had wandered in by mistake. Wilson’s only neighbours were a middle-aged couple from Australia; they had moved in just a few months ago. He never knew they had a child.
“Excuse me,” he said, “but I think you have the wrong house. It’s very late. Your parents next door must be very worried.”
“Wrong house,” the girl repeated, her voice as expressionless as her face.
“Are your parents from next door?”
The girl did not answer. Instead, she continued to stare blankly straight into Wilson’s eyes. She must not have understood.
“I am a woodland elf,” the girl said.
“Oh!” he smiled. It appeared the girl was role playing. Wilson remembered a time when Sharon was that young; she too loved to play make-believe. His little princess would dress up in costumes or explore the perils of the far sea from the top of his shoulders. As a parent, there wasn’t much he hadn’t seen. But an elf, more specifically the so-named woodland elf, was not a character he had ever encountered.
On the other hand, Christmas Day was rapidly approaching, so it seemed not entirely impossible that some sort of elf craze had wormed its way into children’s fantasies.
Yet, a woodland elf did not evoke an image of red and green-clad Santa helpers. Instead, his mind turned to the pages of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Eternally beautiful, with sharp leaf-shaped ears, Tolkien’s elves were a far cry from the hobbit-sized gift-wrappers, and if Wilson remembered, not a book series suited for six-year-olds.
In any case, it was Christmas, which meant more business. Corporations always ramped up production. Maybe elves were the new marketing strategy. All in all, he decided to play along with the girl. If he was cordial, she might forget her fantasy long enough for him to find out where her parents were and take her home.
“A woodland elf?” Wilson asked.
The girl nodded.
“And what does a woodland elf do?”
Tilting her head slightly to the side in contemplation, the girl paused before answering: “Woodland elves help people.”
“Help people?” Wilson asked. “How?”
The girl stayed silent, choosing instead to stare directly at Wilson. Her gaze, while penetrating, was akin to a mirage formed from a sweltering summer day — seemingly translucent and forgettable at times but rebounding to a harsh glare in an instant.
Wilson wondered if he had imagined such an intense stare, especially from one so young. Surely, it was not normal behaviour from a six-year-old . Children her age were usually far more active, hyped on a never-ending sugar train, flitting from one sweet treat to the next. Yet this one was very still.
After a while, it was clear the girl would not answer. As the silence lengthened, he felt he had no choice but to speak. “My name is Wilson. Wilson Frisk.”
Sitting on his dining room chair, Wilson felt huge and awkward. The girl did not respond to his introduction, so he was forced to ask, “What’s your name?”
She just continued to stare at him and finally she sighed. “I’m here to help you.”
“Help me?” Wilson asked.
The girl nodded.
Wilson could not understand what was wrong with her. Had she meant to ask him to help her get home, only to mix up her words, or was this some gag linked to the apparent elf marketing trend?
He searched his memories for elf stories but could remember none that would fit the present strangeness. Perhaps she was one of those new AI dolls, and his friends were playing a prank on him.
But no one burst forth to laugh and yell “Surprise”.
If she was a doll, or some sort of machine, she was remarkably well made. He could see no joints in her skin and her eyes did seem to be alive and shiny with liquid. And then there was the breathing ...
“Sorry, I think I misheard you. You must have made a mistake coming to my home. It is late and your parents must be worried,” Wilson said.
The girl locked her eyes with him again. “You are Wilson Norman-Jeane Frisk. Son of Norman Fredrick Francis and Elizabeth Jeane Brown.”
Wilson was momentarily at a loss for words, during which time the weather took a turn for the worse, unleashing a torrent of rain and sleet that peppered the windows, but Wilson didn’t seem to notice.
“You are not Wilson Norman-Jeane Frisk, son of Norman —”
“No, I am,” Wilson said.
It seemed almost impossible for a six-year-old to know his middle name, much less the middle names of his parents. Wilson wasn’t even sure his own daughter knew her grandparents’ names.
“Who are you?” Wilson asked.
“I am a woodland elf,” the girl repeated once more.
Wilson stared straight at the girl for a time, confused and annoyed. He didn’t want to just lift her off his table and push her out of the door. Perhaps he should just call 999; they would send someone to deal with her. Clearly she was not normal. He stood up and then decided he needed something to drink, and some time to think, away from the child. He shuffled into the kitchen.
Things were much more normal in the kitchen. All the old magnets were still on the fridge. The kettle was still on the counter. He flipped its switch and set up his tawny-stained mug. While he waited for the kettle to boil, he spooned tea leaves into the teapot.
He grabbed the milk carton from his fridge. It was almost empty. He hadn’t been shopping in a while, but he would go tomorrow, he told himself, and stock up on a few things. Or, he should phone for a delivery, rather. He hadn’t been very well of late.
As the water boiled, he glanced back at the girl. She had turned to look directly at him again. Her neck seemed strained and unnatural, sort of creepy, he thought.
After a moment or two, the water began to boil, the kettle’s whistle shrieking loudly. He turned his attention back to the tea.
The Chinese-style teapot had been a birthday gift from Sharon and her husband when he had turned 80, nearly nine years ago. It was a handmade purple clay pot covered with carved decorations of Chinese orchids. Along with the pot came a hamper of different teas. Among them was Darjeeling, a sweet, musky, almost floral taste as mysterious as the misty mountains where it grows. It was Wilson’s preferred choice for the current occasion.
“Would you like anything?” he called, more out of politeness than anything else. He didn’t have a Coke or a cordial he could give her. She didn’t answer him. “I mean, er, a cup of tea?”
All he could hear was the ticking of the grandfather clock. It had been a wedding gift from Helen’s sister, and now it reassured him that he was not losing his mind. She was still there, the girl on the table.
He swirled the teapot and then poured the tea, added the milk. He was out of sugar, another thing to add to the shopping list. He took his tea back with him and sat down in the same chair. He could almost feel the girl’s stare as pressure in his head. Not quite a headache but there nonetheless. He looked up at her and her eyes locked with his.
Wilson thought about what to do, while he took a sip from his mug. The tea was soothing as always. It
sharpened his mind, allowing the tension of old age to dissolve. Ah yes, that was just what he needed; and as he relaxed, his mind turned to elves.
Elves were mere stories. Fantasies for children.
Not real individuals that one could interact with. It was preposterous that he would consider a work of fiction to be a reality. But the evidence, the words, the atmosphere; Wilson could not shake the idea that something was happening. There was something amiss, something almost magical about the girl. He would try to understand.
“You said you were here to help me.” he said.
The girl nodded twice.
She seemed to struggle to understand his question. By now, the silence did not perturb him, and so he went on: “Why me?”
“You called,” the girl said.
“And how does one call?”
She tucked her golden locks of hair behind her ears. Her small, pink ears were perfect. They were slightly pointed, if he had to be honest, and seemed to have been dusted with some pearly sheen powder. She pointed at her ear and said, “I heard you.”
Her casualness and absurd nature of the situation again rendered him speechless. After a few seconds of painstakingly processing the information, Wilson regained reason.
“Do you mean to say that you heard me call for you?” Wilson asked.
The girl nodded.
“Why did I call for you?”
The girl did not answer. Wilson determined that it was a fool’s question. How was she to know why he would call for her help if he hadn’t told her? That was if he had even called for her supposed help in the first place.
“Come closer,” the girl said. “We begin now.”
“Begin what?” Wilson asked.
The girl did not respond but instead looked right at Wilson. He stared into her azure eyes. It was like looking into the sky, unending. There was no harm to be done, he told himself, if he did as she said. Perhaps it would unlock this mystery.
As Wilson leaned towards the table, the girl shuffled closer to the edge. She was real, she was very real. Wilson could feel her small breaths on his forehead.
The scent of a rain-soaked forest wafted on the air. The radiance of the sun lit up the evening dew into little drops of starlight as the rustic, nutty smell of aged pine danced on the summer breeze. He looked up to meet her eyes, and was greeted with the sight of a seraph. Her face was perfect. There were no blemishes on her skin, that glistened like a static ocean. Her features were all in cosmic proportion, as if she had been designed by God.
She offered her immaculate hands, face up. “Hold my hands.”
Wilson placed his much larger wrinkly, calloused hands in hers.
The touch of her heavenly skin left him without thought. Her warmth and tenderness were the blanket that wrapped him in a cocoon. All he felt was an infinite sense of calmness that stretched into infinity.
In the vacuum of what can only be considered the stomach of an eternal non-existence, Wilson’s mind drifted, before it was caught by the smell of lilac and a hint of molasses. He knew this smell.
Lustrous, straightened black hair, dark eyes with a fresh, silken sheen, and a smile stretching from the eyes to the corner of the lips, forming slight dimples on her cheeks. She had smile lines around her eyes and mouth, wrinkles that only reinforced her beauty. It was Helen.
She was two years his junior when they had met at university. Wilson was a senior majoring in marine biology, while Helen was an undecided freshman. The two first met during a psychology seminar in 1972. Four years later, they were married.
Helen was a strong-hearted woman. She could be gentle and serene, but when angered, she threw a riot. People said love came in different forms. Angry monologues were a sign of affection. Those same people never warned about the headaches.
As the years passed, Wilson grew grey hair and wrinkles that marred his face, but not Helen. She was a fine wine that only aged into a superior beauty. He was lucky to have had her.
Tears welled up inside him shoving against a seven-year-old dam. Cracks began to form and then in an instant, the tears came gushing out. Large chunks of the dam wall crumbled under the colossal force, until all that was left was an ocean stretching to the horizons. Gradually, the waves dissipated and all motion ceased. The sun rose from the east and with it, the ocean turned from a grey turquoise into a dazzling deep navy blue.
Wilson opened his eyes.
The sun was shining through the window blinds, casting rectangular rays of light on the wooden floors. The grandfather clock pointed to six-thirty.
Rubbing his eyes, Wilson tried to remember how he had fallen asleep on the table. His memory was fuzzy and all he could make out was a hazy image of a small girl, a cup of tea, and an ocean. Another dream he failed to remember. What a disappointment.
He stretched, eliciting a few cracks from his spine, and remembered he needed to buy a gift later today. His little Sharon was expecting something spectacular. He would be scolded if he didn’t.
Then he was standing, and he looked down at the table. How strange it was for him to fall asleep in a chair, much less while drinking tea. It was Darjeeling tea. Wilson loved Darjeeling tea.
Collecting both the teapot and the mug, he made his way to the kitchen. A hot, fresh cup would be just the ticket.
While walking towards the kitchen, Wilson felt lighter and more energetic than he had in a long time. He had not felt so young in years. Everything seemed to be a little brighter. He felt at peace and that satisfied him greatly.