- An elf begins to questions his blind obedience to Father Christmas after he meets an exiled fellow elf
- Does belief in a system justify your actions, even violent ones?
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 be collected into an anthology with the Winter Short Story competition finalists.
The dreadful sounds of the whirling blades woke me from my sleep. A visitor, wrapped in so much fur like the vulgar beast he was, stepped off his chopper and tried to regain his balance under the strong winds of Antarctica.
Men in black suits followed him, carrying briefcases. I opened the door to get a closer look, and bulges under their shirts became apparent as the wind pressed against their torsos. They were armed; the air froze as our eyes met.
“Splendid indeed! I paid good money for these coordinates,” the fur-covered man screamed in awe as he entered my cabin and was welcomed by warmth from the fire.
“Are you the Elf? Like the Elf,” he babbled.
Before I could answer, the man had signalled his henchmen to bring in the briefcases they’d carried all this way. The matte black shells of the cases made what was inside even more mysterious and so, more appealing.
The sounds of the unlocking briefcases sung to me; this was the best part, to see how the corrupted, power-hungry, filthy rich man would one-up my previous offer. Like a five-year-old on Christmas Day tearing the wrapping paper into shreds, to see what we the elves had brought them. I gotta say, being on the receiving end is always better. I glanced at the treasure.
“Norse relics, I know you elves are drawn to mythology like moths are drawn to light,” he said, standing back to show me the goods.
Had Ronin been following evil orders from Father Christmas for years?
“So you are trying to bribe me.” I touched one of the many rings in the briefcase. They were the real deal. Only someone who knew a lot of powerful people would be able to find these relics.
“I never liked the word ‘bribe’. I’m offering you a deal.” Gloss slammed the case shut before I could dig deeper into his collection. “I know what you want ...,” he smirked.
“And I know what you want,” I replied as if I hadn’t heard that phrase like a million times. “Tell me your name”.
I pulled his file out from the cabinets. “Human trafficking and meth distribution,” I read. “I don’t see why you should be transferred off The List.”
The room grew chilly. “You’re the Head Elf,” Gloss snarled. “You are the only one who can change The List. I want my name on the Nice List.”
Gloss lunged forward, only to meet the barrel of my pistol pressing against his chest. His bodyguards drew their weapons by reflex, a good old Mexican stand-off in my tiny cabin
“I triple my offer,” Gloss said as he signalled to his guards, who lowered their weapons. “Get me on the Nice List. I don’t care what it takes.”
The frozen air melted as we all took a breather.
“I’ll sleep on it,” I said, with a wee smile.
No bribe ever gets through me. But they didn’t know that. They left, and I knew they would be back. I had been picked, from among all of the to-be-exiled elves, for a promotion, to serve Santa a tad longer.
These bribes aren’t rare. Evil, rich men come to my door in hopes of getting their name off the Naughty List all the time. And, whatever they offer me, I am like the spoiled brat on Christmas Day who screeches in fury because his parents got him the wrong XBox. Truth be told, I would gladly sweep all these treasures into my pockets, but no offer exceeds my loyalty to Santa.
They were on the list for a reason, hand-picked by Santa himself. They are abominations of corruption, thinking they could buy their way out of anything. And they deserve no redemption under Santa’s judgement.
Santa had only one rule for my post: “Actions are forbidden before contact is made.”
It was time to enter the human world. Blending into the neon city lights, with the crowded pavements as my cover, I sneaked into one of Tokyo’s most prestigious bars, deep inside the rat maze of the city’s criminal underworld. The mellow lighting stood out from the neon lights that bled throughout the streets. A classy disguise for all the dishonourable individuals who want to burnish their reputation for newcomers.
Being an Elf, I have some unique talents that come in handy for my job, namely teleportation. Although I hate using it, it was my best chance of getting past the bouncer guarding the secrets behind the bright red curtains.
“I could give you the coordinates to the Elf if you pay up.” Gloss was with some other humans, in his private lounge. “But prepare to pay more when you get there, I had to sell my whole collection!” he rumbled on.
“So you’re on the Nice List now? Like, erased off the Naughty List for good?”
“Probably, I guess. I heard that Igor from Moscow was killed two weeks ago and no one could solve the case – probably Santa writing people off the Naughty List.” Gloss gulped down his remaining whiskey.
“Me and Igor were close partners,” another man said. “If he was taken off the list, who knows if Santa is coming for me next?”
Gloss sighed. “How it works is ... you ... get to this Head Elf, right? And then if you give the greedy little rat whatever he wants, he can clear your name, just like that.”
“How much did you pay?”
“Like you could match my offer.” Gloss mocked.
While I listened to the muffled conversations from the lounge, I planned my strike. But I had the feeling that someone was watching me. I looked around, but no one seemed interested. I shrugged it off, and carried on with my plan.
I used my twin daggers, slamming their butts into the glass panel next to me. The shock wave caused every other panel in the place to shatter. There was chaos, screaming, shouting, bleeding, the sort of thing that happens at events like this.
I jumped in front of Gloss. He sure saw me.
“ELF! Guards!, get ...,” he yelled.
Two clean shots to the head followed by two briefcases dropping to the ground, filling the floor with glittering gold, trinkets and baubles, paid for in blood.
It was all about sending a message, letting it be known that I will not be bribed. Yet these egotistical masters of the criminal underworld all convince themselves that I am not satisfied with the offer, and that they have to step it up. Fools.
I fled towards the red-curtained exit, but suddenly everything seemed to be moving more slowly. The bouncers were frozen in place. Everyone was.
There was another elf in the bar! I scanned the room, and saw the bartender drying glasses, a half smile on his face. Then his eyes met mine.
“Hello, Head Elf.”
“Who are you? Haven’t all the Elves been exiled? Why do you still have your powers?”
“Santa saw uses for my powers; apart from increasing production rates, selective time control is certainly a desirable trait.”
“What are you doing?” I was annoyed. “Just let me go!”
“I’m here to propose a counter-offer. A new perspective.”
“And what do you want?” I asked.
“What everyone wants: my name transferred to the Nice List,” he answered.
He saw the shock on my face, and gave a soft laugh. “Do you really believe in Santa?”
I was stunned by this outrageous question, “What do you mean, do I believe in Santa? You were in his workshop and so was I, you’ve seen him in person!” I ranted.
“No, that was 30 years ago. Have you ever seen Santa since?”
“I don’t know what this nonsense is! But do not question my belief in Santa. I serve Him and Him only! I will not be stopped from doing His work.”
“Serve him how? With murder? I don’t think that’s something Santa would want us Elves to do.”
It’s true, we Elves are so powerful, we can do whatever we please. However, Santa told us that if we couldn’t make this world a better place by introducing happiness and hope to the children, we must do it by eliminating evil and corruption.
“I was chosen by Santa to assist Him with his noble work. I was the special one, because I’m the best!” I continued to rant.
“On a side note, despite the noble cause, don’t you think your list is a bit flawed?”
“Who on the list has been written off by Santa himself? No one has seen him for 30 years! You’re the one who does all the killing.”
“I … what …” I stuttered, floored by his accusations. It was true. Santa only added names to the list, never took any away. “I stick to the rules,” I said. “I only do what I do after the target has made contact with me.”
I pointed to Gloss. “They bribed me to get off the Naughty List! They brought this on themselves.”
“Well, isn’t your system all based on belief? As long as you don’t believe in the lists, you won’t find yourself in trouble.”
“Get ... get out of my head! I don’t know what kind of philosophy you have, but Santa will clear the list one by one!” I pointed my sidearm at him, signalling him to let me out of this limbo. He nodded.
“Think about why you do what you do, Head Elf,” he said, and went back to polishing glasses.
Time went back to normal, the guards started their pursuit, the rest of the glass finally hit the floor and the chaos in the bar resumed. I blended into the crowds of Tokyo once more and made a clean getaway as always. Yet I could not escape the thoughts rushing through my mind. What if what he said was true? That the whole Naughty List was based solely on belief. I had to find Santa.
I returned to my cabin in Antarctica where I met with another chopper: Gon Jin, an Asian “merchant” – the air quotes are mine. Before he presented his “offer”, I asked, “Jin, why do you do what you do?”
“I don’t know; the money I guess.” Jin looked annoyed by the unexpected question.
“Money, is that it? No beliefs or moral behind it? There are better ways to profit than smuggling exotic animals.”
“Just get me off the list. Mr Elf, sir, I don’t want any trouble.”
“I’ll get you on the Nice List if you give me an answer.”
“I liked it. I enjoyed the thrill.” he answered.
I was curious to see if what the Elf at the bar said was true, that all the power granted to the lists was due to belief, that rumours of “The Elf and the lists” were an incentive for folks to come to me to do the very thing that caused their death. I started to see the connections between my post and belief. If people thought the Naughty List was nonsense, they would never have gone to all that effort to find me. Yet even without the list, they were evil. I was just the justice they needed.
Everything seems to fall right in place. Santa was still here, and He is writing people’s names on the lists. One by one, those He deemed unworthy were being eliminated. Santa trusted me among all Elves to do this, to eliminate evil when we couldn’t bring joy. I do this because of Santa, I kill who He deems naughty. This is the only connection I have left to Him; without it, I am lost.
I had to go back to Santa’s workshop, not to prove the Elf wrong, but to show that I am right, to show I’m not doing Santa’s dirty work, but doing it alongside Him.
After a quick scout of the perimeter, apart from the crusty, faded paint on the factory walls, the workshop looked no different. Yet the sense of joy and happiness had faded over time; what was left was a hollow shell in the middle of an iceberg.
I heard slight movements coming from inside, that had to be Santa. I knew it! He must be in there, preparing his next strike, plotting his plan to combat the world’s evil.
The walls were painted black and grey, in contrast to the Christmas colours everywhere else. There were no jolly melodies in the background. The warmth provided by ovens that dish out cookies every day couldn’t compete with the constant blizzards. The abandoned workshop reflected Santa’s feelings when the world gave up on toys: grim, bleak, depressed.
I could see Santa’s rocking chair moving from right across the old assembly line, yet the slender figure that occupied it could not have been Santa.
“Head Elf! What a surprise,” it was the bartender from Tokyo. “Did you think about what I asked you?’
“Why I do what I do?” I replied. “It’s simple, really: I believe in Santa, nothing more.”
“The Naughty List, a whole system based on belief; intriguing, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Either they stop believing in Santa or I do, either they stop coming to me or I stop doing my job, and either way, I can eliminate anybody.”
“Belief without questioning; that’s the problem with you Elves, seeing Santa as some all-mighty figure. Willingly inhibiting your powers for what? Toys?” he laughed. “And all it took was one simple question, a different perspective to get your little noggin running.”
His points were valid and my whole world was collapsing. “If Santa is dead, then who is updating the lists?” I asked in disbelief.
“I am,” said the bartender, “but you’re the only one who has the power to write them off.”
“What is your name?” I asked.
“You proposed a counter-offer, a bribe, and you succeeded.”
“Heign Drow,” he finally answered.
He followed me back to my place. I fished his file from the Naughty List cabinet.
“Heign Drow, leader of the first Elf revolution, the murderer of Santa Claus,” I read.
“Happened exactly 29 years ago,” he replied.
“Why revolt?” I asked, furious and disgusted.
“When Santa wanted us Elves to be his own private mercenary army, I had to. I couldn’t allow Him to be the judge, the jury and the executioner of our world. I was sick of being Santa’s army of mindless Elves. I turned the Elves to my side and took over Santa and his little plan of justice,” he said. “And then there was you, Head Elf, the most obedient of them all.’
“Why didn’t you take me out as well? Why keep the list going?”
“I wanted you to learn the hard way; that after doing Santa’s dirty work, you would realise Santa wasn’t all-mighty and divine. I wasn’t trying to kill anyone, I just wanted us elves to think, to question our beliefs.”
“None of my work was dirty,” I muttered. “You write these names for a reason, they all did the world wrong one way or another, even you!”
I drew my sidearm with a heavy heart. I had never killed an Elf before, never one of my own.
“Wait!” Heign shouted. “Look at your own file.”
I flipped open the Y’s of the Naughty List, and there it was: “Yone Rain, serial killer” written on my own file. I opened the folder. It was empty.
Santa wasn’t a person but a belief, a belief that all evil could be purged, a belief in a world that only allowed good people, a world with true justice. But what is good if there is no bad? What is justice if there is no evil?
We all need Santa in our lives, to fool ourselves about the everlasting evil in our lives, to make us believe some of us belong on the Nice List. We are all elves believing in Santa one way or another.