- An elf is required to grant three wishes to the human they have chosen, but Patch is reluctant to fulfil Henry’s last wish
- What will the trainee elf learn about herself as they tries to solve this dilemma?
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.
Before I could give the boy his third and final wish, I bailed. I had to leave and find a secluded apartment, but my options were limited. The boy, Henry, lives in the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown, and I could only afford rent in a building one block down from his home. It’s been four days, and right now, no matter how much I want to eat steaming pork buns, I have to lay low – give myself enough time to devise a plan.
All elves have to give three wishes, I know that. It’s rule #1, of so, so many rules. But, I figure, if an elf can only remember one rule for the rest of their career, and it’s this one, they’ll do OK.
And mostly, I always chose the right humans to help: a struggling student who needed extra hours to study; a job-hunting mother who was out of luck and needed to feed her kid; a chef who always cooked but never had time to eat.
Until this boy, I was on my way to the top. I had essentially been promised a position as manager of the New York City area.
This morning, I went in and out of convenience stores, stocking up on canned goods and enough water for the rest of the week. When I’m out in public, I make sure to look behind me every five minutes and readjust my baseball cap. Right now, I’m considered a criminal. It’s not Henry I’m worried about – I know the higher-ups are looking for me, and I’m pretty sure they don’t want to talk about the promotion.
My phone buzzes. Tame Impala’s newest song blasts from my pocket. I really thought I changed the ringtone. I stop outside a cafe, breathe in the mixed New York air of coffee and garbage, look around once more, and furtively answer, “Hello?”
“Patch, Darling, why is your face all over the news? They say you reneged on a third wish!”
“Yeah, I know, hear me out for a second, Mum,” I begin.
Why doesn't Patch want to grant the last wish?
“I thought you were over this! What have you done now? Do you want to be banished for your entire elf life?”
People going into the cafe seem to look right at me, but they can’t see me ... not really. “Mum, you know I always double-check, triple-check the people I give wishes to. This is one slip-up in a year of perfect work.”
I hear a sigh, then a sniffle. “Patch, this is the worst slip-up you could make. Even I know you can’t do this.” From the background noise, I can tell Mum is still watching the news. One never forgets the high-pitched whining of The Elf Story’s main anchor, Jones.
“You can’t leave the city, can you? I’m going to be there tonight. Give me your new address.”
“I can’t just turn myself in. I know someone in the company who can help me out,” I say.
“What if your friend doesn’t want to help you? What if she can’t help? No one will want to be seen with you. Come home, Patchy. Please,” she begs.
“It’s been a while,” I say firmly, “but May’s always willing to help. She has a good standing at the company and knows the current manager.”
I met May while interning at a museum in the suburbs a year ago. We had just graduated training school, she from the amazing Golden Elves Academy, me, well, from the garden. But that doesn’t matter when you’re just starting out. Both of us were eager to find jobs and spent plenty of time researching elf companies together. Well, I mean, she did the researching. I mostly just used her list. We ended up working at the same company, Elf Story – The Elves you Wish to Trust.
“Who knows that they’re going to catch you!” Mum tries again. Elf Story are a bit fierce. They don’t like it if elves messed up. “You could get seriously hurt.”
“I promise it’ll be all right.” The cafe customers have stopped staring. “I have a good reason for doing what I did.”
“That’s not what matters, Patch! Even if you explain, you’ve broken the law! Why would you refuse to give the boy his wish? He’s a model student! His elf score is beyond a hundred.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” I say. Everything was supposed to work out. I was supposed to give Henry his wishes without any worries. His elf score is perfect. “But he asked me to erase someone’s memories, Mum.”
Mum gives another sigh. “That’s not an impossible wish to grant, Patch. You know why we still have that wish in place – in case a chosen human wants to help their loved ones forget a haunting memory.”
“But that’s not what he wanted.”
The last time I met Henry he had just finished school for the day and was ready for the weekend, weary-eyed and yawning, with a blue satchel at his side.
“He wants a job at the grocery store, but he’s been bullying a classmate for the past few months. A few days ago, he found out this classmate’s father is the store’s owner. He wants to erase his classmate’s memory of him before the interview,” I blurt out.
Mum remains silent for a moment. I knew exactly what she was going to say next. “You shouldn’t have taken this job, Patch. You should have stayed in gardening with Pa and me.”
I roll my eyes. Literally watching grass grow is not what I think of as my future career.
“There must be something you can do,” Mum says. “I mean, you have all those powers now ...”
“I can’t use a wish to fix my own mistakes,” I say. “That’s not an option.”
“Patch.” Mum’s voice shifts. I haven’t heard this tone in ages. “You and I know this isn’t the first time a human’s asked for something like this. All we can do as elves is grant their wishes. We just have to trust that this won’t happen again for you. You’re still new to this.”
“I can’t do that, Mum,” I cut her off, “And I’m not new. We can’t have something like this happen ‘sometimes’. It shouldn’t happen at all, ever, and ...”
The guitar riffs and signature bells of Tame Impala’s The Less I Know The Better play beside me. I pause and shake my head. It can’t be my phone; I’m already on a call. To my right, against the backdrop of the cafe’s name, L’Esprit, I find the source of the noise.
“Mum,” I almost whisper, “I’ll call you later.”
Mum wants to say more, I know, but I hang up before she can.
“I can’t believe I found you so soon.” Today, he’s carrying the same denim-blue satchel. “Have you even changed your ringtone? We didn’t want them mixed up, did we?” Henry holds up two phones, one of them still playing my favourite Tame Impala song. He smiles.
Why now? I think, I was just about to go to May’s office. She always knows what to do.
I clear my throat and shove my phone away. “Listen, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have run off like that, but you can’t ask for those types of wishes.”
Henry’s shirt sticks to his arms the way rising dough sticks to wood.
“I know, but you didn’t give me a chance to explain myself,” he says. He’s out of breath and drops of sweat trickle down from his hair.
The warm morning must have taken a toll on him. It’s taken a toll on me, too; a croissant would be so delicious right now, buttered and warm. I tug at my cap, and give him my best elvish grin. “Okay, go on.”
“Er ... I,” Henry stutters. “I know what I’ve been doing to Tom, is wrong, but ... it’s not what you think. A few years ago, I was at the bottom of my class because I needed to take care of my younger brother. Mum wasn’t home, and I didn’t have time to study. I didn’t get enough sleep.”
Rush hour passes by along with the city’s jet-black cars and motorcycles. The boy drops his satchel. It piles against his leg, limp.
“We had been best friends, Tom and I,” Henry prattles on, “but when the teacher or other students called me out for napping during class, Tom never stood up for me. He knew about my situation, but he never defended me.”
“Now, my brother is older and my grades are better. I was Tom’s only friend, so I don’t know why he never tried to defend me. We stopped talking to each other after junior high, and I met a new group of friends. Tom still doesn’t talk much to anyone at school, and I guess I wanted my new friends …” Henry tears up, scrunching up his nose. “I wanted them to know about why I didn’t like Tom.”
More cars pass by us, and I step aside for a cyclist in chartreuse. Her ponytail whips in front of me, and the bicycle tyres’ thick rubber barely misses my toes. I think Henry’s holding in his tears, but you can’t tell the sweat from the tears anyway. Digging around in my free pocket, I hand him a crumpled tissue.
“Talking about Tom with your friends – that spiralled out of control, I assume.” I consider my next words. “I’m glad. I’m really glad you were able to think about this. I should’ve given you more time before running away myself.”
From the start, I was really just thinking about that promotion, too distracted to stay and talk. “And Henry, now you want to reconsider your wish?”
He only nods. I should call Mum back.
I take off my baseball cap and run my fingers along the weathered rim. “I’m not supposed to tell you this,” I say. The cap feels too rough. “But once I ran away, my elf company – every elf who grants wishes has to work for one – was notified. In almost every circumstance, running away from wish-granting results in the termination of an elf’s contract. The elf will no longer be an employee of their company.”
“But what if I change my final wish? I don’t want to erase Tom’s memories.” Henry sounds hopeful. “You won’t get fired, right?”
“One can only hope.” I breathe the words out.
“I have a friend who may help us out.”
Right after we tell May the story, she laughs. “That’s not going to get you anywhere with the boss, Patch.”
It’s been months since I last visited her office. In the corner, May has an array of potted plants and sculpted figurines, green, gold and purple. Along her desk, stacks of torn papers are bundled together. Perched on her chair, May holds the same coffee mug she’s had for a year: a decorated Starbucks cup.
From the floor, I pick up and brush the dustiest book I’ve ever seen. May’s always been a bit of a swot, her nose always in her books. Henry and I share a look. “Why not?” I ask her. “Don’t you think we can convince him?”
“First off, you need to be aware of what you’ve done before, right?” May takes a sip from her mug. I catch the scent of mint tea.
“What did I do before? I have a clean record. Actually, I have a great record.”
“I knew you were going to say that.” May gives a little sigh. “Ever since we joined the company, you’ve been breaking wish-granting rules left and right. This isn’t your first time.”
I place the book down and consider May’s expression. She rarely makes jokes. My stomach feels a bit funny. “What do you mean?”
“You remember the student you helped back in September last year?” I don’t nod, but May continues. “You said she needed more ‘hours in the day’ to rest because she wanted to study more. In reality, she actually didn’t have any exams, she just wanted more time to watch movies.
“The higher-ups didn’t tell you because it would interfere with your trial period – you were just starting out, and they thought that instance could have been a simple glitch in your detecting skills.” She makes that little side nod girls make when they’re feeling awkward.
“However, you got a tad too confident with your ‘hunches’ as to which were the right humans to choose.”
Next to me, Henry keeps his eyes down, fingernails digging into his seat cushion.
“The next person, the ‘job-hunting’ mother, as you called her: she actually had a career. She just wanted the cash you raised for her for a new necklace, and you fell for the lie.”
“D-don’t tell me,” I stutter. Mint tea, coffee – anything would be great for my parched throat. I wipe dust from May’s book again.
“The chef, too,” May admits. “She was probably the worst. She had been stealing enough food to last a lifetime. It was all in her fridge at home. If only you had opened it!
“I know, those are the people you were the most proud of choosing. I talked to the boss about it, and ....” Her shoulders slump.
I bury my face in my hands, groaning. May keeps talking, but her voice bounces around the room like a boomerang, reaching me for a moment before digging itself into the office’s ancient walls. What have I done? Tame Impala plays again; my phone’s buzzing matches every beat.
A sharp slap hits my back, jolting me upright. Henry’s patting me with a half-grin.
“Hey, hey,” he says, “You don’t need to worry.”
My cheeks are warm, flushed, and sweaty, just like his were, and I look back to May.
“You should really read the instructions, Patch.” This time, May chuckles. She rummages in the drawer of her desk and pulls out a large envelope. “All the rules are in here.”
She flicks open the envelope to reveal my contract. “Look, here, page 55, point 482 b: Elf Story doesn’t punish any mistakes you make during your trials. You’re not going to get fired, but you are going to receive some additional training. And it’s going to start with you reading the instructions! A managerial position will have to wait.”
Henry brightens. “I know!” he says, “I know what my last wish will be! Erase all this from my memory, please.”
Wish granted. No problem!