Something was missing. Klara Pegus couldn’t figure out what it was. The plastic Christmas tree had been propped up in the corner of the room and decorated with the traditional two ornaments. The radio was blasting holiday songs. The Elf on the Shelf sat on the mantel. There was even a plate of still-warm sugar cookies on the counter, just waiting to be iced.
This was the last Christmas before Klara was a grown up. Next year, she would be practically be a grandma – a whole ten years old. She wanted this holiday to be special. Like it had been, when she was young. Dad used to spend the whole week before Christmas decorating. Their house was by far the most decked out in the whole world. Mom would make so many cookies that it was all they ate for months afterward. Aria would dance and shout Jingle Bells at the top of her lungs.
There was a crashing sound as one of the ornaments slipped to the floor and smashed into a thousand pieces.
“Mom!” Aria, who sat on the living room couch with a computer in her lap, shouted. She pulled one of her ear buds out. “The ornament fell again.”
Klara added, “It broke this time.”
Mom rushed into the room and threw her hands into the air. Her hair was disheveled, her eyes had dark circles under them and she had coffee stains on her pajamas. She groaned as she swept up the tiny shards and then dumped them into a brown paper bag.
Christmas spirit. That’s what was missing. Their house hadn’t had the Christmas spirit for four long years. Aria, who used to be bouncing off the tables on Christmas Eve, was scowling at her computer screen. That computer had replaced Klara. As soon as Aria got it in her grown up hands, her little sister had been forgotten. Just a piece of broccoli on a plate filled with chocolate chip eggnog pancakes.
He’s making a list//He’s checking it twice//He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice//Santa Claus is coming to town
Klara’s eyes widened as the familiar song came on. That was it! The reason Aria had been so miserable and grumpy for so long was because she was on Santa’s naughty list! That would make anyone sad. The past few years, Aria had gotten small coal-shaped gifts. She always threw them away without even opening them. She probably didn’t want to get all of that coal dust over her fancy nails.
A wide smile spread over Klara’s face. She ran towards her bedroom with determined steps and a head held high. She was going to fix Christmas. She would get Aria off of the naughty list, Aria would get amazing presents and then she would be happy again. No one could be sad if they were on Santa’s nice list.
“I’m going to catch Santa.” Klara said, with a glance to Cookies, the family dog. “And I’ll convince him to give Aria the bestest present ever!”
Everyone was asleep. Everyone but Klara (and Cookies, who was lazily stretched across the living room rug daydreaming of large birds).
Klara had dressed herself in black. She clutched a flashlight in one hand. She was a professional sneaky spy. With small steps, she tiptoed downstairs. Each wooden step creaked and groaned under her weight.
She whispered frantically, “Shh. You’ll give me away.”
At last, she stood in the living room. Everything was perfect. The fireplace was waiting that wonderful man’s arrival. The plate of cookies and the glass of chocolate milk were centered on the coffee table.
Klara glanced at the tree. The one remaining ornament glinted in the light from the neighbor’s blinking lawn. Everything else was dark. She gulped. She would do this. She had to do this.
She slid under the couch and tried to ignore the spider webs that wrapped themselves around her toes. She shivered.
“Please hurry up, Santa.”
Everyone knows that Santa comes at the stroke of midnight. Klara glanced at her pink watch and sighed. It was 12:01. Where was he?
A truck rumbled down her street. It sounded strangely like a bear. Or a dragon. She squeezed her eyes shut. Images of hairy giants, slimy snakes and stuffed animals with missing limbs filled her mind. She wished her dad was there to wrap his arms around her and to tell her stories of brave knights and beautiful princesses like he had when she was scared. The world was a terrifying, unsafe place. She’d learned that far too young. It was full of monsters and she longed for someone to protect her from them.
Klara’s thoughts were interrupted by a series of tiny grunts – like a baby pig – and then the front door handle was jiggling up and down. Terror filled her. She hugged her flashlight to her chest and whimpered. She considered making a dash for her room, but quickly abandoned that idea. She’d have to run past the door.
Klara bit her lip as the grunting and tugging went on for what felt like years. (Even though it was only a couple minutes at most.) Then, to her complete horror, their door – which had been locked! – opened a crack. She braced herself for a giant to come thundering in. But a second later, the door closed again. Was the thing gone?
She crawled out from under the couch and saw two tiny feet with curled up boot tips standing in front of the door. Klara was short for her age. She understood the meaning of small. But the mysterious feet were itty bitty. They could have belonged to one of her dolls.
Curiosity overcame fear and Klara crawled towards the door. Unfortunately for him, the intruder darted towards the living room at the wrong moment. He saw a little girl, with huge blue eyes, staring at him in shock.
For one second, Klara was too shocked to move. Santa wasn’t standing in her house, like she had hoped. No, it was a strange, tiny boy who looked a lot like her Elf on the Shelf, except that he was dressed in dirty brown and he wasn’t smiling. And he had a giant box (bigger than himself) balanced on his back.
Klara screamed. It couldn’t be – was this….What was one of Santa’s elves doing in her house? The little elf shrieked and the box tumbled to the floor with a dull thud. It is a wonder that Mom or Aria didn’t wake up.
The elf, his face mirroring Klara’s, ran towards the door. Klara hurried after him and caught him by one of his pointy ears. He cried out in pain.
“Let me go, kid!” Elf writhed in her grasp.
Klara grinned. He really was the size of one of her dolls. Careful not to damage him, she wrapped him in her arms and flipped on a lamp. Then she sat down on the couch and turned him around so that she could see his face.
“Who are you? Where’s Santa? How did you get into my house?”
“I won’t tell you anything.” The elf squeaked. Klara guessed that he was trying to look defiant, but it came across as pitiful. “You’ll have to kill me before I’ll tell you the truth.”
“I just want to know your name.”
“That’s classified information.”
“Come on, tiny elf. I’m not going to hurt you.”
The elf’s eyes grew huge and his mouth dropped open. “H-how did you know my name?”
“You said my name. How did you know it was Tiny Elf?”
Klara giggled. “Your name is Tiny Elf? Really?”
“What other secrets do you know?” Tiny Elf glared. “Where did you get your information?”
“Nowhere. I don’t know anything. Is Santa coming?”
Tiny Elf groaned. It was obvious to him that this girl was smart – too smart. She had known his unguessable elf name. She must know everything else. He fingered a tiny bottle at his side. He had to get out of here – fast. Maybe Santa wouldn’t think it was his fault. After all, this was his first mission! No elf was perfect, right?
“Mr. Elf? Mr. Tiny? Hello?” Klara tapped the little man on his head. He was staring off into the distance, like people did in movies when they were having a tough internal conflict. He blinked twice and then resumed his angry glare.
“Call me T.E.” He squirmed. “Now let me go. I have to get back to Santa.”
“Alright, T.E. I’ll let you go…after you answer my questions.”
T.E. moaned. There was no escape. This girl had hands as strong as the candy cane chains that they used in the elf prisons. There was only one way out of this. He just hoped that Santa would forgive him.
“What do you want to know?”
Klara grinned. “Where is Santa? I need to talk to him.”
“Sorry, kid. Santa isn’t coming this year. Hasn’t for the past ten.”
“What? Why not?”
“Ha! The big guy is getting, uh, a little too big to fit down the chimneys. Ever since he had his nervous breakdown over the lack of Christmas cheer in the world, he’s spent most of his time eating. Mrs. Claus is trying to get him to go to see the therapy elf, but he says that he tried it once and the only advice he got was to stop eating cookies. Which he couldn’t do.” T.E.’s hand shot up to his mouth. “Uh…don’t tell anyone. I wasn’t even supposed to know any of that.”
“If Santa doesn’t deliver the presents, who does?”
“Me. And about a hundred-thousand other elves.”
“Why did you come through my door instead of the chimney? Like Santa does – or used to, I guess.”
“Do you have any idea how sooty chimneys are? Besides, too many elves have been burnt from falling into fireplaces that still had fire.” He crossed his arms. “What’s with all the questions?”
Klara shrugged. “I’ve never talked to an elf before. I was just curious.”
“As you humans say, ‘curiously killed the mouse.’ Or something like that.”
“How many more presents do you have to deliver?”
“Your house is the last one. And man, am I glad. My back’s never been so sore.”
Klara glanced over at the package that the elf had dropped on the carpet and a pang of sadness shot through her. There was only one gift. She could see the giant words Klara Pegus on the outside. There was none for her sister. Aria had been so naughty that she didn’t even get coal!
T.E. took advantage of Klara’s distraction and squirmed out of her grasp. He ran towards the door as fast as his little elf feet could carry him.
“Merry Christmas, kid.” Then he mumbled to himself, “Santa’s going to send me to the coal cellar for failing my first Christmas Delivery Mission.”
Klara couldn’t let the elf get away. Santa wasn’t coming, so he was her only hope. She jumped after him, but he was already outside. She flung the door open. Cold, snowy air hit her in the face. She looked around frantically. Where had he gone? Did he disappear? How did he even come?
Then she saw the little doll sized figure standing in the snow. And he was clutching a small bottle in trembling hands.
More tomorrow! MERRY CHRISTMS, FRIENDS! I hope that you hav a wonderful season!