It was that time of year again. Those who had been dispatched were slowly trickling back through the town gates to return to their home life for the brief few weeks. This was the start Summer Celebrations in the Elvish town of Alari; filled with laughter, loved ones, food and drink. For the rest of the year the working Elves would be dispatched to human households to teach them the secret to happiness. Most say it’s an incredibly difficult job, especially when they are only paired with human adults, but if they work with a family, they say a human child has a level of happiness not too dissimilar from the Elves themselves. The adults seem to lose touch with their happiness when they grow up, the reason to this was a complete mystery to the Elves.
Bud was sitting on a large tree root in the lower part of town, where most of the working class lived, watching the joy of elves seeing their loved ones for the first time in a year. Bud often came downtown to watch their simple lives which were vastly different from the home life he was used to.
Bud’s father was the Head of Dispatch in the family business called Elders’ Vision, named after the grand historic event where the family ancestors, the Elf Elders, realised they were the happiest beings on Earth and made it their mission to teach this happiness to all. As Head of Dispatch, his Dad would match the Elves with a suitable human family. This was based on the human’s circumstances, age and life expectancy and the Elf’s experience and skill set. He would then send the Elf off to live with that human family for a whole year. Basically, it boiled down to his Dad reading papers, matching Elves and Humans up and signing dispatch letters. Bud often thought of this as the most boring job in the world. Since Bud was older than his brother, Phil, it was expected of him to take over the family business as soon as he was 18. Today, he was due to start shadowing his Dad to learn the business inside and out before he officially started next year, and his Dad retired. This was the last thing in the world that he wanted. He wanted to travel, to meet new Elves, to meet humans, to see different towns and cities.
However, the age of 18 is a magical one, as Bud would also be able to apply to be dispatched. This is what he truly dreamed of; to live in a whole new world, figuring out why the happiness had been lost amongst the humans and to bring it back to them. Every time he thought of this, his soul came alive.
Today, instead of wasting his time following his Dad around or watching him sign papers, Bud was going to tell his Dad he would not be taking on the family business. He picked himself up from his seat, stood up tall and confidently marched on up to the offices. On his way he couldn’t help but look at the forest town he loved to call home, noticing how each flower, tree, mushroom, grassy bank served a purpose for the Elves. His favourite were the wonderful toadstool houses lining the dirt paths. Roofs were an assortment of colours: red, blue, purple and green, all with white spots. The stalks were speckled on the outside and full to the brim on the inside with personal belongings or wares to sell. With the return of the Dispatched, there were homemade bunting, banners and posters to welcome them home. The air was buzzing with Elves greeting their loved ones after a long year of separation. Bud kept to the edges of the paths so he wouldn’t be caught up in bustle of reunions.
During his long walk he spent the time practicing his speech quietly to himself and convincing himself that his Dad would understand and maybe even be proud of him. A warm happiness spread through him during this mental rehearsal.
He arrived at his Dad’s office which was set in the third oldest oak tree in this town and made his way up the spiral staircase that wound itself up inside the tree. He reached the platform where his Dad’s office was nestled. He knocked on the door. After hearing the usual permissive grunt, he let himself in.
“Ah, perfect timing. I can take you along to my next meeting that’s in a few minutes so you can get started on your shadowing. You better be prepared, you have a pen and paper with you, don’t you?”
As soon as Bud had seen his Dad, all the confidence he had mustered up on his walk here had vanished in an instant. His chest deflated, the warmth was replaced with cold butterflies and his hands grew clammy. He took a deep breath.
“I can’t do it, Dad.” He said, in a small voice.
“Speak up boy, I can’t hear you when you talk to the floor.”
“I said, I can’t do it. I can’t take over the family business.”
His Dad stared at him. The silence that accompanied the stare was deafening.
The silence was shattered with laughter that roared out of his Dad.
“Very clever prank there. As if anyone in this family would insult the Elders and shrug off your duty of running this business. Wow, I needed that laugh today. We better make our way to the meeting now.”
His Dad got out of his chair shaped from a section of a log and sauntered his way across the dark, forest-themed room to the door. Bud purposely stood in the way. He needed his Dad to take him seriously for once.
“No. I am not taking on this business. I have applied to be dispatched.” A tiny white lie wouldn’t hurt, Bud thought.
A darkness fell over his Dad’s face and the air grew heavy around them. Bud felt like a little boy in trouble again.
“What makes you think you have a choice in this? It is an honour to enact our Elder’s Vision of bringing happiness to the different beings across the Earth and you have the audacity to turn around and shrug off this role that has been performed by generations of our family?! And to lower yourself to the working class of the Dispatched?! You’ll ruin the family name!”
“I won’t ruin the family name! If anything, it will bring our family an ounce of respect because we will be directly contributing to our own ancestor’s vision rather than simply hiding behind a desk and declaring ourselves all high and mighty!” Bud had never shouted at his Dad before. They were both a little stunned. His Dad’s face was twisted with conflict, annoyance and disbelief.
“I don’t have time for this now!” His Dad shoved past his son and made his way to his meeting.
Bud shuffled his way over to the stairs, feeling the weight of the conversation in the pit of his stomach. Just as he was about to leave, a thought slithered into his mind. He knew it was wrong but, it was the only way he could become part of the Dispatched without his Dad getting in the way.
He looks left and right, checking the corridor is clear and his Dad is nowhere to be seen. He shoots back into his Dad’s office and closes the door quietly. He whips around the desk and takes a seat. He is greeted with a propped-up writing pad directly in front of him, covered in indents from thousands of written words. Behind that there are piles and piles of papers. Bud spots a calendar to his right and notices this meeting his Dad ran off to is due to run for an hour. Perfect. He cracks his knuckles and gets started on something he would never normally do. Bud has spent most of his life hearing his Dad talk about the work he did, in such detail too. He looked at the neat piles which turned out to be the forms. One pile looked like fresh applications from those wanting to join the Dispatched, another pile was to reassign active Dispatched workers and the final pile were the human profiles. In the top left of the desk was an in-tray, filled with members of the Dispatched stapled to their assigned Humans.
Bud frantically pulled open all four drawers that were nestled into the desk as its legs for a brand-new form. His hands were shaking now as well as clammy, so it took a little longer than normal to rummage around in each of the drawer’s contents. Finally, he found what he was looking for. A small selection of blank application forms, presumably to send to the new applicants if they had filled out their form improperly the first time.
Bud picked a pen from the square pen pot that was lined up neatly in the top right corner of the desk and started to fill in his application form. Bud took a deep breath to steady himself as his eyes were rushing across the page, not absorbing anything of the questions in front of him. He still had plenty of time and he knew the answers to the questions, he just had to slow down.
His shaky hands led to very rough handwriting, but the form was complete. Now, it was time for the worst bit. Bud grabbed a few of the approved applications and spread them out in front of him to observe. He grabbed the small notepad to his left and had a few practices. Once he was happy, he took his application form, hand hovering over the approver line. He replayed the recent conversation in his head and found himself hot with anger at his Dad’s reaction. With that reminder, he signed his Dad’s signature on the approver line and filled out a dispatch date. The day the Summer Celebrations ended. A small wave of guilt washed over him as he studied his handiwork.
He sifted through the human profiles, reading into their lives and why they needed the help of the Elves. He found a couple he liked the look of – they were in their early twenties, they had cryptic-sounding jobs, but both had difficult childhoods with severely dysfunctional families. Bud felt himself drawn to their application, and the picture of their faces with fake smiles plastered on. He stapled their form to his and buried it in the middle of the stack to be processed. He knew a lady called Janice would come in to collect the forms and ready the confirmation letters. His Dad would be clueless, and that’s exactly how Bud wanted it. Bud checked he had put everything back exactly where he found it and darted out the office before anyone saw him. On his walk home Bud felt light as a feather.
The next few weeks passed with ease. The workers celebrated the Summer and the brief time with their loved ones. Bud and his Dad rarely saw each other between work and Bud spending more time than usual with his friends. At night, he would pack a few things he thought he would need on his travels into a large backpack and would stuff it under his bed so that it would be out of sight. He often struggled to get to sleep after this as he was far too excited and was imagining the glorious experiences he would have.
There was one close encounter where Bud’s dispatch confirmation letter was waiting for him outside their front door. Bud and his Dad were coming home at the same time and were walking the last few feet to the house together. His Dad almost picked up the letter and saw the company crest on the back. Bud managed to grab the letter just in time and made up something along the lines of his friends were now writing letters to each other for fun. He picked it up and scurried back to his room to open it. He was giddy with relief and excitement as his handiwork had passed as official. He was going to be dispatched.
By the time his dispatch day had come, he was more than ready for it. His brother was out for the day and his Dad had already left for work. Bud simply picked up his pack that was full to the brim and walked to the other end of town to join his fellow Dispatched workers on their path to the gates. He went out the house with his confirmation letter clutched in hand.
As he walked through his forest hometown, he silently said goodbye for now to all the familiar trees, birds, squirrels, houses, and elves. He would see them all in a years’ time where he would be older and wiser. He had made it to the lower part of town where others were flipping over the welcome banners to show the other side which read farewell (it was an annual event after all).
“Bud? What are you doing?!”
Uh oh. That was his brother Phil.
“Oh, hey. I’m surprised you’re down in these parts, what are you doing here?”
A girl around Phil’s age came running up behind him, wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her chin on his shoulder. She had sun kissed skin, piercing blue eyes, frizzy brown hair and was dressed in a flour-covered apron.
“Uhh, this is Cheryl. Cheryl, this is my brother Bud.” He paused, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“Don’t tell Dad about this, please. You know what his standards are like…” Phil gave an apologetic look to Cheryl.
“I’ll keep your secret if you keep mine?” Waving his confirmation letter, hopefully. Phil smiled. A wave of relief flowed over the brothers as they made their silent promise.
“Wow, off into the big wide world. Dad is going to have your guts when he next sees you. Thanks for leaving me to deal with that.” Phil said with a wink. “Good luck out there.”
They exchanged a quick hug with a pat on each other’s back and Bud was strangely glad to have his brother’s approval. He waved goodbye to him and Cheryl and made his way to the gates. A large bus was waiting for the Dispatched to drop them off at their destination in turn.
Bud turned to look at his childhood town one last time. The morning sun cast the dirt paths that were lined with those toadstool houses in a beautiful light. The Elves that were being left behind stood out in the air that was filled with hugs and farewells. Bud gave a final wave to Phil and boarded the bus.
His adventure begins now.
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Very clever fantasy twist to the tale! The parallels between the world of humans and elves who are dispatched to make them happy were smart.
Thank you very much! Glad you liked it 😊