Tyler and his wife Jessica stood patiently outside his parents home as the snow began to pile high in the driveway. Jessica pressed her finger against the doorbell allowing its chime to echo throughout the house. Her husband, Tyler stared down at the present in his arms. Its green tear away paper and red bow calmed his nerves for a moment before he had to make his announcement to the entire extended family. The moment of silence was followed by the sounds of locks being undone. The door swung open to reveal Tyler’s brother Tommy in his usual Christmas get-up of a Santa hat, an ugly sweater, and the smell of alcoholic eggnog in his breath.
“TYLOR!” Tommy called out leaning against the doorway. He turned to face Jessica and continued “Jess - Jess - Jess - “
“It’s Jessica” She kindly answered, trying to finish his sentence for him.
“Right… tip of the tongue!” Tommy replied. Tommy ushered the two into the house before slamming the door shut behind them. The two spun back to find Tyler’s brother barely able to stand on his own, instead using the door as a crutch in his drunken stupor. Tommy stumbled and tripped his way over to his brother, laying his hand on his shoulder to use him as a crutch, and using the other to extend a handshake.
“So… Ty, whatcha been up to these days?” Tommy questioned. Tyler took a moment to think about his response but still could only stutter out an answer.
“Well- I- um- you see I have…”
His brother slapped Tyler’s back and interrupted. “Ah, ya don’t have to tell me how bad it is out there, especially with the blizzard… by the way, how was the drive up?”
Jessica quickly entered the conversation to allow her husband a chance to breathe. “Oh it was as bad as you’d expect it to be, I thought he was about to fly off the road at any moment!”
Tommy let out a hardy chuckle that seemed to go on for just a few seconds longer than socially acceptable. “That’s Ty for ya…” Tommy continued “...gave mom a heart attack when he just learned how to drive, even more so when he just got old enough to hold a sword!”
Tommy slapped the back of Tyler once again and began another laughing fit in the foyer.
“Tyler!” Tommy continued. Tyler shot his view up from the present and to his tipsy brother. “Why don’t ya put the gift under the tree in the office, you know where it is!”
Tyler nodded and made his way out of the foyer and to the office space, leaving his drunken brother to guide his wife into the Christmas gathering. The office room was on the far outskirts of the house, seemingly separated from the rest of the commotion of the Christmas party. When Tyler entered he noticed that lack of lighting in the room aside from the red and green bulbs running up the side of the family tree. It stood next to the computer desk and booth sat under Tyler’s father’s large mantled sword and flintlock rifle, both seemingly ready to be drawn at any moment.
Tyler made his way to the tree, placing the present underneath the prickles on the branches. The presents neatly placed around the trunk brought his mind back to a simpler time, when the holidays weren’t so stressful. When he spent them building snowmen, throwing snowballs, and decorating the tree that sat in front of him. His moment of sentimentality was broken by the sound of a woman shrieking his name from behind.
Tyler spun around and met gazes with a woman of short stature and even shorter patience… his mother. She quickly rushed to him, tightly gasping around his waist with her arms.
“It’s been far too long!” His mother shrieked, tightening her grasp around her son.
Tyler replied “It’s only been fourth mouths - “
“That's four more months then I want it to be!” his mother retorted. After a minute of squeezing, Tyler's mother finally let him go, allowing her son to breath.
“Have you seen your brother?” Tyler’s mother asked with excitement covering her face.
“Yeah he let me in - “
“OH - he’s so excited that you’re going to be joining him in the family business! Your father is especially excited, getting custom made equipment… oh that was supposed to be a surprise… do your mother a favor and keep a secret. Three generations of Tuffins running the business - oh he’s so excited you wouldn’t - “
Tyler took a deep breath then interrupted clenching his fist shut. “ - Mom…”
His mother quickly stopped her rant “yes?”
Tyler took a final breath of air and continued “I don’t want to be a monster hunter.” His mothers eyes shrank as her jaw dropped, it looked as if she’d seen a ghost… well again.
“What?” She quietly replied.
“You know… times are changing and I talked it over with Jessica and - “
“OH!” Tyler’s mom retorted “So she convinced you… of course… you now that I don’t like her and this is why and - “
“No mom!” Tyler exclaimed “It was my idea, the world is getting smaller every day and maybe it would be best if we just - “
“So are you suggesting we let... I dunno... goblins eat our garbage, vampires cross the street, dragons take off from airports?”
Tyler sighed and continued “No, but I think people should be allowed to know about these things and I really think it’s time we moved on - “
“ - MOVED ON!” Tyler’s mother shouted “move on to what? Coexistence, are you crazy? Do you think you can potty train a dragon?”
“I mean we were able to do it with dogs so - “
“DOGS DON’T HAVE 40 FOOT WINGSPANS OR BREATH FIRE!” The room went quiet for a moment. The tension in the room was palpable as Tyler could feel the steam from his mothers nose against his face.
“Mom,” Tyler continued “I have scars all across my back from Archie… I really don’t want that for Jessica or for my children.”
Tyler’s mom began to rub her temples in frustration. “Ok, what am I supposed to tell your father, your brother… huh?”
“Nothing” Tyler answered “I’m gonna tell them myself.”
The Christmas party had all the usual festivities of a lit fireplace, a table of snacks, a ham made from troll meat, and “What a Wonderful Life” playing on the television. Tyler made his way into the living room where his uncles were entertaining Jessica with stories of her husband's youth.
“Honey, over here!” she called. Tyler quickly scampered to the group to meet his spouse. His two uncles held their hands out for handshakes, but as if planned, pulled them away when Tyler lifted his arm to shake them.
“OH!” His first uncle joked.
“Almost” The second continued.
“We were telling Jessie ‘bout that time you tried usin’ a sliver shell on a ghoul”
“Hah, chased you up an’ down that river screamin’ an’ howlerin’... or was that you?”
The two broke off into uncontrollable laughter as Tyler awkwardly smiled to himself.
“So Ty , whatcha been up to?” The first uncle interrogated.
“Well, I got a promotion at work…” Tyler tried answering.
The second uncle began “AH, you’re not gonna be needin’ that job after tonight… damn… s’been forever since I’ve been at an induction ceremony - “
“ - too bad we couldn’t a’ had it on your 25th… damned virus ruinin’ everything!”
“Tell me about it!” Jessica replied laughing. Tyler grabbed his wife's hand and rushed out of the room leaving his two uncles to laugh at each other's jokes. He took her to the kitchen, where he began to explain the events of the office room.
“Huh, your mother took it… better than expected?” Jessica stated.
“Not really - “ Tyler replied “ - she was about to break into tears… and she's not even the one running the business.”
“Your father will understand, I’m sure of it…” Jessica responded trying to calm her husband's mood. “He let you get the degree in photography, remember…”
“Yeah, but he thought that was a phase,” Tyler intensely whispered “...that I would be going back to ‘normal’ after graduation.”
Jessica sighed to herself before marching to the bowl of eggnog, already half consumed by Tommy, and filling a cup.
“Here!” Jessica said “drink this!”
Tyler looked at her with eyes of tender confusion. “Are you sure, I haven’t touched a glass in three...:”
“Drink it…” Jessica retorted “...you’re better at public speaking when you aren’t sober.”
Tyler took the cup from Jessica. He stared down into the cinnamon covered liquid, sighed then drank the whole thing in a single gulp. As soon as he put the cup on the counter he could feel his eyes begin to water and his muscles begin to relax. He looked up to his wife, she smiled at him.
“Better?” she asked.
“... almost.” Tyler said before filling a second cup.
Tyler felt completely at ease by his fifth cup, as though he could take on the world, and even worse his father. He had been using his wife as a prop to keep himself upright while engaging with guests. Cousins, to aunts, to even his brother, he spent the night talking to everyone cramped in the living room. He almost felt great, until the dinging of a spoon against a glass cup rang through his ears. Everyone quieted and looked to the front of the room, where Tyler’s father stood with rosy cheeks and a large, excited smile.
“Hello monster hunters and huntresses!” Tyler’s father began. “I am glad to see you all here despite the, let’s call it less than ideal circumstances.” The crowd began to chuckle to themselves, everyone besides Tyler.
“As you all know my youngest, Tyler, has finally become of age…” The room erupted into clapping as Tyler tried to hide himself behind the shoulder of his wife. “Always had been the shiest one, haven't you? Well tonight, not only will we celebrate family, kinship, and this ‘great weather’ - “ Once again the room interrupted with heavy laughter.
“Yes, I am a comedian…” Tyler’s father continued. “But also my son is taking on the Tuffin tradition of monster slaying and the responsibilities that come with such an occupation. Now ever since he was…”
Tyler finally spoke up. “Um, dad…”
Tyler’s father was taken aback by the interruption “Yes?”
Tyler breathed deeply and continued “I thought about it and I…” he stopped.
“You what?” Tyler’s father questioned. Tyler tried forcing the words out of himself, but seemingly couldn’t.
“I - I - I - “
“You what?” His father asked “Don’t want to be a monster hunter?” He jokingly continued allowing for roaring laughter.
“...no.” Tyler replied “... I don’t…”
The room quieted. Tyler's father looked confused “What? You’re kidding right?”
“No” Tyler bluntly responded “I don’t want to be a monster hunter…”
Tyler’s father dropped his drink onto the ground and began his way to his son with a face of angered bewilderment.
“Are you serious?” His father asked.
Tyler took a deep breath and began “Well I’ve been thinking it over and I think maybe…”
“After all this time, all the training, for what?” His father yelled “That dumb photography course?”
“It wasn’t dumb!” Tyler called out “It taught me way more about the world then slicing undead corpses ever did!”
“You’re a Tuffin!” His father continued more enraged with each word “A TUFFIN! We’ve been doing this for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and now you want to ‘change’... why now?”
“Because you never asked what I wanted!” Tyler responded.
“I expected you to tell me!” His father continued “Why should I have to ask?”
A scream could be heard from outside. The entire party looked to the backyard through the patio window. The room went silent for a moment before something flew through the glass. A white powdered snowball flew over the living room couches and dented the wall. Everyone watched as the snow melted away to reveal a perfectly rounded metal sphere. Tyler knew exactly what this meant.
“ELVES!” He screeched. Just as he called out the assailants identity, dozens of metal snowballs began to fly into the house striking the walls, television, and family members. Jessica, Tyler, and his father rushed into the office room. The forests howled with the war cry of the tree creatures as they flung their weapons into the house. His father climbed atop the desk, preparing his sword and handguns. Jessica sat down against the wall and began to hyperventilate while grabbing tightly on her husband's arm. Tyler’s father was confused by this action until he noticed his son's hand firmly pressed against her belly.
“Seriously!” He called from the desk “Is this why you’re…”
Just as he spoke a ball came rushing through the office window knocking him to the ground. Tyler looked to his fathers ankle, it seemed to have bent in the wrong direction. Tyler’s father began to scream not in pain but in annoyance.
“Damned elves!” he called “These little annoyances are going to cost me an arm and a leg.”
“Guess it's just an arm now huh?” Jessica joked slowly returning to a normal breathing pattern. “Guess so!” Tyler’s father announced. He turned his attention to his son.
“Damn it! You’re gonna have to go out there and fight them off!” Tyler’s father yelled.
“What?” Tyler replied “Me?”
“Yes, it’s obvious that your mother’s out there, so I’d say you’ve only got half of them left so get your butt out there and do what you were born to do!” Tyler’s father slid the sword across the ground. It stopped moving once the scabbard came in contact with Tyler’s knee. Tyler pulled the blade from its sheath and looked to his father, his face was a wide cheerful smile.
Tyler looked to the blade, staring down his reflection. “No.” Tyler quietly replied.
Tyler’s father angrily responded “WHAT DO YOU MEAN NO?”
“You’re right, mom will take care of them… you only want me to go fight them just to prove your point… so no.” Tyler stared his father down as he let the sword drop to the floor. A loud thud echoed throughout the room. The cries of the elves slowly began to subside with grunts of pain. Tyler’s father began to sweat profusely and repeated his demand. “GO OUT THERE AND FIGHT THEM BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”
Then it was too late as the final amount of laughter ended with the sound of a blade quickly being pulled from its sheath. Tyler’s father dropped his head to the floor and began to curse into the carpet. Jessica had enough and kicked the father's head. He quickly shot his head up from the carpet with a face of unchecked rage.
“If you weren’t my son’s wife, so help me God I’d…”
“Listen to yourself!” Jessica announced “You need to let it go! My husband, your son, is so afraid of you he drank in the kitchen to get ready, he’s been clean for three years until tonight!”
Tyler's father continued “That's his fault he - “
“Dad!” Tyler yelled. He gave a second for the room to quiet. “I appreciate what you do, the world does, but it’s not what I want to do with MY life.”
”The world doesn’t know what I go through, what we go through.” Tyler’s father continued “We NEED to keep these ‘things’ in the shadows!”
“No dad,” Tyler quickly retorted “The photos I’ve taken of them are getting nothing but praise, these people want them to be real…”
“They aren’t ready!” Tyler's father yelled, his face even redder than before “What we do is important!”
Tyler stood up from the floor, looking down at his father “That’s what you keep telling yourself, but it's not true and you know it. I want to do something with my life and - “
“ - Oh so you want to spend it taking photos then?” Tyler’s father retorted.
“YES!” Tyler screamed. “It makes me happy, and that’s what I want to be, what I’ve always wanted to be… happy.”
Tyler’s father took a moment trying to come up with a response that would destroy his son's argument, but could truly see the sincerity in Tyler's eyes collapsing his head once again onto the carpet to let out a few more swears.
One by one family members began to leave the house either to head home or to the nearest hospital. By midday only four people remained in the living room: Jessica, Tyler, and his parents. They spent the hour alone silently looking at the fire then at eachother unable to think of what to say. After a while of waiting, Tyler helped Jessica up from her seat and the two made their way to the door.
Before Tyler could exit he could feel a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see his father with one hand on Tylers shoulder and the other tightly gripped to a crutch under his arm.
“Tyler… I’m sorry.” Tyler’s father began. “You aren’t just like me… I should have never treated you as if you were…”
For the first time since he arrived he smiled… soberly. “Thanks dad.”
Tyler and Jessica slowly entered their vehicle while his parents watched from the porch with smiles on their faces. As he began to back out of the driveway, Tyler rolled down his window and called out to his parents.
“HEY! DID YOU GUYS OPEN MY GIFT?”
His parents looked confused, before his father spoke up.
“No… which one is it?” He called out to his son surprised by the information. Tyler waved before backing off into the street and speeding off leaving his parents surprised at the entrance
As they drove off into the late morning, Jessica looked over to Tyler and noticed something quiet different about him. For the first time since they met he was leaving his parents house with a faint smile on his face.