The twenty-foot tree was magnificent! All forty-nine wee elves skipped around its base with strings of colored lights, silver tinsel, and finely crafted wooden ornaments. Its fresh, piney green scent was intoxicating, the elves buried their faces in the soft needley boughs.
The elves giggled like squirrels, chattered like monkeys, and laughed like loons. As the last of the lights were lit, and the last of the ornaments hung, the elves discussed the finale…the decoration for the very tip-top. The angel was white, with tinsel hair, pale blue gossamer wings, and a gown sparkling with sugary glitter. She was nearly as tall as the largest elf, though made of paper and very light.
A ladder would be of no use, on the highest rung of it, an elf’s little arms wouldn’t reach across to the treetop.
In a velvet blue coat lined with white fur, Sissy Snowflake put two fingers to the corner of her mouth and whistled to get everyone’s attention. Her shrill expulsion blew steam from her pink pointy ears. As the colorful group of wee-folk quieted down, she asked them, “Any new ideas this year?”
“Why not just get Santa or the Missus to do it?” Asked Niftybuttons, pushing his eyeglasses up his tiny pug nose. Bits of peppermint candy and assorted cookies pelted the elf a second later.
“Not an option. We do this on our own,” Sissy said with her freckled nose in the air as if daring anyone to argue.
A dark-haired elf in a lime green romper said, “We have had some disastrous attempts in the past…” A murmur zig-zigged through the crowd as they recalled the previous three years.
The incident with the catapult had left Periwinkle missing her two front teeth, it had been painful watching her tackle her supper that night.
The drone had flown straight into the top of the tree. It was as if a whirring, spitting, buzzsaw had been let loose: branches disintegrated in an explosion of pine needles and tinsel, the poor tree had been decapitated.
Marcipan’s pet squirrel had been the most traumatizing. It had been trained for a whole month to place the angel just so, and all had gone very well…until the squirrel ate the angel’s head. It had previously been made from an acorn.
JingleBob said, “I think the Elf Ladder will work this year. Look how big and strong JingleMel has grown…” The scrawny elf in moss green and yellow moved aside and his brother stepped up. JingleMel was indeed a hulk of an elf. In brown felt and fur, he looked more like a squat, roly-poly troll. As if on cue, the Gingerspatzel twins leapt onto each of JingleMel’s sturdy arms, they balanced on one foot each and bent like ballet dancers with toes extended, meeting over the burly elf’s mop of dark curly hair.
Sissy tapped a finger against her pouty pink lips, “Hmm. Yes, I concur. This year the Elf Ladder will work just fine.”
The wee folk bounced over to the front of the tree, clapping and shouting, “Me, me me!” In high pitched voices like happy blue jays.
Sissy strutted back and forth in front of them, pointing and saying, “You…you…you” like a judge at the American Kennel Club. She stopped when she had twenty of them, lined up from the biggest- JingleMel, to the smallest- Urchinpoo, an elf of Asian descent, with dark, almond shaped eyes peeking from amidst a froth of pale pink marabou scarves. Her voice was one of a tiny mouse, "Yay!" She squeaked.
“Twenty should do it. Places everyone!” Sissy shouted.
One by one, the elves assembled, each smaller than the one before it, each climbing onto the shoulders of the elf under it. As Urchinpoo climbed the nineteen feet to the top, her understudy, a tiny thing in lavender named Periwinkle, rooted her on. She was frightened of heights and did not want to climb the Elf Ladder.
The ladder swayed as a center elf’s foot slipped from the shoulder beneath him. The crowd “Ooooohed.” Then “Aaaahed” as the line straightened back out. At the top, Urchinpoo regained her own footing, and the paper angel was passed along and up, in her direction.
Sissy inspected the symmetry and balance of the tree. She was mesmerized by the soft golden lighting and gently wafting strands of old-fashioned tinsel.
A cacophony of squeals and cries broke her trance.
She yelled, “Is anyone hurt?!” To the tumble of elves before the tree.
They were getting to their feet and rubbing bruised bums and elbows and knees.
Periwinkle exclaimed, “Where’s Urchinpoo?!” The elves looked around, and as they spread out, it was clear the mini pink puffball was not amongst them. They looked under the low-lying branches and ran about calling her name. She was not anywhere in the house either.
She had simply vanished.
That night at the long supper table, forty-eight elves sat, with Santa at one end and his Missus at the other. They picked at their food and occasionally started conversation that petered out quickly as eyes inevitably wandered to the empty seat three down from Mrs. Klaus’ left.
Sissy Felt especially awful. She was the unofficial leader of the elves pretty much, only because of her outspoken, bossy nature and felt responsible for each one. At the time of the disappearance, she had decided that Urchinpoo had to be playing a prank. Now, here in the dining room, the elves looked to her for answers, solutions, a game plan perhaps.
Santa, king of the elves, said, “Sissy Snowflake. Have you any clues? Any progress?”
Put on the spot, she suddenly didn’t want the attention, for she had no answers. She hung her pretty head sadly.
“Well, in any case, we still need to complete the tree decoration.” Santa said.
After supper, the courtyard lanterns were lit, infusing the darkness with welcoming mellow light. A thousand Christmas lights reflected off the fresh snow, it sparkled as if sprinkled with colorful glitter.
The elves formed their Elf Ladder with little merriment, little Periwinkle shook with fright as she ascended the tower. Third from the bottom, Boysenberry sneezed. A sneeze could take down the whole lot…they swayed to the left and right, then straightened up solidly. Whew.
Cuppy Gingerspatzel was the elf at the top. As Periwinkle cautiously climbed her shoulders, Cuppy whispered, “You’re doing great, Peri, just don’t look down.”
Periwinkle had not dared to look down…until then.
The tower shuddered as Periwinkle lost her footing. Cuppy yelled, “Elf down!”
Sissy had been watching the procession but had taken her eyes off the tiny, purpley elf when Boysenberry had sneezed. Now she scanned the ground and the tree branches. She called up to Cuppy, “What do you mean?! No one fell!”
Cuppy replied, “Well, she was here for a second! Now, she’s not! She must have fallen!”
The elves disassembled and searched the courtyard for the lavender cloaked elf.
Rolly Garopollo and JingleMel wheeled out the catapult from the garage. Sissy rolled her eyes and muttered, “Why not.” She stepped aside, watching the foot high wheels turn… ”Wait!” She cried. The catapult was just about to roll over something small and shiny half buried in the snow. A button. A purple one.
Again, it seemed, an elf vanished into thin air.
Cuppy’s sister, Cooperfield, climbed up the catapult and planted herself excitedly in the cup. She wore a wooden helmet over her bright copper-colored curls, only her large brown eyes peeked out. JingleBob passed her the paper angel then positioned himself, ready to press the release lever.
Sissy said, “On one, two…three!”
‘Sawiiiiiissssshhhh!’ Flew Cooperfield through the frosty air, she cried, “Wheeeeeee---” Her voice cut off as she disappeared amidst the branches. The paper angel drifted down, see-sawing back and forth, wings fluttering as if she were trying to fly, like a baby bird falling too soon from its nest. JingleMel opened his arms and caught it, cradling it gently.
“What the…?” Said Sissy, blinking.
“Did you see that?!” JingleBob exclaimed, “She’s disappeared!”
Cuppy said, “She must be in the tree! I’m going in after her!”
Sissy held her back and said, “something strange is going on here. I can’t let you go in.”
“I don’t need your permission…”
“Please. Let me help you look.”
Cuppy nodded and Sissy called the biggest elves over. She needed them to tip the tree and lay it down on the ground. Rayray Goodcandy and his brother Bobo joined JingleMel and JingleBob.
Sissy studied the Goodcandy brothers’ faces for ten full seconds, then narrowed her eyes and furrowed her brows. She asked them, “When you cut this tree down yesterday, where did you get if from?”
The Goodcandys looked at each other, Rayray sheepishly said, “The north woods…”
Sissy persisted, “Which north woods?”
Bobo said defensively, “It’s the best tree ever! We found a FOREST of perfect Christmas trees!”
“Just a little further than we normally go.” Added Rayray.
Sissy said, “You crossed the Red Field!”
“It was no big deal,” said Bobo.
“don’t get what all the fuss is about,” said Rayray.
“the chocolate was amazing.” said Bobo.
By now all the elves had gathered and were standing around the three with their mouths open and their eyes big as ping pong balls.
Sissy, exasperated, said, “Santa made a deal with the Red Wizard who lives in the Far North Woods. We don’t cross his field, we stay out of his forest. In return, he doesn’t eat us…wait…what chocolate?”
Rayray said, “We found chocolate,”
Bobo said, “in the field,”
“like someone had dropped it."
“into the woods.”
Sissy exasperatedly looked from brother to brother. “You Ninnyheads! The wizard must have wanted you to cut down this tree! Through the tree he’s swiping elves! Poor Poo, and Coop, and Peri. They’ve surely been eaten.”
“We’ll go and rescue them!" Said Bobo.
“Santa can help..." said Rayray.
Sissy cried, “Santa cannot hear of this! He will be furious that we broke the oath.”
“We can go through the tree," said Bobo.
“No!” screamed Sissy, “We’ll be eaten too! We must go the long way, over the field. You will have to show me exactly which way you went.”
The three elves headed to the Red Field at midnight. The night was crystal clear, the stars twinkled merrily, and the moon a lantern that led their way. It was pretty as a Christmas card. Although two feet of snow had fallen since the boys last trip across the field, it was easy to see the ditch that the tree had made as the brothers dragged it home.
Sissy grew increasingly nervous. Halfway across, she stopped walking and whispered, “I’ve figured out what’s so creepy…there’s no sound.”
The Goodcandys stopped and cocked their heads like terriers listening for the crinkle of a can opener opening a can. Rayray said, “She’s right,”
“no owls, no wolves,”
“no crickets, no night-jays…”
A howl arose from the woods ahead of them and east. HIS woods. It was unlike any sound the three had ever heard. It was similar to a wolf’s but more guttural, higher pitched, and a hundred percent menacing. Sissy felt every hair on her body stand up and quiver. She held her belly to quiet the roiling worms in it. The boys did the same.
“I don’t think we should be out in the open like this. C’mon!” She started running, the boys ran too.
The elves’ tiny feet blurred over the glistening, blueish white expanse, so swift and light, they left no footprints. They reached the far side in two minutes. They leapt into the woods and crouched behind a tree as the eerie howl rose again, closer this time.
Cautiously, they continued through the forbidden forest. It was not entirely silent anymore. Branches behind them snapped. Snow clumps ‘flomped’ as they fell from tree limbs. And deep, ragged breathing trailed their path.
As the thing grew closer, they heard heavy, crumping footfalls and strange slurping noises.
Lights ahead twinkled through the trees ahead!
There, deep in the Red Wizard’s Forest, was a castle. It was house-sized but a bona fide castle, nonetheless, complete with two towers with pointed, cone roofs, wide gables over the first story windows, and a drawbridge over a frozen moat. It appeared to be white frosted glass with blue crystals embedded all over. The moonlit, sparkling reflections made it appear to be alive and breathing even though the multipaned windows were dark.
They circled the castle and around the back they found a maple tree by the shiny silver moat.
“C’mon said Sissy. She went to the tree and put her hands together like a step. Bobo stepped up and on to her shoulders. Rayray did the same to form an Elf Ladder. Rayray leapt upwards and caught the lowest bare branch. Then he pulled Bobo up, who pulled Sissy next.
When they had climbed twenty feet up, they could see into the backyard of the sparkling castle home.
“Toss me over the wall,” said Sissy.
Bobo hung by his feet and took her hands in his. He rocked like a swing, back and forth. When he swung towards the wall, he let go of Sissy’s hands at the apex. She made her body long like Superman and flew over the wall.
She rolled in a ball across the yard then raced to the backdoor. Through the window she saw a cozy, dark kitchen. The door was unlocked. Evil Wizards aren’t afraid of anything.
She tip-toed across the cool tile floor, and stopped when she heard soft, whistley snoring. ‘Periwinkle!’ She thought. For even though the dentist had crafted new teeth, she’d snored ever since the accident.
Behind the kitchen door, Sissy found the cage.
Her three little friends were curled up in blankets. There was a bowl with a few chocolates and a candy cane in it, and another half full of milk. She thought, ‘It’s as if they are pets.’
She rattled the metal door and called out softly, “Peri! Cooper! Urchinpoo! Wake up!”
“Whaaa?” said one of the girls.
Suddenly the kitchen was flooded with brilliant white light!
All four elves blinked and squinted in surprise.
“Aha!” shouted the wizard. “A trespasser! I shall add you to my collection!”
Sissy thought, ‘That sure doesn’t sound like an evil wizards voice…’
She turned around and saw…’a miniature wizard?’
It was indeed a child. In purple pajamas with stars and planets all over them. On his head was a tall, pointed hat in a matching pattern. He wore fuzzy purple bunny slippers.
“Into the cage you go!” cried the boy. He was three times her size, but she shook her head, refusing to move to the cage. He opened the cage door and said, “If you don’t get into the cage, my grandfather will eat you!”
“Ha ha ha! Who says I eat elves?” A voice boomed from the doorway. The tall, white-haired old wizard came into the kitchen, and said, “What’s all the ruckus?” He resembled a taller, thinner Santa, but wore a velvet robe so black it sucked in light. He looked angry, his eyes shot red sparks.
Now, she was scared.
“Ah Granpoppa. This one refuses to get in the cage.”
“Well I don’t blame her.” To Sissy he said, “You elves have broken the two-hundred-year oath. You are now mine to do what I like with.”
“It was a terrible mistake! The two that cut down your elf-eating tree were lured into your forest by chocolate. They…WE…are very truly sorry and will do anything to make it up to you.”
“Granpoppa, you can’t let them go! They’re my pets!”
Sissy understood then, that the child was simply lonely. Wizards were infamously known for being recluses. This poor child simply wanted playmates.
The old scary wizard looked at the boy wizard and said, “Is that true Sefton? You lured the elves into my forest with chocolate?”
The boy’s eyes filled with tears. He nodded.
The wizard’s face broke into a grin. He went from scary monster to cheery fun uncle. He said, “Well, then this is just as much your fault as it is the elves.”
“Please don’t send them away.” Sefton’s small voice quavered.
Sissy said, “Why don’t you come over and play with us?”
Sefton looked up. He sniffled and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. He looked at his grandfather and said, “Can I?”
“Well, it’s odd for a wizard to want to be around other beings…” He shuddered and continued, “…but I can’t see any harm in it if it makes you happy.”
“Oh boy! Friends!” The young wizard clapped with joy.
“We’ve got to get home now, before Santa wakes up, he’ll be very worried to find three more elves missing.”
“Three?” asked the big wizard.
“Oh! Yes, my friends are out in that maple tree, waiting for us.”
“To get back, you will have to go through the tree-portal. The zombie wolverine that guards the woods is quite fearsome.”
Sefton threw a rope ladder over the wall, the Goodcandy boys climbed over. The sky was pinking with a new dawning day. There was a tree in the castle yard, identical to the elves’ tree but with fewer decorations, and little tinsel. The tall wizard stood on a wooden ladder and one by one, the elves were tossed into the tree.
An hour later, they came back through the tree.
When young Sefton, the mini-wizard, came out to meet his new friends he saw that his own Christmas tree was now sparkling with tinsel, covered in twinkling lights, and at the tip-top sat a beautiful paper angel.