By Dean Lappi
It was Christmas Eve. The creature knew the date, and it was filled with fear.
Despite its fear, it pushed snow from the opening of a deep crevasse in the ground and crawled out into the crisp night air. It prowled through snowy darkness, searching…searching… always searching for something it no longer remembered.
Hunger gnawed within its belly.
The hunger never wavered, the pain a constant in its life.
It practically glided over the ground. Its long, spindly arms and legs that were twice the length of its torso allowed it to move quickly through the forest when it wanted or needed to. But it usually moved from tree to tree, not wanting to risk being seen by anyone or anything.
It hated itself.
Under a canopy of low tree branches, it came to a chain-link fence. It stopped and peered at a house with brightly glowing windows. Its ears swiveled and twitched as it heard faint laughter, then it saw a shadow move behind the curtains of a window. The smell of cooked meat floated upon the air, and it began to drool involuntarily.
It was so hungry.
It was so cold.
And it hated so much.
A bright light came on the deck, flooding the yard with a warm glow. The door to the house slid open and a boy stepped outside, dressed in clothing so thick, he could barely walk. The father stood in the doorway, smiling. “Hurry up and build your snowman, Ethan. It is getting really cold out.”
“Dad, aren’t you going to help me?”
Rubbing his hands together and hunching his shoulders, the father shook his head. “No, not tonight. But I will watch from the window, I promise.” He then slid the door closed.
He didn’t watch through the window.
The boy stared at the house for a long moment, then his shoulders slumped slightly and he shuffled down the first two steps. He tripped, fell head-first into the deep snow, then tumbled down the rest of the stairs before laying on the ground, half-buried in snow. The boy lifted his head and wiped snow from his eyes, then struggled to his feet.
The creature lowered itself to the ground and gazed at the human child. Saliva dripped from its mouth, freezing in the snow like stalagmites.
It was so hungry.
The boy pushed his short legs through the deep snow. Once in the middle of the yard, he tried to make a ball from the snow but it was too cold and the snow just fell to the ground as powder. The boy’s breath puffed out in the light from the deck and he slumped his shoulders again, knowing he would not be making a snowman tonight. He just stood in the yard, snow up to his knees.
The creature heard a strange sound come from the boy, and from a dim part of its memories, a word sprang forth.
The boy was crying.
An image came to the creature’s mind of when it had been young, of running through the woods and stumbling to the ground, tearing skin on its leg. It had cried, and it remembered being held. But the memory faded as quickly as it had come, and it could not find it again no matter how hard it tried to bring it back. Anger sprang forth and it violently punched the fence, causing snow to shower down upon its head.
The boy whipped his head around and stared at the fence, but it was in shadow, as the light from the deck didn’t reach that far.
The creature lowered itself deeper into the snow and remained still.
The boy pushed his way through the snow until he reached the fence. His voice was high but calm as he said, “I can see you. Who are you?”
The creature, no more than an arm’s-length from the human boy, tensed its arms and legs, ready to spring over the fence and sate its hunger.
The boy grabbed the fence with mitten-covered hands and leaned his head against it.
They stared at one another for a few moments, then the boy said in a singsong voice, “Are you alright? You look hungry. Can I bring you some food?”
The creature smelled the human’s flesh. The hunger deep within it was almost overpowering. Somehow, it ignored the pain. Something about the child kept it from attacking.
“Hold on. I will get you some food. I will be right back.” He turned and took two steps, then looked over his shoulder. “Please don’t go anywhere.”
The creature watched its meal move across the yard. It would be so easy to scramble over the fence and drag the boy into the woods.
But it didn’t move.
It watched the boy enter the house through the sliding door, then reappear a few moments later carrying something in his hands.
The boy quietly slid the door closed and made his way back to the fence. The smell of cooked meat filled the air as he motioned with his head, “Follow me, there is a gate over here.” He shuffled through the snow and the creature paced him on the other side of the fence until they indeed came to a gate. The boy set a container down and pushed the gate latch up but couldn’t push the door open in the snow.
The creature cocked its head, then with its powerful arms, easily pulled the gate open. It only had to reach out and grab the boy. But it smelled the meat and looked down at it. The aroma was intoxicating.
The boy removed a mitten and pulled the lid free from the container and tossed it aside, then picked up and held the container out. “Here, it is roast ham. My family was in the living room, so I took it from the fridge without them knowing.”
The creature leaned closer and then snatched the ham with its six fingers and tore into it with long, sharp teeth. Juices slid down its throat and it closed its eyes in ecstasy.
Soon the ham was gone.
And so was the hunger. At least for now.
It opened its eyes and saw the boy smiling.
The creature croaked out, “Thank you, human child. I must go now.”
The boy’s smile fell. “No, please don’t go. Not yet.”
Cocking its head upward, the creature felt the ever-present fear deep in its belly. For hundreds of years, it had felt fear on this night; just now it remembered why. It hissed, “I have to go before HE comes.”
The boy looked up to follow its gaze, then back down. “He? Who do you mean?”
It took a step away, but the boy grabbed its arm.
“Please, don’t leave me.”
“I was going to eat you. You do not want me to stay.”
The boy’s eyes widened at this, but he set his mouth firmly and shook his head. “You won’t eat me. We’re friends.”
It studied the boy for a few moments, then realized its hunger was quickly returning. It also knew it didn’t want to kill the boy, who was the first to show it any type of kindness for so long.
A clear memory suddenly burst forth, an image of a happy time—of building toys by the thousands in HIS workshop, surrounded by other elves.
The word startled it, for it had not thought of itself in that way for hundreds of years. Not since that night.
It shuddered, and a small cry escaped its lips.
The boy touched its face with his still bare hand. “Please don’t cry.” Then he leaned forward and hugged it tightly.
All of the pain and hate it had felt for so long suddenly drained away. It tentatively wrapped its arms around the boy. Then it leaned its head on the boy’s shoulder.
A shadow emerged from the woods and something huge stepped forward.
The creature sensed it and spun around, pushing the boy behind it, protecting him.
It raised its head, tilting it back as it gazed up at…HIM.
The man was huge, over eight feet tall, with a white beard that cascaded down to his huge black belt. HIS voice rumbled, “It is time to come back, MintBoy. Your brothers and sisters have forgiven you.” HE leaned down, and smiled. “I forgive you.”
MintBoy? The name crashed into its mind like a hammer, and it remembered.
His name was MintBoy.
The man reached out a huge hand and smiled. “It wasn’t your fault that HatGirl fell down the stairs and died. You were only playing. You didn’t have to run away.” HE smiled. “I have searched for you every Christmas. Now you are found. Let’s go home.”
MintBoy felt his heart swell with love.
The hate no longer existed.
MintBoy turned to the human child, who was staring up at HIM.
The boy finally tore his gaze away and looked at MintBoy. “Is that…?”
Smiling for the first time in hundreds of years, MintBoy said, “Yes. It is.” He reached a hand out and touched the boy’s cheek. “Thank you.”
The boy nodded, tears on his face.
“Now, go back into the house before you freeze.”
“Will I see you again?”
MintBoy shrugged. “With Santa, anything is possible.”
At this, the boy’s eyes widened, and a huge smile filled his face.
MintBoy pushed the boy back toward the house and watched until he entered it and closed the door.
The boy waved through the window.
MintBoy waved back, then turned and followed Santa into the woods.
Find out more about Dean Lappi on his Amazon Author page.