The Truth About Santa’s Elves

Santa Elf

Peppermint Jolly finished soldering the knockoff iPad’s connections. He put the iron down so as to rest his bleeding and blistered hands, then placed his creation into the “finished” basket. He took a moment to breathe, to let his hands shake while the popped blisters seeped liquid.

But the overseer – a burly elf who’d earned the nickname Bad Figgy – caught Peppermint Jolly on this unapproved break. He strode over, broadening his shoulders and filling out his lederhosen. “What you doing, boy? Did Santa say you could stop?”

Peppermint Jolly shut his eyes tightly, expecting a punch or a slap. “Sir, my hands are bleeding, sir. I don’t want to ruin the product by dripping in them-”

“These products aren’t real iPads. They’re going to China, where everything is ripped off and broken anyway. We only buy the real ones for the kids who’ll know better. Now get back to work or I’ll put you on chemical weapons duty next year.” Bad Figgy boxed Peppermint Jolly’s ears, causing him to wince, then went off to whip up on the next electronics worker who slacked off.

Peppermint Jolly picked up the soldering iron despite the agonizing boils and wounds. He didn’t want to go on chemical weapons duty ever again – his lungs still hadn’t recovered from last time, and the sales of black market goods only made money that went toward the purchase of gifts like the real iPads or DRM intact materials.

But it was Christmas Eve. Praise God – the next day was Christmas, the one day of the year that the elves could rest. The one day of the year none of the females would be forced into reproducing, the one day of the year the forced labor would stop, the one day the overseers wouldn’t beat a slave for eating too much or slacking off.

But Peppermint Jolly knew the cycle would just start up again. While the next Christmas season was still a ways off, he’d be put on drone duty, soldering and building the electronic pieces used in military drones to sell to terrorists. He was also smart, so Santa could choose anytime now to force him into a living arrangement with a fertile female. He could whip them both if results didn’t happen.

And there was no escape. The magic barrier was impenetrable, and none of the humans besides Master Kringle could see inside.

Could he handle another year? Could Peppermint Jolly make it through more of this madness?

“Fuck you, Santa,” he said. He turned the iron to his neck and pierced the jugular as quick as he could.

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This Christmas, think of the people and elves who make the presents you purchase. There are real kids in the Congo who are forced to dig cobalt for batteries, real people in Bangladesh and India who work harrowing hours in hazardous conditions for your soft goods. Many of us can’t afford gifts otherwise, but if you have the option, consider looking into what you purchase and try to incorporate the least slave labor you can.

Also, boycott Santa. Don’t let that asshole come down your chimney. Don’t pay that slave-owning piece of shit with milk and cookies. We’re better than this.

Image by SilviaP_Design from Pixabay

The Repairman

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The microphone still sat, open and in pieces, on my workbench. I dreaded having to stay awake all night to get this antique fixed, but the owner needed it repaired by tomorrow.

That was easier said than done. The diaphragm on the capacitor was shot, but I didn’t have a replacement part handy.

“Oh!” I mumbled. “What I wouldn’t give to have that part!”

A man in a pinstripe suit and thin mustache appeared at my side. He held a new diaphragm with his fingertips. “Your soul sound a fair price?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Then let’s make a deal…”

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This was written for the December 19th Flash Fiction Challenge at the Carrot Ranch. With a prompt like “open mic night,” I decided to attempt going way, way out there and made a literal opened microphone at night. This was partway inspired by the BBC series The Repair Shop (which my mom forced on me recently) and also by Hazbin Hotel‘s Radio Demon character.

Image by Thanks for your Like • donations welcome from Pixabay

The Secret Life of your Hammer

black claw hammer on brown wooden plank

Usually the hammer lived happily in a drawer next to the tape measure and a molten pack of gum, but sometimes the humans would attack. Someone would be abducted, sometimes for days, and abused mercilessly at their hands.

Today storm clouds whirled above, and the humans had innocent sheets of plywood to serve as storm windows. They withdrew a nail from a sack on their belts.

“Ow! Ow!” screeched the hammer.

But the human didn’t care. He beat the hammer senseless, imprisoned the poor nails in the plywood and siding, then left them precariously outside as the hurricane blew…

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This was written for the November 14th Carrot Ranch prompt, storm windows. I think this one has more the feel of a “yarn,” but I enjoyed it and hope you did to!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

A High Price

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“I’ll give you power,” the devil crooned, “For bartering your soul.”

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This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #124barter. With only 11 required words, I had to do it.

Hello, everyone – as any regulars may be able to tell, I’ve slowed down a LOT on the blog recently. I’m in the home stretch on my dissertation, though, with only about a month and some change to go! Hopefully after that I can get back on the bandwagon.

Until then, I’ve got all my book review posts planned through to the new year, and those should be reliable.

I got the picture off a royalty-free image site a couple years ago and don’t remember which one.

The End

The priest beheld the visage of the old man. The ancient General seemed shrunken from age, but the priest did not believe the call for extreme unction was necessary at this time. In many respects, he hoped it wasn’t necessary, because the old man was filled with heroism and daring.

And, worst of all, he was certainly bound for the devils’ hell.

The old man, surrounded by many family members and servants, pointed his cane to a chair with horsehair-stuffed cushion. “Sit. We don’t even have an hour, Father, and it’d be a damn shame to waste these precious few minutes.”

The priest coughed at the cursing and took the seat. “I – sir, forgive me if I seem insolent to one so aged and venerable as you, but you appear to be in tolerable health. I brought the appropriate oils for anointing, but I won’t apply them if it’s unwarranted.”

The old man brushed off the statement. “I will die when the sun is at it’s peak. I’ve made my peace with it, and I gathered all who are important to me here in this room.”

“And how can you be so sure? Do you… you don’t plan on shooting yourself, do you?”

“By the eternal, no! Good God man, you think me mad?” The General laughed, which caused him to cough up some slime which he spat into a handkerchief.* “No. Almost 16 years ago, I sacrificed several months off the end of my life to get something far more important than lingering here on this soil. Now, all the signs and signals are fulfilled, and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I will die within the hour.”

The priest shook his head. “There’s no way to know for certain. Our Lord Yarenth is not master of devilish signs or superstitions.”

“Yarenth also isn’t the master of the blood magic I was part of to excise the last few months off my life.” The old man’s eyes, clouded by cataracts and sitting behind glasses and flaps of wrinkles, still held a frightening, threatening power. “I am certain I will die. If you do not perform this action, Yarenth will hold your treachery against you.”

The priest nodded. “I think you at least believe what you say.”

“And how dare you not believe me in return?”

The priest opened his jar of alabaster oil, sprinkled a bit on his own hand, then rubbed it on the old General’s forehead. He muttered some words in a language he didn’t understand, in a language he almost certainly garbled, then closed the box back up.

All the family members swooped in upon the oil-laden general. His son, bedecked in his own uniform, sat on bended knee at his foot while nieces and nephews of diverse ages teared up and wept.

“What is the matter with my dear children?” The general asked. He rubbed his son’s head, patted the top of a little boy’s. “Have I alarmed you? Oh, do not cry. Be good children and we will all meet in Heaven.”

The sun rose imperceptibly, and the clock struck noon.

The General gave one breath, which passed easily from his lungs, and all was over.

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*The slime is from a lingering respiratory problem due to a bullet lodged in his chest. It’s not actually the thing killing him in this scene.

This was written for Joanne the Geek’s Flash Fiction Challenge #7, The End. In this, we’re supposed to write the end of a book that we’ll likely never make. I know she said to do the last paragraph, but I couldn’t do it. The last paragraph had to be a single line for this book.

The book I’m talking about here is part of an enormous series that I’m not sure I have enough time left in my life to finish. I wrote the first novella earlier this year and will work on the second when my hand feel a little better, but this one is like… the end of novella #60? Something ridiculous like that?

Anyway, this is the last part in my “novella crazy pants series” before the plotline goes completely off the rails.

A Familiar Face

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The old woman stroked the cat, and his yellow eyes blinked with content. She drank a bit of potion – or tonic, as she called it in the market – and smacked her lips. “Excellent work, my boy.”

The apprentice to the witch, a boy of 17, nodded in thanks. Years spent under the witch’s tutelage had led him to be a formidable witch in his own right, and fewer seemed to suspect him of wrongdoing than the old witch. He found this unfair but decided to use the advantage.

“I think you are ready for a familiar,” the witch said.

His eyes glittered. “Really?” He sat back down, trying to calm himself and not seem so interested. “I mean, sure. I think I’m ready.”

The witch simply smiled, pet the cat – Sam, her familiar – on her lap. “Then I will help you. The first step, of course, is to use the beast-speech potion to find an animal whose personality works well with yours. Heed me, my dear: do not choose an animal who is unwilling. The familiar will last for the rest of your life, and its death will take a piece of your soul with it.”

The apprentice nodded. “I know. I understand.”

“Then take your time. When you find such a creature, bring it here, and we’ll request its service.”

***

A month later, the apprentice drank the potion once more. He’d spoken to every animal in the county, perhaps even the territory considering how many animals traversed through the area while seeking somewhere else, and no reasonable creature had wanted to help him.

And those who might have agreed were bugs or spiders or other creatures too stupid to understand what he asked.

A black cat belonging to a family in town licked its paws while it sat on a railing. The apprentice walked up to it, and he asked, “What’s your name?”

It stopped licking. “Fuck off, mate.”

The apprentice furrowed his brows and stepped back. “I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me. Fuck off, go away. I’m happy here and don’t want to serve the likes of you.” It continued licking its paw. “Everyone knows what you’ve been up to for the last month, so don’t even pretend like this wasn’t some sort of interview.”

“Well, excuse me for living!” the apprentice growled back.

He removed himself from the foul animal’s presence and headed back to the witch’s little house in the woods.

***

He found the witch stirring a brew, this one likely a beer rather than a potion. She looked up from her work to see the young man’s dejected entry. “Is something wrong, dear?”

He sat down on the chair. “I just can’t find a familiar. I’ve tried everything, but every animal says no.” He placed his elbows on the table and leaned his chin into his palms. “Should I go farther? Perhaps head to New Orleans and see what I can find there?”

“Perhaps,” the witch answered. “But perhaps there’s another solution to your problem.”

“What?” the apprentice asked.

“You’ve only been at this for a month, and if you’ve gone through every option, that means you’ve not built any relationships. You’ve just asked them to join you, and of course they said no because they thought you an abusive witch.” She put the pot atop her brew and pat the lid. “Whether you go to New Orleans or you stay here, it’s best to find a friend before you even think about asking for a permanent relationship.”

“You sound like someone giving dating advice.”

She chuckled. “I suppose it could be similar.”

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This was written for Alexander Eliot’s photo prompt, “Cats’ Eye.” This photo, provided by Mr. Eliot, was such a crisp and clean photo of a cat named Sam. I decided to use this opportunity to continue the story from earlier, wherein my younger apprentice learned to appreciate many forms of life and find satisfaction with his trainer.

Watch for Witches

gnome on swing chair

Red-capped Jeroboam soldered the gear. He wound the mechanism and let it go. The device turned and whirred as he expected, so he put it down to tinker on it further.

“What are you making, gnome?” asked a human customer.

“A device that tells time. Wind it up in the morning, and it will work all day.”

“Sounds like witchcraft.”

The gnome squinted. “You could make one too, if you’d get over that ‘witch’ crap.”

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This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #119Tinker. As an avid D&D player, I immediately thought of tinkering gnomes and couldn’t put that idea down!

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

Frog Slime

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“This will never do,” Mrs. McGillicutty snapped. She dropped the toad gently back down to into the young man’s pail.

“Why not?”

“It’s a simple mistake, but one witches such as I – and you, if you’re willing to stick with your apprenticeship – must learn well.” The woman, whose wild curls had once been a fine jet-black but were now grayed and thick, pointed at the toad. “See the roughness of the skin? The mottled pattern? It’s a toad. In order for spells requiring frog slime to work, you must have a frog.”

The boy rolled his eyes. “So you want me to go back out and look for another one?”

“Well, if you want to make a potion to breathe underwater, you need a frog’s slime. There’s no way around it.” She pointed back to the toad. “If you find another of these, just let it go. The frogs around here are a muddy green, and they tend to live in the ponds.” She turned to her own work, dissecting flowers and carefully removing their various organs to make an aphrodisiac. “Now get on – shoo! The faster you get the frog, the sooner we make the potion.”

Young Chris pursed his lips, refusing to contradict his boss when he left. He shut the door behind him, then sauntered down the dirt path toward the pond. It was another mile away, over by where he’d already picked mushrooms and violets for the witch.

“Stupid witch,” he mumbled to himself. “Should have joined the army and fought the British like father wanted.” He kicked a rock in the middle of the road and contemplated how it rolled, how it couldn’t control its own direction or destiny. He should have followed the advice of the natural world and not tried to kick against the thorns by taking up this unnatural occupation.

Along the side of the road, however, he spotted a bunch of trillium. They were in flower, and the bunch was big enough that he could take several of them and not disturb their future growth. The witch liked these flowers, so he hoped she’d be pleased even if he didn’t find the frog. He dumped the toad out of the pail then collected some of the flowers and continued on his way.

The sun shone brightly, bleaching his hair as he continued down the path. A little ways further, and his eyes caught sight of a spider’s web. He investigated closer, then noticed the little friend of all witches: the black widow. His heart shuddered at the thoughts of the bug’s bite, but he knew the potency of the spider’s bite was something all witches desired. He took a stick, prodded the creature, and eventually convinced her to bite the end of the oak. Sure, the poison would need to be leached soon in order to be made use of, but the witch would know how to do that.

Soon, the young man came to the pond. As if on command, a frog, definitely a frog and not a toad, swam up from the foulest part of the pond and sat on a log. Green algae stuck to its skin.

Mrs. McGillicutty wanted the frog, but the young man looked at the animal and considered it. He’d taken the venom of a spider and a few shoots of a flower – why capture and torture this poor animal? Why waste that time? He scooped the frog from its perch, wiped away a little of the algae, and scooped the slime into one of the wooden gourds the witch made him take on his journeys. The frog was pleased to re-enter the pond, and the boy put the gourd back into his pail.

By the time he returned to the witch’s house, the sun considered setting, and clouds threatened to rain. He knocked once on the door and entered.

The witch looked up from where she stirred a cauldron. “Any luck?” she asked.

“No,” he answered. “I didn’t get you a frog.” He placed the bucket on the table.

“You can just look again tomorrow.”

“I don’t think so,” he answered. “Witchcraft is a woman’s work for a reason: it’s not something a man like me should partake in. I’m not learning anything, certainly not enough to make a living doing something so… foul.”

The witch opened the gourd and examined the slime inside. She shuffled through the flowers and sniffed the stick, discerning what was important about it. “Then why bring me all this?”

“Because I knew you’d like them.”

“And how did you know that?”

He bit his lip.

“You’re learning at quite the right pace. Now sit back – I’ve made us some venison stew, magic-free.”

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This was written for Alexander Eliot’s new photo prompt! The prompt isn’t on any certain schedule, as far as I can tell, but I can promise that the photos have been wonderful so far. No rules, just a story.

The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

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“And this is the core of the poisonous apple which Adam and Eve ate.” The tour guide pointed to a core, browned from oxidation but otherwise in good shape. “This was unearthed 10 years ago in Mesopotamia, and no scientific explanation regarding its preservation has come forth.”

Someone raised a hand. “Why do we want to keep it?”

“Many reasons! The NIH wants to research its antibiotic properties. The DOE wants to examine its timelessness to find clean fuels. And, of course, the DOD wants to weaponize it. One of these efforts has already succeeded – I’ll let you guess which…”

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This was written for the August 8th Carrot Ranch Promptpoison apple. I’m a pretty religious person and a scientist, so I thought this would be a good way to take the story.

Sister Rosetta

close up photo of black electric guitar

Rosetta’s fingers blazed over the fingerboard, twanged the strings with a fire never before seen. She infused a plain instrument with dripping sexual tension and lightning power. Fans clamored at her feet, and her soprano voice carried through the speakers.

The lights went down at the end of the show, and Rosetta made her way backstage. On her way there, a young boy attempted to accost her in the hall. “How do you play like that?”

“Why sugar,” she said, “I practiced and did it ’cause I loved it.” She pinched his cheek. “What’s your name, honey-child?”

“Elvis Presley.”

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This was written for the August 1st, 2019 Carrot Ranch Challenge, Rock Star. With “Old Town Road” causing major cultural and political waves on multiple music charts, I thought it absolutely necessary to look at another era of whitewashing in American culture.* Sister Rosetta Tharpe was, undeniably, the first major Rock Star. Influencing many future white and black rock singers, it’s astounding to me that she’s been widely forgotten by the nation as a whole.

I made up this story, as it probably didn’t actually happen, but Elvis and Rosetta did surely meet in a vinyl format when he spun the records that inspired him to kick off the “Rock Era.”

*The “Old Town Road” controversy is over whitewashing, but it’s not necessarily an example of purposeful whitewashing. I’d suggest reading the Slate article if you want a better idea of what’s going on.

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com