The line between cute and creepy is very thin on holidays. Take Halloween. One man’s clown is another man’s waking nightmare.

“It’s cute,” Sarah says.

“It’s a creepy puppet,” I reply.

She rolls her eyes.

“You should give her a break. She’s trying.”

Just because my step-mother, Carol, has been reading all these bonding books about creating new traditions I have to endure the horror that is the Elf on a Shelf. I’m not five. I don’t really think the Elf is getting into hijinks while I’m sleeping, but man does she really go all out. The first day of December he was just sitting on the mantel above the stockings on the fireplace. That was cool. I could even say it was kind of cute, but the next day he was scaling the walls with Christmas bows as footholds. The day after that he’d locked himself in the refrigerator and drawn faces on all of the eggs.

“She’s trying a little too hard.”

“What did you guys name him?”

“He has a name? I just call it the elf.”

Sarah’s rolls her eyes again. She’s pretty, but she can be annoying. My step-mother loves her so that’s why she’s the only girl allowed to be in the house with me while she’s out, but even if I wanted to do something “untoward” (that’s the word she uses, not me. Untoward, like we’re in an episode of Downton Abbey), I wouldn’t. Sarah’s a good buddy. Now, her sister, that’s another conversation, altogether.

“Okay, then. Let’s give it a name. Is it a girl or a boy?”

“Elves are asexual in this universe.”

“That doesn’t mean what you think it means. I think you mean androgynous.”

“Something like that. Not boy or girl. So the name has to work for both. Shelby.”

“I don’t know any boys name Shelby. How about Michael.”

“What?! That’s a boy’s name hippie parents name their girls so they can feel cool. Courtney.”

She nods her head.

“Okay. Elf Courtney. What did they get into yesterday?”

“Tied up some Barbie dolls with tinsel.”

“Kinky.”

I had to laugh at that one. I took a look at my watch. It was getting pretty late. My parents should have been pack by 9. They’d gone to some holiday party thrown by my Dad’s boss. Sarah’s parents worked for the same company so it was easy to get out of going. Who wants to watch old people drink anyway? I chanced a look outside the window and caught site of the snow blowing in fierce gusts.

“It looks pretty bad out there.”

“Yeah. My Mom tried to get out of going, but my Dad wasn’t hearing any of that noise.”

“Guess he’s kicking himself now.”

“Doubtful. More likely he’s blaming her for not arguing her point more convincingly. He’s an asshole.”

Now that shocks me. Sarah never curses. I feel the tension around her and, real talk, it’s kinda making me nervous.

“Alright. Let’s move him.”

“You can’t touch him. He’ll lose all his magic. That’s how it works.”

“Great. I don’t want to find him sharpening a safety pin into a shank in the middle of the night so losing all Courtney’s magic is fine with me.”

“No, no, no. Let’s um..let’s get a barbecue thingie. You know those salad toss thingies.”

“What?”

“Those thingies that grab food but it looks like a boomerang.”

“Tongs?”

She snaps her fingers as the light bulb goes off in her head. “Tongs!”

We root around in the kitchen for the tongs, but when I open the refrigerator door Courtney’s gone.

“You think she moved it before she left?”

I shake my head just as I see something move out of the corner of my eye. At first, I think it might be a rat. My first instinct is jump, but I’m not a punk and the last thing I want Sarah to think is that we keep a nasty house. I close the refrigerator door and turn around slowly. Then the silence is pierced by Sarah’s scream.

Courtney is standing on the kitchen counter.

“It wasn’t there before was it?” she asks with a tremble in her voice.

I shake my head.

“I didn’t think they could stand up on their own,” I say.

She moves behind me a bit, as if she’s scared of the thing and then whispers in my ear. “They can’t.”

As soon as she says it Courtney laughs and jumps off the counter. We both jump.

“Catch it, catch it!” she yells and I grab an empty cookie tin on the counter and give chase, but it’s fast. A laugh, like hollow bells fills the room.

“Scissors!” I yell back at her. “In the drawer.”

Little feet tab on the wood floor like drumming fingers and I follow it to the living room. Crap! The tree, the presents, the stockings and decorations. There are too many places to hide.

The ornaments on the tree jangle. I see a little red hat dart in and out of the foliage. I lunge, but he’s too fast. I knock over the tree and send all the water sprawling, she darts across the firelace and toss my tin to knock her in, but I miss and the tin crashes into the embers sending sparks flying and sizzling on the now soaking carpet.

“I got the scissors!” Sarah yells as I follow Courtney into the downstairs bathroom just in time to see him scaling the walls like some sort of Christmas lizard. I climb on top of the counter as Sarah climbs on top of the toilet. She hands me a butcher knife. Smart girl!

“You’re cornered!” I yell in triumph just as a set of gingerbread cookie men come marching into the space in single file. I jump down from the counter and smash as many as I can. Sarah is hysterical as Courtney leaps from the ceiling back onto the counter and then summersaults down to the floor. I nearly trip on crushed cookie man guts as I rush out of the door only to hear it slam and Sarah scream.

Courtney’s back in the kitchen, standing at attention as if this is all a game with that same damn permasmile and I do it. I throw the knife pinning the Elf from hell to the kitchen cabinet. I rush and with all the strength I have left I rip that thing in half with a roar.

Take that Christmas Demon!!!!

“What in God’s name is going on here?!” Carol yells, snapping me out of my madness. Stuffing from the Elf is raining down like snow and Sarah is still screaming for someone to let her out of the bathroom. I swallow hard and stand up straight. I slowly place the bottom half of Courtney’s body on the kitchen counter.

“So, uh…how was the party?”

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