Short Story: Family Holidays

black-elf

 

The holidays: that time of year when family and friends you avoid are suddenly thrust into your life again, when you give gifts because of obligation rather than inclination. That time of year when those unlucky souls are forced to say “I didn’t get you anything”…or worse, be told, “It’s the thought that counts.” Ouch. That joyous time when you weather your family’s disapproval for the accident of birth. Let’s face it. Holidays are high pressure: expensive both financially and emotionally. And the biggies? They can be a real bitch.

So Glumdedumpling sat, elbows resting on the long wooden table, pondering his fate. This year, it was his sorry lot to be chosen organizer of the annual family reunion. Being a youthful three-hundred sixty-seven, he had tried to shake things up. Every year the gathering was held in a different location, determined usually by the chosen elf’s home environment. For several hundred years it had been held inside large trees, because cookie elves felt comfortable there. They loved the toasty warmth of indoor rooms heated by ovens or open fires; it was dangerous in dry season, but they were slaves to tradition. The diminutive toymaker elves felt fairly comfortable there, although they tended to fan themselves a lot and sit farther from the fire. The high elf cousins had not attended in ages. The other elves pooh-poohed their sea-going cousins, but Glum figured small quarters made them claustrophobic.

So the longer time passed without the high cousins, the more Glum became like his name. Even the bonfire merrily blazing away in the middle of the forest failed to brighten his spirits. He imagined the derision of his fellow elves. “Having the gathering outside? What a unique choice!” they said. Each time they asked, “You told them high noon, right?” failure stung him like a thousand pine needles. Each time they said, “So, this high elf dish is savory instead of sweet? That’s interesting!” he knew he was guilty of the highest heresy. Savory instead of sweet for cookie-elves and toymakers? What in Santa’s name had he been thinking?

Just then, Ravensong walked so gracefully into the gathering that she seemed to glide along the forest floor. Sunlight glinted off her snow white hair; its long full mane draped her like a robe. She carried a tupperware container full of cookies and set it on one of the long wooden picnic tables. Towering over her tiny cousins, she said, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this new venue.” Her voice tinkled like a thousand bells. “Climbing inside those trees was murder on my RSI. I tell you, after that last reunion, it took me centuries to feel better. Thank goodness for aspirin and heating pads!” Her laughter was like the sweet tinny chimes of a music box as she rubbed the base of her spine.

All the other elves were struck speechless. Even among eternal beings that don’t age past young adulthood, time can drag, and it had been a long time since they’d set eyes on something so beautiful. “Are those all the cookies you brought?” asked Merrybells, one of Glum’s cookie-elf cousins. None of the elves had eaten any sweets since early morning. They sat drooling, staring with unabashed hunger at the single plastic container.

“Well, the invitation said you were serving high elf western dishes, so I thought it only fair…” She trailed off at their ravenous expressions. “The others will be along shortly,” she added, “just parking the minivans. I just thought I’d…” She shrugged. “Yes, I’m the only one that brought cookies but–”

Suddenly she was flying through the air, her white main cascading behind her as she gracelessly landed on her ass. “What the–!!!” She caught herself before uttering more. She wasn’t used to this level of indignity.

As she sat silently fuming, Glum planted himself beside her on the forest floor. The needles pricked his bottom, but he ignored the discomfort. They watched the tiny elves fight over the dozen or so cookies like starving men and women. After a couple seconds, Glum said, “Don’t blame them too much. It’s my fault. I should have planned both savory and sweet.” He paused a moment before adding, “I figured planning the reunion could count as my gifts.” He fiddled with some pine needles beside him, avoiding eye contact. “I never know what to get three hundred relatives anyway and…” He sighed. “I didn’t get you anything.”

“It’s the thought that counts,” said Ravensong with a slight pause to denote just the right amount of condescension and disapproval. They watched the other elves fight over the last few crumbs like feral wolves.

They remained quiet a little longer. They could hear the high elves walking from the parking lot, footsteps lightly crunching needles as they approached the scene of utmost bedlam. Dusting debris from her glistening robe, Ravensong finally asked, “So, why aren’t you fighting over the damn cookies too?”

“I ate a bowl of vegan cookie dough before I came,” replied Glum. “I’m on a restricted diet, so I always come prepared.”

As the high elves gathered behind Glum and Ravensong, they took in the spectacle of their tiny cousins with a mixture of aversion and bemusement. Their own robes glistened, their hair glinted with magic, and the tupperware containers they held were filled with brownies, bowls of plum pudding, and fruitcakes. A light snow began to fall, grew heavier, then finally became torrential gusts that tossed the smaller elves like snowflakes. As Glum’s miniature cousins ran for cover, Ravensong and her clan held his small hand and walked to the bonfire—which still merrily blazed away. The storm parted around them; they sat down and started sharing food.

The little elves glared with disdain from their trees, refusing to come outside. They had had enough. So much for diversity! So much for new things! This was a holiday, dammit, a time for tradition! As Glum and the high elves split the savory and sweet dishes between themselves, they smiled, chatted, and joked about the past few hundred years. Eventually the smell of warm brownies overcame the tree dwellers, they lowered their heads in shame and joined the group at the tables. Though the high elves muttered a few words of derision, they were otherwise civil and passed the brownies and plum pudding around each table. Soon, all were partaking of the holiday cheer and sweets–everything, in fact, except the fruitcakes.

Tradition was one thing, but fruitcake was another. No one in their family was that crazy.

 

*image courtesy of http://publicdomainpictures.net/

**due to the holidays, my posts will be scheduled slightly off from the normal two weeks. My apologies. Happy holidays!

 

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