Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Gal's 62 Days of Horror Christmas Takeover 7: Michael James McFarland


Ted, Nolan & Me
By: Michael James McFarland

God, I'm bored.  Screaming bored.
            I have read every magazine left over from the other shifts, paged through the classifieds and advertisements in a week-old paper, reread the employee manual on what to do in various emergency situations (even hoping one would happen just to break the monotony)... and now it's come to this -writing rambling notes to myself in a lousy spiral binder.
            I hate this job.
            This is day three.  Thursday, November 9th.  It's a quarter to midnight and I'm sitting in a glorified outhouse.  I know this is what Mom and Dad envisioned when they sent me to college: Four years and several hundred thousand dollars so I could become a gas station attendant.  Please God, take me now.
            Wait a minute.  Hold on.  Let me introduce myself.  My name's Steve.  I'm twenty-two years old, white, and have a small birthmark in the shape of Wisconsin on my left forearm.  I hope that's personal enough.  Pleased to meet you.  Let me show you around my crummy little station.
            I work in a booth in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven.  It is located on the northeast corner of Main and 12th, right smack dab in the heart of Anytown, USA.  Perhaps you've seen me; I work the late shirt: ten to six o'clock in the morning.  If you've filled your tank here in the last three days, chances are we've said hello.
            The dimensions of my space are a little cramped.  If I stretch my arms out fully to either side, I can press my palms agains the walls with no discomfort at all; in fact, it's a position I find relaxing when my ass starts to fall asleep from sitting on this stool.  Above my head is a bank of four fluorescent tubes covered by a textured Plexiglas shield, so folks can see me for miles as they're driving home and know I'm open for business.  On the inside of the shield is an assortment of dead bugs and spiders; when I'm really bored, I flick the Plexiglass with my finger and make them dance.  This-thit-thit...
            My job, of course, is to sit here all through the night and accept money and credit cards for gasoline taken from yonder pumps; there being six total, so things can really get hopping when the after-theater crowd lets out.  In addition to this, I sell cans of oil, gas treatment, air freshness, and hand out clear plastic mitts to the ladies so they don't go home with the smell of gas on their hands.  Heaven forbid.
            First of all, let me tell you  not a whole helluva lot of folks are into topping off the tank as they're plowing home at 2:30 in the morning; fewer still feel the burning need to check their oil.  It just means a lot of shopping and getting out of the car and fiddling with hoods and gas caps and whatnot and then forgetting to turn on their headlights as they pull out so the cops parked at the shopping center across the street can nail them as soon as they leave the curb.  Also, there are two other gas stations located on two adjacent corners.  The Texaco - which does a full service thing which many people can't resist - is on the southwestern corner.  And at three cents cheaper a gallon, there's the Stop 'N Go right across 12th.  Over there you pay for your gas inside right along with everything else you might need, though after dark it's prepay.
            I haven't told you the name of the outfit I work for, but maybe you can guess.  It's logo is red, white and blue.  It used to be called something else, but changed its name in 1973.  And oh! a few years back, while drunk, it committed an embarrassing little faux pas all over Prince William Sound.  Have you guess who I am?  If you said "hazelnut," you're close.
            Let me tell you, I have nothing but pride for the company I work for.  Why, I'll bet that forty years down the road I'll still be there, a fat pension piling up while I sit back and think of ways to spend it.  Hemorrhoid creams, for instance, and inflatable donuts.  Aw, but that's just dreaming!  It couldn't really happen, could it?
            Oops, here comes a customer...

Later.
            There's a radio with a cassette player up on the shelf behind me, and a box of prerecorded cassettes that someone must have lost around 1980.  Foreigner, Styx, Rush, Ted Nugget, REO Speedwagon.  Crap like that.  I've been going through them, reliving those painful memories.  I must admit, however, a strange and compelling fondness for Ted Nugent, or The Nuge, as we used to call him.  It's his first album I've got here, noted for such highlights as 'Stranglehold' and 'Stormtroopin.'  There's one cut, thought - 'You Make Me Feel Right at Home' - that really bites; Ted in a mellow mood, I suppose.  I particularly like the picture on the cover.  Ted rocking out with his BIG guitar and his BIG hair; shirtless, of course, with some sort of tusk or animal tooth necklace and pants that look like they were airbrushed on later.
            Go Ted Go!
            The thing that really makes me feel detached out here is the fact that there's no clock, which seems odd.  Just me and Ted, floating out here in our little universe, the big fan heater sending a blast of warm air against my back every twenty minutes or so - that's the only way to measure the time.  That and by Ted.  His album takes about forty minutes to listen to, thirty-five if I skip 'You Make Me Feel Right at Home.'
            Then there's Nolan.
            Nolan - his last name is Polish and unpronounceable - comes out from behind the counter of 7-Eleven every night after the beer rush has died and he's got time to slurp down one of his own chili-cheese dogs with a Big Gulp.  He shoots the shit with me while the custodial crew buff and shine his floors.  Nolan is a cynic, with a sour opinion on about any subject you care to name.  World politics, the economy, the state of the American educational system... Popular music.
            "What's that shit you're listening to in there?" he wonders, wearing his most world-weary and stepped-on grin.  There's a Carlton cigarette drooping down from the corner of his mouth, ready to light.  I think of reminding him that he's standing over a ten thousand gallon gasoline tank capable of blowing bits of him all the way back to Poland, but hold my tongue; he'd just sneer and say something brilliantly contemptuous like "Kiss my hairy ass" or "Suck my hairy root."  Nolan, though balding, seems to fancy himself quite a rug under his fashionable corduroys.  The thought of him naked gives me the creeps.
            "Ted Nugent," I answer, prepared for the scorn which is sure to follow.
            "Nugent, huh?  Yeah, he used to be okay when he was with the Amboy Dukes."  The Carlton ignites above his Marine Emblem Zippo Lighter.  "But his solo shit sucks."
            A car pulls into the lot and rolls up to the pumps.  A yellow Chevy Impala with a white vinyl roof.  Circa 1974.  A young kid with long black hair climbs out.
            "Look at this loser," Nolan mutters, blowing smoke.
            I look at Nolan.

The shift's hitting its final stretch now, business is about to pick up as folks head off to work and realize they're running on an empty tank; too busy to bother filling it last night.  They're all in a hurry, wondering why the hell the pumps are so busy.  Every last one of them paying wth plastic.  Nolan's business will pick up, too.  People filling up travel-mugs with good old 7-Eleven coffee, picking up the day's cigarettes and a few Hostess Donuts for the commute.  Poor little lemmings.
            Me?  I got a man's job.  I just wonder when they're paying me?
            I know one thing: It ain't gonna be soon enough.  First thing I'm gonna buy is a stack of paperbacks.  This writing helps to pass the time, all right, but who's ever going to read it?
            Kind of pointless, wouldn't you say?

Sunday night.  November 10th.  Day Four.
            It's dead out tonight.  Cold too.  No one, absolutely no one is about.
            I think I've had a grand total of five customers in the last two hours.  One guy I had to go out and tell to turn off his engine while he was switching on the pump.  He said he didn't want the inside of his car to get cold.  I told him to shut it off before he blew us all to Hell; not that I wouldn't have welcomed the brief warmth, mind you.
            On an up note: I finally figured out where the clock is.  The little monitor on the credit card scanner gives a constant readout of the day and time (among a zillion other things, all microscopic), so I feel a little more grounded now.  Not floating somewhere between ten and six.
            On a down note, the heater here seems to be fighting a losing battle.  The cold isn't just coming through the money slot (which I've blocked with paper towels), it's seeping through the walls.  Since I've been here, the blower hasn't been off for over ten minutes at a stretch.  The place has got no insulation, none at all.  Just plywood nailed to a frame of 2x4s.  It's pissing me off because I can't hear anything on the radio unless it's cranked up to about 10.  The sweet sounds of sonic distortion.  Oh yeah.
            One advantage, though: When I'm listening to Ted, almost every song cuts through the drone just fine, all except 'You Make Me Feel Right at Home,' which just sort of limps along at a discordant bass line.
            Dance little spiders!  Dance!  Thit-thit-thit...
            Oops, here comes a customer!

Another strange one; they do seem to crawl out of the woodwork at night.  This guy wanted to know where he could score some crystal meth.  Like I'm stocking it on the shelves!  What do I look like, some sort of late night drug outlet, sitting here freezing my nuts off for the odd speed freak to stumble by.  Get fucking real.  I told him to go inside 7-Eleven and ask the guy behind the counter.  "His name's Nolski!" I shouted after him, trying hard not to laugh.
            He turned and looked at me kinda sideways, trying to figure out if I was putting him on or not.  He went over and stared in the front window for a while, then went inside.  On the way out, he gave me the finger and laid about an inch of rubber exiting the parking lot.  I guess he decided I wasn't telling the truth; and me with such an honest face.  I'll have to ask Nolan about it when he comes over.  I can't wait to find out.  No doubt he pulled a shotgun out from under the counter or something of that magnitude.  Or maybe it was a bazooka.  Ol' Nolan was in Nam, you know.  He told me that about ten times last night.  The Marines.  "Monday's Veteran's Day, you know," he told me with his title little smile.  "My day."
            Should be interesting.  Tomorrow officially started thirty-five minutes ago.

"Happy Veteran's Day."
            I'm in 7-Eleven, getting coffee and something to eat.
            "Fuck you, Veteran's Day is tomorrow."
            "It's after midnight."  I pointed to the wall clock.  "Monday, November 11th."
            "Whoop-de-do.  Today is Sunday, and it'll stay Sunday until I go to sleep; when I wake up, it'll be Monday."  Nolan carries a pocketknife, though not in his pocket; he has a leather sheath that loops around his belt.  As we're talking, he extracts the knife from its well-worn sheath, unfolds the small blade, and begins cleaning his fingernails over the counter.
            "Shit, man, when I was in Nam, I operated rigs and machinery that cost millions out of the taxpayers pockets.  Fucking millions!"  He pauses to look around his little store in obvious contempt, sneering at the rows of prepackaged snack foods in single-serving wrappers.  "Now I'm making Slurpees, heating up cans of nacho cheese, and making change so snot-nosed rich boys can plug quarters into those fucking video machines.  If that ain't a sorry state of affairs, I don't know what is.  You pay for that coffee yet?"
            "I just gave you a dollar!"
            "Oh yeah."  He wipes his lips with the hairy back of his hand.  "Veteran's Day is the day this country honors me of what I did back then.  It's when I can take off this piece of shit" - he plucks distastefully at his logo-covered smock - "and put on a man's uniform."
            "You gonna march in the parade?"
            "Fuck marching in the parade!  I'm gonna sit on my ass outside the VFW and watch it roll by. Every last float and titty.  I own that fucking parade!"
            "Hmm..."
            "What's that?" he demands, his eyes getting hard and dark, like I was some slant-eyed little gook who'd wandered into his jungle camp by mistake.  The blade of his pocket knife came up from beneath his thumbnail, its point covered with a gummy residue of dried chili and cheese.  It looked itchy, like it might want to cut me, snot-nosed college boy that I am.
            "Nothing.  I just said 'Hmm.'"
            Two customers, pretty high school girls out for a night's fun, came through the door, smothering giggles.  Their eyes shone like glassy shells under the strong fluorescents and they headed straight for the candy aisle.  Nolan straightened like a board, folding the knife against his thigh and snapping it back into its holster.  Through the front windows, I saw a long car pull up to the pumps.
            "Uh-oh," I said, nodding.  "Gotta go."  I picked up my coffee and cast an appreciative eye down the row of sweets as I headed for the door.

Later.
            Someone from the afternoon shift left a paper here and I've been looking through it - glancing over the football scores, perusing the comics, checking out what movies are playing.  My weekend's coming up; just one more night.  Maybe I'll go see something on Tuesday night.  If I get paid, that is.
            The Community Events Calendar lists no less than five Veteran's Day parades to take place tomorrow in the city and around the valley.  It's a cinch Nolan will go to the big one, the one that marches up Main Street and passes the VFW before it peters out at 6th Avenue.
            The weather says there's an 80% chance of rain or snow.
            I believe it.  And as cold as it is, it's gonna be snow.

Later.
            The paper was right.  The first flakes are coming down now.  Big and fat.  It looks like it could keep up all day.
            Nolan came out to look at the sky a few minutes ago.  He didn't look too happy.
            I guess he doesn't like snow either.

Tuesday.  November 12th.
            Midnight's come and gone and it's the last night of my work week.  Thank God!
            The owner - one Mr. Lyle Lewis - was here when I arrived, collecting receipts and handing out paychecks.  It seems I'm not quite entitled to one yet, as "Payroll" lags about ten days behind actual hours worked, which in my case puts my first actual paycheck two more actual weeks down the actual fucking road.
            In a pathetic display, I got to see Lyle play the Big Man in front of Shirley, who works the swing shift and is not too bad looking for a woman of her age (I put her somewhere between 36 and 40, though she could pass for ten years younger on a good day).  Anyway, old Lyle gets a big kick outta running us younger fellows down when he's got an audience to play to, especially one he'd like to be banging.
            When I found out I wasn't getting paid until the 25th, I naturally expressed some deep and genuine concern as to why he hadn't thought to mention that to me before, say... when I took the job.  When I was told I would be paid weekly.
            He stopped what he was doing - which at the moment was trying to get a peek down Shirley's blouse - and slowly turned his head to stare at me.  He had this face like a tied pit bull or bulldog that'd really like to take a chomp out of your ass if you would only get within its reach.  The look was a challenge: Step a little closer, boy.  Keep it up.  Let me tear you a new one.  Then he just stays like that - you can almost hear the acids churning in his gut and the big vein throbbing in his forehead - until you blink or look away.  When you finally do, thinking this is stupid, he gives out this little victory chuckle and ribs Shirley with his elbow.
            One footnote to all that: When he went out to check the pumps a few minutes later, Shirley offered to lend me some cash until I got paid.  I didn't take it, but I thanked her kindly for the offer.
            So fuck you too, Lyle.

Tonight has been a dead one because of the snow.  An amazing amount fell yesterday between about four this morning and three in the afternoon.  Thirteen inches, I think I heard the radio say.  The Veteran's Parade was canceled because they couldn't keep the streets clear.
            Poor Nolan.
            I guess he didn't get a chance to show off his uniform.  
            There was an interesting item on the front page of the paper (which I have here in front of me, compliments of Shirley).  It seems some irate citizen took advantage of the heavy snow cover and the city's general paralysis to take a few potshots at City Hall.  Several of the windows were shot out with a "high-caliber sniper's rifle."  Being a holiday, there wasn't a soul inside, so the only damage was in places where the weather got in.  Shorted out a few computer terminals, I guess.  Blew some paper around.
            I wish Nolan were working tonight.  I'd like to show him the article, see what he thinks.  I won't see him until Thursday; by then it'll be old news.
            Who cares? he'd probably say.
            Ah well, it looks like it's going to be another long one.  It's a good thing I have Ted out there with me.
            Right, little spiders?
            Thit-thit-thit...

About the author:
Michael James McFarland has been writing for over 30 years and his short fiction has appeared in a variety of formats.  Among these, 'The Hypnotist' was selected for Honorable Mention in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (15th Annual Collection), 'The Duel' and 'Mira' were produced by Pseudopod as audio podcasts, and 'Deadline' and 'The Yellow Wind' have appeared in print anthologies.  Blood Bound Book published Fallow Ground, his first novel, in 2014.  He has self-published two well-received novels (Wormwood and Blood on the Tracks), a novella (Duplex), and a short story collection (The Yellow Wind & Other Horrors).
            He lives and works in Washington state.

The Gal's 62 Days of Horror Christmas Takeover 6: Chris Kosarich


Hellf
By: Chris Kosarich

Kelly looked at the elf doll her mother held in both hands, and rolled her eyes, sighing, as only a fourteen-year-old can do.
            "What, you don't like him?" Judy Stanton asked, standing in the doorway to the kitchen where Kelly had been pouring herself a glass of iced tea.  "He's so cute!  You always loved it when we put out the Elf during Christmas."
            "Actually, Mom, the Elf gets put out before Christmas, remember?" Kelly pointed out.  "And since Dad took it with him, and I haven't seen Dad in a while, I hadn't really thought about it.  Besides, I'm too old for that kiddie stuff, anyway."
            The look of disappointment on her Mom's face instantly made Kelly feel bad; her Mom and Dad had been divorced for three years now and in the past year things had finally been good at the Stanton house.  Judy had been promoted to office manager at work and they didn't have to struggle to make ends meet (and Kelly's father's child support payments had been more regular, which made it easier).  Mom had been dating a new guy named David for several months; he was nice and cool, good to them both, and Kelly could sense her Mom's upbeat and chipper mood about the upcoming holidays.  Mom always said Christmas was her favorite time of the year.
            "Sure, mom," Kelly said, putting the pitcher of black tea in the fridge and closing the door behind her.  "Where did you get it?"
            Judy had walked into the kitchen and unloaded her purse onto the kitchen counter.  She was still holding the elf doll in one hand.
            "On the way home from work, as I drove by the Foster house, I saw their daughter putting some things out at the curb," Mom explained.  "Stuff left over from the garage sale the weekend before that was going to be picked up by Goodwill or Amvets.  One of the boxes tipped over and this spilled out.  I offered to buy it from the woman, but she told me to just take it.  She said her Dad had recently acquired it, before he... you know."
            "Went nuts?" Kelly said.
            "Kelly, that's not nice!" Judy replied stridently.  "That poor old man lived alone for years after his wife passed.  Yes, he wasn't the most polite person in the neighborhood; he was getting on in years, but you should always show respect to your elders, my dear.  After all, we'll all be there one day."
            Kelly frowned, but shook her head.  "Yeah, I know, but that old buzzard was so mean, always glaring at everyone who came by his front yard, especially kids."
            Judy sighed, staring at her daughter with a disapproving look until she looked away.
            "Kelly, his wife, was very nice to both of us, always bringing over fresh-baked cookies when you were little, don't you remember?  And Mr. Foster wasn't always that way.  Yes, he was mostly quiet, even before Claudia died, but no doubt her death left him very sad.  That kind of heartbreak, even for two people who had a pretty long life together, is a lot to take."
            Kelly nodded, but her eyes fixed on the elf doll her mother had set down on the kitchen counter.  Obviously, it was different than the store-bought doll from several years ago, and instead of the bright red outfit, complete with red cap, this doll was clad in a green jacket and brown tights, with a red belt.  The cap was green with a furry white trim that matched the jacket.  On it's feet were tiny brown leather boots.  While she hadn't touched it, Kelly knew the visible hands and head were painstakingly carved from wood, and painted flesh tone, with a red-lipped grin and bright green eyes. Even its cheeks were blushed with red.
            While some might've found the doll charming, Kelly thought the freaking thing creepy.
            Or was it because Old Man Foster went crazy several months ago, shot up the neighborhood before putting the gun in his mouth and-
            "Kelly, what's wrong?"
            The story she'd heard, from the usual gossiping group of friends, was that when the cops burst in to find him in his garage-turned-workshop, his body sprawled across the concrete floor in a growing pool of blood and reddish-gray brain matter splattered all over his work-bench, the elf doll had been still clenched in his outstretched left hand.  His right hand had fired the Colt .45, but dropped it after the bullet ventilated his skull.
            "Um, nothing, I'm fine," she replied, finally.  "Do we have to keep that thing, Mom?  It really freaks me out."
            "I supposed I could go to the Barnes & Noble and buy a new one," Judy said.  "But you know what, I kind of like him.  He's different.  Why no one bought this at the garage sale is beyond me."
            Because it was found with him when he blew his brains out, that's why, Kelly thought, but opted not to voice her opinion.  After all, that detail was never reported, and it was merely a rumor her girlfriends started most likely.
            "But do you have to put it out, Mom?  Just keep it in your bedroom."  "You're being ridiculous," she said.  "Just humor me on this, please?"
            Kelly wanted to argue against this, but knew when her Mom was set on something it was futile to try and change her mind.  She wondered how David would feel about it.  Perhaps if she could win him over to her side, maybe Mom would get rid of it.
            "Isn't David coming over to help put up our tree?"
            Judy had fetched a wine glass and opened a bottle of chardonnay.  After all, it was Friday and David promised to make dinner tonight.  And he promised he would stay over, too.
            "Uh-huh, indeed he is," her Mom said, sipping from her glass.  "Before dinner, and then we'll decorate it, play bad Christmas music, and drink eggnog."
            "Oh, yuck," Kelly said, but smiled.  Good, she thought.  If I can get David on my side, we can dump that creepy thing in the garbage before bed.
            As it turned out, David hadn't sided with Kelly.  After he arrived with a fragrant Douglas fir and managed to get it mounted in the tree stand, and Judy brought in a few boxes marked "Xmas Decorations" and "Xmas Ornaments & Lights" to be put up after they ate, Kelly gestured to the elf doll, still resting on the kitchen counter.  David had been cutting up chicken and veggies for his famous Chicken Cacciatore, when Kelly pointed to the doll.
            David, isn't that thing the creepiest thing you've ever seen?"
            Wiping his hands on a towel, he turned to look at it.  He asked Kelly where they got it, and she told him.
            "You're kidding?  That poor guy who shot himself last spring?"
            Judy stepped up to her boyfriend and wrapped an arm around his waist, her other hand holding a half-full glass of wine.
            "And my darling daughter happens to think I should get rid of it.  I think it's just adorable!"
            Dropping the hand towel, David picked it up and examined it.  "Well, it's old and handmade, no doubt about it.  Mr. Foster had been a collector of old toys, from what I'd read in the news reports, as well as an amateur toymaker, stuff he'd sold for years at fairs and flea markets."  He put the elf doll back on the counter and pulled his smartphone from his pocket.  Deftly, he snapped off a couple quick pictures of it, turning the doll over before he finished.
            "What're you doing?" Judy asked.
            David had been a sports memorabilia collector and seller for years, sort of a side hobby/business.  "I know a buddy of mine; you know Greg, right?  Well, he's into toys and comics, and I'd bet anything he'd know what this was."
            "Good," Kelly said.  "Maybe he can take it off our hands."
            Inexplicably, Judy snatched the doll off the counter, clutched it against his chest.  "No!  Stop it, both of you!  We're not getting rid of this, so cut it out right now!"
            Kelly looked aghast at her mother, the way her mouth had been twisted into a distasteful grimace, her eyes narrowed into slits.  But her features softened and she let out a loud exhale.  David appeared equally shocked at the sudden outburst.
            "God, I'm sorry about that," she said.  She peered down at the elfin figure in her hands, and dropped it to the counter as if it had suddenly grew hot in her hands.  Or, Kelly thought, like it disgusted her, as if it turned into a snake or rat.
            "Babe, it's okay," David told her.  "We won't get rid of it, but let's find out what this doll is worth.  I'm curious, to be honest."
            Kelly sighed, turning away to roll her eyes.  Good God, David, I like you, but I thought you were on my side!
            The rest of the evening was pleasant, the meal fantastic, and they even had fun decorating the tree and singing along badly to Christmas carols that David streamed from the music app on his phone.  Kelly was grateful, too, that her Mom had stashed the elf doll away from the dining area, but later spied it sitting on a shelf of framed pictures of her at various ages.  Ugh!
            At one point, before Kelly trudged off to her bedroom for the night, David exclaimed that he'd received a text from his buddy, the toy and comics collector.  He read the text to himself, his brow furrowed as he finished.  Clearing his throat, as Judy snuggled up to him on the living room sofa, with Kelly perched on the love seat adjacent, David read the message aloud: "Apparently, it looks like you have a very rare and somewhat infamous Van der Stoffel piece, circa 1885-90.  Johannes Van der Stoffel immigrated to New York in 1882 from Holland, where he became a renowned toymaker, although he was already pretty popular in his home country.  Anyway, he made wood-carved toys of all sorts, but his dolls were his most sought-after items.  Not many of his pieces are found in circulation these days, already snatched up by collectors, unless something makes it to an estate sale. The Green Elf is very rare, and if you don't know the story behind it, look it up.  Word of warning: the story is pure bullshit, IMHO, and definitely not for kids.  Where'd you find this treasure, pal?"
            Judy sat up, her eyes wide, as she stared at her boyfriend.  "Well, how about that?  We have the rare Green Elf by Johannes Whatshisname."
            Kelly just stared at them both, but before she asked David to look up his supposed notorious and "Not for Kids" story behind it, she'd decided to investigate on her own.  Besides, her mother would probably shoot the idea down anyway if she'd voiced it.
            David shot Greg a text reply back, telling him that Judy got it from her recently deceased neighbor's daughter after a garage sale.  Greg's reply back ended with a string of question marks.  David's eyes flew open, mouth gaping.
            As Kelly said good night and headed for her room, she heard David whisper to Judy, "Greg just told me the Green Elf could fetch as much as mid-six figures, depending on its condition and after its authenticity was verified.  Holy shit, babe!"
            Kelly turned back to them.  "It belongs to the Foster family, or at least his daughter.  If it's worth that much, maybe we should give it back to her."
           Judy frowned and shook her head.  "Honey, that's sweet of you, and maybe I would, but she was flying back to California right after I spoke to her."
            Kelly changed into her bedtime clothes - a long T-shirt emblazoned with the sparkly pink and black silhouette of a girl dancing and pajama bottoms - and snatched her Chomebook from her backpack.  She powered it up and, while she waited, her mind dwelled momentarily on her Dad.  I miss him, she thought.  As much as she hated what happened between them a few years ago.  It wasn't an affair or anything like that, but the stress of a crappy economy (although she still didn't fully understand how money problems could irreparably damage a marriage) and her father losing his job and subsequent struggle to acquire a decent one, led to the marriage ending.  She remembered a few times her mother yelling at him for drinking too much, so maybe that was part of it too.
            Still, Dad wouldn't be fooled by it, she told herself.  He'd think it was creepy and want to trash it, too.
            Then again, if he knew it was worth a small fortune, Kelly thought, maybe not.  He'd want to sell the damned thing quick and that's freaking fine with me.
            Stupid David!
            The school-issued laptop finally finished booting up and Kelly opened Google and typed in the "Green Elf toy doll" instead of trying to spell the toymaker's name.  Immediately, the first few hits led to sites related to those like David's friend Greg who collected toys.  She clicked on the first one.  It didn't take long for her to find the "Not for Kids" story that Greg mentioned in his long text message.  Kelly read the four paragraphs from a toy-collector website called ToyKing.com.  "For serious old-time toy collectors, the Johannes van Stoffel hand-carved wooden toys and dolls are as close to the Holy Grail as it comes.  While most of his famous toys are in the hands of collectors across the globe, the most sought-after dolls are, without question, the Green Elf dolls.  
            "Created in his New York shop between 1882 and 1885, van Stoffel only made twelve dolls with the green jacket and cap, and brown legging pants.  Each doll was marked on its lower back by van Stoffel's insignia and the doll's number.  Like with everything else, fakes have abounded over the past several decades, but a fake is easy to spot by a professional collector.
            "And this collector would be remiss in not mentioning the rather unfortunate and somewhat dark history surrounding van Stoffel's most popular toy creation.  But first, let me just say that the 'story' surrounding the Green Elf doll is just that, a story, and quite honestly, utter nonsense.  And the late 80's horror film, despite what some would say, was NOT based on fact but utter fantasy.
            "As most familiar with van Stoffel know, he moved to the United States after recovering from a terrible accident which cost him two fingers on his right hand.  Many, including Johannes himself, thought he would never be able to make toys again.  But he met and soon married a young woman, Charlotte, who helped him get over his disability and he opened up his brand-new New York workshop and store, and began creating his wonderful toys with a renewed vigor.  A year later, they welcomed a baby boy, Stefan, into the world.  Then, suddenly and without reason, Johannes killed his wife and infant son late one night with an ax.  He then took his own life, obviously in total shock and grief at what he'd done.  Speculation about the real reason why van Stoffel had done such a horrible thing mainly settles on that he was known for excessive consumption of alcohol, and perhaps drugs, to overcome his disability.  Some conspiracy theorists believe he made a pact with the devil, or a demon, to obtain his gift for toy making after his accident, but this is, of course, complete and total fabrication."
            Kelly checked out a few other sites, but most of them had similar information, and one site even boasted a forum where fans and collectors could post about related topics.  But she was getting tired and didn't want to go through the whole sign-up process.  Besides, her Chromebook was solely s supposed to be used for school and she had to remember to delete her history.  There had been one link for a site bearing the mysterious name of some paranormal investigator in New Orleans that was no longer in use, but she needed to check something first before going to bed.
            Cracking open her bedroom door, she craned her head out and listened for her Mom and David.  No sounds emanated from the living room, so she carefully crept down the hallway.  Briefly, she had a vision of catching them making out in various stages of undress on the couch, but thankfully the main room in the house was devoid of grownups.
            Kelly spotted the elf doll popped up on the picture shelf behind and slightly to the left of the Christmas tree.  Mom had unplugged the strings of multicolored lights, but the stove light from the kitchen cast its ambient light across the Green Elf's carved features.  She reached up on her tiptoes and grabbed it.  She half-expected it to come to life in her hands, its cherubic face morphing into something ugly and malevolent like Chucky from those horror movies.
            But it didn't.
            Quickly, unless her Mom suddenly appeared in the kitchen for a glass of water, Kelly lifted up the back of the doll's green jacket.  Sure enough, carved into its lower back was the unmistakeable insignia of Johannes van Stoffel, a V and S over each other.  Below that was simply "No. 1."
            Grimacing, Kelly put the Green Elf back and trotted as quickly as she could back for the hallway to her room.  Before she entered the hall, something made her turn back.  Maybe it had been a trick of the light from the kitchen, or maybe not.
            But for a second or two, Kelly thought the Green Elf's eyes had glowed like red-hot embers.

When Kelly awoke early the next morning, she was surprised she hadn't had bad dreams of the Green Elf, eyes aglow as if possessed by a demon with hellish intent.  Instead, she slept pretty soundly, but was mildly irritated at being wide awake on a Saturday morning when she usually tried to sleep in.
            Yawning, she got up and brushed her teeth.  As she spat into the sink, a thought occurred to her: How did Mr. Foster get his hands on such a rare and expensive piece?  He had been retired and appeared to exist comfortably, but yet... it just seemed implausible.
            Dimly, she recalled a few years ago that he got into a car accident not long after his wife passed away, so maybe he acquired an insurance settlement.  And he used that money to buy such a prized toy doll to add to his collection.  Perhaps, but Kelly though that seemed weak.  Ultimately, she guessed he got the Green Elf at one of his flea markets and probably got it for a steal.  Or someone knew the freaking thing was cursed and sold it to him for next to nothing.
            As Kelly opened her bedroom door, what greeted her from the kitchen wasn't the typical sound of adults pouring coffee and buttering toast for breakfast, but an argument.  She crept up the hall and stopped to listen to her Mom and David having a rather heated discussion.
            "But honey, why not?  It would seem absolutely foolish not to cash in on the thing!"
            Kelly's Mom sighed deeply.  As she spoke, there was the sound of sizzling on a pan.  Maybe she'll make real bacon instead of that godawful turkey-substitute stuff she's been making for months, Kelly prayed to herself.
            "David, you're not listening to me.  I said no.  And I meant it.  The doll stays with us, and we're not selling it, regardless of how much money its worth."  Kelly could hear her scraping the pan with the spatula in an attempt not to burn the eggs.  And she could sense her mother's simmering anger.
            "I don't understand you, Jude.  I mean, really.  You can buy another elf doll at the store.  And we can sell this one for six figures, or more, and we can do what we want with the money.  This is just ludicrous."
            "No, it's not, so please fucking stop  hounding me!"
            Whoa, Kelly thought.  She hadn't heard Mom use the F-word since Dad still lived at home.
            "Okay, okay," David said, and put down his coffee cup a little too hard, making a sharp clunk sound on the granite countertop.  "Sorry I pissed you off.  I think I'm going to take a shower."
            Kelly's bedroom was off the hall on the other side of the house opposite the master bedroom, sos he didn't need to worry about David spying her listening in, but she decided to make her presence known after the door to her mother's bedroom clicked shut.
            "Hey, Mom, that smells good," she said, even though she wasn't a huge fan of scrambled eggs.  Her Dad made the best eggs, over-easy, with a dash of seasoned salt.  Side of bacon and a few slices of buttered toast to dip into the yolk - now that was breakfast!  She noticed the package of turkey bacon sitting on the counter next to the stove, but opted not to make a snarky comment given Mom's current mood.
            "Good morning, sweetheart," Mom said, turning off the burner.  "Did you sleep well?"
            Kelly had moved to the fridge to grab the jug of orange juice, and with her back to her mother as she did so, she made a face.  Wow, just a few seconds ago she sounded mad enough to chew through nails, and now she's acting like nothing happened?
            Weird, she thought.
            "Um, yeah, I did, thanks," she replied, pouring juice into a plastic tumbler.
            "David went to grab a quick shower, and I'm going to put the bacon in the microwave," she told her daughter, sipping from her coffee cup.  "I think I'm going to jump in the shower quick, so could you put some bread in the toaster for me?"
            Kelly swallowed OJ and nodded.
           "Thanks, sweetie," Judy said, and leaned in to plant a kiss on her daughter's cheek.  "Be right back!" and she trotted out of the kitchen and down the hall for the master bedroom.
            Behaving like nothing at all was wrong in the world.  Yeah, Kelly told herself.  Definitely not right.

Breakfast came and went without any further prodding by David about selling the Green Elf doll, and while he seemed fine, Kelly could tell the serious disagreement - not to mention Judy's use of bad language towards him - had dampened his usual easy-going and jovial mood.  But if her mom noticed, she said nothing.  Instead, she behaved as if the day ahead was filled with sunshine and rainbows.
            Kelly picked at her eggs, avoided the turkey bacon like it was poisoned, and ate two pieces of toast.  An idea came to her as she buttered the toast while Mom showered, but she wasn't going to mention it.  Mom would probably go nuclear if Kelly did.  She was anxious to finish eating and get back on her Chromebook.  Plus, she hoped she would have some time alone to do what she'd thought of.  It was risky, sure, but if it worked and if she got lucky, no more Green Elf.
            Around noon, she got her wish.  David wanted to check out a few possible acquisitions for his sports memorabilia side-business and asked Judy if she wanted to tag along.  She'd gone along before and enjoyed it, but the drive was an hour or so away.  Judy wasn't worried about her daughter being alone for a few hours, but offered for her to come with them.  They'd grab a late lunch at Applebee's, too.
            "No, thanks.  I'm fine staying here," Kelly said.  She was already at her desk with her Chromebook open, working on school assignments.  Her smartphone lay beside the laptop playing music fro the Pandora app.
            "Okay, but call us if you need anything.  We'll be back around 4 or so.  Bye!"
            When Mom left the opened doorway, Kelly clicked to bring up the web browser where she'd already searched for the name of Foster's daughter, who apparently lived somewhere in California.  She'd texted a couple of her friends since she hadn't met the woman before, and was lucky enough to get her full name: Regina Foster.  Apparently, she hadn't married or was divorced and kept her maiden name.  Kelly found out that she lived in Sacramento.
            Her next problem was a big one.  According to the phone number search page she was using, there were quite a few Regina Fosters in California.  Like over 50.  She didn't have time to call them all, not to mention the fact that she'd be seriously questioned about all those calls to California if Mom looked at the next AT&T bill.
            Check Facebook, you idiot, she thought.  It might be a long shot, since not everyone used the popular social media program, but most people did these days.  She was about to type into Google, but picked up her phone instead.  She stopped the music app, opened Facebook, and typed "Regina Foster" in the search bar.  Predictably, there were plenty of Regina Fosters, but after she refined her search by tying in "Sacramento," she came up with two people.  The first profile displayed a young woman with enough facial piercings to quickly tell Kelly this wasn't the Regina Foster she was looking for.  The second profile didn't show a picture of the woman, but a picture of a black-and-white cat with yellow eyes.
            That's got to be her, Kelly thought.  Unmarried or divorced, loves her cat, and probably has tons of Facebook photos of said cat.  But Kelly wasn't interested in Regina Foster's cat.
            She opened the Facebook Messenger app to send Regina a message, but before she did, Kelly went over he simple plan again.  In fact, her plan was ridiculously simple and the truth, minus a few details that Regina didn't need to know.  Like how the Green Elf freaks me out, or how I swear its eyes glowed red last night, or my Mom's bizarre overreaction at her boyfriend this morning.
            Instead, Kelly would tell her that David's friend recognized the Green Elf as a rare and valuable toy doll, and because she recently lost her father to such a terrible tragedy, Kelly felt compelled to let her know about this.  Maybe Regina could do something good with the money.
            She probably won't even accept my message, block me, and take more pictures of her cat, Kelly mused after she clicked the Send arrow.  To her surprise, Regina Foster replied back after a few minutes. 
            "Kelly, thank you for telling me about the doll, but I have no interest in it.  Your family can keep it, sell it, I don't care.  My mother always had nice things to say about your Mom, so think of it as a gift.  Use the money for college, my dear.  As it is, my lawyer and realtor will be putting the house on the market soon, and I'll have plenty of money from that.  I made my money back, and then some, from the garage sale.  I can't afford any more cross-country trips right now, so you won't see me again, hopefully.  Thanks again.  My Dad's toy obsession was his entire life, maybe more than being married to Mom, even though he loved her dearly.  I'm sorry for what happened months ago.  No one knows why he went nuts, and I thank God every day he didn't harm anyone, except himself.  Praise Jesus that he didn't.  To this day, though, I'm still not sure why he destroyed most of his valuable toys.  Well, except for the Green Elf.  Best of luck to you, and God bless."
            Kelly read the message a few times, frowning.  She considered responding to Regina, even suggesting she could give the money to her church, or a cat shelter, something like that, but she knew it would prove fruitless.  As nice as she'd been via Facebook, the woman would block her, or worse, report her, and Kelly didn't want that kind of hassle.
            "Well, that sucks," she said to herself.  She erased her history from Google and closed the Chromebook.  So, what now?
            Getting rid of it wasn't an option, tempting as it was, because she would catch serious hell from both her mother and David.  And dumping it in the trash wasn't a very good idea.  If the stories about the Green Elf had even a shred of truth - given what happened to Regina's father - she couldn't live with being responsible for more potential bloodshed.
            Too bad Rogue wasn't around any longer.  He'd been the family dog, but had been Dad's dog before he met Mom, just a puppy back then.  When Kelly was born, the Black Lab had fallen as much in love with the diminutive little being toddling around in diapers as baby Kelly had fallen for the dog.  Rogue died when Kelly was 8, and she'd been upset for weeks.  She still missed him terribly, and while she felt bad for thinking of her beloved dog in this way now, it would've made for a convenient excuse: Geez, Mom, I don't know what happened, but the Green Elf must've fallen off the shelf and Rogue got a hold of it, tore it to pieces before I could get it away from him.
            Then an idea struck her: Tell Dad about it.  The whole story, about Mister Foster (who Dad knew from when he and Mom were together, of course) owning the Green Elf and what happened, and even show him the websites with those conspiracy theories surrounding it, she thought.  Hmm, that might work.  Maybe even explain how Mom reacted this morning.  And how I saw its eyes burn like hot coals last night as I left for bed, don't want to forget that last detail.
           Before she realized what she was doing, Kelly snatched up her phone and texted her Dad.  HE worked a lot, in sales, and she hadn't expected his reply to be so quick, but her phone chimed after she'd put it back down and she picked it up.
            "Hey, BabyGirl, how'd you know I was thinking of you?" his text read.  Since as long as she could remember, her father always referred to her as "BabyGirl."  While some other girls her age might loathe such a name from their Dads, Kelly didn't.  It made her smile.
            "Thanx, Dad.  If UR busy, don't wanna bug u, but wanted 2 talk 2 u."  Mom hated the way kids nowadays used the abbreviated "text-speak," so she tried to avoid it when messaging her, but Dad didn't care.
            "Not bugging me, always good to hear from you.  I was going to call your mother to make arrangements to see you for Christmas or at least drop off your presents.  So, what's up, buttercup?"  Kelly smiled again.
            Before she started texting everything, she realized this would be too much to try and condense into a message that wouldn't confuse her Dad, or make him think she was nuts.  Instead, she texted, "Can I call you?"
            Two minutes passed before his reply said, "Sure thing.  I haven't had lunch yet, so let me get to the car and I'll call you in five.  Are you okay?"
            She told him she was, and waited for him to call.  Less than five minutes passed when her phone began to play her Dad's favorite song, "Little Red Corvette" by Prince.  Unlike a lot of her friends who were into the latest band or female diva singer or rap artist, Kelly developed a love of 80's music from her father.
            "Hey, Dad," she said, settling back onto her bed, her back against the pillows and headboard.  Before she got into the reason why she'd reached out to him, she asked him how come he was working on Sunday, and he'd explained that they'd been swamped with work, especially lately, and he was playing catch-up trying to get things at the office squared away before Christmas.
            "Thanks for taking time to call me."
            "Of course, BabyGirl, no problem.  In fact, we should talk more often, but that's my fault, working so much.  I miss you to pieces," he said, his cheery-tone thickening, like he was choking up on the phone, sitting in his car in the parking lot.
            "Don't, Dad, please.  It's not your fault.  Why don't you drive to get your lunch while I talk," she replied, feeling her eyes tear up.  "Just put your phone on speaker first." 
            "Yeah, right, hold on."
            When Keith Stanton announced he had his speaker phone on, Kelly took a deep breath and said, "Okay, well, it all started when Mom brought home this Green Elf doll..."
            Kelly did her best to be clear and concise with the details, as matter-of-fact as she could without coming across like a total whacko.  She dimly recalled him ordering a Chicken Caesar Wrap and a large iced sweet tea at the Chik-fil-A drive-thru, but he must've wolfed it down because, after she finished ten minutes later, when he finally spoke, he didn't sound like he was talking with his mouth full.
            "I heard about Mr. Foster on the news," he said, sighing.  Kelly heard her father light a cigarette, the noise the lighter made when he thumbed the tiny metal wheel giving it away.  Mom had hated his smoking, understandably so, even though he always enjoyed his nicotine fix outside on the back porch, or in the garage with the door open.  Now was not the time for her to lecture her Dad on his bad habits.
            Kelly remained silent for a few moments.
            "That's a damn shame."  He paused, pulling on his cigarette and exhaling.  "Always liked them both a lot, but I would've never figured Emory to go crazy like that.  The news stories I saw didn't really give an explanation, although his wife's recent passing was mentioned.  I texted your mother about it, but she didn't have much to say, unsurprisingly."
            Kelly smirked.
            "So, if I connect the dots here, you think that this Green Elf doll has been cursed or possessed because of what this Swiss toymaker did way back when, with his deal with the devil, is that right?  And it makes certain people do things, violent things, feeds off it, like a vampire feeds on blood?"
            Kelly hadn't used the same analogy, but the gist of it was plainly there.  It also helped that her Dad loved horror movies, much to his ex-wife's chagrin, because this was all sounding like some B-horror movie on Chiller.
            "Pretty much, yeah," Kelly said.  "Please tell me you don't think I'm crazy."
            He laughed.
            "No, sweetie pie, I don't think you're crazy," he told her.  "You're my daughter and, while this stuff sounds crazy, you're not.  Give me a day or two to do my own research online and I'll call you, okay?"
            She said that was okay, but suggested texting, since Mom might be around.  He agreed.
            Before they hung up, she almost recounted Mom's outburst this morning.  Came close, and in retrospect, Kelly should have, but she didn't want it to lead to Mom's new boyfriend, David, and make her father feel bad.
            Maybe if she had, things would've ultimately ended up differently.

Apparently, her Mom and boyfriend had another argument while they were out, David dropping her off and going home.  Kelly tried to ask what happened and her Mom stiffly told her it was nothing to worry about.  Kelly would've pressed her for more, but Judy Stanton walked up to the Christmas tree and skirted it, reaching up to retrieve the Green Elf.  She clutched it to her chest like Kelly used to hold her old stuffed Teddy Bear, Boots (back then, Dora the Explorer was all the rage, and while the Teddy Bear didn't resemble the cartoon monkey and sidekick to Dora, she called it Boots and Boots he stayed), and Kelly had just stood and watched her mother traipse out of the living room towards her bedroom.  As she went inside, her Mom declared, "I have a headache, sweetie, so I'm going to lie down for a while."
            Okay, that's not weird, she thought sarcastically.
            Monday came and went, off to school for Kelly and work for Mom.  She seemed more like herself, the headache gone after sleeping it off for a few hours.  Strangely, the Green Elf stayed in her bedroom.
            The rest of the week, before Christmas break, proceeded along as normal as could be expected, but Kelly didn't hear from her father until Wednesday afternoon after she'd come home from school.  Mom had texted her that she wanted to do some Christmas shopping after work, grab a quick dinner with David, and asked if she wanted her to bring her something for dinner?  She could even come pick her up, if Kelly wanted, since she wasn't that far away.  They were having dinner at the Mexican place that Kelly loved.
           Both her Dad's and Mom's messages were within minutes of each other, and Kelly wanted to talk to Dad.  She texted her Mom that she was fine staying put, but to bring her home a steak-and-cheese quesadilla with chips and queso dip.
            She texted Dad to call her now since he'd indicated it would be better to talk on the phone if Mom wasn't around.
            "Hey, sweet pea, sorry I haven't called sooner," he said.  "Work's been super busy and I wanted to give myself time to look into the Green Elf stuff.  Plus, I've been talking to this guy online who seems to know a heck of a lot about it."
            Kelly said it was okay, and what guy was he talking to?
            "I checked out the same websites you mentioned, especially one dedicated to all things strange and supernatural.  I found some pretty interesting information posted on a message board there, so I signed up, and ended up private-messaging with a guy named Austin," he told her.  "It seems like he's the resident expert on stuff like this, especially the van Stoffel's Green Elf dolls."
            "So what does Austin think?  Did you tell him we have one of them?"
            "No, I didn't, honey," he said.  "I made up a story about a friend of mine coming across it in an estate sale.  Austin told me point-blank to be careful, that the Green Elf's power is very real, especially to those susceptible to its influence.  He also said he knows of a very prominent person in the field of paranormal study that has a collection of objects like the doll, and that they'd probably be interested in acquiring it for proper safe-keeping."
            "Who's this person, Dad?"
            Keith Stanton chuckled over the phone.  "Funny thing is, I'd read a couple of her books way back in the day.  She's elderly now, and her husband used to work alongside her during their many years of paranormal research.  They're known as, among other things, demonologists.  They help people besieged by hauntings and demonic possession.  Some claim they're frauds, taking advantage of people, but all I know is one thing."
            "What's that?"
            "Whether this Green Elf doll is the real deal or not," he said, his voice grim in its sudden seriousness, "I want the damned thing out of the house and away from you and your Mom, even if I have to come over and take it myself."

The next few days went by without incident, and while Kelly hoped her father didn't just show up, confronting Mom about the "damned thing," she knew she couldn't stop him from coming over to drop off her Christmas presents.  Since he lived about two hours away, and rented a small one-bedroom apartment, their time together didn't usually involve sleepovers, although she had before.  His sofa wasn't entirely uncomfortable, but she still enjoyed their time spent, which was a movie and dinner, and occasionally shopping at the mall.
            Before the eventual confrontation that was coming, Kelly attempted one last time to get her Mom to see how weird the Green Elf was making her act.  While she was grateful the doll seemed to reside in her mother's bedroom all the time now, there was a definitive creep factor in that.
            The other thing that worried Kelly was it seemed that Judy and David were taking a break, no doubt due to the big blow-up last weekend over the Green Elf.  Whether they had truly broken up remained to be seen, but Judy didn't wish to discuss it with her daughter, and Kelly didn't push it.  Besides, David had been sending her text messages for the last day or so.
            At first, it had been bizarre, but bizarre seemed to be the new normal now in the days leading up to Christmas.  She figured he wanted to use her as a way of getting back with her Mom and, according to David, she wasn't responding to his texts and calls.  All this stemmed from what happened Sunday morning and spilled over into the afternoon.  David was perplexed and upset, but hadn't hinted at believing the Green Elf was controlling Judy's actions, and Kelly didn't offer any of her own opinions.  The less David knew the better, as far as she was concerned.  One of David's last messages stated that he wanted to sell the "damned thing" and buy her Mom a huge engagement ring, and plan a wedding in Hawaii.
            Wow, Kelly had thought.  That's not too quick or anything.
            She more or less ignored David's last text messages.  She didn't want to be rude, or block him, but she had more important things to worry about.
            Christmas was five days away, and Kelly was surprised when Mom announced that she was taking a sick day and promptly went back to her bedroom, shutting the door.
            Kelly had been sitting in the living room with the TV on, channel-surfing through program after program, not really paying attention to any one thing.  Before she'd even opened her mouth to ask Mom what was wrong, Judy was back behind the closed door.
            Now's as good a time as any, she told herself, switching off the TV and dropping the remote on the cushions.
            Kelly knocked lightly on the bedroom door.  "Mom, can I come in?"
            No answer came, not even the sound of the TV in the bedroom playing soap operas or gameshows.  She doubted her Mom was sleeping, so she tested the knob and it turned.  She opened the door.
            The bedroom was darkened, the shades still closed, and no lights came from the television because it wasn't on.  Even the master bathroom door was shut, which was Mom's preference because she liked sleeping in total darkness.
            Kelly's eyes widened, though, when she noticed the shadowy form of her mother lying back against her bunched-up pillows.  As her eyes adjusted to the dimness inside, she noticed her Mom's slack-jawed face, eyes half-open like she was partway sleeping or drugged, and the familiar thing she cradled in the crook of her right arm.
            "Mom, what are you doing?" she said, her voice cracking.  She shivered, wrapping her arms around herself.  She'd taken one step inside and the room was freezing.  Her breath came out in white puffs.  Oh, no, this can't be happening!
            Suddenly, the Green Elf's eyes flared brightly, a baleful crimson, casting its hellish glow over the rumpled comforter Mom sat on.  She still wore her nightgown, which was one of those long sleep T-shirts.
            Inexplicably, while its mouth didn't appear to move, it spoke in an oily black voice, both shrilly high-pitched and deeply sinister.
            It said, "You can do nothing for her, girl.  If I wish her to speak, she speaks.  If I command her to eat or shit, she does what I say.  If I tell her to kill someone she loves, she will do it.  Be wary and take caution or you will meet the same fate as that pitifully weak old man."
            Hands covering her mouth unless the tiny scream flew from her lips, Kelly backed out and shut the door.  Insidious laughter floated out from inside the bedroom.

Call Dad right now, her mind relentlessly told her over and over.  Just do it, we have to do something!
            She'd left the living room and fled to her room, locking the door.  She grabbed her phone and while she texted her father, she briefly considered packing up a few things and staying over at Brianna's house.  Brianna was one of her best friends, lived a couple of streets over, and she had no doubt she could, at least, go over there for a little while.  If she was gone for too long, her Mom might get suspicious and come looking for her, and then what?  Brianna's parents would see what a total weirdo Judy Stanton had become.  But what if her Mom did something?  She couldn't afford to put anyone at risk.
            Contact the police, dummy!
            Yeah, that would make the most sense, she knew, and let the cops take care of this situation, maybe lock her up.  But what if she freaked out and attacked the police and they shot her?  Would they really?  Maybe zap her with one of those stun-guns and she'd drop the Green Elf and maybe get back to being her normal, pain-in-the-ass self?
            She nodded her head as she worked the phone, sending a quick text message that was nearly unreadable because her hand had been trembling so badly.  After she sent the text to her father, she sat back against the headboard, the pillows scrunched up against her lower back.
            While she waited for Keith to respond, she closed her eyes.  After she talked to him, she would see if he wanted her to call the authorities.  The weight of all these vital decision weighed on her like a thousand pounds.
            Instead of messaging her back, her phone rang with the Prince tune.  Her eyes flew open and she snatched the Samsung from her bed, bringing it to her ear.  A flood of words spilled from her lips.
            "Dad, Mom's acting really strange and the damned thing's eyes glowed red and it talked to me, it really did, and I'm really scared!"
            "Whoa, whoa, BabyGirl," her dad said, trying to calm her down as best he could on the phone. "Where are you?  At home?  Tell me what happened."
            Kelly said she locked herself in her bedroom and explained everything that had happened not long ago.  She'd even recounted that night when the Green Elf doll sat on the picture shelf and its eyes briefly burned like embers.  She apologized for not telling him that tidbit sooner.
            "Don't worry about that, Kelly," he replied, and he rarely called her by her real name, always using pet names unless he was serious about something.  "So, she's still in her room with the door closed?"  As far as she could tell, being locked in her own room, yes, she was still in there.
            "Okay, I'm on my way.  I'll be there soon," he said firmly.  "Stay put.  Don't leave your room."
            "I won't, Dad.  I promise," she said.  Tears leaked from  her eyes.  "Just hurry, please!"
            Of course, when the doorbell chimed twenty minutes later, Kelly - thinking maybe her father had made exceptionally good time driving on the highway - left her room for the front door, head swiveling to note her Mom's bedroom door remained shut.  But Dad's like two hours away.  There's no way he could get here that quickly, she knew.
            Opening the front door, she found David on the stoop with an apologetic smile on his face and holding a bouquet of a dozen red roses.

"David, what are you..." Kelly blurted, but stopped herself from finishing with "...doing here?"  She stepped back as he more or less barged his way in.  What the hell? she thought.  "Sorry, Kelly, but I have to see Judy," he said, turning to face her.  "I've been texting and calling and she hasn't been replying.  I know she's pissed off at me, but I'm worried about her."
            Suddenly, there came a loud, buzz-sawing noise from outside and Kelly spotted a pickup truck across the street with an attached trailer holding one of those machines that chewed up and shredded tree limbs.  A few guys stood around clutching tools like mini-chainsaws and heavy-duty, long-handled tree pruning shears.  Apparently, the Nelsons were finally having their long overgrown monster oak tree taken care of.
            Kelly shut the door.  You're not the only one who's worried, she told herself.  Before he began to walk out of the foyer, presumably to head for her Mom's closed door, Kelly debated whether she should tell David everything, including the fact that her Dad was coming over.  This could get uncomfortably ugly really fast.
            "Shit," she muttered under her breath.
            David had started to move in the direction of the kitchen, which was a shortcut to the hallway leading to the master bedroom, when he paused and glanced back at Kelly.
            "What's the matter?" he asked, clutching the roses close to his belly.
            Kelly was opening her mouth - deciding against saying anything to David right now, she wanted to message her father first that he was here - when she caught a glimpse of a shape rushing up behind him.
            Mom...?
            David must've sensed the movement behind him, and swiveled around with the roses, smiling broadly, when Judy Stanton brought down the solid wooden rolling pin hard across his temple.  The sharp cracking sound made Kelly scream as David crumpled to the carpeted floor.  The rose bouquet tumbled from his fingers.  He lay motionless on his side.
            Judy gazed at her daughter with a maniacal grin spread over her face, eyes glazed and glistening.  She clutched the rolling pin - is that blood smeared across it? Kelly wondered in horror - in one hand, the cursed elf doll in the other.
            And the Green Elf's eyes burned like hellfire.

"Mom, why'd you do that?" Kelly said in a shrill squeal.  Her right hand touched her chest, in shock at the suddenness of the attack, not to mention how absolutely deranged her mother's face appeared.  And that freaking elf doll's hellishly blazing eyes certainly didn't help, either.  Her heart hammered uncomfortably fast, and she was reminded of the infamous chest-bursting scene in the sci-fi horror film, Alien, that she and Dad watched once.
            "Because, my dear daughter," Judy spat, her voice not sounding like her mother, but more like a she-demon, gravelly and harsh, "David was meddling and pestering me, no matter how many times I told him to stop.  And now he's paid the price for it."
            Oh, my God, no!  She's killed him!
            "And because I know what you're doing," her mother rasped, taking a few steps forward and raising the blood-streaked rolling pin, "you're going to pay the same price.  Don't make me chase you around the house, darling girl."
            Kelly stared with her mouth gaping open.  Judy advanced to within striking range, the rolling pin cocked over her right shoulder, when Kelly yanked herself into action.  The rolling pin made a whooshing noise as it quickly descended and Kelly ducked, diving to her right.  Her mother slammed it onto the ground with a muffled thud, and curse words that were unintelligible to her ears.
            She ran, not looking back, heading for the back sliding glass door.  It was her only way out.
            Hurry, Dad, please, just hurry!
            From somewhere behind her, Judy loosed a long, loud screech of rage.

Keith Stanton gripped the wheel with white-knuckled hands, spitting obscenities at every slow-driving moron he came across.  Thank God he'd left work early, Keith's boss understanding his need to stop at his daughter's house to drop off her Christmas presents.  He'd neglected to tell Maury the real reason was because he'd been calling Judy for days now in an attempt to find out when he could see Kelly and give her the gifts, and Judy had ignored all his calls and text messages.
            Before he'd gotten the call from Kelly, Keith had already left work forty-five minutes early, but he had only a gift card to Barnes & Noble, one of his daughter's favorite stores.  He'd wanted to take her shopping at the mall, maybe grab lunch and a movie, but now those plans had changed.
            Spotting the exit sign coming up, he gunned the engine, swerving onto the ramp with a small scream of tire rubber.  He gritted his teeth and prayed he wouldn't get pulled over by a State Trooper.
            "Come on, BabyGirl," he muttered under his breath.  "Just hold on.  Daddy's coming."

Kelly skidded barefoot across the linoleum and barely avoided slamming face-first into the sliding glass doors.  Her hands scrabbled for the handle and lock, flipping up the button, wrenching it open.  A demonic roar of fury bellowed from behind her, and she dove out of the half-open doorway, her hand reaching back to close the slider in an effort to give her a bit of a head-start.
            Most likely blinded by her anger and the evil that possessed her, Judy collided with the slider, which hadn't shut all the way.  The two-inch gap was probably what saved Kelly's life, at least for now, because Judy's head struck the vertical metal frame and she bounced back, falling to the floor.  The rolling pin hit the tile with a loud thump, settling against the back legs of one of the dining room chairs.
            Her mother lay in a heap, like some carelessly discarded child's doll.
            She didn't move.
            Kelly stood on the back deck, catching her breath.  Her eyes locked on her Mom's body.
            She was knocked out, but for how long?  Kelly didn't know the answer to that, but realized she'd left her phone in her room.  She knew she should just walk around to the front of the house and wait for Dad, but she wanted to warn him about what happened.
            Taking a deep breath, she inched open the door and stepped inside.
            Her eyes never left her Mom's crumpled form.
            As quietly as she could, Kelly crept around her.
            As she turned to head in the direction of her room, her mother sat up suddenly and lunched at her, one bony hand seizing her ankle.  She pulled, causing Kelly to lose her footing and fall forward.
            She screamed.
            "You little bitch!"  Judy clutched the Green Elf with its fiery, glowing eyes blazing away, and deftly snatched up the rolling pin.  She brought it to her lips and licked the drying blood.  "Mommy's going to love bashing your fucking brains in!"
            Kelly scrambled to her feet and headed for the front door in a dead run, but mere steps away, Kelly lost her footing and hit the tile floor around the front door, her vision flooded with white starbursts of pain.

Keith pulled into the driveway, screeching to a halt.  He noticed the guys across the street with the tree-trimming service staring at him like he was crazy driving that recklessly down a residential street, but he ignored them.  He leapt from the car and ran for the front walkway.
            Despite the noise from the workmen, as he approached the door, Keith heard the muffled scream.  Prepared to kick in the door if he had to, Keith reached for the door handle, knowing it would be locked.  Miraculously, it wasn't.
            He wrenched it open.
            Kelly lay just inside, and his ex-wife stood over her holding a rolling pin poised to bash down at his daughter.
           Dimly, Keith noted the object nestled against her body in her other hand - the Green Elf doll with eyes balefully shining like embers in Hell.
            Yelling, he lowered his he'd and propelled his body at her like a human torpedo.
            It had been many years since Keith played tackle football, but he'd been a pretty decent linebacker.  His hit was almost textbook perfect, his left shoulder slamming into Judy's midsection, his arms wrapping around her as they both crashed to the floor.  The rolling pin flew from her hands, but she still had the damned doll.
            Shrieking like a banshee, her free hand raked Keith's neck and face, digging bloody furrows as he fought with her.  She felt stronger than she should be, writhing and wriggling from under him as he touched his wounded face, fingertips wet with blood.  She grinned wickedly and reached for the rolling pin a few feet away and Keith grabbed her leg and jerked hard.
            Judy gasped, grunting, as she hit the tile, her stretching fingers scant inches from the makeshift weapon.
            Sweat slicked his hands as she struggled, her bare ankles slippery in the grasp, and Keith panicked.  She almost had it, dammit!
            As he growled and pulled back, something in his peripheral vision caused him to glance to his left.  
            Grimacing, Kelly scooted to her feet and darted around her mother's sprawled figure and grabbed the rolling pin.  She cast a quick look at her father.
            "Do it," he said through clenched jaws.
            Kelly brought the rolling pin down hard on the back of her mother's head.

Keith stood up, standing over the supine form.  The Green Elf doll lay in her outward flung right hand, its once fiery eyes now dull and dark.  Frowning, he reached for it.
            "No, Dad, don't!" Kelly said, dropping the rolling pin and snatching the doll before he could touch.
            "What do you mean?  Why?"  For a moment, Kelly thought she detected a cloud of black gloom infect her father's eyes, and if what she suspected was true, she didn't have much time.  Wiping beads of perspiration from her brow, her eyes stinging already with a few droplets that had trickled into them, Kelly shook her head.
            "Just trust me, Dad," she said as she went out the open front door.  "I know what to do."
            Slamming the door in her father's incredulous face, she ran across the front yard and veered for the guys shredding up cut tree limbs across the street.
            They yelled for her as she ran for the back of it, but Kelly ignored them and tossed the damned thing inside.  In seconds, the grinding, gnashing metal teeth had reduced the wood-and-cloth doll to tiny splinters and ripped shreds of green felt.
            Exhaling deeply, Kelly nodded at workmen and strode back to her house.

When Keith Stanton moved back in, several months later, it was probably the happiest day of Kelly's life.
            Well, okay, when she threw the Green Elf doll into the tree-shredder was way up there in Great and Happy Moments in the Life of Kelly Stanton.  But this was damned close to it.
            In the days and months after the events of that horrid December afternoon before Christmas, life had been a series of ups and downs.  But mostly ups.
            Both Judy and David had survived, spent time in the hospital recovering from head trauma, but nothing that a few stitches and pain medication wouldn't take care of.  And plenty of time to heal mentally and spiritually from what had attacked them.  Keith had to contact the authorities, but prior to the police and ambulance arriving, he and Kelly decided to make this appear like a domestic dispute between Judy and David.  Keith had happened to stop by to drop off his daughter's Christmas gift, when he walked in on the scene, with his daughter caught in the middle.
            Neither Judy nor David had any memory of what had happened.  Ultimately, after they ere both released from the hospital, David attempted to contact Judy, confused as to why they had apparently had a serious fight.  That had never happened before, and why had she attacked her ex-husband like that, when he was just trying to protect his daughter?
            To this, Judy Stanton had no answer, but she eventually did ask about the Green Elf doll.  Kelly told her mother she got rid of it.  When Judy began to break down and cry, Keith had gathered them all together in a group hug.  Keith had been staying at the house while Judy was recovering from her injuries.
            As for the local authorities, since neither Judy nor David wished to press charges, not to mention Keith, they considered the case closed.
            David had stopped calling and messaging Judy.  When Judy had last talked to him, she said she'd been having bad dreams, not sleeping well, and her job was suffering.  She'd decided to seek therapy to help her deal with, well, whatever had happened last December.
            Keith had been prepared to move back out, since Judy was home now, and maybe not 100% fully recovered, but physically much better than she had been.  Unexpectedly, Judy asked him to stay.  Tears in her eyes, she went to him, hugging him tightly.
            "Thank you," she muttered, her face pressed against his chest.  "I... I don't know why this happened, but you saved our daughter.  You saved me, too."
            Clearing his throat of the lump that suddenly formed there, Keith let his own tears fall, and kissed his ex-wife's head.
            "No, she saved us all."
            Months later, when the Stanton family put up the Christmas decorations and fir tree, they said nothing about what transpired one year ago.
            Instead, they drank eggnog, sang Christmas carols badly, and laughed together.

About the author:
Chris Kosarich is an author of horror fiction, nonfiction, and some other stuff he wouldn't want his parents to read.  Previously, his short fiction appeared in various small-press publications, such as Impaler, Black Moon, Malefica, The Swamp, and Vivid.  For 4 years, he wrote the column, Fiendish Endeavors, for the Horror Writers Association monthly newsletter.  Currently, he's at work on a story collection, The Nightmare Season, and a sci-fi horror novel, The Ravening.  And while he wrote most of the serial piece of meta-fiction on Brian Keene's forum, involving Mr. Keene and a whole hose of favorite horror writers, he hasn't been sued, nor did Brian punch him out during a booksigning this past July.  So, hey, that's something, right?  Expect to hear more from him in the future.  
            Chris resides in central Florida with his wife and kids, and cute but demanding cat, Maggie.