“In only five more sleeps,” Piper’s mom told her, “Santa will mount his sleigh and head from the North Pole to deliver toys to all the good boys and girls.”
Piper, who was the youngest sibling — only three years old — was enjoying some one-on-one time with her mom. Her older brother, Sebastien, was in elementary school. He didn’t get out for several more hours. It was his last day before Christmas vacation. Her dad was busy at work being a stage manager. She only knew that it meant he built stages when music groups or people who like to talk to other people came to town. Therefore, that left just her and her mom shopping at the mall.
Her mom told her she wanted to buy a few more decorations for the house and she was going to let Piper pick out one for her very own. She said it could be a special ornament to hang on the tree every year. When she grew up and got her own tree, she could take it with her to remind her of all the happy Christmases she had growing up. On the other hand, it could be a brand new stocking to hang near the fireplace. Whatever she wanted, her mom would get it for her. Browsing through the Christmas section, Piper noticed a doll dressed like one of Santa’s helpers. Sitting in the shopping cart, she pointed to the doll. “Mama, can I see that one?”
Her mother took it from the shelf and handed it to her. “It’s called, ‘Elf on the Shelf’, sweetheart. You take him home and set it anywhere you like. The next morning you find him in another spot and no one knows when or how it happens.”
“Oh, mama, please can I have it, please?” Piper asked bobbing up and down excitedly with her arms wrapped around the box. As with all smart children her age, Piper was a faithful believer in Santa and magic.
Her mom turned the box over checking the price. “Umm, thirty dollars is a lot of money for a piece of stuffed red and green material.”
“Please mama,” Piper pleaded. Her mom saw the desperate look in her eyes and decided to give in.
Back at home, her mom took the elf out of the box. “Where should we put him first,” she asked Piper.
“Set him in the middle of the wreath over the fireplace,” Piper answered. Her mom did as she requested.
Later that night while the family sat eating dinner, Piper’s dad noticed the elf. “So you bought the ‘Elf on the Shelf’, huh?” he asked her mom.
“Yes. Piper wanted it so bad so I thought, ‘what could it hurt’?”
“This should be fun,” Sebastien said, scooping green beans onto his fork. “My friend at school said his parents bought one and they’ve woken up and found him in three different places already.”
“Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy,” Piper said, waving her legs in her highchair full of anticipation. The elf’s head fell slightly to the right. Their beagle, Chuy, sitting on the hearth of the fireplace, gave out a bark while staring up at the elf.
The next morning the family came downstairs to eat breakfast before starting their day. Piper’s dad carried her to the highchair and began strapping her in.
“Looky, looky, he’s moved!” Piper yelled.
Turning, her father noticed it too along with her mom and brother.
“Where could he be?” her mom asked, looking over to Piper’s father with a wink.
Piper’s father looked around the room. “I don’t know,” he said surprised. Sebastien giggled.
“What’s funny, Bastien,” Piper asked in a stern tone.
“Ooh nothing,” he answered, looking over at his mom with a smile.
From the kid’s playroom near the front of the house came a growl then a quick, snapping bark. After a short moment, in walked Chuy with the elf riding on his back. The family burst into laughter. Piper’s father looked over to her mom shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders.
Before leaving for work, Piper’s dad hugged her mom and told her he would be late, that he had to supervise a stage setup for a rock group playing later that night at the Convention Center but that he would be home by dinner. She said that was fine and it would give her plenty of time for some last minute Christmas shopping.
Before leaving for the mall, Piper’s mom put the elf high up on the bookshelf in the living room so Chuy would not use it as a chew toy. When he was a puppy, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t shred or chew to a splintered pulp. That is how he came to be called, Chuy.
After hours of shuffling through the crowds at the mall, mother, son and daughter finally made it back home. Piper was the first to walk in the front door. She stopped in the entryway and started laughing uncontrollably.
“What’s so funny, sweetheart?” her mom asked. Piper pointed toward the dining room. Her mother gasped and dropped the two over-filled shopping bags she was carrying. Sebastien started laughing as well.
Later that evening Piper’s father came home from work. “I need to talk to you,” her mom said to her dad, “Upstairs.”
Entering the bedroom, her mom shut the door behind them. Piper noticed that they always shut the door when one parent needs to talk to the other in private. She could hear her mom’s voice from her bedroom down the hall but could not make out what she was saying.
“Putting the elf on the dog was cute and hilarious. But us coming home in the middle of the day and finding it sitting in the chandelier over the dining room table was a bit disturbing.”
“But I didn’t. I was at…”
“Stop it, please. That stunt just about gave me a heart attack. And what did you do, wait for us to get home then dash out the back door?”
“Look, I was at the Convention Center all day. You can call Donny and ask him if you like. I just left there forty-five minutes ago. And what do you mean by, ‘dash out the back door’?”
“Not only was it sitting in the chandelier but the chandelier was swinging.”
“So what you’re telling me is while everyone was gone today, Elf on the Shelf had a wild party and you busted him swinging on the chandelier?” he asked with a crooked smirk.
“Not funny!” her mom said raising her voice. “I’ve already put it back in the box and bag. I’m returning it tomorrow.” That part Piper heard was clear as a bell and became very sad to the point of crying.
The next morning after breakfast, Piper’s dad set off to work, and she and her brother found themselves with their mom heading back to the mall. Walking up to the return desk, her mom placed the bag on the counter.
“I would like to return this item, please,” she told the cashier.
The cashier pulled the box from the bag. “And what item would that be, ma’am?”
“The, Elf on the Shelf, of course,” her mom said directly. The cashier turned the box toward them and they noticed it was empty. “Which one of you took it?” her mom asked, turning toward the kids.
“I didn’t,” said Sebastien with a surprised expression.
“I didn’t either, I promise,” answered Piper, her eyes glazing.
“If I get home and find it in one of your rooms, someone is going to be on restriction for a very long time,” her mom said, waving an angry finger at them both. She grabbed the box and stuffed it back into the bag, apologized to the cashier and they left for home.
Returning home, Piper’s mom had her and Sebastien sit on the couch as she diligently searched their bedrooms. She rifled through the dresser drawers, and with a broom, she swept toys and clothes from under their beds and slid clothes hanging in the closets from one side to the other.
“I’m scared,” Piper said to her brother. “What if he snuck in my room and she finds him? Mom will think I’ve been bad and Santa won’t bring me anything.”
“Sssh, it’ll be alright. We know we didn’t do anything with it,” Sebastien said putting his arm around her. “Besides, Uncle Jamie is a policeman. We could ask him to come over and throw dust on it for fingerprints. Then mom will know that me and you didn’t touch it and Santa will bring us our stuff.”
With no luck finding the elf in their bedrooms, her mom stomped down the stairs and searched through all the kitchen cabinets, opening and slamming, opening and slamming. She looked through the refrigerator, under the cushions on the couch and chairs, in the hall closet and finally, she went to the kid’s playroom, pulled out every toy bin, and searched through the jacket closet, but still with no luck.
She walked back into the living room huffing and puffing and stared at the kids who now sat among disheveled cushions. “Ok, one last time, where is it?” she demanded.
“I promise, mom, we didn’t take it,” Sebastien said with all the truth he could muster in his voice.
“You know I’m going to tell your father when he gets home. And I have half a mind to call Santa before he leaves and tell him what you’ve done,” she said sternly with her hands on her hips.
“But, mama, we didn’t take it. I want him back like you do but more. He was my magical friend,” Piper said with tears in her eyes.
Seeing her daughter’s tears running down her cheeks melted her heart. She knew then she had let her anger get the best of her. She had taken it too far. She knelt and cradled Piper in her arms. “Mama is so sorry, sweetheart. I’m not going to tell Santa anything. You’ve both been so good this year.” She eased back so she could see Piper’s tear-stained face. “I will have to tell dadah though because he’ll ask where it’s at. But he won’t be mad, ok?” Piper shook her head and wiped her tears away.
Later that evening when Piper’s dad came home, she heard her mom telling him everything that had happened. How she went to return the elf, only to find it was not in the box, and how she turned the house inside out, (whatever that meant) and now the darn thing was missing. She said the kids were not to blame, that she had set it somewhere thinking she had put it in the box and just forgot where. To ensure they would have a happy Christmas, her dad reached into his back pocket and pulled thirty dollars from his wallet to replace the money her mom had spent on the elf.
“Do you want to go buy another one?” he asked.
“Oh god no!” she said. Then they both started laughing. Though she missed her magical friend, hearing their laughter made Piper the happiest little girl at Christmas.
It was Christmas Eve and Piper and Sebastien put a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk on a small coffee table next to the fireplace. They went outside in the front yard with their mom and dad and left a bucket of carrots for Santa’s reindeer so they would have the energy to fly around the world and back to the North Pole. Before running up the stairs to bed, they watched the news with their parents and discovered that Santa had just left Japan and was heading to America, the first stop, California. They looked at each other with their mouths wide open, turned, and ran up the stairs jumping into bed.
That Christmas came and went, as did the New Year. Everything was merry and bright. The elf, however, was never found; only magical whispers and quiet giggles could be heard coming from Piper’s bedroom after everyone else was in bed fast asleep.
Bruce Rowe resides in North Bend, Oregon where he spends his time writing, playing guitar, and exploring beautiful landscapes. His books include his epic fantasy novel The Chrysalis and the Creatures of the Highlands, and his children’s picture book Abdiel, and the Master of the Manger.