A FRIEND FOR CHRISTMAS (SARAH MCVEIGH)
The sweet sound of song danced along the chill of a December night, as it let itself be carried away from a little village, and up a steep and snowy mountain.
Little Elf’s pointed ears twitched at the sound, and he fiercely rubbed his eyes after his long summer slumber. He stretched an almighty stretch, before finally opening his sparkling black eyes and peered through the hole in the oak tree and out into the twilight.
His eyes widened as he gave an exaggerated and lengthy gasp.
“The first snow of winter.” He whispered happily to himself.
Excitement overtook grogginess and Little Elf leapt to his feet, banging his head on the low ceiling of his tree knot. He glared up at the tree and rubbed his head, but nothing would dampen his spirits on this night.
No, for tonight the Elves will awaken and fires will be lit and berries will be roasted. There will be dancing, laughter and merriment, for tonight they would celebrate the first snow fall. Tonight will be the first time the Elves are together since they began their long summer slumber.
Little Elf poked his acorn hatted head as far out of his tree knot as he dared. He wondered how many Elves had emerged already. Would the fires be lit? He hoped the roasted berries hadn’t been eaten!
As he gazed out into the darkness, the sound of song still tickled the air, but his brow furrowed. He was the first one awake.
No matter, someone had to be first.
Little Elf pulled on his soft boots and coat, both gifts from his friend Squirrel, and grappled down the tree’s trunk.
Finally, his feet crunched in the soft snow below, and he giggled in anticipation. Once he’d caught his breath, Little Elf hopped lightly to the nearest tree and rapped his knuckle on the trunk.
“Wake up!” He shouted. “The first snow has arrived!”
There was only stillness in response.
Little Elf knocked on the trunk once more.
“Wake up!” He shouted again.
When there came no answer, he moved on to the next tree, and the next, and then another. Until he had tried every tree.
Little Elf found only silence. Even the song on the air seemed to have abandoned him. “Hello?!” Little Elf shouted into the cold night, but all he heard was his own voice echoing back to him off the mountain.
Confusion fell on his little round face and he began to jump up and down, testing the ground below.
The snow was hard. This wasn’t the first snow fall. How long had it been snowing for? Where were the other Elves? Had they woken days ago? But if that was the case, there would be evidence of fires, laughter and joy. There was only evidence here of loneliness and abandonment.
Had they migrated to a higher location without him? Why didn’t they wake him?
Little Elf began to shiver and he pulled his squirrel coat tighter. Squirrel! He knew she didn’t like to be disturbed, but maybe she could explain where the Elves went.
Little Elf ran to Squirrel’s tree and made his way to the top.
“Squirrel.” He whispered nervously into her home. There was no answer. He tiptoed inside and felt around in the darkness and through the leaves, hoping to feel a soft bushy tail. “Squirrel?” His voice became panicked when she neither answered nor swished her tail, as she often did when she was cross with him.
Little Elf frantically moved the autumn leaves aside but his worst fear was realised; Squirrel wasn’t there.
Little Elf threw himself down on to the edge of Squirrels home, with his little legs dangling. He placed his face in his hands and allowed himself to weep as his shoulders moved up and down with his sobs.
Exhausted, Little Elf sniffed and wiped the tears from his face. What now? It was far too dangerous for an Elf to migrate alone, but he strongly suspected that is where they had gone; further up the mountain and out of the way of humans.
He had many friends in the Elf community and he was sure someone would notice he was missing. They would come back for him.
And so, Little Elf waited.
The sun rose and fell as he watched from his perch in the tree. The moon etched away in the sky more times than Little Elf could count. More snow fell and winds howled around him, threatening to knock him from his perch. His stomach would growl and Little Elf would settle it with Squirrel’s abandoned supplies.
Many days passed. Little Elf become increasingly worried that his friends weren’t coming for him after all.
Little Elf watched as another day ended and the night brought with it December’s full moon. He watched as she crept up from behind the mountain and seemed to perch upon the rock. Her golden-orange sparkle reflected back in Little Elf’s dark eyes and he suddenly didn’t feel so alone for a moment.
As Little Elf watched the moon before him, music danced up the mountain and tickled his ears once more. The beautiful song filled his chest with hope and he slowly moved his gaze from the golden moon, to the village at the foot of the mountain.
The air was thin tonight and Little Elf could hear the sounds of joy and laughter from below, the scent of sweet cooked pastry filled his nostrils and angered his stomach. As he watched, the darkness illuminated with thousands of tiny twinkling lights, followed by a gasping crowd and a round of applause.
There seemed to be an abundance of happiness in the village, maybe they could spare some for him?
Little Elf made his way down the side of the tree and back on to the thick snow with a thud, and under the watch of the Cold Moon, he lightly hopped down the mountain and towards the village.
At the edge of the village, Little Elf watched as busy feet rushed this way and that over wet cobblestones. He knew if he left his hiding place now, he would be trampled by the crowd, and so he watched and he waited.
As he watched, he revelled in the joy before him. Humans laughed with deep merriment as they cheersed their drinks and shared steaming piles of deliciously smelling food. Friends told stories, children ran around their parents in a game of chase, couples spoke softly to one another with their heads close.
There was no loneliness here, no abandonment, there was someone for everyone and Little Elf’s heart ached for the family he had lost with no explanation and no cause. It seemed unfair that those before him had so much companionship, and he had none.
As the night drew on, the crowd thinned enough for Little Elf to make his way deeper in to the village. He dangerously weaved through hurried feet, dropped food and discarded packaging, but that didn’t dampen his spirits. He followed the sound of laughter and the promise of warm lights, until he came across a row of houses.
They stood proudly side by side, each with a blanket of snow before them and lights around their windows.
When Little Elf came to the first house, he pushed his button nose up to the glass and peered through the window. A family sat on a comfortable sofa, with matching novelty slippers, each sipping a steamy cup of hot chocolate. They were content in the company of each other.
This was where Little Elf needed to be. He glanced around for a way in, but there was none. Feeling a little defeated, he moved to the next house. Here sat a lady with her dog for company. They slept together as the television told stories of Christmas. But again, the house was shut off from Little Elf.
He went down the row of houses and found similar scenes of warmth and joy, but there was no such feeling for him.
Feeling forlorn, Little Elf turned back to the direction of the mountain, but as he did, a large wheel raced by and sprayed a tidal wave of cold, oily sludge over him.
“My coat!” He whimpered as the squirrel fur grew dark and heavy.
Little Elf plodded back through the village and to the foot of the mountain. He shivered as the long walk back up the steep slope seemed more than he could handle, and so he slumped himself at the side of discarded box and he waited.
What he waited for this time, he wasn’t sure.
The night grew quieter as the hour grew later, until there was no sound around him but the whistle of the wind.
A slight flurry of snow swirled around Little Elf and threatened to cover his small body, but still, he didn’t move.
A shuffling of feet could be heard growing louder until a pair of green wellingtons stopped suddenly before him.
Little Elf didn’t look up or even gasp as a shaky hand scooped him from the cold cobblestone.
He made no attempt to escape as his captor carried him carefully up to a small house.
Little Elf was placed softly on a wooden table and he blinked at a small glow that began in the corner of the room.
“There, a little light.” Came an old croaky voice of a woman. As she grew closer, Little Elf sat up, but he didn’t smile.
“How did you come to be on your own?” She asked as she removed her bright woollen hat and warm coat.
Still, Little Elf stared blankly back.
The old woman nodded kindly at his lack of response and made her way into the kitchen to boil the kettle.
She asked for his wet clothes and hung them to dry, in return she gave him a red woollen onesie she’d knitted whilst Little Elf washed in a bowl of warm and soapy water.
“Where are the other Elves?” The old woman tried again.
With warmth inside him, Little Elf began to tell her his story, starting from when he woke from his hibernation many nights ago.
“You waited all alone? And no one came back for you?” Tears filled her already watery eyes. Little Elf nodded sadly into his warm drink.
The old woman looked down with pity in the creases of her face.
“I can’t offer much, but I can offer you food and warmth, I can offer you companionship.” She blew on her drink and as she did, the steam escaped and clung to her glasses.
“I can share my home if you’d like.” She whispered, afraid of rejection.
Little Elf’s heart inflated in his chest.
“Oh! You will?” He shouted and leapt from the table and on to the old woman’s arm. He hugged her and found comfort in the softness of her sea-blue cardigan.
She chuckled heartily at his response.
“Is that a yes?” She laughed.
“Yes! It’s a yes! Thank you! I’m so happy you found me and I’m so grateful for your kindness! You can’t possibly know how alone I’ve been!” Little Elf spoke rapidly into her cardigan, still gripping to her arm in the fear that she would disappear.
“I may know a little something of loneliness.” The old lady sighed. “But I’m happy I found you too.”
Little Elf looked up at her tone, it had a sad tinge to it, as if an old wound was refusing to heal.
The old lady was gazing at the other end of the room and Little Elf followed her lead. There, he saw a pair of worn slippers tucked neatly below a worn armchair and a pipe gone cold atop an old newspaper.
“We never have to be alone again.” Little Elf smiled up at the old woman.
And she smiled back gratefully at her new friend.