Yule Tale 2018
Shelf-Elf Barry And The Ugly Christmas Jumper Situation
Shelf-Elf Barry wished he worked on the Christmas production line. Okay the hours were long - September through to December, and you had to be ambidextrous to avoid serious repetitive strain injury, but once you got to that Christmas Eve deadline it was sherry and mince pies and eight months holiday. And no thinking required!
Most production elves would look at the shelf-elf hours and scoff, of course. A mere 25 days! But they never once had to think about work, they could just do it.
Barry worked all year to storyboard 25 unique scenarios, and how to get in and out of each one without being seen, and then there were the incessant training drills and fitness routines that were a core part of being on special forces shelf-elf detail. He felt like he was getting too old for this nonsense. Retirement, alas, was hundreds of years away, and Santa never sacked an elf without also turning them into stuffed toys, which wasn’t how Barry wanted to end up.
(Santa hadn’t actually ever sacked an elf: that was because he’d made that rule and it worked.)
Barry sighed, checked his survival kit, checked it again, cross-referenced it with Larry’s.
Part of the problem was that he couldn’t decide what his Christmas Eve finale would be. He’d just copied last year’s onto his storyboard and somehow got away with that, but the family would know. Mum, Dad, Little Lily, Little Bertie: they would be let down if he spelled FARTY SPROUT PANTS in the tinsel again. Barry was extra-checking his kit to take his mind off what a disaster his mission was going to be. No shelf-elf ever wants to be winging it. Meticulous planning is everything.
Larry had all his ideas but his pack was missing a sugar ration, so he had to go down to stores and argue about that. Store Elves were jealous guardians of sugar in particular.
It was in ample supply, they reasoned, so there shouldn’t be any need for more.
It was ample in the supply house, Larry would tell them, mainly because they never gave any to anyone.
Luckily he had the correct paperwork so they had to sign over a ration for him.
‘May Rudolph’s blessed nose shine upon you,’ he told Barry what he’d said to the Head Store Elf, ‘then when I was walking away I went, like, and may he fly over and poop on your head! I know he heard - I kept walking!’
Barry chuckled. ‘I hope their ugly Christmas jumpers come alive and- hey, that’s the idea I was missing!’
‘Oh yeah.’ Larry packed his sugar safely in his case. ‘That’s a good one!’
Everything was going well now. Shelf-Elf Barry was enjoying his mission. He’d signed a pledge against plastic so no clingfilm across the toilet this year but he’d excelled himself unravelling toilet paper into a giant snowflake that blocked off the shower. He thought he might have gone too far when he drew an ugly portrait of Mum on the mirror using the last of the toothpaste, as Little Bertie had woken her up in the night and she was all tired and teasy; she had burst out laughing and stuck her fingers in it, and cleverly made it into a most unflattering picture of Dad instead. Phew!
The children loved the reindeer poop cookies, and the dolls’ skinny dipping in the goldfish tank, and all of his danglings from lampshades and baubles, and every bit of mess he made: and lo and behold on Christmas Eve it began to snow! And he had his best trick yet to pull!!
(In shelf-elf training they warn you about the smugness. In retrospect Barry could see where it had begun to go wrong.)
Shelf-Elf Barry dragged the jumpers out onto the sofa. There were four of them, as expected.
Dad’s, featuring a padded stuffed turkey.
Mum’s, featuring a tree with real fairy lights.
Little Lily’s, featuring a shark called Santa Jaws.
Little Bertie’s, featuring... a cactus? Well, it was red and green.
Barry climbed up the back of the sofa. He took out and shook up his bag of fairy dust, intent on checking for lumps, then opened it and sprinkled just enough. He didn’t see the loose paperchain slip down from the ceiling until it hit the bag from his hands and all of the dust went Poof over the jumpers.
‘Oh- Great Rudolph’s butt!!!’ Barry watched helplessly at first as the sparkles intensified, then his training kicked in and he ran for cover.
The knitted turkey was first to its feet, and its head reached the ceiling. Barry kept very still. Next was the tree, with glowing eyes, and fir fronds that stuck out into claws. The shark was a bit wobbly, walking on its tail, but soon snapping around happily. Then the cactus got up, with its gigantic spikes. ‘Hug me,’ it said, in a sickly cute voice. ‘It’s Kwismuss.’
Barry didn’t answer. He didn’t move. This will be good practice for when I’m stuffed, he thought. He was certain he’d be sacked.
The turkey was pecking at presents, putting holes in boxes, wrecking the wrapping. Then it began to attack the wallpaper. The jumper tree knocked over the real tree and tore the curtains to shreds. The shark ate the goldfish in one snap and began chasing the cat. The cactus was headed for the front door, slashing everything in its path with deadly thorns.
‘Hug me!’ It demanded as it stepped out onto the street, leaving the door wide open.
It must have been a Christmas cactus as it instinctively picked up snow in its spiny hands and made a snowball, which it hurled through next-door’s window - and that’s when everybody began to wake up. They noticed the snow, which they were thrilled about, and then the cactus, followed by the turkey, the evil-eyed tree and the walking shark, which were kind of thrilling too but not in a good way.
(Mrs Trope at number 30 simply poured her sherry away and went to bed with her earplugs in, but the rest of the street was up and horrified.)
Barry scrambled to the windowsill and peeked out. The turkey was stomping on a car, jumping up and down on its bonnet. The tree was ripping up a shrubbery, shrieking with glee. The shark was smashing ice off a pond and swallowing a plastic flamingo. The cactus was throwing rock hard snowballs through every window, demanding hugs. It was Christmas Eve, and Santa was going to know about this very soon. Barry was going to have to call it in.
He slumped down from the sill and dragged out his radio.
‘Shelf-Elf Barry, Bravo-Alpha-Romeo-Romeo-Yankee, code red.’
‘How red, Shelf-Elf?’
‘Makes Rudolph’s nose look pink… Four Christmas jumpers gone rogue on fairy dust.’
‘Right. Stay tight, we’re coming in.’
Barry wasn’t expecting Santa himself to arrive. He heard the jingling bells before he saw the shadow of the sleigh appear on the road.
‘Oh… mistletoe and wine!’
Barry shook his head in shame. He couldn’t help feeling relieved though, especially as the jumpers shrank and fell harmlessly to the ground, and every broken thing was mended, and the goldfish and the cat reappeared uneaten. He figured he was stuffed, though, and there was no escaping the Santa magic. He picked up his pack, smartened himself up, and went to meet his fate as bravely as he could.
Santa picked him up and sat him on his big fat knee.
‘Shelf-Elf Barry,’ he rumbled, ‘this is your pre-debrief.’
‘With respect, Santa, it is Christmas Eve and I’ve taken up your time already so I can wait.’
‘Time!’ Santa roared laughing. ‘I’ve got that under control. I’ve just wound it back. There’s more than one reason I’ve never had to sack an elf. First, you’re all terrified of being stuffed. Second, I can rewind time and we can put everything back - but just Christmas and elfish stuff, so I can’t intervene in human history, unfortunately.’
‘Oh.’ Barry was stumped for words.
‘And there is something you didn’t know, Shelf-Elf Barry. The sad truth.’
‘Sometimes, Shelf-Elf Barry, Christmas jumpers are ugly on the inside. That’s the sad truth. Good people buy them, sometimes they add tinsel, but, ugly is as ugly does. Especially when they’re all puffed up with fairy dust… Now, get off my lap and finish your detail!’
Shelf-Elf Barry went back to the house where the jumpers were lying as they had been before the sparkle-storm of fairy dust. He was so happy to be back at work! He shoved a cushion inside each jumper and gave them tiny bauble heads before climbing to the top of the Christmas tree. He almost got smug again, but then he kicked himself and set up his hammock for a quick kip before the chocolate-fuelled children came powering downstairs.
‘Happy Christmas.’ He said, just talking to himself. ‘Happy enough to hug a cactus right now!’
He gave the jumpers a nervous glance. Fairy lights twinkled and snow fell, the jumpers were just funny festive clothes. He heard the echo of a Ho Ho Ho overhead: and then, not a creature was stirring, not even a shark.