Short Christmas Story
Please note that this short story takes place AFTER the events of LESSER KNOWN MONSTERS and before THE BONE GATE, and contains heavy SPOILERS for the main story of the first book. Abandon here if you haven't read it!
Have Your Elf a Merry Little Christmas
Be warned, this story is about monsters, and as such contains reference to violence and gore, including minors.
“I want to put the star on!” Marcus somehow managed to find the rare space between whiny and excited.
“It’s up to Oscar,” Dmitri repeated patiently, patting the box on his lap protectively. “This is Oscars house now; he gets to decide.”
Marcus bounced on his heels, his russet eyes moving to Oscar where he curled beside Dmitri, faux fur blanket over his legs despite the heat from the fireplace.
Oscar grinned ruefully. “Just wait until Zara gets here, she shouldn’t be long.”
“It’s Christmas Eve! The star should have been on like twenty-three days ago.” Marcus gave him a mutinous stare. “I don’t see why you’re waiting for Zara like she’s daddy, because she’s not the daddy here.”
Dmitri’s thick brow knit in consternation. “Am…I daddy?”
“We all know I’m daddy,” Marcus snapped back, his eyes narrowing briefly before resuming their. visual assault on the bare treetop.
The Christmas tree was voluptuous, a healthy rich emerald that would soon fade. Oscar loved the way its fallen needles stuck to his bare feet and had barely worn socks since the tree arrived. Picking the green spruces from his soles, and the woody scent of the tree brought memories of his childhood he didn’t know had slipped into the dark. Unlike the rainbow explosion of the tree from his childhood, the one Dmitri had bough had baubles of brass, and cream, and interspersed them with fine red ribbons and static warm fairy lights. It stood proudly by the window.
Oscar had made Dmitri promise not to buy him any presents. He had a suspicion that Dmitri's stashed funds amassed over however-many-years he had actually been alive—a number he still hadn’t disclosed—would only result in an embarrassing gift exchange. He had however let Dmitri buy gifts for his friends on their behalf. Dmitri had kept what was in the two neatly wrapped presents—ruby red paper with black satin bows—a secret even from Oscar. The other neatly wrapped presents under the tree in glittering foil paper were from Zara, and the two small packages that looked like they wrapping paper had been screwed up and mashed around them then duct taped together were Marcus’ offerings. The clumsy wrapping didn’t stop Marcus from carefully leaning down and broodily brushing the stray pine needles that had gathered on his parcels. Oscar was nervous to open them. The last gift Marcus had given him a couple of weeks ago had been a battered old copy of ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’.
The small faux stove flickered merrily, and Oscar snuggled closer to Dmitri. It wasn’t cold at all but being cosy wasn’t something he had been particularly accustomed to until this last few weeks. He hadn’t really ever had a boyfriend that really stuck around long enough to get cosy.
“Why don’t you eat something?” Dmitri suggested, an attempt to distract Marcus who was now prodding one of the gifts from Dmitri curiously. Oscar knew that there was a large enough array of snacklets and morsels spread across the kitchen counter and dining room table that even Marcus’ couldn’t make a dent in it.
“Nah.” Marcus scowled, slumping back on the opposite couch and wriggling his legs impatiently. “It’s not Christmas ‘til the trees done.”
Ed, who was in the shape of a Pekingese—Oscar had long since taken to searching out dog breeds on his phone to puzzle out Ed’s frequently shifting dog shapes—trotted in and nipped at Marcus’ trouser cuff affectionately.
Then there was a knock at the door.
The teal streaks in Zara’s hair had almost grown out, and her golden-brown cheeks were ruddy from the cold. The crimson of her woollen coat gave a pleasing Christmassy vibe, offset by the grubby looking brown sack slung over her shoulder. A sack that was full, and wriggling.
“Madame Clause! You brought us...puppies?” Marcus reached down and picked up Ed who was pawing the floor in anticipation.
Zara frowned, confused.
Dmitri lingered close to her, stormy eyes fixed on the luggage she bore.
“Definitely not puppies,” Zara said darkly.
“It’s Theian?” Dmitri asked. Oscar recognised that edge in his voice. He was ready to fight if needed.
Zara nodded and roughly dumped the sack on the floor. It squeaked.
“What’re you doing wandering round with a rustic sack to snatch little monsters in” Marcus’ eyebrows rose. “Is that a thing you do now?”
“The thing inside the sack is what had the sack.” Zara pulled off her coat and tossed it on the arm of the couch.
“Someone needs to talk to Schrödinger,” Marcus shot back. "Find out if this is legit."
Ignoring him, Zara walked to the fire and raised her hands to warm them. Then, her gaze caught on the tree. She grinned. “Hey Booboo, the tree looks so good!”
Oscar smiled. He still hadn’t been strong enough to go out and fetch anything for it, but Dmitri had patiently sat with him and a laptop and chosen the theme and decorations together. Oscar had taken three days to carefully dress the tree, and Dmitri had only helped when asked, like some kind of festive physiotherapy.
“Thanks,” Oscar said. “We were waiting for you to get here to put the star on.” He opened the box on his la that Dmitri had entrusted him to keep from Marcus’ clutches. The star was metallic gold and finely woven in ornate curls.
“Oooh, pretty!” Zara’s eyes shone.
“Where did you find it?” Dmitri asked, nudging the sack with one booted foot. It let out a low yowl.
Zara blinked, and pulled her eyes away from the star. “A few streets over. It was weird. I thought I sensed something following me so I started looking around and found it skulking outside one of the houses. Vicious little bugger too. Teeth like needles.
“Identify yourself,” Dmitri said brusquely, pushing the sack with his foot again.
It was very still, and then there was a growl that sent goosebumps up Oscars arms.
“Little guy, about yay high, pointy ears, pink burnt looking skin, big eyes, and a shitty attitude.” Zara walked over and dropped into the seat beside Oscar, Dmitri’s spot.
Dmitri frowned. “Did it…have anything around its neck?”
Zara folded her arms, frowning. “I think so. Like…a little gold choker? Real fancy.”
Dmitri’s eyes widened. “Zara…I think you caught a Christmas Elf.”
The squirming bag had been set by the doorway. After what Dmitri said, keeping it any closer to the tree seemed more darkly satiric than festive. Dmitri had prepared them a bitter dark hot chocolate, sweetened with tiny marshmallows, and the group sat around, in the glow of flames and fairy lights as they listened to him speak.
“I apologise, I misspoke in my excitement. What I called a Christmas Elf, was more traditionally known as an Ylfe.” Dmitri’s pale eyes drifted for a moment to the sack and its inhabitant. It was still for now. “It was a race quite common in the past but has long been thought dead. Dead but for a small group who passed into lore and children’s stories that many—myself included—thought just a myth.”
“A monster that even monsters think is a myth?” Marcus asked excitedly, bouncing slightly on the arm of the sofa next to Dmitri. “That sounds rare!”
“Exceedingly,” Dmitri agreed.
“Are they dangerous?” Oscar asked. He watched with interest as a tiny, pointed shape pressed against the fabric of the bag. From Zara’s description, Oscar wasn’t quite sure whether it was a nose or claw.
“Not historically,” Dmitri said.
“But specifically, this type of Ylfe, I'm afraid they are very much so. I just don’t quite recall all of the specifics.” Dmitri frowned thoughtfully.
“Anything with teeth and claws like that is just dangerous in general you ask me,” Zara said sourly. “Little bastard can jump too.”
“So why did you call it a Christmas elf?” Oscar asked.
Dmitri’s eyes met his for a moment, and Oscar recognised the look. It was the look Dmitri got when he was deciding just how much of the truth to tell him at once.
Apparently Marcus recognised that look too. “Come on Dmitri! Tell us everything, you can’t give us hot chocolate and sit us down by the fire and not do the whole shebang.”
“Fine,” Dmitri agreed gruffly. He cleared his throat. “Though almost all of the Ylfe died from a great sickness centuries ago, some few survived. These ones got sick, make no mistake, but whilst the Ylfe had previously been a kind race - the sickness crawled deep within them and twisted their hearts. Some say the sickness came from humans, which would perhaps explain their spite. They became cruel and hateful, despising laughter and joy. Those that did not have the strength to bear this perished from broken hearts.”
“Aww,” Oscar said sadly, glancing at the bag which was still once more.
Was the Ylfe listening too?
“Not 'aww.'” Dmitri shook his head, a strand of dark hair spilled from the knot on his crown, and Oscar longed to brush it back from his angled jaw. “The Ylfe that lived on bore a wretched legacy, they sought out merriment and joy wherever they could - and aimed to ruin it in the most horrible and grotesque ways imaginable. They found a dark master, who collared them and bade them to do its wretched bidding. Not that they didn’t take to fulfilling their orders with glee. They created their own twisted games, a dark parody of joy. Most notably, they cannot stand the laughter of human children. It causes them physical pain. This is what inspired their their master to order they take them and make them into toys.”
“Make them into toys,” Zara repeated flatly.
“Not…make them toys?” Marcus asked, cautiously.
“That was...an unfortunate mistranslation from old text that has resulted in many generations of disturbing imagery. I can never stomach seeing media glorifying their kind.” Dmitri took a deep breath.
“Wait,” Oscar asked, confused. “When you say make them into toys, do you mean like...with magic? Can’t they just change back?”
Dmitri's expression was dark. “No iubite. They use their bones, sinew, and cured flesh to make playthings for themselves. There is no coming back from what they do.”
“When you say dark master, do you mean...” Marcus swallowed.
“That is a story for another time,” Dmitri cut him off gently. “I do not have the heart to tell tonight, and I fear it may break our Christmas spirit.”
Oscars heart sank, and the room fell into a dark silence.
A loud pop outside the window hailed the arrival of colourful sparks dancing in the sky that made Oscar start. It was followed by another even bigger, crimson light blending with ice blue.
“Fireworks from the park two streets over. They always do this on Christmas Eve,” Dmitri explained, voice still low from his grizzly tale.
Marcus sprang to his feet and rushed to the window to get a better view.
Zara followed, and Dmitri offered Oscar a hand to help him join the others in watching the dazzling display.
They watched in silence for a time, Oscar rested his head against Dmitri’s chest, thinking about the Ylfe. Maybe if they could just talk to it, get it to understand that humans probably didn’t mean for them to get sick. The last few months if anything had taught him that bad didn’t always mean evil, but something like this?
“Hot chocolate, decorations, presents, stories. You’re awful Christmassy for an five-hundred-year-old dragon-wolf guy Dmitri,” Marcus said happily, his eyes not leaving the sparkling sky. “I didn’t think you’d even celebrate Christmas.”
Dmitri ignored the guess at his age, this was a game he and Marcus seemed to be playing of late. Instead, he pulled Oscar tight against him. “It’s not really about the day. It’s just an excuse to celebrate something together. I haven’t celebrated anything with anyone for...a long time. So, I want this to be something special we can remember. All of us.”
Oscar heart swelled in his chest, and he let himself sink into the moment.
When the pops, bangs and showers of glittering fire were dying down, Oscar finally asked. “So, what do we do with the Christmas Elf?”
Dmitri sighed. “We can put it in the basement for now. I’ll deal with it on Boxing Day. Seems a shame to do it on Christmas.”
“What exactly are you going to do with it?” Oscar asked weakly.
“Smoosh it.” Zara supplied, smiling up at the fireworks.
Marcus gasped theatrically. “And what will you do with its tiny corpse?”
“Burn it,” Dmitri answered darkly. “No good can come of it. We’re lucky that they’re so rare now, as the story goes, they used to travel in dreadful little groups, each with a distinct role in their gory task.”
“Maybe I should just smoosh it now, in case it’s friends come looking,” Zara said, turning from the window.
Oscar sipped the last of his cocoa.
“Oh shit,” Zara moaned.
“What?” Oscar asked, Dmitri felt rigid beside him whilst Marcus continued sucking at the edge of his cup trying to get the foamy marshmallow residue left over onto his tongue.
Oscar turned, his eyes searcing for the worn sack by the doorway.
It was gone.
“Wait…where’d it go?” Oscar whispered.
“Zara,” Dmitri growled. Oscar recognised the urgency in his voice.
There was going to be a fight.
“It…got out?” Marcus sounded a little too excited by the prospect.
“Or it had help,” Dmitri said darkly.
Oscars stomach knotted. “There's more of them here? Why didn’t they just attack us?”.
“That’s the worst part,” Dmitri replied darkly. “Like I said, Ylfe love playing games. Just not happy ones.”
The lights flickered and went off, casting the house into darkness, the warmth of the Christmas tree dulled as the bulbs faded to darkness, and the electric stove died out.
“But we didn’t even put the star on yet,” Marcus whined.
Dmitri moved to the sofa, taking the star in his hands, and passed it to Oscar.
Oscar nodded, turning to the tree, and Dmitri lifted him under his arms as though he weighed nothing, boosting him the few inches to set the star on top of the tree, which took a moment of fumbling in the darkness.
A new low ethereal glow lit the room, the light from the spirit rising from within Zara.
Marcus sighed. “Well, at least it’s really Christmas now I guess.”
Ed let out a low growl, his form shifting in a furrow of fur and bulging mass in seconds to a massive Newfoundland, lumbering to stand protectively before Oscar as Dmitri set him back on his feet.
“Why do things like this always have to happen. It’s Christmas,” Oscar moaned. “I just wanted to have a normal night”
Zara was grinning, “I don’t know what you’re talking about Booboo, this seems pretty on brand to me.” The light of the ancient spirit within her was spilling out of her eyes. “Merry Fucking Christmas, everyone.”