“You broke another toy, Earl, and Christmas is only a week away,” Santa scolded his favorite elf. His face flushed red, bright like the suit he wore. But Santa could never be mad at Earl for real. Earl knew Santa well and a hesitant smile crossed his face.
“Don’t smile, you little rapscallion,” Santa made a second attempt at genuine anger.
Earl’s smile simply grew as he cleaned up the mess before him. The toy would be replaced and no child would go without. After all, it wasn’t the first time he’d slowed production. Misadventures in Santa’s toy shop were a common occurrence for Earl. He couldn’t explain why, but strange mishaps seemed to occur whenever he was around. Santa needed all his elves working during the Christmas rush so Earl was in the shop all the time. And he was wreaking havoc minute by minute.
Santa directed his favorite bumbling elf, his words now in keeping with his jolly spirit, “When you finish cleaning up your mess, Earl, get back to work. These toys need to be ready in one week.”
When Santa left the busy shop where toys and dolls and all things children love were made Earl waved at his receding figure as a rush of cold air and white flakes rolled into the warm building. Earl took his place among the other elves and resumed producing toys. Smiles on the children’s faces Christmas morning would make Santa happy. Yet Earl’s history did not bode favorably for a mishap free week of production.
Minutes later Earl reached to grab a truck needing wheels, his assigned task for the morning, and bumped into the chubby elf next to him. The truck went crashing to the debris cluttered wooden floor.
“I don’t know how we get any toys built with you here, Earl,” the elf next to him said.
Earl gathered up the truck and responded. “Everything will be done because we all love the children.”
Who could argue with that logic?
“It won’t get done if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing. We can’t keep repairing broken toys and get done on time.”
Soon Billy, the foreman for Santa’s shop, came over to Earl’s station. “Is everything okay here?” he asked, knowing Earl’s knack for disaster. “There is only one week before Christmas.”
“Santa said that a few minutes ago,” Earl said. “Now you’re telling me and I already know when Christmas is.”
“If you know so well why is there always chaos near your station?” Billy asked.
“I will do better,” Earl promised, successfully attaching wheels to the next truck passing by. “See, I know what I’m doing.”
Toys continued to be built for Christmas morning. Children around the world expected Santa to deliver the toys to their home and place them under the tree. Earl knew Santa could not disappoint a single child and he hoped he’d have no more mishaps. His history, however, spoke of more misadventure. In fact, production would be slowed several more times that very day and Earl would be the culprit each time.
Santa’s shop continued to produce toys despite Earl’s fateful ability to interrupt the process. Toys of all kinds and bicycles, tricycles and wagons found their way into Santa’s huge bag. In just a week the bag would be overflowing and Santa would be happy.
A half hour later the bell jingled in the shop. Lunch break for the elves was signaled. Earl pushed away from his station paying no attention to his surroundings. This frequently got him into trouble. With his focus on lunch he collided with the chubby elf who worked next to him as he hurried to take his place at the lunch table. The resulting carnage was not catastrophic, but more toys crashed to the floor. It would take time for them to be repaired, if they could be repaired. With Earl one mishap followed after another.
Earl knelt down to help pick up the broken toys. “I am sorry,” he apologized.
“Watch what you’re doing, Earl,” the chubby elf replied. “I could have been hurt.”
“Oh, you’re fine,” Earl brushed some debris from the chubby elf’s arm.
As they sat eating Santa came in to speak to the elves. News, not unexpected, reached him minutes before of Earl’s latest misadventure. The time for Santa to light a fire under Earl and the other elves was right now or Christmas would be disappointing for many children. But when you’re known for being jolly and happy all the time and your cheeks are always rosy it is difficult to communicate the needed emotion to make his elves understand his urgency. Santa tried anyway.
“Do you elves know we only have one week to fill the Christmas bag with toys for all the children?” Santa’s voice held the tone of frustration, while his cherubic cheeks spoke of a well known joviality. “And Earl, you must pay attention. We can’t afford any more set backs.”
Earl listened to Santa but he didn’t say anything. He would not cause any more trouble. Santa would not single him out again. He would watch what he was doing very carefully and wouldn’t get in anybody’s way. Earl would be Santa’s best elf. Santa would see.
Work resumed after lunch and soon found Earl in the middle of yet another misadventure. Bright red fire engines built of pine passed by Earl one after another. The paint another elf had brushed on was still wet. All Earl needed to do was attach the wheels. This was Earl’s normal task because Santa felt it was the best chance to keep Earl out of trouble. But Earl naturally attracted mischief against Santa’s wishes.
Earl hurried to attach the wheel to the next bright red fire engine. He looked down the line, becoming distracted. His distraction led to his arm brushing against the moving belt. This, in turn, caused several fire engines to fall off and hurtle to the floor, colliding noisily.
Billy, the elf foreman, came running to see what had happened. “Santa’s toy shop is total chaos with you around, Earl,” he announced. “Maybe it would be better if you just went home.”
“I will not go home unless Santa tells me to,” Earl spoke defensively. “I will do better, I promise.” Once again he bent over to help clean up the scattered toys.
Billy could not stay angry with Earl any longer than Santa could. Earl was simply accident prone and he couldn’t seem to do anything about it. If they could only find something for Earl to do that kept him away from the toys. But Billy knew doing that would break Earl’s heart. He always helped build the toys Santa delivered to the children, year after year. Each year Santa and Billy wondered how they all got built, but each year Santa’s bag was full. Despite Earl’s mishaps children were never left without.
Watching Earl clean up the mess, Billy hoped this year would produce the same results. Earl noticed Billy’s watchful eye and smiled at him. Yes, the elf was full of mischief and misadventure seemed to be his constant companion, but his positive attitude was also contagious.
Earl picked up the last of the fallen fire engines just as Santa entered his shop. “What happened?” Santa asked.
“I accidentally knocked some toys off the belt,” Earl said, quick to accept responsibility for his actions. “I will fix every toy. Please don’t be angry.”
“How can I be angry with you, Earl? I am Santa.”
“Bad things keep happening when I’m around,” Earl continued. “I keep causing trouble.”
Santa placed a firm hand on Earl’s small shoulder. “We have one week to finish building all the toys needed so every child has one under their tree. So we’ve got to get back to work and not worry about the misadventures. Can you do that for me, Earl?”
“Yes, Santa, I can. I will not let you or the children down.” Earl scurried back to his work station.
The next three days went by without incident and many toys were completed and stuffed into Santa’s bag. But the bag still needed more toys and other gifts children loved to please every child on Christmas morning. Santa wanted to be very busy on Christmas Eve.
Two days before Christmas Santa came into his workshop and approached Earl. Earl had not broken anything that morning so he wondered what Santa wanted. When Santa placed his large hand firmly on Earl’s shoulder, as he liked to do, Earl became worried. A shiver ran down his spine.
“I haven’t broken anything this morning, Santa,” he said, trepidation in his voice.
“You’re not in trouble, Earl,” Santa reassured his favorite elf. “I am happy you’ve been careful and I’ve brought you a special project to work on.”
Earl’s eyes began to twinkle with excitement. “I will do anything, Santa.”
“I got a late letter this morning from a little girl and she says she’s been very good. All she wants is a doll with bright red hair and freckles on her face. Cloth her in a pretty pink dress and place white slippers on her feet and make her say “don’t worry” to my little brother who has cancer when I press her hand. Can you build a doll like that for this little girl in two days, Earl?”
“I sure can. It will be the best doll ever built in this shop.”
“I am counting on you, Earl. Don’t let this little girl and her brother down.”
Earl found another elf to take his station and hurried to a table used for special projects to begin working on a special doll. True to his proclivity for calamity it didn’t take long for another mishap to occur. In his excitement he’d forgotten to be careful and pay attention. Luckily Earl’s mishaps were usually minor breaches and easily fixed. This time Earl had cut out two left hands and two left feet for the doll. At least he could fix it and not take too much extra time.
He worked on the doll for several hours to make it just the way the little girl requested. Santa was adamant that children get just what they asked for, especially if they’d been very good during the year. Earl didn’t know what this little girl’s name was, but he knew she’d been a good girl and that was all he needed to know.
Early the next morning, only hours before Santa would leave on his sleigh filled with toys, Earl placed the last strand of bright red hair on the doll’s head. He looked at his creation. It was perfect. Earl was so excited that he tripped over his own feet racing to show Santa the doll. He clutched the doll against his chest trying to protect it from being damaged. The doll, with bright red hair and freckles and a pretty pink dress, pressed hard on Earl’s chest and caused him a great pain he’d never experienced before. The little doll was unbroken, but Earl felt like his heart was broken. It hurt so bad.
Hearing the commotion, Santa rushed to see Earl lying on the floor. Santa turned the elf over and pried the doll from his hands. Other than a few tousled strands of red hair, the doll was undamaged. Earl had protected the doll and now Santa leaned closer to see what he could do for Earl. It seemed like he wasn’t breathing. Santa looked at his chest but couldn’t see any rise and fall. But that couldn’t be possible. Earl, his favorite elf, was invincible. Always a misadventure around the next corner, but he always rebounded and came out unscathed. This time Earl laid still. He was not rebounding.
Santa lifted the small elf into his arms and called to Billy, his elf foreman. “We have to do something for Earl,” he said. “What can we do?”
“Maybe the doctor can do something,” Billy took Earl from Santa and placed him in a wagon earmarked for Santa’s bag to be given to a child who’d asked for a wagon.
An hour before Santa’s sleigh would take him to visit the children with all their toys in an overstuffed bag Billy approached him with red eyes. Santa saw tears of sorrow roll down the elf’s cheeks and soon his own rosy cheeks were stained. “It is bad news, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Billy managed. “The doctor did what he could, but Earl’s heart was bruised beyond repair by the pressure of the doll’s hand. Earl made sure this special doll was not broken when he tripped. His heroic act saved a little girl’s doll. All the other elves are calling him a hero, Santa. I think they are right.”
“I do, too,” Santa said. “And I will make sure Earl is remembered.”
With Earl’s doll and the wagon loaded on Santa’s sleigh, Santa began the long journey he made once every year. He rose into the sky with a jolly “ho, ho, ho.” But his heart was full of bittersweet emotion. Earl would not be in the toy shop when he returned.
The elves waved as Santa’s sleigh rose in the sky and out of their sight. They were shaken by the loss of their fellow elf and friend. They chided him for being a bundle of misfortunes, but they loved him as well. In their hearts Earl could not be replaced.
Santa descended upon rooftop after rooftop delivering toys to deserving children. He smiled at the sleeping children knowing they would awake a few hours later and find what he’d left for them. He also smiled because his elves had worked hard to ensure each child would be happy. A bicycle was placed near one tree, while a fire truck found its way under another. He placed a paint set under yet another tree and a football under the next. The night continued and Santa’s bag grew smaller and smaller. One thing still in the bag was a doll with bright red hair and freckles on her face. Soon this doll would also find its way under a special tree.
Over a small home in the western United States Santa pulled the doll Earl had built from his bag. As his sleigh came to a stop he hesitated. He knew with this special doll there should be a note about the special elf that’d created it. Santa hurried to write down his feelings about Earl and placed them with the doll. He placed both under a small artificial tree in the corner of a living room filled with the scent of mistletoe.
Santa emptied his bag and returned home. He sat down with his suit opened at the chest watching a big screen TV. This part of Christmas meant the most to him. Child after child appeared with smiles on their faces when they saw the toys they Santa placed under their tree. He continued to watch until finally a small girl appeared. She sat with her family in a small circle. Father and mother, a little girl and her younger brother laughed and Santa laughed, too. And then the little girl spoke to her mother and father, “There is a note from Santa with my doll.”
“What does it say?” her father asked.
She handed the note to her father. “Your doll was made by a special friend of mine named Earl. Earl had an accident protecting your doll from harm and he isn’t with me anymore. Will you remember Earl when you play with your doll? Now press the doll’s hand for your brother and listen to the words.”
Santa watched, tears moist in his eyes, as the girl placed the doll near her four year old brother and squeezed her soft hand. “Don’t worry, life is wonderful and everything will be okay. Your family loves you.” The voice speaking those tender words was Earl’s own. His final spoken words would bring comfort a young boy and warm a family’s heart.
Critique: POV is spotty. Stick with Earl in a tight 3rd person POV; do not interject your voice as narrator into the story. Give us more active scenes without the narrative, more sensory imagery, more depth in the characterization, and individualized voices for dialog.
And don’t kill the elf.
What I liked best: I like the idea of the clumsy elf making good on a special project, but that project should be something where his clumsiness actually turns into a strength, rather than a weakness.
Publication ready: No. Needs more work.