Groggy, Jennifer made her way to the kitchen, noting with amusement that the Christmas decorations had multiplied overnight. If her mom kept up this pace, there’d be no room to walk by Christmas.
Three Christmas trees, poinsettias of every color, and lights strung throughout the house were just the beginning of Brenda’s Christmas insanity. After the HOA limited outdoor decorations, Brenda filled their garage with blow-ups and illuminated reindeer. She opened the garage door every evening, pushing her luck with the “fuddy-duddies” on the HOA.
No doubt, her mom took Christmas decorating to the extreme, but Jennifer was good with it except for one thing. When she walked into the kitchen, she groaned. There it was. The One Thing sitting on a box of doughnuts. Jaarvis. The family’s Elf on a Shelf.
Jennifer had enjoyed her mom’s Jaarvis antics when she was a kid, but at almost fifteen, she’d been over it for years. However, her sister, Katie, barely nine, was fiercely holding on to Jaarvis and Santa, and her belief in the magic had ruined Christmas for Jennifer the previous year. A week after Jarvis had arrived, Brenda canceled the family ski trip because Katie had an absolute meltdown over Jaarvis being alone the whole weekend. Jennifer had launched her own meltdown.
She’d screamed, “He’s not real! You’re ruining everything for a stupid doll!”
“He is too real!” Katie fired back.
“You can’t be that stupid–it’s a stuffed doll!”
Then, Jennifer had snatched Jaarvis off the mantle and, sporting the triumphantly evil grin of a Christmas cartoon villain, she’d ripped off his left arm. As if that startling violence was not jarring enough, Jennifer had then, with exaggerated movement, picked stuffing out of Jaarvis’ torso and tossed it into the air disdainfully.
Katie shrieked, “You killed Jaarvis! You ruined Christmas!”
“You ruined Christmas!”
“That’s enough!” Eddie bellowed as Brenda jerked Jaarvis’ remains from Jennifer’s hands.
“He’ll be fine, honey,” she told Katie.
“No, he won’t! Jennifer killed him, and now we won’t get any presents!”
Their parents were able to convince Katie that Jaarvis would pop back to the North Pole overnight and be good as new in the morning. Things were not so good for Jennifer – she’d not only lost the ski trip but was grounded for a week, too.
The next morning, she had gotten up before everyone else. Jaarvis was in the kitchen, whole and unmarked. Jennifer wanted to rip him apart again. She picked him up and took a few trial tugs, thought better of it, and, on impulse, shoved him in the freezer. An idea came to her then. Smiling wickedly, she pulled a box of Raisin Bran from the pantry, poured herself a bowl, and added milk. After plucking two raisins dripping milk from the bowl, she opened the freezer and put a raisin on each little felt hand.
A few hours later, Jennifer watched as Katie frantically searched the house. She was shaking a Christmas tree when Brenda got up.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
Katie whimpered, “I can’t find Jaarvis.”
Brenda smiled knowingly. “He’ll show up. Let’s go see about breakfast.”
Jennifer followed them both into the kitchen trying to look innocent. She could almost feel shockwaves radiating from her mother when Brenda looked at the counter and didn’t see Jaarvis. She shot Jennifer a sharp look; Jennifer looked away.
“When will he show up?” Katie asked.
Entering the room, Eddie asked, “What’s up?”
“Jaarvis is missing,” Brenda snapped.
Looking away, Jennifer could feel her dad’s eyes boring a hole in her head.
“Santa’s not bringing any presents,” Katie said in heartbroken tones.
Eddie replied, “I’m sure Jaarvis’ll show up, honey. Right, Jennifer?”
“Yeah, I’m sure he’s gonna show up,” she replied airily.
“When do you think that might be?” Brenda asked.
Jennifer shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”
When her dad held up four fingers and then three fingers spread to look like a W, she added, “Katie, why don’t you have some of those frozen poptarts for breakfast while we wait for Jaarvis?”
“Good idea,” Eddie said. “Let me get them.”
He opened the freezer and cried, “Jaarvis, what are you doing in there!”
He pulled Jarvis out and tried to sit him on the counter, but the elf was frozen stiff. When he forced the legs to bend, they crinkled like cellophane.
“Jaarvis, are you all right?” Katie asked. Then in horror, she cried, “There’s poop on his hands! He wants to throw poop at us! He’s still mad!”
Brenda calmed Katie while Eddie crossed his arms and stared daggers at Jennifer. She said, “Let me see that,” and walked over to Jaarvis. Peering intently at his hands she said slowly, “I don’t think that’s poop, Katie. I think he froze his balls off.”
She looked up at Eddie, who quickly put his hand over his mouth and turned away, but not before she saw him almost break out in laughter.
“What does that mean?” Katie asked.
Quickly, Brenda answered, “It means Jaarvis is gonna be just fine.“
Jennifer had gotten a second week of being grounded and missed out on her friend Angela’s party. Now, as she looked at Jaarvis, she wanted to pinch off his little grinning head.
Without warning, Eddie said behind her, “If you mess with that elf, you truly will get no presents this year, young lady.”
She rolled her eyes, gave a teenage grunt, and stomped off to her room.
A couple of hours later, her mom knocked on her door. “Let me in!” Brenda demanded.
“It’s open,” Jennifer snapped.
Brenda let herself in and closed the door behind her. “I cannot believe you’re at this again!”
Looking confused, Jennifer said, “At what? What are you talking about?”
“Just give the elf back. I don’t have extras this year.”
“Mom, I didn’t–!”
Brenda interrupted, “I don’t have time for this. Where’s the elf?”
Then, the door flew open, and Eddie bellowed, “You’ve gone too far!”
Jennifer yelled back, “I swear I didn’t do anything!”
“Well, there’s a mess in the garage that has your name all over it. I told you to leave the elf alone!”
From behind him, Katie yelled, “Did Jen hurt Jaarvis again? Jaarvis, I’m coming to save you!”
They heard her run toward the garage, and they all ran after her.
In the garage, all the Christmas lights were on, the mechanical mice were doing their mechanical dance, and the blow-up decorations were all inflated, except for the old, faded snowman, flattened on the concrete floor. On the yellowed plastic, was Jaarvis’ head…next to one of his feet…both bloody. As Jennifer pushed her way past her mother, she saw bits of Jaarvis scattered all over.
She whirled and yelled, “I didn’t do this!”
Brenda said, “Save it. You are so…Oh my God! Is there a hole in my snowman? Jennifer Renee Misner, do you know how much that cost?”
“Wait a minute!” Jennifer pointed at the punctured snowman. “Whoever did this wrote ‘Jen killed us’ in…blood. Would I rat myself out?”
Eddie said, “You’re crafty, trying to throw us off. But there’s more evidence. Look at both Jaarvis’ and Frosty’s hands.”
Jennifer and Brenda inspected the murdered decorations’ appendages. Attached to Jaarvis’ severed mitts were…raisins, while at the end of Frosty’s plastic branches were…prunes.
Eddie said. “Clearly your signature M.O.”
Katie added theatrically, “It was murder most foul!”
“What?” Brenda demanded.
“Uhm, I mean we won’t get any presents?”
Brenda sighed and said sadly, “You did this. You don’t believe anymore.”
Her voice dripping with suspicion, Jennifer said, “Oh, I think she had some help. Dad is all about the raisins.”
Katie said proudly, “It was all my idea!”
Eddie added, “Except for the raisins.”
“Yeah, and the ketchup.”
“Wait…the ketchup wasn’t me…”
Crouching down, Jennifer picked up an elfin foot and sniffed it. “Guys,” she said. “It’s not ketchup.” Immediately she stood up and got as far from the carnage as the illuminated deer would allow.
“OMG!” she screamed. “You cut him up when he was in his live-action form? What were you thinking? We are so screwed!”
Her face stricken, Katie said, “Wh-wh-what are you talking about?’
“That’s elf blood! You murdered an elf!” Jennifer yelled. “He wasn’t a doll when you cut him up!”
Brenda cautioned, “Jennifer—”
Jennifer ignored her. Fixing Katie with a withering glare, she said, “You were worried about presents? There won’t be any, but that’s the least of our worries – the elves are going to cart us off to the Ice Prison. Only one thing can save us.”
“What?” Katie asked eagerly.
“You have to put all his parts together and hope there’s enough magic left to heal him. Quick, gather the Jaarvis parts and put them back together!”
Immediately, Katie scooped up elf parts and stuffing and put them together like a puzzle. After she was done, she sprang to her feet and gazed worriedly at the barely recognizable elf.
Panicked, she yelled, “Nothing’s happening! What do I do?”
Jennifer answered sadly, “The magic is gone. He’s dead.”
As Katie’s eyes filled, Brenda said, “Honey, look at your hands.”
Katie held up her brightly stained hands. She looked from them to her mom.
“Blood doesn’t stain your hands that color,” Brenda said.
Unsure, Katie said, “But, elf blood–”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not elf blood – it’s gel food coloring.”
Katie looked at Jennifer who was shaking with laughter.
Pouting, Katie said, “The joke was supposed to be on you!”
“I know,” Jennifer said. “Next time you and dad shouldn’t giggle so much. I knew you were up to something.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Brenda said. “What I want to know is who killed my snowman and why?”
“Uhm,” Eddie said, “Funny story…”