Sunday, 13 December 2015

Cruel Yule: Part 5 - Elvis has left the building

Elvis looked up as Myffanwy slipped into the shed. The aroma of rich, strong coffee wafted from the canteen in her hand, and he wished he had a place at the Elders’ Table to enjoy the dark brew. He could do with it after the night he’d had. But all he got from the Shed Mother was a reassuring nod to put his mind at ease. The old man was alright, if a little frayed around the edges.

Outside, a clatter of door bolts and buckets told him that Grinwold was already at work, opening the reindeers’ stalls and pouring steaming hot mash into the long trough in the yard. Shame the resident livestock guru had been comatose from too much mead and an excess of Wilbur’s wisdom last night. But then Grinwold had always been a morning elf. After dusk, he was about as much use as a hand towel at the bottom of Lake Cuileann.

Elvis sighed. Things were back to normal. Well, sort of.

Dooley had cut him dead, and taken his oatmeal to the far corner this morning. Entynne was sitting to the side, conscientiously avoiding his gaze and making an exaggerated display of engaging with everyone. Everyone but him.

The Elders, though they must have known what he’d done the night before, not to mention the unknown perils he’d braved, didn’t even acknowledge his existence. He was just another wood elf, a nothing, a nobody. Plenty more where he came from.

He wasn’t going to take it any more. He flung down his wooden porridge bowl, shurgged on his tunic and stormed out of the door with all the huff and histrionics of a fully-fledged Drama Queen.

No-one noticed.

He waited for a moment outside the shed door for someone, anyone, but preferably Dooley or Entynne, to follow him to see what was wrong.

Far off in the chilled landscape, a dog barked and a cat yowled. A snort from the paddock alerted him to the reindeer, now snuffling about on the snowy ground. Not one looked in his direction.

Ungrateful gits, he growled to himself, half-hoping that his words would be caught and carried by the chill breeze to the ears those so studiously ignoring him.

They weren’t.

Not quite sure what to do now his melodramatic gesture had gone unnoticed, he looked over to the farmhouse. He’d never spoken directly to Klaus, he was too junior for that, but now he was driven by disillusionment. He also needed to pee, and he couldn’t bear the thought of losing face by creeping back into the elf shed to answer the call of nature.

It was time to have a word with the old man.

He stomped across the yard and flung the door open without even pausing to knock. The force with which it flew open surprised even him, and he glanced up at the jamb in bewilderment for a moment.

In front of the fireplace, the stooped figure of Klaus looked up from the complex task of hooking his belt through the loops of his thick red jacket. His eyes were bleary, his mouth slack and his white hair stood up in shocks that defied gravity and even the most perverse sense of style.

“You must be Elvis,” he said, before adding with a low laugh. “Just so you know, I’m not in the mood for a song.”

“What?”  The startled elf was blissfully unaware of his musical namesake. 

“Listen old man,” he continued. “We need to talk. Look at the state of you, you’re a disgrace! I risked my neck last night to feed your precious reindeer. It was a miracle I made it back to the elf shed in one piece. Who knows what’s lurking out there in the dark?
“And what thanks do I get for it? Nothing. Not even a cup of stinking coffee.”

Klaus walked to the kitchen stove.

“If it’s coffee you want, here.” He poured a cup from the pot and banged it down on the table in front of the enraged elf.

Elvis sniffed the brew, then picked up the cup and took a sip. It was good. It was really good. Magical even. He felt his fury and disappointment melt, ever so slightly, at the very edges of his emotion. He took another sip, but kept his angry glare focused on the man in red.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” confessed Klaus. “You’re right. I am a bloody disgrace. Don’t deserve the suit or any of the stuff that comes with it. But really, who can blame me? Have you seen the state of the world we’re supposed to be bringing Christmas cheer to?”

Elvis shook his head. He was an elf. He knew nothing of the world beyond the homestead, the workshop and a few rumours he’d heard from the Elders who joined Klaus on his annual excursion.

“Come, let me show you.” The old man motioned the elf over to his desk, piled high with letters, newspapers and something the size of a book but with a blank screen where the cover and pages should have been.

Klaus took the book thing and with a click of a button with his bitten thumbnail, its screen lit up with an array of images. He scrolled and clicked, showing Elvis a world beyond anything the elf had ever dreamed of. Not even in his worst nightmares.

A child’s doll, not unlike the ones Entynne and the others on the workshop production line turned out, lay abandoned amid rubble on a street. The scene behind was coated in dust and destruction. In the distance, a boy lay prone on the wrecked pavement.

Klaus clicked again, and the sight of group of dark-skinned girls huddled in a dim hut appeared. All wore headscarves, some were visibly crying. One stared, empty-eyed and robbed of her childhood, out of the image. Her gaze stayed with Elvis even after the picture changed.

A pinch-faced, balding man, probably in his 80s, sat alone and lonely, in a room festooned with meagre Christmas decorations. A plate of food sat before him, and he was trying to pull a Christmas cracker with himself. There was no-one else to share it with.

A bloated, red-cheeked man in a wig that looked like it was made from a cheap nylon carpet gesticulated and spouted hatred, greed and belligerence to an enrapt crowd below.

Tall chimneys thrust acrid smoke into the sky, covering the stars and moon with a thick cloud of filth.

At a row of dumpsters, a grey-haired lady wearing mismatched gloves and a woollen hat, sorted through the rubbish for food.

A polar bear perched in indecision at the edge of a rapidly diminishing ice floe, before taking the plunge into the water to swim for land.

In a city shop doorway, a hollow-eyed youth peered out from a bundle of cardboard and rags at the busy shoppers dashing to and fro in their frantic bid to buy more, more, more….

The elf looked up at Klaus, his eyes brimming with tears and bemusement. “I-I-I d-don’t understand,” he stuttered.

“You and me both,” answered the man in red. “Maybe now you understand why I wonder if it’s worth carrying on. Perhaps it would be better if we just didn’t bother any more.”

He stopped, stared into space for more moments than were comfortable for Elvis.

“That’s it,” he said, abruptly breaking the silence. “I’ve had enough. No more. I’m off.”

He rose and started gathering some things in a large sacks – coffee, the all-important coffee pot, a toothbrush, spare socks and underwear, a bottle of whiskey, a carton of cigarettes.

Elvis watched, pale and shell-shocked by the morning’s revelations, before finding his voice.

“Please, take me with you. But first, can I use your toilet?”

What next? Watch this space.

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