Dexlin, a free elf, two feet tall and big pointy ears, tumbled out of the fireplace and fell face forward onto the wood floor, covered in soot, the white ball of his green stocking cap in his mouth, pulling the hat over his eyes. He spat it out and threw it behind him. The living room erupted with tiny lights strung across the walls and wrapped around the tree—the location of the treasure trove that any self-respecting, independent elf desired.
He rubbed his hands to warm up for an enchantment, chortling to himself about the joys of his antics compared to the servitude of all the chumps that work for Saint Nicholas. He waved his hands in circles, and sparkles burst from them, forming the shape of a sack with a string, which glowed then materialized and fell to the floor.
Dexlin dragged it to the Christmas tree. He picked through the presents, poking and shaking them, looking for the best prospects. He found a package wrapped with red paper, snowmen all over it that reminded him of his old pal Stewkie. He pushed it through the others like a bulldozer, spreading a path to the outside. The sack easily fit over the top of it, and he pulled up the bottom edge to flop it in.
The sack and package slid and he fell to his knees. He stood back up and looked into the shining yellow eyes of a black tomcat.
The cat pounced and bit Dexlin’s ear as it took him to the ground under the tree. The cat adjusted its bite a few times, then began licking the ear with its sandpaper tongue. Dexlin resisted screaming, not wanting the family to come down and discover him. That would be disaster.
Dexlin realized after a minute of alternating bites and licks that he was bigger than the beast, if not equipped with the same weapons. He gradually pulled them out from under the tree, inducing the cat to wrap its paws around him and dig its claws into his back, biting with new vigor.
Dexlin hissed and shoved the cat off of him, but it came right back and wrapped him up again. He only got away when the the ball on the end of the stocking cap flopped and bounced. The cat pounced on the ball, giving Dexlin a chance to get to his feet and spring toward the fireplace.
He reached under the lintel and caught a piece of the damper, then pulled himself into a flip, feet first up the fireplace, a whip of his hand dissolving his cap from the cat’s maw in an eruption of fireflies that followed him up the fireplace and materialized on his head.
The elf gasped and rolled around in the rooftop snow, making a few angels as he did. When he recovered, he looked for another house and slipped down the chimney. He barely got three steps to the tree, when a horrid grey and white schnauzer charged into the room barking.
After a chase several times around the house, Dexlin barely made it up the fireplace before the family came down and turned on the lights.
Frustrated and dizzy, Dexlin peered into every window of the next house, looking for any sign of cat boxes, chew toys, or monkey bars. Seeing nothing, he slid down the chimney.
This time nothing interrupted him as he filled the bag. With the best of the selected prospects synched up tight, he turned to go to the fireplace and came face-to-face with another elf.
“Uh… Hello,” said Dexlin. “There’s still a few good ones left.” He bowed. “Dexlin to you.”
“I got my haul from this place a long time ago.” He smiled, a little sadness in the corners of his eyes. “Now I guard the place.” He bowed. “Murlip to you.”
Dexlin fidgeted with the sack’s synch string. “What do you mean?”
“Bad timing,” said Murlip. “I was struggling to get a bicycle into the bag when Saint Nicholas came down the chimney and whacked me on the head with his rolled-up list.”
“Ooh.” Dexlin winced. “That is bad timing.”
“He commanded me to guard this family every Christmas and bound me with an enchantment. I sleep three hundred and sixty-four days out of the year, then wake to do my job.”
Dexlin edged away from him. “Keep up the good work.” He dragged the bag toward the fireplace, but a golden mist swirled around him and held him rigid. “What are you doing? You can’t use elf magic against another elf.”
“It’s not elf magic,” said Murlip. He walked to the fireplace and flipped his feet up into it, peeking upside down from under the flue. “It’s Santa’s magic, and I’ve just passed it on to you.” He gave a somber grin. “Good-bye, good Dexlin. You’re the family’s guard now.”
“N-n-n-no!” Dexlin cast an enchantment toward Murlip, but the elf disappeared up the flue.
Dexlin fought against the spell through the night, but could make no progress out of the house with or without the presents. As the sky brightened to threaten the dawn, he dumped out the sack and put the presents back.
The elf slipped behind some drapes as five kids bounded down the stairs, their parents traipsing behind. He watched and listened through the morning, soaking in the glee of each child as they opened presents and enjoyed cocoa and pastries.
He found himself softening to the merriment, but as the day moved on, Dexlin yawned and slipped into a crack in the wall, falling asleep.