Back | Next

The theme for this dark fairytale was “Christmas Spice.” This read-out-loud challenge story was written in homage to the spooky holiday tales of old.


In the icy grasp of the northern land, Santa Claus lords his castle, and paces beneath the whispering eechoes of children’s wishes that are carried by the wind to him; a sweet addicting madness for a man bound to grant all wishes on one day each year. There, in that inescapable cold, where Santa Claus mutters to himself, chained by wishes in a thousand languages, you will find the elves.

They are slim and quick, half as tall as a man. They are cold, angled and edged, skin and hair and lips the color of glass and sharp rainbowed cuts of diamond. Human eyes can not see them, except for a glint of light against the carved crystal walls, silver snowbanks, the blue edge of sky.

But to a creature of my sort, the elves are easy to see. I am a coal troll, content to live beneath the hills where winter is but a passing season.

I am still a child, only two hundred years old. I do not remember the day Santa Claus came to our tunnels, promising jewels and joy, ribbons and toys, cinnamon and spearmint wonders. But ever since, there have been fewer trolls to dig in the hills, to scrape out the coal that Santa Claus gives to naughty children.

I do know that he has taken my mother, my father, and yesterday, when I went calling for my youngest sister, I found he had taken her too.

Tonight is Christmas Eve and I have followed the old tunnels to the northern lands, to the castle cut of crystal and ice.

I pause at the mouth of the tunnel, where daylight comes in cold and blue. The mad lord’s castle is so close, I can see the elves, quick and diamond bright, dashing in and out of the great arched doors with arms full of gifts. The wind against their skin draws a fluting tone into the air, and as snow falls upon their skin, it is the sound of bells, ringing without end.

The madman’s shadow crosses an arched window, his hands braced against the sill, his head low.

I wonder if the wishes pause, when all the gifts have been given, when even children who do not know they have wished have received an answer — a moment of happiness, an hour without pain, an unexpected smile.

I wonder if the madman dreams for a moment of silence in this distant empty land.

The shadow shifts, and I know he sees me, huddled in the dark doorway of the hill.

I want to run away, but instead I nod to him, false bravery, false confidence, and step out into the snow.

The elves pause as I approach. They turn toward me with the same motion as if they were not made of many minds, but think, move, and breathe as one.

“My family,” I say, and my voice is low and soft, like coal burned to ash. “I want my sister back.”

The elves open their mouths. Wind catches against their lips, and the sound of a thousand empty bottles fills the air. Then they turn back to their tasks, loading and bespelling the sleigh, racing against the fall of day, faster and faster, beneath the pressure, the frantic pace, the heavy weight of Christmas, as if I were not there, as if they did not see me.

There are no trolls among them, no bodies of soft black coal, made for digging in earth’s pockets and living life warm and laughing.

There are only diamond-hard elves.

I jog into the castle and run through the halls, down the stairs and up the towers as the gray light of day fades to dusk’s lavender.

Then, from the corner of my eye, I see an elf. She is smaller than the others, and her hair is tinsel-bright and tied back in a braid. She moves clumsily, and much slower than the other elves.

I touch her shoulder with my sooty fingers. She drops the gift in her hand and looks up at me.

Black eyes, coal eyes, eyes of my family. It is my sister, even though all the rest of her is ice-clear and diamond hard.

“Hurry.” I tug on her wrist, but her feet are frozen to the glass floor. I look down, and see in the reflection of the floor the red smudge of the mad lord approaching, growing larger and larger behind me.

“You can’t have her,” I say to the reflection. “I want her back. Please, I wish for her to come home.”

I can feel the heat of Santa Claus behind me, smell the cinnamon and cloves from his great red robes.

His gloved hand reaches beside me and picks up the package my sister had dropped. “She is yours,” he says, softly. “Merry Christmas.”

My sister draws a deep breath, and her skin becomes coal once again. She lifts her feet.

We do not look back at the mad lord, the elves, nor the castle. We run to the tunnels until we are deep in the earth, where winter has no meaning.

I have asked my sister if she remembers the day I saved her, and though it has been little more than a month, she remembers nothing of Santa Claus nor his land. She is content to dig in the pockets of the earth, and live warm and laughing.

It is I who have become restless, knowing now what all my kind have become. And in my pacing I have made a plan to return to the mad lord’s castle next Christmas Eve.

Every night, I recite my Christmas wish, over and over again. I know that the wind will carry my words to the man who paces a crystal castle, chained by wishes in a thousand and one languages, and I know he will hear my voice, calling for my family’s freedom, and wishing for his death.

Back | Next