I always thought elves were short and stout and wore fuzzy suits in insanely bright colors that hurt the eyes. Or maybe they’re tall and noble and spend the dawns and dusks prancing through dimly lit forests, leaping from branch to branch in praise of their woodland goddess. Or perhaps they’re lithe and wispy creatures whose magical nobility is evident to even the most untrained eye as they swing their cobbler’s hammers deep into the night. Or maybe reality is different.
The darkness of the room crowded and suffocated me as I woke, the sand in the corners of my eyes helping disguise shadows as slinking figures crawling along the walls, watching my groaning form carefully. My back ached slightly from the firm mattress I had inherited and I could feel the joints cracking as I slid my feet into the pile of dirty laundry beside my bed and my torso swung up like a branch slowly being relieved of the snow holding it down. The cold outside was evident by the shuddering of the boiler a few rooms down, but I can’t say the room was cold. Still, I shivered as I stretched up to stand yawned, and felt the icy fingers of the night scratch gently down my back.
I fumbled for my glasses, smudging the lenses and bending an ear piece so they sat slightly tipped to the right. The sharp point of whatever I stepped on shot up my leg into a grimace as I sluggishly stumbled into the empty hallway. My parched tongue lolled lazily as my half-awake form traversed the hall, past the bathroom, the office, and the menacing blue stuffed gorilla with boxing gloves I had stolen in college and didn’t have a good place for. I know my foot hit the stair and that’s what caused me to trip, but I remember my face hitting the stairs before feeling myself trip. The inky blackness hid the blood dripping from nose, but I could feel it trickling across my upper lip and beginning to sate the dryness of my mouth.
The landing by the front door chilled my feet though the doormat. I gently checked the door to make sure it was locked, since the tile landing generally isn’t cold unless the door’s been opened. It was locked. I climbed the stairs, rubbing my bare chest and arms, attempting to get my skin to warm up like a polar bear’s coat, carefully keeping my head titled forward and straining my eyes through my splotchy, bent glasses to see the next step.
I reached around the corner, my hand desperately searching for a light switch. My callous fingers found it, but the bulb must’ve been burned out, since no light came though I flicked it repeatedly. I stumbled across the room towards the kitchen, carefully avoiding the dishes leftover from last night’s ramen, the perfect meal for a disillusioned 6-figure employee of a 10 figure movie studio. I flicked on the light above the sink, casting shadows over the unwashed counter and the piles of dirty dishes and Chinese take-out containers. The paper towel I snatched was double quilted, perfect for soaking up a little blood, but the sheet corner poked me in the eye under my glasses when I stuck it up to my nose.
I opened the cupboard next to the sink and grabbed a glass, flipping the filter on the faucet as I wetted my lips in anticipation. I gulped down the glass of lukewarm filtered tap water and let my body fall onto my elbows resting on the counter. For the third time in as many nights, I was struggling to find a defined state somewhere between somnolence and wakefulness. The clock on the microwave glowed 1:18, indicating I had only been home a little over an hour since another grueling editing session of the dailies from one of the worst movies ever made. I refilled my glass and wandered back into the living room, sighing gently and letting the lethargy slip over me. I lowered myself onto the couch, sloshing water on the wall as I draped my arms across its worn back and lay my head back, staring at the darkened ceiling.
“You look tired,” said a small voice quietly.
“I am.” I didn’t bother looking up, since there wouldn’t be anything there. The voice would start wandering off into some diatribe from a piece of literature from my childhood, Shakespeare perhaps, and go on to lead me off into dream. “So what’s on tap for tonight, dream man?”
“Do I look like your bartender?”
Something wasn’t right. Where was the now is the winter of our discontent? Or the out out damn spot? This wasn’t my totem animal, my sandman. This wasn’t my dream guide, my soul watcher. This was something else; something new.
I tilted my head forward and strained my eyes in the darkness, searching for the source of the voice. The rocking chair across from me creaked gently as two feet slid off its silhouette and tapped lightly as they hit the floor. With slow, labored steps, the feet waddled towards me, the light from the kitchen climbing gently up his frame as he approached. At first, I thought it was a dwarf, a deformity of nature, based on the stylish black leather shoes that shone and reflected with care and the neatly creased khakis that hung down below the long leather jacket. His hands, though, weren’t short and stubby like a dwarf’s, but instead had a small palm and long, spindly fingers that seemed to be at least half as long has his legs. His frame was muscular, the jacket showing off bulging little muscles in his arms and chest. His face came into view as he took a final step into the light.
“Do you know why I’m here?” he asked, his green eyes glowing magically. The myths about elves aren’t lies or truths, per se, but are merely memories of shadows glimpsed in the midst of a nightmare filled night broken apart by excursions into lucidity. His body, however grotesquely built, was well dressed and his face held a magical air of both nobility and a Mafioso like awe inspiring terror about it. His thin roman nose accentuated a broad smile that sparkled in the dim light, revealing teeth who’s rounded points sent shivers down my spine. As if sensing my fear, he winked at me and said, “Relax. I’m here to help. Think of your life as a next generation dishwasher hooked up to the Internet, and I’m the repairman it automatically calls when it breaks.”
“I don’t think my life is broken…” I managed.
“You’re a relatively handsome 27 year old editor for NBC who’s making $750,000 a year, is eating ramen in a $700 a month apartment, and who can’t keep a steady girlfriend for more than 3 months without sabotaging the relationship. I think that qualifies as broken.” He waddled over and pulled himself up on the couch next time, his feet dangling off the edge as he turned to me. “You don’t trust me, do you?”
“Uh, not really, no…”
“God damn typical. You people spend the majority of your life watching TV and movies and believing any crappy fantasy thrown your way, and when a good one looks you in the eye and says, ‘hey buddy, I’m real,’ you can’t handle it.” I leaned slightly away from him, his expensive smelling cologne telling me to believe and trust him, but a subtler scent saying to be careful. “Listen, I’m not a magic fairy here to grant you three wishes. Fairies, they’re not real, unless you’re the homophobic type. I’m not the devil here to buy your soul. Hell, I couldn’t even get a gig on the last Ozzy Osbourne tour. I’m definitely not gremlin, goblin or demon. Look ma, no horns! I guess you could call me an elf, though don’t expect to see a fat man get his jollies while I’m around. I’m not into that sort of thing.”
His hand dipped into his pocket and he pulled something out, carefully shielding it and keeping his eyes on mine. His fingers uncurled in unison with the grin on his face, revealing a small rock that glowed more brightly than his smile and casting odd shadows across his face. I leaned a little bit closer, admiring the sparkling green gemstone, my hand slowly reaching for it of its own accord. The elf slammed his hand closed, snapping me out of the trance, his grin glowing wider. His hand snapped open, empty.
“Where is it?”
“Here!” he said as his other hand appeared with it.
“What is it?” I said, reaching again. He snapped his hand shut and shook his finger playfully at me. His mouth opened and his tongue lolled out with gem on it. He pulled it back and swallowed. I heard the gem echo in the depths of his stomach, forever depriving me of the glory of it.
“It’s just a little trinket; one of many.” His hands appeared from his pockets with a large pile of similar glowing green gems. “You humans aren’t far off from catching up to what these are. DNA tells you what sort of person you will be physically and mentally, but you have a little choice in the matter. See, everyone is given an equal number of tokens to apply to each trait. Some spend them all on beauty, others on brains; some on athletic ability, some on artistic inspiration. Sometimes, people spend them all wrong, like savants, who spend them all on math or language skills and none on being able to walk properly or take care of themselves. It’s a puzzle. Picking the right combination is a pure crap shoot between ordinary and extraordinary.” He popped a couple more in his mouth and swallowed them like candy. I swear he grew a couple inches before my eyes.
“You, you chose fairly well, from what I can see. But you’re merely ordinary. You’re stuck editing when you have the talent to direct. You’re stuck at 6 figures, when you could command an 8 figure salary PER MOVIE!” He popped another and I could see his hair start to get a little more shiny and illustrious.
“So you’re a fantasy drug pusher?”
“This isn’t HGH, Alex. This is opportunity. I’m not selling you a get bigger faster drug that’s going to make your muscles burst and acne pop up in the strangest places. I’m offering you a chance to better yourself.”
“Why? What do you get out of it?”
“Amusement. I spend my entire life watching you people screw up, break the world, and laugh about it. Maybe you’ll be smart enough to use these properly if I give them to you, but maybe I can laugh at you when you make yourself more handsome, sleep with a starlet and die of AIDS. I don’t offer you the perfect life. If I could do that, would I still look like this?” He winked at me, popped another gem, stood up and started to dance awkwardly around the living room. “I offer you an opportunity, but it’s only what you make of it.”
I rubbed my eyes, trying to wrap my mind around the puzzle of this spinning disfigured creature before me. Most likely, this was only a dream. No elf could be offering me such a thing. It’s not possible. It was a perfect ploy, if the devil exists. It was too perfect a temptation, and there was no way I’d accept.
I opened my eyes and stared blankly at the room. It was empty. The little man, the opportunity, the gems; all were gone. I stood and wandered towards the stairs, headed back to bed content it was a dream. I stepped on something sharp and kicked it aside vigorously. As soon as I hit the mattress, sleep enveloped me. I was whisked away from my odd illusion back to a slumber world of medieval glory and damsels in distress. I thought it was over.