Bad Kid

As many of you long-time followers of Speculating Canada know, I try to have a little gift for you around the holidays – a tale inspired by this time of year. There is a long history of telling stories (and especially spooky stories), after all, for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this is the time of year with the longest nights. 

The story I bring you is inspired by a monster from Yule traditions – Gryla. She is an Icelandic ogress who eats naughty children on Christmas. If you want to learn more about Gryla, check out my post on Through the Twisted Woods at https://throughthetwistedwoods.wordpress.com/2019/12/09/creepmas-yule-monsters-gryla/.

Note: Trigger Warning for discussions of abuse and family violence

Bad Kid

By Derek Newman-Stille

I know I haven’t been the best kid this year. I know that I’ve caused trouble. I know that I keep making Dad angry. I know that he hits me because he wants me to be better.

All of the other kids seem happy this time of year, as Christmas approaches. All of them seem to be excited for the holiday season and to be rewarded… even the kids that I don’t think are good… even the kids that bully me.

But who am I to know what is good? I’m a bad kid, so how am I to determine who is good or not. How am I to decide what is good behaviour or bad?

None of them seem to be afraid.

None of them worry about her.

Not like I do, at least.

Even though I know that it is still a few weeks before she comes down from the mountains, I can hear the chomp of her jaws, hear the clomping of her feet, and feel the chill of her breath.

Dad told me about her when I was really little. “If you don’t behave, Gryla will come down from the mountains and slice you into pieces and throw you into a pot and boil the evil out of you and she will eat you.”

There was even a statue of her in the town square with her oversized ears, her horns, her big nose, and teeth worn flat from chewing the bones of children. She leared over a big pot, looking hungrily into it.

If you wanted to, you could climb up on her statue and even climb into her pot, pretending to be a sacrifice to her monstrous appetite. While the other children crawled all over her, dropping themselves into her pot and laughing as they looked up into her looming face, I couldn’t go near it.

Father would push me toward the pot, telling me “Those children think it’s funny. They think Gryla will leave them alone. That she is just a silly troll from our stories, but you, my dear, you know she is real. Maybe they don’t think they have anything to fear from her, eh? Maybe they think that they have been good little boys and girls who listen to their fathers?”

He would look down on me with the same monstrous hunger that Gryla’s statue showed. I would tremble as I looked up at him “I don’t know, father. I don’t know why they aren’t afraid”

“Are you afraid, my girl?”

I would silently nod my head, my curls bouncing up and down.

“Say it, girl.”

“Yes.” I would squeak out, “I am afraid.”

“And why are you afraid?”

“Because I’m never good, daddy.”

“That’s right. Never. Good children listen to their fathers. You never do. Go, get up into Gryla’s pot. Remember what it feels like. That could be you this year. That could be your Christmas, eaten up by Gryla the troll.”

This year I was extra afraid of Gryla. The eyes of her statue seemed to follow me, and they seemed hungry to me. If I stared too long, I swore I could see her move.

Just a little.

Not even a step.

Just a slight shrug and she was closer.

The other children began to sing.

“Down from the mountain

I come abounding

on silent feet

up to your window.

I hear your breathing

hear your fear

knowing you’ve done

bad deeds this year.

Leaving my Yule Lads

up to their mischief

as my cat

goes prowling at night.

I am hungry

hungry for meat

even though you are rotten

even though you are bad.

I come abounding

out of the darkness

Gryla the Ogress

Gryla the Troll.

My hooves will step lightly

My hooves with step sure

Before you know it

I’ll be at your door.”

The children laughed and rolled in the snow and I watched on, wishing I could be like them. Wishing I didn’t have to be afraid.

Last month, I asked one of the boys in my school, Einar, why he wasn’t afraid of Gryla.

He had stared at me and asked “You don’t really believe in her, do you? The Troll?”

I nodded back at him.

He began laughing, calling all of the other children “Hekla believes in Gryla! Hekla believes in Gryla. She’s a little baby.”

He shoved me in the snow, kicking me in the face. Red ran into the snow as other kids joined him, laughing and kicking snow into my face.

I lay still.

It was the same thing I did when my father hit me. I pretended I wasn’t there. I wished I was invisible. I wished they had something to distract them.

I wished Gryla would take them and eat them.

“Your parents give you presents and your parents say that Gryla will eat you so you will be good all year.” Said Magnus, pushing the other children away and looking at me with something worse than anger. A sadness.

I knew that couldn’t be true. My father wasn’t smart enough to think of something like Gryla, wasn’t smart enough to lie that well. His lies were always so silly, blaming me for things that he did.

He didn’t need to lie well.

He had all the power, and I had learned a long time ago that powerful people don’t have to lie.

Magnus reached down and I winced. I think he was trying to help me up from the snow, but I knew it was safer to look after myself.

I spat blood into the snow. Father said I should never spit, but the taste of the blood was making me sick. I rolled over and stood up while Magnus held his hand out for me. He moved closer to help me up and I pulled away. I didn’t know what he wanted.

“You know,” Magnus said, “It’s okay to believe in Gryla. I just wish you wouldn’t. Parents made her to make us afraid. She’s not real. The other kids make fun of you because they don’t believe in her any more.”

“Do you?”

“No… of course not.”

He still looked uncomfortable and I noticed his eyes drifting toward the mountain. Toward Gryla’s home.

I nodded to him.

It was our secret.

I knew he didn’t want to admit it. He wanted the other kids to think he was tough.

I was late, so I hurried home.

I didn’t realize that my coat was stained with blood until I got to my house.

“What happened to you?” His voice was angry, not worried.

He pulled at my coat, knocking me down.

“I’m sorry.” I said, trying to keep the tears out of my voice. He hated when I whined.

He didn’t ask what happened. It didn’t matter to him. I always tried to figure out what I had done wrong and I knew I had done something wrong. I ruined another good coat. I got into a fight at school. I was making him look bad. I- I-

“Get in here. The neighbours are going to see all that blood and think that I’ve been hitting you. I shouldn’t have to get in trouble because you can’t behave and you do things like this.”

He could get in trouble for hitting me?

He always said that it was a parent’s right to punish their child. Even the teachers said it. And the priest said it. How could he get in trouble?

“You will have Child Protection knocking on our door and then what will I do? Huh? What?” He was screaming in my face, spraying it with spittle. If the neighbours cared that he hit me, they would have called Child Protection before now. They must know. How couldn’t they know?

I looked at the floor like I always did. Looking up was “getting smart” with him. I stared hard at the floor, trying to memorize every knot in the wood, every burl. I ran my toes over the worn parts of the floor, which he seemed to think was me being apologetic.

“Get to bed. No dinner” He dragged me half way up the stairs before I could get my feet under me and run the rest of the way to my room.

I closed the door, wishing it could keep me safe. Wishing it could keep him out.

Wishing it could keep Gryla out

***

I heard the crunching of snow outside my window.

Or was it bones?

It didn’t have the crisp sound of boots in the snow or even bare ogre feet. It made a grinding sound, wet and slushy.

I pulled my blankets off of my bed, darting beneath it.

I knew she could smell me.

I knew that the reek of bad girl was all over me.

I knew that her big ears could hear my breathing, my sobs.

I could feel my finger nails dig into the palm of my hand. Maybe if I just hurt myself that little bit, I could keep from sobbing out loud. I clenched my teeth down on my tongue.

Everything in me said “run”.

My body was shaking with fear.

I knew I couldn’t outrun her. How could she eat so many bad children if they could all run away? She had to be faster, had to be able to catch us.

I couldn’t tell if it was the huff of my breath or if it was hers. It seemed too close.

My bed sagged down with me beneath it.

I swore I could smell the stink of rotted flesh from her breath.

“Don’t be afraid” came a gravelly voice. It was a voice that was used to harshness, used to yelling, but trying to be soft-spoken, comforting. It made it all the more terrifying.

“You don’t need to fear me.” I let out a squeak of fear and shoved my hand into my mouth, breathing around it.

“It’s okay. You’re a good little child, aren’t you?”

I wanted to shout “No”.

“You are, you know. I wish you knew that. You don’t smell like food to me. You smell like fear, but you wouldn’t taste good. There’s nothing rotten in you.”

I wanted to tell her that I was rotten – that I knew it. I wanted to tell her that I deserved to be eaten. I was more than rotten, I was downright evil. I knew it. I still had the lash marks on my back to prove it.

“Something rotten has been done to you. Parents are supposed to look after their children.” I heard a low chuckle, “I look after the Yule Lads, feed them fresh meat from the bad people of the world. I keep them fed. I clothe them. I give them the clothes of the people we eat. I’m a good mother.”

I felt her shift on the bed above me, but she still didn’t look over the edge. “But you. No one has looked after you, have they? Oh, I know you have clothes. I know you have food. I know you have a bed and a house. But you don’t have a home, do you? A home is where you should feel safe, protected. You’ve never felt that. Don’t you think you deserve it?”

I let out a whispered “No”.

“Have you never felt wanted?” She waited, but I couldn’t answer again. “What if Gryla wants you? What if you could be my child? No, no, not to eat. There is enough rot out there to keep me fed.”

A ragged, warted hand appeared over the side of the bed, reaching down gently, slowly. I could see the blood under her nails, see the pustulant warts leaking down her hand.

It hovered there, open and relaxed.

It reminded me of Magnus’ hand, reaching out to help me out of the snow. This wasn’t a fist, wasn’t a hand that was grabbing at me. It was a hand that was offering something.

I think anyone else would be disgusted by those thick knuckles, by the sprouts of hair, by the thick, yellow nails. I think I would have been disgusted before.

I just knew I wanted something and there had only been one thing that I had ever wanted – escape.

This was a hand of escape. It was a hand that was marked by living in the wild.

The blood didn’t even bother me… and I didn’t know why.

I reached a finger up and touched it to the middle of the hand.

She didn’t move.

I pushed a little with my finger and she playfully pushed back, tapping her fingers on mine.

I let out a giggle.

Somehow things are more funny when you have been scared. It had gotten me in trouble so many times, those little laughs when I was being punished – those “outbursts” as he called them.

I pulled my hand away, afraid that Gryla would hit me for laughing at her.

“It’s okay” came the gravelly, whispery voice.

I don’t know what it was about hearing those words — maybe it was because I had never heard them before, maybe because nothing ever seemed okay — but I let my tears fall and grabbed onto her hand, really believing that it could be okay.

Part of me still expected her to grab my hand and drag me away to the dark of the mountain… but she didn’t. Her rough hands caressed the back of my hand.

“It’s okay” she said, over and over again. “You’re safe now. Will you come out from under the bed?”

I pushed myself across the floor, craning my neck up to see her.

She looked just like the statue, all rough bark-like skin, warts, and horns.

But her face seemed gentle. Natural. And her eyes were gentle, brown and wide with compassion.

“No one will hurt you again.”

My heart jolted. “What about him?”

“Do you know when a bear is at her most angry and scariest?”

“No” I said, looking up into those eyes.

“When her cubs are in danger. She becomes fierce.” Gryla lifted her other hand, showing off her blood-crusted nails and playfully swiping at the air. She made a little grr sound.

I giggled again.

I don’t think it was the awkward giggle of fear.

She smiled with her flat broken teeth, but somehow they seemed soothing, even silly. I couldn’t help but smile back. “I am the mother to children who have been hurt by bad people. I am the mother to children like you. I don’t let my cubs get hurt.”

I finally knew what she meant.

I looked again at the blood on her long, yellow nails, at the crusting of blood around her hairy knuckles, at the drip running over the lines on her palm. I jumped up and grabbed around her neck, holding tight.

I finally pulled back, looking deep into her eyes. “But, you already have children. You have the Yule Lads”

“Oh, my dear, do you think those were Leppaludi’s children? He is so lazy, he never moves. No, they are children like you, ones who haven’t been loved like they should.”

“But you only have Yule Lads. I’m a girl.”

“I know, love, I know. That’s the way the story goes. But my children aren’t all boys. There are girls too – Yule Lasses. They may even do more mischief than the boys do.”

She gathered me up into her arms, standing up so that her head pressed against the ceiling. She looked down at me again, a smile on her twisted lips “Do you think you could do some mischief?”

I smiled back at her.

I would start thinking of mischief I could do. Nothing really really bad. Maybe just pinch some bullies. Just a little pinch. Just to let them know that Gryla is watching.

A Fantasy Trans Memoir

A Fantasy Trans Memoir

A review of Kai Cheng Thom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir (Metonymy Press, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Kai Cheng Thom decided to include the word “Memoir” in the title of her book Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, yet she also cleverly weaves fantasy elements into her text, telling stories about the death of the last of the mermaids, the mythic First Femme, ghosts, and a magical Trans woman who casts spells on her sisters. She weaves fairy tales into her “memoir”, revealing the problems of Cinderella narratives for Trans women, discussing doctors who are so unlike fairy godmothers (always wanting something in return for their transformations), telling tales of goddesses, escapees from towers that trap them, and the magic of the everyday.

Kai Cheng Thom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir is meant to complicate the idea of memoir itself, and especially the tropes of the “Trans Girl Memoir”, which is so often about a person discovering that they are Trans, leaving her home and ending up suffering on the street, becoming the victim of abuse. Thom’s Trans memoir is one filled with magic, but it is also about fighting back – about never being a victim and about coming together as a community to protect each other. Her tale evokes the magic of connections with other Femmes.

She tells her tale through prose and poetry, through letters and dramatic scripts, and through sharing the histories of other Trans women on the street (often narrated by someone else). Her narrator is someone who hungers for their stories like we do as the reader, but she also filters those stories through her own knowledge, her own craving for a place to belong and a people to belong with. Yet, despite her craving for belonging, we are told that the narrator is an escape artist, and, perhaps she even escapes from the text in a way, leaping from the simple veracity of the mundane world and into a space where fantasy is a more powerful truth than Truth.

This is not a Trans woman’s memoir. This is a story about stories… about our need for stories. Its a story about the fact that there are stories behind the stories that are told. It is a collection of myths from the street, urban myths. It is a collection of truths. Kai Cheng Thom complicates the idea of Truth in Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, teaching us that some fictions speak greater truths than works that claim to be collections of truth. She teaches us that in the act of storytelling, we transform ourselves, and in the act of hearing, we create community. She shares her love of storytelling with us as readers, reminding us that the veracity of a story doesn’t matter so long as it shares and tells us truths about ourselves through the act of reading.

Kai Cheng Thom uses the word “Memoir” in her title to complicate memoirs – to illustrate to us that there are no simple truths and that truths are always shifting, changing, and transforming. She illustrates that life is a fantasy made up of our collective stories interweaving with each other and creating magic.

Thom’s narrator tells us “Someday, I’m going to gather up all of the stories in my head. All the things that happened to me and all the things I wish had happened. I’m going to write them all down one after the other, and I’ll publish a famous best-selling book and let history decide what’s real and what’s not.” This is a tale that invites the reader into the process of truth-making, using the term “memoir” to invite questions about what is true and to whom.

To discover more about Kai Cheng Thom, visit her website at https://kaichengthom.wordpress.com

To discover more about Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, visit https://metonymypress.com/product/fierce-femmes-notorious-liars-dangerous-trans-girls-confabulous-memoir/

La Befana

Here is a holiday story for you this December. Renaissance Press is creating a tour of different websites where authors can showcase their fiction and they invited me to participate and share a short story with readers.

 

This post is part of the Renaissance Holiday Blog Roll. Find out what it’s all about here and check out some other great stories!!

 

I hope that you enjoy this story and others!

 

—–

 

 

La Befana

By Derek Newman-Stille

My Dearest Daughter,

We witches have a long tradition and it is a tradition of magic, but also a tradition of misunderstanding. Words are our magic – they shape the world around us, change it, sing it into something new… but words have also been used to trap us, contain us, erase us.

Words of condemnation provoked the burning times. Words spoken out of fear have constantly hounded us, plagued us, and hunted us.

So it is with a heavy heart that I write these words to you, my sweet Sofia, my first and only daughter, because they are words that lay a heavy burden. And the first burden will be the loss of the name that I gave you, pronounced you into existence with.

Now, as I was for many years, you will be called La Befana.

You know what the name means. Some say it is borrowed from the Feast of the Epiphany, but it has a longer line than that. It is the name of the Yule witch, the witch who guides the depths of winter.

You know of La Befana from the ornaments on our tree, the little ones that you used to make out of felt, pounded into the shape of the Christmas witch, old and wandering like the winter itself. But, your job will be more than filling shoes with candy or lumps of coal. Your job will be one of sweeping. That is why you carry your broom. Your job will be to sweep away the cobwebs and dust of rage that settle in homes, that collect in the corners and under the beds… the bits of emotional detritus that fall off of human beings and cling to them if they are not careful.

It is a thankless job.

You will only be remembered for bringing the sweets placed in shoes, which, as you know, a mother does for her children. You may be left a small glass of wine or a plate of food as an offering, but these are only tokens and generally eaten and drunk by parents. They are empty gestures now.

Your thanks will be knowing that all of the darkness of winter is cleared away for joy – to bring something new into the houses you visit and give people a chance, even just a small one, to escape from the shadows of their past. You will be bringing chances of renewal.

Our myths have changed over time. They have shifted to fit new myths and new stories, but our traditions go back over the ages. Now they tell a story that La Befana was found by the three wise men, the magi on their way to search for Jesus. They say that the Magi asked her for directions since they had seen his star in the sky but couldn’t see it any longer. She provided them with shelter from the night, a clean place to rest because she, with her broom, was the best housekeeper in the village. They say that she would have gone with them to see the new child, but she initially told them that she had too much housekeeping to do, locked into her matronly duties as she was, but later in the night she changed her mind, overcome with a desire to see this new child and sought out to find him, but wasn’t able to. So now, she is doomed to wander the world searching for this new baby, this perceived bringer of light, and so she leaves treats for the good children that she comes across in her search. She would come to act as a caretaker for all of the good children of the world the same as she desired to do for the new infant.

Of course, that is only one of the stories about us, and one that imagines us to be immortal rather than believing that we are a sisterhood passing our traditions down from one generation to the next. We date back to before the stories of Jesus and other legends with roots in Ancient Rome, where we were given our duties by Stenia, the goddess of the new year and purification. We were her priestesses, charged with cleaning out ritual impurities and cleansing spaces to make way for new changes and create a place of magic. We would collect twigs from her sacred grove to cleanse with, forming them into a broom and sweep the floors of the temple, not just removing the dirt from the temples, but removing something more complicated, a miasma.

You will find a broom. You probably remember seeing it around our home when you were a girl. It is the dusty old one that looks like twigs held together to a branch. You will need this. It isn’t just a broom, it is a collection of trees – of new growth. It is a manifestation of bringing new growth into the home. You will eventually add your own twigs of new growth to it, contributing to the broom of the new with the broom of the old. The original twigs came from the goddess’ grove and who knows if they still remain. Twigs fall out and new twigs are added. Of course, you will not be able to bring them from the grove. You will have to add them from the trees and bushes that speak to you on your travels… and they will call out to you. You won’t be able to mistake them.

You will start to look like I did… a hag. It is part of the act of cleaning out so much of the past. You become the past that you sweep. Your wrinkles and crevices become a map of all of the histories you sweep out. You will have the permanent look of soot on your face and body that I did. Some of what you sweep away will stick to you, bringing you half into the shade.

No one tells bringers of light that they will have to walk through the shadows and that the shadows sometimes cling to us. But you will still be able to be a creature of cheer. You are the Christmas Witch.

Dear Befana,

I wish you so much luck and joy in your quest because there is so much joy to be had and you need to revel in that joy. Drink the wine that remains as offerings that parents don’t gobble away first. Take time to see the happy smiles on children’s faces as they wake to sweets left in their shoes because it isn’t the treats that matter – it is what you have done, that sweeping away of collected miasma. And remember me. We are all La Befana. When you crawl across rooftops and down chimneys to sweep houses of detritus, we are all sweeping them with you. But don’t let words define you. Don’t let even my words define you. I feel as though I have pronounced a doom upon you, and perhaps I have. We have been at risk so many times before for what we are. People see the shades that cling to us. They see the soot before they see that we are cleaning for them… and everyone seems to fear an older women. They fear that knowledge we have acquired over the course of our lives. They fear that we know something that they don’t… and, of course we do. You will know more than all of us, just as your daughter will eventually know more than you. We add our wisdom generation after generation. But there is always something lost as well. I hope that you understand why I am allowing that loss and the important role you have.

Your mother, always and forever,

La Befana

Goosed Into The Truth

Goosed Into The Truth
A review of Tim Wynne-Jones’ “The Goose Girl” in Black Thorn, White Rose Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Prime Books: 1994

By Derek Newman-Stille


Tim Wynne-Jones’ “The Goose Girl” is a re-telling of the Grimm Brothers’ tale of the same name, but it is also a discussion of the nature of re-tellings and of the nature of “truth” itself.. His story is told from the perspective of the Prince, who narrates his encounter with the young princess and the chambermaid. As in the Grimm Brothers narrative, the princess and chambermaid switch clothes before the castle and the prince assumes that the chambermaid is the princess he is supposed to marry and that the young princess is a peasant girl, who he finds work for as a goose girl. The prince is deceived by a change of clothing and has to uncover the truth through interacting with both chambermaid and princess to discover the truth behind their presentation of selfhood. They are clothed in fiction.

Wynne-Jones narrates a tale of successive fictions. After living the experience of encountering the faux princess and the goose girl, he hears a peasant narrating her version of the tale, and, even though he interrupts her at times to ask her to narrate the truth, she is bound by the nature of fairy tale tellings and imbues her story with symbolism.

In the prince’s own narration of his events, he also invokes other fairy tales, illustrating that a fairy tale understanding is not just a feature of peasants, but is something embedded into every aspect of his culture. He plays with the idea of finding out the truth about which woman is a peasant and which a princess by placing a pea under a mattress and discovering which one of the two is unable to sleep, invoking the princess and the pea narrative in order to discover his own truths and the truths that he has been denying – namely, that he knows that his lover is actually the chambermaid rather than the princess and that the goose girl is the true princess. He resorts to fairy tale understandings in order to interpret his own unconscious, illustrating the symbolic power and value of fairy tales to get at hidden truths. 

Despite the prince’s correcting of the “facts” of the tale told to him by the old woman conveying folk tales, through his entire narrative, he resisted these facts, ignored truths and relegated them to the subconscious. 

Tim Wynne-Jones’ “The Goose Girl” is a tale of inconvenient truths, the power of stories, and the nature of fairy tales. He plays with the idea that there are truths in stories and that there are stories in the truths we are told. He reveals that there is often torture involved in uncovering undesireable truths. 

To discover more about Tim Wynne-Jones, visit his website at http://www.timwynne-jones.com

The Watcher on the Shelf

For all that you readers have done this year to support Speculating Canada, I thought I would write a story for your enjoyment as a way to celebrate the passage into a new year. I hope that you enjoy the story. 

The Watcher On The ShelfBy Derek Newman-Stille

Staring, staring, always staring.

They made sure of it when they dipped me into the cauldron, pinned my eyes wide open with merry thorns of holly. I was meant to be a silent watcher, a judge, a surveillor. They created all of the Watcher Elves the same way. I say “they”, but i suppose i mean “we”… or more specifically “he”, since none of us really have any agency of our own. We are toys, motivated by the whims of he who pulls my strings.

He makes each of us wear red, the same colour as he, and stained through the same process. We are beaten into our smaller elvish size by his cane, reduced with each strike of the cane as our blood is struck from our bodies, and it stains his suit deep crimson. No one seems to think about this “right jolly old elf” as a redcap because they are too focused on the beneficence of his gifts, but those of us who experience his beatings know that the red he wears is the paint of victimization. 

Most seem to have forgotten the term “redcap”, so invested are they in the Disneyfied fairies of modernity. They have forgotten that the magical encounters with the fey have often been marked with tragedy. The term redcap comes from the crimson colour of their hats, dyed in the blood of humans who have strayed into their homes. They need to kill regularly to sustain their own lives, feeding their caps with new blood or their hats will dry out and so to will their vitality. I suppose i can stop saying “they” because he made each of us his kind. 

When he beat the blood out of us, we became like him, needing it to stain our own caps and coats to keep us “Watcher Elves” alive. Everyone needs blood – needs the vital fluid running through them to keep their bodies moving. We need it more than most because our bodies miss it, deprived of it for so long. We can only move at night, when the moon’s own fluidity surges through our bodies, and only for a few moments before we are frozen again at rest, motionless surveillors frozen in watchful silence, unblinking eyes wide for anything that can justify that blissful moment where we can sustain ourselves and stain our caps anew.

Unlike his mythical brothers, mostly extinct now due to human interventions of iron, this redcap is beloved, invited into human homes and fed on cookies and milk that are but dust and ash in a mouth that is sustained by crimson sap. He is so beloved that we, this new breed of redcaps, are equally invited into their homes (so like the homes we once had), stared at with glee and excitement.

And how does he achieve it? How do we all achieve it?

Admittedly, part of it is human greed – an ironic twist of fate because we punish greed at the same time as we rely on it to gain entrance into homes with the promise of gifts on a midwinter night…

But greed is not all we rely on. Greed only does so much to permit people to allow themselves to be perpetually watched. There is something that they don’t want to admit…. They like to be watched.

They feel comfort in the touch of a watchful gaze. They feel that our eyes keep order, sustain normalcy, and prevent acts of rebellion. 

And they justify the idea of punishment too. They convince themselves that punnishment will only come for the wicked… and who genuinely thinks that they are capable of wickedness? Who isn’t able to justify any actions they take as “for the better good”? Who doesn’t convince themselves that they only hurt the guilty, that their acts of harm to others are because “those people are lazy”, “it’s really their own fault”, “they had it coming to them”, “they would have done the same to me”…?

They invite us into their houses to watch their children, to become the omnipresent threat of the deprivation of presents on a midwinter morning… but we are only partially watching the children. Most of their acts of wickedness are wrought from a lack of understanding, and we generally think of them as excused from the crimes they commit because of their lack of experience… such a short number of years to learn the world around them. The people we pay the most attention to are the adults, the ones who justify bringing us into their homes as a threat to their children, using punishment to achieve control. They are the most interesting.

Children focus on the little sparkle in our eyes, seeing magic. They don’t know enough to see hunger there. Adults rarely look into our eyes, viewing them as vehicles only for a child’s imagination and therefore beneath their notice. They would be able to see the hunger in that persistent glance if they looked deep and long enough, but they justify ignoring that hungry gaze because they are too busy to look deeper. They don’t want to waste their time on frivolous things. 

The frivolous things are so often sustaining.

If any person stared at their home and their children with the intensity of our redcap eyes, they would feel threatened. They would feel a compulsion to protect what is theirs. But we are immobile things, lifeless. They have forgotten how to fear lifeless things. They have forgotten that predators freeze before they pounce on their prey, making themselves seem like just part of the scenery, part of the landscape.

And so we become part of the landscape of their home, hidden in plain sight. They even give us the perfect predatory view of their home, perching us up high so we can survey everything beneath us. Silently waiting.

It is amazing how easily we learned to be predators, we Watcher Elves. I would like to pretend that it was part of the process of being turned into a redcap, part of the abduction by the jolly man in red, the beating until his sack of toys and corrupt people turned red, the pinning of our eyes with holly, and the dip into the icy cold cauldron of the Northern Pole… I would like to believe it.

No matter how strong I imagine myself and my fellow humans to have been innocent, to be anything other than predators, I have to admit that these traits were easy to uncover and that the beatings just give us cause, justification to want the things that we are convinced were taken from us – blood. Hunger can justify a lot of actions that we pretend we aren’t capable of, and the feeling of loss, the desire for what once was, can sharpen that justification.

Without blood, so many things become hollow. I watch the children dance around in front of the fireplace, looking gleefully up at me, perched near their stockings, calling me – ironically – Holly, a name that they rhyme with “jolly” in a persistent sing-song of joy that I only hear as mockery, feeling the pain of that herb in my eyelids, holding them perpetually open in staring horror. I feel only emptiness and pain, hollowed out partially by the ceremony that inducted me into this madcap menagerie of joy and pain, but more painfully hollowed out by my remove from the holiday cheer, my watchful distance, forced to re-live again and again the moments so similar to those that led up to my incarceration in this hollowed out body, my imprisonment on the shelf. 

I wonder sometimes if my children look up at me and see their daddy or if they forgive me for the horrors i subjected them to before i was taken away one Christmas Eve and stuffed in a sack, made more spacious for the gifts he left for my children. Parents buy all of the toys, but he leaves deeper gifts, gifts of learning and understanding that children unwrap through their own imaginations. 

I stare and stare and stare at the hollow thing that hatched from wrapping paper, tape, and imagination and has taken my likeness, the perfect dad that they always wanted, that they dreamed about as I struck them. 

I stare and stare and stare at what I could have been and I wait for someone else to be naughty, to bring them into my huge family of Watcher Elves. I wait and watch.