The Adventures of Nebel and TolkbyPenelope Street©
December 25. Just after Dawn. Somewhere in the Alps.
Tollkühn ran his fingers through the pink fur of his cheeks and shivered, but not because he was cold- quite the opposite. With a sigh, he wiggled his bum into the snowbank. A smile spread across his pale face as he felt the chill creep into his body.
The elf opened one of his eyelids just wide enough to display a roaming red orb. He caught a glimpse of another elfish face, an icy blue one, and knew at once who it was. "What is it, Nebel?" he asked, clamping his eye closed. "And why can't it wait?"
Nebelhaft stopped beside his brethren and panted for several seconds until he'd regained enough oxygen to speak. "I found a present. They left one behind."
Tollkühn laughed. "Don't think you're fooling me with that; that's the second oldest one in the book." He clasped his hands behind his head and settled back into the snow. "I'm not moving from this spot until Beltane."
"I did too find one! Look!"
Both of Tollkühn's eyelids sprang wide. His focus leapt to the brightly wrapped package in the other elf's hands. An instant later he was on his feet. "Where did you find that?!"
"And what were you doing there?"
"Just checking to see if they'd missed any."
"Oh?" Tollkühn's bushy pink brow dropped so low he peered between the hairs. "You just happened to be checking chute 148877 for a missing present and you just happened to find one? Yeah. Right! Nice fake present though. Go try it on Eikopf. He'll likely fall for it."
"I did find it!" Nebelhaft insisted. "Look for yourself. It's got an address stamp."
With a sigh, Tollkühn snatched the package from the blue elf. Holding the box so that the light of the sun reflected off of the colorful wrapping, he blew his frosty breath upon the paper. At once, silver lettering appeared:
2809 Park Lake Boulevard
"It is real!" Tollkühn gasped, dropping the box like a hot potato.
"I told you!"
"Dumpfbacke!" the pink elf said, looking back to his comrade. "Why didn't you just leave it there?"
"Because Anne wouldn't get her present!"
"Remember what happened to the last elf that found a forgotten gift?"
Nebelhaft's nose twitched. "Yes. I remember." He sniffled twice. "But Anne should still get her present."
Tollkühn's eyes wandered from the other elf, down to the package, and back to the other elf. "I suppose you're right. There's nothing to do but take it to the old lady." He paused to sigh. "Then there's gonna be a big investigation and someone's gonna get sent to Tahiti for it. You watch."
"But Anne will have her present."
"Yeah," Tollkühn began with a sigh. He reached down and picked up the box. "You're right. Let's go."
"Wait," Nebelhaft said. "If we deliver it, no one will get in trouble with the big guy and then no one will be mad at me for finding it."
"And how do you propose we get to Texas, wherever that is?"
"A reindeer, of course."
"Hello? They're all out just now."
"Not all," Nebelhaft insisted. "The reserves are still here."
"Oh yeah. I'm sure one of them will risk his chance to be on a team to help us take one gift to one spoiled brat!"
"What about one of the old ones with nothing to lose?"
"No," Nebelhaft said. "Old reindeer."
"There's a reason they have nothing to lose; they can't fly anymore!"
"Some can; they just can't pull a sleigh. But we're just two elves and one present. Surely one of them can carry us."
"Oh, so now we're going to bring someone else into the plot?"
"We have to!" Nebelhaft said. "We'll be back in a couple hours, way ahead of the teams. No one will miss us."
Tollkühn closed his eyes and shook his head. "We're both going to end up in Tahiti for this. You watch."
* * *
Nebelhaft looked up at the numbers of the door. "This is it!"
Tollkühn's eyes were directed upward as well, but at the doorknob instead of the address. "Yeah," he said, turning his eyes to the blue elf. "We're here. Three hours late but we're here."
"You're the one that insisted we ask Schneekugel!"
"He brought us, didn't he?"
"Via Tibet!" Nebelhaft recalled.
"Texas and Tibet look a lot alike."
"They do not!"
"They sound alike."
Nebelhaft smirked. "He was lost."
"Well," Tollkühn said, "I guess we know why he's retired, don't we?" "Doesn't matter anyway. We're here. Let's get this thing delivered and go home."
Nebelhaft looked back to the door and sighed. "Yeah. But how?"
The pink elf glanced down the apartment corridor at the other closed doors and shrugged. "I never gave a thought to how the teams get in."
"I suppose we could just wait until someone opens it?"
Tollkühn smirked. "Dumpfbacke! We just spent an hour waiting for someone to open the last door. And no one's likely to open this one until morning."
"What if we ring the bell?"
"Ding dong, Santa calling? Yeah, that'll be good!"
"You have a better idea?"
Tollkühn twitched his lips as he again looked upward to the knob. "Let's figure out if we can reach the handle first. Who knows, maybe it's not locked."
"What if you get on my shoulders?"
"Still not enough. We'll have to get on top of the box."
"What if we smash her toy?" Nebelhaft asked.
"Then we'll make her another one. We're elves, remember?"
Nebelhaft grinned. "Oh yeah. Ok. Let's do it."
"Me first," Tollkühn said. "You weigh less." With that, he scrambled atop the box, squatted, and then motioned for the blue elf to climb upon his shoulders.
"Steady," Nebelhaft said as his companion stood, hoisting him toward the knob.
"You're the one that's wiggling," Tollkühn insisted.
"I'm just trying to keep my.... Oh, got it!"
"Does it turn?"
Nebelhaft shook his head. "No. It's locked."
"You tried to turn it both ways?"
"I just asked. You don't have to get snarky about it."
"No!" Nebelhaft said. "You want a key to the door right?"
Tollkühn rolled his beady red orbs. "Of course!"
"Now who's being snarky?"
"Who cares? What about the key?"
"Oh yeah, well, I haven't made a gift for you this year, have I?"
Tollkühn's eyes wandered from side to side above his twitching lips. "I don't think so."
"One gift coming right up! Hold out your hand." Nebelhaft cupped his palms and blew his frosty breath into the valley created by his furry mitts. Silver snowflakes erupted. Coming together as they floated downward, the flakes formed a key in the hairy pink palm below.
Nebelhaft beamed. "Sorry I didn't have time to wrap it."
"Yeah, yeah, very clever," Tollkühn said, lifting the key upward to his companion. "Just open the door."
A dozen seconds later, the elves carried the package inside.
"See," Nebelhaft said. "That wasn't so hard."
"You can brag later. For now lets..."
The elves turned to look down the corridor, just as Mr. Bradford turned on the hallway light.
"Whew," Nebelhaft said. "It's a grown up."
"Now who left that open?" Mr. Bradford grumbled, scratching his head. The two wide-eyed elves but watched as the man walked toward them. With a brief glance into the exterior corridor, he shut and latched the door.
Nebelhaft's throat flexed through a swallow. "Great. Now what?"
"Relax," Tollkühn said. "As soon as he's gone, we'll put the gift under the tree, then I'll make a ladder for you so we can reach the knob and we'll be out of here."
"Look, Daddy. Elves!"
Both elf heads snapped toward the source of the sound, a smiling girl.
"Scheisse," Tollkühn muttered.
"It's a child," Nebelhaft gasped, dropping the package.
"I can see that," Tollkühn said. "This way." He grabbed his comrade's palm and led him into the kitchen, breaking eye contact with the girl.
"Did you leave the door open?" Mr. Bradford demanded.
"Elves opened it, Daddy!" the girl squealed. "Dincha see them?"
"She might come in here too," Tollkühn noted. "Quick, follow me." With that, he scrambled up to the counter-top using the drawer handles like ladder rungs.
"Elves, huh," Mr. Bradford growled. "What are you doing up?"
"I couldn't sleep," the girl replied. "I was too excited."
"I'm gonna give your little ass something to be excited about."
"Not on Christmas Eve you're not!"
"Who's that?" Nebelhaft wondered.
"Must be the mother," Tollkühn replied. His eyes turned to the dining table. "Look. If we jump there, maybe we can see."
"You know the rules," Mr. Bradford said. "Two swats for lying."
"And what did she lie about?"
"She left the front door wide open and blamed it on elves."
The elves landed atop the table and turned just in time to see Mrs. Bradford put her hands to her hips. "She's just playing," the woman insisted. "That's not the same as lying."
"Oh yeah?" The man turned and pointed to the box near the front door. "And look what she's playing with?" He looked to his daughter. "No wait; I bet the elves did that too."
"They did!" Anne insisted. "Can't ya see them?" She pointed and ran toward the table. "Right there."
Mr. Bradford looked to the table, then back to his daughter. "Right there, are they? Pray tell, what do they look like?"
"One is a pretty blue like the sky and the other looks like a furry pencil eraser."
"Alright young lady," Mr. Bradford said, grabbing the child by the wrist. "That's about enough of your lies."
"No," Anne whined. "I'm not lying!"
Tollkühn's eyes narrowed to slits. "What a Mkundu!"
"Oh," Nebelhaft gasped as the family squabble continued. "We've made quite a mess of it, haven't we?"
"No." Tollkühn hissed. "We aren't the problem here."
"What do you mean?"
"Whatever's in that box, I'm sure it's not what Anne really wants for Christmas."
Nebelhaft looked back through the kitchen to the package on the floor. "Of course it is," he said. "The list makers are most meticulous. Why the last... What are you doing?"
Tollkühn leapt from the table to the top of a chair and onto the back of the sofa.
"Maybe she's just too tired to tell the difference?" Mrs. Bradford suggested.
"Well then," the man said, sitting on the couch and dragging the child toward him. "Two swats should wake her up, don't you think?"
"But I'm not lying!" Anne insisted in between tears. "There's an elf right behind you on the back of the couch."
"That'll be about enough of your lies. I don't care if it is..." The man's head swayed. His eyes bulged, then blinked. His scowl disappeared. "What did you say?"
"There's an elf behind you on the couch," the girl said, pointing. "He just blew some snow into your hair."
The man released his daughter and patted her on the head. "Of course he did, my little darling. But it's still not polite to point; you know that." He stood and walked toward the front door. "I'll just put the gift back under the tree and get back to bed. You have fun with the elves."
Anne and her mother both gaped while the man place the present beneath the tree and then disappeared down the corridor.
Mrs. Bradford looked to her daughter and shrugged. "Have fun with the elves." With that, she turned and followed her husband.
"Thanks, Mommy! Thanks, Daddy!" The little girl turned toward the pink elf with a wide smile across her face.
"What have you done?" gasped Nebelhaft.
Ignoring the question Tollkühn scurried along the back of the sofa in the direction of the table.
Anne leapt onto the cushions of the couch in hot pursuit. "Wait! I just wanna play!"
Tollkühn ignored her plea as well, leaping for the table. He landed short, grunting as his abdomen struck the edge. His pink furry feet fluttered in the air.
In a flash, Nebelhaft pulled his friend onto the table. "What now," he asked, backing away from the table's edge.
The two elves watched as the back of a chair moved away from the table. Two seconds later, Anne's smiling face appeared over the rim.
"This way!" Tollkühn said. He jumped past the girl onto hardwood floor of the living room and scurried between the couch and the wall.
Nebelhaft followed a half-second later. "That was close."
"It still is," Tollkühn insisted, pulling his friend from beyond the reach of Anne's groping fingers.
"Why won't you play with me?" the girl asked as she tried to squeeze into the gap. "Nobody ever wants to play with me." For a moment, she grimaced and grunted, then the couch shifted just enough to allow her shoulders between the back and the wall.
"She's stronger than she looks," Nebelhaft said.
"Quick," Tollkühn replied. "Underneath."
One of Anne's eyes appeared in the crease between the couch and the floor. Her hand followed, forcing the elves out the other side. The pair scurried down the short corridor until they stood before the open washroom door.
Looking left and right, Tollkühn saw a pair of identical doors, each open just a crack. "Which way?" he wondered aloud.
As if in answer, Mr. Bradford's whispered voice greeted them from the door on the right. "I've got a special present for you, Honey."
"Oh, Fred. Oh! Fred! You haven't done this since... Oh my, what's come over you?"
Nebelhaft's bushy brow shrouded his eyes. "What did you do to him?"
"Tell you later. Come on." Tollkühn pushed through the opposite door into the bedroom beyond. From the glow of the nightlight, he could make out scattered clothes and toys upon the floor.
"Under the bed," Nebelhaft suggested, rushing that direction.
Tollkühn followed even as he protested, "What good will that do? It's even higher than the couch."
"Where else is there?" Nebelhaft asked as he slid to a stop on the waxed wood.
"I don't know," Tollkühn admitted, crawling to join his comrade beneath the bed. "How long did I tell Schneekugel to wait for us?"
"Until first light."
Tollkühn sighed. "That's what I was afraid of."
"Shush," Nebelhaft whispered.
"Listen," the blue elf insisted with his ear to the floor.
Tollkühn pressed his ear to the wood. For a second he heard but his own breathing; then a sobbing reached his ear.
The next instant bright light bathed the room. Blinking, the elves leapt to their knees.
"I know you're in here, little elves. Come out come out wherever you are."
"Now what?" Nebelhaft asked.
"How should I know? Getting under the bed was your idea!"
The child's face appeared beneath the lower edge of the mattress. "There you are!"
"Maybe we should run into the parent's room," Nebelhaft said.
"Oh yeah," Tollkühn snorted. "That's something everything little girl needs to see!"
"Well, what are we going to do?"
"You're the one that looks pretty like the sky. You play with her."
"You elves sure talk funny."
"I forgot she can hear us too," Nebelhaft whispered.
"Yeah. She can," Tollkühn noted with a smile. "Maybe we should just talk to her?"
"That's against the rules."
Tollkühn rolled his eyes. "One of the three rules we haven't broken already tonight?" With a sigh, he turned to the girl and said, in English, "We can't play with you this evening. We've more presents to deliver and we're already late."
Anne's lips formed a puckered pout. "Just for a little while?"
"We'd love to play," Tollkühn said. "But Santa is waiting. Do you want other little girls to not get their presents because we were playing with you?"
Anne shook her head.
"That's why we need you to let us out the door."
With a sniffle, the girl nodded. "Ok. C'mon."
"It worked," Nebelhaft gasped.
"Of course it did," Tollkühn said, crawling from beneath the bed. "She's a girl, not a demon."
"The way you were running from her, I wondered."
Anne glanced back as she took her first step toward the exit. "Why do you elves talk funny like that?"
"Our language is a combination of German and Swahili," Tollkühn replied. "There's a long story behind it, how the old lady and the big guy got together, but it would probably bore you."
"Maybe you can come back and tell me when you're done with helping Santa?"
A broad smile spread across the girl's face. "Maybe we can all play with my presents together? I don't have a sister to play with, you know. I always wanted a sister."
"Yeah," Tollkühn said. "We can do that too."
Anne unlatched the door and pulled it open. "Hurry back."
Tollkühn marched through the opening into the apartment corridor. "Yeah, we will," he called without looking back. "Bye."
Instead of following, Nebelhaft stopped in the doorway and looked up to the child. "Will you help us deliver our next present?"
Tollkühn's eyes bulged as he spun. "Affenschwanz! What are you doing?"
Anne looked down the corridor toward her parents then back to the elves. "But I'm not allowed to go out by myself."
"We are just going downstairs," Nebelhaft said. "So you won't be going out by yourself."
"Downstairs?" Anne and Tollkühn asked in unison.
"Yes," said Nebelhaft, his eyes still on the girl. "I believe there is a woman living below you?"
"Ellen?" asked Anne.
"Uh, yeah. Ellen."
Anne smiled. "She's real nice. She doesn't complain about me making too much sounds like them other peoples did."
Nebelhaft smiled. "So you'll help us?"
Anne beamed. "This is gonna be the bestest Christmas ever!"
* * *
"She's not crying," Tollkühn said as he looked down upon the slumbering woman.
"No," Nebelhaft agreed, "but she does sound like she's in pain."
Tollkühn's bushy pink brow dropped. "I don't think so. Let's listen." He knelt beside the woman's head and brought his ear to her temple.
Nebelhaft jumped the other side of Ellen's head and did the same. At once his eyes widened. "Oh. Wow," he muttered. "You were right. It's not pain."
"Yeah," Tollkühn said through a grin. "She's a naughty one, isn't she?"
Nebelhaft sat upright. "I don't think we should eavesdrop on this dream."
Tollkühn's ear remained against the woman. "Why? How else are we going to know what she wants?"
"You're just making excuses to be a pervert."
With a sigh Tollkühn sat upright. "Don't even! You're the one that figured out how to get the satellite feeds for that British channel."
"I just wanted to know what it's like."
"What what's like?"
"Having genitals," Nebelhaft replied. "You've never wondered?"
Tollkühn shook his head. "Never even thought about it."
Ellen emitted a soft moan. Nebelhaft's eyes drifted to her. "They always look like they're having such fun," he said. "You never wanted to have genitals, not even for a moment?"
"Who'd want something that overrides your brain like that?"
The blue elf nodded his agreement. "I guess so. Still, which would you want to be?"
"A man or a woman?"
"Woman," said Tollkühn.
"You said you hadn't thought about it!"
"Then why'd you answer so fast?" Nebelhaft asked.
"Because it's easy."
"Sure," said Tollkühn. "Wet your finger and stick it in your ear."
With his brows low, Nebelhaft brought his index finger to his tongue, then to his ear. "Ok?"
"Which feels more," Tollkühn said, "your ear or your finger?"
Nebelhaft withdrew his finger and looked at it. "My ear."
Tollkühn shrugged. "Well, there you go."
"I don't think it's that simple!"
"Sure it is," Tollkühn said with a laugh. "Bet it feels just like that. Pretty boring if you ask me."
Nebelhaft turned his eyes back to Ellen as she moaned. "She doesn't think it's boring."
"I agree. Let's make her a vibrator and go home."
Nebelhaft rolled his eyes and shook his head. "She's dreaming about a man, not a toy."