Episode 12 – The Finale: An Amazing Discovery

As the howls of the Ogre die away, I approach the collapsed barn that captured his interest. “Hello! Is anybody there?”

Nothing, but I sense Elfin fear radiating from the ruin.

“H-e-l-l-o!” I call again. “I’m a friend…mean you no harm!”

Immediately, I hear a young boy’s voice coming from under my feet. “We’re down here!”

The fear spikes and I hear a grown-up voice: “Marlo, hush! It could be evil deception!”

“No, Mom,” the boy cries. “It’s an Elf.”

“I think Marlo’s right,” a girl says.

I hear the mother’s voice again. “Not many Elves would face an Ogre.”

I move along the snow-covered floor which is a jumble of roofing and fallen beams. The voices are coming from the crawl space beneath. Luckily, still invisible, I drift through the planking and there, in the light of a single lantern, is a family of Lesser Elves, pint-sized versions of me. The mother is three-feet tall, breathtakingly beautiful with huge green eyes and long, raven hair. The children are smaller, all skin and bones…the eldest boy, a delicate younger girl, and an active little one, hardly more than a baby.

“I think the Elf is among us!” Marlo exclaims, and they look around, but don’t see me.

“Marlo’s lost his mind,” the girl says.

But, then, I communicate. “Marlo’s right. I’m an invisible Elf, Arne Twilber. I’m here to help you.”

“Where is he?” The middle child asks.

“Elves can make themselves invisible,” the mother explains, thinking I may not be an Elf at all. “Where are you from?”

“Big Furnace Mountain,” I reply. “Give me a few minutes to return to the inhabited house, regain my form, and dress…then I’ll help you. I have Human friends who will give you warmth and shelter.”

The mother hesitates. “But… the Human world is dangerous for us.”

There’s no way I can leave them out in the cold. Got to reassure her…get them under cover and fed…especially the little ones who look frozen. “Humans have been nice to me,” I explain. “My family was killed in an avalanche and I ended up here alone, but a family took me in, treated me like their own son.”

The mother holds her red hands over the lantern. “We were out foraging for berries and herbs, but the the Ogre began to track us, so we fled until we were totally lost…and took refuge here.”

“It must have been difficult with the children along.”

“It was. Normally, I wouldn’t have brought them, but we’d been house bound for a month. We were only able to stay ahead of the Ogre because he slept during the day, but he finally caught us here. Without Marlo’s sense of direction and understanding of the forest, we would have been totally lost. He follows in his father’s footsteps.”

The mother is troubled. Can’t figure out why the Ogre disappeared, then was suddenly replaced by me. She’s wondering if I’m a shape-shifting demon. “What really happened to the Ogre?” She asks. “It howled and vanished.” She fears for her little family, thinks I might be luring them to their doom.

“The Ogre fled,” I explain. “I altered his flow of fate. From now on, it will be fearful of everything…afraid to venture out. I must go now…make myself visible and bring my friends. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”

The mother is unconvinced. “My grandparents were captured by Humans and put in cages…carried around the countryside like circus animals, until they finally escaped.” She thinks of her mate who died in a hunting accident…wishes he were there to protect them. Her sole mission is to keep her children from danger and her instincts are telling her to hide again the minute I leave.

“Please trust me,” I plead. “I’m not a shape-shifting monster. I’m just a normal Elf. You’ll see. I just need to retrieve my clothes…go to a quiet place to regain my form.”

“Do it here now,” the mother demands, “if you really are an Elf.”

“My clothes are at the farmhouse. I’m naked.”

“I have some of my husband’s clothes,” she says, searching through her sack. She pulls out clothes that are bigger than hers, but much smaller than me.

“They wouldn’t fit,” I explain. “I’m over five feet.”

She frowns. Looks suspicious. “I’ve never met an Elf that big. Now I’m sure you’re trying to trick us.”

“No, no!” I reply. “I towered over my family. I’m sort of a freak. You’ll see.” I consider tying the clothes around my waist to hide my sex, then realize it might take considerable time to bust through the planking…and it’s close to zero out…I’d freeze my nuts off.”

“I could pull those around me,” I explain, “but they wouldn’t hide much, and I’d probably get frost bite.”

The mother has never made herself invisible…doesn’t fathom what I’m saying…definitely plans to flee.

“I wish you could trust me,” I tell her. “I know it sounds odd, but I’m not an enemy…just a friendly Elf like I told you. If you trust me, I’ll help protect you and your family. I was a hunter Elf like your mate.”

“I believe him, Mom,” Marlo cries.

“Hush,” she hisses. I figure more talking won’t do any good, so with a “back in a second,” I take off. Reach the house in no time. Slip inside and am about to give Britney and Charlie an update, when I glance in the living room…freeze. They’re asleep in each other’s arms. I’m totally confused. Are they comforting each other or what? Humans are so fucking changeable!

I head to the bedroom. Fuck it! Decide to do things on my own. Go through my ritual. Get my body back. Whew! Sometimes I worry that, if I’m hurrying, I’ll stay invisible, or maybe get the wrong body. Yikes! Fortunately, that hasn’t happened.

I pull on my jeans and hoodie and head down the hall. Britney and Charlie haven’t moved. Next to the door there’s a line of coats and boots. I borrow the sturdiest stuff that fits, realize I need a flashlight. Tiptoe into the kitchen and root around…find one on a closet shelf, then head out. the snow’s tapering off, but it’s deep and there’s a wicked wind. Glad I didn’t try the whole thing naked…never would have made it. Trudge to the dark ruin and stand over the crawl space. Don’t see any way down.

“Hello!” I cry. “It’s me, Arne! I’m back!”

No answer. Fuck! Pretty much what I expected. I concentrate hard, but don’t sense anything. How could they have gotten away so fast? Search every corner. Peer through the planks…nothing. Jump off the foundation and circle the building. Find a narrow window in back…footprints leading into the night. Finally a clue! I’m so fucking relieved!

I follow the footprints and begin to sense the Elves. They’re hiding, terrified…almost afraid to breathe. The trail leads to a stone spring house, tiny, but still in one piece. I stand at the closed door…call to them. “Elves, it’s me, Arne. You in there?”

I sense Marlo wants to speak, but his mother hushes him.

“Can I come in?” I ask. “I want to help, really.”

Waves of tension pulse through the door. I don’t want to freak them, but figure I gotta make a move or they’ll freeze to death. “Listen,” I call. “I’m going to open the door so you can see me, but if you’re unsure after that, I’ll go away. I have a flashlight so you’ll see my face clearly.” It occurs to me they don’t know what a flashlight is, but it’s the only way to make myself visible.

I gently push open the door, take off my wool cap. Shine the flashlight so they can see me and my ears.

I hear gasps and, all of a sudden, Marlo comes running out of the dark and hugs my legs as hard as he can.

“Marlo!” His mother hisses. “Come back here!”

“It’s okay, Mommy,” He cries. “It’s really a giant Elf man!”

I lean down and give him a reassuring hug, and he grins happily. He’s a bright-eyed little ragamuffin in a shabby wool sweater and cap, deerskin trousers and leather boots. My heart goes out to him immediately. He holds on hard…doesn’t want to let go.

Slowly, the other three emerge from the shadows and look me over. They’re all shy and sweet, look exhausted…but still understandably cautious.

The mother steps forward and introduces her kids: Marlo, 12, Sally, 8, and Thimble 4. Finally says, “I’m Nina Thorkel. My goodness, you certainly are a tall Elf!”

“I know,” I admit. “Some think too tall.”

“Mommy, he’s so handsome!” Sally says, grinning from ear to ear.

I wave to them all. “It’s so nice to meet you. Like I said, I’m Arne…Arne Twilber.”

“Yes,” Nina says uneasily. “You look very strong. Are you sure we can trust you?”

I hold my hand against my heart. “I pledge my support and protection to your family for as long as you want.”

Nina seems reassured. Breathes a sigh of relief. “What an ordeal we’ve been through!”

Sally holds Thimble and stays beside her mother…so mature and dedicated. I sense she’s Nina’s right hand, and surrogate caregiver.

I turn to Nina. “Shall we go to the house? It’s warm and cozy.”

“Is it safe?” She asks. “Who lives there?”

“A nice family, but they’re away except for their son, Charlie, and my friend Britney.” I feel guilty for not explaining more about Britney, but that seems kind of over, so I just let it go.

“How old are you and your friends?” Nina asks.

“Seventeen, but I’m turning eighteen next week. How about you?” Nina looks the same as me, but couldn’t be with a twelve-year-old.”

“I’m thirty,” she says shyly.

“An Elfin princess,” I say and she smiles.

“Are your friends Elves too?” Marlo asks. He’s next to me…like a little shadow.

“No. They’re Humans,” I reply, “and you’ll be amazed by Charlie. He’s much taller than me.”

Marlo’s jaw drops. “Taller than you?”

“I’m afraid so, but he’s harmless.” I turn to Nina. “Does it sound okay? You still want to go. I promise I’ll take good care of you.”

“Let’s go, Mommy,” Sally whispers. “Thimble’s shivering.”

Nina looks at all the beaming faces, including mine. “I guess so. It’s too cold to spend another night here, and we’ve hardly eaten in days.”

I wave my arm. “Well come on then. Follow me to warmth and food.” Boost Marlo onto my shoulders.

Nina’s tight-lipped, still afraid she’s leading her brood to disaster. “We have no choice, but I can’t imagine living with Humans. It’s different for you. You’re Human size.”

“True, but it wasn’t easy for me in the beginning. Look, I can’t guarantee everything will be smooth, but I have a lot of friends who’ll help you.”

Nina smiles. “I’m sure you do. If you can handle an Ogre, you can handle just about anything.”

The kids are excited, ready to go…grinning, apple-cheeked. I think of what awaits us outside. Wonder how in the world Nina will manage Sally and Thimble. Turn to her. “Let me take all three. The snow’s two feet deep and it’s blowing like crazy. You’ll have trouble plowing through yourself.”

“You sure?” She asks. “That would be an arm full.”

“No problem,” I say, scooping Sally in one arm and Thimble in the other. They’re thrilled and giggle excitedly. I pull open the door…wind’s shrieking like a banshee. Nina cowers…afraid to wade into the mound of snow drifting against the spring house. I move ahead, dragging my feet to make a trail. The moon’s out… clouds racing by. Ahead, the twinkling lights of Charlie’s house look warm and inviting, but my heart is heavy. Britney’s fed up and I don’t know if the Knights will want me anymore.

We forge ahead…bitter wind cutting our cheeks. Finally, reach the door and I knock. Don’t want to burst in on something embarrassing! It takes a while, but Charlie peeks out with Britney peering over his shoulder. They see me framed by Elves and are speechless. I push through the door and put down the little ones. Wave my arm over them. “Say hello to Nina, Marlo, Sally and Thimble!”

Charlie shakes his head in disbelief. “Holy shit! What happened to the Ogre?”

“I convinced him he wasn’t wanted,” I explain, not wanting to recap the whole ordeal.

Nina steps forward. “Arne was very brave. He confronted the giant and brought fear to his heart.”

Britney and Charlie study Nina. Clearly see she’s not a child. Politely invite us all into the living room. Marlo’s excited and noisy. Raves about the house, like it’s a fairy tale castle. “Mom, it’s so bright and warm…and cavernous…like were in heaven!” Points everywhere: “Look at this, look at that…” Sally’s more subdued. Takes Thimble’s hand and leads her to the fireplace.

Nina looks back and forth between Charlie, Britney and me. Looks curious. Obviously, senses the weird dynamic between us. I’m pissed at Charlie. He asked for help, invites me to his house, then moves in on my girlfriend. All while I’m risking my life. What a scumbag!

The kids are in front of the warm fire…warming their hands, feet and little butts. I totally love them…so sweet and unassuming. Feel like I really want to get close to them…maybe stay in their lives.

“We’ve gotta feed these guys,” I tell Britney. “They haven’t had a decent meal in days.”

I expect Charlie to play host, but he flops on the sofa and waves toward the kitchen. “Eat whatever you want. My parents stocked the fridge.” Britney gives him a questioning glance. I don’t blame her.

We herd the kids into the kitchen and they stand expectantly, licking their lips. Charlie’s right. The fridge is crammed. we pull out loads of great stuff and create a buffet, roast chicken, stuffing, cranberry sauce, salad, veggies, the works. Nina and the kids dive in like starving animals.

Britney turns to me. “When did you get dressed?”

“An hour ago.”

“You came back here?”

“Yup.”

“You saw Charlie and me?”

I nod. Nina’s stops eating. Glances at us. Knows exactly what’s going on.

Britney studies me. Wonders what I’m thinking. It’s dawning on her that Charlie’s not a great catch, and I’m not just an eccentric Elf. I was raised to support my family, be responsible…prepared to take chances. Maybe give up my life.

“Are you upset? She whispers.

“Well, yeah,” I reply. “What I said wasn’t very tactful, but I was just being honest. Switching from Elf to Human life is hard. I was taught there was a perfect Elf mate in the world somewhere, and at eighteen or so, I’d get married and live happily ever after. Obviously, Humans are totally different. They want to have fun and ‘test drive’ a bunch of people…get married by thirty or later. I’m not saying either way is right…just different.”

I glance at Nina who’s definitely eavesdropping, pretending to pick at the chicken. Her big green eyes are riveted to my face. It’s so distracting, and I forget Britney for a second.

“Arne,” Britney’s saying, “how do you really know know anyone at eighteen? You haven’t experienced life yet.”

“But, Brit,” I say. “To us, life is mountains, weather, animals. It’s not a zillion people.”

She nods, coming to the realization that our relationship is back to square one. I sense she has no intention of apologizing about Charlie, especially after what was clearly an intense make-out session. It saddens me. I idealized her. Figured she’d see the light…end up the perfect Elf mate, but I guess Humans aren’t wired that way.

“What’ll we do about these guys tonight?” I ask…sort of thinking out loud.

Britney shrugs. “It’s too late to bring them to our place, and the road are terrible. Let’s stay here. I’ll call Mom.”

“Fine with me.”

Brit pulls me back to the living room. Charlie’s dozing. She lovingly places a blanket over him. “I’ll just sleep on the sofa. What about you?”

“No worries. I’ll find something.” Can’t believe I really don’t give a shit.

She tugs on my sleeve. “Is this the end for us?”

I search my intuition. Can’t tell for sure. Maybe something as complicated as love and relationships can’t be pre-ordained. “I’m not really sure,” I admit. “You never know what fate has in store, but I guess we should let it go. Take a break. The past year’s been intense.”

“Totally. It’s been great…and I’ll always care about you, but I can’t deal with the Elf cultural thing.”

“Understood. I gotta tell you I don’t get Charlie at all. He’s so self-centered and unpredictable, but I guess that’s fun sometimes.”

“Yeah. He’s not perfect, but we go back a long way. I get him. You know?”

I Squeeze her hand. “Yeah, sort of…but let’s stay friends.”

“Definitely. You’re a good guy.”

“Thanks. You know you can count on me anytime. I’m closer to your Mom and Dad than I was to my own.”

“I know. They totally love you. Listen, I’m going to rest a while. Can you take care of your friends?”

“Sure, No sweat.” She settles next to Charlie. Tucks the blanket under him.

In the kitchen, the youngsters are around the table looking sleepy….eaten an incredible amount for little guys. Nina’s busily cleaning up. Looks out of scale in the big kitchen. Has a tough time reaching everything, so I help her finish. She pauses. “So, is everything okay?” She asks. “I got a sense what was going on.”

I smile. “I figured. Good old Elfin intuition.”

“Yup. Did you resolve things?” I sense an interest that’s more than casual.

“Not really.” We’re eyeing each other. There’s definitely a flicker of…what exactly? Figure I’ve gotta explain: “Britney and I have really been close during the past year, but Elf and Human relationships are totally different, especially for a guy my age.”

“Does age mean a lot to you?”

“Not really. It means more to Humans. To me, any Elf under fifty is young…all pretty much the same.”

She smiles. “You’re very diplomatic.”

“No, seriously. I mean it.”

Thimble’s already asleep and Nina scoops her into her arms. “Where shall we sleep?”

“I guess in the room I’ve been using.” I gather Sally into my arms…she smiles drowsily…takes me totally for granted which is a super feeling. Feel the same about her. Marlo’s nodding off. I nudge him. “Come on, buddy.” He rubs his eyes and shuffles behind us. We walk through the living room where Charlie and Britney are asleep under the same blanket.

I push open the bedroom door. “Is one bed okay?”

“This is beautiful!” Nina exclaims, and though I didn’t pay attention before, realize she’s right. It’s a big room with a king-sized bed, mustard-colored walls, white mouldings…everything’s nice, the puffy quilt, white wicker furniture, thick white carpet. Feel really glad the Elves’lll spend their first civilized night in luxury…especially after all they’ve been through.

I place Sally gently on the bed as Nina tucks in Thimble.

Marlo kicks off his shoes…about to climb in bed, when he turns to me. “Are you leaving? Please don’t leave.”

I kneel next to him. Put my hands on his shoulders. “Don’t worry. I’ll be close if you need anything.”

“Will you be here in the morning?”

“Of course. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Good.” He’s great kid, black hair and brows, pale skin…big dark eyes. Climbs into bed next to his sisters, and falls asleep instantly.

I’m about to leave, but Nina pulls me back. “Thank you so much, Arne. You’re such a fine man. After all we’d been through, I was frightened and cautious…just couldn’t believe you were real…and our ordeal was over, and you were what you said you were.”

I laugh. “I’m real all right, warts and all.”

She smiles sweetly. “I doubt if there are many warts.”

Her green eyes are bottomless. For a second, I’m speechless.

“Arne, are you okay?” She asks slyly.

“Yeah, just a little tired I guess. Seeing the kids tucked in makes me envious. Tomorrow, I’ll get you guys settled someplace where you can figure out next steps. The snow’s pretty deep, but maybe we can find a way to get you back home…if that’s what you want. There’s no rush, but I’ve got to warn you. Once Humans hear about you guys, they’ll be around in droves. That happened to me. They’re so frigging curious about anything new, and have this, like, communication network that spreads news instantly. I want to avoid that as long as we can. It’ll overwhelm the kids. Humans mean well, but they get incredibly freaked about new things, and until I showed up, they’d never actually seen an Elf in North America…but no worries, I’ll help you through all that.”

“The children love you already. They couldn’t stop talking about you.”

“I love them too…with all my heart. I feel like I’ve known them forever.”

“They’ll want to see you the minute they wake up.”

“I could sleep on your rug, if you’d feel better. It feels really soft.”

“You know, I think we’d like that.”

THE END