Benjamin wiped his forehead and squinted up at the dirty slit of light. The only sunlight he had seen over the past year had come through that grime-smeared window.
He reached for another screwdriver, one with a torx head. He carefully attached a wheel to the smiling toy car he was making, but accidently nudged another wheel, which dropped to the floor. It rolled away. Benjamin bent down and tried to reach it. He had to strain to the end of his chain, and the metal bit painfully into his ankle, but he retrieved the wheel, and set it back on the picnic table where he worked.
A crack of light appeared at the top of the steps. Benjamin cringed, even before he heard heavy footsteps descend.
Mr. Vorst stomped over to the picnic table. He snatched the toy from Benjamin’s hands.
“Please, Mr. Vorst, it’s not done yet…”
“Another stupid car, cheap plastic, rubber and paint…. I could buy one ten times better at the store. You keep promising me magic, elf. I want magic!”
“Soon, Mr. Vorst, soon! I told you, my magic is strongest on Christmas Day!”
Mr. Boese grabbed Benjamin by the cheeks and squeezed his chin painfully. Benjamin had always been slim, as most elves were, but a year imprisoned in a basement had whittled him away to gaunt. Mr. Vorst leaned in so close that Benjamin could smell his rancid breath.
“If I find you’ve been lying to me all this time, I will grind you up and turn you into dog food.”
Mr. Vorst dropped the car back on the table. He left a plate of scraps from his own dinner for Benjamin to eat, and marked off another day on the calendar on the wall before he left.
Benjamin devoured the unappetizing scraps, and drank some water from the basement sink. He kept working until his eyesight blurred. Then he heaved himself over to the metal cot with a sleeping bag that served him as a bed. His chain never came off, and it was long enough for him to reach just the bed, the table and the sink. He couldn’t even reach the far side of the basement, where Mr. Vorst stacked all the toys Benjamin finished.
It was a far cry from his snug little house at the North Pole.
He still didn’t know what dark magic Mr. Vorst had used to catch him, but last Christmas, Benjamin had visited Mr. Vorst’s house, thinking it was the home of an innocent orphan in need of a Christmas miracle. Benjamin was surprised to find a grown man, but Christmas miracles had no age limit, so the elf wasn’t too worried until he awakened chained to a picnic table in the basement. The cookies had been drugged.
Christmas had passed while Benjamin was unconscious, so by the time he woke up, his magic was at its weakest.
Mr. Vorst was disappointed he hadn’t captured Santa himself, but when he discovered Benjamin had toymaking magic (even during the year), he’d been gleeful. “From now on, elf, you’ll make toys only for me!”
There weren’t many days left until Christmas, but they seemed to pass with agonizing slowness. Yet, surprisingly, when the special morning dawned, Benjamin didn’t realize it at first. There were no bells, no carols, no delicious smells from homemade pies in the air, no elf children running in the halls, or shuffling outside the window from reindeer playing games in the snow—none of the usual heralds of the season, never mind the Day.
Just the monotony of the basement. Cot. Table. Sink. Big pile of toys.
Mr. Vorst stomped down the stairs. “WHERE ARE MY TOYS, ELF?”
He looked at the pile in disgust. “What’s this? Nothing’s changed! You mangy little elf, I’m going to…”
He raised his fist and stepped toward Benjamin.
Behind him, the pile of toys sparkled and stirred.
Suddenly, a raggedy doll came to life, leaped to the top of the pile and aimed her pink and purple plastic Gatling gun at Mr. Boese. “Meet my little friend!”
Bright orange foam darts rattled out by the hundreds, pelting Mr. Vorst. He threw his arms up to protect his face, and didn’t see the skateboard that raced under his foot. His next step sent him flying into the air. Meanwhile an army of gingerbread men licked hundreds of candy canes and stuck them to the floor, then scattered just as Mr. Vorst’s fat bum and broad back hit the floor. A pillow pet saved his head from a bump, but also snapped a velcro tail around his mouth.
“Mrrrrmmmmrf” cussed Mr. Vorst. He tried to get up, but the innumerable sticky candy canes kept him glued to the floor. The toy cars unfolded into robots and shot string ropes over him again and again to tie him up.
The raggedy doll grabbed a key from Mr. Vorst’s pocket.
“Got it” she shouted. She tossed the key to Benjamin.
“Thanks, dollface!” he said. He unlocked the chain around his ankle for the first time in a year.
As soon as the lock fell off, Benjamin was able to call Santa for the first time since last Christmas.
In a sparkle of magic light, Santa appeared. He shook his head at Mr. Vorst.
“I suppose you’re going to tell me I’m on the naughty list!” sneered Mr. Vorst. “Are you going to give me a coal?”
Santa said sadly, “I will indeed. Two pieces, in fact. You’re going to need them… because your heart is made of ice.”
The toys and candy released Mr. Vorst. He jumped to his feet, laughing, thinking he was free. He didn’t notice that his fingers and feet and the tips of his ears were turning blue. Only when the sparkling blue and white magic reached his shoulders and belly did he cry out.
“Hey, what’s happening to me?”
“You’re going to take a nap, Mr. Vorst. Until your heart awakens from its prison of ice, you will sleep in a darkness as black as coal.”
“Hurry outside, Mr. Vorst!” urged Benjamin. “It’s your only chance to avoid melting!”
Mr. Vorst screamed and ran outside just before the magic transformed him completely …into a faceless snowman. Santa gave the snowman a peppermint nose, and drew a smile with a candy cane, which immediately sagged into a frown.
Santa handed two coals to Benjamin.
“Would you do the honors?”
Benjamin planted the two coals for eyes. “Do you think he’ll ever actually be able to see through them, Chris?”
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