A Cold Winter Night

by Ms. C. Mouse

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/32260.html)

“Jump! Jump! Now go to the left.”

Henry gritted his teeth. “Shut up. I know what to do.”

“Watch out. No, use the sword. Hurry! Ah, you’re dead.”

Henry threw down the controller as his cousin Bret pushed him out of the way.

“My turn,” Bret chortled. Henry thought about sticking around to annoy him, but his cousin Bret was a rock. Even being punched in the arm during a difficult boss battle did little to distract that guy.

“I’m going next,” Heather announced as she continued to flip through the magazine she was looking at. She was also one of Henry’s cousins.

“Then me. Then me,” shouted Caitlyn and Jessica. More of his cousins chimed in. Henry gave up and left the family room because it would be almost an hour until he got a chance to play with his Christmas present again. They had all received presents this morning, but everyone wanted to use his Nintendo Wii.

“I wish it was tomorrow already,” he grumbled. Henry knew better than to say that loud enough for his parents to overhear, but he still meant it. Earlier in the day his dad had told him not to complain since everyone was going home tomorrow and then he could have his toys all to himself again. To Henry, that still seemed like a long time to wait.

Henry went over to the dining room and looked inside. While listening to the adults drone on about boring stuff, he put his hand over his mouth and yawned as he shifted from side to side, wondering if his mother would ever stop talking. As soon as he saw her take a sip from her wine glass, he blurted out his question. “Can I have some more sweet potato pie, Mom?”

His mother’s thin eyebrows drew a little closer together. Henry was certain she would say no, but as she set down her glass, her face softened once again. “There’s plenty of the buche de Noel left. Why don’t you have some of that?”

“I like the pie better. Don’t worry. I can get it myself.”

“My goodness, Henry,” Aunt Suzette said, “where do you put it all?”

“See what you’re missing ’cause you have two daughters,” Henry’s father said with a chuckle.

Henry’s mother sighed. “Alright. Make sure you cover the pie when you’re done.”

Henry pushed himself away from the doorframe. “Okay if I eat in the kitchen?” His mother nodded. As he passed through the dining room, his uncle tapped his arm.

“Hey, Buckaroo, get me another one while you’re out there,” Uncle Joe said, holding up a brown bottle.

Aunt Jeanie, Uncle Joe’s wife, pushed his uncle’s shoulder. “You lazy bum! Don’t ask a nine year old to get a beer for you.”

Everyone laughed when Uncle Joe stuck his tongue out at her. “Party pooper.”

The adults continued talking as Henry and his uncle left the dining room.

After opening the refrigerator, Henry handed him a beer before taking out the pie.

“Thanks, Kid.” Uncle Joe wobbled a bit as he opened the bottle. He tossed the top at the garbage can, but he missed the opening by more than a few inches. “Having a good Christmas?”

“Yeah.” What more was there to say? Henry liked the gifts he received, but so did all his cousins. Sharing was overrated in his opinion. Uncle Joe patted him on the head before shuffling back to the dining room.

Henry took a generous slice of pie and set it on his plate before pulling the plastic wrap back into place. He would rather have sweet potato pie than pumpkin pie any day of year. Besides – how could anyone want to eat a dessert that looked like a log?

He ambled over to the breakfast nook and put his plate on the table before plopping down into the cushioned chair. This was so much better than sitting in the stuffy dining room. The bright colors of the table cloth and the comfortable chairs made Henry happy. Another plus: his mom didn’t freak out about spills in the kitchen like she did in the dining room.

He took a big bite of the pie, delighting in the sweet taste and the creamy texture on his tongue. His Aunt Suzette made the best pies! It would be okay with him if she stayed around, but her daughters would have to go somewhere else. Using his fingers, he broke off part of the crust from the edge and put it on the next forkful of pie. He liked the crust; he just didn’t like to eat it plain.

Bang! The unexpected sound made Henry’s hand jump which caused the pie on his fork to drop to the table. He looked over at the door as if it might just fall off its hinges. “Could be the wind,” he muttered. Dad said a storm was on its way. He waited, wondering if the sound would repeat again. Maybe someone threw a snowball at the backdoor. Henry thought of the two teens living a few houses away who liked to wander around the neighborhood and pull pranks.

When nothing else happened, Henry scooped the bit of pie off the table and put it in his mouth. That was when he heard the faint scratching at the back door. Perhaps one of his mother’s cats snuck out during the afternoon and was now trying to get back inside. He decided to go check it out.

He turned on the porch light before brushing aside the curtain that covered the door’s glass panes. No one was out there; yet once again the faint sound of scratching reached his ears. He pressed his face against the pane, damp with condensation, in an attempt to look downward. He didn’t see any movement. If it was one of his mom’s cats, it would be circling around and mewing for him to open the door by this time.

“Better make sure,” Henry thought. The cat could be injured. Slowly he cracked the door. Instead of being greeted by a thankful cat, he found an action figure hanging by one bent arm from the door knob. He laughed as he picked up the toy because it looked like it had been dressed for the holidays. And that wasn’t the only strange thing: it had blue skin and pointy ears. Was it one of those X-Men action figures? His cousins had to be playing a joke on him; nevertheless, he had no idea how any of them could have gone out the front door and around the house without attracting the adult’s attention. His cousins were always so loud.

He looked carefully at the eight inch tall toy. It was wearing green shorts trimmed in white fur and a green long sleeve shirt which also had fur around the sleeves and the neck. Topping off the outfit was a knitted cap sporting green and white stripes and a silver tassel on the end. A few strands of black hair poked out from under the cap. The toy looked so comical with one arm crooked above its head and a blank expression on its face.

Henry glanced behind him to see if he could catch a glimpse of anyone watching him study the toy. It sounded to him like his cousins were still playing Nintendo, so he decided to toss the goofy thing back outside. There was no need to keep it in here; he wasn’t a fan of the X-men anyways.

Henry drew back his hand, preparing to chuck the toy over the porch railing. “Adios, little mutant.”

Pain, sudden and sharp, seized his attention. Henry yelped as he stared down at the action figure to find it was biting his thumb. Its nails, which Henry had not noticed seconds ago, were pressing into his knuckle.

His hand flew open and he flailed his arm to rid himself of the evil toy; but Henry discovered his luck had run out. The toy leaped towards him and landed on his slacks. Nails and toenails pricked his thigh as Henry stumbled backwards. “This shouldn’t be happening,” he thought. Toys don’t do this. He swiped at the thing, attempting to knock it away, but it climbed as quickly as a squirrel and it was soon up under his sweater.

“Mom!” he shrieked as intense cold burned his skin.

A number of seconds later his mom, dad, and just about every relative, were in the kitchen. “What’s wrong, Henry? Did you cut yourself?” his mother asked as she scurried toward him.

“I don’t see any blood,” his father said as he leaned over her shoulder. “After a scream like that, I expected to see arterial bleeding or third degree burns.”

Sharp nails dug into the tender skin over Henry’s ribs and around his bellybutton. “Help…” His mouth went dry. Henry tried to lift his sweater to show his mom and dad what he couldn’t tell them about. That wasn’t a good idea. He grimaced as the nails begin to slice his skin. Visions of having his guts drop to the floor – like in that stupid kung fu movie he shouldn’t have watched with Bret – filled his head. Henry wrapped his arms over his abdomen in an attempt to hold everything in place. Under his sweater, he could feel the thing trembling. Its little head began to shake rapidly to the left and right.

Is it trying to chew its way through me? The horrible strangeness of that thought made Henry pause. Maybe the toy was telling him no. What does it want? Is it as scared as I am?

“Do you have a stomach ache? I thought you were eating too much – too fast.”

The little head was nodding now. Henry coughed, trying to understand why it felt as if he had swallowed a gym sock. “Yeah… yeah stomach.” The nails eased up on him; however, they did not let go completely.

“You look pale. Is the fresh air helping at all?” Aunt Suzette asked.

Again the little head went up and down. Henry nodded also. “A little. Going… to… room,” Henry stammered as he pushed the backdoor closed with his shoulder. The toy seemed to agree with his idea.

Aunt Suzette spread her arms and herded the gawking cousins back to the family room. “Come on, children. Nothing more to see here.” Henry’s father and the other adults returned to the dining room.

His mom placed her cheek against his forehead.

“You don’t feel like you have a fever, but you are shivering.” She smoothed her hand over his hair. “I could give you some Pepto.”

Henry frowned as he quickly shook his head. That stuff was gross.

“Well don’t lie down with a full stomach. That’ll make it worse. Go sit on the couch in the family room. Just relax and try to keep your mind on something else. Okay?”


“And let me know if you still don’t feel well in half an hour.”

“Okay.” The toy pulled it nails out of Henry’s skin. Now the only thing holding the toy in place was Henry’s arms.

“Well go on. Don’t worry about the pie. I’ll put it away.”

As soon as his mom turned her back to him, he slunk out of the kitchen and headed straight for the bathroom. He locked the door before facing the mirror. Upon lifting his sweater, he expected to find bloody gashes across his belly and chest. It was a relief to see only a trickle of blood from a small number of puncture wounds: nothing a washcloth and some Neosporin couldn’t handle.

When he was done taking care of the cuts, Henry felt somewhat steadier. “You can come out now,” he whispered. The toy was wrapped up in the lower half of Henry’s oversized sweater and it didn’t appear eager to leave.

There was movement within the bundle of fabric, although Henry couldn’t tell if the toy was signaling “yes” or “no”.

“I promise I won’t tell my parents about you.” With utmost care he unrolled the sweater and placed the toy on the counter without actually touching it. The first thing he noticed was its skin was white now, although the tips of its pointy ears were still blue.

“What are you? I’ve never seen anything like you. You aren’t a toy or a human.” Henry, certain now that he wasn’t about to be gutted, figured he might get some answers if he sounded like he was in charge. “You kind of look like an elf. But I don’t think you are.”

He didn’t receive a reply. Elf, for Henry had decided to give him that name, didn’t seem to be able to speak; or maybe Elf didn’t want to speak because he was cold and cranky.

“How about if I put some hot water in the sink? You can warm up by taking a bath.”

Elf sat down. It shook its head while managing to look very pathetic as it shivered and clutched its legs. Reaching up, it tugged at Henry’s sweater as if trying to pull it around him once more.

“You can’t stay under there. Someone will notice. I have an electric blanket. You could hide under the covers. The bed is kind of long, so if you stay near my feet I might not roll over onto you.”

The elf glared up at him. Henry almost expected a laser beam or sparks to shoot out of its large green eyes.

“Don’t give me that look. I’m lucky I didn’t piss in my pants when you surprised me. Bret would have teased me about that for the rest of my life.” Henry lifted the toilet seat, unzipped his slacks and took aim. Everything was fine until Elf jumped up on his arm. Elf was smiling now and, as far as Henry was concerned, the creature appeared way too interested in what it was seeing. “Get off me. That’s weird to watch a guy piss. Even worse to touch him.” Elf seemed unfazed by Henry’s ranting.

Disgusted, Henry put Elf back on the counter so he could finish his business. When he was all done, he started to zip up.

Henry gasped as the creature leapt at him again. Elf landed near Henry’s fly and proceeded to crawl into his briefs.

Henry shuddered. It wasn’t as bad as the time his cousin Bret dumped ice into his swimming trunks, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant to have something cold pressed up against his dick. The darn thing was wiggling around and getting himself all comfy like he was going to take a nap in a hammock. Henry began to notice the fur and velvet like fabric tickling him down there. He squeezed his legs together in an effort to protect himself, but thought better of it when Elf’s nails pinched his inner thighs.

“Don’t use your nails! Don’t…” He really hoped he didn’t sound like a whiney girl as he spread his legs in an awkward stance.

His dick was hard now and Henry wasn’t sure what he should do. He remembered the time last summer when he’d been walking along the top of a rickety fence. Excitement had turned to excruciating discomfort with one misstep.

Finding it difficult to remain standing, he lowered himself onto his knees by using the side of the tub to steady himself. His hands were shaking as his forehead dropped down to rest against the smooth, cool edge of the tub. Why is this happening to me? He moaned as something warm and slippery glided up his dick before nestling into the slit. Heat flared between his legs.

Just at that moment, he heard his mom call out to him.

“Are you okay, Henry? Caitlyn said you were making some weird noises. Did you throw up?”

Henry grunted, hoping it would sound like he was pushing out a big one. “I’m going to the bathroom,” he yelled.

“Okay. Okay. Don’t strain. It’s not good for you.”

He wanted to tell her to go away. Instead of shouting, he stuffed the lower edge of his sweater into his mouth in the hope of making fewer embarrassing sounds. The sweater soaked up the last bit of moisture in his mouth. It made him want to gag. He froze, temples throbbing, as he waited for another question. Seconds dragged by, but there was only silence.

He huffed in relief as he dropped the sweater; nonetheless, he had needs to take care of. He wanted to rub against something or to touch himself, yet he didn’t dare with the elf’s claws running the show. It was so not cool to look down and see a bulge wiggling around in his briefs. He slowly pulled back the waistband.

Elf looked up while continuing to tongue Henry’s dick. “That is so gross,” Henry said, and yet it felt so good. Elf’s saliva was thick, almost like warm syrup, as it oozed down Henry’s stiffy and onto his balls. Henry watched in some confusion as Elf took off its green shorts and tossed them aside.

Henry’s jaw dropped. “You’re a guy?” Henry laughed, feeling almost crazy for expecting to see molded plastic underwear instead of any actual private parts. However, it was a bit unnerving to find Elf was as excited as he was.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” whispered Henry as Elf pushed his little shoulders against the waistband of Henry’s briefs. Using the elastic for support, the elf positioned his hips as if he was trying to sit down on the tip of Henry’s dick. Elf’s toenails pressed against the sensitive flesh at the base of Henry’s erection. Henry knew if he made any sudden moves he would be hurting for a long time.

“No. You can’t!”

When the tip of Henry’s dick entered the elf’s bottom, he nearly fainted from the jolt of pleasure. It was pure silky pressure all around him now. Everything changed.

“Are you sure?” he hissed with his teeth clench together.

The elf nodded. That was all Henry needed to know. He clutched the elf around the chest and pushed him down towards his balls. The elf wrapped his arms around Henry’s thumb and held on so tightly that the thumb’s tip started to turn purple.

Henry was in as far as he could go and he still wanted to go in farther. He had touched his dick in the past because there were times when rubbing it felt really good; but it had never felt this excellent. It was almost a carnival ride feeling which left him with laughter bubbling up in his throat. He propped his back against the bathroom wall because his left arm could not steady him any more.

Henry closed his eyes, drowning in the overflow of bliss. He thrust into the elf one last time and shuddered as his butt clenched and the muscles in his legs quivered. In the next instant he slumped, boneless and dizzy, against the wall and, for awhile, Henry thought he was floating in the air. He blinked his eyes as he looked down at Elf. Henry was enjoying himself way too much to think seriously about what he had just done.

Sometime later, he noticed Elf’s skin was a healthy pink and it felt warm to Henry’s touch. Cupped in Henry’s hand, Elf wiggled and drummed his heels against Henry’s lower belly. As Henry softened and slipped out of Elf, he leaned forward to look closely at Elf.

“Did that hurt?”

Elf smiled up at him and shook his head. Henry hadn’t notice the little patch of hair just above Elf’s penis. Envy jabbed at him. He didn’t even have hair down there yet. There was also something white on the elf’s belly. Henry wiped at it with his index finger. He started to reach for a square of toilet tissue, but Elf captured his finger instead and stuck the tip into his mouth, sucking on it. Sharp little teeth raked the pad of Henry’s finger without hurting him or breaking the skin.

A tingling sensation went right to his dick as Henry’s stomach flip-flopped. “Oh god,” Henry thought. “If you keep doing that, I’ll get hard again,” he chided Elf.

Elf grinned.

Now Henry was worried. What would his parents think of him if they caught him doing this? He had to get out of the bathroom and find a suitable place to hide Elf.

Letting his back slide against the wall, Henry stood up on shaky legs. He cradled the elf in one hand while his other hand kept his slacks from dropping around his knees. Elf slapped Henry’s thumb a few times and pointed at the floor.

“First things first,” he told the elf. “If I spend much more time in the bathroom mom will have the paramedics busting down the door.” Henry placed the elf beside the sink so he could quickly clean himself, straighten up his clothes and brush his hair before retrieving the green shorts. Once Elf was dressed, Henry let him climb back under his sweater.

Before stepping out of the bathroom, Henry looked around to see if anyone was in the hallway. It was all clear, so he dashed up the stairs to his bedroom. He flipped on the light switch as he gently closed the door. The room was a mess. Bret’s sleeping bag and air mattress were piled into one corner. His bed wasn’t made and there were dirty clothes on the floor.

Henry put Elf on his desk while he tried to think of an appropriate place for him to hide during the night. Letting him stay in bed with him wasn’t a good idea anymore. He wasn’t worried about squishing him. Instead he was now worried the elf would try to lick him or touch while he was sleeping and that would be just too embarrassing with Bret in the room.

Henry opened his sock drawer. “How about in here? I could put down a soft towel for you and you could even use one of the new socks I got for Christmas as a sleeping bag. Okay?”

The elf crossed his arms and shook his head. Jumping down to land in the chair next to the desk, he reached over with a big smile on his face and patted Henry’s crotch.

“No! No way. See that stuff over there. My cousin sleeps in this room also.”

Suddenly the elf cocked his head as if he was hearing something. Henry wondered if someone was coming up stairs. He listened for the tell tale squeak, but he didn’t hear it.

Elf, tugging on Henry’s sleeve, pointed toward the window.

“You want to see outside?” Henry asked. The elf nodded.

Henry carried him over to the window. It was dark outside and the country lane had no street lights. Henry could see some house lights shimmering in the distance, but nothing else. Elf pushed against his hand. When Henry looked down he discovered the little creature was trying to raise the window.

“Are you crazy? I just helped you warm up. Now you want to go back outside?” The elf nodded and tapped on the glass. He gestured for Henry to move closer as he pointed to something outside. Henry looked once more and was surprised to see a spot of light moving slowly along the road. Someone was out there with a flashlight.

“Damn, your ears must be really sensitive if you can hear someone walking out there. Do you know the person?”

The elf nodded vigorously this time.

“You want to go to that person?”

Once again he was given the same answer. Henry watched the light. If he went out the back door, he figured he might make it to the road without being noticed.

“Okay. Let’s go.” He put the elf under his sweater and grabbed the flashlight he kept next to his bed.

After descending the stairs, he walked along slowly as if he was just passing through the house, yet his heart was going a million miles an hour. He entered the kitchen expecting to find his mother or one of the other adults puttering about. It turned out they were still in the dining room, and – judging from the laughter and noise level – they were very drunk.

He took his jacket from the hook next to the backdoor and stuffed his feet into his boots which were still kind of soggy from playing in the snow earlier today.

Once outside, he closed the door quietly behind him. He waited until he was next to the garage before turning on the flashlight. There were no windows on that side of the house, so there was little chance of being noticed now. Ahead of him was an empty field. Henry looked to his right. Whoever was walking along the road had already passed his driveway since Henry couldn’t see the beam from the other flashlight anymore. An old, tall hedge, growing just beyond the driveway and bordering the empty field, blocked the rest of Henry’s view of the road.

Henry quickly figured out what he would have to do as he took off jogging across the field. The snow which had been slushy during the day now had a thin layer of ice on it. As Henry crunched along, he tried to remain calm, but at any moment he expected his father to shout for him to immediately get back in the house.

The flashlight’s beam passed over a small snowman Caitlyn had made, and Henry knew he was basically about where he needed to be. On his right, the evergreen hedge was nothing more than a shapeless, towering mass. It looked pretty much the same in one place as it did the next, but there was a gap big enough to squeeze through. The break was so easy to find during the day; however it was proving to be more difficult to spot at night than Henry thought it would be. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to slow down because he hoped to get to the gap in the hedge before the person on the road did. They could meet up there with little chance of being seen from one of the neighboring houses.

Henry kept his flashlight on the hedge as he jogged along, thinking he should have reached the opening by now. “Where the heck is it,” he grumbled. The next instant he wondered who had put a wall up next to the hedge as he slammed into something big. There was a grunt and Henry was sent flying backwards to land on his butt.

“Are you okay?” a man asked him.

Henry didn’t recognize the voice. As he brushed himself off, he backed up a few steps. This had to be the person who had been out walking on the road, yet Henry had no way to confirm this. The flashlight Henry had been holding was now on the ground. The man picked it up and handed it back to Henry.

Henry decided to it would be best to apologize before asking any questions. “Sorry about that Mister.”

“No worries. But don’t call me that. Sounds like you’re talking to my father. You can call me Matt.” He held out a very large hand.

“I’m Henry. Are you… looking for someone?” Henry felt like he was stumbling over his words. Matt’s face was partly in shadow because of the sparse glow from the flashlights, but Henry could still see one of his eyebrows rise up. Henry hadn’t really planned what he was going to say and everything that came to mind now sounded crazy. So it was a relief when Elf popped his head and arms out of the collar of Henry’s sweater and waved to Matt.

“There you are!” Matt exclaimed. “I thought you might have left for good this time, but I still had to check around.”

Henry could feel his relief lifting him up like a giant helium balloon. “He has sharp hearing. He heard you when you walked past the house.”

“Huh?” Matt sounded confused for a moment. “Ah! No, I have a dog whistle. He heard that.” Matt pointed to the thin metal thing hanging around his neck.


“How did you find him, Henry?”

“He came to my house and scratched at the backdoor. I thought it was a cat at first and when I finally saw him he looked like a toy. But then he started moving and he crawled under my sweater.”

“I hope he didn’t scare you.”

Henry wanted to lie and say he hadn’t been scared at all, but he was certain that Matt would know it was a fib. Maybe, he told himself, Matt had also been scared like that once before.

“I was, a little. I thought he was trying to kill me. But I learned to understand him really quickly and now I guess we’re friends.” Elf, nodding his head the whole time, crawled up onto Henry’s shoulder. “Hurry up, Elf. Go to Matt. I don’t want you to get cold again.”

Matt chuckled. “You call him Elf? That’s better than what I call him. The little dweeb doesn’t listen to me anyways. He’s always getting into trouble.”

Henry winced as Elf tugged on his ear. He turned to look at him. “Hey, what’s the…” He wasn’t able to finish his question as Elf leaned over to pepper his lips with gentle bites and kisses. Henry could feel the fabric and fur of Elf’s outfit rubbing against his cheek and he blushed as a pleasant surge of heat washed over his groin and legs. He wanted to tell Elf to stop because it was so embarrassing to have Matt see them like this, but it never occurred to him to push Elf away. Henry’s hand, hidden inside his jacket, rubbed his dick. As Elf stopped kissing him, he opened his eyes. “When did I close them?” he wondered to himself. His blush spread when he found Matt crouching in front of him, his face level with his own.

“I’d say you two are really good friends. How old are you, Henry?”

“I’m nine. I’ll be ten in April.”

Matt smacked his hand against his forehead. “Damn, Elf, I can’t believe you’d pick on a little kid. I mean he’s cute and all, but really.”

“I not a little kid, so don’t call me that,” Henry shouted. He pounded his fist into his hand. “I only got a few scratches on my stomach. It’s no big deal. Elf was so cold when I opened the door, his skin was blue.”

Matt held up his hands. “Easy tiger. I take it back. Elf was cold and you helped him warm up. Right?”

“Well, yeah. He’s all better now.”

“You fed him?”

“Fed him? Ah, I didn’t even think of giving him something to eat. I… well he… that is.” Henry realized too late that he was about to say more than he should.

“Don’t explain. There’s only one thing I know of that they like to feed on and it has nothing to do with food.”

“I guess… you mean like people’s… body heat?”

“That’s part of it. Shit, I feel like a total pervert having a conversation like this. Look, I’m sorry he bothered you. Are you really going to be okay?”

Henry wasn’t sure what to say. Elf was still standing on his shoulder with his little hands holding onto Henry’s hair; he didn’t seem to want to let go. Would Elf miss him? “I’m okay. I liked helping him. I liked. I like Elf.” Elf jumped up and down several times before planting more kisses along the top of Henry’s ear. “Can I see him again?”

Matt suddenly looked very serious. “I don’t have any problems with that. Not sure your parents would approve.” He rubbed the back of his neck while looking around. “I’m home for the winter break right now, but I’ll be heading back to uni in January. Come over to my parents’ house anytime until then. It’s the green and white one at the end of the lane.”

“Green and white? Like Elf’s outfit?”

“My mother’s favorite colors. She makes seasonal outfits for him and the others.”

“So your parents know about Elf?” Henry was so stunned that it took him a few more seconds to take in what Matt was implying.

“No, he, Elf, acts like a doll when they’re in the room.”

“And there are others? Are they like Elf?”

Matt shrugged. “Some are. Some aren’t. My mother thinks I collect dolls.”

“That sounds kind of gay,” Henry said with a smirk. “Maybe you should say you collect action figures.”

“My folks already know I’m gay.”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean anything bad by that.” Henry looked down at his boots, wondering why he had said something so stupid.

“No offense taken.” Matt touched Henry’s chin, lifting it up. Henry met his gaze although he didn’t feel like he should. “I bet your parents don’t know you’re out of the house.”

“They might by now,” said Henry. “I better be going.” Yet he remained standing there. Questions filled his head and he found he really wanted to keep talking to Matt. Matt was cool. “Can you tell me how you found Elf?”

“I didn’t find him. It’s more like the “dolls” find me. Some of them stay with me. Most of them don’t.”

Henry held his breath, hanging on Matt’s every word.

“My first “doll” found me when I went hiking in the Cascade Mountains with the Boy Scouts. I wandered away from camp to take some pictures and I got turned around. Well you know – lost. Long story short, I sat down near a small pile of stones that been placed beside a trail and waited for someone to find me. It turned out it wasn’t really a cairn. The “doll”, which was bigger than Elf, damn near scared me to death when it jumped on me.”

“So every one of them looks different?”

“Far as I know. Listen to me, Henry. I don’t want to frighten you, but I think you should be careful. It wasn’t long after that incident that other dolls started showing up. It’s like I was suddenly on their radar or something.”

Henry rubbed his arms as a chill traced his spine. “Yeah. Okay.”

“Actually, I’m really surprised Elf revealed himself to you. None of my friends have ever seen him like this.” Matt smiled at Henry. “It’s kind of a relief in a way. I have someone I can finally talk to about all this.”

Henry nodded.

Matt stood up, putting his hand on Henry’s shoulder. Elf scrambled up Matt’s sleeve and slipped inside his coat after waving to Henry one last time. “Get going. If your parents are anything like mine, they won’t be too pleased about you wandering around at night.”

“Yeah. See you later, Matt.”

“Later.” Matt turned away and disappeared through the gap in the hedge. Henry stood there alone for a moment. His thoughts were jumbled and he really didn’t want to go back to the house and deal with his parents, or his cousins, even though his nose had gone numb with cold many minutes ago. So much had happened in such a short amount of time. His mind kept poking at one thought in particular: does this mean I’m gay?

“This is getting me nowhere,” he mumbled. Henry rubbed his eyes and stretched his mouth into a jaw cracking yawn. Fatigue settled down on him and for a moment all he could picture was his warm bed.

A strange sound from across the field cut into Henry’s tangled thoughts. It could have been a trick of the wind or maybe even an animal passing by; there were deer and raccoons and foxes in this area. But then he heard a metallic clunk and he thought of the Tonka bulldozer Bret and he had buried under the snow that afternoon.

Suddenly he recalled what Matt had said about the dolls and he knew it wasn’t safe for him to be alone out here. Dashing back to the house, he resisted the urge to look behind him. That was what the stupid people did in those horror films. Just keep running – keep running. After flinging open the backdoor, he lunged inside – although he didn’t feel completely out of danger until he had closed and locked the door.

With his back against the door, Henry hung his head and breathed a sigh of relief. It died on his lips when he looked up to find his mother staring at him.

“Have you been outside all this time?” She raised her hands to his face. “Oh, your poor cheeks. They’re as cold as ice.”

“I’m okay. I just went for a quick walk around the house. It helped settle my stomach.”

“You should have told us where you were going. What if you had been hurt?”

“I’m out in the yard all the time, Mom. What could I get hurt on?”

His mother giggled like she had just thought of the funniest thing in the world. “It’s a mother’s job to worry. I’m glad you’re feeling better, Sweetie.”

Henry rolled his eyes. He hated when she called him that.

“Yeah, I’m better. Guess I’ll go play video games.” Henry pulled away from her as she tried to kiss his cheek. His conscience stung him, but his actions had nothing to do with the strong smell of red wine. Elf’s kisses didn’t want to be compared and contrasted with hers.

He entered the family room and plopped down on the couch. Heather was still there, flipping through her magazine while listening to her iPod. Henry put his feet up on the coffee table and stared at the television screen even though his thoughts were miles away.

He jumped when he felt someone nudge his leg.

“Your turn, space cadet,” Heather said as she tilted her chin towards the controller Jessica was holding out to him. He took it from her, then immediately passed it to Heather. “You go ahead. I’m not interested right now.”

“Thanks.” She took the controller and went about finding her saved game on the storage card.

Henry curled up on the couch as he tuned out what was going on around him. His cousins would be going home tomorrow. Dad would be back at work and mom would be busy cleaning. He wouldn’t even have to ask permission to go over to Matt’s house; he could just say he would be playing outside. Tomorrow, he and Matt would talk about lots of things. Henry tried to imagine what the other dolls might look like. Tomorrow he would see Elf again.

Henry glanced at the clock on the mantel and was surprised to find it was only 7:30 pm. It seemed much later than that to him. Tomorrow was looking better every second; too bad it still felt like it was taking forever to get here.

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