Once upon a time, there was a little, mischievous elf. His hair was sliver-blond, his eyes were silver-blue and his smile danced between a wide open grin that announced, “It’s a joy to be alive” and a hesitant twist that said, “Oops. What did I do wrong this time?”
Not all elves have the same color hair or the same color eyes. But all elves have the same smile
This particular elf had traveled far and wide. He had swum with the Loch Ness Monster, and no less than five times, he had visited the leprechaun who polishes the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He had been the consort of a Fairy Queen; he had attended the christenings of triplet pixies; and on a visit to Atlantis, he had drunk the King of the Sea under the table. Twice.
Having been so many places and seen so many things, and being so terribly cosmopolitan, his friends called him “Cosmo.”
Although still relatively young, Cosmo came to look upon his experiences as though they were servings at a splendid banquet. He had sat down at the table, gorged on the seven million wonders of the world, and felt sated. Then he leaned wearily back in his chair and thought, “I’m full. There is no delicacy left for me to taste. No dish left to surprise my palate. And no drink left for me to sip with epicurean delight.”
It was at this precise moment that Cosmo the Cosmopolitan Elf acquired a trait no other elves had previously possessed. Cosmo’s smile developed a third attribute. An aspect of boredom.
Boredom may seem harmless to us humans, since it does not cause death; it doesn’t make us sick; and it creates no disability. For an elf, however, boredom is crueler than starvation, more crippling than disease, and worse than pain. Boredom is against the Very Nature of an Elf.
An elf, you see, must be enthralled by life. He must wake up happy. He must quickly do an act of jubilant mischief in order to justify his existence. A bored elf cannot grin impishly. A bored elf cannot behave playfully. A bored elf is good for nothing and of benefit to nobody. Least of all, to himself.
A bored elf is a blight.
Cosmo, believing that he had seen all there was to see and done all there was to do, was bored.
One day as he was walked down a garden path with a listless look in his eyes, he heard a twitter of elation. He turned and saw his elf brethren gazing into a pool of water at a reflected rainbow. He smirked, “How foolishly they clamor at the beauty of so small a thing. I have seen the greatest rainbow of them all, and even that is not worth getting excited about.”
Scornful of their small pleasures, Cosmo resumed his trek until he came upon a group of fairies polishing a slender sunbeam. They rubbed vigorously and with obvious pride in the results of their labors. Cosmo scoffed at the happy fairies, and mumbled, “I have traveled through forests of sunbeams. I have twisted them into knots and juggled nine at a time without dropping even one. Only a hick who has seen nothing of the world would derive joy from a single sunbeam.”
Still feeling sorry for himself and superior to everybody else, Cosmo continued to drag his feet along the ground, so disinterested in what he would encounter that he had to force himself to take the next step. And the next. And the one after that. Until a final step brought him to a giant tree with large tulip-like leaves and wide-spread branches like the arms of a candelabra.
At the foot of the tree, he saw a princess.
Although every princess is beautiful, this one was so extraordinary that Cosmo forgot he had already seen everything, and he forgot to be blasé. Her hair was the color of red apples glistening in the sun. Her eyes were a startlingly and sparkling emerald green. Her nose, lips, and chin were so exquisite that Cosmo simply stared at her as if she were the first wonder of the world, instead of the seven million and first.
The princess was sitting with her back against the tree, her legs tucked under her skirt, and her eyes closed, but Cosmo knew she was not asleep, because she was humming a merry tune. Sensing his presence, she opened her eyes, smiled an enchanting smile, and said, “Welcome, Cosmo. I have been waiting for you.”
Now, our apathetic elf had told no one where he would be going, so he found her statement peculiar.
“How do you know who I am, and why are you waiting for me?” He snapped. Then he sank to the ground beside her, too lethargic to stay angry, and he flopped against the trunk of the tree.
Instead of answering his question, the princess said, “I understand that you are bored.” She pulled a flower out of the ground, tucked it into her hair, and asked, “Why?”
Cosmo did not know how to answer, so he said the first thing that came to his mind. “I’m bored because I have been everywhere and done everything, and there is nothing left for me to see or do.”
The princess laughed. It was not the girlish tinkle that one might have expected, but a robust and skeptical sound that came from deep inside her soul.
Cosmo turned bright red with embarrassment.
She stopped laughing, look solemnly into his silver-blue eyes, and said, “Any man who thinks that he has seen and done everything may have been walking through life with his eyes opened, but his mind was certainly slammed shut!”
“I…I…” Cosmo sputtered defensively. “I have seen a rainbow so great that it spans three continents!”
“Pooh!” Said the princess. “I was born on it.”
“I have sipped wine from the Five Cups of Ariadne!”
The princess raised an eyebrow and said dryly, “There aren’t five cups. There are eight.”
“Well,” huffed Cosmo. “I have waltzed on an asteroid, taken diving lessons in the Big Dipper, and…” He cocked his head proudly, “I have listened to the Great Sphinx of the Desert whisper one-hundred secrets into my ear.”
The princess shook her head dismissively. “I spend every weekend on a different asteroid, I use the handle of the Big Dipper as a water slide, and the Great Sphinx is my aunt.”
Cosmo leaped angrily to his feet, stuck out his chest so far that he looked like a rooster, and exclaimed, “You lie!”
At which the princess stated simply, “Not only is she my aunt, but every word she whispers comes from Fielding’s Anthology of Sphinx-Like Tales, which I gave her on her 976th birthday, after she ran out of secrets.”
Cosmo snorted, “I have a master’s degree in mischief!”
The princess retorted, “I invented mischief,”
“I can speak to sparrows and skylarks.”
“I taught every songbird how to sing, and hummingbirds come to me for tune-ups.”
“I…I…” Cosmo grappled for a thought. “I can wiggle my ears!” And even before the sentence was out, his ears started to flap furiously. After about a minute, he ceased this activity and smirked.
The princess winked. Then, much to his horror, his ears began to move again. She laughed her hearty, un-princess-like laugh, and said, “I can wiggle your ears, too!”
Cosmo, to say the least, was no longer bored. In fact, he was furious. To be foiled by a princess on the afternoon of the epitome of his insouciance was a crushing blow to his elfin ego. He stamped his right foot. He stamped his left foot. He jumped up and down.
“I will foil you!” He fumed. “I will thwart you!” He simmered. “I will be so mischievous that mischief will need a new name!” He swore. “I will travel so far above and beyond the horizon that compasses will be unable to chart my trail. I will…”
“Will you go back to the Great Rainbow?” The princess interrupted. She was no longer laughing, and the expression on her face was surprisingly kind.
He ignored her.
“Yes. I will go back, and I will rearrange its colors into a spectacle so grand that…” He closed his eyes in an ecstasy of imaginings, “the Great Sphinx will have something new to whisper. I will…” But when he reopened his eyes to glare triumphantly at the princess, she was gone.
Cosmo looked to his right. He looked to his left. He looked up. He looked down. He looked behind the tree.
This irritated him, as he now had no one to hear him reminiscing about things that hadn’t happened yet. But his irritation quickly vanished, because he had forgotten that there were no new delicacies to taste, no new lands to explore, no new adventures to have, and no enchanting princesses to challenge his ennui.
Instead, he became overwhelmed by everything waiting Out There for him to do. He remembered with a blush how he had boasted of his worldliness. Chagrined at the emptiness of his boasts, he said, “Oops. I really did something wrong this time!”
Then, in a delicious tizzy about all that he would be doing, discovering, learning and seeing next, he grinned an elfin grin, forgot to be embarrassed about his own stupidity, and announced (to absolutely no one) in a positively grandiloquent voice, “It certainly is great to be alive!”
With the return of his impish grin, Cosmo lost the last aspect of the boredom that is inimical to the Very Nature of an Elf, and he plunged into the forest to look for a sunbeam to wear jauntily in the brim of his hat.
At that very same instant, a princess with eyes as green shamrocks and hair as bright as ripe red cherries whispered into the ear of her aunt a story about a silly elf. Her aunt thought the idea of someone … anyone … believing he or she had seen and done everything was so ludicrous, that for the first time in sixteen centuries, she behaved in a most uncharacteristic manner.
The earth rumbled; the sands stirred; fronds on nearby palm trees fluttered.
And the Great Sphinx laughed.
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2015
Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com.