Allie’s New Crayon by Red Lagoe was voted first place in Crystal Lake Publishing’s December 2020 flash fiction contest and was originally published in Shallow Waters Volume 8.
Allie’s New Crayon
Suzanne chewed her nails down to the quick until blood seeped to the surface. The money should’ve hit her account an hour ago. The gas shut off two days earlier and it wouldn’t be long before the electric went out too. Merry fucking Christmas.
Her daughter sat bundled on the floor in a thick sweatshirt, knit hat pulled over her ears as she scribbled on an old coloring book’s last page.
Above the dead TV, on a shelf among dusty knickknacks, a ragged elf doll sat perched like royalty over the desolate apartment.
“Where’d that elf doll come from?” Suzanne asked.
“From Santa’s bag of toys.” The six year old pointed toward Suzanne’s bedroom.
“Those toys ain’t for you!” Suzanne got to her feet and yanked a gray crayon from Allie’s hand.
Allie retracted, hugging her legs. The six-year-old tucked her chin between her knees. “I didn’t touch the elf. I was just looking for crayons in the bag. I’m out of black.”
“There ain’t no crayons in that bag.”
“Sorry.” Allie reached for another crayon from a tattered yellow box.
Suzanne loomed over her, side-eying the elf on the shelf. “And I don’t remember that elf being in the bag either.”
“He wanted to come out and watch us.”
Blue elf eyes painted on a pale cherub face stared at Suzanne from its lofty position.
A shiver crept down her spine. “What do you mean he wanted to watch us?”
“That’s how it works. The elf watches us and reports to Santa. If we’ve been nice, we get a present we want. If we’re naughty, we get a yucky ol’ lump of coal.”
“Looks like you’re gonna get that lump of coal for not listenin’ to your momma!”
Allie snapped to attention. “But I was really good this year.”
“Until you went digging through my stuff. Now go to your room.”
Allie shook her head. “That’s not nice.” She collected her crayons and coloring book. Ungrateful little brat.
Suzanne did everything to provide, even stuff that could get Suzanne in big trouble, and yet Allie always made her feel like a heap of worthlessness. Well, she wasn’t going to be worthless anymore.
The open laptop on the coffee table summoned her to check the account again. Nothing.
“Son of a bitch.”
Plastic eyes lingered on Suzanne as she paced the room. The elf seemed to watch as she eagerly awaited the money to drop. Four years on the nonprofit board, nickle and diming the cancer center. Today, it would pay off in a lump sum.
The elf’s perma-grin smile cast judgment on Suzanne’s embezzlement scheme.
“Creepy little shit, aren’t you?” She grabbed the plush-bodied doll by the waist, carried it down the hall to her room and put it back where it came from. A large black bag of brand new electronics, games, and tablets. A bonus bag lifted from a massive delivery to the children’s wing. A bag nobody would even notice was missing, considering there were so many. What the hell did she care about any of them kids at the hospital? She barely wanted to deal with her own.
A watched pot never boils, nor does it produce ten grand. But she needed the money, and fast, so she kept watching that computer. Once it hit, she’d drop off Allie with her grandmother, fly off to somewhere tropical, and never come back. Suzanne rubbed her temples and headed to her laptop again. As she approached the computer, Suzanne’s neck hair prickled to attention. In the windowsill, the elf sat with his head turned slightly as if studying the computer.
Suzanne’s heart leapt to her throat. “Allie!” She grabbed the elf by the arm and stormed down the hallway.
Her daughter’s door opened and she gasped. “You’re not supposed to move him! Those are the rules.”
“I told you to stay outta my stuff!” Suzanne grabbed Allie by the wrist and waggled the doll in her face. “Now, you’re definitely not gettin’ nothing!” She forced Allie into her room and slammed the door.
“I didn’t touch him!”
After tossing the elf in the kitchen trash, Suzanne released a deep breath. One more check. The money had to be there by now. She passed through the kitchen doorway, back to the living room, where her laptop was open on the couch. The elf sat propped before it. Eyes fixed on Suzanne. She staggered back, then hurried into the kitchen to dig through the trash where she had just tossed it a moment ago. No doll.
“Allie!” Suzanne’s voice cracked. Dry irritation at the back of her throat choked out her words. Black dust ejected from a cough and landed in her hand. Wiping the dust away, Suzanne eased into the living room.
She leaned over the arm of the couch, eyes darting back and forth from the elf to the screen.
The money was finally in her account. Ten thousand dollars.
“Warm beaches, here I come,” she whispered.
Her shoulders dropped as if all worries in the world were over. She could run away from it all and never be seen again. She sat down with the computer in her lap, elf by her side. Suzanne closed her eyes and raised her face to the ceiling to let out a sigh of relief.
When her eyes opened, the elf stood on the keyboard before her. Its gaze latched. Petrified, she wanted to scream, or to fling the unnatural thing across the room, but she couldn’t move. A handless fabric arm reached out, touching Suzanne’s finger.
From that sinister touch, cold skin turned black. Fingernails crumbled into charred dust. The hardening spread up her arm and across her chest. Joints locked solid. The computer toppled to the floor while the elf looked on, never once changing its fiendish grin. Gagging on a lump in her throat, Suzanne fought to breathe. Lungs stiffened as the malignant black crust swallowed her entire body, filling her mouth, her ears, her heart… with coal. Suzanne’s vision narrowed, crumbling into dusty black.
Allie stepped out of her room with her coloring book and crayons. The elf sat amidst her mom’s old knickknacks on the shelf. A large pile of coal was on the couch, chunks of black had fallen to the carpet. Mom made a big mess.
Allie poked the hardened lump with a chilled finger. Pitch black dust smeared on her skin. The blackest color she’d ever seen. She needed black. Allie smiled at the gift and broke off a small piece from the clump. She sat on the floor and opened her coloring book as the elf watched over, content with Allie’s behavior.