Last year, on Boxing Day, I found a really cool ornament in a clearance box. It had a built-in camera to record a unique perspective on your holiday celebrations. I grabbed the last one from the store’s dusty shelf and brought it home for less than 10 bucks. I forgot about it until my wife, my two daughters, and I decorated the house earlier this month. I told my daughters about the camera and said we’d secretly catch Santa in the act. I had an old costume in the attic and intended to deliver some gifts in full view of the camera on Christmas night. My girls were overjoyed, and went back-and-forth trying to find the best place to put the ornament on the tree. They had no idea daddy re-positioned it later so it could actually catch the living room and a good angle.
In the nights leading up to Christmas, I turned the camera on to make sure everything was working properly. In the morning, I previewed the footage---just long enough to confirm the thing was working. Satisfied, I inserted the Micro SD card back into the ornament, and slipped in a new battery in anticipation for the big night. Daddy didn't want to disappoint his girls with a failed recording.
We enjoyed Christmas Eve as a family, playing board games and eating way more junk food than there was room in our stomachs. Like we do every year, we let our daughters open one gift from mommy and daddy before going to bed. The girls, still riding their sugar-high, could be heard giggling in their bedrooms from all the way up the stairs. From time to time, my wife and I could hear one of them shush the other, claiming she’d heard hoofs on the roof or bells jingling. Eventually, our kiddos dosed off. My wife kissed me on the cheek and headed to bed while I turned off all the lights. I retrieved the costume and tiptoed to the living room, getting ready for my big feature film debut.
I did everything you would expect Santa to do: I ate most of the cookies, I drank the milk, I pet my large stomach and said my HO HO HOs, and I dropped a few presents by the fireplace, all in full-view of the camera. A pretty good acting job, if I do say so myself.
On Christmas morning, the girls came running into our bedroom to wake us up. They excitedly insisted we watch the video before opening the presents. I transferred the footage to my laptop, forwarded to where Santa showed up, and pressed ‘play’. My girls squealed with delight and jumped in front of the screen, frantically waving at Santa while obscuring the video from my view. It brought me so much joy to see how happy the girls were. I was too lazy to stop the video, so it continued to play in the background while we unwrapped out gifts. I spotted a box I had not seen the night before: it was a small and wrapped in a blue foil paper I did not recognize. My name was on it, but my wife seemed as surprised as I was to see it there. Noticing my confusion, my youngest daughter spoke:
“Daddy! That’s gotta be from Mr. Elf!”, she said, her voice cheerful and bright.
I was ready to dismiss her elf comment as just another weird thing kids say, but my wife wasn't so quick to ignore it.
“Honey, what elf?”, she asked.
My daughter pointed to the laptop. By then, the video had ended and all that was left on the screen was a preview of the first frame.
“The one that came with Santa!”, she answered.
Panic struck me like a bird in a jet propeller. I know my wife didn’t dress up as an elf. I scanned the video, clicking forward and back until I saw what my daughter had seen: there was someone in the living room. He walked into the corner after I had turned the lights off. He stood there watching me parading around as Santa. The video went completely quiet after that. It was as though the camera failed to record a single sound. The strange, tall man in an elf costume stood perfectly still for over an hour, watching the camera from a distance. After a while, he walked over to the plate of cookies and bit the head off a gingerbread man. I glanced at the plate and saw his teeth mark on the decapitated cookie. The man then quietly approached the Christmas tree. I thought the audio wasn't working, but as he reached the tree, I began hearing his slow and steady breaths. He reached towards the ornament, and the video stopped.
In a terrified frenzy, I grabbed the blue box he’d left behind. I ripped the bow off of it and tossed the frilly thing away. I frantically removed the wrapping paper, opened the box, and looked inside. There, on a bed of bubble wrap, was the battery I’d put in the camera the night before. My wife took the ornament and opened the back: the battery was missing. I don’t know what scares me more: what the camera caught, or what the elf might have done after he turned off the camera.
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