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The Instructions

Amanda C. Davis knows better than to go messing with elves. Her work has appeared in Shock Totem, Necrotic Tissue, and Triangulation: End of the Rainbow, among others. You can find her at amandacdavis.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/davisac1.

Say you've got a problem. Might be big, might be small. Almost always to do with money. Maybe you can't afford to feed your kid. Maybe you can't make the rent. Maybe you've thought about all the different ways to get yourself out of this hole, and they've gotten bigger and crazier--theft and fraud and suicide and murder--and you're just about ready to start trying the worst of them.
Here's what you do.
Get your favorite pair of shoes. Doesn't matter what kind, as long as you love them, even a little bit. Then you put them side by side just outside your front door. You'll have to get creative if you don't have a porch. Or if you don't have shoes.
This next part is important: go inside and go to sleep. Everyone. The whole house. Don't get up. Sleep until dawn.
If you did it right, elves will come.
There are lots of kinds of elves, and they all agree: a pair of shoes means "Come on in." You never know what will show up. Elves from high above or elves from deep below. Tall elves or tiny elves. Ugly elves or elves so beautiful they make you sob. Maybe nobody but your kid can see them. Maybe nobody but the dog. But one way or another, you'll get elves.
They will start to work. Things will start to happen.
People say you can't pay elves or they'll leave. That's not true. You have to pay them every day. Leave them barley, milk, honey. Pick them strawberries and rosemary and roses. When their work nets you ten dollars--and it will--give them a bright new penny. When you get a hundred--and you will--give them a whole roll. Make sure the pennies shine like fire, shine like the moon. They don't care for money. That's where the confusion lies. They care for the shine.
You'll do this faithfully for a while. But then something will start to slip. It always does. You don't put out enough roses for everyone or you accidentally buy the honey that's really just corn syrup. You let the milk go bad. You let the pennies get dull. Things will keep going well for you, though. Elves hate to do a shoddy job.
But they watch. And they count.
They're like bankers, the elves. They tabulate what they're owed silently in their strange little heads, and they wait until your debt is too great. Until the balance is too high. Then they leave. They take something with them. You won't have a chance to argue or bargain: pffft, it will be gone, and pffft, they'll be gone. After that, you can pile all the shoes you own outside your door. None of them are ever coming back.
But it's okay.
You couldn't afford to feed that kid anyhow.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 16th, 2011

Author Comments

One of my hobbies is "applied parazoology"--studying folklore specifically to learn different ways to attract, repel, or defeat mythological creatures. For this story I got to use a few items from my list of Stuff Elves Like. Warning: it's easier to attract elves than to get rid of them. Better not to dabble.

- Amanda C. Davis
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