It was three days before Christmas – because that is when, if they are true to their genre, all Christmas stories begin
– that David Starsky asked his best friend, Ken Hutchinson, “Know what I wonder about?”
At the moment, Hutchinson was sitting next to Starsky on the passenger seat of his friend’s rather extroverted car,
carefully and grumpily sipping coffee from a StyrofoamŪ cup.
Carefully, because the last thing he needed on this all too Christmassy and way too early morning was a lecture on how expensive
the leather he was sitting on had been, and grumpily, because it was early on the morning three days before “The Holiday,”
and Starsky was about to indulge in some inane topic he’d heard while falling asleep in front of the TV the night before.
“Hutch?” Starsky asked again, when his first question hadn’t received a reply.
“Hmm,” Hutch said by way of proving his presence.
“Are you listening to me?”
“Okay. So, d’you know what I wonder about?”
Glancing back from where he’d been pretending to study the city outside the window, Hutch looked at Starsky and said,
Taking that either as “No, please let me in on your thoughts” or, at least, as “Yes, I do, but tell me,
anyway, so we can then have a real conversation,” Starsky continued. “I wonder why we don’t have automatic
doors at the precinct,” he said, scratching his head thoughtfully.
“You know, the kind they have on TV… and in grocery stores. Why doesn’t everybody have those doors?”
Having expected something more Christmas-oriented, Hutch decided to show his approval of this non-holiday topic by answering.
“I guess it’s ’cause they’re too expensive.”
“But they have them on TV.”
“Actually, no,” Hutch replied. “They have some underpaid kid drag those doors open off-screen. It’s
Starsky shot his partner a surprised glance. “It is? Wow! It looks so real.”
Hutch nodded slowly. “Stuff on television usually does. Ever notice how the heroes always find a parking spot right
away? And how no one’s ever put on hold when they call someone?”
“Hey, by that definition, I could be on television.” Starsky grinned.
Hutch seemed to think that over, wrinkling his nose. “Nah, I don’t think so, Starsk. TV characters never have
to go. ’Sides, I think the network would have serious doubts about showing a character eating what you eat. You know,
in the interest of kids watching – or anyone else, for that matter.”
Even as he contemplated those very good arguments, Starsky couldn’t help but go on. “Hmm. Know what else I wonder
about?” he asked with a badly suppressed smile.
“What I’m going to give you for Christmas,” Hutch replied.
Starsky’s smile widened. “Mind-reader.”
“It’s no big deal. Reading your mind is like reading a Dick and Jane book.”
Ignoring the insult, Starsky continued excitedly, “Well, do I hafta guess, or are you gonna give me a hint?”
“All right, already,” Hutch said, unimpressed. “Wanna guess what color, too?”
“Hey, that’s funny… a hint.”
“Starsk,” Hutch warned, “cut that out.”
“You know very well what.’”
“But…” The smile faded into a dreadful frown. “Aw, Hutch! You’re not gonna give me a tree again,
Smiling mysteriously, Hutch tilted his head to one side. He stretched out the words, as he replied, “Not a tree, no.”
“What then?” Starsky asked, resigned. “A sponsorship for some extinct animal? A piece of the rainforest?
“Hey.” Hutch snapped his fingers. “A star… in the sky.” He grinned. “I like that.”
“I don’t,” grumbled Starsky.
“That’s because you’ve got no sense of poetry.”
“No, that’s ’cause I’m the only one I know who gets crap like stars for Christmas.”
“Buddy,” Hutch chided playfully, “a star is what Christmas is all about.”
“Real gifts are what Christmas is all about,” Starsky snapped back.
His friend shook his head as if to clear it. “Y’know, why is it that whenever I say things like that, I’m
Grinchy and horrible, but when you say it –”
“Because you turn everything around!” Starsky cut him off.
“Christmas is about love and joy and giving. And presents are love and joy… and, well, taking, and… and,
jeez, you’re doing it again!”
“Doing what?” Hutch asked, taken aback, lifting his hands to indicate his innocence.
“What you did to all those poor Christmas carols the other day!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Hutch said in a tone that made it clear he knew exactly what
his partner was referring to. Despite his best efforts, a smile curled up one corner of his mouth.
“Yes, you do,” Starsky rightfully pointed out. “Like what you said about Rudolph.”
Giving up his amnesia act, Hutch retorted, “I was merely trying to widen your hori–”
“Horizons, my ass,” Starsky returned indignantly. “You insulted reindeers!”
That just couldn’t pass by without comment. “Okay, now, those reindeer,” Hutch said in a voice that suggested
he’d known “those reindeers” all his life, “are like the Tommy Monroe gang I used to go to school
with! They laugh at you, but the moment they need you for something… well, they pal around with you and praise you.
I mean, they’re hypocrites, Starsk!”
“Uh… Tommy Monroe?”
“Never mind. Still, you gotta admit, the reindeer in that song are assholes.”
“They’re reindeers!” Starsky exclaimed helplessly. “I-it’s a Christmas carol!”
“My point exactly,” Hutch nodded curtly. “And Santa doesn’t do anything about them making fun of Rudolph,
either. So, he’s just as bad.”
A warning finger – a fair imitation of the Hutchinson Warning Finger – popped up in front of Hutch’s nose.
“Don’t you dare do it to Santa, now,” came the low growl.
But Hutch was on a roll. “Yeah, right. ’Cause we know you better not mess with Santa. ‘Ya better watch out;
ya better not cry,’” he sang a few bars. “Not to mention, ‘He sees you when you’re sleeping;
he knows when you’re awake…’ Your basic J. Edgar Claus.” He shook his shoulders in a fake shudder.
“That song used to creep me out like hell. There should be a law against it.”
Not wanting to admit he’d feared few things as much as that song when he was a little boy, Starsky stoically said, “I’m
But apparently Hutch didn’t care. “The whole Christmas world is probably organized like the Kremlin, with agents
everywhere and blacklists containing –”
“You’re impossible,” Starsky interrupted with a sad shake of his head.
“Realistic,” Hutch corrected.
“Okay, you’re realistically impossible. And lemme tell you, if you give me any part of nature or the sky for Christmas
this year, I’m gonna smack you right in the mouth.”
Their eyes met.
With a curt nod of acceptance, Hutch turned to look out the window again. “That’s the spirit, buddy,” he
approvingly. “Oh, come all ye vengeful.”
“Shut up, Hutch.”
S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H
Hutch had shut up for all of 15 minutes – which apparently had given him time to come up with a Christmas carol of his
own. Now, as he and Starsky made their way down the corridor at Metro, he was serenading his stone-faced friend in a soft,
The song (using an already mentioned popular tune) went like this:
“Starsky, the red-carred detective, had a very shiny drive,
And if you ever saw it, you would think it was alive.”
And so on.
Starsky, for the moment, had decided to ignore the low singing next to him, throwing his gleeful partner only an occasional
However, Hutch stopped his happy caroling the second a fellow detective, Jim Bergen, passed them in the hall, inquiring innocently
if Hutch were “practicing for tomorrow.” Before he could answer – or, rather, ask something in return –
his partner nodded eagerly, as if in response to the question. Bergen simply gave them a thumbs-up and went his way.
All of a sudden, it seemed pretty important to Starsky that they start their daily work: get to their desks and talk about
their cases. He hurried toward their office but couldn’t escape Hutch’s quick grasp on his arm.
“Practicing for tomorrow?” Hutch repeated Bergen’s words, fixing his partner with a paralyzing stare. “You
wouldn’t by any chance know what he meant by that, would you?”
“Why, no,” Starsky replied, his voice climbing an octave or two in an effort to display utter ignorance. “I-I
mean... well, tomorrow’s the... uh, precinct Christmas party, isn’t it? Like, maybe Jim thought you might…
uh… sing?” He grinned as he said the last word, looking as if the idea had just popped into his head and appeared
good from where he stood.
Hutch imitated the grin without any of its good nature. “And why, d’you figure, would he assume that?”
There was a moment of silence as Starsky opened and closed his mouth a couple of times. Finally, he suggested, “Maybe
’cause it says so on the program?”
The grip on his sleeve tightened.
“The, uh, program that the guys pinned up on the bulletin board? You know, ah… where you have to sign up if you
wanna… y’know… uhm…” Under Hutch’s narrowing scowl, Starsky felt himself shrinking in
sync with his voice, which seemed to fade as if he were a balloon losing air. “Uh… perform something?” he
“I see.” Hutch nodded slowly after a moment’s thought.
“Now, I didn’t sign up for anything.”
As he had done so often before, Starsky marveled at Hutch’s ability to go from singing like a bird to growling like
a dog within mere seconds. Though he normally wasn’t on the receiving end of it, past observations had taught him just
what that growling meant. More importantly, he knew what further transformations it could lead to. It was because of that
knowledge that he forced himself to look straight into his partner’s eyes and say, “Yeah, I know. You forgot.
That’s why I did it for you.”
As Starsky had hoped, shock weakened Hutch’s hold enough for him to pull out of it. Putting a little distance between
them, he smiled graciously. “No need to thank me, kid.”
“Thank you...” Hutch started, dumbfounded. Then, he caught himself and stalked toward his friend, looking like
a cat ready to strike. “Starsky.” The growl was back.
Retreating, Starsky lifted his hands in defense. “What? You’ll be great. Hey, you can sing that… reindeer
song if you want. I don’t mind. Really, pal. They’ll love it.”
Fortunately for Starsky – and our story – Captain Dobey chose that moment to all but tear open his door and bellow
at his detectives, “You’re late!”
Looking over his shoulder, Starsky flashed his captain a desperate grin. “Hi, Cap,” he squeaked. “Something
Preoccupied, Dobey didn’t realize the power he held over Starsky’s well-being at that moment, but his curt reply
saved the day nonetheless. “Yeah. I want you in my office right now,” he snapped, scowling at the papers clenched
in his fist. “You call this a report?”
“Report?” Starsky repeated, hurrying to Dobey’s door. “What report? Oh, THAT report. Yeah. Why don’t
we have a look at that.” Grabbing the papers from the captain’s hold, he vanished inside the office.
Frowning after him, Dobey grumbled something unintelligible and then glanced back at Hutch, who’d been watching his
partner’s escape with restrained impatience. (After all, Dobey’s office wasn’t a place one could hide in
“There’s someone here to see you,” the captain told Hutch, pointing a meaty thumb at the half-open door
to the squad room.
Hutch nodded. Putting all plans for payback aside for the moment, he entered the squad room, which seemed oddly warmer than
it usually did. Well, not warmer, really, just… different, as if the warmth had thickened. The place smelled different,
too, almost like pines, he thought. And it was quieter than normal, his colleagues seemingly preoccupied. Only when he stopped
at the coffeemaker did Hutch notice that all of them were quietly humming a Christmas song – the same one.
He didn’t have time to dwell on those oddities, though. A rich baritone voice quickly drew his attention to a man standing
up from one of the visitors’ chairs. “Kenneth C. Hutchinson?”
Surprised, Hutch turned his head to meet chocolate-brown eyes, glinting merrily at him from out of a pale, fine-boned face.
The man was as tall as he was, but slim to the point of looking delicate. He was clad in brown suit pants, a white shirt and
brown sandals, with a blue-striped wool scarf wound around his long neck.
Though he appeared to be younger than the detective – no lines marked the fair skin around his eyes and thin-lipped
mouth – somehow Hutch knew the man was older, much older. Clearing his throat, Hutch shook off the strange feeling and
nodded. “Yeah, I’m… I’m Detective Hutchinson.”
The smile on the man’s face widened. “How fortunate,” he announced, grabbing Hutch’s hand to give
it a firm but eerily ice-cold shake. “Happy to meet you.”
“Uh… same here,” Hutch offered, when his hand was released. Forcing a polite smile across his lips, he waved
toward the coffee machine. “Listen, do you want some coffee? ’Cause I –”
“Yes,” the man grinned happily. “Thanks.”
Under the stranger’s never-fading smile, Hutch poured two cups of coffee and carried them to his desk. There, he gestured
at the man to take a seat and sank gratefully into his own chair.
Opening his mouth to ask questions, Hutch paused when the odd man rubbed the fingers of his right hand briefly over the steaming
mug. He could have sworn he’d seen a fleeting twinkle drifting down into the coffee.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Hutch shook his head and took a quick sip of his own coffee. “Well,” he began, “Mr.
“Smith,” the man answered the unspoken question.
Hutch tilted his head. “Smith,” he repeated meaningfully.
But the meaning was lost on Mr. Smith. “Yes, Smith. Keekegard Timothy Smith.”
Only now did Hutch notice the trace of a badly hidden British accent in the man’s voice.
“Or Keek for… well, you,” the man finished with an apologetic smile. There wasn’t anyone present but
Unsure of whether or not it was safe to treat the man like the nutcase he obviously was, Hutch nodded slowly. “All right,
Keek.” He smiled reassuringly. “What can I do for you?”
Keek’s face lit up. “You mean that?” he asked, then busily added, “Well, no, first I need to talk
to you about what I need to talk to you about. But it would really be great if you could explain some of those American-culture
things to me afterwards, like baseball. Do you understand baseball, Hutch?”
Blinking in confusion, the detective lifted his hands to calm Keek down. “W-wait. Slow down. What is it you need to
talk to me about?” Then, he frowned, hit by a sudden thought. “And what did you just call me?”
“Okay,” Keek said, restraining himself from further sports questions, “let’s talk business first.”
Suddenly, all of Hutch’s colleagues stood and left the room in one swift motion, leaving the two alone in the squad
room. Hutch stared after them, his chin dropping.
Looking back at Keek, he found the man busily flipping through the yellowed pages of a large, dark book that rested on his
knees. Keek, himself, was no longer sitting in his chair but had somehow moved atop Hutch’s desk. He peered down at
the detective as Hutch lifted his eyes.
“Now, Hutch,” Keek started by way of explanation, his smile giving way to an apologetic frown, “this isn’t
exactly my department. I can’t send you through time, and obviously I’m just one lad... but bear with me. The
better you listen, the sooner we’ll be through here, and you can tell me all about baseball. Okay?”
Hutch simply stared, open-mouthed.
Taking that for affirmation, Keek smiled again. “All righty. Now, what I want you to do is close your eyes and imagine
that you’re back on your grandfather’s farm in…” He scrutinized the page in front of him, then shrugged.
“Well, you know how to pronounce it. Anyway, it’s the day before Christmas Eve and your dad… Oh, by the
way, I want to take this opportunity to apologize for, well, your dad, mate. I mean, it’s not like we can do anything
about who gets whom for a father, but… You know what I mean. If I could do anything about it, I would. But that’s
not my department.” He shrugged. “Anyhoo. Where was I? Ah, yes. Okay. So your dad has just called to say your
parents are not going to make it in time for Christmas, and you’ll be spending Christmas at the farm. It’s snowing,
your dog is dragging this homemade sled your grandfather gave you –”
“Hold it.” Hutch interrupted Keek’s rambling, staring at the stranger with fear-filled eyes. “Who
are you?” His voice sounded weak in his own ears. “Wh-what is this?”
Unimpressed, Keek glanced up from his book. “Told you, mate. I’m Keek.”
Frowning, Hutch backed away in his chair. “How d’you know all this stuff?” he asked.
His glance shot to the book on Keek’s knees, but when he reached for it, his hand went through it as if it were made
of air. A glittering tail swirled along the motion of his hand and swallowed the book until it was gone, leaving only a small,
sparkling light behind. As Hutch watched, that, too, vanished, leaping neatly into the breast pocket of Keek’s shirt.
Hutch’s eyes widened. He jumped up in delayed reaction, almost tipping his chair as he tried to put as much space as
possible between Keek and himself. “Who the hell are you?”
Sighing resignedly, Keek hopped off the desk and leaned against it. “I’m Keek,” he repeated. “I’m
here to remind you of the wonderfulness of Christmas by showing you Christmases from your past and Christmases yet to come,
including the Christmas of the day after tomorrow, that is. We call it Christmas present, but… well, it’s not
really present, yet, is it?” He smiled encouragingly. When Hutch didn’t relax, however, he added, “Nothing
scary about it, kid. Okay?”
Keek paused for a moment’s thought. “The Christmases yet to come tend to get a little hairy, but… at least
you only got me, not Futy. That’s the ghost of Christmases to come,” he explained.
“Ghost of Christmases to come,” Hutch repeated tonelessly.
“You’re a Christmas ghost? I’m in a Dickens story?”
“No,” Keek replied patiently. “You’re in the story the Everything has written for you. And I’m
not a Christmas ghost. I’m a Christmas particles elf. As it happens, the ghosts are on strike at the moment.”
“The ghosts are on strike.” Hutch nodded, not yet able to realize how ridiculous he must sound, repeating everything
in that monotone voice.
Keek sighed again and ran a hand through his thick, brown hair. “Yes. Uhm… see, you’re on our list for this
Hutch couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing. “I’m on a list? There’s a Christmas creature blacklist?
I knew it. And I’m on it? Have you told Starsky?”
“Er, no. And it’s not a blacklist,” Keek chided. “It’s the list for the people the Everything
sees fit for… a reminder. You once knew what Christmas was, Kenneth. You forgot at some point, but it’s still
there. We only show you what’s inside you. Well…” he cut off his own meaningful speech and glanced away.
“The ghosts do, that is. I’m just trying my best.” He smiled as if expecting praise.
“Because the ghosts are... on strike,” Hutch stated.
“I see,” Hutch said, as though he really did. “So your job is it to… what again? Remind me of ‘the
wonderfulness of Christmas.’ Right. And you want to achieve that by telling me about the Christmas my grandfather fell
and broke his leg when he was searching for my dog? My dog, who drowned, by the way.”
There was a long moment while Keek merely looked at him. “It’s the first time I’m doing this,” he
finally said, making it sound like a question.
“Hmm,” Hutch said. “And why should I believe you? So far, all you’ve done is tell me a lot of crazy
stuff and do a few tricks.”
It took Keek a moment before he understood the meaning of the words. “You don’t believe me?” he asked, dumbfounded.
Hutch tilted his head to one side and glanced at Keek, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Seriously, kid!” Keek exclaimed. “No wonder you’re on the list! You don’t believe in a miracle
when it jumps at you, do you? I mean, what about my book?”
“And I knew about your dog and your grandfather and your nickname!”
“Okay,” Hutch started, approaching Keek again. “Ghost.”
“Elf,” Keek corrected him grumpily.
“Elf. So, tell me, what is going to happen? Do you see my grave in your book? People crowding my apartment, stealing
my plants, jabbering on about what a Grinch-like S.O.B. I was? How is the wonderfulness of Christmas going to influence my
“There it is.” Keek said accusingly, pointing a warning finger at Hutch. “There’s the reason you’re
on our list. Well, that and comparing us to a state of rather questionable moral values. You don’t really see Christmas:
its importance, its power. Something happened that Christmas your grandfather broke his leg. And your dog did not drown at
Christmas, I might add! You saw it then; you did! And, so, maybe your believing in Christmas again won’t keep your partner
from getting shot, but –”
A startled cough cut Keek off. And it happened – that cough – because, from out of nowhere, Hutch’s fingers
clawed into the front of Keek’s shirt and lifted the Christmas particles elf right off his feet.
“Careful,” Hutch hissed, all the half-amused, half-doubting pleasantness gone from his voice. With a rough shove,
he sent Keek stumbling back against the desk.
Clutching at his scarf-wrapped neck, the elf shot Hutch a dark glare and then sat down on the desktop. “That wasn’t
necessary,” he said reprimandingly. “I don’t make the future.”
“You stop right there,” Hutch ordered, pointing his own warning finger at Keek. “You just lost all of your
“Being shown the Christmases to come has never been very amusing,” Keek pouted, still tugging at his scarf. He
glared at Hutch and then added, “I can’t help it if your ignorance will get someone you care about hurt.”
“And do you know where threatening a cop will get you in this country?” Hutch countered harshly. “Lemme
tell you –”
“Oh?” Keek interrupted him angrily. “And here you’ve not only threatened but attacked a Christmas
creature! How far up the list you think that’ll push you, Kenneth?” He took a deep breath to calm himself and
then let it go. “Look. I’m not saying he has to die, I’m just –”
“Shut up,” Hutch cut the elf off, his voice icy and low.
Exasperated, Keek watched the detective pace in front of his desk for a moment, before throwing his arms up in surrender.
“Okay. What do you want? What do I need to do, so you’ll believe me? You’ve already seen my book. I take
it mere magic is not going to impress you.”
Stopping in his tracks, Hutch cast Keek a guarded glance. “What kind of an elf did you say you were again?”
“Christmas particles,” Keek grumbled. “That means I can make the snow glitter. I can make the air feel and
taste and smell... Christmassy. I can even spike your coffee,” he added, reaching for Hutch’s cup.
The detective snatched it out of his reach, before the elf could prove his words.
Keek sighed, resigned. “I Christmasized your colleagues,” he offered.
Hutch didn’t seem to be listening. Looking up from the cold contents of his cup to Keek, he asked, “Can you make
The elf frowned. “Yeah, I could,” he replied, stretching the words, “but that would get me in trouble with
the Nickelbuh, who is my boss and not a very understanding one, at that. So, I’d much rather you’d let me Christmasize
your coffee to –”
“Make it snow,” Hutch commanded, placing the cup behind him on a desk and crossing his arms in front of him.
Keek’s shoulders slumped. “They told me it’d be easy. Get in, talk some sense into the man, and leave. No
one said anything about any snow.”
Hutch lifted his brows expectantly.
“You’re not gonna believe me unless I make it snow, are you?” Keek asked.
Hutch shook his head.
“’Kay.” Jumping off the desk, Keek shook his arms as if to loosen them up. Then, he drew in a long breath
and... slumped. “I can’t,” he whined. “I’ll be punished. The Nickelbuh sent me here, because
I messed with the snow in London!”
Glancing at Hutch, he tried again, sounding more desperate than ever. “Look. I know everything about you. I know you
don’t really have a present for your partner yet, which, by the way, is rather horrible of you. And I know what you
bought for Kiko. I know you’re going to move again in a few, years, because I saw a Christmas in yet another house.
I know you never told your partner what really happened to that ant farm. And I know it’s not going to be on Christmas
when he gets shot, but I do see a Christmas without him.”
Something in Hutch’s eyes made Keek stop rambling, and he followed the detective’s gaze to Starsky, who stood
frozen with his hand on the knob to Dobey’s closed door.
A relieved grin popped up on Keek’s face. “Hey, Davey!”
Turning to Hutch, he pointed at Starsky over his shoulder.
“He’ll believe me. He used to be one of us.”
Uncertain eyes wandering from Keek to Hutch and back again, Starsky slowly stepped into the room. He kept his distance from
Keek, his gaze fixing on Hutch. “What’s going on here?” he frowned. “Where is everybody?”
“Starsk,” Hutch began, unsure of what to make of Keek’s happiness at his partner’s appearance. “Meet
Keek. He’s a… ?”
“Christmas particles elf.”
“Yeah, that,” Hutch said disrespectfully. “Seems the Christmas ghosts have gone on strike – you know,
the past, the present and the dead guy? So, Keek here has been sent to show me the essence of Christmas. But from what I can
tell so far, the Christmas spirit works through… blackmail?” He glanced at Keek in a mock search for help.
Keek rolled his eyes. “It’s not –”
“Wait,” Starsky interrupted, pointing his index finger at himself. “And a Christmas to come shows me getting
shot? If he’s the one being visited by ghosts, why doesn’t he get shot? Who am I, Tiny Tom?”
“Tim,” Hutch and Keek corrected together.
“Whatever. Why am I gonna get shot?”
“No one,” Hutch soothed, “is going to get shot, buddy, okay?”
“Well, he is,” Keek countered impatiently.
“No one asked you,” Hutch hissed with a glare. “I’m still waiting for the snow.”
“I told you, I can’t!”
“Then why don’t we finish this ridiculous farce right here, and I’ll arrest you for threatening –”
It wasn’t a snowflakethat shut Hutch up. And it wasn’t soft, fluffy snowfall drifting down from the ceiling like
in a scene from a movie. Rather, it was a blizzard whirling around the stunned detective, starting at his feet and freezing
him in place. It built its way upward, forming a huge, grayish-white cloud that snowed itself empty within a split second
– with all of the wet whiteness landing directly on Hutch!
Soaked through, the detective stared open-mouthed at Keek. The elf stood before him, lifitng his brows, arms crossed in imitation
of Hutch’s arrogant stance from before.
“If I could,” Keek said, “just for you, I’d make it hail, too.”
“Y-you,” Hutch stammered, looking down at his dripping
sweater and icy corduroy pants. “You –” He broke off, startled. The snow, which had gathered itself into
one large pile, began to creep toward Keek; then, seeming to think things over, it veered towards Starsky, leaping onto his
sneakers and jeans up to his knees.
“Starsky,” Hutch almost whispered, “did you see that?”
“Yeah,” Starsky replied absently. He shook one foot to throw off the clinging snow, which seemed to make some
sort of feathery, high noise as it flew. “I see it. I feel it, too.”
“He made it snow,” Hutch said, as if still having to explain it. He couldn’t draw his eyes away from the
glittering whiteness that clung to Starsky’s shoes. “D’you know what this means?”
“That I get shot in the future,” Starsky pointed out dryly. He managed to throw a fleck of snow onto Keek’s
scarf, from where it quickly climbed up into the elf’s hair, giggling lightly.
Hutch’s face fell. “Oh… uh, n-not if I start believing in Christmas, right?” He turned to Keek, who
was trying to grab the snowflakes dancing on his head. “Right?”
“Well, it’s not – Come here!” Wiping the snow out of his now-soaked hair, Keek let it fall around
where he stood, shaking his head. “It’s not that easy,” he finished his sentence. “Like I said, he
doesn’t get shot on a Christmas.”
“But you said –” Hutch started, but he was interrupted by a sudden presence materializing in the room, just
as the snow had before.
Out of nowhere, another tall, pale, thin man appeared. Like Keek, he looked (and sounded) decidedly British, but his skin
was marked by slender lines drawing down from the sides of his nose and crow’s feet around his warm-colored eyes. He
wore linen pants, a T-shirt sporting the logo of some rock band, and sneakers, but no scarf. Still, something about his look
was even odder than Keek’s, and it took Hutch a second before he realized that what made the man look truly strange
was a huge pair of grayish, soft-feathered wings.
“Are you crazy?” the man hissed at Keek, ignoring the detectives. He was glaring at the snow, which had crowded
behind Starsky, turning itself into as small a pile as it could. “What do you think you’re doing?” Briskly,
he snapped his fingers, and the snow was gone.
Hutch thought he’d seen it leap up and turn into a quickly fading whirlwind, but he couldn’t be sure. It looked
as though the snow had simply vanished. He was still wet, however, and Starsky’s shoes and bell-bottom jeans were still
soaked, too, as was Keek’s hair. But the snow was gone.
Flinching under the winged man’s stare, Keek pointed at Hutch accusingly. “He didn’t want to believe me.”
“Oh? Is that so?” The newcomer turned around to look at Hutch. “You didn’t believe my friend here,
“Uh… I-I’m not sure,” was all poor Hutch could say. He thought he could feel one of his headaches
announcing it’s soon-to-be-noticed arrival somewhere in his brain, which had been asked to process too much in the past
Starsky, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be struggling with the same problem. “Are you in charge of explaining
why I’m getting shot in the future?” he asked indignantly.
The winged man stared at him incredulously. “Keek?” It came out more as a warning than a question.
“Wait,” Keek hurried to reply, lifting his hands to calm his friend down. “Let me explain. I tried, but
it didn’t work like they said it would. He,” the elf pointed at Hutch, “is stubborn. So, I had to tell him
the truth... and then I had to make it snow. And he,” Keek indicated Starsky, “just sorta showed up. But I think
I’ve got it all under control now.”
The elf looked at Hutch. “Don’t you think?” When no answer came, he glanced at Starsky, “Don’t
you?” Finally, he turned back to his friend. “Muffleby?”
Muffleby pinched the back of his nose, in a gesture that reminded Starsky of Hutch when he was stressed, and let go a deep
breath. “You told him the truth?” he repeated.
“Well, yeah,” Keek rambled on. “I had to. I told you, he didn’t –”
“What truth, Keek? What did you tell the poor chap? Just look at him!”
Following Muffleby’s order, Keek glanced at the slightly shivering detective, whose expression had taken on a distant
– if not outright shocked – glaze.
“They all look like that when they’ve been shown the Christmases yet to come,” Keek defended himself in
a small voice. “It’s his own fault.”
“Speaking of those Christmases yet to come...” Starsky started, but was ignored.
“He wasn’t supposed to be shown his Christmases yet to come, Keek-diot,” Muffleby chided in a resigned voice.
“And you could’ve just exposed your stupid wings instead of blizzarding a California squad room.” With a
wave of his hand, he removed what seemed to be an invisible coat from Keek, revealing wings as large, but whiter, than his
Smiling sheepishly, Keek waggled one wing. “Oh,” he said, “well…” Then, he shrugged.
Muffleby imitated the shrug, rolling his eyes.
“And what d’you mean, he wasn’t supposed to be shown…” Keek started, frowning as he studied
Hutch, who was watching the dialogue between the elves like a tennis match. “He was on the list!”
“Yeah, right,” Muffleby replied. “He was on the list the Nickelbuh gave us, and he was marked.” He
lifted his voice as if in a question, trying to trigger Keek’s memory – but in vain. Shaking his head, he held
out a long, yellowish sheet of paper for Keek to examine. It appeared in his hand as he moved it in front of Keek’s
eyes, popping into existence with a little twirl of glittering dust.
“There.” He pointed onto the paper. “See? Kenneth C. Hutchinson. Marked. Supposed to be Christmasized, because
some stupid mental trigger made him remember he saw Futy visiting his grandfather on Christmas when he was a boy. Don’t
you remember? We talked about him.”
Realization lit Keek’s face like a light. “Oh riiight,” he said. “You turned Grinch all of a sudden
last year,” he told Hutch, who was frowning as his memory tugged at him. “We wondered why. That’s when we
found out about that stupid TV movie,” he said to Muffleby again.
Starsky blinked, not sure if it was safe to grin yet.
“What? Hutch saw a ghost when he was a kid, and that’s why he went all Grinchy last year?”
“Yeah,” Hutch said, his voice barely above a whisper; his gaze seemed to have turned inwards. He frowned more
“I did see a ghost.” He looked at Keek and then Starsky. “It was scary.”
He said it in such an innocent voice that Starsky didn’t have the heart to laugh, but he couldn’t help smiling
at his friend. “I bet it was, Blintz.”
“Yeah, that wasn’t exactly planned,” Muffleby explained, embarrassed. “Futy is not meant to be seen
by kids, you see; so we made you forget.” He pointed at Hutch. “Only, we had a problem when it came to your subconscious-unconscious-conscious…”
He looked at Keek.
“Psyche,” Keek helped out.
“Thank you. Psyche. You humans are weird that way. So we couldn’t predict that some stupid TV movie would bring
back your memories of Futy and turn Christmas into something… well, scary for you. So the Everything sent us to Christmasize
you and make it okay again.”
By now, Starsky’s smile was an open grin. “You’re scared of Christmas?” he asked Hutch teasingly.
“So, I didn’t have to tell him all that stuff about his future then?” Keek suddenly asked. “Oh, dear.”
“Yeah, speaking of that –” Starsky began, but was cut off by Muffleby, again.
“No, Keek-diot, you didn’t have to. Now, we’ll have to try and make them forget us when we’re done
here. And you know how good we are at that,” he added sarcastically – something that was obviously insider knowledge,
Keek’s wings slumped in response. “Yeah,” he muttered with a hint of embarrassment to his voice.
“Anyway,” Muffleby said, “first things first.” With an opening gesture of his hand, he sent a glittering
cloud right into Hutch’s face.
“What’s that?” Starsky asked, watching his friend squeeze his eyes shut and sneeze again.
“Christmas dust,” Muffleby explained. “Dusting him is all the feather-brain here had to do, really.”
“It was an honest mistake,” Keek defended himself.
“Mistake all right,” Muffleby agreed dryly.
“Could he be allergic to that stuff?” Starsky asked. “I’m not sure you know, but he’s pretty
much allergic to everything.”
“No human’s allergic to Christmas dust,” Muffleby chided, but watched Hutch a bit closer all the same.
“Hmm. So, what about me?” Starsky asked and smiled. “Don’t I get to be dusted?”
Muffleby shrugged. “I don’t see why not –” But as he lifted his hand, Keek hurried to grab his arm.
“Muff, wait! That’s Davey Starsky. You know, the Starsky kid? From New York?” he specified when Muffleby
still looked lost. “Who ran away that one Christmas?”
Muffleby apparently didn’t see the problem. “Huh?”
“The chocolate elf,” Keek said through clenched teeth.
“Ah.” Instantly, Muffleby lowered his hand. Actually, he hid both hands behind his back and took a step away from
Confused, Starsky looked from one elf to the other and back again. “What? What about me? What’s a chocolate elf?”
“Uhm, well, you were,” Keek answered hesitantly, “once.”
Scowling at him, Muffleby flapped the end of one wing against Keek’s head; then he sighed resignedly and threw his hands
into the air. “It doesn’t matter now, anyway, does it? Chocolate elves are children who run away from home on
Christmas and... die. Usually they, uh, freeze to death. Then, the Everything turns them into chocolate elves. Only you were
At Starsky’s dread-filled expression, Muffleby smiled apologetically. “See, the Everything had plans for you.
Something to do with him,” he pointed his thumb at Hutch, “and something about one of your sons,” he added
in a hurried tone, not wanting to dwell on the topic. “So they changed you back.” A reassuring smile ended the
“I… was an elf?” Starsky asked dumbfounded.
Keek nodded. “You should be proud. No other chocolate elf has ever been changed back. They had to go through a lot of
channels to do this time thing back then, too. It was quite a big deal, really.”
Not fully listening, Starsky turned a widening grin to Hutch. “I was an elf once,” he told him.
Hutch’s eyes wandered upward as if following a thought. He turned back to his partner. “Actually, from what it
sounds like to me, you were a dead kid once.”
Frowning, Muffleby threw a second handful of glittering dust at Hutch, sending him sneezing again.
“You know,” Starsky said to the elves, grin fading. “He’s right. How come I end up dead in all of
“Maybe this Everything doesn’t like us?” Hutch suggested and sneezed one last time.
Muffleby and Keek looked at each other; then they burst out laughing.
“You kidding?” Keek asked through a high-pitched chuckle.
“That’s funny.” Muffleby wiped a tear from one eye.
“Yeah, funny,” Keek agreed and took the yellowish list out of Muffleby’s hands. “Okay, where do we
go next?” Even as his mouth formed the last word, his face fell. “Aw, no, not him.” Almost pleadingly, he
looked up at Muffleby. “Have you seen any of his movies? He’s mean. Why do we want him to like Christmas? He doesn’t
even like puppies!”
Muffleby rolled his eyes and took the list back. “How many times do I have to tell you not to believe everything you
see on the telly, Keek,” he chided. “Actors pretend.”
Shaking his head, he cast Starsky and Hutch a glance as if looking for support. Then, he bent his head to get a better look
into Hutch’s eyes.
“Well, let me see your soul, kid,” he said in the tone a doctor would use when checking a patient’s throat.
“Looks all right,” he diagnosed and gave Hutch a paternal pat on a still-damp shoulder before lifting a warning
finger. “You watch out who you compare us to from now on, you hear? Good. Keek, you ready?”
“Humpf,” grumbled Keek, but raised his wings in a stretching gesture. “I don’t wanna go talk to that
guy. Why is it that they never come up with a good backup plan for these ghost situations? It’s not like they never
went on strike before.” To the detectives he explained: “They do that all the time. We think it’s all that
hanging around with the un-Christmassy.”
“You know very well they feel they have a reason for this,” Muffleby reminded him sternly. “Stop whining.
Okay, now,” he smiled as he turned to the humans. “Merry Christmas to you two. It was nice seeing you. Again,”
he added at Starsky. “Take care.”
“Wait,” Starsky called out, thinking they’d just vanish into thin air. “What’s gonna happen
The Christmas particles elves exchanged an uncertain glance.
“Uhm,” Muffleby said hesitantly, “worst-case scenario? Nothing. Usually you’ll forget we’ve
been here at all, and if we can charm one of the book elves into doing us a favor, maybe we can come up with an explanation
for why he...” He waved at Hutch “Why he is all wet.” He shrugged his wings and grinned, but not very reassuringly.
“Let’s just wait and see. Bye.”
“But – does that mean I’ll forget I was an elf once?”
“I don’t think you ever did forget,” Muffleby, Keek and Hutch answered in unison.
S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H S&H
“So how’s the ghost kid?” Keek asked two days later, when Muffleby entered their little house on the beach,
closing the door on the giggling chocolate elves watching the sunset outside.
“Still sick,” Muffleby told him, as he sank heavily onto
the couch next to Keek and accepted a steaming mug of hot chocolate spiced with glittering Christmas dust. “Thanks.”
He took a sip. “What’re you watching?” he asked, nodding at the TV.
“Something about secret agents. Pretty good actually. Hey, Muff – d’you ever wonder why they don’t
have those cool sliding doors everywhere?”
“Hmm.” For a few more seconds Keek followed the action on the screen. Then, he glanced at Muffleby again. “So,
he’s still sick, huh?”
“That’s a hell of a cold.”
“You think it’s my fault, don’t you?”
Innocently raising his brows at the screen, Muffleby lifted his mug. “Do I?”
“He wanted me to make it snow! He practically threatened me. Anyway,” added Keek grumpily, slouching down on the
couch a bit more and bringing his wings up around his shoulders, “how am I supposed to know his immune system’s
that bad? It was just a teeny bit of snow. Any Londoner would’ve shrugged it off and walked away.”
“Apparently, Californians don’t,” Muffleby said. “Not in their offices, that is. When they’re
wearing T-shirts. You know we’re going to hear from the Nickelbuh about this, don’t you? I mean, yes, we Christmasized
the man. But then we went and made him sick!”
Startled, Keek looked up. “But he did get Davey a present, didn’t he? I thought you said –”
“Yes, he did,” Muffleby cut him off sternly. “And not just one. But he almost broke down in the store! You
really should be ashamed of yourself.”
“He irked me!” Keek defended himself.
“He’s a human,” Muffleby countered and then shook his head.
“Well,” he offered more softly, raising his steaming chocolate to his nose, “at least your idea with the
fall into the ocean worked. They all believed that.”
“Told you,” Keek pouted. “And, anyway, this way they got Christmas off.”
Muffleby shot him a frown.
“And we still managed that actor all right, didn’t we?”
“Don’t get me started,” Muffleby half-sighed, half-grumbled and slid down on the couch, lifting his feet
to rest them on the coffee table.
“You know something, Keek?” he asked after a moment’s pause, not taking his eyes off the TV screen. “Those
doors are cool.”
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