Just Trying to Help Out

“Thirty-one, you’re in my seat again,” Two said, folding his arms and scowling. “Get out and wait your turn.”

“It’s not your seat,” Thirty-one said. He leaned back and smiled. “It belongs to whoever is keeping the journal. You were late. I’m just here helping you out.”

Two growled and pointed at the door. “I’m here now. Just go. You need to stop trying to take someone else’s turn.”

Thirty-one sighed.   “Fine, fine. It’s not fair though. I get fewer turns than anyone else. Even thirty gets eleven turns a year. I just get seven.” He slowly got out of the chair. He paused.   “Are you sure you don’t want a break?”

“I get a break the rest of the month. You’re wasting my time,” Two said.

“Wouldn’t this work better if there were more of us watching? There are a lot of children in the world, after all. We could each take an area, andTwo frowned. “Is your elf magic insufficient to do the job? It shouldn’t be too hard for someone else to cover for you. It’s not like you work that many days, after all.”

Thirty-one held up his hands. “No, no, I don’t have any problems with doing the job. I just thought it might be nice to all work together sometimes.”

Two turned away.   “Fine then, just go away. You’re breaking my concentration.”

“Well, call me if you need help with anything,” Thirty-one said.

“Yeah, yeah.   Go find something else to do,” Two said.

Thirty-one trudged out of the room. He looked back once and sighed. Two was already busy writing in the journal. Oh well, he could try the toy room. Maybe they weren’t busy and would like some company.

The elves in the toy room looked up as he entered. “Oh, look guys,” one of the elves said. “It’s one of the calendar elves. Shouldn’t you be off somewhere meditating and preparing your mind for the one day a month you need to work?”

“It’s not like you work all year, either. You don’t know what the kids want until they send out their lists,” Thirty-one said.

“We can make some things in advance. There are classic toys, you know. Or maybe you don’t. You are a calendar elf after all,” the elf said. “Why don’t you move along and let the real elves work.”

Thirty-one made his most fearsome face at the elf, but he’d already turned away and started laughing with his friends. So, Thirty-one sighed and trudged away, feeling useless. Even the toy elves had more to do.

But wait! If they had work to do, maybe they’d need help. He was an elf. Surely making toys was instinct or something. He could get up early and make a bunch of toys, and when they came in to work, they’d all be impressed and grateful. They’d ask him to come in and help whenever he wasn’t busy, which was almost always.

It seemed like the perfect plan. Unfortunately, making toys wasn’t something that even elves could figure out by instinct. So, when the toy making elves arrived, they found him still trying to assemble his first tricycle, and it wasn’t going well.

“What are you doing?” one of the elves asked, folding his arms over his chest and glaring at Thirty-one. “Those aren’t the right tires, and you’re stripping all the screws. And that seat is for the bicycles. It’s much too big. In fact, the whole thing is wrong. Is this sabotage?”

“I just wanted to help,” Thirty-one said. “You said you were busy, and I wanted to help.”

“We don’t need your help. You’re just making a mess of things. Go away, calendar elf,” the elf said.

“But I could learn,” Thirty-one said. “I’d be happy to sit and watch while you showed me what to do. I’m a fast learner.”

“Are you trying to steal our jobs?” the elf said. “You have your own job. Go away.” And the other elves started yelling at him to go away, and so Thirty-one left.

He went home, because he had nothing else to do. He tried helping out elsewhere, but the stable elves and house elves insisted that they didn’t need any help either.

But surely, somewhere, someone needed help. Thirty-one thought of all the children he checked on during the year.   Lots of them needed help. He wasn’t really sure what he could do to help out all of those children, but surely he could find something.

And so, for three hundred and fifty-eight days of the year, the world’s smallest super hero started helping the children of the world from the shadows. And he was happy.

Sneaker Wars

Ella grew up at the sneaker factory. Her family had a house, but the company was her father’s pride and joy. Every day after school, Ella went straight to the factory. That’s where her Dad was, so there was no point in going home, not after her mother died anyways.

Together they looked over shoe designs and profit margins and performance reviews. Their company was going to be big someday. Really big. And then Dad would retire and Ella would be in charge. But Dad would never really retire, of course. He just wanted to sleep in late every once in a while.   He’d still be there to talk things over with Ella in the afternoons.

One day, Dad went away to a shoe convention in Las Vegas. He came home married to someone new. Ella’s stepmother had two girls around Ella’s age. Dad introduced them to Ella with his isn’t-this-great smile. It wasn’t great.

Her new stepmother wanted Ella to call her Mom, but she kept forgetting Ella’s name and called her Emily. Her new stepsisters were into fashion, shopping, getting their nails done and texting their friends. Ella tried talking to them about sneakers, but they just rolled their eyes.

In the afternoons, Ella hurried over to Dad’s office, but her stepmother was already there and sent her away to play. Dad never asked Ella’s advice anymore or showed her the new shoe designs. Ella hardly ever saw him at all. And then one day, just after Ella graduated from high school, he died.

“Emily,” her stepmother said. “With just a high school diploma and no other skills, I could hire you to do custodial work, but not really anything else.”

“But I know what Dad had planned for the factory,” Ella said. “I could help you.”

“I know enough to run a shoe factory,” her stepmother said. “Of course, I’m hoping that it’ll eventually be bought out by a bigger company. That would leave us all free to move on to bigger and better things.”

“Like what?” Ella asked. What could be better than the sneaker factory?

“Well, my girls want to be fashion designers.   They’re starting here with shoes, but a bigger company would be able to launch their careers. I’ve already begun talks with Crown Sneakers.”

Ella frowned. “They don’t have design experience.”

The stepmother frowned. “They know what’s popular with teenagers today. That’s what’s most important. Are you going to take the custodial job?”

“No thank you,” Ella said. And she started applying for scholarships.

She worked nights doing custodial work at the local college. But, with a few scholarships and a lot of hard work, she got through school with minimal student loans.   And then, she used crowdfunding to start her own sneaker company.

She knew what she was doing. Her education had begun at her father’s knee, and her design degree filled in the gaps. Her line of sneakers was the talk of social media.

Sadly, her father’s company hadn’t done as well.   Over the years, all the new lines of sneakers had bombed. Her stepmother had been caught embezzling funds, and was forced to resign. The company eventually declared bankruptcy.

The day that Ella got the news, she put down the phone with a sigh and started to go through her mail. She had a letter from Crown Sneakers asking if she’d consider a merger.   Instead, she took out a loan and bought her father’s shoe factory.

Ella started to follow her Dad’s plans for the factory. It took a few years, but after some of their designs were seen on runways and red carpets, the company finally started to grow again.

And then came the glass slipper. It was the nickname for their newest sneaker, because of its ice-blue color and shimmery fabric. They couldn’t keep up with the demand. Once again, Crown Sneakers came calling.

This time, the company president sent his son, Royce.   He was just a little older than Ella, and very charming. “Ella,” he said. “We’d still want you in charge of your factory. You’re doing a great job. We just want to help.”

“For a share of the profits,” Ella said.

“Of course,” he said. “But don’t you need to expand? We have factories that could start manufacturing glass slippers for you as early as next week.”

“I’d still be in charge?” Ella asked.

“Of course,” he said.

“I want to see it in writing, and then I’ll take it to my lawyer,” Ella said.

“Of course,” he said.

When the merger between her company and Crown Sneakers was announced, Ella got some angry letters from her stepmother and stepsisters. But there was nothing they could do about it. When she married Royce, they tried to crash the wedding. “I hate you, Emily,” her stepmother said as security dragged her away.   Ella lived happily ever after, and designed amazing sneakers for the rest of her life.

Too Many Godmothers

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom with more than its share of pretty, kind young ladies. All of them, of course, had troubles of one kind or another. It’s part of growing up, I suppose.

This was a magic kingdom, and so many of these young ladies had fairy godmothers. Each godmother only wanted the best for the young lady in her care. Unfortunately, even though this kingdom had lots of wonderful young ladies, it only had one prince.

And so, when the young prince held a ball and sent out invitations to all the young ladies and their families, the fairy godmothers all declared war. There were some that were working from a disadvantage, because their young ladies had obstacles preventing them from attending the ball. It only made their fairy godmothers more determined to get them there.

The fairy godmothers needed something to work their magic on, so each of the young ladies needed to start out with a basic dress.   Naturally, the dress shops in town had expected to sell out of all their fanciest dresses, the kind that are all beads and lace and embroidery and far too many layers.

Instead, they had a hard time keeping the simple dresses in stock. They worked late into the night stitching together cheap cotton dresses while the dresses they’d designed with care and love sat in the shop window day after day.

Meanwhile, the fairy godmothers pulled out their wands and the battles began. Small animals were sent from house to house to spy on the competition. Dress designs changed from one moment to the next, depending on the competition.

“The blue fairy is adding a sparkling overlay of snowflakes stitched in silver? Doesn’t she know that the snow queen look is so last year? Wait until she sees the beaded roses on your gown!”

And of course, there was the issue of transportation.   The girls couldn’t walk to the ball or take a taxi. Who did that? Coaches were made from vegetables and fruit and sticks and seashells and mailboxes, and bugs and mice and worms were transformed to drive them.

Eventually, each young lady was wearing a fantastic dress, standing next to her coach. It was time for the finishing touch. Each fairy godmother smiled. This was the easy part. They waved their wands and said the magic words. Each young lady was now wearing a pair of clear, glass slippers. “The magic lasts until the last stroke of midnight,” the godmothers warned.

And the young ladies went to the ball. Some were early, some on time, some late.   All were lovely. The prince danced with them all. He had no idea how he was supposed to pick a future wife after one dance.   Most of the young ladies he met seemed pretty and kind.

The young ladies were also having a wonderful evening, except that they were learning that glass slippers were uncomfortable and hard to dance in. They had to be tight enough to pinch a little, or they’d slide right off. They didn’t allow the toes to bend or the foot to shift easily from side to side. Worst dancing shoes ever.

And then, the clock struck midnight. At once, most of the girls jumped up and ran for the door. Alarmed, the prince followed them. What was going on?

The girls looked at the steep steps and every one of them pulled their slippery glass shoes off and left them at the top of the steps. Then, they jumped into their carriages and rode away.

The prince looked around at the pile of glass shoes, and then watched the carriages race away. He walked slowly back inside. The ladies left inside the room were a little less wonderful than the girls who had just left. However, the girls who had just left seemed to be a little strange.

“So, did you find a nice girl to marry?” the queen asked her son.

The prince sighed. “I don’t know. It was too hard to decide.”

“Maybe we should hold another ball. If you spend more time with them, maybe you’ll get to know them better and find one you like the best,” the queen said.

A week later, another invitation was sent out.   Round two. The dresses were fancier. The carriages were crazier. The shoes were still glass.

The queen stood next to the prince just after midnight and looked at the piles of glass shoes on the steps. “Maybe we should send you to visit your grandparents’ kingdom where I grew up. I think the girls in this kingdom are a little too strange. They’re pretty and nice, but strange.”

When the prince found his bride elsewhere, the fairy godmothers were outraged. Within a matter of two weeks, they’d all sent the young ladies in their care on quests.   The kingdom seemed a lot smaller when they left. There were a lot less glass slippers, too.

In the end, too many godmothers spoil the ball.