By Michael Lagace, written for young people on Jan 20, 2008.

My sister once told me what that ticking sound in the clock was. I thought it was something like a hammer moving back and forth to keep track of seconds, but I was wrong. It was dwarf-elves – tiny little people, the size of a ladybug, with little green hats and big black moustaches. I didn’t believe her, so I investigated, using the Junior Spy kit I’d gotten from Santa Claus. I took the magnifying glass and I took the notepad and I nearly took the fingerprinting kit, until I remembered how small their fingerprints would be.

I watched that big wooden clock all Saturday morning, then all Saturday afternoon, then part of Saturday evening when mom asked me what I was doing.

“I’m looking for the dwarf-elves,” I said.

“Dwarf-elves?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Yes,” I said, “dwarf-elves. Helly told me there were dwarf-elves in the clock.”

“Michael,” she said, “there are no dwarf-elves in the clock.”

I was sad. I wanted to see their tiny little big black moustaches.

“Not any more, anyway,” she said, “The dwarf-elves moved to the egg-timer.”

My sister lied to me! I should have known! So I took my magnifying glass and I took my notepad and I went to the kitchen to find the egg-timer. It was not where it usually was – the back of the stove, right between the salt and pepper. I asked mom where the egg-timer was, but she hadn’t seen it. Thinking that anyone who might have taken the egg-timer would be, if nothing else, timing, I listened for a trail of tics and tocs that I could follow. I listened carefully… very, very carefully…

Tic.

Toc.

I crept towards the sound, trying not to let the floor squeak beneath my steps.

Tic.

Toc.

I was nearly in dad’s study.

Tic.

I peeked inside the doorway. He was sitting at his desk.

Toc.

He stared at the egg-timer, the one with the dwarf-elves.

“Dad?” I asked, only as a warning that I was about to interrupt him no matter what. “Are you done with the egg-timer?”

“Shh!”

Clearly no. I crept closer. He’d look at the egg-timer, then at his watch, then at an hourglass spilling its sand into the bottom, then back at his watch. I asked him again if he was done with the egg-timer, and this time I didn’t get shushed.

“Oh Michael, you made me lose count! One of these faulty old things is off and I’m going to find out which!”

“Dad, I just need the egg-timer for a second. I want to see the dwarf-elves inside.”

“Dwarf-elves?” he asked.

I nodded.

Dwarf-elves?” he asked again.

I nodded again.

“Why would you think that there are dwarf-elves in the egg-timer?” He shook his head and chuckled. “No, the dwarf-elves are in the VCR.”

“Really?” I asked. He nodded. “But the VCR doesn’t make a tic toc sound. Isn’t that what the dwarf-elves do?”

“Yes, of course,” dad answered, tapping the last bit of sand into the bottom of the hourglass, “but a VCR has to stay clean, so they take off their shoes. They’re very quiet in socks.”

It seemed to make sense, so I left dad’s study so he could compare the egg-timer and the watch and the hourglass, and I went to the television room. The dots on the VCR flashed and the numbers slowly changed. I kneeled in front of it and I listened carefully… very, very carefully…

And I heard a noise.

A sneeze.

I poked the little cassette door open and looked inside. There were spindles and reels and levers and everything else you’d see inside a VCR, but there were no dwarf-elves. I shook my head.

Of course there were no dwarf-elves! It was all a prank! There were no dwarf-elves anywhere, let alone in the clock, or the egg-timer, or the VCR! I was so embarrassed that when I closed that cassette door, I never again believed in dwarf-elves, not even when I heard a mouse-like voice from somewhere inside – by a spindle or a reel or a lever – whisper ‘Is he gone?’ followed by a distinct shush.