Isabelle leaned back into the couch as she stretched her legs out. The Christmas season was always hellacious and this year seemed to be worse than most. She hadn't had a moment to herself and had spent her entire shift running from department to department, doing work that other people should have been doing.
"Just another few hours," she mumbled to herself, mentally counting down the days until her Christmas break. Even though her vacation wasn't long enough, the post-Christmas period was always less annoying than the month of December.
However, before Isabelle could fully relax, the door to the staff room swung open, and Karen walked in. Isabelle let out a sigh, Karen or Ms. Phillips as she demanded to be called, was Isabelle's boss. And when the boss was walking around, it could only mean one thing. Someone was about to get yelled at.
Isabelle straightened herself out and mentally prepared for a lecture about something. She wasn't sure what, but she wouldn't be surprised if a customer had complained about something. They always did.
"Ah, Isabelle," smiled Karen. Her smile was fake, and it was clear that she was about to ask for something. "On your break?"
"Yeah," replied Isabelle.
"Well, I was wondering if I could ask you a small favor," grinned Karen, her smile somehow growing wider and even more fake.
"Depends," started Isabelle, but Karen immediately cut her off.
"Excellent. We need an elf!" Nodded Karen.
"An elf?" Blinked Isabelle.
"For Santa's grotto. One local actress was going to do it, but she got indicted for securities fraud. Can you believe it? So you can take over." Nodded Karen. "It's only until the store closes."
"But I get off at four. The store is open until eight!" Replied Isabelle. "That is an extra four hours!"
"But you can do it! It is Christmas!" Said Karen. "Being an elf isn't work! It's fun!"
"If it is fun, why isn't anyone volunteering to do it?" Mumbled Isabelle sarcastically, trying to stop herself from snapping at her boss and getting herself fired.
"And it will make the kids happy. Don't you want to make the kids happy?" Asked Isabelle in the most insincere tone ever uttered by a human.
"Not really." Shrugged Isabelle. "I'm not good with kids."
"Oh, come on! It will be fun! Where is your holiday cheer? I'm sure the outfit will fit you!"
"No way. Not wearing that outfit," sighed Isabelle as she internally cringed. She had seen the outfit the women working at Santa's grotto had to wear. It was a sparkly, gaudy and overly-feminized affair. It consisted of a glittery green blouse and a short skirt. Each elf also wore a pair of dumb black and white stockings. Isabelle would never be seen in such an outfit. The shame would be too much to handle.
"Oh, come on!" Chuckled Karen. "The elves always wear the outfit. Just for today."
"No! I'm not paid to be an elf!" Huffed Isabelle. "I'm going to finish my shift and go home. Sorry I can't help."
"No." Replied Karen firmly. "You're going to be an elf. You're the only person free."
"Excuse me?" Growled Isabelle.
"You're going to be an elf. Now stop arguing! I've got the costume outside." Said Karen firmly.
"You can't make me. You can't boss me around like this!" Shouted Isabelle. "My job description does not say elf!"
"Well, you're going to be an elf."
"I will quit. Don't push me!" Yelled Isabelle, finally losing her temper. "I'm not going to be an elf. No way!"
"Just be a team player," smiled Karen, putting on the fake empathetic tone she always used when trying to manipulate people. "You wouldn't want to let everyone down, would you?"
"It isn't letting people down. No one cares about the damn elves." Growled Isabelle. She wasn't going to let Karen grind her down. This is what she always did. She kept pushing until you crumbled and gave in. "I'll be going home at the end of my normal shift."
"Why must you be so awkward? It is very disappointing." Sighed Karen as she reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. "Look, I prepared a presentation for you."
"No." Replied Isabelle firmly. "I'm setting a boundary. No. I'm not going to be an elf. It is humiliating!"
"Just watch the presentation," smiled Karen as she took a few steps forward.
"Please respect my decision!" Shouted Isabelle, her resolve already wavering. Karen was slightly taller than her, and her suit made her look very imposing. In fact, her corporate demeanor made her quite intimidating. It was impossible to tell if she was telling the truth or just telling lies.
"Just watch the presentation." Smiled Karen as she continued to move closer.
"No! No! I won't! I'm not going to do it!" Argued Isabelle as she started to tremble. She wasn't sure what to do. Karen was between her and the door, so she couldn't just leave, and she didn't want to quit. She needed this job.
"Just watch the presentation." Smirked Karen. "Then you'll understand why being an elf is an important position. It is effectively a promotion."
"Doesn't matter. I don't want to do it." Replied Isabelle.
"Watch the presentation," repeated Karen.
"No!" Shouted Isabelle as she hit her limit. She stomped forward, trying to leave the room. She didn't care if this got her fired. She couldn't handle Karen overstepping her boundaries like this.
However, when Isabelle got close to Karen, Karen grabbed her by the hair. "Watch the presentation," said Karen firmly as Isabelle let out a wail. She tried to struggle. However, her struggling just made her head hurt more.
Karen pulled Isabelle close and held up her phone. She angled it so that it was right in front of Isabelle's eyes. Isabelle tried to break free of Karen's grip, but it was futile. The other woman was much stronger than she was.
"Let me go! Let me go!" Screamed Isabelle as she tried to scratch and claw at Karen.
"Watch the presentation," growled Karen as she pressed her phone's screen and forcibly twisted Isabelle's head to make sure she was looking. A video started to play on the phone. It was a very crude animation of several elves dancing in front of a festive house as snow fell. It looked like it had been animated by a single person in under an hour.
A cheery tune started to play as the elves began to sing about how fun it was to be an elf. The backing track was some piece of stock music that Isabelle had heard in countless online videos and adverts. The lyrics sounded like they had been recorded on potato in a bathroom, and they were utterly asinine.
However, a few seconds into the video, the song suddenly got louder as the screen started to flash. "It's good to be an elf, it's good to be an elf!" Chanted the animated elves as the bright flashes burned Isabelle's eyes. Isabelle tried to escape Karen's grip, but she couldn't. Whenever she moved her head. Karen would yank her hair and return her gaze to the flashing screen.
"Stop," groaned Isabelle as her lower half started to spasm and twitch. It felt like the flashing was actually pushing into her brain. Like the flashes were overloading her neurons. She couldn't hear anything but the annoying and repetitive song. And all she could see was the clumsy flickering animation.
Isabelle squirmed and struggled. With a sharp twist of her neck, she was able to escape from Karen's grip, ripping out some of her hair in the process. Isabelle tried to move towards the door, but she didn't get more than a few steps before Karen grabbed her hair again.
The sharp pain made the world spin even more than it already was. Isabelle could feel her legs giving way as she tried to stumble towards the door. However, Karen dragged her towards the couch and threw her onto it. Karen then straddled Isabelle's limp body. Through her blurred vision, Isabelle could see Karen looming over her. Despite the struggle, Karen's hair and suit were still perfect. It was like this whole thing had been effortless for her. Isabelle wanted to struggle, but her blurred vision and the weight of Karen's body made it nearly impossible for her to wiggle, let alone escape.
"Now, are you going to behave?" Asked Karen, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Just watch the pretty video," she said as she pressed her phone into Isabelle's face, totally covering her eyes with it. The song started to play again as the flickering animation continued. The two elves continued to dance as Isabelle's eyes began to burn.
"Good to be an elf! It's good to be an elf! We dance and sing! Work so hard and have such fun!" Sang the badly-animated elves as the flashing grew brighter and more intense. Isabelle tried to look away, but she couldn't pull her eyes away from the screen. It was like her brain was overloading.
"Stop struggling!" Purred Karen as she yanked Isabelle's hair and pushed the phone harder against the girl's face. The taste of blood filled Isabelle's mouth as her muscles started to tremble and spasm. It was like electricity was cascading over her body, making her muscles act without her input. But it didn't matter. Whenever Isabelle started to think, the song got louder, drowning out her inner-monologue. All she could hear was that stupid song as it looped over and over again.
"You're an elf! You're an elf! You don't have a sense of self!" Sung the elves as Isabelle's eyes rolled up into her head. She couldn't escape the noise. It felt like the video was sucking her in. Like her reality was being consumed by the terrible animation.
Isabelle wanted to squirm. To moan. To do something to try and escape. To try and beg Karen to let her go. But she couldn't. The small part of her that still existed was unable to function due to the bright flashing. All she could do was foam at the mouth and let out soft groans.
"Have a spasm, have a seizure!" Cheered the elves as the flashing somehow got brighter. "Working is your only leisure!" They added as the sound bounced around Isabelle's throbbing brain. Isabelle felt her body spasm and twitch in time with the song. She was so out of control of herself. All she could do was watch the video as it assaulted her mind. She knew it was doing something horrible to her, but she couldn't look away, and she couldn't fight it.
"The old you was brave, but now you're just a festive slave! The old you was such a jerk, but now you're an elf, and you just work!" Continued the elves, their singing growing more atonal and their animation becoming more choppy by the second. Isabelle's eyes stung. It felt like they were on fire. She could feel her chest becoming wet from the sheer amount of drool that was pouring out of her mouth.
Isabelle could feel Karen's body pressing into hers. She felt so weak and helpless. The last little bit of her was giving in. It was terrifying, but she knew she couldn't fight it. She could feel herself being crushed under the lights. She could feel the song pushing into every inch of her mind.
"Now don't you smile and don't you smirk," said the elves, their voices now horribly distorted. "It's time to be an elf and work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work!" They said as the flashing became painfully bright, and Isabelle felt herself slipping into unconsciousness.
Isabelle felt like she was trapped in a dream. She was floating outside of her body, watching what was happening to it without being able to intervene. Isabelle watched as Karen pushed her limp body around. Gently taking her out of her clothes and putting her in the elf uniform. Turning her into the elf she was supposed to be. In fact, the more Isabelle observed her former body, the more she realized that it suited being an elf. Being an elf was right. She was born to be an elf. She didn't even mind when Karen used lipstick to draw two big circles on her cheeks. It was elf blush. And Isabelle was an elf.
Before Elfabelle knew it, she was stumbling towards Santa's grotto. She went up to one of the other elves. Elfabelle could see that this girl had crossed eyes and a glazed expression, but that was what an elf should have. The song had told her so.
"I'm Elfabelle. I'm here to work work, work!" Smiled Elfabelle.
"Yay!" Grinned the other elf. "I'm Elfily! I love to work, work work!" She added as she did a drunken little jig. "We need people to work the line!"
"Work the line!" Nodded Elfabelle as the word "work" echoed over and over in her brain. She skipped off towards the line, happily dancing for the waiting customers. She didn't know shame. All she knew was how to be a good elf. And good elves loved to work.
"Excellent," chuckled Karen as she talked into her phone. "It is working just as intended." She continued as she watched Isabelle kick her stocking-clad legs in a clumsy attempt at the can-can. "Oh, don't worry, I have new contracts for them all to sign once the day ends. I'm sure our little elves will willingly accept a nice Christmas pay cut."
"I love Christmas! It makes me jingle jangle!" Giggled Isabelle as the customers laughed at her. Her voice was at least an octave higher than usual, and her drunken movements made her look comically clumsy.
"How cute." Smirked Karen as she hung up the call. "You're going to be jingle jangling for me all year." She laughed as she put her phone into her pocket and walked away from Santa's grotto, quickly making her way into another department. As she entered the perfume department, Karen waved to someone on the other side of the room. "Linda, can I ask a tiny favor?" She shouted.