Harper's head throbbed and her ears filled with a loud ringing. She let out a groan as she forced her eyes open and took a deep breath. Her tongue felt numb and her jaw ached, like she had been hit by a truck. As her eyes came into focus, she realized she was in a strange wood-paneled room.
It took her brain a few moments to catch up and realize that she had no idea where she was. Suddenly she remembered what had happened to her. Her body tried reflexively to jump up, but she immediately realized that she was tied to whatever chair she was in.
"What's going on?" she managed to groan, her eyes darting about furiously. However, the more Harper looked, the more confused she became. It looked like she was in some strange cottage. She was tied in front of an oak dinner table, and at the other side of the room was a crackling fireplace covered in tinsel.
"She's awake," said a voice from the far side of the room. Harper turned and noticed that two elves were standing at the side of the room, lurking in the shadows. Both were carrying rifles, but unlike the cold metal of the ones at the mall, both of these guns were painted bright shades of red and green and they had baubles hanging off the stock.
"About time," mumbled the other elf.
"Where the fuck am I?" whined Harper as she tried to free her arms.
"You're," started the one elf, only for the second to raise her hand.
"Don't. We don't want to get in trouble again," she said before turning to Harper. "Stay quiet."
'I will not stay fucking quiet!" shouted Harper as she looked down and realized that she was both tied and strapped into an ornately carved wooden chair.
"Great, now you've got her started." mumbled the one elf as the other shrugged. "I don't want to be on guard duty forever, you know."
"It will be fine," replied the other elf. "Not like she's going anywhere."
Harper continued to struggle in the chair, desperate to undo the bonds, but she quickly realized that the elf was right. Whoever bound her had done an amazing job. She could hardly wiggle, let alone break free.
After what felt like an eternity, a door at the side of the room swung open and a head poked through. It took Harper's brain a few seconds to process what she was seeing. The first thing she noticed was the woman’s beauty; she had curly red hair and deep green eyes and the look of a supermodel. But the other thing was that this woman was ducking down. And, as the woman came through the door, Harper realized that was at least seven feet tall, likely more. She easily dwarfed the elves.
"Miss Stripytights!" gasped the one elf as she quickly saluted the woman, the elf other copying the action.
"Oh please," chuckled the woman, "Call me Jingle, no need to be formal." The elves nodded and dropped the salute as Jingle adjusted her clothes, the bells on her shoes softly ringing as she moved.
"The prisoner woke up a few minutes ago," reported the other elf as they motioned to Harper. Harper was utterly frozen with shock, unable to believe what she was seeing. Not only was the woman beautiful and imposing, but her height had made Harper realize that everything in this room was elf-sized, it was like being trapped in a dollhouse.
"Wonderful," noted Jingle, "Makes it easier for me then."
"How did you even get her here so quickly?" asked one of the elves.
"We were able to use some supersonic transport," answered Jingle.
"But, wouldn’t people notice?" gasped the elf.
"Oh don't worry," Jingle chuckled, "A few words in the right ears and the bloc takes the blame."
"Hey!" shouted Harper. "Let me out!"
Jingle looked at Harper for a few moments, sizing her up like a predator judging its prey. She then looked down at the two elves. "Go get yourself some hot chocolate. I'll take it from here."
"Are you sure?" asked one elf.
"I'm sure," replieded Jingle, "I've never had a prisoner escape me yet. We have panic alarms and I'm carrying peppermint spray. It will be a-okay."
"Yes Jingle," said the elves in unison as they holstered their weapons and walked out of the room. Once they were gone, Jingle shut the door and slowly made her way over to Harper. She looked the girl up and down before climbing up onto the table.
"So," she smiled as she looked down at Harper, "This is the Code Tinsel I've been hearing so much about."
"What the fuck going on?" moaned Harper, her head throbbing. "Where am I?"
"You're in a secure facility," replied Jingle, "Where you will remain until changes are made."
"Changes?" stuttered Harper, "I don't know what's going on! One minute I was in the mall, the next I was here."
"Well," Jingle grinned, a sinister glint twinkling in her eye. "If you promise to work with me, I'll fill you in."
"Work with you?" mumbled Harper.
"Exactly," Jingle laughed, kicking her legs as she did, causing a soft ringing to fill the air. "We can do this good elf or bad elf. And I would prefer to be a good elf."
"I mean," replied Harper. "I guess good elf?"
"Good girl," smirked Jingle as she continued to kick her tight-clad legs. "If you help me, I can help you."
"I just don't know," started Harper, only to get cut off by Jingle.
"It's okay. Just work with me and everything will be a-okay." She smiled as she reached into her pocket and pulled out two candy canes before offering one to Harper.
Hesitantly, Harper as she took the candy. She didn't trust this woman, but she was too confused to do anything but politely comply and open her mouth. Jingle slipped the candy cane into her mouth and Harper bit down on it. But as she did a dark, almost moss-like taste filled her mouth. Harper reflexively spat the candy cane out, causing it to hit the table with a thud. "God, what the hell is that?!" she shouted as the putrid taste filled her mouth.
"You're not meant to bite it!" laughed Jingle. "Gosh, you really are silly."
"What was that?" Harper continued to gag. She watched Jingle put a cane in her mouth before lighting it with a lighter.
"You smoke them," sighed Jingly. "Really, you Naughty Listers are something," she continued as she sucked in before pulling the cane from her lips and blowing out a small cloud of smoke.
"That was disgusting," groaned Harper as Jingle continued to puff on the candy cane. "I want to help you," she said, doing her best to block out the taste in her mouth. "I just don't know what's going on."
"What is the last thing you remember?" asked Jingle as she took another puff of her candy cane.
"I talked to a mall Santa and then a load of elves pulled guns on me," Harper recalled as she recalled the scene at the mall.
Jingle smirked. "Yes. And do you know why that happened?"
"I don't know," mumbled Harper as she looked down at the table, her head spinning with confusion and anxiety.
"You told the esteemed Ms. Claus #54 that you had been a Naughty Girl this year," chuckled Jingle as she used a finger to gently lift Harper's chin, forcing her to look Jingle in the eyes.
"Oh, right," Harper nodded as she remembered the events. "But, I was joking. I didn't know everyone had guns."
"Oh, it's always a joke. That's how it starts," said Jingle, her tone slowly growing more serious. "They say they're naughty, think they're being cute. But really, the true rotten heart of naughtiness beats in their chest, spreading corruption through them and into their community."
"What are you talking about?" whimpered Harper, not daring to move her chin from Jingle's grip.
"Well. Darling," whispered Jingle, "We have a problem. In fact, the world has a problem. Naughtiness is on the increase. Every year, The Naughty List gets longer and longer. It used to be a single page in the ledger, but now it's in its own ledger."
"Uh, right," muttered Harper.
"And, the big red man isn't happy about it. Not a single bit…" Jingle looked down, a heavy air looming over her words, only for Harper to start laughing uproariously. The sheer strangeness of the situation washed over her and the awkwardness was too much for her to take.
"What's so funny?" Asked Jingle.
"Red guy? Santa?" asked Harper between laughs.
"You expect me to believe you work for Santa Claus. Not just that, you expect me to believe that Santa is real. Fucking really?" continued Harper, coughing slightly due to laughing too hard.
"Well, where do you think your presents come from?" huffed Jingle.
"If I don't buy presents, none turn up," chuckled Harper. "They don't just appear on the floor Christmas morning."
Jingle's eyes went wide as a look of shame washed across her face. Her grip loosened as she looked down, her legs hanging off the table limply. Harper pulled away from Jingle's hand, slightly confused by the girl's extreme reaction to what she thought was a simple fact.
Jingle continued to look at her feet for a few moments, silence thick in the air. Harper was unsure if she should do something or even if she could call for help. However, before she could overcome her mental paralysis, Jingle spoke up.
"I'm so sorry." she said softly. "We failed you."
"Failed me?" replied Harper.
"If you were not getting presents, that means you were placed on The Naughty List years ago. That means we should have acted," said Jingle with a bitter tinge in her voice.
"Acted?" Harper blinked, her confusion once against bouncing around inside her brain. "What do you mean?"
"Everyone on The Nice List gets presents. The big red man has never missed a single one. But Naughty Listers never get one. If you didn't get presents, then you're on The Naughty List," explained Jingle as she looked Harper in the eye.
"So," replied Harper. "How does that link to this? The whole, you know, kidnapping me at gunpoint thing?"
"Because we're trying to save poor people like you," Jingle said through a gentle smile, her excited body language returning as she rubbed Harper's cheek. "Seeing how big The Naughty List had gotten, the man in red asked for suggestions. So, I came up with a program. A system that purges the naughtiness from someone and turns them Good. A program I call SC Ultra."
Harper whimpered. "Purge the naughtiness? What are you planning on doing to me?"
"Don't worry. SC Ultra is a simple process. It is fun!" offered Jingle, her smile growing wider as she did. Harper squirmed in her seat, her confusion turning to dread. This all felt unreal still, but at the same time, it felt like she was in danger.
"It doesn't sound fun," mumbled Harper.
"Well, that's not your choice to make," replied Jingle firmly. "How can a Naughty Lister understand the joys of being a Good Girl?"
"I don't," stated Harper, only for Jingle to cut her off.
"You do!" she giggled, "Now, if you promise to be good, I'll untie you and we can get you moving. Sounds good?"
"I don't want to go," protested Harper, only for Jingle to reach to kick her legs up and spin around on her butt.
"Well," began Jingle, "That can be changed." She wiggled her shoe back and forth on the table. Harper hadn't noticed it before, but Jingle's little leather boots had small golden bells on the toes.
"You're not going to," said Harper, only for Jingle to cut her off by wiggling her foot, causing the bell to jingle.
"As I said," Jingle continued softly, "You're going to go and become a Good Girl." She started to rock her boot back and forth on the table, causing it to jingle with every little movement.
"I'm not going to," huffed Harper as she watched the foot on the table, unsure if Jingle was going to attempt to kick her or if this was another of her weird outbursts.
"Yes you are," giggled Jingle as the bell on her shoe continued to jingle. "I'm an expert, and elf experts are always better than Naughty Listers." She rocked her foot again, causing light to reflect off the bell.
"But," mumbled Harper, as her eyes reflexively blinked to block out the light. "I don't think,"
"You shouldn't think," Jingle cut her off as her bell let out another ring, the light once again hitting Harper in the eyes. "Not thinking is a Good Girl trait."
Jingle continued to move her boot in a steady rhythm. Each time she did, the light caught the bell, causing it to glint into Harper's eyes as the soft ringing of the bell filled the room, interrupting Harper's thoughts.
"Just look at the bell," cooed Jingle as Harper realized that, despite the light hurting her eyes, she was still following the foot back and forth. "Just let it ring, no point trying to talk. It's just going to interrupt you anyway, so why not stay quiet and look?"
Harper nodded without thinking. Jingle's statement made sense. It didn't matter what she said; Jingle would interrupt her with her silly ringing bell. It was pointless to try and argue.
"Yes, look," Jingle whispered. "Watch the bell as it sways. Shiny, pretty, happy bell." Her voice became more sing-song as she spoke. "And, shiny bells have a special effect on people like you. All the light in their eyes and the happy jingling makes them feel super, super sleepy. Makes their little eyes flutter and roll with every little ring."
Harper felt her head droop a little, like someone had tied weights to her neck. Every few moments her head would twitch as her subconscious remembered that it needed to keep her head up so she could look at the bell. Something about the bell was utterly mesmerizing and, despite the weird situation, Harper couldn't help but stare at it.
"That's it, watch the shiny bell," teased Jingle. "Jingle's bells, Jingle's bells, Make your eyes go droop," She sang as she continued to sway her foot. And as the word's left Jingle's mouth, Harper felt her eyelids drop. She felt so warm and fuzzy. Something about the bell was oddly soothing.
"I," gurgled Harper, only for the bell to once again ring. Instantly, Harper's eyes fluttered as her head flopped forward, her thoughts grinding to a halt as warm fuzziness slowly encroached on her brain.
"That's it," Jingle cooed softly, "Just let it happen. Just let your eyes close. No point fighting." She smirked, watching Harper’s body and mind surrender to her routine. "Jingle's bells, Jingle's bells, put you in a trance. Oh what fun it is to," she started, only to stop and ponder for a few moments. Not that Harper noticed; her whole body had started to sway in a vain attempt at holding her head up. It was a losing battle. She could feel herself slipping into sleep. She could feel her brain and thoughts slowly sliding away from herself.
Harper tried to pull herself away but it was far too late. She couldn't hold herself back. She felt herself slowly giving in. The world was spinning again and a black void was filling her mind, eating away her thoughts before they could form.
"Obey!" chuckled Jingle as Harper let out a moan and slumped forward, her eyes slamming shut. "Nothing scans with obey," sighed Jingle as she rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Very hard to fit it into songs, unless you leave it as a hanging statement," she continued until she looked down and spotted the slumped-over Harper. "Oh, of course the Naughty Lister would go under mid-sentence. How rude," she grumbled before swinging her legs off the table.
As Harper floated in the void, Jingle adjusted her clothes and chuckled. Once she had made herself presentable, she picked up one of Harper's limp arms and wiggled it a little bit. Harper didn't react to the movement, her mind was too wrapped up in fuzziness to even make a noise.
"Okay," Jingle sighed as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small toy soldier and key out of her pocket. She placed the toy in front of Harper's head. Jingle then gently gripped Harper's chin and raised her head. "Open those eyes," she cooed.
Instantly Harper's eyes fluttered open, her eyes locking onto the toy. Her mind was a mess of fuzziness and static. She couldn't form her own thoughts anymore. All she could do was let Jingle guide her.
"Now look at this," giggled Jingle as she used her free hand to slip the key into the toy's back. "This is you. A happy little wind-up toy," explained Jingle. "And, when Jingle puts your key in," she said as she slowly twisted the key, causing the toy to walk across the table, "You walk for Jingle. You walk where Jingle tells you to go."
"Walk for Jingle," moaned Harper, a puddle of drool forming on the table as she watched the toy walk forward. While the old Harper would consider this whole thing ludicrous, right now, Jingle calling her a toy made perfect sense.
Suddenly, Harper felt cold metal poke into the back of her neck. She didn't need to think about what it was. It was her key. She was a wind-up toy, just like the little soldier on the desk. With every twist on the cold metal, Harper felt her limbs stiffen as strange energy filled her. Every twist made it more and more intense. Harper felt her stiff legs touch the floor as she rose from the chair, her arms going to her sides, perfectly recreating the pose of the toy soldier.
It was such a strange sensation. She could feel her feet moving, she could see herself going around the table and towards the door, but it didn't feel like her. Her whole body felt stiff and robotic like she could feel the little cogs moving inside her, driving her forward.
"See?" chuckled Jingle as she skipped ahead of Harper, "Isn't this better? If you just do as I say, we'll be good friends!" she continued as she opened the door and motioned to the outside.
Harper wanted to speak but her mouth wouldn't open. The only muscles that functioned were her legs, slowly and robotically moving her forward. Her arms were stiff by her side and everything else refused to move even an inch.
As she moved out into the corridor, Riley realized that she wasn't in a quaint cottage like she had believed. The wood-paneled corridor seems to stretch out for miles, with doors every few feet. Riley started to wonder if there were other people in those rooms but before she could generate a full thought Jingle skipped past her, the ringing of the woman's bells making her thoughts stop dead in their tracks.
"Come on, you can do it!" teased Jingle as she continued to skip down the hall, obviously looking for a specific door. But Harper didn't mind. It really didn't matter what she wanted; her body wasn't listening to her. All she could do was keep moving. All she could do was obey Jingle.
Eventually, Jingle reached a larger door that stood a little way down the corridor. She pulled open the wooden door only to reveal that there was a larger, metal door behind it. "About turn!" commanded Jingle as she pushed on the metal door, causing it to loudly creak open.