The Unseemly Tale of Dudley and the Fat Man (as published in New Times)

It had been three days since anyone last saw the Fat Man. He was holed up in his office, and the only things that escaped a small gap between the floor and doorway were the acrid stench of peppermint schnapps and mutterings of foul language. Tinkle, a meek little elf with a voice that sounded like an effeminate helium balloon, tried to approach the door. His toe bells jingling nervously, he pressed an ear against the dark oak frame, but a rumble inside sent him scurrying back to his work station. Most of us pretended not to see the damp spot on his tights.

The elation of our victory had long since vanished. We’d spent maybe a few hours singing and dancing, prancing about like a pack of drunken boisterous chipmunks—the air thick with high-pitched squeals of delight. But after the glee of it all had sputtered and died, and we’d nursed our hangovers, we began to realize that, really, nothing had changed. We’d cut off the snake’s head, but there we were, the body, wriggling and thrashing about in the dust. We happy brethren of elves had accomplished little more than to delay our work—and piss off our boss.

After all, it was November, and we still had a job to do. We were behind schedule, meaning some corners would have to be cut to make deadline. You can’t have an elf coup d’état without a few shoddily built toy trains. So the kids this year would have to take one on the chin in the name of the proletariat.

By that third day, the swell of pride we’d surfed on was nothing more than a ripple. The smiles faded and the clatter of mugs bouncing off each other in celebration gave way to the steady humming of tiny hands completing tiny tasks on an immense assembly line.

You really have to turn off your mind in this type of work. Busy thoughts might mean a finger lost to the jaws of a piece of machinery, or getting your sleeve caught in one of the gears. Snowflake lost the better part of her left arm that way.

At its finest, the factory becomes a pumping, writhing organ. Each elf knows his or her part, and they know it well. While the building itself is occupied, at any given time, by as many as 50,000 elves in departments ranging from engineering to packaging, the main assembly lines usually swell from between 500 to 750 handy-elves. We’re the grunts who keep this whole thing moving.

Working on the line is the epitome of controlled chaos. Thousands of tiny hands flutter effortlessly over the conveyor belts and if you stop for a moment to listen, you’d swear the room was dead empty aside from the buzz of heating ducts.

But with that door breathing and seething in the corner, it was hard to maintain your focus. I’ve been working this line for 150 years, through the worst of his tantrums. I’d seen that bulbous blowhard fling elves across the room like they were Nerf footballs. He’s cursed at us, beaten us, and even burnt us when he was drunk enough. But I’d never seen an act so violent or cruel as what he did to Dudley.

No one ever paid much attention to Dudley. Dudley was quiet and unassuming. Even by elf standards he was shrimpy, standing no more than two feet and barely able to reach the conveyer belts. He typically had to stand on top of an old wooden pallet.

It’s probably for these reasons that he was so taken aback when the Mrs. gave him that look as she clomped through the factory on one of her many trips between bed and the kitchen. She was a ghastly woman, almost as ugly as the Fat Man, with a pair of pointed ears and a nose that might make the features of most elves appear subtle by comparison.

Perhaps the only thing that softened her features was a drooping expression that tugged at her jowls. None of us had ever seen her even attempt a smile. But on that strange, terrible day—either drunk on liquor, depression, or both—her face contorted into a bizarre, furtive grin that looked as if she’d never moved her facial muscles in that way before. As surprised as we were by her horrifying glance, even the Mrs. seemed slightly perplexed by her ability to modify the bag of gelatinous mayhem she called a face. She probably hadn’t attempted a smile in years, and it certainly didn’t suit her well. No one, however, was more astonished than Dudley—poor Dudley—who nearly fell off his pallet. He only managed to stay on his feet by grabbing hold of a nearby column of stacked and boxed action figures, all lined in rows near one of the conveyor belts. But the stack wobbled briefly before it toppled into the next stack and the next one like a row of dominoes. Ironically, Dudley’s fumble ended up knocking the carefully stacked boxes of dominoes on the other side of the room.

What do you mean that’s not the proper use of “irony?” I Googled it and someone in a forum said there are multiple uses. Yes, I know there are other definitions beside hipster irony. But ... yes, I have a dictionary; it’s just that it’s easier to run an Internet search. ... Wait! NO! Please don’t put me in the cage. Anything but the cage! The interns can’t figure out how to crap in one corner and it’s everywhere—they’re animals. I’ll do anything, just don’t lock me up again. What do I need to do? Uh huh. Yeah. Well ... but, but that doesn’t make any sense. OK, you’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll re-write it. Yes, I understand. That’s actually much better, now that I think about it. But don’t you want me to delete that last section first? No? Um ... sure thing.

So Dudley realized that his friends were all a bunch of slack-jawed, self-aggrandizing, barely literate, dullards who felt that reading a few chapters of out of a 101 political science textbook entitled them to make lame attempts at vague social commentary despite a severe lack of intelligence and over- abundance of undeserved ego. Also I’m a pretty princess and I wear pretty princess dresses to make me feel pretty. Then Dudley sneezed, or something, and knocked over some boxes, which made a loud noise.

Suddenly the room exploded. Boxes and toys went flying across the assembly line. A decapitated doll’s head whizzed across the room and grazed my check before crashing into the wall behind me, sending shards of gleaming razor-sharp porcelain on a course toward Winky, Blinky, and Sam.

All we managed to see was a red blur as the Fat Man barreled out of his office toward Dudley.

He grabbed the poor elf by the foot and spun him around his head like a lasso. We all heard the sound of Dudley’s ankle twisting and cracking with each snap of the Fat Man’s arm. After eight or nine spins the Fat Man released Dudley and let inertia carry his ragged, broken body through the air, trailed by a mist of sweat and tears that all went smacking into a nearby shelf stacked floor to ceiling with Stretch Armstrong dolls.

Dudley collapsed on the floor, sputtering and crying, barely able to suck in air through a mouth of broken teeth and a tongue that had swollen to the size of a chicken breast. For a few moments we all just stood there, gaping at our literally fallen comrade. The air stunk of sweat and some other odor I could only compare to warm milk. I felt tears congealing in the wrinkles of my left eye and my hands shook uncontrollably.

My ears buzzed with white noise and I had trouble catching a thought long enough to process what had happened. It’s hard to avoid clichés in these moments because it truly feels like watching a movie, and it’s only later that your brain finally sends back the message that this has all really happened right in front of you—and you’ve done nothing to stop it.

And there stood the Fat Man. His chest heaved with each breath and he had to grab a nearby stool to right himself. He muttered a string of something under his breath I could only assume were obscenities and he glared at Dudley, shaking with rage, clenching the stool until I heard his knuckles pop from the pressure of it all.

It takes a lot of energy for a man of such girth to perform any menial task, let alone attempted elf homicide, and the episode had clearly taken a toll on this ancient, jolly tyrant. His sleeveless undershirt was stained yellow and he’d torn one of the seams running down his pant leg, exposing the milky white skin and tangled hair beneath.

In that moment, I think we all finally saw this horrible beast for what he truly was. Over the years and decades and centuries, the Fat Man had somehow developed the notoriety of someone who was much more powerful than he actually was. There he was, a pathetic wheezing child who’d just had a temper tantrum, but he could barely stand under the weight of his own belly.

It was a damn shame that poor Dudley had to sacrifice the majority of his upper teeth and the use of his right ankle to show us the true nature of the Fat Man.

The Mrs. let a small, frightened squeal escape her gargantuan lips and it triggered something in all of us.

Maybe we’d finally reached a boiling point, or maybe we suddenly realized there were far more of us than there was of him.

It was Teacup who threw the first blow. He roared a tiny elf roar and darted across the room with his fist already clenched and barreled it into the back of the Fat Man’s knee. With enough force applied in the appropriate place, you can bring down any large structure, and the Fat Man crumpled with ease. Before he could stand again, Blinkin was on him. The grizzled old elf grabbed the Fat Man by the beard and smashed his fist into that globular cherry- colored nose over and over again until blood trickled down his beard and dripped onto some nearby teddy bears.

A violent flurry of jingle bells and pointed hats surrounded the Fat Man and forced him to the ground. The elves squirmed in a massive pile, throwing punches at anything they could. The Fat Man finally emerged, his face spongy and stained violet with bruises. I flung a train engine as hard as I could toward his head and it connected, shredding his ear nearly clean off.

The Fat Man kicked and screamed, panicked and frantic like a small animal caught in a trap. He managed to kick a few elves off and made a dart toward his office. Some elves clung to his arms and legs, biting, scratching, and generally doing anything they could to inflict damage. The Fat Man shook free just shy of his door and fell into his office. He was just barely able to slam the door shut before Pepper got a wedge in. And he was gone.

But that was three days ago. We’ve mended our wounds with ointments and booze. Dudley finally spoke for the first time yesterday. No one could really hear what he said, but I’m almost certain I heard, “Keep him away.” And those of us who were able to work got back to the grind. The rest with breaks or sprains were allowed to take lower quotas. The ones who weren’t able to work took shifts watching the door.

We’re not sure where to go from here. No one knows how to operate that flying contraption the Fat Man uses, and really, without him making deliveries there isn’t much point in finishing our work. A few elves have tried to draft a petition that we just burn the whole lot. Personally, I don’t think anyone could simply throw it all away so nonchalantly.

No one has seen or heard from the Mrs., which is probably for the best.

And at some point, we know that old bear is going to come back out of his office. I don’t think he’d be foolish enough to do to anyone else what he’d done to poor Dudley, but then again, it’s hard to predict what a beast like that is capable of when you take away everything else.

Me? I hope that door stays closed forever.