Alf the Elf gets stinky

Alf the elf was only a toddler when his family and their cargo of mops and buckets were washed in with the winter tide one lucky day, long, long ago. Before that there were no elves in Undergrowby, apart from in fairy stories, so you can imagine what a magical stir they caused amongst the gnomely Growbies! According to Clockit Quick, the Time and Tide Inspector, the elves were clinging to a cleaning trolley which drifted in from their sinking boat onto the beach of the Watery Wetlands. It was late afternoon and growing dark. Seeing his light on, the stranded elves trudged their mops and buckets on their trolley uphill towards Clockit’s house to see if he wanted his windows cleaned in exchange for a bed for the night.
   He was (as usual) too busy inspecting everything to answer the door to visitors so when no one came, the elves trudged the mops and buckets back downhill and across the lane to the Stone Quarry, where they could see another light flickering.
   Luckily for them, Madge Dumpling, Quarry-mistress and world-famous pet rock whisperer was awake. Her curtains had been twitching from the moment she heard their cleaning cart rumbling along her rubble-strewn pathway. Noticing (by the size of their ears and their extreme shortness) that they were strangers, probably elves, she welcomed them in for a cup of gravel tea and a rock bun. She seized the opportunity to find out all about them before anyone else could beat her to it.alf_cartsmall1
    Her husband Malcolm and all the other Growbies in the land, apart from Clockit Quick, were fast asleep for the winter. That meant she would be the first to know whatever elf gossip there was to know. It turned out that the elves had sailed from foreign parts (spotlessly clean foreign parts, in fact), looking for somewhere new and more challengingly grubby to practice their squeaky clean elfy window-washing techniques.    
    Madge lit a few candles and placed them where the fire should be in her cold winter hearth. “There, now you can sit and warm yourselves. You’ll be dry and back on your boat in no time!” She had no idea that the elves loved being wet, and they were too polite to correct her.
   Little Alf the toddler elf looked around her pet rock strewn parlour and immediately   took a fancy to one of the baby pet rocks on the mantelpiece, and it took a fancy to him. Madge noticed their mutual attraction, but chose to ignore it, no matter how much Alf squeaked and reached out for the rock. She was not sure Alf was ready for pet rock ownership. The poor rock would be dripping wet and seasick in no time on board that elf boat.
   When she heard that their boat had capsized and sunk and they were therefore stranded here for ever in the land of Undergrowby, Madge fetched some blankets and insisted they all stay the night on her dusty old couch. They were so tiny that there was plenty of room on the couch for everyone to lie down on it. They were grateful but they were very uncomfortable because they were in a strange place. Madge sprinkled some extra dust, sand and gravel in between the cushions for that cosy, stone quarry touch of comfort her guests had come to expect, but it made no difference. They still squirmed and wriggled all night long.
    As it happened, she found out much later, the water-loving elves would have been happier floating the night away in a bath full of cold water, but Madge was not to know.
   A light sleeper, Madge was used to being awake all night, and decided she would try to fascinate them to sleep with her world-famous pet rock stories. Only when dawn started to crack did she finally fall asleep for a few moments. The elves, relieved, leapt up from the gritty couch, rushed outside and threw themselves into the waterfall across the lane.
    They had a quick swim then, as a token of thanks for her hospitality, they set to work cleaning Madge’s windows, scrubbing, dusting and de-gritting her parlour and mopping her floor till it shone.                                   
   Soap suds and clean water had not been slopped around in her parlour for some time, because as far as she was concerned, cleaning was her husband Malcolm’s job and as it happened, he was asleep for the winter. Even when he was awake he did not do it very well. But then, he was not a squeaky-clean elf, he was a Growby, and a dusty old Quarryman too. The elves, it had to be admitted, had a naturally magical way with water and water magic, as all Growbies know, was wealth-making magic. Perhaps, thanks to the elves, Madge and the pet rocks would be coming into money soon!
    When Madge woke up, found the elves gone and her parlour wet through, what a tantrum she threw!  Nothing in her parlour was how she remembered it or liked it. All her favourite bits of grit and dust were gone, the pet rock shelves were clean and soaking wet and everybody knows how pet rocks hate the damp, she grumbled to herself. The pet rocks were not listening. They were too busy looking through the now sparklingly clean, transparent windows at the elves working across the lane.
   Their tiny visitors from the night before were building themselves a spectacular spa house at the foot of the waterfall. They had collected clean white pebbles and shells from the beach, washed all the sand and grit out of them, built a neat round wet wall and covered the driftwood roof-struts in squeaky clean blue-green seaweed fresh from the sea.
    Though she hated to admit it, it was much prettier and cleaner-looking than her own rickety old house. She could bear it no longer, and decided to go outside and dust her path with her feather duster, although she was convinced it should really officially be Malcolm’s job. She made sure the elves saw her at work, in case they should think she knew nothing about housework. Remembering her manners, she waved the duster pleasantly at them in a neighbourly kind of way, and then she rushed back indoors and made them a hospitality tray of nicely shrivelled, home-baked snacks and cold, cloudy gravel tea.
    When she stepped into the new Elf Spa with her tray, the elves were already tucking into some fresh seaweed drenched in spring water, which was their favourite food, but they thanked her politely, took a hungry bite or two of her delicious dried-up shrivelled rock buns and showed her round their new home.
   “My, my, you’re quick house-builders, aren’t you?” she congratulated them, but was horrified to see that the waterfall pool came inside their house, like an indoor pool, and the waterfall came splashing in through a hole in the wall. “Aren’t you going to get a bit wet?” she asked helpfully, in case they had not noticed.
  “We like to get wet. Don’t you?” they squeaked, and were puzzled at her concern. They could not understand why no one else had chosen to build a house on that lovely wet spot, and thought their new life in this strange country was getting better (and wetter)all the time.
   When the house was built, the elves were exhausted and after one last meal of Undergrowby seaweed they went to sleep in their own home, floating on their very own pool, and planned to stay there, sleeping like the Growbies do, until the spring. (Well they could see that everyone else apart from Madge was determined to stay asleep and not yet ready to enjoy any of their super-squeaky cleaning services).  
    Alf the elf had hoped Madge would someday give him that magic little pet rock from the front of the mantelpiece, but he dared not ask because he knew it was not his place, at least until his birthday. He floated off to sleep and dreamed pet rock dreams until the spring.
    On the first day of spring the Growbies woke up and Undergrowby came back to life. Madge decided to show off to her new elfy neighbours with a display of her own special spring cleaning technique. She sat the pet rocks outdoors along the fence for a breath of fresh spring air then she went back indoors and whisked her feather duster over the furniture. The elves had washed everything down a few weeks before, so there was no need to go overboard, she thought. The pet rocks had only been outside for five minutes when she decided she had had enough of all that cleaning. Puffing and panting and holding her over-worked aching back she snatched the pet rocks back indoors and put them back on the shelves. As the spring-cleaning was now done, she arranged them all in their new spring places. Alf’s favourite pet rock was now delighted to be sitting on the windowsill facing the elf spa, and hoping for an occasional glimpse of Alf.
    Alf was thinking up excuses why he had to go over to the Stone Quarry so he could have another look at his pet rock. While his family were cleaning down their mops and buckets ready for their first cleaning adventures in Undergrowby, he wrung the worst of the water out of his little blue tunic, sneaked across the lane and knocked on Madge’s door. As he stood by the doorway, dripping, he could see his pet rock there on the windowsill smiling at him.
   As soon as she saw Alf the Elf’s wet little face Madge knew what he was up to. She was a world-famous pet rock whisperer, after all, and recognised the look of a besotted pet rock fancier when she saw one. It was such a waste, but there was nothing to be done.
“It’s no good, Alf. I know you want that rock, but your house is too wet for pet rocks. If they get damp they go all mouldy and smelly, and end up abandoned and broken -hearted on the compost heap because nobody loves a smelly pet, do they?” Madge folded her arms. She had made up her mind.
“You’re a mean, dusty old giant!” squeaked Alf, and ran off. He was determined he was going to get that pet rock somehow.
   When his sixth birthday came round several weeks later, his rock was still sitting on Madge’s windowsill, watching and waiting for him. It would not go home with anyone else and had started to sulk. Madge had tried all the tricks a pet rock whisperer could try, but it would not stop sulking. It cried so much it was standing in a puddle of tears all the time, and it was growing very, very damp. In the end, seeing the rock was slowly dying of dampness anyway, she had nothing to lose, Madge gave in. She wrapped up the naughty, smelly rock and took it across the lane to the Elf Spa for Alf’s birthday present. Alf did not care how smelly it was. The rock was his at last! He called it Stinky.
    To her surprise, as soon as Stinky found itself in Alf’s wet little hands, as if by magic its damp patches disappeared. Madge was too proud to ask but she noticed that apart from talking squeaky elf-talk with his new little friend, Alf was polishing Stinky with a strange-looking seaweed mop. The elves knew a thing or two about cleaning, that’s for sure, thought Madge, but surely they could not know more than her about seaweed cures for pet rocks?    
    She made it her business to check up on Alf and Stinky every day, and every day Stinky got wetter and wetter, but better and better. There was no sign of the dampness, and Madge was mystified. Stinky was following Alf around in the pool, and was being kept afloat by a tiny lifebelt made of strung-together seaweed pods. This was all new to Madge, who felt a mild attack of jealousy coming on. She would be collecting seaweed and making some of those cute lifebelts herself in the very near future, and believing she had been doing it for years.
“Alf, you are in the Rubble Club now,” she told him, better late than never. “You see, Alf, I forgot to tell you but everybody who owns a pet rock is automatically in the Rubble Club, so you and Stinky had better come over to the Stone Quarry this Friday for the next meeting. Dutiful Rubble Club members and their beloved pet rocks from far and wide meet together in my cosy parlour every Friday. Well it’s the least they can do! After all, pet rocks need to meet their old pet rock friends (and me) for a good old gossip now and then, and it’s your duty as a pet rock owner, Alf, to make sure Stinky gets the chance to join in too.”
   Alf wanted only the best for his new little pal, so when Friday came he gave Stinky a good wash and brush up and took him across to the Rubble Club. Madge greeted him at the door and told him to put Stinky in amongst his old friends on the mantelpiece, where the weekly pet rock reunion was held. He was told to help himself to her delicious buffet, sit over in the corner, and listen to Madge speaking to the meeting about important pet rock business.
    The other rocks could not wait to hear all Stinky’s secrets about life in the Elf Spa. Madge had instructed them to find out how the elves had mysteriously cured Stinky from his sulky dampness to his new, happy shininess. If there was magic afoot, she needed to be reminded of the exact techniques because they must have just escaped her mind. There could, after all, only be one world-famous expert in the Rubble Club and that was her!
    When the meeting was over and they all went home, Madge was eager to quiz her well-trained rockies on the subject of Stinky’s miracle cure. All she found out, to her delight, was there were no magic seaweed cures at all, no secrets, and no elf-powers. The love magic between a pet rock and its rightful owner, it seemed, was powerful enough to cure all kinds of ills. Dampness, along with dry rot, heartbreak, fungus, spots, tearstains and tea-stains, all can be cured, seemingly, by the magical touch of a true friend. When she looked it up in her own book, “Pet Rock Ailments and Cures”, she found she had already said so herself, but she could not believe it also applied equally to the touch of strange, wet baby elves. She learned something new about her little rockies every day.  
     Alf and his assistant, Stinky, later that year, became the Rubble Club’s official window cleaners and thanks to their powers of wealth-bringing water magic, Madge Dumpling became the wealthiest pet rock whisperer in the land. Her pantry was always full of top quality sandy, oaty rock cakes and flagons of fermented gravel tea, which, unselfishly, she shared with her husband Malcolm, the membership of the Rubble Club and any strangers who should happen to pop in. Her pet rocks would never want for anything ever again.
    Like the wise, knowledgeable, world-famous pet rock expert that she was, she came to the conclusion that she need no longer worry about Stinky. He was in good, if wet, hands. “Ah well,” she sighed, and picked up her knitting, “As long as he’s got his elf, that’s all that matters!”

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