Johnnie is rotten. It has nothing to do with the anarchic lead singer of the Sex Pistols because Johnnie’s mother was five years old when those boys were tearing up London and pissing on the establishment. No, Johnnie is not a pleasant lad. His name is Jonathan, but only his mother can call him that, teachers and social workers did so at their peril.

His father, absent since birth knows nothing of his boy’s misdemeanors. Johnnie came along at a time when his mum was in crisis. Emotional turmoil rocked her world the way a squally ocean would menace a dingy. Her life a bubbling stew of wretched paranoia and unending drama. Her self-medication went from pills to powders to syringes and beyond. All dependent upon which ‘uncle,’ was spending the most time with her.

Her Latest excursion involved a man she met at a works Christmas party. She went back to his place, then to another party, then somewhere else. That was December 19th. By December 22nd the neighbours had noticed that Johnnie was alone and called the social services. For the fifth time in his short life, Johnnie was in care.
Johnnie likes to hurt people. Not physically. He’ll say things, only comments, but for a boy of 11, these comments have a way of drilling deep into whoever he tosses them at. One of his foster mothers once paraded a new dress she had bought to the family. “What do you think?” She asked as she gave them a spin in the living room. Coos and praise were extolled. Johnnie spoke, “You look like a slag.”

Once he broke into a building site and filled paper bags with cement mix; Johnnie dropped them into the toilets at home. He let it thicken then flushed them and flooded the place.

The uncles became more frequent, but Johnnie liked that. He cleared out their wallets, and he’d use their phones and sometimes when the uncle and his mother were passed out naked and wasted, he would take a photo on the guy’s phone and then text it to whomever he had in his contacts. Johnnie didn’t like people, how could he? He didn’t like himself.

Colin and Paula Portis were walking home from shopping. Paula was pushing the double pushchair into a biting December wind. Their daughter Molly, face as red as Christmas; was clinging to the handles and trotting along at Paula’s side. Colin was carrying the shopping bags; six of them, each one heavy, the plastic handles cutting into his frozen hands.

It was Christmas Eve, and the big shop was finished. They were heading back, to pull down the hatches and get ready for the festivities. Colin worked as a housing officer; he helped re-home people who were just out of prison and those who found it difficult to be on their own. Paula worked part-time. She had the twins who were just three and Molly who would be five in January. They didn’t have much, but it was Christmas, and they had pushed the boat out. They had a turkey about the same size as one of the twins; they had pies, cakes, and fancies, all of the stuff that would never appear in a weekly shop. This year would be great, even if they had an extra mouth to feed. Johnnie had been with them since December 23rd.

Colin put down the shopping bags and nudged the gate open. Molly ran through and skipped up to the door. Paula maneuvered the pushchair through the gate. It was awkward, she struggled. Colin gathered up the bags and kicked the gate shut. Paula opened the door and stepped into the house, and she knew that something was wrong. She pulled the pushchair in backward; then she felt it, cold and sharp, pouring through the seams in her shoes, the house was flooded. “Colin! There’s water on the floor.”
“Let me see,” Colin pushed into the house and dropped the bags. The hallway was sodden, and it smelt of urine and excrement. It wasn’t just that, the whole place was littered with wrapping paper. Colin rushed through to the living room. His heart sank below his bowel. “Don’t come in here!” he shouted back over his shoulder.
“What?”
“Stay there and keep the kids with, you. Molly stay with Mummy!”
“Colin, what’s going on?”
“Just stay there, please.”

Molly started to feel alarmed. She looked up at her mum, “What is it Mummy? Why does the house smell?” Colin stormed through the hall and upstairs. He went straight to Johnnie’s room. Johnnie was lying on the bed. He looked at Colin with dead eyes. “Did you get your present?” Rage blasted through every fibre of Colin’s body. He wanted to throttle the life out of Johnnie. “Come on then,” Johnnie said.
“Later. Stay where you are, I don’t want to see you. Just stay there.”

Paula ignored Colin and walked through to the living room. Johnnie had made a masterpiece. The Christmas tree had been dissembled and was in pieces, shards of baubles lay over the carpet like a child’s Christmas collage. He had smeared soiled nappies all over the walls and ripped down the streamers. He had found the presents and unwrapped them and took them from their boxes and strewn them all over the living room. The Christmas dining table had been tipped over, and the candles were broken.

Paula could do nothing but weep. Molly came in beside her and screamed. Paula held her as they both sobbed.
Colin put his arms around her, “Go to your Mother’s and take the kids. I’ll sort this out, and I’ll come over first thing.”
“I can’t Colin, oh babe, why?”
“Leave it with me, please go to your mother’s and let me sort it out.”
“How can you sort this out? Look at it! Oh babe, what are we going to do?”
“Just go. Come on, let’s pull together, I can sort this.”

Crying, Paula left with the children. Colin surveyed the damage. The Christmas cake Paula started making back in October and dressed with icing and a plastic Santa just the day before was rammed into the toilet. There was shit everywhere. He didn’t know what he was going to do. Amidst the debris in the living room, Colin found a bottle of brandy. He took it to the kitchen and poured a glass. One led to two, then three then four then sleep.

Johnnie had been dozing in and out of consciousness. It was 12.15am. “Merry Christmas, you twat,” he mumbled to himself. He dozed off again.
Johnnie had no idea what had awoken him. He just woke up. He switched on like a light. The wall opposite his bed began to disrupt, light, bright neon lights, pushed through the plaster and the wall began to crumble. The air vibrated, and a bass frequency crushed his eardrums. Johnnie pulled up his duvet and tried to block out the sensory assault. It was no good the whole room was now lit up and his eyes burned as though his tears were acid. Then as quickly as it started, it finished, and the room was dark and silent.

“I’m terribly sorry. I’ve got the wrong house.” Johnnie looked up. Stood at the end of his bed was a young man, he was wearing a suit and an open-collared shirt.
“Who are you?” Johnnie said patting the bed around him, trying to find a weapon.
“I’m Chris, sorry young fella. This is the wrong house. I’m supposed to be at the house of Miles Trench. You know that guy right? Maybe you don’t. He runs call centres,” Johnnie just stared at this apparition, eyes goggling and mouth agape.
“Yeah, he has over 3,000 staff, all of them on zero hours contracts. Your foster mum is one of them. Yeah, she works hard, but that tight git won’t even guarantee her an hour a week. Can you believe that?” Johnnie still could not comprehend what he was seeing.
“You know for Christmas; he has bought his wife, a £3 million ring. Seriously, a ring that cost him £3 million. She already has one! That’s disgusting. He gives nothing to charity you know? So, I’m supposed to be there. I’ve to show him the error of his ways. And scare the shit out of him with some stunning visions. People are susceptible to that sort of thing at this time of year.”
“Are you a paedo?”
“A what? Oh no, I’m, well, I’m difficult to describe. I am your birthday, I am your soul, I am Christmas, famine, and feast. To be honest, I am whatever you need me to be. And I think you need me right now don’t you?”
“No. You look like Elvis,”
“To you I do. I look different to everyone. To Miles, I’ll probably resemble a Zombie. But I’ll take Elvis. Thank you very much.”
“You sure you’re not a paedo?”
“Positive. So, Johnnie, what do you want.”
“I don’t want anything.”
“You sure?”
“I want my Mum.”
“She has a lot on at the minute. She needs you, but not right now. I’ll tell you for nothing there is going to be a time when you’ll be together and things will work out. But not this year, probably not next.”
“How do you know anything?”
“I know what you know, and you know more than you think. So tell me, buddy, what do you want? Name it. It’s Christmas.”
“I can have anything?”
“Anything!”
“Ok, I want an Xbox, I want to go cinema, a holiday, some mates, and I want to drive a car.”
“Ok, fair enough, I’ll deal with the activities first, and we’ll come back to the Xbox later,”
“Sick.”

Chris pulled back the wall of the bedroom as though it were a page in a book. A blinding blur became a beach. The beach stretched for miles and an azure ocean gently lapped at the shore. Johnnie had on swimming trunks, and he ran into the sea, it was as warm as June, and the sun bathed him and coloured him. He played football on the beach with Chris, and as the sun went down, they fished for Crabs off a wooden jetty. That night they ate at a barbeque restaurant, and Johnnie stuffed meat down him until his stomach felt as though it was being breached.

For seven days they played on the beach, made friends, fished, sailed, rode in bumper cars and ate the best food. They flew back on a plane. Johnnie had never flown before. Upon landing, there was a taxi waiting for them. The driver took them to the multiplex. Chris purchased a multi-ticket, and they watched films and ate junk all day. On the way out they stopped in a room, it was a games room, full of children the same age as Johnnie. They played, and there was a party, it was somebody else’s party, Johnnie was welcomed. His rage, his discontent, his self-loathing had evaporated. For the first time in his memory, he felt normal, not angry nor anxious.

The party moved outside, and there was a game of football, Johnnie played hard, but he didn’t score, he did set two up. That was good enough. The weather was cold now, and the field was muddy. The final whistle went, and Johnnie got ready, Chris took him to a burger joint. Johnnie ordered one with all the trimmings.
“So?” said Chris.
“This is brilliant. I love it.”
“Love what?”
“This, being with you.”
“So, the Xbox then?”
“Forget it, actually don’t. Can I have one please?”
“There will always be a new Xbox, you get one, it’s great, then another one comes out. The thing is, you always want an Xbox, even when you’ve got one. The point I’m making Johnnie, is ..” Johnnie looked around, with the last mouthful of his burger, the joint dissolved and he was back in his bedroom at Colin and Paula’s, he panicked.
“I’m back; I don’t want to be here,” tears welled in his eyes, “I don’t want you to go, please, stay. Don’t leave me alone again.” the tears streamed down his cheeks.
“We never left mate. You have nothing more now than you did when we met. Time, people, love is what you need. And Colin and Paula have a lot of that, and they’ll give it to you. If you let ‘em in. I’ll never leave you, I am always here,” Chris gently tapped Johnnie’s chest.
“Deep down Johnnie, you know what you need. It’s not an Xbox.” Johnnie wept softly, without anger. “Stay strong little brother. It will get better.”

Adrenalin smashed through Johnnie’s veins. He awoke and sat upright. He looked at the clock 3.15am. He looked around there was nothing, no Chris, no lights. He peered through the window. The North Star brighter than Sirius was weeping diamond tears. A star-spangled spectacle like nothing he had ever seen. Then the snow began to fall. Within minutes the pavements and gardens were covered, and a beautiful, eerie silence fell over the place. Johnnie took a moment he could feel it, Christmas.

Colin thought that he had set his alarm for 5.15am, he hadn’t. It was set for 5.15pm. The brandy served as his alarm clock. With a mouth drier than talcum powder he forced himself from his bed and slipped on his jogging bottoms and a sweater. Then paused, the house was warm. He went downstairs. The smell got him first. The place no longer smelt like a nappy bin, he could almost taste cinnamon and toast. The hallway was dry; the carpet was back to normal. The kitchen was lit with coloured fairy lights and a lamp. The toast was hot and buttered, and the kettle was bubbling. In the oven were biscuits baking and the turkey was stuffed, trussed and ready for the oven. Colin was confused. He walked into the living room. The tree was up and lit, magical, warm. The presents had been re-wrapped in newspaper and tin foil, and stacked neatly, ready for the little ones to tear into them. The walls were clean and the table set. The candles had been molded back together and lit.

Colin was stunned. Johnnie came in behind him, with a radio, he plugged it in and turned it on. Carols from a church somewhere played, and Johnnie lit the gas fire. He turned and looked at Colin, and Colin slowly shook his head. “Merry Christmas Colin,”
The two looked at each other and then at the room. Emotion crippled Colin; he kept on slowly shaking his head. Johnnie held out his hand and nodded towards it. Colin paused. He took Johnnie’s hand. Then pulled him close and embraced him, “Merry Christmas Jonathan.”

Merry Christmas Everybody.

This is a short story by Nick Mann, if you liked it, you can find more of the buggers here. Otherwise, if you have enjoyed it please consider sharing it – Karma and my badself will thank you for it. The buttons are on the right, thank you kindly.

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