Darren paused the computer game and listened. He could hear someone walking slowly down the tiny flat corridor, probably nan coming to give him another bollocking about chucking that brick through that bloke’s window earlier. “Fuck off nana!” he shouted, and threw one of the empty cider cans littering the floor at his peeling white bedroom door. “Just leave I alone!” The creeping continued, a heavy thudding that didn’t sound like his 8-stone frail, long-suffering grandmother . Darren pressed the volume button on the Niksan TV controller, then unpaused the game. The explosions and gunfire were deafening, beyond comfortable. Darren smiled; his nan would go apeshit at the noise. She hated him playing games at night, especially at night, and especially if it was a school night. It wasn’t a schoolnight though; it was Christmas eve night, so no school for a couple of weeks, and therefore he could play games as loud as he liked for as long as he liked. That’s the way he saw it. He looked at the mobile phone on the bed next to him: 2:04am said the cracked screen. If the creeping figure was his bruv Mackenzie, he’d deck him for smashing his phone. He couldn’t afford to get it fixed, so he’d have to steal another one from some poor unsuspecting mug.
There were three bangs from the floor, the neighbours were obviously irritated by the volume. It wasn’t his problem that they were boring. He sparked up a cigarette as his bedroom door opened slowly. He paused the game again. “I told you to fuck off!” he shouted at the half-opened door.
“Nobody tells me to fuck off.” The voice was very deep and masculine, too deep for either nana or Mackenzie.
“Who the fuck’s that?” Darren reached for his flick-knife next to him, a cheap but effective blade given to him by his dad on his last birthday. The bairn needs to be able to defend himsel’, his dad had argued against his mum when he’d unwrapped it from the plastic bag. I had a knife when I was his age and I turned out alright! Originally the blade had been gold and had a white Japanese dragon curling down the length of it. Months of rubbing against keys and change had worn the outside down to a dull silver now, screws and bolts exposing it for the bargain bucket piece of trash that it was. Still, it did the trick when threatening someone. The police could account for that.
The owner of the voice stepped into the smoky child’s bedroom and dropped his enormous sack with a thump. Darren in turn dropped his controller in shock. The man was huge and dressed in a Santa costume. He had a big white beard, big bushy eyebrows and had long white locks spilling out from under his red and white hat. His eyes were icy as he stared at Darren. “Ho ho fucking ho, Darren,” he said. “Merry Christmas.”
“Is that you bruv?”
“I’m not your brother Mackenzie, Darren. I’m Santa.”
Darren picked his controller up and took a drag on his cigarette. “Yeah right. Come to give me my pressies, have yer?”
“Something like that.” The man pulled a bottle-shaped present from the sack and unscrewed the top without unwrapping it. The cheery snowman-embossed tag fell to the ground; “To Keith” it said in blue biro. “It’s been a tough year, lots of things to do and people to see, you know?” Santa took a long gulping swig. “A real tough year.”
“Stop fucking around,” replied Darren. “Is that you Dad?”
“Give over! Your father doesn’t want to see you, even if he could.” Santa took another swig. “He’s been one naughty boy, and is going to stay in prison for a fair number of years.” Darren grunted and stared at the paused game. “Some might say that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t have a clue what you’re going on about,” said Darren, “so just fuck off, yeah?”
Santa sat on the bed, the wooden frame creaking in protest. “Let me explain Darren, me old mate. Every year, Santa and his sleigh goes around the world dropping off presents to all the kiddies depending on whether someone’s been good or bad, yeah? Good kids get presents, bad kids get coal. Well, the threat of delivering a piece of coal to the bad kids really doesn’t stop the bad kids being bad anymore.”
“Whatever,” said Darren, dropping his cigarette into an empty can and unpausing the game.
Santa turned the volume down. “So, Santa delivers presents to the few good kids left in this world. Doesn’t take long, sadly. Most kids aren’t good or bad, so they don’t get presents or coal, which is why the parents are the ones buying the presents at Christmas. The really bad kids, kids like you… well, that’s where I come in.” Santa downed the bottle and tossed it into a pile of dirty clothes. Some of the amber contents glugged out into the collection of dirty tracksuits and socks. “Do you know how much trouble you’ve caused this year, Darren? It’s nothing to be proud of,” he added when Darren grinned, “because the way you’re going, you’ll be living in prison for most of your life. That’s not good.”
“Isn’t it? What’s wrong with prison? Easy life,” said Darren, tracking an enemy player with the tiny thumb sticks on his controller. “I’ll get to see my dad too.”
“You might think it’s an easy life, but it’ll stop you doing anything of worth. You’ll have no chance of getting a nice car, of being wealthy or owning a house. You’ll be looked at as a piece of shit throughout your whole life. Are you a piece of shit Darren?”
“Yes you are,” said Santa, lifting up Darren’s leg to reveal his black tag. “You’ve already got a criminal record, you have caused so much anxiety and mental problems to your neighbours by constantly harassing them, you’re fucking scum. Worthless.” Santa stuck his whiskey-stenched face in Darren’s ear. “A fucking mess.”
“Fuck you!” Darren shouted, throwing his controller across the room. “Everyone’s got a problem with me! It’s their fault, not mine!”
“They’re not the problem, Darren! You’re the fucking problem!” Santa stood and yelled in Darren’s face. “Just fucking behave! Don’t fight, don’t destroy things that don’t belong to you, have some respect for others! Fuck me, I really didn’t think I’d have to explain this to a human being!”
“Just fuck off, Santa.” Darren cracked open a can of cider, but Santa slapped it away. “Right. I’m going to stick one in you for that,” spat Darren, reaching out for his tiny flick-knife on the bed. Before he managed to extend the blade, Santa punched him in the temple, sending his vision into a flurry of stars. Darren couldn’t help but fall forwards onto the floor with a muffled grunt, his face grinding into the dirt of countless cigarettes, spliffs, and general dirt from a poor teenage boy.
“That’s the problem, Darren.” Santa said, reaching into his sack and pulling out a long parcel. “You won’t listen to what I’m saying, so you’ll have to feel what I’m saying.” He ripped the red and green paper from the parcel; it was a cruel black cudgel with a green prig of holly stencilled into the end. The berries had been painted to look like dripping blood. “Think of this as the modern-day piece of coal.”
The fight was short, quiet, and one-sided. Santa landed a skull-crushing blow to Darren’s head, knocking him totally senseless, then Santa rained dozens of blows to Darren’s head and body until the jolly fat man was satisfied that Darren was near death. “The good thing about this,” panted Santa as he put the bloody cudgel back in his sack, “is that even if you tell people that Santa attacked you, who’s going to believe you? You’ve made so many enemies that everyone’ll assume some dealer’s got their revenge on you. Hell, I could kill you right now and no-one’ll care because you’re just a piece of shit! Another chav got what he deserved, the police’ll think, and put your name into a heap of other worthless pieces of shit.” Santa heaved his sack onto his shoulder and put his boot through the window, sending the cheap single-pane glass out into the night. As he straddled the window sill, he smiled at Darren’s broken body. “Oh – merry Christmas mate, and I’ll probably see you next year.”