Merry Christmas, Joo-Joo
A Story by Mark Slade
“I need presents,” Vance said through dried, chapped lips.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Brian shivered, clutched the flannel blanket close to his neck.
The apartment was cold, at least ten degrees, Vance was sure of it. He and Brian hadn’t the money to pay the electric bill, with Brian being the only one to hold down a crappy job at Burger Hut. The apartment was a simple one bedroom, the bedroom belonging to Brian, because he found the apartment and his Father had paid deposit. Vance sat on his bed, a green sofa with springs coming through, often poking him in his ice cold ass. He had three shirts on, two pairs of dungarees, and his True Blue mountain climbing coat with fur inside the lining. The Oakland Raiders toboggan on his head still didn’t keep his ears warm, which irritated Vance to no end. It wasn’t like Vance didn’t want to get a job. He just hadn’t found anything he liked yet. His parents were tired of floating him money and friends had dwindled to just one, Brian, who was always broke.
“We can’t keep breaking into people’s houses and stealing their stuff. Anyway,” Brian sighed. “We never get very much money at Ted’s Pawn shop when we sell things to him. Cheap crook.”
“No, man,” Vance fumbled in his coat pocket for cigarettes, only to find his lighter. “It’s Christmas, right?”
“Yeah. So what?”
“We wait for the mailman, or UPS or Fed ex, or whoever and watch to see if no one gets the package.” Vance smiled and nodded like he’d just laid out the plans to Fort Knox and steal gold.
“That’s just… low, dude. I mean, steal Christmas packages from people. You are a sick man.” Brian rose from the dirtiest, dingiest Ez chair this side of the Milky Way. So many stains on a cream colored furniture and cigarette burns, the cream color was now a rust brown. ”I’m making some coffee.”
“I’m a desperate man. I need presents for mom, Janice, and Helen.”
Brian looked at Vance. He blinked twice. “Helen Spotter doesn’t even know you exist.”
“She will after the cool present I give her.” Vance rose from the couch, danced in a crouching position, and then sat down again. That was something he did when he was excited, which was often. Vance’s mom admitted to Brian that a quack doctor convinced her that Vance needed Ritalin to calm down her six year old son. After six more years of this medicine, that her child did not actually need, she noticed a breakdown of a mental attention span, sporadic illusions, and an inability to stay focused on one subject after more than ten minutes of conversation. She said she had never told a soul, but felt she had to confide in Brian.
“Sit down, you fool! We are not stealing from the neighbors, okay? It’s wrong, especially Christmas. Only jerks do that crap.” Brian went into the kitchen, turned on Luke-warm water from the faucet and dropped four spoonfuls of instant coffee in a cup. “Furthermore,” He reentered the living room and sat in his Ez chair, sipping the coffee. “Helen Spotter will never know who you are, because you are not friends with anyone she knows.”
“Oh… my friend,” Vance said. “You are wrong. Tommy Longdale has a girlfriend who is friends with Helen.”
“I’m trying to dissuade you as gently, carefully as possible, Vance,” Brian told him. “They go to Sparrow University. You are an unemployed looser. What makes you think Tommy Longdale will set you up with his girlfriend’s friend?”
“I once gave him some E at a party,” Vance responded after a long pause.
“Oh yeah. Now that is the kind of logic that could fix this country’s problems.” Brian said.
“I think so, too, man.”
“You don’t even have any money to take her out,” Brian slurped his barely warm coffee and made a face.
“No! No, I don’t. But you do.” Vance raised an eyebrow.
Brian snarled at him. He hated it when Vance did his Jack Nicholson impersonation.
“That’s a lame Jack impersonation, butthole.”
“You know it’s not…” He continued, now going back and forth between early Nicholson and later Nicholson. “I want you to hold it between your knees. What are you, on your period?”
“He didn’t say that in THE DEPARTED. Ray Winston said it.”
“No, Jack said it.” Vance insisted.
“You are a twerp. Half the time you don’t remember what you were talking about ten minutes before.”
“I do too! God, you can be so… so… whatever!”
“Okay, what were we talking about?” Brian prodded Vance. He knew the answer, he just wanted to have some fun with him. He liked making him feel small.
“We were talking about Jack Nicholson. There! Whoosh!” Vance threw an imaginary basketball through a goal, net and all.
“No.” Brian laughed. “I thought we were talking about stealing from the neighbors again.”
Vance looked lost for a few seconds. Then he remembered. He smiled as it came to him. “Yeah, man. We could wait for the mailman, or… or Fed Ex…”
“I’m not doing that.” Brian said.
“You have to. In three days, it will be Christmas. And you get paid next Wednesday. Your mom will be disappointed.”
Brian made a face again. “You are a turd.” He said. ‘You use my mom all the time.”
“It’s because you know I’m right. She thinks you are the sweetest boy she ever knew. She says it all the time.”
“Shut up.” Brian was stewing, getting angrier at Vance just looking at him.
“Hey,” Vance rose from his couch and looked out of the window, keeping the curtain partly open. “There’s Fed Ex delivering to Mrs. Hoppa.”
“No, we can’t take from an old woman. She bakes cookies for us and brings us her left overs, Vance.”
“Yeah,” Vance put a hand on his stomach. “That island food gave me the screamers. It’s too freakin’ spicy.”
“What do you expect, dummy. She is from Haiti.” Brian snorted.
“I’m going to snag that box before her daughter brings her back.” Vance headed to the front door.
“You jerk. You’ve been scoping her all morning.”
“Be back. Wish me luck.”
“I hope she catches you!” Brian yelled to him as Vance slammed the front door.
Brian jumped up from his Ez chair and ran to the window. He pulled the curtain a bit to the left to view Vance’s theft.
Vance crept up Mrs. Hoppa’s slither of a driveway to her apartment door, past a small bush that was turning a sick yellow. He looked around, smiling like an imbecile.
He bent down, looked at the small box. There was writing on a tag that even if Vance could read past third grade level, he wouldn’t be able to understand it. He just shrugged, then snatched the box and jogged as fast as he could back to the front door of their, quickly opened the door. He took one step and his left foot clipped the molding in front of the door. Giggling, Vance fell hard on his face. The box slipped out of his hands and slid across the living room floor like a hockey puck.
Vance laughed hard, rolled over on his back. He kicked the front door shut with both of his feet. “That was too freakin’ funny!” Vance yelled.
Brian stood over Vance, his hands on his hips. He was giving Vance that “wife” look, his head tilted to the left, a disappointed expression his face.
“What?” Vance was confused.
“Don’t ‘what’ me.” Brian spat at Vance. ‘I told you not to steal from that poor woman.”
“So,” Vance’s bottom lip drooped, hurt he was being told off. “I’m a free man. I can do whatever I want!”
“One day,” Brian wagged a finger at him. “You’ll get caught and I will not be there to bail you out!”
“Don’t… You… hey! You know, you helped last two times. All that weed you stole from Mr. Dillinger. That was a poor old man who has cancer, douche bag!”
Nothing more was said for about fifteen minutes. Both were at their own places, sulking, sitting on the sofa and the Ez chair.
Finally, in a spur of the moment, Vance hopped from the sofa and retrieved the box. He sat back on the sofa, began opening the thin layer of tape on the box. He placed a hand inside the box. When he pulled his hand out of the box, a yellow beaded necklace was caught in his grimy fingernails.
“Yeah!” Vance said, excitedly. He squatted and did his little dance. “That’s what I’m talking about! Look at this, Bri.”
Brian laughed. He shook his head. “Yeah, man, that’s nice.”
“You know what it is?”
“No,” Brian scrunched up his nose. “A necklace?”
“Not just a necklace,” Vance whispered like it was secret. “A Joo-Joo necklace.”
“I don’t know… what a Joo-Joo is, Vance.” Brian was tired mentally. Vance always did that to him.
“Man, it means good luck! And I heard on the History channel you can use it to make people do what you want. You’re own slave, dude.”
“You really believe that?” Of course he does, why even ask, Brian thought. “So… you want Helen Spotter to be your own personal slave?”
“Damn right.” Vance said. “I might even get laid.”
“Go for it, dude,” Brian said, smiling.
Vance felt his coat pocket vibrating. He took out his phone, looked at a text message. “Hey… things going right for me finally. That was Tommy Longdale. I got a date with Helen Spotter. Of course, Tommy and his girl will be there. So what, huh?”
“Way to go, Vance. I’m happy for you.” Brian rose from the Ez chair and patted Vance on the shoulder.
“I’m gonna get some and have a slave. Merry, Christmas, Joo-Joo!”
There was a loud rapping at the front door. Night had fallen and it was even colder inside the apartment. Brian was groggy. He turned in his chair, yawned. He didn’t want to get up.
But somebody was relentless with their knocking and the noise was hurting his head. Brian clumsily got to his feet. He slowly ambled to the door. He bet it was Vance. He probably forgot his key.
Brian opened the door and saw a short old, black woman in a handmade dress and a multicolored scarf on her head. It was Mrs. Hoppa.
“Where is it?” She spoke in harsh island dialect.
“Where’s what?” Brian said, trying to wake up.
“My package!” Mrs. Hoppa lowered her eyebrows. Her nostrils were flaring, cold air snorted through them. “You are a thief. The pair of you. I treat you like my own sons. That package was from my own son, still in Port-au-Prince. I may never see him.” She fought back tears, held a handkerchief to her nose, and looked away from Brian.
Brian cleared his voice. “We didn’t take that package.” He said.
“You didn’t?” Mrs. Hoppa looked at Brian suspiciously.
“No. We saw Mr. Dillinger around your door. He was even talking to the Fed-Ex guy. I’m not sure, he… might have took it.”
“Pity be him,” Mrs. Hoppa said. “That necklace… bad… if worn, you become the slave of whoever give you that necklace.”
“Oh… yeah?” Brian was nervous. He began tapping his foot without knowing it.
“Oh yes. To pay for the deeds you master or mistress wishes you to do, you have to make a human sacrifice. Eat the flesh of the innocent.” With those words, Mrs. Hoppa lunged at Brian.
Brian jumped back. “We don’t have it!” He screamed, slammed the door in Mrs. Hoppa’s face.
Brian paced the living room. No, he told himself. That crap is not. It can’t be.
There was another round of knocking at the front door.
Brian hesitated. He touched the doorknob, then withdrew. “We don’t have you’re package.” He yelled at the door.
“Brian,” A muffled voice could be heard. “It’s me. I forgot my key. Open the door, will you?”
It was Vance.
Brian was so happy to hear that it was Vance at the door, he swung the door open violently.
Vance was standing there, smiling like an imbecile. He was covered in blood, his clothes were torn. Still, Vance was on top of the world.
“Dude,” He said. “What an evening!”
“What the hell happened to you?” Brian threw his arms up in the air, shocked.
“Nothing, really. Just wild time. You gonna let me in?” Vance tried go through the threshold, Brian blocked him with an arm.
“You kill somebody?”
Vance shook his head. “No. God. Things got a little weird. I gave Helen that necklace. I told her I wanted to make out. We did, she went nuts and ate Tommy Longdale and his girlfriend… about ten more people in the restaurant.” Vance said non-nonchalantly.
It was too much to take in. Brian leaned against the door. He rubbed his face a few times with his hand. “Vance?”
“Where is Helen Spotter?”
“Right here, buddy!”
Helen appeared from behind Vance, her dress ripped in many places, her olive skin drenched in blood. She had deep dark circles under her eyes, and pieces of flesh at the corner of her mouth. She was looking straight at Brian, looking very ravenous.