The Plug Christmas Story

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‘Hair today, hair tomorrow.’ Turning to face the sad old man, Rudolph put the brush down and buttoned his pleated, silk shirt. Bathing in shallow pools of light, his svelte, muscular figure failed to hide a hideous mask. Cleaved lips clung lustily to an oily, slick of features, anchored only by monstrous, varicose-stretched nostrils. Smeared into a smile, his lips moved, ‘But you, my formerly fat friend. You will be gone. Unless you can pay what you owe by sun-break tomorrow, the factory is mine.’

The sad old man’s once gregarious girth wheezed with deflation, mixing air and dust in his sallow sacks. Words took un-winged flight. ‘Just a little more time. It’s Christmas tomorrow. My wife. My kids. My living.’ But they failed to find voice, strangled by the chicken-yellow menace of Rudolph’s glare. Shuffling towards the door, the man glanced back and noticed Rudolph greedily stripping, with brush in hand. That one night had changed everything.

Stepping outside, sad and old, Poncho Santana bit back at the wind and tried to breathe. His evenings at work were haunted by nights on the job. And during the day he slowly unravelled, to the soundtrack of a loving family. Constant throughout were the creeping shadows of Rudolph’s empire, skirting every issue with manicured precision.

On the Night Of The Locked Horns, Rudolph had disappeared. The town mourned him. ‘A giver.’ praised some. ‘A liver!’ proclaimed others. Preacher Rusty McFerrin declared him: ‘the best darn pilot in the West…and East, depending on denomination.’ But beneath the good-day sunshine, souls began to rot. Too many were coated in the blood of that night. A few died of shame. Most drowned in the madness of what had happened…or took their own lives before Rudolph could return.

When he finally arrived home ten years later, Rudolph was a rich and powerful man. He proclaimed it a miracle. Questioners were silenced. The crowd was always silent. Ten days after his return, Rudolph met with the heads of states and tangled affairs. As founder and leader of the largest property development company in the land, he presented a new vision for Town. The heads cheered. One day later, Rudolph summoned almost all of the remaining Locked Horns to his study. None of them left.

Mumbling after lost friends, Poncho picked his way past open mouths with locked-shut minds. Past the faceless fascias baring neon teeth and bottomless stomachs. Past the melted bodies begging for a change and on, towards home. He stopped at the gates and filled his lungs for the first time in years. In its prime, the factory had a hand in every home in the world. But after that night, production slowed, trickled. Then. stopped. Poncho and his family turned to crafting wooden gifts and hosting workshops for celebrity burnouts. A vestige of good cheer. Now even that would have to cease.

Mamma Santana bade Rusty McFerrin a quick exit and turned to embrace her husband. Poncho tried to love her back. But couldn’t. The guilt filled his eyes and parched his mouth. ‘It’s over,’ he wheezed and fell into the arms of the sofa. ‘The kids, Poncho,’ signed Mamma. ‘We’ve got to stay strong for the kids. We’ll all ride out to stay with old papa Santana and take it from there.’ But it was too much for Poncho. Ruined by one night. And what did he get for his silence? A family that he could do nothing for. ‘Where are the kids?’ he huffed. ‘In the workshop’…’but what the’…’they’re doing it for’…
Poncho seized the door, just in time to see Fats silence Lippi with a hunk of well-placed belly. Micky Santana sat at the bench, whistling whilst he worked. ‘Boys!’ cried Poncho, with hound-dog gusto. ‘Boys, you don’t need to work tonight, it’s Christmas Eve.’ Micky answered, ‘Yeah, we know Dad. But we’re not working for the man. We’re working for The Man.’ Lippi spat out his brother’s fat and Fats vomited all over Lippi, who slipped into the mouth of the wood grinder. Micky flashed across the room, flicked the safety switch and, fumbling for his inhaler, wheezed, ‘gees Dad, sure am glad you got those safety switches installed.’ Fats and Lippi threw snot-balls at Mickey’s head. ‘Well, you boys take it easy,’ sighed Poncho. ‘And don’t forget, we’re off to old Papa’s tomorrow. So pack well.’

‘Did you see him?’ cried Lippi. ‘That’s not our Dad!’ Micky stopped whistling. ‘That is our Dad,’ he replied. ‘It has been for some time.’ Fats belched the chorus of Hungry Like A Wolf. The boys knew. Dad’s meeting with the landlord hadn’t gone well. This could be their last night at the factory. ‘This could be our last night at the factory,’ said Micky. Removing a shoe, Lippi spied his brother from the far end of the cellar and let go. The shoe bounced off Micky’s head and struck Fats a hefty blow in the rump. Despite an encyclopaedic, musical knowledge, Fats couldn’t keep his balance. He grabbed the oak-panelled bookshelf and gravity grabbed Fats, hauling him earthward, just as Micky raised a swollen head.

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Lippi stepped over the tangled mesh of oak, flesh and bone. Silenced. He gazed into the picture, hanging behind the fallen bookshelf. Poncho smiled back, grasping another’s hand as the colour drained from his soul. ‘What do you think Lippi?’ said Micky. ‘I think I see shadows in Dad’s eyes,’ replied Lippi. His considerable music radar alerted, Fats heaved forward: ‘Have I told you the one about Cliff Richard and the Queeeeeee…’ Slipping on Micky’s blood, Fats crashed into the wall, dislodged the photo-frame and fell backwards, onto Micky. Lippi took the photo from its shattered deathbed. His dad was in the grip of the other man. And between them, they grasped a white placard bearing the letters p l u. Lippi was sure that there was another letter. But a hairy hand was in the way. ‘I’d know that nose anywhere,’ spluttered Fats. ‘That’s Dad’s landlord, Rudolph.’ Lippi wasn’t fooled by Rudolph’s reputation. ‘What’s Dad doing with that picket-fenced crook?’ Fats moved closer to get a better look, and fell on Lippi.

Unburdened, Micky looked around and noticed a piece of paper by the shattered photo-frame. ‘Local Explorer Picks Up The Wrong Sentiment’ stated the headline. The article continued: ‘Town man, Huxley Smith is feared dead. The amateur adventurer was last seen five months ago by his neighbour, Rusty McFerrin. According to Mr McFerrin, Smith left home in late May, in search of the three sentiments. It is believed by some, that the mythical triumvirate hold the key to…’ The ripped article revealed no more. ‘Don’t you see?’ cried Micky. ‘That’s it. The letters p l u. The three sentiments. Somehow it’s all linked. Come on guys. This is our chance to save the factory. And to save our family.’ Fats vomited all over Lippi, who removed the other shoe. The steel toe connected with molecules where Micky’s head should have been. But Mickey’s head and body were already thirty feet below, travelling at some speed.

Fats slithered to the edge of the splintered crater. And peered over. ‘Fats, no!’ cried Lippi. ‘Consider the weight of your encyclopaedic head!’ But plentiful body followed plentiful mind, slowed only by an incline and the puffy goodness of Micky’s face. Lippi inspected the cause of his brothers’ demise. The rim of a vast, bronzed chimney had chewed through the cellar floor. Mickey climbed into the cavernous hearth and called up to Lippi: ‘Don’t you see. This is meant to be. Up there it’s their time. But down here. Down here it’s our time Lippi. Our time.’ Lippi leapt into the chimney mouth. On landing, he swatted Micky’s head with a frying pan that had been hanging by the fireplace. ‘Sshh,’ said Mickey. ‘I can hear voices.’

‘Jesus Bub, stop winching.’ Rudolph wrenched his friend’s scaly arm from the crank -handle. ‘We can’t start until morning, when the land is legally ours. Then we can raise hell if we choose.’ Sucking on his stomach, Bub replied, ‘I prefer to raze Ruddi, prefer to raze. But why here?’ Rudolph considered the past and unleashed an odious smell. ‘I’ll tell yer why Bub. Because this is where it all began. The Night Of The Locked Horns. We turned Poncho inside out that night. When I returned he sold the soul of his forefathers. For a family. Now, I’ve never been one for sentiments but…what was that? I can hear voices.’

‘Shut up Fats!’ squeaked Lippi. But poor Fats couldn’t help himself, threshing feather, skin and bone in a blubberous rage. ‘They’ve heard us,’ said Micky. The three brothers dashed for the drainage grate, under the sink. Two feet short, Fats pawed at one, final cake. The kitchen floor caved at the thought, banishing the brothers to the depths of a limestone-lit cave. A frail, wizened body stirred and then croaked, ‘but…but there’s three of you.’ Fats, Lippi and Micky rushed to the gates of that crude, dank cell. And they listened.

‘I’ve been expecting you. Well, some of you. Anyway’ continued the car-crashed old man, ‘there’s not much time so don’t interrupt. My name is Huxley. Huxley Smith. Don’t interrupt boy! Rudolph and I used to work for your father. We worked well. But after one late-night trip, your father and Rudolph fell in with Hunter S. Thompson, debauched to Vegas and had too much Christmas Pie and Sherry. Ahem. Sorry boys, Anyways, from that day, Rudolph possessed the power of a secret. And he used it to drain from your father all that was good. Until. That night. Micky exploded: ‘That night, that night. It’s always that night. What happened on The Night Of the Locked Horns?!’

Huxley punched Micky on the nose. ‘Be silent, rapscallion. After that night, we prayed that Rudolph was dead. But then he returned, laden with doom. That’s when your father had to make the trade, to save all of you. But now it’s your turn to save him. There are some ancient sentiments buried in this cave. And they need setting free. Take these rods of pure Sofine and blow the mine; head in that direction. You’ll know what to do.’ Wobbling to his feet, Fats reached forward, missed the rods and took a u-bended dive, flooding his flair for music. ‘I can hear you plotting, Huxley,’ bellowed Rudolph. ‘Now let me see you. ‘Quick boys,’ gasped the amateur adventurer. Snatching the Sofine with one hand and Lippi with the other, Micky plunged into the caves.

Rudolph followed, past slimy things and the snow-cracked caverns, deep into the labyrinthed-system. Twenty yards ahead, Lippi stumbled under the bleached daze of the pleasure dome. Gathering his feet, he turned and stared into the gloom. The thundering Rudolph greeted him with wilting style and then turned his attentions to Micky. The boy was cowering, with his back to the spider-arched door to the mine. ‘What’s the matter Micky?’ whispered Rudolph. ‘Don’t know what to do? Micky leaked, shuffled and stammered: ‘well, you, you see. There’s three holes s-s-sir. But I, I only got two Rods.’ Rudolph’s face split with happiness. ‘There have never been two of anything for you Micky. You want to know what happen on The Night Of The Locked Horns? You should know. You were there.’ Micky’s eyes dissolved. Rudolph continued, ‘but whilst we’re on the subject of numbers. Where’s your fat, little friend?’

‘Quick boys!’ Huxley jumped to the aid of Fats, as Micky, Lippi and Rudolph plunged into the caves. The bewildered beast flopped to the floor. ‘Hey old man, what’s this?’ Huxley stared at the rod in the hand of Fats Santana. ‘Oh my,’ he gasped. ‘Large boy, take this rod to your brothers. Trust your portly frame and run, free from the pressures of grace. Run boy, run.’ Fats greased through the air, pirouetting past nook and cranny. Entering the pleasure dome, he plucked Lippi from unconsciousness and cocked a rippling arm, ‘Micky?’ he shouted. ‘Hey Micky, more Sofine. More Sofine to blow the mine. Hey Micky?’ Rudolph turned, to be floored by a vicious custard pie. Turning to admire his brother’s prowess with pastry, Micky caught the rod and wept, ‘Fats, you’ve got to help, I don’t know what to do.’

Easing the rods from his brother’s grasp, Fats said: ‘you were right Micky. There is a connection between the letters p l u and the three sentiments. I just couldn’t make it. But time down the toilet cleared my mind. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding. Elvis Costello and The Attractions. 1978. The same year as The Night Of The Locked Horns.’ Fats paused expectantly. And waited. Until: ‘Hang on Micky; we’ve solved the riddle. So why is nothing happening?’ Lippi remembered the hairy hand on the placard, and looking at the three marks on the wall, called out to Fats and Mickey, ‘It’s not p l u. There was another letter. It’s never just about peace, love and understanding you know. Quick! Plug in the rods, you’ve got company. ‘It’s never been about peace, love and understanding!’ screamed Rudolph. Together, Fats and Micky grasped the rods. Grasped each other. And looked at Lippi. ‘All for one and all that Fats and Micky,’ said Lippi. ‘Or should I say, Fats and Ruddi!’ All three boys laughed. And then everything turned white.

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Poncho Santana sat on the balcony, smiling and swelling under the deep-red sunrise. The snow crackled in the morning light, disturbed only by the mirth of three young brothers on the hilltop.

Steph Coole

Remember kids. PLUG isn’t just for Christmas.

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