It was the end of term, the day before Christmas Eve, and it was so cold that the teacher, Miss Melly, was wearing her hat and scarf indoors. She put all the children’s paintings and projects in piles for them to take home, and called their names in alphabetical order.
‘Josh Datchit!’ A small boy stepped forward, shivering in his threadbare jumper. Miss Melly smiled at him as she handed him his things.
‘Harry Dooge!’ Harry was a boy with a cross-looking face and heavy shoes he’d chosen especially for stomping and kicking.
‘Bye, Miss Smelly,’ he muttered under his breath. The teacher sighed, pretending not to hear.
‘Merry Christmas everyone,’ she cried, opening the door to a whoosh of icy air and dead leaves, ‘Don’t forget to send your letters to Santa!’
Josh Datchit and Harry Dooge both lived on Peabody Street, just four doors apart. Josh walked home as quickly as he could, but he soon heard Harry’s wet footsteps dragging through the slush behind him.
Oof! The bigger boy slammed into his back, knocking the papers out of his hands, and sending the painting Josh had made for his mum sailing face down into the grey-brown snow-dirt.
‘Oh, sor-ry,’ Harry bellowed in Josh’s ear, ‘I slipped.’ With that he laughed and tore past him down the street.
That night, both boys wrote letters to Santa. Harry didn’t believe that Santa cared whether children had been naughty or nice, so he demanded a lot of presents. He asked for an Xbox, a TV, a skateboard, every superhero figure he could think of, and much more, until it hurt his hand to write.
Four doors down, Josh chewed his pencil, trying to think about the things he really needed.
‘Don’t forget to ask for something to play with,’ his mum murmured, ruffling his hair. ‘Not all presents have to be useful.’ She went into the kitchen and sellotaped the Christmas painting (which she had rescued with her hairdryer) onto the fridge.
Josh nodded. In the end, he put three things on his list: a scooter (to get him down Peabody St, and away from Harry Dooge, a little faster); a toy robot; and a box of chocolates.
On Christmas morning, all the children on Peabody St woke early. The sky was still dark, everything quiet apart from the sleepy houses as they came creakily to life, their pipes filling with hot water.
Harry Dooge bounded down the stairs, flung open the door to the living room, and cried: ‘What?’
Four doors away, Josh Datchit bounded down the stairs, flung open the door to the living room, and cried: ‘What?’
Harry was horrified. Under the tree with its twinkling lights, even though the rest of the room was still gloomy, he could clearly make out…only…three presents. He stood stock still in his pyjamas, scratching his head, and counted again. One…two…three. ‘That’s it?’ he yelled. And then with a terrific stamp of his feet, his face bright red, he boomed: ‘Noooo!’
Harry opened the presents, of course. It didn’t take long. A scooter, a toy robot, and a box of chocolates.
‘NONE of these are what I asked for!’ he shouted. His parents were huddled in the doorway, muttering to each other. ‘There is obviously something WRONG with Santa. Stupid, stupid Santa.’
‘Santa must have got it wrong,’ Josh was saying, looking at the dozens of presents that surrounded him.
‘Well,’ said his mum, quietly, ‘you have been especially good this year’; but even she was puzzled, because truthfully, Josh was good every year and Christmas morning had never looked like this. ‘You’d better start opening them,’ she added, ‘It might take all day.’
Later that morning, boiling with anger, Harry jumped to his feet. ‘I’ve got it!’ he cried, ‘I know what’s happened here. There’s only one boy who would be LAME enough to only ask for three presents. It’s Datchit! Santa has given me his presents by mistake!’ He snatched up the scooter and the robot (he had already eaten all the chocolates, of course), headed out into the snow and marched off down Peabody St. His parents didn’t notice he’d gone.
He stood outside Josh’s house, ready to hammer on the door. But something made him peer in the window first, and when he did, his fist fell to his side.
What he saw was a living room very like his own: the same size and shape. But something was different.
In the centre of the room were Josh, and his mum, and his brother and sister, playing a board game. They were laughing, their voices ringing through the window like a song. The presents – his presents– were in the corner, some opened, some still wrapped. Harry noticed that they had been split into three piles. Every now and again Josh, or his brother or sister, would pause in the game and open a present. Harry watched the superheroes he had put on his list emerge from the shiny paper. Iron Man. Hulk. Thor.
He realised Josh was sharing.
And they all looked so happy.
The snow pricked Harry’s eyes. That could be the only reason they were watering. Harry Dooge never cried. He turned to walk away, but there was a tap on the window from inside the house. Josh was waving, his mum standing behind him.
Then the front door opened and four faces appeared, wearing matching wide smiles.
Josh spoke first. ‘Hi, Harry,’ he said. ‘Would you…would you like to come in and play for a bit?’
‘No, thanks,’ said Harry, kicking the snow with his boot. But before they could go back in, he looked up and quickly said, ‘Santa brought me a scooter.’ He held it up. ‘I thought…I thought you might like it.’
Josh grinned. ‘Hey, that’s really cool.’ He paused. ‘He brought me a skateboard. Wanna swap?’
And as Harry walked towards Josh’s door, both boys thought they heard the jingle of bells and a merry, tinkling laugh.