The door flew open, sucking the warmth from the room.
Standing in the doorway against a howling chill was America, face red and nose running.
A room full of Europeans stared back. Germany sat petrified at the piano. Italy and Spain froze in each other’s arms, bodies twisted in a dance cut short. Most stood clutching their wine glasses, their laughing faces slowly contorting into scowls. Greece continued piling food onto his plate, unaffected.
It was France who set down his glass and threw on a smile. “America–good to see you’ve made it!”
Slamming the door, America returned the joviality. “Ooooh, oh, hey guys! Yeah, looks like I got here just in time–cut the bullshit, okay? Just say it–just say that you all decided to throw a Christmas party and not invite America.”
“Okay, listen,” England said with a sigh in his voice, “I’m going to let you down gently, alright? We didn’t invite you because you’ve been acting like a prick.”
“What he means is–” France started.
“No, I get it!” America threw up his arms. “I make a couple jabs at NATO and suddenly I’m a big bad fascist, woo! Well, guess what? I didn’t even want to be invited, okay? So have fun at your stupid, tiny penis party, losers!”
As he turned around and stormed out, sweet little Estonia called after him. “Happy holidays!”
“Eat shit!” America shouted back.
That night America went home and had his own party: binging on cheeseburgers, Netflix, and Nyquil. As he stuffed his face and laughed at his TV alone and in the dark, a chill rolled through the bedroom.
He tensed with fear at the hollow groan. “Uh, hello?”
The voice boomed, and with it came a gale that sent America tumbling off the bed. He scrambled to his knees, coming face to face with:
Her iridescent, wispy figure stood at the foot of his bed. Pulling himself up, he met and held her hard gaze for a moment, then he gestured to the tussled sheets.
“Well, come on in, baby, get cozy.”
She paused only to register his suggestion. “Even if I were flesh, I would not for fear of breaking you.”
“If you’re trying to put me off, you just did the opposite.”
“Listen to me,” she said in a powerful voice that filled the room. “I have come to warn you. In my life, I made grave mistakes and paid for them dearly. My power and wealth and ferocity lead me to believe I was unbreakable, yet in the end, I lost everything.”
“Well, not everything. You’re still famous. You’ve been immortalized in history as the legendary Roman Empire.”
“Is that what you value most? Fame?” She looked off, but then her eyes found him again. “Tonight you will be visited by three ghosts. I only hope that you listen and learn.”
“Wait–” America started to say as Rome vanished, but the Nyquil must have kicked in because the world went black.
When he awoke, America was lying face up on the floor. Standing over him and staring down was–himself.
“What’s up?” the double said. “I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past. Now, you ready to see some shit?”
Before America could utter a word–let alone blink the confusion away–he was transported to a firelit dining room. Sounds of laughter and banter and clanking dishware filled his ears. A family was enjoying Christmas dinner.
Canada wasn’t saying much, but laughing at all of America’s jokes even when no one else would. He was teasing a near-drunk England and Scotland helpef. Wales would interject now and then, making sure the mood stayed light and everyone knew dessert was ready.
America watched the scene unfold, nostalgia forming a knot in his stomach. “Shit,” he said, “this must have been…”
“1870,” the doppelganger finished for him. “The first year you declared Christmas an official holiday.” The double joined up beside America and watched with the same fondness. “It’s a nice scene, isn’t it? You’re happy. You’re laughing. You’re with your ‘family.’ You’re not alone and swimming in cold syrup and fast food trash.”
“This next scene is nice, too.”
The warm family dinner blinked away, and now America was standing in what looked like a studio apartment. In the scene, he was eating with Japan at a little table tucked away in the corner of the room. A bowl of KFC sat between them. She was blushing and looking away, embarrassed that he was teasing her for being self-conscious about eating messy food in front of him. A Christmas cake was sitting out on the bar counter, waiting to be devoured.
“You’re getting emotional,” the ghost said.
“Happens every time I think about fried chicken,” America said, blinking away moisture from his eyes.
“You’d much rather be spending Christmas with your loved ones than with loneliness, right?”
“Yeah, ‘loved ones’ isn’t the word I’d use for them.”
“And what would you use?” The ghost leaned forward and bore into America with condemnatory eyes. “Moochers? Losers? Pussies? These people supported you and stuck with you even when you were dead-ass wrong. They defended you and depended on you. Some of them would bend over backward for you. They gave you second chances when you didn’t deserve it.”
“And you think I haven’t done the same for them? I have always given more than I got and where did that get me, huh? These ‘friends’? They never liked me for me, they just wanted my power and money and body.”
“You’re not gonna guilt-trip me, okay? I look out for the people who look for me, not for the mooching–yeah, I said it–these mooching assholes who hate my real friends.”
The ghost cracked a sardonic smile. “Yeah, about those ‘friends…'”
And it all went black.
America’s eyes flew open to darkness. He flexed his limbs and sighed with relief when he heard the comfortable, familiar crinkle of wrappers.
“Not so fast.”
He shrieked and shot up. At his bedside was yet another ghost. Squinting in the dark, he said, “Prussia?”
“The one and only,’ she answered curtly.
“The Ghost of Christmas Present. Now, pay attention, dickweasel.”
“Who taught you to talk like that?”
“I died in 1947, not 1747.”
With a snap of her fingers, they were in a living room. A fire was crackling in the hearth, casting a warm, dancing glow across the room. North Korea was at the piano. Russia, a wreath of garland around her neck, danced along, slow and drunkenly, in a way that didn’t quite match the music. China watched from the sofa, nursing a drink.
“A rather godless Christmas party from this bunch,” Prussia said. “This is the first time they’ve gotten together like this in a while. I think they use it as an excuse to drink and stop caring for a night.”
America turned to Prussia and asked, “I can watch right?”
“That’s not weird at all.”
“They look like they’re having fun, okay? Maybe I can experience the joy vicariously.”
“Knock yourself out.”
And so he watched as the three celebrated throughout the night; They took turns at the piano, partook in alcohol consumption to an extent that was perhaps ill-advised, reminisced over old photos from the 60s–which was weirdly unnerving, but okay–and indulged in Russia’s baked desserts.
As the night settled down, they took to the couch. Russia had a glass of something dark in one hand while her free arm was draped around North Korea’s shoulders. Though she was gazing lovingly at him, he seemed very interested in staring down into his glass. China stood by the fire, though there was something disapproving about the glances he shot the other two’s way.
America felt a pang of longing–in several places, but primarily in his heart. Forget the Europeans. These were his real friends. These were the people he loved and who loved him back.
“Just watch,” Prussia said as if reading his thoughts.
“You know,” China said at last, “I almost invited America.”
North Korea made a face like he’d just sucked a lemon.
Russia smiled. “You didn’t! Well, I can’t say I don’t pity him, but… I can hardly stand listening to him speak. He never knew when to shut up, but now everything he says comes out in a jumbling mess of utter nonsense.” She sipped her drink. “Spare me.”
“He sent me a Christmas card,” North Korea said. “I didn’t read it. I didn’t even touch it.”
Prussia looked over to America. “You’re crying again.”
“They–they must be joking, that’s gotta be it.”
“He’s quite vile,” China then said, “and I do mean that seriously.” Both companions nodded in agreement.
America gripped his chest and whispered hoarsely, “Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame…”
“Don’t look now.”
America perked up, the ominous undertone in her voice sending a chill crawling up his skin.
Ahead, a cloaked reaper-like figure stalked toward them. The warm scene faded to darkness, and Prussia along with it.
“You’re… death, or something?” America asked.
It breathed out, sounding much like a raspy Darth Vader.
The being pulled the hood back. America’s eyes shot open.
“Oh god, Switzerland, you’re one of them? Are you dead?”
“So, like, which ghost are you?”
“Christmas Yet to Come.”
“Look.” Switzerland pointed to the corner of the room, where a dirt-covered tombstone had erected. The epitaph read: Democracy.
America sucked his teeth. “Okay, now this is getting a little silly.”
“Care to watch?” Switzerland asked, and America’s television clicked on. It began to cycle through news stations, reports flashing across the screen: the decay of the liberal world order, Russia seizing Eastern Europe, China engulfing South East Asia in his military might, populism triumphing everywhere.
“Is this the future you want, America?”
He shrugged. “Why should I care what Russia does to Europe? And China? If he can bully and intimidate people, that just means he’s tough. To me, it seems like you’re showing me a very Orientalist and Euro-centric version of the future. It’s globalist propaganda, is what it is.”
Switzerland sighed, and the images stopped.
“Listen, America, this isn’t about Europe, this isn’t about globalism. You treat your allies like garbage, that’s true. But you’re not only hurting them, you’re hurting yourself. Every stupid, short-sighted, impulsive, spiteful, petty thing you do makes you weaker. Chaos and brutality and hatred are not strengths. They will kill you. So if you’re okay with letting the world burn, realize that you’re setting yourself on fire too.”
The name on the grave vanished, and in its place, a new word was carved:
America. Never did become great again.
The TV cut on again, first filling with screaming static. Then the news cycles flashed by again:
China now the world’s only remaining superpower; Little children all around the world learning Chinese and Spanish, writing in British English instead of American English; K-pop declared the most popular genre internationally, Bollywood outselling Hollywood; America, immortalized in history textbooks as a fallen empire.
“Stop!” He cried. “I get it, I get it!” Falling to his knees, he shook with sobs. “I’ll get right, okay? I’ll be better! I’ll do whatever it takes!”
The next morning, America made a special Christmas morning broadcast to the entire world.
“I’ve done a little self-reflection,” he said, managing to read from the teleprompter, “and I realize that things need to change. I’ve given this a lot of thought–about ten minutes worth–and here’s what I’m gonna do to make things right.
First, I’m leaving the United Nations. It’s a bureaucratic mess. Canada can take my place at the Security Council, or whatever. Two, I’m pulling out of every treaty I’m party to. It’s not fair to Mexico and Canada if I just quit NAFTA, so now I’m quitting them all. Third, I’m giving away my nuclear weapons to countries in need. Fifth, I’m formally ending every on-going war and conflict I’m involved in and pulling my military from basically everywhere–Korea, Japan, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, you name it. That’s right–world peace!”
Sighing contentedly, he smiled at the camera. “Merry Christmas, everyone. Merry Christmas and God bless.”
Photo by Arcaion at Pixabay