A Pre-Christmas Carol: Stave Two

The First of the Three Spirits

Splurge woke with a start. He had fallen asleep in his armchair, and found himself now sitting before what looked like one of those awful BBC Three sitcoms. He turned it off. The apartment was deadly quiet, like the moment in a horror movie just after the music stops, and just before the monster suddenly pops up. Nope. Splurge turned the TV back on. Uh-oh. No monster popped up, but the TV’s little info bar did. It said that it was twelve fifty-nine. No, wait, it had just changed…

“Ebeneeeeeeeeeeeezeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer!” moaned the ghost.

“Oh, geez, yikes!” Splurge flailed awkwardly in his armchair for a moment. “Why? Why does everyone keep doing that?!?”

“Just making sure your haunting is suitably ghostly, sir,” said the ghost. “Here, sign this.”

Splurge squinted at the document, but it was basically all small print. He scanned the first few lines, which were to do with injury and liability and loss of personal possessions and optional insurance and temporal something or other. It wasn’t much help, really, but he was pretty sure he could guess what was going on here. “You are the Ghost of Christmas Past?”

“Yeah, mate.” The spirit was chewing gum. “You’re booked for one, right?”

“Uhhh…no. I think you want next door, actually. I went over to borrow a cup of sugar once, and the guy there was like ‘No! Get your own sugar!’ so…yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s where you’re supposed to be.”

“Oh, a wise guy, eh?” The spirit spat his gum at the wall, where it hung like some kind of gross glowing ghost slug clinging to the stripy wallpaper. Splurge hoped it wouldn’t be there in the morning, because if it was he had no idea how he was supposed to get rid of it. He was pretty sure Cillit Bang wasn’t going to work on that. “Well tell me this, wise guy: how many people assume they’re being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past on Halloween?”

Splurge had to admit, he didn’t have an answer to that.

“Come on. We’re going on a journey of reflection and nostalgia and regret and all that jazz.” Grabbing him by the arm, the ghost led Splurge towards the window.

“But…” stammered Splurge, “I am…you know, mortal! I can’t fly or anything!”

“Ah,” said the spirit. “Bear but a touch of my hand, and you can! Anyone can fly with EasyDjinn!” He paused. “That reminds me. That’ll be twenty quid.”

“What?” said Splurge. “I’m not paying that!”

“Too late. I already touched your arm. That counts as a flight.”

Splurge stood his ground, metaphorically speaking. Speaking literally, he was floating a couple of inches above the floor. “I’m not sure I even have twenty pounds on me.” He folded his arms.

“In that case, it’ll be six easy monthly payments of nine ninety-nine.”

“Aha!” cried Splurge. “Wait: I never signed that thing you gave me. See?”

“Ah,” said the spirit mysteriously. “But you did! No sooner than your hand had touched it, you formed a binding contract of goodwill and…you know…unicorn farts and…stuff. Look, those things all just get stuffed in a drawer anyway. Are you going to pay, or do I have to sic EasyDjinn’s team of leprechaun lawyers on you?”

“Alright, fine,” huffed Splurge. He fished his wallet out of his pocket and handed over a crisp twenty pound note, fresh from the hole in the wall. He’d got it out just in case he saw something else nice when he went for the fairy lights that evening.

“Oh, and were you planning on wearing clothes on your journey?”

What an odd question. “Yes.”

“There’s a five fifty baggage surcharge.”

“You what!?!”

“And a non-refundable ten pound timestream security deposit.”

“You have got to be kidding.”

The spirit gave him a serious look. “I never kid about company policy, sir.”

“Well I definitely don’t have enough to cover all that.”

“That’s okay, I’ll just repossess some of your historic birthday presents. Do you remember that bike you got when you were twelve?”

Splurge thought back. “What bike?”

“Okay! We’re all settled. Come with me, then!” And arm in arm, they floated off into the night.

Except it wasn’t the night outside the window. It was a different night. A much, much older night. They were standing outside a little semi-detached house. A semi-detached house that was very familiar indeed.

“Hey,” said Splurge. “I remember this! This is where I used to live!”

“Well duh,” said the Ghost of Christmas Past. “I’m hardly going to take you to some other schmuck’s childhood home, am I?”

“You know, for someone who had to announce themselves by wailing my own name in my ear, you’re suddenly not very professional.”

“Sorry. It’s been a long day. You’d be a bit crabby too if you had to work at one in the morning. I just want to go home, crack open a beer and watch The Big Bang Theory.”

“That’s…” Splurge wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted to encourage him to do any more spooky stuff—he’d had more than enough of that for one night, and he was sure there was more to come—but he couldn’t resist the opportunity to show the spirit up. “That’s even less ghostly.”

“Sorry, sorry.” The Ghost of Christmas Past was all humble all of a sudden. “Let’s just go inside, shall we?”

Inside, the place was just as Splurge remembered it. Even with the paper chains, the tinsel, the little foil ornaments and the strings of little coloured bulbs, he recognised every nook and cranny of the old living room. All the little details came flooding back, particularly the little patch of hideous floral wallpaper visible in a corner where the new more tasteful wallpaper had got torn away. In fact, a very young Ebenezer had got curious and started lifting it. At the time, he’d blamed it on the cat, but in retrospect he was pretty sure everyone had known who’d really been responsible. It hardly mattered now.

Looking around the room some more, Splurge was almost surprised to realise that the family he could see sitting around the tree, opening presents and enjoying mince pies, was his own. Or rather, him and his own, because he was the small child sitting in front of the fireplace rolling a toy fire engine back and forth and saying “Weeee-oooo weeee-oooo weeee-oooo” while the cat watched intently.

“Hey,” said Ebenezer, “that’s me!”

“Well, duh!” said the Ghost of Christmas Past. “Sorry,” he added after a pause. “It’s just…come on. I wasn’t just going to show you some random family’s Christmas.”

“I don’t know,” said Splurge, still looking at the happy little scene. “It seems as though you might as well have done. I mean, this is quaint and all, but what’s the point? It’s a nice, festive Christmas, just like I have every year nowadays. What’s this supposed to prove?”

“This?” said the spirit. “Nothing. But that…” he pointed. “That proves everything.”

Splurge followed the spirit’s finger. He was pointing at an Advent calendar sitting on a little table beside the fireplace. At first it didn’t seem significant—and actually, at face value, it wasn’t—but Splurge remembered its significance. And it was surprisingly sad.

“Remember well that calendar, Splurge,” said the spirit in a somewhat theatrical voice. “On the first of December, you opened all the doors and ate all the chocolate, and all the time until Christmas—even on Christmas day itself—you regretted opening all the doors and eating all the chocolate at once.”

“Aww,” said Splurge. “That’s really sad. And I was only little!” He felt like he should add something more significant, less whingy. “You’re mean.” That wasn’t it, but it was all he could come up with.

“Perhaps I am,” said the spirit. “But at least I’m not, like, the Grinch who stole Halloween. Or something. Look, the company gave me this whole speech I was supposed to read out at this point, but I think I must have thrown it away by mistake, because I was sure I had it in the pocket of these trousers, only it’s definitely not there now. But as long as you get the general idea that this is vaguely similar to what you’re doing in the present day, on a thematic level if nothing else, we should still be good, right? It still sort of works.”

“I guess,” said Splurge. Remembering that Advent calendar had really bummed him out. More than it probably should have, but hey, it was pretty sad. He’d been really upset at the time.

“Okay,” said the Ghost of Christmas Past, “great. Let’s go back then.”

“What?” Splurge was incredulous. “Already?”

“Yeah.” The spirit gave him a “whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout?” look. “What did you expect for twenty quid?”

“I don’t know.” Splurge took another look around his childhood home. “More than this.” Sure, how many people got to go back in time at all? But this was like booking a flight to some amazing foreign country and then never leaving the airport. “I’m sure they went back in time to way more than one place in A Christmas Carol.”

“You know what?” the spirit grabbed him by the arm once more, and suddenly they were floating back towards the present day. “You don’t like it? Go on the internet and complain.”

And that was that.

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