The Second of the Three Spirits
Splurge awoke in his ratty (but exceedingly comfy) old armchair in front of the TV, which was still showing whatever terrible sitcom had been on before. Definitely some kind of marathon. Why anyone would want to sit through more than one—indeed, even one—episode of this thing was beyond him, but presumably they had to fill the 2am slot with something.
“Ebeneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer!” wailed a voice from right behind him.
“Aaaah! Aaaah! Aaaaaaaaah!” Splurge had kind of a mini freak-out.
“Shhhhhh!” said the Ghost of Christmas Present—for Splurge was positive that it was he—“People are trying to sleep!”
“Sorry.” Splurge said it so quietly that it wasn’t even audible. He was having trouble controlling the volume of his own voice. “Wait…” he said, getting the hang of it again. “Why are you wailing? Aren’t you the fat, jolly one?”
“Ho ho ho! Indeed I am!” He certainly sounded jovial enough.
Splurge stood up and turned around. Despite the answer he’d just heard, this was not the fat, jolly spirit he had been expecting. In fact, this was definitely the worst one yet.
“I’m the Ghost of Christmas Presents.”
The spirit had no head. Or at least, it had no head in the traditional sense. It had a plastic Christmas pudding, sitting above its round, lumpy shoulders, and when it spoke the top half of the pudding flapped up and down, like some kind of hideous suet-based Pac-Man. Its eyes were plastic cherries, its eyebrows plastic holly leaves, its acne plastic raisins…or maybe it was just supposed to be the kind of pudding that had raisins anyway. It was kind of hard to tell what was anthropomorphic spirit-face and what was just plain old fake food. Splurge could feel his internal organs shifting into various uncomfortable positions within him, but it wasn’t because of the horror. That had faded, only to be replaced by a confusion the like of which no mortal had ever felt before.
“There’s something…up…with you, isn’t there?”
“Ho ho ho! You noticed!” The spirit held his sides—which Splurge now noticed were kind of lumpy and…was something wriggling about under that big red fur-lined robe? “I am pleased! You will have to notice a great many more things before this night is done!”
The spirit held out his hand, and after just a little hesitation, Splurge took it. He didn’t want to, but he knew by now that he was just going to have to sit through this. He wondered if there was any chance he was in hospital somewhere and this was all just a coma fantasy. Then he tried to work out whether that would be better or worse than it being real. It was a tough call.
Suddenly, without actually going anywhere, they were standing on the street outside. It was surprisingly nippy all of a sudden, but then, Splurge supposed, it was the middle of the night. “Know you this place?” asked the spirit.
“Well…yeah.” Splurge looked over at the front of his shop. “I can see my house from here.”
“Not that place!” laughed the spirit. “Ho ho ho! This place!” and he gestured with his neon plastic torch at the storefront of Crockett’s Costumes and Capers. “Do you know it?”
“I do,” replied Splurge, “though I’ve never had any occasion to go inside.”
“Well,” said the spirit, “perhaps this will be an occasion when you do. For it is an occasion indeed! Ho ho ho!”
Tugging Splurge along by the arm, the spirit stepped inside. The lock on the door didn’t seem to give him any bother. Inside, Splurge found that the Crocketts’ shop was much like his own—which he supposed was to be expected, since it was on the same street and presumably built at the same time—and that the lock to the apartment upstairs gave the spirit no more bother than the one on the front door.
Inside, the Crocketts were sitting around a rickety wooden table by an electric heater, and suddenly Splurge realised why it had been so cold outside.
“Spirit,” he said. “There must be some mistake! You are the Ghost of Christmas Present, but this is clearly the future—for this is Christmas Day! Why, you have quite forgotten Halloween!”
For the first time, the spirit spoke harshly: “If Halloween is to be forgotten, it had better get on with it, and decrease the surplus celebration!”
Splurge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with a mild sense of guilt.
“Besides,” continued the spirit, “I’m the Ghost of Christmas Presents. With an ‘s.’ Not Present like the stuff that’s happening now.”
Splurge began to listen in on the Crockett’s conversation. It seemed like a pretty rude thing to do, to be honest, but it was basically why he was there so, hey, that made it okay, right?
“Things’ll pick up in Summer,” said Mister Crockett, glumly. “Lots of stag parties and student dos, and before then even, there’ll be schoolkids wanting things for school events at Easter. It’ll be tough, but we’ll pay off that loan.”
“And I can put in more time drawing people in with the robot act,” put in Tinny Tom.
“Or we could just up and move away from that idiot next door,” said Missus Crockett.
“Hear hear!” They all drank to that.
“I thought they were supposed to be nice about me, albeit grudgingly,” said Splurge.
“Whatever gave you that idea?” said the spirit, plastic head glistening in the glow of the Crocketts’ fibre optic tree. “This isn’t just a Christmas story—it’s real life!—and you’re a real jerk.” Clearly he felt that was a little harsh, because he finished with another “Ho ho ho!” but it just fell flat. “Come on,” he added awkwardly. “I think we’re done here.”
“Spirit, wait…” Splurge began. “Tell me if they will pay off their loan. Will they get by on stag parties alone? Will Tinny Tom’s routine bring custom in?”
The spirit’s plastic cherry eyes glistened with varnish. “I see a boarded window at the front of the shop, and a living statue costume in a box in the attic. These are the shadows that I see. Now come, my time here is very brief: I must leave you now.” And he led Splurge back out onto the street.
“Spirit,” said Splurge as they stepped out onto the freezing pavement once more, “there is something I must ask. What is it that I see moving beneath your robes?”
“It is many things,” replied the spirit sorrowfully. “Look here.”
The spirit pulled open his robe, and suddenly the air was filled with a cacophony of ho-ing Santas, singing snowmen and penguins that for some reason played music from Fantasia. Within the spirit’s robe were a multitude of eyes—plastic, glass, felt—all staring back at Splurge, and Splurge got the impression that this churning mass somehow occupied a space greater than itself. Gazing at its surface, he felt a sort of gravity pull upon his eyes, as though this hideous apparition had some power to draw him in.
“I am all the presents nobody ever wanted,” said the spirit. “I walk the Earth for just this day: tomorrow I must trudge into the sea, and make my way to some poorer country that I may be melted down and, some years from now, reformed into this same shape. Or else to drift for a thousand years, the currents taking my components where they will.” And without another word, he began to walk the long way towards the coast.
“Spirit, wait!” Splurge cried. “This may be my street, but you have taken me a long way from home! I beg you: lead me back!”
“There is another who will lead your way from here,” called the spirit, over its shoulder. “And your way leads not back, but onwards and ahead.”
And Splurge’s blood ran cold, for he knew what came next.