There was a loud coughing and spluttering and the fog started to disperse to reveal a green clad figure waving frantically. “Sorry about that. Damned special effects machine’s on the blink again.” The apparition waved some more and Smooge was able to make out a large man with a bushy beard. Crowning his snowy locks was a garland of evergreen leaves, which his waving arms had managed to tilt slightly sideways giving him a rakish appearance. His fur trimmed green suit looked vaguely familiar, as did his shiny black boots, but Smooge struggled to place them, though he felt a sudden desire for a cold fizzy drink.
“Who are you, and what the fuck are you doing befouling my bedroom?” Snapped Smooge. He supposed he should have felt fear, but for some reason felt only annoyance.
“Oh yes. I suppose introductions are in order. I am one of the three that was foretold. I am the Ghost of Christmas Past. I come to you like the last stale sausage roll on the plate which no one will eat.”
“Very nice for you, I’m sure. Now what the hell do you want?”
“I come to remind you of the way things used to be, before you turned into the creature you are now, cursed and hated by one and all.”
“That is an image I nurture and cherish. If I wasn’t a banker I’d be the anchor-man of a late night news programme.”
“Be that as it may, but you weren’t always like that. Now come, follow me.”
The ghost rose and walked to the outer wall of the bedroom and continued straight through. When Smooge didn’t immediately follow he stuck his head back through the apparently solid bricks. “Come on. I haven’t got all night. I’ve indigestion to deliver to half the population of the Western world. Climb out through the window. It’s perfectly safe.”
Smooge threw up the sash window and climbed through. He stepped gingerly onto thin air and found his weight supported. The ghost grabbed his arm and pulled him upwards and over the roofs of the houses.
“Where are we going?” Smooge shouted against the wind. He was surprised to find that he had no feeling of cold, despite the steadily falling snow. For some reason Smooge thought he heard singing, an annoying high pitched voice that grated on his nerves. Something about walking in the air, but he couldn’t quite make out the rest.
“All in good time. Ah, we have arrived.”
“I know this place. It’s the home of my former employer, Mr Fizzypop.”
“That’s correct. This is his house before you and Jacob Harley drove his business into bankruptcy and bought it back for a fraction of its true value.”
“That’s standard business practice. I learnt it from a major High Street bank. By the way, if this is supposed to be my Christmas past, where am I?”
“Ah yes. Where indeed Ebenezer?” The Ghost grabbed Smooge’s arm and they drifted upwards and slightly sideways. “Now, look.”
Smooge found himself looking through the window of what was obviously a bedroom. The blankets covering a large bed indicated that strenuous activity was being indulged in beneath them. A ringlet adorned head popped into view on the side nearest to them. A second appeared further away. Both seemed to be gasping for air.
“Ah yes. The Fizzypop twins. Such nice girls, and so enthusiastic.” A young male head appeared between the two females, handsome despite its dishevelled state and also gasping for breath. “And there I am. I remember it well.” Smooge leered at the ghost.
“Do you recall what happened to them?”
“On the night? I remember the noises they made. What a pair of wild cats. Their father nearly caught us. I had to hide in a cupboard. But after that? No. I seem to recall that I lost track of them. What became of them?”
“Well, of course, when their father lost his business the whole family was thrown onto the street. Eugenie, that’s the nearer one, found herself pregnant. By you, before you ask. She gave birth in the workhouse and died of complications and bad hygiene. She should have gone private but they couldn’t afford it. Her son was named Oliver. He was given the last name of Twist. A term to do with financial trickery, I believe.”
“And the other?” Smooge struggled to recall her name. “Maude. She was called Maude.”
“Mildred actually. She fared no better. In order to support her destitute father and mother she took to a life of prostitution. She died gin soaked and disease ridden. You passed her in the street once and didn’t even recognise her.”
“That could hardly be my fault. Fizzypop was an incompetent fool. Harley and I did no more than any other man would do.”
“There is no need to be so defensive. No one blames you. Indeed old Fizzypop’s last words before he expired were ‘I don’t blame Harley and Smooge. They did no more than any other greedy unethical banker would do.’”
“Well, my friends in Parliament didn’t think we had done anything wrong. Had they done so they would have shunned us. Instead they allowed us to make even more profit. You know, its amazing what a donation to party funds, the funding of a private office or the sponsorship of an MP can get you in return.”
“Yes, indeed it can. I’m sure the Pope will summon you to be canonised as the first living saint. How many former MPs now sit on the Board of Smooge and Harley?”
“Quite a few, but that is mere coincidence. In fact that reminds me, it’s time we culled a few of the more useless ones.”
“Then I doubt it will leave many still serving you. Now, it’s time for us to leave.” The house faded into the night and Smooge found himself back in his bedroom, sitting on his bed.
“When the clock chimes two.” The ghost droned, “You will be visited again.”
The room filled with fog once more and the ghost disappeared in a fit of coughing and spluttering.
* * *
Smooge sat bolt upright, startled awake by the uncouth shouting.
“I beg your pardon. How dare you wake me in such a rude manner.”
“Ooh, ‘ark it him. Anyone would think you were something special, instead of a greedy wanker with no mates. Now, come on, I’m on a tight schedule. There’s old ladies waiting to be mugged ‘cos I’ve been detailed to this. Know wat I mean?”
“Do you mind telling me who you are first.”
“Never you mind who I am. Just let’s say I’m the ghost of Christmas Present. That’s the ghost of now, not the ghost of the present you got last year that you didn’t like and don’t know what to do with. Do what I do and give it to someone you don’t like, you get me?”
“So I guess I’m supposed to follow you then?”
“That’s right, innit.”
Smooge rose from his bed and went over to the window. He climbed through and plummeted to the ground below. Above him the ghost’s head appeared through the window. “Personally I’m going to use the door, but you know your own business best.” The ghost called down. Smooge thought he heard the word ‘wanker’ again as the head disappeared from view.
Smooge groaned and pulled himself from the snowdrift that had fortuitously cushioned his fall. Beside him the ghost materialised. Smooge took a second to examine him. He was young, his face covered in volcanic pimples. He wore strange clothes. On his head perched a cap, the peak sticking out sideways as though the head had turned but the hat had stayed static. On its dome the initials N and Y were intertwined. Below that was a loose fitting jacket of bright red, a logo of some description on the breast. At his hips were loose fitting trousers that sagged and barely clung to the youth’s buttocks. Every few seconds he would hitch them up to prevent them descending further. Finally there were the soft white fabric shoes he wore, a strange tick like mark adorning the sides. They were totally unsuitable for the deep snow in which they now stood.
“Now, Bro, you gotta follow me. You get me?” The youthful ghost intoned, his head tilted to one side. The question was accompanied by a strange flick of the fingers of his right hand.
“Er, yes, I think I understand.” Why the ghost needed to ask for confirmation of understanding all the time Smooge couldn’t work out. The youth of today, with their strange language.
The ghost rose into the air and Smooge found himself rising with him. “This is sick” The ghost shouted. “Almost worth being killed in that drive-by.”
“I’m sorry you’re feeling nauseous.” Smooge sympathised. He’d had no idea the occupants of the spirit world could feel mortal discomfort.
“What you goin’ on about dude? Never mind. We’re ‘ere nah, innit.”
Smooge recognised the small, slightly shabby house of his nephew. The walls melted away to allow Smooge and the ghost to enter the living room. Within it were gathered his nephew, his wife and their two children. “Don’t worry, they can’t hear you or see you.” The ghost advised Smooge.
The children raised their hands to their face and shrieked in terror.
“Now, now, Tamsin my love. You should not encourage our children to think badly of their Great Uncle.”
“I’m sorry, Justin, but the old miser does nothing to earn either our affection or respect. I would encourage our children not to emulate him. Why, I would rather they were,” she paused for dramatic effect, “poor rather than that they became bankers.”
“Uncle Ebenezer isn’t that bad, you know. Why, he may yet turn out to be a good egg.”
“That is what I love about you Justin. So kind; so forgiving. But your Uncle is a lost cause. He cares only for money. He will die alone and unloved.”
“Much as I would like to believe differently, I fear you’re right, my love.”
“In these times of trouble he does nothing to ease our plight, does he?”
“He is of the belief that we’re all in it together, so why should he help us if he doesn’t help others?”
“Yes. Well, some are more in it together than others, apparently.”
The scene faded as the ghost took them away from the house and they drifted high above the roof tops .
“Where are we going now?” Asked Smooge.
“That’s for me to know and you to find out, copper. Oh, sorry, I mean you’ll see in a moment.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, Father.” The eldest boy was saying. “But haven’t you and mother ever heard of birth control?”
“Now hush, Dappy.” His father said. “You know what joy you all bring us. Besides, if we had less children we’d lose our housing benefit.”
“What’s housing benefit?” asked a small, shrunken looking child.
“That’s money you get if you have too many children and can’t afford to pay your rent, stupid.” The oldest boy cuffed his sibling round the ear in a friendly manner, sending the small boy tumbling across the room.
“Now, don’t be unkind to Tiny Tim.” His father intervened.
“God bless us every one.” The small child said, shaking his head to clear the ringing in his ears.
“Yes, that’s right, Tiny Tim. Now, where’s your mother?”
“Upstairs with Mr Grace doing a curtain fitting.” Dappy reported.
“Well, who’d have thought that his curtains would fit our windows.” Bob beamed at the child. The child rolled his eyes at his father’s stupidity but said nothing.
“Now, what is Father Christmas going to bring us this year?” Bob smiled around the circle of children.
“A doll,” said a small girl who appeared to be addicted to the colour pink.
“Toy soldiers.” Said a medium sized boy.
“A hair dryer.” Said another boy, holding up a mirror and patting his hair into place.
“A Set of plumbing tools.” Suggested a rather stocky little girl wearing a boiler suit.
“World Peace.” Said Tiny Tim.
“Ah, Tiny Tim, would that were true.” Bob ruffled the hair of his youngest son.
“God Bless us every one.” Tiny Tim said.
“Yes, Ok, Tim. No need to keep repeating yourself.”
The front door slammed and Elisa Scratchit breezed into the room, buttoning her blouse.
“Right then Bob Scratchit. What have you brought us for our Christmas Dinner?” Elisa demanded to know.
“Well, my pay doesn’t go far, as you know my love, but thanks to Mr Smooge’s nephew’s benevolence I have managed to obtain a large, juicy rat. If I slice it thinly there will be enough for a piece each.”
“Oh, father.” Tiny Tim exclaimed. “You are so good to us. It’s been ages since we last had rat.”
“Well, you can all enjoy a little more. Mr Smooge has asked that I go around to do another curtain fitting tomorrow so I shan’t be here for lunch. Perhaps Mr Smooge may take pity on me and feed me a morsel from his own table.”
“You work so hard, Elisa. There is so little I can do.”
“Perhaps ‘do little’ should be your last name.” the woman sneered. “That would make me Mrs Doolittle. Mrs Elisa Doolittle. It has a nice ring to it. Wouldn’t it be loverly?”
“We shall miss you Mummy.”
“Do stop your whining, dear Tiny Tim.” Snapped his mother. “Now, where did you leave your crutch, we’re nearly out of firewood.”
“Surely you wouldn’t burn the boy’s crutch.” Bob protested.
“Of course not. I just want to send the little tyke out to get some wood from the yard.”
“Oh, that’s OK then. Off you go Tiny Tim.”
The boy hobbled obediently to the door, his brothers and sisters sniggering behind their hands.
Smooge turned to the ghost. “Will they truly eat rat on Christmas Day?”
“Unless there is a miracle.” The ghost gave Smooge an inquiring look.
“I knew I paid that man too much.” Snapped Smooge. The ghost gave his curious flick of the fingers and the two were immediately transported back to Smooge’s bedroom.
“Now be warned Bro. The third and final ghost will be with you at the strike of three.” The apparition faded into the night, taking care to pocket a gold watch and chain as it left.
* * *
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