Smooge shivered, wondering where a draft might be coming from. He glanced across at the window and saw it gaping open, a pool of melted snow on the floor beneath it. He knew he had closed that window before retiring the evening before. On the far side of the room something caught his eye. Was that a laurel leaf? Perhaps some part of a ghost’s head dress? And there, on the floor, was that not golden glitter which might have been dislodged from a ghostly girl’s chest? And where was his gold watch and chain?
So it had been real, apparently. Smooge climbed from his warm bed and approached the window, meaning to pull it down, but he spied an urchin trudging through the snow below him.
“Hey, you there, boy.”
The urchin stopped and looked up at him. “Oo’ are you callin’ boy, you old fart?”
“Tell me boy. What day is this?”
“Well bless me guv’nor. Don’t you know it’s Christmas time at all?”
Christmas. Of Course. That was what his nocturnal visitations had been about. “Wait there boy.” Smooge’s head vanished from view and returned a moment later. Gold sparkled in the air as he threw a coin down to the boy.
“Ouch. That hurt. You wanna be careful, old man, or I’ll ‘ave the law on you for that. I’m entitled to compensation.” The boy raised a filthy handkerchief to staunch the flow of blood from the gash on his head. Dropping to his hands and knees he searched the snow for the fallen coin with his free hand.
“Now, boy. I want you to hurry to Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason’s most excellent emporium and buy me the biggest goose they have.”
“You’re a loony mate.” The boy shouted up, having retrieved the coin. “It’s Christmas Day. The shops are all shut and the first Asian mini-market won’t open for another hundred and twenty years. But thanks for the Sovereign.” He turned and ran away before Smooge could consider coming down the stairs to recover his money.
Damn and blast, thought Smooge. Well, he’d remember that boy’s face. Now now, he chastised himself. Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men. Even dirty faced urchins. After closing the window he made his way into the kitchen and opened the door to the cold larder. There on the shelf was the fat goose that he had been planning to cook for himself and Elisa Scratchit. It would have to do.
“Well, here’s a sight for sore eyes. And how are you this fine morning Uncle?”
“I am well. Now, yesterday, Justin invited me to share your festive lunch.”
“He did indeed, in the full expectation that, as usual, you wouldn’t attend.” Her face fell as realisation dawned. “You are attending, aren’t you.”
“I am indeed. However, I must first run an errand. I will return forthwith and enjoy the day with you. I’m afraid that I haven’t had time to buy presents for you or your children. How are little Agatha and Brian, by the way?”
“Arabella and Boris. They’re fine. As they weren’t expecting a present from you they won’t be disappointed.”
“I shall make restitution some other way, perhaps some small financial contribution may be appreciated. Now, I must go, but I’ll be back shortly.”
“Don’t hurry yourself Uncle.” Tamsin responded sourly. “I’ll let my husband know you’re coming. He’ll be so pleased.” The sarcasm was lost on Smooge.
If Smooge noticed the aggression with which she slammed the door he chose to ignore it. Instead he strode off through the snow to his next port of call. Under his breath he hummed a familiar carol. His knock was answered by Elisa.
“Mr Smooge. Well bless me but we weren’t expecting to see you this morning.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I’m not free till this afternoon, you randy old goat.” She hissed.
Smooge beamed at her. “Fear not Madam, I haven’t come for my curtain fitting. I bring you this fine goose so that you may enjoy the festivities.” He held the dead bird up by its neck.
“You’d better come in then.”
Elisa stood to one side then ushered Smooge into the tiny, badly lit parlour. Guttering candles filled the air with smoke while a smouldering pile of ash in the grate added little warmth. “I’ll tell Bob you’re here.” She said as she left the room.
Seeing their father’s employer enter the room the children cried out with alarm and backed themselves into the furthest corner.
“Now, now, children. No need to be alarmed.” Smooge gave them his warmest grin, which succeeded only in drawing fresh cries of alarm from them.
“Now, why don’t you come over here to your Uncle Smooge. You. What’s your name little girl?” He singled out a child dressed from head to toe in shocking pink.
“I’m Beyoncé” She stammered in fear.
“OK, Beyoncé, why don’t you introduce me to the rest of your brothers and sisters.”
Emboldened, the girl moved forward slightly and pointed at each child in turn. “That’s Dappy, he’s the oldest, Jagger, Britney, Elvis, Bono, Adele, Norton is the one with the frilly pink shirt, that’s KD in the boiler suit, Freddie, Ringo and finally Tiny Tim.”
“God Bless us everyone.” Piped Tim from the back of the crowd.
“Yes, alright Tim. Don’t milk it.” Said the one identified as Elvis.
At that moment Bob Scratchit entered the room, brushing snow from his shoulders.
“I must get that hole in the privy roof sorted.” He told the world at large. “Well, This is a surprise, Mr Smooge.” His face took on a worried look. “You haven’t come to sack me, have you? You did agree I could have the day off.”
“No need to worry, Bob. I’ve just come to give you this fine goose for your lunch and to wish you the season’s greetings.” He handed the bird over to his employee. The children eyed it with open mouthed awe. They’d never seen so much meat in one place before.
“Oh, Bless You Sir. Can I get you a drink?”
“Why, that would be wonderful Bob.”
Scratchit left the room and returned a few minutes later without the goose but with the bottle of beer he had been looking forward to enjoying with his roast rat. He offered it to Smooge, then ushered him across to the seat by the fire. The only seat in the room since the rest of the furniture had been burnt to provide warmth. Fortunately the Scratchit family had been unaffected by the recent rise in gas prices. You had to have gas for that to affect you.
They sat in embarrassed silence while Smooge drank the beer. The children whispered together about the mystery of Smooge turning up with food for them.
Smooge drained the last drop from the bottle and rose. Scratchit almost fell over with relief as he escorted his employer form the house.
“Have the merriest of Christmases, Mr Smooge.”
“Thank you Bob, and the same to you and your family. Please tell your lovely wife not to bother with my curtain fitting this evening. We can arrange it for another time, I’m sure.”
“Why thank you, Sir. She will be pleased.”
I won’t be though, thought Smooge. He wished someone would hurry up and invent the internet so he could download some Christmas porn. Instead he pasted a smile onto his face that succeeded in frightening a passing horse, then made his way back to his nephew’s house.
As the door shut Smooge heard Tiny Tim’s voice. “God Bless us every one.”
“Oh do shut up.” The other children shouted in chorus.
The gas lights flickered and dimmed and smoke whirled from the fireplace. Jacob Harley entered the room through the wall, on his arms he had his two demonic companions. Today they were dressed from head to toe in shining leather. In their free hands they carried whips which hissed and crackled as spark flews when they flicked the tips of them in time to their walk.
“Ah, Jacob. So nice of you to pop in. You might want to cut down on the smoke effects though, it's ruining my decor.”
“Why, thank you Ebenezer.” The two women detached themselves and went over to admire the form of the sleeping woman, allowing their whips to gently caress her naked body. “I understand that you heeded the warnings of the ghosts.”
“I did indeed, Jacob. And I have to say that I have enjoyed this day immensely.”
“I had a bet with myself that you would disregard your visitors. You disappoint me. I thought you were made of sterner stuff.”
“I am, Jacob. I am.”
“So what changed your mind?”
“Several things.” Smooge took a long pull at his cigar and blew a series of smoke rings into the room. “The first is that Elisa deserved a day off from ministering to my baser needs. I have no desire to push her into the arms of some randy haberdasher. Besides, Scratchit would have had no idea how to cook that goose. Secondly, I couldn’t bear the thought of Tiny Tim dying. After all, who else could I exploit when I eventually have to pension Bob Scratchit off? Not that he’s getting a pension, of course. Thirdly, Christmas is only one day. There are three hundred and sixty four other days of the year when I can cheat and rob like any other self-respecting banker. Finally I succeeded in ruining Christmas for my prig of a nephew and that holier-than-thow wife of his, which gave me enormous pleasure. I look forward to doing it again next year.”
Jacob threw back his head and roared with laughter. “I knew it. I knew you would never change. Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you down below after all.”
“Do I have long before we meet again?”
“Only the good die young, Ebenezer, so be assured you have many a year left in you before we meet again.” He turned to his female companions. “Now come along girls, leave the hooker in peace. We’ll get back just in time to find out who Sir Alan chooses as his apprentice.”
The two women cracked their whips over Harley’s head producing a cloud of sparks as the trio faded from view.
In his comfortable padded armchair Smooge contemplated the start of the next business day. If things went to form he would open his doors to a flood of borrowers, crippled by the debts created by their own over indulgence. He smiled his cruellest smile and took a sip of his brandy. He wished himself the Happy New Year that he knew would be his anyway.
The End (or is it?)
The descendants of Bob ScratchitI and Tiny Tim will make an appearance in New Earth, the third book of my forthcoming sci-fi saga, The Magi Series.
I hope you enjoyed this alternative Christmas Carol and I would like to wish all my readers, old and new, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. If Father Christmas brings you any Amazon vouchers this year why not consider spending a small amount of them on one of my books. As it happens my new book, The Charity Thieves, is out on Monday 21st December and will be on a special offer price up to and including 26th December. To download a free sneak preview click on the "Free Stuff" tab at the top of this page.
I'm going to be taking a short break from blogging over the Christmas holidays but I'll be back on Saturday 2nd January with a few words about New Year's resolutions.To get reminders of when my blogs are published please go to Facebook and 'like' my page at http://tinyurl.com/o4gtb6v or 'follow' me on Twitter @robert_cubitt