“Bah humbug!” I said, as the last of my factory workers trundled down the cobbled street and out of the cast-iron gates. Life as a Victorian factory owner is never easy, especially at Christmastime, when the production line insist on wearing garish jumpers and playing Ed Sheeran’s Christmas song over the loudspeaker that is usually reserved for reminding them of their deadlines and draining their spirit.
“Merry Christmas, Mr Gordon!” A chirpy young man called out as he approached. I was standing by the gates ready to lock up, and really didn’t have time for idle festive chit-chat.
“Bah humbug, Elijah! Fuck off!” I bit back, hoping that would discourage him, but much to my chagrin he stopped and removed his hat, a noble gesture given the frosty weather.
“Please, sir, the workers were wondering. As we’ve been working hard all December, may we have the day off tomorrow? It is Christmas day after all, and I don’t know how much demand there is for advent calendars from now on.” Elijah pleaded.
“Nonsense! We’re just approaching our busiest time of the year! I would never have started an advent calendar factory if I didn’t believe we could expand beyond seasonal profit, January is coming around, the customers will think that they’ll be able to get cheap Christmas chocolate, and that’s when we jack up the prices higher than Brunel’s stiff upper lip!”
“No buts, Elijah! You’re working tomorrow, Christmas or not! I haven’t forgotten that you took Hanukkah off earlier this year as well, you know.” It was a wily attempt, but I saw through his tricks.
“But Imran, Amrit, and Raven want the day off to enjoy a nice plump turkey with their families!” Elijah stammered.
“I seem to remember them all asking the same thing for Eid, Diwali, and Mabon respectively!” I spat with authority and anger, as I slammed the iron gates closed and locked them up for the night. “No day off!”
It had been a draining day and I was looking forward to getting some sleep, it would be a long day of work tomorrow if we were to fulfil our quota with all my workers even more dizzy from the eggnog and mulled wine than they usually were from the industrial fumes and overwork. I got into my grand four-poster with my nightgown on and a cup of hot chocolate in my left hand, when suddenly…
“BOO!” A voice shouted out.
“Ahhhhh!” The scream was half terror and half pain, I’d spilled my hot chocolate all over my lap when I was startled by the spirit. “A g-g-g-ghost!” In front of me was something I wouldn’t believe if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes, it looked like a gigantic white sheet in the shape of a person, floating at the end of my bed. He then took the sheet off and it turned out he was just a translucent, whiteish person. “Who are you and what are you doing disturbing my hot chocolate?” I asked him.
“Your hot chocolate matters not, compared to your soul!” The spirit replied.
“That’s easy for you to say,” I said as I got up and frantically started stripping my bed sheets and changing nightgown. “You probably haven’t had a cup of hot chocolate in a hundred years!”
“Put down those sheets and come with me. I must take you on a spiritual journey through your Christmas past, there is time for hot chocolate later.”
“Absolutely fucking not. I have to wash these sheets before they get stained. How about you make yourself useful and get me a fresh hot chocolate while I put a wash on?” I ordered, the spirit looked like he was about to protest, but thought better of it and glided off to the kitchen. By the time he was back, the sheets and nightgown were in the (Victorian) washing machine and I was into clean sleeping attire. He re-entered my bedroom with a knock, showing the proper decorum, and handed me my hot chocolate. He had also made one for himself, which I considered to be taking a bit of a liberty, but I decided to let it go. I took a sip.
“Ahhh, that’s much better. Sorry to lose my temper with you, but appearing out of nowhere at the end of someone’s bed and shouting is not the way to introduce yourself.” I said.
“I apologise Mr Gordon, may I start again?” He asked. I nodded. “I am the Ghost of Christmas Past. I saw you earlier today at the factory telling your workers they have to work on Christmas day-”
“You were watching me?!” I interrupted. “How dare you? Hiding over the street were you? I thought I saw that bush move, I thought it was just that Reston boy, the little perv.”
“I am always watching. In the spiritual sense, not the literal sense.” The Ghost of Christmas Past (GCP) replied. “I have seen how you have acted your whole life, how badly you have treated others. Come with me, let me show you.” He offered his free hand to me.
“Where? I’m not really dressed for a trip?” I queried.
“Worry not. I’ve got some magic so we’ll be able to be there in our current clothes and we’ll be a fine temperature. No one will be able to see or hear us either. You can take your hot chocolate.” The GCP replied.
“Okay, let’s go.” I said and stepped forward and took his hand.
With an almighty crack, the scene in front of us transformed from my Victorian London manor house, to what I recognised as a pre-Victorian schoolhouse.
“This is my old primary school!” I said, it was like magic. “There’s Mrs Penny, we were making tree decorations out of paper! There’s me!” I pointed to young boy at the centre of a cluster of friends, brandishing the most fabulous decoration of them all.
“That’s right. That was you before the weight of the world crushed your Christmas spirit. Look how full of joy you were!” The GCP replied.
“Oh wait, this is really good, watch this!” I exclaimed excitedly. The boy version of me yanked hard on the tie of his friend sitting next to him. His friend struggled with knot and whined while the rest of the class laughed at my young antics and congratulated me on another Christmas prank.
“Ahahahaha, that’s brilliant! I was so funny, what a legend.” I was holding my side, struggling to not spill my hot chocolate.
“Why do you think you did that?” The GCP asked me.
“It’s called peanutting and it was quite funny. It’s harmless! Except when you do it so hard that you choke them or rip their tie.” I added as the small boy struggled for breath with the tatters of his tie around his neck.
Another crack followed, as we were spun away from the schoolhouse and into a much more recognisable scene. This was my university bedroom.
“It has only been ten years since that joyful scene, when you believed so much in the power of Christmas and now look at you, wasting your Christmastime alone playing on your Xbox!” The spirit started to lecture. I had already sat down next to my 20 year old self and was intently watching him play the newly-released Red Dead Redemption 2.
“I remember this mission, it’s a really good one in fairness.” I said as I went to pick up the second controller, but it slipped through my ghostly hands. “Oh that’s right, it’s a one player game! Duh!” I attempted to facepalm but my ghostly hand went through my ghostly face.
“That’s right,” The GCP continued. “You gave up all those potential good times with friends to play a single-player game! And look where it got you!” He gestured to my general being.
“Oi! I was only wearing this nightgown because I didn’t expect to be visited in the night. And that game was very popular, I think my friends came and watched me play it quite often.” And just as I finished that sentence, three old university chums burst in through the door.
“Cor blimey, Gordon! You’re still playing Red Dead, that’s capital! Let me watch, please!” One said as he sat down on the bed.
“Not now, Collins. We were going to head to the pub for one last pint before Christmas. Lucy’s down at The Red Lion, Gordon. She says we’re absolutely not to come without you!” The other said. The young me was already putting his coat and scarf on.
“You don’t have to tell me twice, let’s go.” He got his boots on and was the first out the door.
“Noooo!” I screamed, looking at the unmanned Xbox, “Save your game! Save your game!” I tried to grab the controller again, as the three young men ran out the door. I turned to the spirit. “I still remember having to re-play this three hours of game.”
“But you chose to spend time with your friends and see your girlfriend instead?” The GCP replied.
“Yeah, exactly, I had a very active social life, and still do, I’m gonna see the same three lads after work tomorrow in fact. I’m afraid I don’t quite see your point.” I said with confusion.
Another crack! I was back in my bed, under the covers. I looked around.
“Where have you gone? Spirit!” He was nowhere to be seen, I guess that means I won. Suddenly, another vision appeared. This was a much skinnier spirit, he seemed to be waiting for me to talk.
“Hello?” I said. “I assume you’re linked with the Ghost of Christmas Past who just left?”
“Hellooooo Mr Gordon.” Her tone was much more melodramatic. I could tell this was not going to be a fun night. “I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. I’m here to show you how your cold attitude to people in your life is ruining their Christmas.”
“Look, madam. I’m a businessman. It may not be a popular decision, but I guarantee that you would do the same if you had a business to run and mouths to feed.” I stood up to address the Ghost of Christmas Present (GCP- wait, no. Ah, whatever).
“Well, come with me. We will take a trip and see how those mouths are coping with the burden of working tomorrow.” The GCP said and with another loud crack, we left the bedroom.
“Brrrr, it’s freezing!” I shivered. “The last ghost said that we wouldn’t be cold!” We were standing in the middle of a snowy street, it must have been several degrees below zero.
“Don’t worry about that, look where we are!” The GCP suggested. I did look around, across the snowy street I saw a pub, The Butcher’s Arms, just down the road from my factory, I walked up to the window and inside I saw my multicultural mix of a workforce, sitting at a table by the fire.
“Why, that’s little Elijah! And Imran, and Amrit! There’s dear Raven coming back from the bar! They’re all drinking, and they didn’t invite me?” I gasped.
“Perhaps, that’s because they know you would never accept. Move closer, why not listen to what they’re saying?” The GCP said.
I moved right up to the frosted glass window to fully view the scene inside, and I could see my workers laughing and having a good time chatting amongst themselves. But I heard no words through the window.
“I can’t hear anything, spirit!” I told her.
“Oh.” The spirit seemed surprised but not perturbed. “Well, it is a thick window, I suppose. Why not go into the pub?” Thankful for an excuse to get out of the cold, I removed myself from the windowpane and entered the front door of the pub. Immediately I was greeted by a loud cheer from the table by the fireplace.
“Waheyyyy! Look who it is!”
“Come join us for a drink, Mr Gordon, merry Christmas!”
I turned around to the spirit in the door.
“What the fuck?! They can see us!” I shouted.
“Oh dear, that’s definitely wrong.” The GCP replied. “Let me check what I’ve done.” She pulled out a notepad and started leafing through it vigorously.
“Who are you talking to, Mr Gordon?” Amrit asked. This was just brilliant, she’s made me look a right cunt.
“No one, sorry, just a bit tired.” I apologised and pulled up a chair next to my colleagues.
“We were just talking about how you wouldn’t let us have Christmas off, Mr Gordon.” Imran started.
“Oh yes?” I leaned forward, eager to hear what they had to say.
“Yeah, we thought you were right.” Raven said. I was shocked. “We know we’ve been a bit cheeky asking for Christmas off as well. You were kind enough to give me time off for both Mabon and Litha already this year, and I know it’s difficult to trust me when you’re not that familiar with Wicca. But you were very kind. We’d be happy to work tomorrow.”
“Well, there you go!” I stood up and turned to face the spirit. “Did you hear that?” The spirit was still leafing through her notepad and had not been paying attention.
“Oh sorry, what?” She replied.
“They said they didn’t mind working tomorrow.” I gestured to the table behind me, where they were all nodding in agreement.
“Oh…” The GCP faltered. “Well then, that’s fine, I suppose. As long as you’re all happy. Saves me figuring out how to make you invisible for the next trip.”
“Shall we head back home then?” I asked.
Crack! I was back in my room. How lovely it was to be back in the warmth of my own bed. That ‘vision’ was a much nicer experience than I anticipated, it was nice to see them all so happy, I thought as I drifted off to sleep.
I awoke the next morning in a jolly mood and went into work. The workers were not best pleased about working on Christmas day and were quite sluggish, but they eventually got back into the swing of things. My strategy of advent calendar price-gouging worked out, they were flying off the shelves in January and, after reviewing the books, it was a bumper year for the factory! I later learned that there was supposed to be a third spirit visiting me that night, but he got held up with another elderly man earlier in the evening, so he couldn’t make it.
Follow me on Twitter @CallumRG21. Happy Holidays!