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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come

It was late on Christmas Eve in the year of 1842, and Charles Dickens had just retired to his bedroom.

The night was frosty, and he had tightly fastened the doors and shutters so that no icy breeze might disturb his rest.

Pitch darkness was pierced by the yellow glow of the candle flame that had lit his way. He placed the candle holder on his bedside table and climbed into bed.

All at once, the flame flickered, and he heard the faint sound of unfamiliar voices and tones. Dickens raised the candle and peered about him.

A mist seemed to be forming in one comer of the room. Then, to his horror, there materialised from this mist a fearsome spirit.

The spectre wore baggy trousers and a jacket with a loose hood that obscured its face. A small box was attached to its belt. From the box came voices and discordant notes in a cacophony which could only have derived from Hell, and could only have been composed by Lucifer, himself. Dickens also noticed that the figure was tightly holding a small object with both hands. His ghostly companion appeared to be concentrating intently upon this precious object while rapidly and repeatedly tapping it with both thumbs.

‘Who are you, foul fiend?’ Dickens exclaimed. ‘And from what demonic realm do you come?’

‘Stay cool,’ the apparition responded, ‘I just need to send this text.’

For a few further seconds the sprit continued to manipulate the object in its hands. It then inserted the device into a pocket of its trousers. Finally, it touched the box on its belt, and the unholy machine fell silent. ‘I guess you’re not into Heavy Metal, then,’ the spirit surmised.

The creature pulled back its hood to reveal the face of a man in his early twenties. He wore a metal stud in one ear and a ring through his nose. Tattooed upon his forehead were the letters GOCYTC, and his orange hair was gelled into spikes like mountain peaks. ‘Hello,’ the spirit continued, ‘my name’s Wayne, and,' he pointed to the letters on his forehead, 'I’m the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. You’re Charles Dickens, aren’t you?’

‘I am indeed, Strange Spirit,’ replied Dickens, regaining some composure. ‘But, pray, why have you come to torment me this night?’

‘You’re shortly to complete a novella called “A Christmas Carol” that you plan to publish in time for next Christmas,’ said Wayne.

‘That is true,’ the author replied, ‘but what business is that of yours?’

‘Although it's many years in the future,’ Wayne explained, ‘your “Christmas Carol” will be one of the biggest influences upon Christmases in the 21st Century.’ Wayne approached Dickens and laid a hand upon his shoulder. ‘You must come with me so that you can truly understand the consequences of what you write. Let us go to Oxford Street, London in the year 2017.’

In an instant, Dickens and Wayne were standing in a very crowded, bustling street, the like of which Dickens had never seen. There were innumerable bright lights which did not appear to be gaslit. A huge variety of horseless carriages made slow progress along the road, and the ladies, despite the winter cold, appeared to Dickens to have omitted to dress in other than their undergarments.

Dickens noted a man and a woman sitting at opposite ends of a nearby bench – both in seemingly inconsolable distress. He was moved with pity and approached them.

‘Pray, Sir, what has led you to such profound sadness?’ he sympathetically enquired of the man.

‘Christmas,’ came the sobbing reply. ‘I dread it every year.’

‘Is it not a joyous festival?’ queried the perplexed writer.

‘I’ve got to attend four office parties,’ the man explained. ‘I don’t want to go to any of them, and nor does anyone else. However, those who don’t attend will, for the rest of the year, be accused of being “wet blankets” and having a “Bah Humbug” attitude.’

Bah, Humbug! Those are Scrooge’s very words, thought Dickens, amazed that his writing should be known to a common man so far into the future.

‘Then there’s the presents,’ the man continued. ‘It’s going to cost me hundreds of pounds to buy everyone in the family something they don’t actually want, and even more to get the kids all the electronic kit they’ll need so the other kids at school won’t taunt them. I just can’t afford it!’ He sobbed in despair. ‘It’s all going to put me deep into debt until at least next Christmas – then it’ll all start again! And it’s the same for everyone!’

Dickens was mortified. ‘I’m so, so sorry,’ he said.

‘And then there’s the food.’ The trembling voice of the woman at the other end of the bench reached his ears.

Dickens turned around to witness her tear-stained face.

‘I can’t afford it, any more than that chap can,’ she continued, pointing to the man, ‘but I’ve got to buy more food and alcohol than my family can possibly consume. I’ve then got to cook and serve it to relatives that I don’t particularly like – who’ll spend all Christmas arguing with each other.’

‘What will happen to the surplus food and drink?’ enquired Dickens.

‘I, and millions like me, will eat and drink hugely more than we need, to use it up,’ she confessed dejectedly. ‘I’ve spent a fortune this year at Slimming World. I was doing really well. I’ve lost a stone and a half.’ She briefly paused to reflect upon her achievement with pride. She then buried her head in her hands and began to shed further torrents of tears. ‘I’m going to put it all back on again, and probably more,’ she sobbed, ‘before the middle of January. I hate Christmas!!’

Dickens was speechless. He staggered sideways in shock and had to be supported by Wayne. ‘I’m so very, very sorry,’ he said to Wayne. ‘I never realised . . .’

‘Don’t forget,’ interrupted Wayne, ‘that, from your point of view, this Christmas won’t happen for over 170 years.’

Dickens felt a huge sense of relief. There was still time to take action to avoid this horrific outcome of events. As this thought entered his mind, he became aware of a mist enveloping him, and the sights and sounds of the street fading to oblivion.

Suddenly, the mist cleared, and he was once more sitting up in his own bed with Wayne standing at his side.

‘Thank you, oh Spirit,’ said Dickens with tears welling in his eyes. ‘I now see what a terrible future I might have brought upon everyone. ‘First thing on the morrow, I will rewrite “A Christmas Carol” to make Christmas Day just like any other day. Bob Cratchit can work all day for Ebenezer Scrooge, hence earning money to pay Tiny Tim’s doctor’s bills. A modest and fugal Christmas Day for his family will relieve them of all the stress of Christmas and set an example for future times.’ Dickens thought for a few moments. ‘You don’t think that the example of Scrooge will make bankers in the 21st Century greedy, selfish and socially irresponsible, do you?’

‘I don’t think you could make that any worse,’ Wayne reassured him.

‘May I ask a further question?’ said Dickens.

‘What’s that?’ replied Wayne.

‘I now understand how my story would make a dreadful contribution to the horrors of 21st Century Christmases,’ Dickens continued, ‘but surely there would need to be other influences to make it as bad as I have just witnessed.’

‘You’re right there,’ responded Wayne, removing a piece of paper from his pocket. ‘I’ve got the list here of the others I’ve been told to visit tonight.’

‘Who else is on your list?’ asked Dickens with curiosity.

Wayne inspected the piece of paper. ‘Among many others, I’ve got to convince this Prince Albert bloke that trees are best left in forests; I’ve got to visit the bosses of Coca-Cola before they start their 1930 advertising campaign; and I’ve got to call on an Irving Berlin and a Bing Crosby to get them to change the title of some popular song to “I’m Dreaming of a Grey Easter.” Still, at least I can cross “Dickens – Rewrite Christmas Carol” off the list.’

As he finished speaking, Wayne touched the box on his belt, and the screams of tortured souls from Hell once more filled the room. He withdrew the other device from his pocket and his thumbs recommenced frantic tapping upon it.

Dickens now dearly wished to ask more, but, before he could comment further, the mysterious mist enveloped Wayne, the sounds of the tormented faded, and the apparition was gone.