2012 will be the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’s birth, so here is my tribute to him with my Christmas episode of The Ghost Hunters Club.
“Your essay is inadequate, there’s not enough detail and you can’t spell. Please redo this and submit it again before the New Year.”
Linda checked the boy’s email address and typed it into the recipient’s box. ‘Robert_Cratchet@cdmail.com’ and pressed send. It was Christmas Eve and Linda was sitting in her small flat marking A Level coursework. If she had decided to stay at home and work, she didn’t see any reason why her sixth form students shouldn’t either. Linda peered out of the window and she grimaced as she saw festive revellers walking past and tutted at their inadequate dress for the weather. Her mobile phone vibrated and she picked it up, it was a text from Chaz, her best friend at work.
“Where are you Linda? Come on woman, Karen and Anna are waiting for you, we’ve got a tequila shot with your name on it.”
Linda texted back, “Can’t mate, got to work, see you soon.”
Another text from Chaz immediately bounced back, it simply said, “ :-( “
Linda ignored it and pulled the next essay towards her. Her red pen shot across the page as she furiously circled more errors, when would these students understand the simple rule of the possessive apostrophe? The flat’s intercom buzzed and she tutted again as she went to answer it. If that was Chaz, or any of the other Ghost Hunters, then they would get short shrift for disturbing her work. She picked up the handset and flinched as she heard something even worse, carol singers.
“Bugger off! I’m trying to work!” Linda slammed the handset down and stomped back to her desk but as soon as she sat down, her phone vibrated again. This time is wasn’t a text but a phone call, the name that appeared was ‘Mr Marley,’ her first head of department when Linda was training to be a teacher, which was funny as she knew he had retired years ago.
“Jacob? Hello, haven’t spoken to you in years, how are you?”
“Hello Linda, I’m busy marking away and I thought of you and wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas. I’m dead by the way, but I don’t let that get in the way of moderating papers.”
“Um right, ok, been at the sherry have you Jacob?”
“Oh I’m pissed as a fart, they do let you drink in the afterlife you know but that’s not really why I’m calling you. I wanted to let you know that as you are the one member of the Ghost Hunters Club that is not celebrating on this night, you shall be visited by three spirits who shall show you the error of your ways. The first one is due in a few minutes. Goodbye Linda, I hope I don’t see you for a very long time.”
The line went dead. Linda looked at her phone in confusion, her phone battery was nearly out of juice and there was no record of her receiving the call. She plugged her phone in to recharge and made her way into the kitchen and switched the kettle on. She had been looking at coursework papers all day and obviously needed some caffeine to perk herself up. The fairy lights from the shop opposite flashed blue, green and red through her kitchen window.
“Humph, bloody Christmas, bloody commercial enterprise, that’s all it is,” she grumped to herself.
The kettle steamed and clicked but it was the icy tap on her shoulder that made her whirl around and gasp. There, stood in front of her was Richard, her ex-boyfriend, or some nutter who was the spitting image of him because as far as she was aware he had gone back to Australia years ago. She must have been working too hard, first she was hearing things and now she was hallucinating.
Richard looked down at Linda and said wistfully, “I am The Ghost of Boyfriend Past and I have come to visit you to show you how you came to tread your current path.”
Linda rolled her eyes, “Dear God, I thought I got rid of you ages ago, didn’t you get the message the first time I dumped you?”
Richard, or The Ghost of Boyfriend Past, flinched. Linda’s teacher’s voice could cut through glass. “Yes I got the message, the one where you emptied the flat and reported me to the Inland Revenue.”
“And it was thanks to your cheating and constant put-downs that encouraged me to enrol into teacher training in the first place, so thanks for that Richie.”
“I’m sorry Linda, that my shoddy behaviour has led you to this.”
“Led me to what, a successful career?”
“No,” replied The Ghost of Boyfriend Past, “working on Christmas Eve.”
“Bah humbug,” said Linda, not quite believing that she had said that. She turned back to the kettle, continued to make her strong coffee and when she looked back, Richard had gone.
Linda went back to her desk, took a swig of her hot coffee and picked up her red pen again. Her imagination was running riot and she just needed to concentrate. Despite the caffeine that was racing around her veins, the words on the paper started to blur and her eyes fluttered, her head drooped, her eyes closed and her head gently landed on the desk.
She could hear another familiar voice, it was Stewart, her current boyfriend (the term being used in its loosest sense) and she wasn’t sitting in her living room anymore but in the corner of her local pub with Stewart sitting next to her.
“What? Where am I?” she said. The pub was heaving and she saw tinsel around the bar, Stewart plonked a glass of rosé in front of her. “Stewart, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at home with your kids?”
“I am, but I am also The Ghost of Boyfriend Present and I am going to show you what you are missing Linda, look over there,” and Stewart pointed to the other side of the pub. The revellers parted and Linda could see a table and sat around it were Chaz, his boyfriend Tim, and her best friends Karen and Anna. They all had bottles of beer and shot glasses in front of them but there was another bottle waiting there and the seat was empty.
“What’s your point Stewart?” said Linda.
“My point is Linda, look at you. It’s Christmas Eve and you are at home marking when you should be here, with your mates getting wasted. School, marking, Ofsted, they can all wait but this can’t and let’s face it Linda, you’re not getting any younger.”
“You’re right, I’m boring and I’ll text Chaz and I’ll meet them later but I am right on one thing Stewart.”
The Ghost of Christmas Present inclined his head. “What’s that Linda?”
“You’re still married and you are still an arrogant bell-end.” Linda took a sip of her pink wine. It tasted of coffee.
Linda’s head shot up from the desk and she rubbed her eyes. They darted to the still steaming coffee cup that was sitting on her desk, which was now half-empty. She frowned as she peeled off a post-it that was stuck to her forehead, on it was written ‘Look behind you.’ Her hand shook and slowly, Linda’s office chair rotated around until it and she faced the horror that was standing in front of her. It was the image of a man but she knew it wasn’t really a man because he was dressed all in black with a dark parka coat with the furry edged hood up. But instead of a face, there was nothing.
“Nnnn, nnnice coat,” was all that Linda could manage. “Is it from Superdry?”
The hood nodded, if that was what an empty space could do.
“A, a, are you The Ghost of Boyfriend Yet to Come?” Linda knew her Dickens and she knew that this would be the most frightening part of the experience. The empty parka nodded again and held up a black gloved hand. Linda took the hint, stood up and touched the icy leather fingers and gasped as a rush of cold air whirled around her head. The silent parka raised his other hand and Linda knew she had to look.
It took her a moment to focus on what she was supposed to look upon. Her living room looked the same, a bit shabbier, but the desk that she usually worked at had moved away from the window. There was somebody at the desk but whoever it was had slumped down and an arm dangled at her side. Linda edged forward, she knew what she was going to see but she feared it all the same. She could see the hand was wrinkled with age, in it was a red pen, she edged further still, the hand of The Ghost Of Boyfriend Yet to Come still touching her fingers and leading her on further. Linda looked down at the slumped figure, the black and empty parka urging her on even further until she couldn’t help but see what she was meant to see. The eyes of the elderly and dead woman stared back at her and she knew that they were hers.
“Is that me Ghost? Is that me in the future, if I don’t stop and mend my ways? Is this what will happen to me if I don’t stop working and go out with my friends?”
The Ghost of Boyfriend Yet to Come nodded its vacant head and Linda looked into its dark emptiness and screamed.
Linda’s eyes snapped open, she checked her face, no more post-its, she checked her trousers, she hadn’t wet herself and she checked her mobile phone, it was still Christmas Eve. It was 9pm and she still had time to get to the pub, she hoped the others hadn’t moved on yet. She grabbed her bag, she had some make up in there so she could blob some on in the pub, she pulled on her boots, coat, scarf and gloves and ran out of her flat.
Linda raced down the road, the path was frosty, the cold air blasted her cheeks but she laughed as she got closer and closer to the pub where she knew her friends were sitting. She only stopped once, to put a tenner in the surprised carol singer’s charity tin, cried “Merry Christmas” and continued to run until she reached her true destination.
Linda burst into the pub, she found the table where around it sat her best friends and fellow ghost hunters, Karen and Anna, and Chaz with his boyfriend Tim. Chaz told Linda a while back his nickname was ‘Tiny Tim’, she didn’t ask why.
“Linda, darling! You made it!” hooted Chaz, the others all smiled up at her, Anna was already swaying but she was flushed and happy, Karen grinned like a little cute ninja pixie.
“Where have you been love?” slurred Anna.
Linda was impossibly out of breath, all she could manage was, “Ghost, boyfriend, old, dead, drink, now!” She knocked back the tequila shot that was placed in front of her and then started on the ice cold bottle of beer. And from that day forth, Linda knew what the true meaning of Christmas was. It was about giving something to charity, even if the purse strings were tight; it was about putting work to one side and most of all, it was about sitting in the pub with her mates and getting drunk.
Tiny Tim raised his glass and they all followed to make a toast, “God Bless Us, Every One!”
A Very Merry Christmas to all those who have supported me over the past year by either buying my stories or giving me encouragement. If you want to buy a copy of The Ghost Hunters Club or any other of my stories, then please click on the link below. If you have a few quid to spare, then you might want to give some to 'Crisis at Christmas' who provide shelter and Christmas food to the homeless.
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