The Curmudgeon


Sunday, December 26, 2004

A Christmas Carol II: Judgement Day

Fit the Third

These pleasant reveries were interrupted by a loud knock at the door. I was startled; I'd expected the Spirit simply to appear in the house the way the others had. If it had to be invited in, perhaps it was vampiric by nature; surely that would be the next logical step in the evolution of Christmas under the regime of industrial capitalism. But how did one put a Christmas vampire to rest? A stake made of holly, perhaps?

The knock came again, somewhat louder. "Is that the Spirit of Christmas Future?" I called.
"However did you guess?" asked the voice of Mr Norbert Cratchit. "Along with my family I am, of course, the very essence of Christmas for the foreseeable posterity, and it's gratifying to hear you agree. Open up, Scrooge, do. It's raining out here."

I opened the door. Mr Cratchit strode in, clapping me on the shoulder. I hate that.

"Yes indeed, Christmas futures," he said, walking into the living-room and settling into the armchair. "They're a fine investment, Scrooge, a fine investment. In today's unstable world it's always a comfort to know there's something you can rely on, and Cratchit's Christmas futures are just the thing."
"I beg your pardon, sir?" I said.
"Shares, my boy. Or stocks, one of the two. For Christmases that haven't come yet. A small down payment, say forty-five per cent of the three percent of the seventy-five per cent after tax that you actually receive at the moment, and then five, ten or a hundred years down the line, you just sit back and cash in."
"Cash in?" The spirit of Christmas Yet to Come was starting to resemble that of the Present to a depressing degree.
"By selling them on again, of course. Come along, Scrooge, don't be a mug all your life."
"I'm sorry, sir," I said. "I'm not sure I quite understand-"
"Of course not, of course not. If you had any head for finance you wouldn't still be a clerk in the walnut department, eh? Still, can't have everything, as Big Tim's father Bob used to say before he had it. That's why I dropped round tonight, knew you'd be on your own, thought I'd cheer you up a bit with the good news."
"The good news," I said, feeling more depressed by the minute. If there was one thing I could do with less of during the Christmas season, it was good news.
"About your futures," he said, pouring himself a large one from my gin bottle. "It's part of a new employees' package we're going to introduce in the New Year. Sort of profit-sharing on the never-never. We take a portion of your take-home wages, invest it for you in these futures, then a few years later you can sell them again, entirely at your own discretion, free to find and choose your own buyer and everything, and you make a nice tidy profit of which we only take thirty per cent for our trouble."

I stood - I only had one chair, and he was in it - and blinked at him.

"The Prime Minister thinks it's a wonderful idea," he said. "Involving the workers in the business more. Makes them think, um realize they have a stake in keeping it all going. Tough on the causes of crime and all that - might help stop the kind of idiocy that's been going on out there tonight."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Petty vandalism, Scrooge," he said as he tossed back the last of my gin and made a sprint start on the vodka. "Some philistine has sabotaged the illuminations. Our illuminations, more to the point. I shall have to speak to someone about that. People nowadays," he mourned, shaking his head sadly, "people nowadays are not nearly so spiritual as they used to be." And he proceeded to make amends for his own lack of spirits by downing yet more of mine.

I went over to the window. It was true: apart from the lights from the other houses, the street was almost in darkness. The Bratfink's advertisement and the Cratchit's Corpulent Christmas slogan had gone out. Straining my eyes, I could see the tangles of twisted framework and disconnected cable lying on the artificial snow. I was hard put to restrain a gasp of admiration; if only I had the courage to do something like that myself!

When I turned back towards him, Mr Cratchit was on his feet. "Well, Scrooge," he said as we walked to the front door, "I hope I've managed to cheer you up a bit, instil something of the season of goodwill into that cynical head of yours."
"Thank you sir," I said.

He clapped me on the shoulder again. "Well, soon be time to start saving for next year. If you didn't drink so damn much you might be able to afford to decorate this place, buy a tree or some tinsel or something. Employees do get discount on certain selected animal by-products, you know."
"I know, sir," I said. "I'll bear the fact in mind." I opened the front door for him. A young woman was standing on the step. She was fairly pretty and rather oddly dressed, but Mr Cratchit didn't seem to notice; in fact, he walked right into her, and then, a tenth of a second later, out the other side. She threw a contemptuous glance at his back and then turned to face me.

"I am the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come," she said.
I couldn't forbear giving a large sigh of relief. "Please come in," I told her. "Your two colleagues didn't even wait to be invited."
"What about him?" She jerked her head in the direction of the departing Cratchit.
"He wasn't invited either, but I had to let him in. He's my boss."
"Is that so?" She gazed after him again, this time with the least hint of a smile. "Cratchit's Christmas Novelties and Associated Horseshit, hmm?"
"Near enough," I said. "Would you care for a drink?"
"Yes, but unfortunately I can't indulge while on duty. It would cause a dysfunctional temporal anomaly."
"Naturally," I muttered as we entered the living-room; "it does that to me all the time."

She stood in the middle of the room and looked about her with an air of exaltation. "So this is it," she said.
"This is it," I said, without wondering too much what it was. I was too busy wondering about her. She looked several years older than me, slim and fit, and she was dressed like a guerrilla fighter: boots, combat jacket, bandoliers and so on. The only anomalous detail was the fact that around her head she wore a band which appeared to be woven together from sprigs of mistletoe.

"What are you, then?" I said. "A latter-day militant Druid?"
"Don't be silly."
"You're not altogether what I was expecting," I said.
"I could say the same thing to you."
"Are you really a spirit?"
"In a manner of speaking. I'm a limited-sphere spatiotemporal displacement construction, rearward oriented. My name's Angela."
"Rearward oriented?" For a moment I almost suspected Big Tim Cratchit's Escort Agency again, this time admittedly with a certain hopefulness, but Angela said impatiently:
"Rearward in time, of course. I thought you knew I was from Christmas Yet to Come."
"Yes, of course. Silly of me. Do you mind if I ask what year?"
"Nothing prevents you from asking, but I'm not going to tell you. I want it to be a surprise for when you get there."
"I beg your pardon?"
An expression of slight impatience crossed her face. "I didn't realise this was going to be so difficult. You really don't have a clue yet, do you?"
"A clue about what?"
"Us. The movement. The Herodians?"

She said the name as though it might have some significance for me, but I could only shake my head and shrug.

She sighed. "All right, look. There isn't much time. The Herodian movement was founded in - well, some time in your future - to combat the pernicious effects of Christmas. Sabotage, assassination, cratchiting, that kind of thing."
"Cratchiting! Based on what was done to your guest, Norbert Cratchit. The method which was used to victimise him acquired his name. The same thing as happened with a certain Boycott in a previous century, only more so."
"And the name - the Herodians? After the Herod who..."
"After the archetypal child-hater who heroically tried to prevent the first ever Christmas, at the immense personal cost of having his name despised by all posterity. It's one of our sacred missions to rehabilitate him, but we can't do that until the festival itself has been overthrown."
"And just how do you propose to do that?"
"Terrorism," Angela said. "It's the only possible way."
"You really think so?"
"Well, you're a fine one to take that tone," she said, annoyed. "You're really not what I expected at all, even at that age. This could have consequences for our relationship when I get back forward to where I came from."

I thought that over for a bit. When it became apparent that, despite her conversational style, she wasn't going to turn into a bedpost and allow me to wake up, I said, "Well, whatever your purpose is in being here, I suggest you proceed with it. We may as well get it over with."
"Over with?" said Angela, flickering slightly around the edges. "Believe me, this isn't even the beginning yet." Noticing where I was staring, she looked down at her left sleeve, from which a bluish radiance was effulging in a somewhat intimidating manner. "Oh hell. Time's nearly up. Be seeing you. Look, just try to remember what I said for once, and remember that next week is the first year of the rest of your li-"

The blue light crackled and enveloped her, and she disappeared.

"Right," I said. So, by the looks of it, Christmas Yet to Come was going to make even less sense than previous Christmases; evidently present trends were going to continue unabated. The thought filled me with a terrible existential horror and I reached for the whisky bottle, which Mr Cratchit had fortunately overlooked.

To be concluded...


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