AN ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS CAROL (pt.3) by Robert Cubitt

December 21, 2014

Continued from part 2.

Smooge lay back on his feather mattress and snuggled into the crisp, clean sheets. That had been good, and so inexpensive. He made a mental note to dock Scratchit’s pay to compensate for the small outlay to Scratchit’s wife. You give with one hand and take with the other and that how the world goes round, he mused.

His eyelids grew heavy as he listened to the church clock chiming eleven. A muffled thud made him sit bolt upright in his bed. He craned his neck, trying to locate the source of the sound. He was pretty sure that it had emanated from the upper floor, not the ground. He relaxed slightly, satisfied that his fortune wasn’t in peril. A second thud came and the gas lights dimmed. The fire, already burning low, started to belch smoke into the room. He coughed and spluttered, wiping tears from his eyes as the fumes spread. Strange. That had never happened before, at least not to his knowledge.

A third thud, louder now, came clearly from the parlour. There was nothing for it, he had to go and look.

Stepping gingerly from his bed Smooge felt around with his feet, sliding them into the fleecy lining of his slippers. He reached into the fireplace and grasped the warm metal knob of the poker.

“Who’s there?” He challenged the night. There was no reply.

He crept slowly towards the door, the poker raised and ready to strike at the first hint of trouble. Using his finger nails he eased the door open, then swung it hard, crashing it back against the wall.

“Ah ha!” he shouted as he sprang into the dim light of the parlour.

“Don’t be such an arse,” a voice said, originating from somewhere near his chaise lounge.

Smooge peered into the gloom cast by the dying embers of the fire. There, stretched out on the chaise, was a figure. It looked familiar. It wasn’t alone. He crept closer.

The gaslight flared, illuminating the scene and showing a man reclining. He wore a winding sheet around his chin and a suit that was ten years out of fashion, moth eaten and dusty. Smooge thought he saw movement within the threads. On the floor near the figure’s feet sat a scantily clad girl, while at the other end another almost naked girl sat plucking grapes from a stalk and feeding them to him.

“As I live and breathe,” whispered Smooge. “Harley. Jacob Harley.”

“The one and only. Your one time partner and now resident of the underworld.”

“But you’re dead. I buried you myself.”

“You did, and I note approvingly that you spent barely a penny on my interment. The plot you chose was the coldest, most remote in the cemetery, the stone you erected so tiny you can barely read my name. I congratulate you. I would have done no more had the boot been on the other foot.”

“What magic is this that brings you to my parlour in the dead of night.”

“No magic, Ebenezer. I have been sent.”

“Who sent you?”

“You would not wish me to break a professional confidence, would you?” Jacob Harley raised a disapproving eyebrow. “That is not the way of Harley and Smooge.”

“Smooge and Harley. I changed the name the day I buried you.”

“Ah yes. Of course. How is business these days?

“Not bad. I plan to take on new partners; A Mr Goldman and a Mr Sachs. They tell me that there are shed loads of money to be made advising the government on privatising its assets then undervaluing them. We plan to start with the postal service.”

“That sounds very promising. However, I’m not here to talk business. I was sent to bring you a warning.”

“What warning could you bring me?”

“Change your ways Ebenezer. Change your ways this very night.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then you will end up like me.”

“That doesn’t look too much like a hardship.” Smooge waved his hand to indicate the two barely-clothed handmaidens. The one by Harley’s feet plumped up her pneumatic breasts in case Smooge hadn’t fully appreciated them.

“Appearances can be deceptive. What you can’t see is that I no longer have any genitals and these two beauties have what I used to have, only twice the size and encrusted with hard scales. If you can imagine what they might do with those then you will get some picture of my torment, which I must endure throughout eternity. Or until Wales wins the Rugby World Cup which is likely to take just as long.”

“Ah, now I understand your warning. But I’m not fearful. I am righteous, I cannot go where you went. You lived a dissolute life, Jacob, whereas I am abstemious in the extreme.”

“What you were doing to Elisa Scratchit could hardly be classed as abstemious. You’re a randy old goat. I was most impressed. Did she say how my children are?”

“You fathered her children?”

“Not all of them. Numbers three through five I believe are mine. Twelve is almost certainly yours by the way. The sickly one.”

“So at least Scratchit fathered the others.”

Harley choked on his laughter and would have died had he not been dead already. “Goodness gracious no. He is, perhaps, the father of the first. The others are mine, yours or of unknown provenance. Anyway, back to matters at hand. You are a greedy old lecher,” Harley intoned. “You will be visited tonight by three shades. Listen carefully to them and heed their warnings. If you do not then you are doomed to join me in my eternal torment.”

Harley faded out of existence, but the two girls stayed where they were, eyeing Smooge up as though trying to work out how much he would fetch at a fat stock sale. Harley blinked back into the room again. “Come on girls.” He hastened his companions. “Strictly’s on in five minutes.”

Smooge shook his head to try to clear it of the vision of Harley and the two women. Hallucination, he concluded, brought about by indigestion, which in turn had been brought on by fornicating on a full stomach. He went over to the sideboard and dispensed a  very large brandy from the decanter. He poured it down his throat, which he had to say was an insult to the makers of such a fine cognac. Noticing that he was still holding the poker he realised that maybe it hadn’t all been in his imagination.

Smooge made his weary way back to his bedroom and climbed into the bed, though it now felt cold and clammy. He struggled to find sleep but eventually was able to succumb after he had spent half an hour mentally evicting people from the houses he owned.

*         *             *

Smooge couldn’t be sure if what woke him was the chiming of the church clock or the strange green glow in the corner of his bedroom. Either way he struggled to consciousness and examined the light more closely. A thick fog drifted around it, making it difficult to see what was at its heart.

There was a loud coughing and spluttering and the fog started to disperse to reveal a green clad figure waving frantically. “Sorry about that. Damned special effects machine’s on the blink again.” The apparition waved some more and Smooge was able to make out a large man with a bushy beard. Crowning his snowy locks was a garland of evergreen leaves, which his waving arms had managed to tilt slightly sideways giving him a rakish appearance. His fur trimmed green suit looked vaguely familiar, as did his shiny black boots, but Smooge struggled to place them, though he felt a sudden desire for a cold fizzy drink.

“Who are you, and what the fuck are you doing befouling my bedroom?” Snapped Smooge. He supposed he should have felt fear, but for some reason felt only annoyance.

“Oh yes. I suppose introductions are in order. I am one of the three that was foretold. I am the Ghost of Christmas Past. I come to you like the last stale sausage roll on the plate which no one will eat.”

“Very nice for you, I’m sure. Now what the hell do you want?”

“I come to remind you of the way things used to be, before you turned into the creature you are now, cursed and hated by one and all.”

“That is an image I nurture and cherish. If I wasn’t a banker I’d be the anchor-man of a late night news programme.”

“Be that as it may, but you weren’t always like that. Now come, follow me.”

The ghost rose and walked to the outer wall of the bedroom and continued straight through. When Smooge didn’t immediately follow he stuck his head back through the apparently solid bricks. “Come on. I haven’t got all night. I’ve indigestion to deliver to half the population of the Western world. Climb out through the window. It’s perfectly safe.”

Smooge threw up the sash window and climbed through. He stepped gingerly onto thin air and found his weight supported. The ghost grabbed his arm and pulled him upwards and over the roofs of the houses.

“Where are we going?” Smooge shouted against the wind. He was surprised to find that he had no feeling of cold, despite the steadily falling snow. For some reason Smooge thought he heard singing, an annoying high-pitched voice that grated on his nerves. Something about walking in the air, but he couldn’t quite make out the rest.

“All in good time. Ah, we have arrived.”

The ghost lowered them to the ground outside a window. The house was brightly lit, all the gas lights blazing and a thousand candles twinkling to add to the brilliance. Smooge peered through the open curtains at the festivities inside. Dancers swirled to the sound of music and there was laughter rising above from a hundred throats.

“I know this place. It’s the home of my former employer, Mr Fizzypop.”

“That’s correct. This is his house before you and Jacob Harley drove his business into bankruptcy and bought it back for a fraction of its true value.”

“That’s standard business practice. I learnt it from a major High Street bank. By the way, if this is supposed to be my Christmas past, where am I?”

“Ah yes. Where indeed Ebenezer?” The Ghost grabbed Smooge’s arm and they drifted upwards and slightly sideways. “Now, look.”

Smooge found himself looking through the window of what was obviously a bedroom. The blankets covering a large bed indicated that strenuous activity was being indulged in beneath them. A ringlet adorned head popped into view on the side nearest to them. A second appeared further away. Both seemed to be gasping for air.

“Ah yes. The Fizzypop twins. Such nice girls, and so enthusiastic.” A young male head appeared between the two females, handsome despite its dishevelled state and also gasping for breath. “And there I am. I remember it well.” Smooge leered at the ghost.

“Do you recall what happened to them?”

“On the night? I remember the noises they made. What a pair of wild cats. Their father nearly caught us. I had to hide in a cupboard. But after that? No. I seem to recall that I lost track of them. What became of them?”

“Well, of course, when their father lost his business the whole family was thrown onto the street. Eugenie, that’s the nearer one, found herself pregnant. By you, before you ask. She gave birth in the workhouse and died of complications and bad hygiene. She should have gone private but they couldn’t afford it. Her son was named Oliver. He was given the last name of Twist. A term to do with financial trickery, I believe.”

“And the other?” Smooge struggled to recall her name. “Maude. She was called Maude.”

“Mildred actually. She fared no better. In order to support her destitute father and mother she took to a life of prostitution. She died gin soaked and disease ridden. You passed her in the street once and didn’t even recognise her.”

“That could hardly be my fault. Fizzypop was an incompetent fool. Harley and I did no more than any other man would do.”

“There is no need to be so defensive. No one blames you. Indeed old Fizzypop’s last words before he expired were ‘I don’t blame Harley and Smooge. They did no more than any other greedy unethical banker would do.’”

“Well, my friends in Parliament didn’t think we had done anything wrong. Had they done so they would have shunned us. Instead they allowed us to make even more profit. You know, its amazing what a donation to party funds, the funding  of a private office or the sponsorship of an MP can get you in return.”

“Yes, indeed it can. I’m sure the Pope will summon you to be canonised as the first living saint. How many former MPs now sit on the Board of Smooge and Harley?”

“Quite a few, but that is mere coincidence. In fact that reminds me, it’s time we culled a few of the more useless ones.”

“Then I doubt it will leave many still serving you. Now, it’s time for us to leave.” The house faded into the night and Smooge found himself back in his bedroom, sitting on his bed.

“When the clock chimes two.” The ghost droned, “You will be visited again.”

The room filled with fog once more and the ghost disappeared in a fit of coughing and spluttering.

To be continued…

*********************************

Robert has always been keen on writing and has tried his hand at various projects over the years, but the need to earn a crust had always interfered with his desire to be more creative. After serving with the RAF, working as a logistics planner for Royal Mail and as a Civil Servant with the Ministry of Defence, Robert took up writing full time writing in 2012 and produced two works of fiction in rapid succession. In truth these had been “works in progress” while he had still been in full-time employment and just needed finishing off. Since publishing these books on Amazon he has focused on a new book. The Girl I Left Behind Me which will be published by Ex-L-Ence Publishing Ltd in December 2014, to be followed in the Spring of 2015 by a sequel.

In his spare time Robert enjoys playing golf, is a member of a pub skittles team and is trying, unsuccessfully, to learn to play the ukulele. To find out more about Robert Cubitt and his books or to read his weekly blog please visit his website robertcubitt.com or ‘like’ his Facebook Page. He can be contacted at robert.cubitt@robertcubitt.com

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