As he marched proudly around his extensive gardens, Ebenezer Edmonds saw the disgusting peasant folk in the putrid village at the foot of the imposing hill. He did not care that they were poor, diseased or miserable; he was used to living the life of a king here in Crinkly Bottom. Opening his heavy oak front door, he slammed it shut behind him, teetering comedy stacks of gold coins scattering noisily to the stone floor.
As he decanted the port, there was a knock at the door. Opening it reluctantly, he was sickened by the sight that greeted him. Carol singers, some of whom were old enough to know better, flanked by snot-nosed guttersnipes. They grabbed Silent Night by the throat, before kicking it mercilessly and finally murdering it. Once the dirge had ceased, a small, dirt-smudged child propped up on a single crutch held out a hat, containing all of 5 pence and a couple of mismatched buttons. Ebenezer scoffed, knocked the hat from his trembling fingers, and reached for his oversized cordless telephone, a keepsake from his Swap Shop days. "Get off of my property," he snarled calmly, "before I call the police." The group trudged away, dejected, and he once more slammed his expensive portal shut behind him.
That night, he made his way to his bedroom, adorned in his antique Victorian dressing gown, clutching his golden oil lamp, reflecting brilliantly in his genuine Rolex. His four-poster bed was a welcome, but lonely sight. Getting comfortable, he was woken by a rustling noise. Shocked, about to press his panic button which would summon twenty armed riot police officers, a small, glowing, bearded figure emerged from behind a curtain. "Who... who are you?" he stuttered to the transparent visitor. The large, obviously fake beard was pulled away, revealing a familiar face. "Jacob? Jacob Beadle?" he winced. "But you're dead!"
"Ahhh," said the spirit. "You thought I was dead! But... well, yes. Yes I am." He coughed, needlessly. "Anyway, I'm just here to tell you that you're going to be visited by three spirits this very night."
"So, another two, then?" asked Ebenezer.
Jacob sighed, and explained further.
"You're no spirit! You're an hallucination! An hallucination in a false beard! You're nought but an out-of-date slurp of milk, or a crumb of undigested cheese, a dream that's most unwelcome!"
"Nah," dismissed the entity, "I'm the real deal. Bad luck."
"But why me? Why are they visiting? Why can't they just leave me alone?"
"Because you're a bastard, Ebenezer. Everybody knows it. My friends are going to be teaching you a lesson, because you sorely bloody need it."
With a pantomimic gust of wind and a flash-bang for added effect, he was gone.
Ebenezer snorted. "Bollocks," he thought, and fell asleep.
Soon enough, he was woken by a chilling breeze. Stood at the foot of his bed was the first of the visitors. "I am the Ghost of Christmas Past," he said.
"You're Mike Smith," replied a bemused Ebenezer.
"Right, enough exposition, I'm here to show you the past, and where you may have gone wrong."
Ebenezer was led outside to a ghostly helicopter. "You do know how to fly this thing?" he asked nervously. The ghost just laughed. Within moments, they were outside the BBC studios, its italicised logo of yore hanging proudly from the building.
"This, Ebenezer, is Christmas Day, 1988." He led him to a festively-decorated studio. "Recognise him?" The ghost indicated a happy-looking man in a very bright woolly jumper, addressing the camera cheerfully.
"That's me! Look how young I am!"
"And happy. Don't forget happy."
"Yes, yes, yes."
"You're voluntarily giving your Christmas morning to broadcast to a nation of adoring children, spreading cheer and joy with every word, something you did for fifteen years."
Ebenezer nodded wanly.
"I will now show you where it all went wrong." With a click of his transparent fingers, the scenery changed. They were suddenly in a replica of his living room, looked upon by a studio audience. "This is 1999, and your, ahem, House Party." A large pink-costumed man Blobby-Blobbied through them harmlessly, and there was Ebenezer, slightly older, but the joy had gone. "This is the very moment you changed. This is the very moment you started hating people."
It was true; Ebenezer could see it in his younger self's eyes. He had made so much money, he wanted to have the time to spend it, and began resenting the people who adored him so. A tear in his eye, he was suddenly back in his bedroom, and the ghost had gone.
Shaken by what he had experienced, he tried to sleep once more, but was interrupted by a second ghost, standing there smugly, trousers pulled up way too far.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," he drawled. "Let me show you the effects of your actions, you horrible little man."
"Where are you taking me, spirit?" moaned Ebenezer, as they descended the hill to the village. "It's cold and I'm tired."
"Shut up," charmed the ghost. The village was ramshackle, and crowds of hooded teenagers surrounded Spar, demanding that innocent passers-by go inside and buy them cigarettes. Finally, they reached a run-down house in the middle of a terrace. "This is the house of the carol-singing child you berated earlier."
Peering through the window, the boy shivered on the threadbare sofa, his mum and dad either side of him, trying to keep warm. "What's that they're watching on the telly?" asked Ebenezer. He squinted.
"That is X Factor," answered the ghost proudly. "Though I failed to get the song to number one, there's still blanket coverage across the airwaves. Since your decision to no longer provide festive cheer on Christmas morning, people have lost hope, and the true meaning of Christmas has gone, clearing the way for people like me to fill the gap." Ebenezer fogged up the window with his icy breath, feeling sorry for the miserable-faced family. "Merry Christmas," chortled the ghost, his chilling laughter echoing, as the surroundings blurred and shifted back to his bedroom once more, leaving him alone again.
As he struggled to sleep once more, a glow filled the room. There, at the foot of his bed, was a hooded figure. "And who might you be?" Silence. "The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, I imagine. Well, there's no need for you. I've learned my lesson."
The silent figure simply beckoned, and Ebenezer felt compelled to obey. Walking edgily towards the spirit, the spectre grabbed his arm, and their surroundings blurred and shifted once more.
Ebenezer found himself stood in a bleak graveyard, silhouettes of crumbling buildings lining the horizon. He could see crashed cars, blinking neon signs fizzling into nothingness against closed shops, shutters rattling in the wind. In the distance, a gang of hooded teenagers were terrorising an old lady. "Where are we? When are we?"
"The future. A future of your creation," growled the ghost at last.
"Me? What did I do?"
"You selfishly stayed away from television for many years, draining the message of Christmas from people's souls. Society has collapsed."
"No! I didn't cause this!" The ghost did not answer, placing a gloved hand on a gravestone. Ebenezer could not make out its epitaph. "Tell me what I must do to change it!" Still no answer. He walked angrily towards the ghost. "Answer me!" Through blurred vision, he finally saw the words on the gravestone:
AND EBENEZER EDMONDS
MAY THEY FIND THE PEACE THEY
DEPRIVED OTHERS OF FOR SO
He tore the hood away from the figure, revealing a twisted version of his own visage. Ebenezer's mouth dropped wide open, and let loose a deathly scream. His doppelgänger laughed, as he pushed him into the open grave. Landing awkwardly with a sickening thump, the ghost began filling the grave with earth. Ebenezer's scream was muffled and silenced.
He woke with a start, brushing frantically at his hair and immaculate little beard. No earth. Had it all been a dream? It did not matter, for his heart was filled with joy, sickeningly happy at being alive and well. He had a duty.
Running from his house, still in his nightclothes, he saw the hoodies outside Spar, regular as clockwork. "What day is it?"
"It's Christmas, innit, you tosser," came the unbroken-voiced reply.
Ebenezer did a little dance, ran into the shop, and returned with a multi-pack of Benson & Hedges and a large bottle of White Lightning. He gladly gave the cigarettes and alcohol to the under-age hooligans.
"Fanks," said one.
"Fucking twat," said another.
Ebenezer did not care. He danced all the way home; it was time for a comeback. He collected his large cordless brick, and frantically dialled the BBC. Then ITV. Neither were interested. But, he was too happy still to be put off now. He rang Channel 4, and though it was too late to make a programme for Christmas Day, they instantly gave him The Random Box Game to host, and suggested he ring Sky One, to see if they may be interested in giving him a programme for Christmas Day next year.
He paused, and thought about his experiences from the night before. "Sky One?" he said, disappointed at the suggestion. Ah, well. It was a nice idea while it lasted. He hung up the phone, and went back to bed.