There was a strange light coming from under his bedroom door, and Hitchens became convinced, in that moment, that whatever spirit was meant to come second must be in the next room. He got to his feet and went to the door.
The moment Hitchens’ hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.
It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living greenery and red paper Starbucks cups, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrifaction of a hearth had never known in Hitchens’ time. There were bottles of pricey bourbon, gin and vodka. Pricey Rolex, Girard-Perregaux and Omega watches. The keys to BMWs, Ferraris and Mercedes. There were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. And a small steaming dish of tofu and brown rice for any annoying vegan visitors.
Seated in two high backed leather chairs, one facing the other, were two men in a great and heated discussion. One was animated, and pointed the chewed end of his odoriferous cigar at the other. While the other, on the other hand, made his salient points with a subtle spreading of the fingers, elbows firmly on his chair’s armrests, for emphasis.
“Who the bloody hell are you two?” Hitchens demanded.
“Come in!” exclaimed one of the ghosts, the one Hitchens would come to know as the more cordial of the two. “Come in, and know us better.”
Hitchens entered timidly, and hung his head before these spirits. He was not the dogged Hitchens he had been; and though the spirits’ eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
“We are the Ghosts of Christmas Present,” said the cordial Spirit. “Look upon us.”
Hitchens reverently did so. They were both dapper in their dated tailored European suits, finely polished shoes and golden watch chains, though the spirit with the cigar did have a light dusting of ash across his lap.
“You have never seen the likes of us before!” exclaimed the cigar smoking spirit. Hitchens tried to place the accent; was it Austrian?
“I’m not so sure,” Hitchens said. ”But couldn’t they have sent just one of you? Is it really necessary to send two?”
“You shunned all preceding Spirits of Christmas Present, I think.”
“Perhaps I did,” said Hitchens. “Have there been many of you?”
“More than 2000,” said the cordial ghost.
“Ah,” muttered Hitchens. “A vast number. I may have been on a book tour.”
The ghosts of Christmas Present rose together.
“Look,” said Hitchens. “Before we fly off to where ever the hell it is you’re going to take me, just who the hell are you? Besides the Spirits of Christmas Present, I mean. There’s something very familiar about the both of you.”
“So, you think you know us!” said the cigar smoker.
“This is good,” said the more cordial of the two. “Allow me to introduce us both. I am Jung, and this specimen is Sigmund.”
“Sigmund?” said Hitchens. “Jung? You mean you’re Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung?
“Nine, nine, nine,” said the dapper gentleman with the cigar. “He is Jung, and I am Freud. Don’t get us mixed up, boyo. It could go very badly for you.”
“Crikey!” said Hitchens, rubbing his eyes in disbelief.
“You see,” said Jung to Freud while pointing at Hitchens. “The personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes. This individual is a single multiplicity of complexes.”
“Wrong, wrong, wrong,” replied Freud abruptly. “In this subject, we have an example of how the conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun, and falling back into the subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises. Although, in this case, it’s a very shallow pool. And somewhat polluted.”
“Okay look,” said Hitchens. “If this is how it’s going to be, I’d rather go back to bed.”
“None of that talk, now,” Jung’s ghost said gently. “We have miles to go before we sleep.”
“That line’s not yours,” said Freud.
“But it sounded right for the moment.”
“You are a scoundrel and a plagiarist.”
“Oh, shit,” said Hitchens, shaking his head.
“Please, Sigmund,” said Jung. “We must think of the patient.”
“Yes, you are correct,” Freud said, offering a freshly lit cigar to Hitchens. “Take this and fly with us.”
Hitchens took the cigar, and marvelled at it. “Is it magic?” he asked. “Will it help me to fly?”
“Of course not,” said Freud. “It’s just a cigar. Have a good smoke. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, you know.”
“Touch the tweed of my jacket,” said Jung. “And you shall rise with us into the world.”
They rose up together, the three of them. Over London on that Christmas Day and landed on a grey street of filthy, cracked concrete sidewalks, infested with brown and brittle weeds. Before them was a dilapidated apartment building with its security door ajar.
“Shall we enter,” said Freud.
“Why, this is the building where my clerk, Bob Cratchit, lives,” said Hitchens. “I know because it’s the address on his meagre biweekly pay cheque. Gawd, what a dump.”
“And the elevator is out,” said Jung. “So we will take the stairs.”
In the apartment, Bob wasn’t present, but some of the Cratchits were sitting in front of the television watching The 700 Club with Pat Robertson. There mouths, being their primary source of inhalation, hung half open, and they didn’t seem to blink.
Just then, Bob Cratchit walked in with Tiny Tim.
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs Cratchit, not taking her eyes off the television screen.
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting in the food fair at the mall. He thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the mall, because he was an unemployable, dim witted elementary school dropout with a bum leg, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”
“That’s nice, Bob,” said Mrs Cratchit, without lifting her slack jawed gaze from the TV screen. “Pass the chips, somebody.”
“I must say, though,” said Bob. “Tiny Tim isn’t so tiny anymore. He is twenty-eight, after all. And he’s over six foot, and going on 14 stone. People are starting to point at us when I carry him on my shoulder. Not only that, Dr Knoddle tells me I’ve developed a herniated disc as a result of packing him round like that.”
“That’s nice, dear. Is there any beer in the fridge?”
Bob’s voice was tremulous when he told them this, and trembled more when he said that Tiny Tim was growing strong and hearty. His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back came Tiny Tim before another word was spoken. He sat on his stool before the TV.
“And what about Christmas dinner,” asked Bob of Mrs Cratchit.
“There’s Spam in the cupboard,” Mrs Cratchit said before her jaw relaxed again, and sagged for a moment. There was a commercial break on the TV, but none of the viewing Cratchits looked away. Then Mrs Cratchit said: “Though I’m worried there might not be enough. Tiny Tim’s been into it, and we’re between pay cheques.”
“Between pay cheques?” said Bob incredulously. “I just got paid yesterday. What happened to it all?”
“Well,” said Mrs Cratchit, as a string of drool dripped from her mouth, and her eyes burned into the screen. “Pat Robertson said Jesus needs cash to do His awesome work on Earth, so I sent it all to the 700 Club.”
“What? Every farthing?”
“And I sold the car and took out a payday loan from the Money Mart. Jesus should be able to do some very awesome work indeed with the wad we sent Him. ‘Course, you’ll have to pay off the payday loan next week. Interest is running at 85%.”
“Well there seems to be plenty of beer in the fridge,” said Bob.
“Oh good,” said Mrs Cratchit. “Gives us a couple, will you.”
Bob Cratchit gave his wife a couple cans of beer, and sat beside her. He’d brought a can for himself.
“Okay,” he said, sitting there. “All we have for Christmas dinner is a can of Spam. And you’ve given every penny we have to an American televangelist. Well, at least we have beer and a roof over our heads.”
“We’ve been evicted,” said Mrs Cratchit, lazily swatting at the drool hanging from her chin.
“Last week,” said Mrs Cratchit. “Rent’s two months past due; we have to be out by the 31st. Pat Robertson’s building a church in Tulsa; he needed the cash.”
“So you gave him the rent?”
“Pat Robertson said we’d be assured a place in heaven if I did. And because we were among the first 300,000 generous followers of Jesus to donate, we received some very nice steak knives etched on the side with the 23rd Psalm, except they spelled shepherd wrong. It says, The lord is my shepnerd. But I’m too full of Jesus to care.” And here, Mrs Cratchit belched.
“This is very depressing,” said Bob Cratchit. He cracked open his can of Fosters. “Well, at least let’s have a Christmas toast. Here’s to Mr Hitchens, though if he knew he was indirectly funding Pat Robertson, I’m sure he’d blow a gasket.”
“Hitchens!” cried Mrs Cratchit, suddenly animated. “I wish I had that Godless bastard here. I’d give him a piece of my Christian mind.”
“My dear,” said Bob, “the children. Christmas Day.”
“It should be Christmas Day, I am sure,” said Mrs Cratchit, “on which one drinks the health of such an odious, unbelieving, antitheist tosser. You know he is, Robert. Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow.”
“Actually,” said Bob, “I rather agree with him.”
“I’ll drink his health because I’m a good Christian,” said Mrs Cratchit. “Here’s to him, and may he smoulder in hell for all eternity.”
“Okay, okay,” said Hitchens to the Spirits of Christmas Present. “Just what the hell is the point of this? Is this supposed to change me? Make me a better, Godlier man? Well it doesn’t. It just proves my point, and it’s pissing me off.”
“He seems to have absolutely no ability to compensate,” said Jung of Hitchens.
“As I have said before,” said Freud. “Civilized society is perpetually menaced with disintegration through the primary hostility of men towards one another.”
“He may not be able to recognise the subtleties of our unconventional therapeutic approach,” said Jung.
“Oh that’s just typical, isn’t it,” said Hitchens. “Therapeutic approach? You two are classic. I suppose you’re going to bill me for this, aren’t you? I mean, that’s what psychiatrists do, isn’t it?”
“Cigars aren’t cheap, you know,” said Freud.
“And I have my place in Geneva to maintain,” said Jung.
“That’s it. Take me home. I’ve bloody well had it.”
“Is this where we reveal the little boy und girl as metaphor for want und ignorance,” asked Jung of Freud.
“Nine, nine, nine,” said Freud. “His psyche is too fragile. He needs to get shit face.”