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XMAS_2012_A5

XMAS_2012_A5

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Published by: MAW_H on Dec 16, 2012
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06/25/2014

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A

Christmas
Tale in 25 Parts
By

Martin A W Holmes
First published in Blog Form at m-a-w-h.blogspot.com December 1-25 2012

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PART ONE Ah, December…! Here already… I suppose that I’m going to need to find some kind of a story to tell in the run up to the big day. After all, this is what I do. Or at least, this is what I do now… Does anyone else really care whether I do have a story to tell or not, however…? And, perhaps more to the point, will anyone bother to read it, keep the narrative strings in their head, and let out a gasp of surprise when it finally reaches its exciting conclusion…? Probably not… Best keep it simple then. That’s something to ponder upon as the story unfolds… or doesn’t. Perhaps, in the end, I simply won’t bother at all… Of course, the piece I wrote about not having written anything would now be pretty redundant if I did go ahead and recount some kind of a tale, so maybe I’ll just publish that instead. After all, it’s so hard to find the time to actually sit down and tell a story that maybe I won’t… We live in an interesting metaphysical state… Perhaps that’s what the story ought to be about…? A story that exists in a quantum state, in which the reading of it proves that I didn’t actually write it… No, that’s far too complicated. Keep it simple, stupid. Just tell a simple story about a man in a room. Fair enough. Well, we’re going to need a protagonist, and, because it’s me, he really ought to have a suitably unchristmassy name. I

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know! Let’s call him, for the sake of having nothing better to call him, Mr Snatch. After all, it’s a name that sounds just a tiny bit rude under certain conditions, and, perhaps just a little bit angry, too. It sounds like a very good name for a miserable git which is, of course, what he has to be for the story to unfold properly as it should, assuming that we can find a story to tell… Mr Snatch (for it is he) switched off the TV set and sighed. Oh come on! It has to be at least a little bit about telly, at least in some way. After all, telly is just about the only thing I really know anything about. Well, watching it at least. Tom and Barbara had just berated Margo for having her “Christmas in a van” as they had done for as many years as Mr Snatch could remember. Ah yes! People will remember that reference, won’t they…? Of course, anyone coming across this little tale might now be thinking that our story is trying very hard to be as contemporary as the author likes to think he is… Which is, of course, not very. He wondered whether anyone might appear today. So what does he look like, this Mr Snatch? Well, I suppose, spindly. I guess that’s a given, but Whoa! Wait! What’s this…? With a reluctance born mainly out of apathy, he placed his top hat and goggles upon his head, shrugged on his overcoat, and began once more to climb the many rickety stepladders and old staircases which he had salvaged and roped together so that he could manage his twice daily climb up to the very top of the white iron tower to the tiny platform on which he kept his brass telescope.

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Because, to no surprise to the reader at all, this “Mr Snatch” is living in a “post-apocalyptic” landscape, and therefore, as far as he knows, he is utterly, utterly alone. I’m so festive and full of Christmassy cheer, aren’t I…? This might make the arrival of Santy Claus into our little narrative a tad unlikely, but then Chrimbletide is a time for miracles and magic, so you never know. He shivered (it being midwinter) and pulled his muffler tightly about his throat as he felt a sharp wind cutting into his exposed skin, before placing the lenses of his goggles against the eyepieces and surveying the battered grey landscape until he had covered every direction. It was always the same, day in, day out; Never a hint of another life, never a wisp of smoke rising over any of the distant horizons, never the remotest possibility of ever having a conversation with another human soul. He sighed a sad little sigh to himself, and opened up his ledger, scratching a mark onto one of the pages with the precious stub of pencil he kept precisely for that purpose. Me let out a mournful little “huh!” when he realised just how close to Christmas it was. He glanced down towards his feet, wondering whether it might be just a tad too optimistic to hang one or other of them next to the stove overnight at the appropriate time, and decided against it. The warmth they gave to his toes was gift enough for him, and if that meant putting off another firewood hunt for a few more days, then that was fine by him. That thought reminded him that he needed to head down into the basement and wind up the generator again if he was going to be able to rewind that battered old tape again and get another jolly dose of Tom, Barbara and Margo.

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He really wished that he could remember how that episode had ended, but the only part of the tape that would ever play was the first ten minutes, and the picture was getting worse every time. Perhaps, he considered, he ought to restrict himself to only one viewing a day for a while, at least until Christmas, but the thought of hearing no other voices at all for two days or more really didn’t bear thinking about. He was beginning to think that another trek out to the old landfill site might be in order because he might just get lucky and find another old tape. Then he froze stock-still as, behind him, he heard a creak coming from the stairs…

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PART TWO There really had to be a creak on the stairs, or something, in that otherwise empty world, not least because, if you’re hoping that people will come back for more, you really do have to finish on a cliffhanger. Of course, this does now mean that I’m going to have to think of another twenty-three of the wretched things, but, so be it. In storytelling terms, they’re very artificial constructs anyway, a quick bit of false jeopardy put in as an excuse to not have to actually finish off a thought, and so, for the moment, we’ll leave old Mister Snatch where he is for the moment and think about adding another strand to our tale. One hundred years or more earlier, another Mr Snatch sighed deeply. “T’was the season” and all that, but he really did not feel in the mood for fun and games. Ah, now, that’ll fox them, leaping immediately to another time zone and all that it entails. Hah! Although… Now I’ve dug a hole for myself and I’m going to have to come up with a terribly clever and not-at-all disappointing reason for this that ties everything together in a satisfying way. Or, I could just treat them all with utter contempt and ignore it, on the not unreasonable assumption that they’re not going to remember anyway or that there’s more than a slight chance that they haven’t yet, and are never likely to, read the other parts anyway. Well, they won’t now, will they, you idiot…? Okay, okay, it’s bound to get confusing having at least two Mr Snatches running around in our little plot, but it’s also

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bound to become significant and lead to all sorts of hilarious misunderstandings and jolly pranks, I’m sure. Anyway, this Mr Snatch is completely distinguishable from the other one by dint of being completely identical to him in almost every way, except for the fact that his clothes are far more tidy and elegant, so that’s cleared that up, anyway. He was sitting in a dark corner of a lonely tavern hoping against all hope that the various revellers who were stalking the streets and threatening to box the eardrums of all and sundry with various merry renditions of seasonal songs would bypass this notoriously unwelcoming den of iniquity. He was sipping at a particularly rough port in a tiny glass and making a point of glaring menacingly at anyone who even looked as if they might be considering approaching the battered old piano that loitered optimistically against the wall directly in front of him. Not that there was any danger of anyone extracting a tune out of the thing anyway. Not since the infamous Notting Hill Garrotting Murderer had been arrested in that very establishment not three weeks before, and the investigating detective had ripped open the back of the instrument in order to expose his preferred weapon of choice. Or rather the lack of several of them. It appeared that he had already worked his way through most of “Greensleeves” and was making serious inroads into “Ode to Joy” when he had been caught by the sterling efforts of an off duty constable and music-lover who happened upon him as he had a poor unfortunate at his mercy one night after choir practice. The innkeeper, who was a wily old cove and was well aware of the needs and demands of his regulars, had failed utterly to

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capitalise upon the sudden notoriety of his establishment amongst the ghouls and sleaze-merchants of the city, and this had earned him the undying gratitude of many of them, who singularly failed to embellish their own bawdy tales of adventure with any oblique references to the crime, and so the “Hanged Man” remained a strictly under-frequented hostelry which suited everyone – especially the dapper Mr Snatch – just perfectly. As his drink began to crust over in the bottom of his glass, Mr Snatch pulled his pocket watch from his waistcoat pocket and examined the time before yawning discretely and getting smartly to his feet, with only the faintest snap of his watchcase to indicate to anyone of his fellow imbibers that he was about to make his exit. He retrieved his overcoat, silk topper and comforter from the peg upon which he had hung them not two hours earlier, shrugged his meagre body into them, and braced himself to face the cold night air beyond the less than welcoming doors. He was just about to reach out his hand to pull at the worn brass of the door handle when a huge figure burst in through the doors and almost sent him cartwheeling backwards into the barely polished bar counter behind him. He steadied himself and turned back to face the giant, compositing in his head the words he would choose which were designed to put the ruffian in his place. The man seemed to sense that he was about to be challenged by this slight fragment of a man in the expensive clothes and stood his ground, blocking the way out and generally daring Mr Snipe to excuse him. Mr Snipe narrowed his eyes. He’d had to deal with people of this man’s sort on numerous occasions in the past, but usually upon his own terms and in his own Chambers. This was

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different. This situation required knowledge of the language and mannerisms of the streets, and that had never been his strongest suit. He chose what he believed to be the wisest course of action and stepped aside in order to allow the hooligan a direct route to the bar. He even made a slight gesture to indicate the same, but the villain merely stood his ground before uttering, with a quiet menace which chilled Mr Snatch’s blood, “Want to sleep in hell?”

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PART THREE Marley was still dead. This needs to be understood, even though to mention it is to state the bleeding obvious. Very few beings have ever successfully returned from the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns, and certainly not a wicked old miser buried in some forgotten churchyard in Victorian London. He’d watched as old Ebenezer had happily lived to a ripe old age, shattering the various chains which he had accumulated for himself, and eventually dying, surrounded by his friends and family as a much-loved pillar of the community. That was all very well and good, of course, but it didn’t change the fact that old Marley himself was still doomed to walk through eternity dragging his own wretched chain behind him, and, having suggested just one human life to be given an opportunity for redemption to seize at, it seemed, was not enough to change that. He might have lost a link or two by happening to thrust Ebenezer into the spirit’s spotlight, but his own burden remained much the same, if not slightly worse. Because, with Ebenezer gone, he had finally lost his last link to the life that he once knew, and he was doomed to watch as, piece by piece, every aspect of the world he once knew was dismantled and replaced by the shiny and noisy new world which he was now meandering through. Occasionally he might come across a familiar fragment of the buildings and corners he once knew, but it had mostly been obliterated and replaced with glass and steel and plastic, some of which moved along the roads at a quite alarming rate, and some of which flew through the fetid air in almost miraculous ways. Occasionally, as he walked his eternal walk, he would pull back on his pigtail and force his cold eyes to look upwards

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towards the skies and pause in his wanderings to stand and stare in amazement. Occasionally, as he stood there invisibly, someone would walk right through him and give a sudden shiver and perhaps remark to whomsoever might be listening to them that “someone just walked over their grave” before moving on. This would bring old Marley right back down to Earth, because, whilst it was never the most pleasant of sensations, it did at least give him some contact with the world he’d lost. But whilst he was fully aware that the world around him might have changed beyond all recognition, human beings remained much the same. They still worked their way through their days, accumulating and grasping for themselves and remaining almost oblivious to the misery and poverty all around them. Other doomed spirits did occasionally try their best to intervene, as they too were lugging their own chains along behind them, to which there were attached devices that Marley never understood the function or the form of, but which he assumed were merely the current tools of the banking trade. These young upstarts in their ghostly braces, striped shirts and spectacles, with those strange boxes clamped to their ears, whizzing around for all eternity in their wedge-shaped horseless carriages, didn’t seem to be as much concerned for their fellow man as he had become once he had passed across, but then the times had changed and some of these modern spectres seemed to act as if everything was the responsibility of the individual and almost gave the impression that they looked forward to seeing their friends and colleagues sharing their fate.

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But then, perhaps sitting inside a vehicle for the rest of time, wasn’t quite as big a burden as trudging along dragging the chain behind you had once been, so maybe they didn’t quite feel the pain in the way that they were supposed to. It is, after all, very difficult for those dishing out their eternal damnations to keep up with the times. The better part of two centuries had since passed and he was still here, still doomed to walk the earth and merely watch as humanity sowed the seeds of its own destruction either individually or collectively. Still pondering upon the injustice of this, he found that he had drifted into the city again. He was always drawn here, of course, because it was where he had spent the majority of his adult life. The shining glass towers had all been built upon the ruins of the world in which he had chosen to inhabit. He noticed from the various fripperies adorning some of the streets and windows and lobbies that it was Christmastime again and it would soon be the anniversary of his lonely, wretched death, and he let out another of the mournful, ghostly wails which had once so alarmed his late, lamented friend and partner, but which now was completely lost amongst all the honks and shouts and squeals of this busy, noisy world. Feeling rather more dejected than he usually did, he walked on, lost in his thoughts and keeping his eyes firmly upon the pavements slightly above his feet. He drifted aimlessly around the streets of the city as they darkened and those workers that could went on their way. He glanced at a clock. The clerks would never have got away with finishing this early back in his day, he found himself ungraciously thinking, immediately realising that, despite everything, he’d not really changed all that much.

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He sighed. It was a long, lonely, wretched sigh that came from the sure knowledge that he really was doomed to remain the way he was forever. He noticed that his wanderings had brought him to the base of yet another shining steel and glass tower and, judging by the gleaming signs above the entrances, this one had been built by a company known as “SnatchCon” which was the sort of name that implied that they knew exactly what is was that they were doing, even if, in public they would no doubt deny it emphatically. He looked around him. Apart from the security guards, it all seemed to be rather quiet now that everyone else had left for the day, although the lights burning on a level far above his head implied that something was still going on within. Having nothing better to do with his time, he stood up and was just about to make his way upstairs when he heard the soft clicking of nervous footsteps approaching the tower from out of the darkness…

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PART FOUR Olive Scrimp had never been happier in her life. For days now she’d been checking and rechecking the holographic blue cube as it danced in her hand, making quite sure that it was addressed to her. SnatchCon must be a very generous and loving company, she decided, if they would invite someone like her to go to the annual office party just as if she was just as worthwhile as all of the other employees She’d gone out and had her hair done, then popped into a supermarket on the way back and found herself a “little black number” on the sale racks to wear. She’d worried about spending some of the week’s precious food money on something so frivolous but it hadn’t cost that much, and it would be worth it if she didn’t have to spend the evening feeling quite so uncomfortable. Her shoes she’d decided to live with. After all, even if they were inclined to look down their noses at her, they weren’t likely to be looking quite that far down, were they? It didn’t matter anyway. She knew that she’d be walking in order to get there, and as she clicked her way across the empty piazza, she knew that her feet would always forgive her for choosing a comfortable option over a fashionable one. As she approached the gleaming shining tower she really had to pinch herself and she became increasingly nervous and shivered slightly as she got closer and closer to the security guards standing by the main doors, but when she showed them the dancing cube, they let her go straight inside. At first, she’d not wanted to check her coat into the cloakroom as she felt slightly ashamed at the cheapness of the dress she’d picked out from the supermarket when she saw all the

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glamorous young things dazzling each other with their smiles and charisma as each of them played the game of playing the room. She thought that she heard the occasional slightly embarrassed giggle as people noticed that she was there, but she dismissed that as merely being her own sense of lack of self-worth which was mocking her. After all, did she not have just as much right to be there as everyone else? The glowing cube in her little clutch bag proved that, at least, did it not? Presumably, each and every one of the people crammed into those offices that night, those masters and mistresses of the universe who bought and sold the world on a daily basis had one too, and no matter how many times they might have looked askance at her with their cold, dead eyes, as she stood amongst them in her cheap dress and tattered shoes, so did she, and there was nothing any of them could do about that. She was surprised to notice that curling around their legs and moving around the room almost oblivious to the chaos it was causing was a long but very low dachshund, which everyone else seemed to be doing their very best to ignore, despite its many efforts at drawing attention to itself by sitting up and begging in the hope of getting its jaws around some of the tasty morsels which were being passed around on the silver platters carried around by the catering staff who also managed to look at Olive as if she’d just landed from another planet. Once or twice the ornate delicacies had been reluctantly waved under her nose in passing as they headed off towards more “deserving” clusters of bone-thin women and their tuxedo-clad companions and she’d even managed to smuggle one or two of them into her bag for the family later. They might, at least, contribute in a small way towards offsetting the cost of that little black dress.

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“What’s that dog still doing here???” roared a voice from amongst the melee. It was Mr Snatch himself and the crowds parted to allow him to get through. He spotted her standing there awkwardly and made a beeline for her as she did her very best to vanish into the wallpaper… “You! You!! What the hell are you doing here…?” “I…I…I…” she stammered ineffectually in the face of this human force of nature, looking at her shoes and suddenly becoming very aware of how scuffed and worn they were. “Didn’t you get my message…?” Mr Snatch was suddenly towering over her, apoplectic with rage and mere inches from her nose. She reached timidly into her bag and meekly extracted the dancing blue cube. “Where the hell did you get that?” he raged, backhanding it across the room. Olive watched sadly as it bounced off the wall, shattered and fell down to the floor. “You… you… sent…” she attempted to explain, but Mr Snatch really wasn’t in the mood for listening. “You were supposed to be dog-sitting Mitsy for me this evening, you know!” he bellowed, now playing to his audience who were obviously enjoying the distraction of someone else’s humiliation. “I can’t have the dog running around everyone’s feet at an event like this!” he continued, almost without pausing for breath, “Surely you understood that someone like you would never be invited to an occasion such as this, you idiot…”

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Olive glanced across at the remains of the holographic card lying darkly in pieces on the floor, and bit her lip, realising what a fool she’d been to even think that they thought someone as low down the food chain as she was would be worthy of being allowed to enjoy such indulgence and opulence. It had obviously been some mistake. Why hadn’t she seen that? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

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PART FIVE After bundling the ridiculous girl whom he only considered to be the “help” out of his party and into the elevator, Mr Snatch leaned against the doors and was happy to feel the coolness of the metal against his forehead, helping him to clear his head and think. Someone in his office had obviously made a dreadful mistake in sending the girl, whatever her name was, an invitation to this exclusive pre-Christmas fund-raiser, and so, tomorrow morning, someone was going to pay very a very high price indeed, and he remained pretty certain that, whoever it was, it definitely wasn’t going to be him. Mr Snipe, the office enforcer, would be waiting in the lobby at the start of business in the morning and, whoever the poor unfortunate in Administration who had made this grave error was, they would be greeted with a box of their personal items (not that he actually approved of them having personal items in his offices), and a stern letter from the legal department, and they would thereafter be heading homewards before they had even had a chance to warm themselves in his building’s state-of-the-art climate control system. He pushed a few buttons on the device in his pocket and an electronic pulse of less than an alphabet’s worth of letters beamed out into the cold and dark of the night sky and changed someone’s - he never even knew who it was – life forever, and not for the better. Well, whoever it had been, the mistake had cost them dearly, but they only had themselves to blame. Instead of merely passing on his instructions for that girl from Housekeeping to look after his dog for the duration, he or she had caused Mr Snatch to endure an awkward moment in his otherwise

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trouble-free evening and that sort of thing simply could not be tolerated. More importantly, it had to be seen that it wouldn’t be tolerated. There might very well be people prepared to queue around the block in order to get a job like he would now be making available (assuming, of course, that he couldn’t get the rest of the office to absorb the miscreant’s workload into their own – he’d have to get Snipe to look into that tomorrow) but it didn’t do any harm every once in a while to demonstrate the penalties for failure, and Christmastime was as good a time as any to do so, because the sentimental fools tended to remember it all the more at that time of the year. He paused to ponder upon whether he ought to actually plan to do it each year as a matter of course in order to improve efficiency, and was just about to dictate the thought into his machine when it dawned upon him that he had, in fact, already done it for so many Christmases now that it was already pretty much company policy anyway. Personally, as on all those previous occasions, he would never see any of it happen, or ever be exposed to the results of his actions, but the knowledge that it simply would happen was enough to lift his spirits slightly and allowed him to summon the strength to turn and face the room again and start attempting to bleed his guests dry once again in order to get them to contribute to one or other of the tax-exempt offshore “Charitable Institutions” which his company ran, making the kinds of considerable profit which supported his lifestyle and had the added benefit of being well and truly hidden from the armies of solicitors and accountants employed by his surviving ex-wives. Mitsy was usually his only companion through life nowadays, but she hadn’t ever really taken to him after the latest Mrs Snatch had finally packed up and left, taking her

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half share of the business, and promising to take him for the rest if she ever got the chance. After she had opened that particular doorway of opportunism, it had simply been a matter of principle that the twin dachshunds had to be divided equally between them, and so it had been Mitsy who had drawn the short straw and ended up living with the “Master of the House” rather than her beloved mistress and her twin sister. It had been but the work of a moment to bundle both the girl and the wretched hell-hound into the lift and punch the buttons to make them disappear from his universe for the evening. If only, he thought, the rest of life could be so easily controlled. He sighed, switched on the smile, and turned to face the room. And Old Marley saw it all.

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PART SIX Ah, now, you see I’ve kept myself to myself for the last couple of days, and letting myself get far too engrossed in the process of telling the story. Now that’s either a good sign, or a very bad one, because once I believe that the story itself is becoming worthwhile, the fact that nobody else gives a rat’s kidney about it will start to bother me, and then I’ll probably start to doubt the worthwhile-ness (if that is even a word…?) of the entire exercise. Nevertheless, at that point of an unfolding story, a couple of segment’s worth of exposition was required, because the “main players” needed to be introduced and then placed into their positions ready for the rest of the plot to unfold, so I suppose that (in that way at least), it served its purpose. The laws of storytelling have been obeyed and the loyal reader can go forward and get more engrossed in the story with confidence at least, if not with any real sense of satisfaction. I have, however, started to worry now that one of the characters introduced very early on might already be getting forgotten about as the party season gets under way and whatever readership that there might be wakes up with sore heads and gaps in their memory, so perhaps we’d better go back to the future and reintroduce the first (or last) Mr Snatch, however briefly. In the far future of his desolated world, Mr Snatch turned awkwardly and with more than a little fear. The creak behind him could, after all, been little more than the building settling as it occasionally did, or it could indicate the imminent final collapse of the entire precarious structure. Equally, given the sudden extra chill that he was feeling on an already chilly day, it might well have been that someone,

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somewhere had just parked themself upon his grave and sent an involuntary shudder throughout his entire body. He smiled at this slight superstition. The one thing that he could almost guarantee with any certainty was that he was unlikely to ever have anything resembling a grave. As he suspected that he was in fact the very last human being alive upon this desolate world, he could be pretty sure that no one was likely to ever come along and bury him, nor indeed walk upon it afterwards. His destiny, he knew, was in all probability for his remains to slowly disintegrate in his favourite chair, and for the last humans seen alive on that God-forsaken planet to be Tom and Barbara and Margo going over the same old routine on that old tape of his. As extinctions went, he smiled to himself, there could probably have been worse ones. The one thing that never crossed his mind, however, was the possibility that the mysterious creak had been caused by the footfall of another human being. That was so unlikely now that it no longer ever bore thinking about, and he had long ago stopped leaping at the thought of mysterious figures lurking in dark shadows and hidden corners waiting to pounce upon him and suddenly bring an unwelcome end to his empty days. Whilst he was pretty sure that nothing else human was alive enough to share this miserable world with him, wolves had been rumoured to survive and be roaming the desolate wasteland. Well, he said “rumoured” but the rumours had only come from within his own imagination and probably had more to do with the instruction manual he’d read whilst he was inside the shelter than in any actual sighting which he might have imagined.

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He shivered again as he again got the strange sensation that the echoes of the past seemed to be catching up with him once more, and he recalled the last days of the fall of civilisation and shuddered. When he’d locked himself inside the shelter he’d genuinely believed that he was doing himself a favour. The last days had not been easy, but everyone else seemed far too interested in smashing everything or in having some kind of wild Christmas party (for it had been at that time of the year that things got really bad) as everything turned to hell. Nobody had seemed to see any wisdom in his offers of sanctuary, no matter how much he offered them. All of the riches, all of the money and the gold that his family had accumulated didn’t seem to be worth anything any more in a world all gone to hell, and nobody seemed all that impressed with the idea of him as a suitable person to share a chance of survival with once those trappings had been stripped away. He had never though of himself as much of a “catch” anyway, but his shortcomings became even more apparent once you took the fact that he had been extremely wealthy out of the equation. Later on, once he had shut himself away from the madness in the dark gloom of his steel trap, he had heard them pleading to let him in, but by then the time-locks had been in place and there had been nothing more that he could offer them. Eventually the voices and the screams had died down and it had gone really quiet and he had sat alone in the dark, weeping. Weeks later, when the satisfying hiss and click of the timelocks releasing had freed him from his self-imposed imprisonment, he had hoped that there might be others, but

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as the weeks of listening for signals and searching the horizon and beyond had stretched into years, he had come to realise that it was becoming more and more unlikely that there was anyone else left to share this world with him. He shrugged. This line of thought never did him any good and it was usually best not to pursue it. Instead, he decided that he ought to return back to his room and place himself safely back in his familiar chair in front of the old cathode-ray tube with Tom and Barbara, and Margo, but when he did so, he felt a sudden chill descend upon the room. He looked around him and noticed an old piece of faded cardboard pinned to the wall that he didn’t remember ever having been there before. It was positioned just behind the dancing blue cube, so he thought that he would have noticed it if it had been there earlier. The tiny dancing cube had been part of a pointless piece of trivia that generations of his family had clung on to for various reasons, and had sprung out from amongst the old papers that he had found in that battered suitcase which his father had kept and he’d had to sort through when he had died. He’d rather liked it and somehow it had been amongst the few things that he’d grabbed to take with him into the shelter on that last morning. He was sure that the cardboard hadn’t been there before, though. Surely he would have noticed it…? The fact that it had been pinned there seemed dangerously significant in some way and that troubled him far than the vague sense that all those years alone had finally taken their toll and that his memory had finally started to fail. He moved cautiously across the room and pulled it off the wall and turned it over in his hands before deciding to read it…

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PART SEVEN Centuries earlier, that other Mr Snatch (who we last left in such dire peril) slammed the hostelry door shut behind him and tried as best he could to catch his breath. He was shaking from head to foot due to his narrow escape. From behind him, inside, in the warm, he heard people laughing, presumably at him and his ineffectual way of dealing with the unstoppable force which had chosen to bar his swift exit. “I’m a nice idea” he thought, “but I’m already redundant as far as the plot is concerned” was a thought that failed to pass across his mind as he headed out into the snowy evening, of that generic Victorian world which had once seemed so appropriate to the season in which the story was supposed to be set, but which was already fading in importance as other parts of the plot and more “interesting” ideas swept the story along in other directions. Why he didn’t think that is because, quite naturally, he didn’t have the self-awareness to consider that he was in himself a fictional character, but then, very few of us consider that possibility as we pass through the narratives of our own lives. Meanwhile, the time had come to make himself seem significant and important again. His recent humiliation in that Public House had to be made to count for something, and the sense of anger and frustration would go on to shape the attitudes of generation after generation of the Snatch family as they stained the future, and a great deal of their resentment and selfishness had all begun because of that one unfortunate encounter in a lonely Ale House. Not that any of them would ever know it.

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Well, at least not until one magical night a century later when the true events of that evening might have been revealed to one of his more successful descendants if the plot had required it. But that was all still merely an option to be considered in the far future, and unknown and unknowable to the angry Mr Snatch whose sense of humiliation was already transforming into fury as he left the scene of his embarrassment. He chunnered and raged to himself about what he ought to have done, and what he might have done, and what he could have done, and what he should have done, and as he stamped his furious way through those grey and soggy streets, he swore that he would never, ever, EVER allow himself to be treated in such a contemptuous manner ever again. In between those thoughts, those strange words which the ruffian had uttered continued to haunt him, and he muttered them just loudly enough for passing strangers to hear him and hurry themselves and their young ones away with their ears covered against the possibility of hearing such profanities from an obviously drunken gentleman who really ought to know better. He stopped, stock-still and bellowed at the sky “Do I want to sleep in hell?” causing whatever shocked mothers that were still abroad upon the streets that evening to scurry on home with their tongues wagging at having seen old Jack himself roaming the streets that night and that they would not be at all surprised to find the broadsheets full of tales of murder and ladies of the night. After his outburst, Mr Snatch looked about him and the few people who were standing and staring at him as a result of his outburst, and realised, to his shame, that he had drawn exactly the sort of attention to himself that might have led to him being dragged off to Bedlam if he continued with such

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behaviour, and felt embarrassed all over again. To try and diffuse the tension he coughed discretely, tapped his chest with his fist, smiled the closest approximation of a smile that he could manage, and went on his way, faking a swaying walk ever-so slightly, and humming a vaguely familiar Christmas tune with the hope that his observers might just assume that he had been making far too merry since the close of business. Ten minutes later he arrived home and began the process of making for himself an absolute fortune.

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PART EIGHT Are we getting bored yet…? After all, there’s still a long way to go in our little Chrimbletide tale. We’ve not even reached the half-way point and we might already be running out of story, and you may have already come to the conclusion that you already know how this is going to unfold and so there’s little point in you sticking with it. You might actually have a point there. Right back, even before the beginning, I think that I mentioned that I didn’t have an ending or even a middle yet, and, to a certain extent, that remains as true today as it’s always been, if you don’t mind a brief diversion into “advertising speak…” So there is a chance that you’re absolutely right and the same old predictable and familiar tropes and clichés are exactly what you are going to get because I don’t have the vast imagination to come up with anything else that is unpredictable, innovative or unusual. Instead our mildly unfamiliar spin upon a seasonal redemption tale will unfold almost exactly as you might expect it might. In fact, in many ways, we might as well slam on the brakes right now, as we all already know that a bad man will be given the opportunity to see the error of his ways and will hopefully be transformed by the experience. The only mildly “interesting” aspect of our tale is quite how this comes about, and, in the hands of a better or more skilful mind, that might have surprised and astonished you, instead of merely walking the well-trodden garden path which I am currently leading you up. Why, I ask myself, do I do this to myself every year? I’m not really a “Christmassy” person, but yet, whenever that familiar period called advent steams into view, I always feel drawn enough to it to try and attempt something “special” in the

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sure-fire knowledge that it will drive my loyal readers away in their dozens when they discover that they’re expected to commit to one theme for three or more weeks instead of getting the usual smorgasbord of unpredictable nonsense. But then, at the moment, there is nothing else I can do but run with it, and so I am rather committed to this journey whether I, or indeed you, like it or not. Whether you choose to stick with it is, of course, down to you and whether you are engaged with our characters yet, but apart from doing my level best to amuse or entertain you, there’s nothing much else I can do about that. So here we find ourselves once again, and we need to slip back into the “present day” (whenever that might be) in order to get the story moving again, just after Olive Scrimp has been bundled out of a lavish party to which she hoped and, perhaps, dreamed that she was deemed worthy enough to attend, with nothing to look forward to but having to look after her employer’s dog for the night, and, whilst Mitsy might well have an awful lot of affection to give to Olive, Olive does not even have the money to buy Mitsy a tin of the cheapest, most horrible dog food the next morning. The question remains. Do you care enough yet about little Olive? Has her plight drawn you in to her story enough that you want to hear any more of it, or would you prefer to just skip to Part Twenty-Five and read the “happily ever after” bit…? After Olive and Mitsy were bundled into the express elevator back down to the lobby, the security guards were waiting for them as the doors opened and they were very quickly “ushered” (in their terms) or “thrown” (in Olive’s) out into the cold night air, which was thickening around the building in what might have appeared to be a quite “ghostly” way as Old Marley brought his own sense of outrage to bear,

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although Olive never noticed as she sat weeping to herself as she sat upon the front steps of the mighty edifice dedicated to the great successes of SnatchCon and hugged Mitsy for some affection and warmth. She knew that she had a long cold night ahead of her. The simple hostel in which her long-suffering family was currently living did not allow pets and she couldn’t risk trying to smuggle Mitsy in past the warden, even at this time of night when he might have sipped one too many of his cups of “special coffee” (which those of the people in his care who were of the ex-alcoholic persuasion took particular exception to the presence of), and dozed off in front of the portable TV set in his office. Ah well, at least the kids would be alright. They had already been safely delivered to her very best friend and trusted babysitter long before she had headed off in the direction of her “Big Night” and the cheery “We won’t wait up!” at least implied that she wasn’t expected to collect them before the morning. She shivered and once more regretted having checked her coat as she arrived at the party, as well have having lost her little clutch bag in all of the confusion and embarrassment that had followed. She was also more than a little annoyed with herself for not having realised all along that there had to have been some kind of mistake and that she really wouldn’t have been wanted there, no matter how much she’d persuaded herself that she had been. She sighed again and stood up. At least if she walked she might be able to keep warm, and it wasn’t that many hours until she was scheduled to be back at the tower anyway to do her early morning cleaning shift. She already knew that it would be a tough one as she’d have to clear up after the dreadful mess which she knew was already being created by the party that she was no longer welcome at.

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“C’mon Mitsy, let’s go…” she said, sadly, and they walked off into the darkness beyond the bright glow of the lights burning in the shining tower, leaving nothing but the echoing click of her shoes to remind anyone that she had ever been there. Meanwhile, behind her, the fog surrounding the building got thicker and thicker and thicker.

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PART NINE We’re going to introduce a new character here, but don’t worry, he’s not that significant to the story and you won’t need to remember his name for future reference, even though, as we all know, nobody, but nobody should ever be considered to not be “important” enough for our consideration. I mention this only because I don’t want you thinking “Who the hell is that?” and feeling the need to flip, or scroll, or whatever it is that you do in order to read these pages, back through the days to find out who he is. He has not, as far as I’m aware, been mentioned before and, at the time of writing, is unlikely to be mentioned again, but every story needs its catalysts occasionally to drive the plot along, and, in Norbert Flipperty, we seem to have found our man. Norbert hadn’t, in fact, been all that pleased to be invited to the fund-raiser. He had a deep suspicion of any party that was likely to end up costing him dearly despite whatever “fun” it was that he was supposed to be having and, to be honest, knowing Mr Snatch even as little as he did, he knew that the definition of “fun” on display wasn’t all that likely to resemble his own bizarre preferences in that department. Nevertheless, he and Mrs Flipperty had resigned themselves to attending almost as soon as the little blue cube had danced out of the envelope and, after forking out some considerable sums for the new outfits and all of the necessary accessories, they had miserably climbed into the hired limousine and bickered their way all the way to the SnatchCon Tower before fixing their grins into position somewhere around about the thirteenth floor as the elevator shot skywards in anticipation of depositing them in his idea of hell. After they had gone through what he always thought were

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the massively misnamed “social niceties” they had joined the gushing throng as they mingled their way around the crowds of the great and the good, all of whom, Norbert realised, were lacking in anything he might associate with greatness, and none of whom, as far as he coud remember, were any good at anything. His wife, of course, had been in her element, and had abandoned him within seconds to go and try and impress several of the people whom Norbert had always found the least impressive, but who seemed to possess some kind of “magic” that drew people towards them and allowed them to be raised up upon empty pedestals which seemed to mean very little if you actually thought about it. Norbert, as his wife was constantly telling him, thought that he probably thought about things far too much. Not really knowing what to do with himself without having his wife next to him to do all of the talking, he absentmindedly picked a glass of something sparkling from one of the passing faceless waiters and drifted off in search of a quiet spot where he hopefully wouldn’t draw much attention to himself. This meant that he had been perfectly positioned to witness the end of Olive’s humiliating encounter with Mr Snatch. He had, of course, been appalled, but, as with most people of his kind, stood there feeling slightly awkward and asking himself “Well, what could I have done?” whilst realising that an already dreadful evening had suddenly got far, far worse. Feeling a slight sickness building inside his stomach, perhaps as another small link in the chain he was forging in his life was added, he drifted off as far as he could from all of the unpleasant bustle and hustle of the event, to give some thought to the unpleasantness, but also to help him to try and

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forget that it had ever really happened. Happily, or at the very least, in an effort to make himself feel slightly less miserable, he found himself a quiet window to look out of. The views across the city always soothed him, despite the usual wobbliness he felt at the higher altitudes, because he could at least look at the city without having to participate in the danger and the squalor that it brought along with it. In an unconscious imitation of what his host had so recently also been doing, he rested his forehead against the glass and felt its coolness soothing him, and closed his eyes. Consequently, he almost completely failed to notice the strange thick fog which swiftly moved in to surround the building and envelope it almost completely in its opaque ghostly greyness. Had he been aware of it, he might have returned to the fray and sought out his wife, assuming that she hadn’t already discretely sloped off into a quiet office somewhere with somebody equally awful, and suggested that the gathering fog might be as good a reason as any to make their excuses and leave, and their overheard conversation might have found more and more of his fellow party guests asking about the worsening weather which would, ironically, both broken the ice and drawn him more successfully into the social intercourse, but also been the very catalyst which brought the entire party to a premature conclusion. So it was that, because of his distraction, he also failed to witness the sudden chill which descended upon the crowds of guests anyway, which we might have to put down to the change in the mood after they had witnessed their host’s general air of unpleasantness. The change of the atmosphere in the room was palpable and, within minutes, several of the guests had made their excuses and left, and once the drizzle

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of departures had begun it became a deluge and, well before it had ever started, the party was well and truly over. This meant that when Norbert did finally open his eyes again and became aware of the thick fog which was, as far as he knew, blanketing the entire city and beyond, his moment to shine had already slipped away from him and when he did finally track down his wife as she exited from a particularly cramped looking storeroom whilst straightening her hair, his chances of finally having found a useful opening gambit in his lifelong quest to improve his pathetic attempts at small talk had, once again, come to nothing, and, as they sat in silence in the back of their limousine after another unsuccessful night out, you could have cut the atmosphere between them with a knife. Old Marley, of course, had had an awful lot to do with this, not that any of the guests would have noticed it, but the old reprobate would have been amused (had his living body ever been capable of such things) at all those terms like “air” and “atmosphere” being used to describe a party when it was the very air that he was manipulating, and, after expending a great deal of energy that it quite surprised him that he still had, he finally had Mr Snatch all to himself.

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PART TEN Old Marley had tried his best, he really had, but, having been dismissed as being the result of “having eaten far too much cheese” or perhaps “a dodgy prawn vol-au-vent” he realised that he lacked what he would later find out were known as “sufficient production values” and so he had to try another tack. He’d thought that the thick fog had been rather impressive, even if he said so himself. Unfortunately these modern people were far too in tune with things like “weather forecasts” and “atmospheric conditions” to read anything supernatural into some “freak weather conditions.” Mr Snatch had, in fact, barely even noticed the fog at first, as he raged and railed against the names making up the members of his guest list once they had all made their excuses and drifted off into the night. Within mere minutes of having had that awkward “scene” with that ridiculous little char, the room had emptied and all of his guests had left him with a room full of food and a lot of gormless looking entertainment and catering staff all looking at him as if they wanted him to tell them where to go. Naturally, he told them, and not in a particularly polite manner, having first bellowed the question which clearly warned them that a volcano of rage was about to erupt: “What are you looking at?” Seeing as not one of them was actually trying to catch his eye at all at that moment, the question told them all more about their employer that it said about them, but few of them were giving that much thought as they ran for the exits. Their minds were full of thoughts of posting the videos and

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photographs which they had surreptitiously taken on their various electronic devices on the social networking sites, and wondering whether any of the news outlets might be willing to push a few quid in their direction for the story and the illustrations. And so, Mr Snatch found himself alone at the top of a high tower without even a dog that hated him for company. He walked around the empty room, looking at all of the food and the drink which would now be going to waste, and at the lavish decorations that now seemed to be dangling and twinkling far more forlornly than they had been doing just a few minutes earlier, whilst mentally totting up the cost of it all in his mind and wondering whether he could write any or all of it off as a tax loss. If the worst came to the worst, of course, he could always charge it to whichever of his charitable organisations the supposed “fund-raiser” had been meant to be in aid of, but he realised that one or two of his planned investments might have to be funded out of his own pocket over the next couple of weeks, and that was unfortunate. Certainly none of the homeless charities would be seeing any benefits from this Benefit any time soon, not if he could help it. Not after inflicting this humiliation upon him. As ever, Mr Snatch was already finding ways and means to blame anyone and everyone but himself for what had happened, and he made a mental note to make sure that that ridiculous girl got the full force of his retribution when it came to the postmortem he planned to hold in regard to this fiasco. It was because her was in this self-absorbed frame of mind that he failed to notice Old Marley’s theatrics, which didn’t surprise Old Marley. After all, his previous attempt and an intervention had, at least, been with someone who had known and recognised him. He didn’t have that kind of history with

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this particular piece of work, and he struggled to get on his particular wavelength. After going through his usual routine of wailing and moaning and rattling a few chains, all he saw was the man tapping furiously away at some little box sending messages to something called “maintenance” to schedule a few jobs the following day. Even the ghostly ethereal fog didn’t seem to have phased him much, as a quick call to his chauffeur, and a brief look at a weather forecast, seemed to leave him nothing like as terrified as he ought to be by now. Marley sat down in a chair and released his jaw and decided that he needed a bit of a think.

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PART ELEVEN At this point, we need to pause for a moment, before our breathless narrative begins the long dash at breakneck speed towards its inevitable conclusion, and introduce a little quantity of exposition into the mix. After all, the plot all rather hinges around this particular moment, and all of what follows rather depends upon it being understood fairly clearly, otherwise the rest of our narrative will all seem like the nonsense that it actually is, rather than wearing the rather natty disguise I’ve been trying to weave for it. After this point, we need the story to move along fairly swiftly from point A to point B and so forth. Or rather it needs to travel from point C to point A, taking in the scenery at point B in both directions, whilst also having a brief diversion to point F and all points in between, but that kind of complication is precisely what we need some kind of exposition to explain. It’s also necessary because, in a manner almost entirely unlike what the modern day version of Mr Snatch is about to experience, I’ve had a rather lousy night’s sleep and I really couldn’t think of anything else to focus on at this point. However, we are on a schedule, and tempus is doing what it usually does, which is fugit-ing, and so, rather than greeting you with a blank page instead of some blank prose this morning, this is what you’re going to get. To be fair, I’ve had this image in my mind for a while now, so it’s just a good a point as any to explain it to you, my loyal and long-suffering reader, even though I’m already troubled now that by building up that “idea” (which isn’t really much of an idea) your disappointment is now bound to exceed any excitement that it might have brought along with it.

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Be warned. Innovative it is not. Derivative it might very well be. An image, however, has formed in my mind and, at this juncture, it’s as good an image as any to help drag our story along, and so, after as much procrastination as I can muster with my limited reserves of energy, I guess that we’ve simply got to get on and do this bit. The advertisement didn’t pull any punches. Mr Snatch had stormed into his private office after all the guests had left and had been feeling very peculiar. He decided that the churning in his stomach was the result of him having been rather agitated, but the strange sounds and noises that he thought he saw and heard did make him seriously wonder whether he was hallucinating. He made a mental note to get on to the catering firm the next morning and refuse to pay them for their salmonella-infested budget buffet, before smiling a grim smile of satisfaction that at least some of his guests would be feeling just as dodgy as he was about now and, with any luck, they’d all be suffering right through to the new year and beyond. Some of those sanctimonious old reprobates deserved a lousy Christmas after their antics this evening, he decided, and he wasn’t prepared to waste any sympathy upon them. After all, if he himself always had a pretty dreadful time around this so-called “festive” season of the year, he didn’t see why anyone else shouldn’t. Clutching his stomach tentatively, he decided not to risk getting caught short on the journey home and decided that he’d best sleep in the office tonight, and a brief look out of the window at the thick fog outside confirmed to him that he’d rather stay put than venture abroad that night.

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Just because he was feeling in a rather mean state of mind, he made a swift call to his chauffeur telling him to remain on stand-by for the remainder of the night, and then made a quick visit to his private bathroom before setting his eye upon the relative comfort of one of the huge leather sofas that bordered his office. They were like familiar old friends to him as he’d spent a considerable number of nights upon them whilst his solicitors and those of the latest Mrs Snatch had waged their many battles for their share of his fortune, and he’d kind of got used to sleeping there. He went over to his desk to pull the spare sleeping bag out of the bottom drawer where he kept it when he had spotted the advertising flyer sitting right in the middle of the desk surface which he usually kept immaculately clear. His initial reaction was to remind himself to admonish his personal assistant first thing for allowing such trash to get through to him instead of being filed in the bin where it ought to have belonged, but then he looked at it again, and he was sure that the images upon it were changing and blurring and re-forming into something else, something that seemed to be addressed to him personally. He flipped it over to the reverse side and read the message, which told him to turn it over and read the other side. He flipped it back and yet another message appeared which told him to turn it over again. “That can’t be right!” thought Mr Snatch, but then he recalled the holograms they’d used for the office Christmas party invitations and once again marvelled at the diabolical ingenuity of all those engineers and felt a slight pang when he

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realised what trite and pointless uses companies like his all tended to put such work into. Then he threw the card into the bin, switched out the lights, and went to bed.

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PART TWELVE Perhaps if Mr Snatch had read Old Marley’s message instead of merely throwing it away, he might not have been quite so surprised by the events that subsequently occurred to him. As it was, he lay upon his couch in his office, unfairly able to dream the dreams of a man with no conscience. He was, after all, a single-minded man of business whose nights usually remained untroubled by the kinds of doubts and worries which can trouble other mortals, and so he remained blissfully unaware of the pieces being moved around and put into place that were about to ensnare and engulf him. In the middle of the night, Mr Snatch’s office telephone rang and woke him up. Whilst still half asleep, and yet already raging at whoever it had been who hadn’t screened the call and prevented it from getting through to him, he listened to the first couple of words of the recorded message before hanging up and swearing furiously before beating at the cushion which was serving as his pillow and attempting to get back to sleep. Moments later, when the telephone rang again, his mood had not improved, and this time he ranted back down the line at the uncaring machine as if it might make some kind of a difference. It would not, of course, and he knew very well that it would not, but he ranted and raged nevertheless with the misguided notion that it would make him feel better, which, of course, it did not. Nor was his mood improved when it dawned upon him that, curse them as he might, he was one of the many businesspeople responsible for millions of those such telephone calls actually happening, and disturbing the days and nights of many of his fellow human beings as they tried to do something else, and the fact that he himself had been disturbed by one might just be one small example of the

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universe finally getting its own back, albeit in a tiny and rather harmless way. The universe might then slink off, holding it’s hands in the air and claiming to be totally innocent in this matter and that it must have just been some kind of unfortunate coincidence, whilst secretly smiling wryly to itself and having a discreet punch at the air once it had got around the corner and thought that nobody else was looking. Not that Mr Snatch was really thinking about that, because he was getting slightly more perturbed at what his telephone was doing, because oddly, and rather annoyingly, he could still hear the message quite clearly even though the tiny screen informed him most emphatically that there was no signal and the call had been very definitely disconnected. He punched any and all of the various controls and menus and buttons which glowed in the semi-darkness and taunted him with promises of solutions which failed to occur as the voice droned on and on, and as Mr Snatch got rattier and rattier, he also became more and more awake, and less and less likely to be able to return to his blissful slumbers. Eventually he snapped and flung the telephone across the room in a fit of temper where it struck one of his favourite photographs and he heard the smashing of the glass and the soft thud as it fell onto the thick carpet beneath it. It was the photograph of him shaking hands with the Prime Minister on the day he had been presented with his “Humanitarian of the Year” award, and the irony of that never ceased to amuse Mr Snatch, in as much as anything ever really amused him at all. It might have done him more good if he had actually spent some time listening to the actual message which was being

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relayed to him, because he might then have understood what was going on when it all started to happen, but, like many of his kind, he thought that he knew better than anyone, and believed that breaking telephones and photograph frames was the far more sensible course of action than listening to a few words of wisdom which might just have helped him to get through his coming ordeal more successfully. Finally, he heard the music which started to play as the message finished and some far distant machinery clicked over to place him on hold, and an empty electronic version of some Handel bleated out into the darkness. Mr Snatch’s mind was racing. He seemed to recall that Mister Snipe had brought something to his attention a few weeks earlier. It seemed that if he didn’t use a particular employment company to supply his temporary and service staff, he had believed that terrible things might befall SnatchCon and he thought that he had better mention it. Poor old Snipe hadn’t realised, of course, that this was yet another dodge to put more business in the direction of one of Snatch’s own subsidiaries, but he couldn’t rule out the possibility that someone else might just be trying to play him at his own game, and decided that he’d better arrange to have it looked into the next morning. That next morning was already becoming a very busy one. Awake now, he decided that he’d be better off if he got up and had a drink to help him rest. He’d be able to clear the worst of the damage from his fallen photograph, too, and see whether it was salvageable before the cleaners came in first thing. He pulled back the top of his sleeping bag and put out his feet, but the floor was no longer there, and instead, he fell

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awkwardly forward out of what he thought of as his bed for the night (a luxury not afforded to many of his fellow countrymen and women), and as he held out his hands to absorb the impact, instead of colliding with the soft, warm lush carpeting of his office floor, they fell into the thick, filthy and exceedingly cold snow of a Victorian street in London.

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PART THIRTEEN Hooray! We’ve reached the halfway point! This daily ordeal of putting myself through the mental marathon of sucking some ideas out of my very limited brain is now officially more than half completed. Sadly, however, the finishing line still seems almost heart-breakingly distant, and I’m still wondering if I have enough of a plot to eke it out to last the entire course, instead of stopping to squat down for a quick pee in the gutter, or giving up, grabbing my silver blanket and going home without even a cheap metal medallion dangling from a piece of bright ribbon to show for all my efforts. Obviously, for you, if you have even managed to stay interested enough to take the time to follow these daily updates, the fact that more than half of the days of the advent period are already gone is probably not quite such a good thing to realise, as you’ll now be thinking about everything you haven’t got done yet as the juggernaut of Chrimbletide looms ever larger on your own particular horizon, and, whilst you happening to read this inadvertent and gentle reminder might have just been an unfortunate coincidence, I’d rather that you didn’t decide to kill the messenger… As to whether you even have the time to follow the fantastical ravings of some old hack as he burbles on with another load of derivative seasonal nonsense, is a different question entirely, and one that is no doubt troubling me greatly as I mull over the fact that the latest chapters keep getting put out there, but the law of diminishing returns means that fewer and fewer people could care less about the fate of a nasty piece of work like our modern-day Mr Snatch, even though we must now face the fascinating prospect of him running into his own wicked ancestor.

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I did toy with introducing a slight note of “false jeopardy” at this juncture, and warn you of the dire consequences which might ensue if ever the two versions of Mr Snatch ever actually met. You might be already familiar with the sort of thing I mean; the usual nonsense of time shorting out, or the universe imploding and all sorts of other shenanigans which may or may not be possible. These terrifying outcomes do remain at least theoretical possibilities of course, but as our two Mr Snatches are not in fact aspects of the same person, but merely ancestor and descendant, I think that the universe can rest easy. There is the slightly trickier matter of what might occur if the later Mr Snatch were to accidentally cause the death of the earlier one, but such things are not within our remit this morning and, despite the fact that our modern-day Mr Snatch has been painted as being a bit of a rogue, being an out-andout killer is not really one of his primary characteristics, so I think we’re pretty safe and secure on that score. Meanwhile, back outside in the cold and the darkness and scrabbling around on the ground in the fallen snow, Mr Snatch was bemused for a moment, and went through the many familiar routines of someone who believes themselves to be stuck inside a dream which they seem unable to wake up from, and didn’t really make much of an effort to move from the spot in which he had so surprisingly and suddenly found himself. So that, when a coach and four burst out of the fog and sent him sprawling into the gutter, he started to believe that he was actually awake and that he must have been kidnapped and dumped somewhere in Eastern Europe, presumably in some kind of Transylvania-themed amusement park. He didn’t get much opportunity to consider this much further, as a set of huge iron gates swung shut behind the

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departing coach, trapping him inside the grounds of whatever the place was and he began to wonder whether his kidnappers were as unaware of the escape that he seemed to be in the middle of as he appeared to be himself. However, for this and several other reasons, not least the notso-distant barking of some very large-sounding dogs, he decided that it might be best not to inform the gatekeeper of his presence and decided to have a bit of a look around to see if he could find some other way off the site that might not require him making some kind of an explanation, and he slunk off into the shadows leaving a fresh trail of footprints behind him in the snow. This meant that he failed completely to notice the wroughtiron letters that arched above the gates through which he had just failed to pass. Perhaps this was because, from his point of view, they would have appeared reversed, advertising, as they did, to the outside world and not those poor unfortunates who had little choice but to work within it, the name of the huge factory which stood imposingly at the heart of the very grounds upon which he was now trespassing and extremely trapped within: “The Snatch & Grabbe Company, Established 1856.”

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PART FOURTEEN There was, of course (and indeed there never had been), anyone remotely involved with the company whose name had been Mr Grabbe. Old Snatch had just liked the sound of it and thought that it gave a far better impression to any potential clients if they were to believe that there was more than one hand on the tiller to temper the excesses and possible whims of the other. He did little, in fact, to dissuade them that this was the case, making vague references, if pushed, to nonexistent offices abroad, and business ventures taking place in the colonies and former colonies, depending upon both his mood and the latest musings of the financial columnists in the daily newspapers. However, if we were to try and peel away at the many layers of his subterfuge we would eventually discover that he was indeed the sole proprietor of this venture and its many offshoots and enterprises and that, in many ways, this bitter, lonely little man had been the salvation of many households by employing breadwinners who might have otherwise been left to starve or serve in the poor-houses or be solely dependant upon the goodwill of the parish. But before we laud this paragon of the community too highly, we ought to recall that there are ways and means to justify ends, and sometimes it is not the fact that you are there to provide employment, but the manner in which you go about your handing of those in your employ which is how you are regarded by your fellow man, and Old Mr Snatch was not the kindest or most generous of employers by any stretch of our already incredulous imaginings. High up on the very top floor of the huge factory that was the burning heart of the Snatch & Grabbe Company, one solitary

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window burned late at night by the light of one solitary and rather feeble oil lamp. A lonely figure could just be made out, hunched over his ledgers, but he might not, at that exact moment, have seemed all that familiar to his many employees, as he was in relatively rather high spirits, and his usually rather stern face was looking slightly more relaxed than was usual, as he was going about the business of what he enjoyed doing most. This was, of course, and in the tradition of old misers everywhere, where Mr Snatch could be found in what essentially was his Counting House, counting out his illgotten gains late into the evening, and calculating his profit after having been forced to part with a pittance in wages for each of his ungrateful workforce, whom he very probably considered ought to be paying him for the privilege of working for such a progressive and forward-thinking employer such as he considered himself to be. Did he not give them shelter and warmth throughout the twelve long hours of their working day? Were they not allowed the very luxury of the ten minute “tea-break” that his gang-masters had insisted upon after one or two of the more feeble ones had fainted at their machinery and cost significant amounts of production to be lost? Did he not also provide them with the usual unsavoury amenities with which to deal with the many “calls of nature” and various other ablutions which seemed to crop up with alarming regularity when the so-called “workers” were supposed to be working? Was there also not a highly costly refectory where those very employees could plough their notso-hard-earned back into the factory coffers and buy themselves nourishing gruel and some bread at very reasonable rates which were only ever-so slightly above what they might be expected to pay beyond the gates if he were to allow them to venture abroad?

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He paused over his calculations, the nib of his pen paused in mid-air, when he remembered that it was also the season of the year when he was expected to supplement the lavish and decadent lifestyle of this gang of reprobates, which he was unfortunate enough to have to deal with, by being expected to pay them for days upon which they did not actually work. He sighed and glanced out of his window, just in time to see a ragged looking figure dart into the shadows, having just failed to have the decency to allow himself to be run down by the coach and four which had just departed to make the last delivery run of the day. His face set itself into its more familiar grim countenance and he sighed another deep sigh before ringing the little bell which would summon his factory manager to his presence to be informed that there was an interloper trespassing within the grounds. Poor Mr Snipe was never allowed to leave the factory whilst Mr Snatch was still working, and he had to remain in his office, poised and ready to leap into action, should that hated little bell ring for any reason whatsoever, and at whatever time it might occur. And so it was that he wearily rose once again to respond to another summons and found himself once more in Mr Snatch’s office waiting to receive another set of instructions of the kind that had made him a less than welcome neighbour on the rare occasions that he got home in order to spend some time with his family, and which found him shunned and ignored by his colleagues and contemporaries whenever he felt the urge for a swift drowning of his sorrows after he had escaped the confines of the factory, something, incidentally, which he was finding the need to do with increasing regularity of late.

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It would be a terrible cliché (and not a little derivative) to put the words “release the hounds” into the mouth of Mr Snatch at this point, especially if only to make the most of an opportunity for another of our daily cliffhangers, but, seeing as that is pretty much what he did whilst innocently seeming to be asking Mr Snipe whether or not the guard dogs had been let loose yet, we might as well accept that he did at least say those very words, or something very similar, and Mr Snipe went off to do his bidding. Meanwhile, Old Mr Snatch stood up briefly to look out of the window and see if he could catch any movement in the shadows before sitting down again and returning to his beloved columns of figures, whilst listening out for the satisfied howls of those not-so-distant hounds as they regained their freedom for another night.

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PART FIFTEEN As he scurried through the thick snow around the improbable old factory site, basking in the total ignorance of how familiar it ought to be to him, and failing to recognise it despite the huge old photograph of it which hung in the lobby of his own building and which he passed every morning, Mr Snatch was completely unaware of how much immediate danger he was now in. His mind was still full of the mildly self-important and even slightly pleasing notion that he actually might be considered to be important enough to have been kidnapped, and he was also quietly wondering quite how they had got the drug into his system. This meant that whilst he wasn’t completely oblivious to his present situation and to the very real possibility that he might very well currently be in some kind of jeopardy, he was, however, completely mistaken about which sort of danger it might actually be. The release of the unfettered and therefore prowling guards dogs would have quite surprised and astonished him, coming as he did from an era when “health and safety” issues plagued so many of his daily meetings, and in which even one of the underlings of the average kidnapper could be relied upon to keep his dog on a lead until his quarry had at least been given one opportunity to surrender himself. He did, however, have one moment when his resolve (or perhaps his sanity) snapped as his mind struggled to comprehend the sudden shift in his fortunes in the single moment between falling from a comfortable sofa in a luxurious office and landing outside in the cold and the dark perhaps (as he perceived it at least) a thousand miles away. He suddenly had an overwhelming desire to stand stock still and vent his rage at the sky and whomever else might be

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listening, and so this is what he did, perhaps in the mistaken belief that by doing so he would find that he would wake up and discover that it was all, indeed, a bad dream that he was having, possibly due to the very same prawn vol-au-vent which he had been so suspicious of earlier. “Do you know who I am?” he thundered to nobody in particular. When those nobodies failed to reply, he added “Well, I’m a very important man, get me out of here!” He bellowed it at the top of his lungs, as if that mattered, and the silence which followed spoke volumes. It did, however, focus his attentions upon the barking of several large sounding dogs, which sounded as if they might be quite nearby, and he immediately decided that, having not woken up, discretion might indeed be the better part of valour and decided to retrace his own suddenly horrifyingly distinct and obvious-seeming footprints back towards the main gate. It was Mr Snipe who saved him as he was making his way back up to his own lonely office in order to await any further trivial instructions from his master before being released to finally make his way homewards and get into bed for a few short hours before having to return and being expected to be “bright and early” the following morning. As he trudged through the deep snow lamenting the pitiful nature of his “best” and only shoes and what the damp might be doing to them, and deeply considering just what it was he had done to upset his God so much to find himself living such a life, he thought that he heard a noise made by something lurking in the darkness and stopped to listen harder.

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This was not the action of a wise man as thieves and other villains had been known to be abroad in the factory grounds once darkness had fallen, and the guards that Old Mr Snatch employed were seldom the pick of the crop, mostly due to the rates that he paid. Nor were they above turning a blind eye if some potential interloper was to slip them a few shillings towards their own festive requirements, and it was not unusual to see young fellows returning from the direction of one or other of the various Gin Palaces hereabouts carrying a penny jug or three and delivering them to the gatekeeper’s hut at some late hour of the evening. But in so far as it goes, Mr Snipe got lucky that evening, and it was not a group of vagabonds which caught his attention, but our much misplaced Mr Snatch, who, despite all his arrogance, was still a man who had been brought up in a later version of England where manners and the desire “not to make a scene” had been so very hard-wired into his system that he immediately stood himself up to his full height and surrendered, holding his hands slightly above his head for most of the time excepting for those moments when he touched his fingers to his lips in impatience as he tried to make what he thought was the universal gesture for “Shhh! Please don’t say anything…” Sadly, this gesture hadn’t actually been invented yet and had yet to enter the non-verbal lexicon of Mr Snipe, who asked him, not without a slight trembling of fear in his voice as he considered the wisdom or otherwise of having addressed this stranger instead of just ignoring him, who he was and what business he had here at this hour of the night. He also made a point of mentioning that there were dogs abroad that night. Big dogs.

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Oh yes, he most definitely mentioned those. But then, something about the dark silhouette of this dishevelled stranger who was approaching him with his arms waving about like a signalman seemed rather familiar to him, but when a sudden shaft of moonlight illuminated the face of the young gentleman he very nearly fainted dead away. It was, after all, a face that resembled almost exactly that of his aged employer who was still sitting, as far as he understood it, upstairs in his lofty room counting out his profits. There were differences of course. This Mr Snatch, if that was what he called himself, appeared to be a number of years younger than the old gentleman and had far fewer whiskers, but this fellow could have been his son at the very least, and whilst he had never been aware of Old Mr Snatch ever having mentioned having any kin, he supposed that it could be a possibility, and that perhaps this long-lost offspring had finally returned to make a claim upon the business. His wife had told him of such tales, many of which she had read out to him from the monthly magazines as he struggled to sleep, and he made an immediate decision that he ought to befriend this young stranger, and do his very best to protect him from the hounds at least, if only to preserve his own standing should the business have another controlling hand at the tiller in the near future. “Mr Snatch, sir…?” he ventured, carefully. “Yes. Of course I am!” came the reply of a man who had started to believe his own press cuttings and believed that everyone really ought to know who he is, “Now, where the hell am I…?”

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PART SIXTEEN Mr Snipe hadn’t got to his position in the Snatch & Grabbe Company without being a bit of a wily old cove, and he knew upon which side his bread was buttered, mostly because he was one of the few employees who could actually afford to regularly have his bread buttered. He very swiftly bundled the younger Mr Snatch into a shed and, with as much politeness as he could muster, managed to insist that he stayed put for a few minutes and gained a promise from the bewildered and angry young gentleman that he would indeed do so. Mr Snipe had, of course, taken the opportunity to mention upon several occasions both the existence and nature of the various slavering hounds which were currently running loose within the grounds, as if to emphasise the importance of not trying to make a run for it. Satisfied that his charge would indeed now be precisely where he left him, he then went upstairs to run the considerable risk of upsetting his current employer by returning to his office unannounced, ostensibly to report back to him that the hounds had indeed been released as per his employer’s previous instruction. However, he had a much more devious reason for doing so and consequently risking the vexation of Old Mr Snatch, who was rather used to his instructions merely being carried out, and seldom felt the need to have such matters confirmed to him in person. As he stood before that oh-so powerful figure who did, ultimately, have the entire future of the Snipe family resting in the palm of his hand (and, of course, knew it), Mr Snipe did, just for a second, reconsider his plan and almost failed to go through with it. But do it he did.

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He feebly croaked out his report that the dogs were indeed now loose and managed to get the sentence to tail off into the sort of spluttering, hacking cough of which he was all rather too familiar. Fearing that his employee might have spent far too long in the damp and the cold of the outdoors and consequently caught a chill, which might transform into a cold, and therefore might already be turning into something he himself might catch, Old Mr Snatch covered his own nose with a handkerchief and immediately waved Mr Snipe from his presence and demanded that he go home immediately, rather grateful at the thought that he was more than likely to spend the festive season recovering and might very well be back at his own desk without missing neither a beat nor one actual working day. And so, whispering a hoarse “Merry Christmas” in the general direction of his employer, who chose to ignore the familiarity, he was able to depart from his immediate vicinity and, not only that, was given leave to return home to his family, and to rescue the young gentleman from inside the hut in which he was waiting, and escort him from the site, talking to him as if he was an old friend and business acquaintance, right under the very nose of the slumbering gatekeeper. Fairly swiftly, as the old ironwork gates swung gratefully closed behind them, Mr Snipe did wonder quite what he was to do with this lost soul, who suddenly had gone very quiet as he drank in his surroundings with an air of bafflement which made Mr Snipe wonder whether he had happened upon one of the Snatch family’s darker secrets and this poor fellow had somehow escaped his incarceration in some kind of Bedlam. Nevertheless, he seemed a calm and amiable enough fellow, and he seemed willing enough to take him up on the offer of a

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warm fireside and a bowl of hot soup, and he seemed to be positively invigorated as they approached the welcoming light which glowed in the front window of his home. Despite the lateness of the hour, both his wife Emily and his older daughter were still waiting up for him, and leapt into action almost as soon as the front door opened, running around like a couple of dervishes to ensure that his homecoming was as happy as they could make it. The presence of an unexpected guest caused them to miss hardly a step as they cleared away the various Christmas preparations upon which they had been working and busied themselves in swiftly divesting Mr Snipe of his topcoat, hat and muffler, exchanging his shoes for some socks ready-toasted for him by the fireside in anticipation of his return, and finally parking him in his favourite armchair to get warm, some time after which they eventually expected to be sitting themselves around the table for a lovingly prepared family meal. Whilst all of this had been going on, Mr Snatch had been particularly pleased that the daughter, whose name he learned was Jane, fussed about him and removed his damp socks and hung them up to dry alongside his jacket and shirt, and wondered about where his shoes had got to. This was the first time that he had even noticed that he wasn’t wearing any, as his mind had been so distracted by where he was and what had been happening, that he hadn’t even had the time to think about such a thing. She seemed amused when he mentioned that he had taken them off when he went to bed and he didn’t know where they were, and she tried to stifle a charming little giggle so as not to appear impolite about the strangeness of such a remark, but he laughed along with her at the undeniable fact of their absence, whilst wondering at the same time whether his toes would ever thaw out, which made them both laugh all the harder.

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Then she had sat him down in front of the roaring fire to warm himself through and to dry out his trousers (which they had awkwardly agreed ought to stay right where they were) whilst she and her mother went off somewhere deep inside the house to sort out the food, returning briefly to hand glasses of a warming punch to both of the gentlemen. Mr Snipe looked across at the dishevelled young fellow sitting across on the other side of the fireplace from him, his face lit by the flickering firelight. “Yes,” he thought, “There is a definite resemblance…” He watched intently as Mr Snatch shivered and tried to take a sip from the glass which he struggled to hold in his cupped hands. Then he felt the blood in his veins turn to the cold water of fear as the figure sitting right in front of him simply vanished, leaving the glass to tumble through mid-air and smash onto the hearth below. One second he had been sitting right there, and the next he was gone leaving nothing behind him but a jacket, a shirt and a pair of socks still steaming away in front of the fire to say that he had ever been there…

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PART SEVENTEEN Well, isn’t that just typical? You finally get the chance for a bit of a rest and to warm yourself through, and someone’s finally been decent enough to not only offer you a drink but to hand one to you as well, and before you even get the chance to take one little sip, you’ve been spirited away and find yourself back out in the cold again, this time with only a vest and a pair of trousers to keep you warm, and without even a pair of socks to your name. All of these thoughts might very well have passed through the mind of Mr Snatch as the warm and welcoming home of Mr Snipe and his family dissolved around him, if he hadn’t been quite so baffled about what was going on. Don’t worry about it, old son, the bloke writing this stuff hasn’t got much of a clue, either, but as we’re rapidly approaching the final third of our story, it was probably as good a time as any to chivvy things along a bit and get you moving, even if we did have to add another sprinkling of the supernatural in order to get it done. One moment he had been sitting warmly and comfortably, with even a glass of something decent looking in his hand, and beginning to believe that he wasn’t actually in a strange Eastern European village at all, but somewhere far more confusing, and then the glass, the room and, as far as he could tell, the entire world had dissolved around him and he was sitting somewhere very cold again, hearing the last echoes of some faraway glassware shattering. He wasn’t sure quite what the drug was that someone was obviously pumping into his veins, but it sure as hell was having some startling side effects. He wondered, briefly, whether it was a company whose trials his own company had invested in, but decided that it really was best not to think

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about that sort of thing, especially not if you chose to believe the sort of things the investigative journalists chose to write about and his lawyers were constantly in court over. Mr Snatch was at least happy to discover that when he opened his eyes, the thick fog was clearing just enough to reveal the familiar skyline of the City in which he spent most of his working life, and the geometric shapes of the glass and steel towers now in front of him, albeit painted in a faded palette of weak shades of grey, were strangely comforting to him after all that had been going on. He decided not to ask himself too many questions as to how he actually came to be back at least relatively close to the place that he considered to be his home again, instead preferring to take the more practical option of deciding to set forth back towards his own office, pondering upon the worrying notion that he had never, as far as he was aware, ever sleep-walked before. But the thick fog now surrounding the tower would not allow him to penetrate it. It fought with him, battled with him, resisted him and, try as hard as he could, every time he ventured towards the SnatchCon Tower the grey and white would thicken around him, confusing him and spinning him around so that he lost all sense of direction and he would emerge again and again right back at the cold park bench upon which he had first opened his eyes after his return, with the towers so tantalisingly close and yet impossibly distant behind him. After so many attempts, he finally persuaded himself that enough was enough, and he might as well take advantage of the fact that he did, at the very least, have somewhere to sit and wait, and so, for perhaps the first time in years, he did so. Because of what he was now wearing, he began shivering so spectacularly that his teeth actually chattered as he waited for

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the weak midwinter sun to burn away the fog, and he continued to watch with less and less interest as the sky continued to lighten and recolour those tantalisingly welcome grey shapes that were so near and yet so far away. His mind narrowed and narrowed and he became almost obsessed with just how cold it actually was as another big day dawned all around him. He was so cold, and so focussed upon the fact of its coldness, that he almost failed to notice the approaching footsteps which were clicking along somewhere beyond the limits of his vision in the swirling fog which surrounded him and made the whole world into a pale grey monochrome. His chattering teeth did not help him there either, as the footsteps, tentative as they were, were more than drowned by the noises in his head. When he did finally become aware that there might be another person in his immediate vicinity he panicked slightly at the thought that he might have to fight someone to retain his little patch of comfort and really did not feel up to the task. Then he had a more comforting thought, that it might be a policeman who might insist upon trying to move him along and he managed to force his mouth into a shaky, shivering smile as his previous confidence briefly resurfaced as he considered once again playing the “Do you know who I am?” gambit. Of all the scenarios his mind considered, however, of which there were fairly few as he was getting so very cold that his mind was shutting down, the one that would probably never have crossed his mind was the one which actually occurred, as a familiar figure emerged staggering from the fog, carrying a miserable looking dachshund in her arms…

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PART EIGHTEEN As I approached my keyboard this morning to attempt, in my own humble way, to bring you the latest instalment in this my rather strange notion of creating a kind of story-based “advent calendar” that I find myself (once again) trying to write as a “gift” (or a curse) for my various chums, I suddenly realised that I didn’t actually like this story all that much and that I ought to be telling you another one entirely. Something full of “fun” and lightness and happiness and cheer, perhaps involving fluffy little bunnies or kittens playing with balls of wool as they wait for the joyfulness which Chrimbletide brings along with it. Instead I have allowed myself to become embroiled with the wickedness of big business and the twin scandals of homelessness and poverty and these are not the things that we generally like to think about as we prepare ourselves for the annual festival of consumerism and cram our supermarket trolleys full of treats in anticipation of this regular seasonal excuse for excess. Oh, we may feel rather bleak when those commercials appear upon our televisions asking us to remember those less fortunate than ourselves at this “difficult” time of the year, and we may even go as far as to actually ring the number and donate a few pounds, but generally we slightly resent their existence because they bring down the mood when we’d quite simply rather not be thinking about it really and could you pass me another mince pie, dear…? But, in the absence of having anything else, I’m sure that we’ll simply persevere, just as I’m sure that it will all make some sort of sense eventually… Probably…

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The reason I approached the keyboard with some kind of dread this morning is, however, because our story has to, by necessity, take a bit of a “dark turn” at this point in order for it to all end up making that “some kind of sense” which I had hoped for, but I realise that this is quite possibly going to diminish your festive mood this morning, as you are munching on your Corn Flakes or whatever other breakfasting option you may choose to partake of, and may very well persuade you to give up on this little story altogether and go and find something far more “fun” to do with your time. Meanwhile, if you are still here, Olive, one of the housekeeping staff employed by the company owned by Mr Snatch, has just emerged from the foggy dawn to find her employer sitting upon a park bench wearing little but his vest and suit trousers, and still looking after his dog, Mitsy, as per her instructions received during her humiliation at the party to which she was never really invited. Now they are both less than half a mile (although it might as well be a million) from the grand tower in which they both work, and both of them are freezing to death in sight of it. Olive staggered and tried to shift Mitsy who seemed to be getting heavier and heavier in her arms, and she stumbled forwards and very nearly dropped her, which brought her nothing but a disgruntled growl from the ungrateful beast. Despite his own discomforts, Mr Snatch was almost so overjoyed to see a familiar face that he forgot their last meeting entirely and, with something almost approaching enthusiasm, leapt to his feet in order to move across and assist her, taking Mitsy into his own arms and guiding Olive towards the bench that he had previously had to himself.

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Mitsy, of course, had never really taken to her nominal “owner” and immediately wriggled and wrestled herself out of his grip and jumped across to settle herself next to where Olive had been placed by a genuinely concerned Mr Snatch. Olive, of course, after her night spent outside in the freezing cold, was very far gone indeed and barely recognised the man who was trying so very hard to be her saviour, or, at least, if she did, she was unable to express the thought as her mind was so confused, and it was all she could do but ramble on about such things as “No dogs allowed…” and “Mustn’t be late…” her voice barely managing to rise above the level of a whisper, and her breath coming out in rasping clouds. He looked at her, trying to work out why on earth she was walking about at a time like this wearing nothing but the same party dress in which he’d seen her the night before, or whenever it had been (he had rather lost track) and some rather battered looking shoes. Olive did not look well, and he got the impression that she was fading fast, and he held her in his arms trying to give her some of the precious heat that he himself didn’t have, whilst trying desperately to think of something that he could do, but then he remembered that his telephone was still in his office and his jacket was hanging in front of a fireplace somewhere unknown to him and perhaps a hundred years ago. He tried talking to her, tried getting her to stand up and keep moving, but she simply could not bring herself to move any more, and seemed to just curl up and prepare herself for the inevitable. After a few minutes of this, and in a flat panic, he decided that he really needed to go and get some help, and he told her as much whilst promising faithfully that he would come back for her.

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Positioning her as comfortably as he could, he stood up and, promising one more time that he would be right back just as soon as he had found someone who could help her, he vanished into the fog… …and reappeared in another place entirely. He didn’t have a clue where or when he was, and whoever was doing this to him had a lousy sense of timing when poor Olive was in need of help. He looked about him in bewilderment and confusion and cried out in his anger and frustration at his own powerlessness to change anything that was going on back in the park, as far as he was concerned, right now. “No, no, no, no, NO!”

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PART NINETEEN The things that happened next to Mr Snatch all became a bit of a blur as he wasn’t really concentrating, but was thinking of how he could get back and save that poor girl from freezing to death all alone in a chilly park not half a mile from where he had thrown her out into the night just a few short hours before. In so far as it is worth anything, he was, at least, thinking of such things for her sake and not simply because of the awful impression of negligence that it might leave in the press, and what that might do to both his share prices and his own personal standing as a recognised humanitarian. So it was that the next few places he was spirited to and from didn’t really make all that much impression upon him, apart from feeling a deep sense of sadness when he realised that Olive had not survived her night in the cold. Other than that, the various events that were to unfold because of the simple catalyst or trigger of a poor girl flung out into a cold, dark night by a wicked businessman who thought no more for her welfare than he might for that of a discarded cigarette butt or sweet wrapper didn’t really register all that much with him at all. Oh, he got the gist clearly enough. The people had finally had enough of him and his kind. There’d been a trial and he’d been given a minimal sentence and didn’t even serve one day of it, and somehow the money due to be paid out as compensation to her loved ones had never actually been paid because she didn’t appear to have any loved ones, at least none who were of an age to protest loudly enough about it, and certainly not any legitimate ones once the lawyers had sorted out the gold-diggers.

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There had been a scandal, there had been rage and, for the time-being at least, he had had to cede control of his companies to other people before wrestling it back through a series of brilliant boardroom manoeuvres which would have made one or two of those Sunday evening television serials seem understated and conservative, but, for a while at least, his life had gone on pretty much as before. But then things had started to get ugly, and the barbarians had started gathering at the gates, and the resentment and the bitterness had started to grow and grow, and, whilst the breakdown of society started slowly at first, before too long it was escalating as the rage born out of the bitterness of the “have-nots” against the opulence and decadence of the “haves” turned into an all-out war. And, as is the nature of wars, they begat other conflicts, and, before very much longer, without the stabilising influence of all those financial priorities to keep the needs and priorities and the self-interests of all of those various governments in check, things continued to get worse and worse, and, eventually and perhaps inevitably, the threat of total Armageddon once more lay over the heads of humanity. Mr Snatch watched it all with a growing sense of horror and shame, and wondered about its inevitability, and wondered whether one callous act and the fate of one girl really could have caused all of this to unfold, and he realised that he knew enough about the way the numbers worked to know that of course it could. If you were to roll back time to the very beginnings of the Earth and roll the dice again, there was precious little reason to suppose that you’d get human beings at the end, once you rolled time forwards again. Equally, each roll of the dice at any particular moment could change the entire course of future history and there was no reason at all to suppose that

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Olive’s cold and lonely death wouldn’t cause the very outcome that he was witnessing. Eventually he was brought to a place where a lonely figure who resembled Mr Snatch himself just a little, and so was most probably his son, or his grandson, scrambled his way into a shelter in order to try and ride out the end of the world, and for some inexplicable reason seemed to imagine that surviving the coming holocaust was somehow far more important that preventing it from happening in the first place. Before he could intervene, Mr Snatch was shifted once again by the strange forces that were manipulating him, and that is why, later still, he found himself standing upon a barren grey plain out of which, in the far distance, there jutted a ramshackle iron ivory tower from which a thin trail of smoke could just be made out, poking its tiny finger up into the cloud-filled sky.

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PART TWENTY Mr Snatch really didn’t cut much of a dash any more as he stood all alone amongst the wreckage of civilisation without even any shoes or socks to call his own. He knew that his expensive suit trousers would never be the same again and he’d never before been as happy that he’d listened to his mother’s advice to always wear a vest as he had been during that long night spent out in the cold. Happily, as he scrambled about in the dust, he came upon a couple of discarded (or perhaps lost) boots of dubious pedigree which almost fitted him, despite the fact that they were not a pair, and were both made for left feet, and neither was without its fair share of holes. Nevertheless they were enough to protect his feet from the harsh points and shattered rubble that lay amongst this landscape and they would have to do until he was able to find something better to replace them, and his feet, which for a long time had been clad in little other than the finest bespoke hand-stitched and beautifully crafted leather which tended to fit like a glove, were grateful of any kind of protection as he began his long trudge towards the only visible sign of life he had so far seen in this god-forsaken place. What troubled him most was that, once again, he had been brought to somewhere cold, almost as if somebody somewhere was trying to make some kind of colossal point about something, but as he shivered at the sharpness of the biting wind, he realised that a vest, some Italian silk and a non-matching pair of borrowed boots was not going to keep him warm enough, and getting nearer to that distant fire was already becoming his main immediate aim, and hopefully he would be getting there before that weak sun dipped below the horizon.

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He had plenty of time to think as he made that long trek through the wasteland. After all, he wasn’t really certain whether he was actually here or not. Yes, he had been able to interact with Olive, however uselessly, and yes, Mr Snipe’s daughter had been able to hand him a glass of warm punch and hang up his sodden clothes, and, of course, his footprints had appeared in the snow so that those hounds would have been able to track him down. If it hadn’t been for that one act of kindness shown by Mr Snipe himself in taking pity on a stranger, he trembled to think about what might have happened, but he still didn’t seem to be making any difference to anything, and whenever he got too close to being able to be an effective force for change, he got whisked away and shown something else instead which also, inevitably, seemed to be his fault in some small way. Would the strange powers that were constantly shifting him around actually have allowed him to die in one of these places? Would they be that cruel? Or were they just showing him the consequences of his actions, or even the actions of his ancestors, in the hope that he might emerge from the experience a “better” and not a bitter man in some way…? There was much to ponder on, and he was grateful of the distraction as it stopped him from thinking about how cold it was getting. Thankfully, as the last fingers of daylight caressed the night sky before bidding adieu, he arrived at the base of the twisted mess of iron and steel which formed the ivory tower, and was not at all surprised that it appeared to resemble his own tower back at home, wherever that was. It was almost as if someone had picked it up and shaken it so that most of the insides were now on the outside, and it might almost be said to be an inversion or perhaps an explosion of the tower which part of him still believed that he was perhaps still sleeping within.

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Tentatively he entered what appeared to be currently acting as a doorway, and shouted a feeble “Hello…?” before following it with a louder, more confident variation. “HELLO!!?” But no response came out of the darkness, even though it did appear that somebody was living here. He stepped further and further into the familiar yet unfamiliar lobby and headed for the glimmer of light which seemed to indicate signs of life coming from upstairs, and tripped over an old trunk, spilling its contents all over the floor. He was rather grateful to find that the trunk contained some almost perfectly and most definitely carefully preserved clothing and he threw on an overcoat which seemed to fit him terribly well and resembled the one which he had hung in his own office on that very last morning before the party. It even still had his own invitation in an inside pocket, and he opened it up to find that the dancing blue cube still seemed to be working, even after everything else that had happened. He reached into the other pockets, but didn’t find anything else that was useful, but then he remembered that he usually had a pen on him somewhere and he fished into his own soggy trouser pockets and did indeed find one tucked into one of them, alongside, bizarrely, that strange triple (and more) sided card bearing Marley’s message that had been on his desk and which he was sure that he had thrown away. Typically, he still didn’t actually read what was written upon it, which caused the watching Marley to roll his eyes in utter frustration at the idiocy of the man he was dealing with, but instead scribbled a quick note of introduction to whomsoever it was who turned out to be living here.

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Then he tucked both into a pocket of his overcoat and headed upstairs towards the light, where he thought he could hear a familiar sounding noise, a noise that seemed so bizarrely out of context that he almost couldn’t believe his ears. Was that an episode “The Good Life” that he could hear blaring out from a TV set somewhere…?

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PART TWENTY-ONE You really don’t deserve me, you know… (Not that I really believe that anyone apart from myself will ever actually believe that). Nevertheless, the thought still strikes me as we have now reached a point of overlap. The first part of the story is now “out there” in the world, whilst the ending has yet to be written. It all now exists in a potentially “quantum state” where anything and nothing is possible, but I’ll have to be extremely careful if I am not to risk having created one of those frustrating “unfinished stories” that can so intrigue and inspire future generations to tinker. Not that “future generations” will be paying this story any heed, of course, but nevertheless it does run the risk of becoming that kind of thing. A misplaced foot on a stair, an unexpected patch of black ice, or a cream cake too far, and our story, much like Old Marley, might remain in limbo forever. Less happily, those first couple of episodes have been something a ratings disaster. If this were a TV show we wouldn’t have even made it past the pilot, never mind making it to the annual sweeps, or to the giddy excesses of the Superbowl. It’s almost as if writing you a story is like hitting a brick wall in terms of not giving the people what they want. Actually, in those specific terms, i.e. not giving the people what they want, it’s been something of an absolute (if minor) personal triumph. Although my inner demons start to pipe up, and I do begin to wonder whether there was any point to it all, and whether my expectations of people and what they choose to engage with still remain far too great after all, despite what I’ve failed to learn. Still, in the spirit that you can take a horse into a library, but you cannot make it read, and that it’s probably rather unwise to take a horse into a library anyway, we ought to pick up our little tale from where we last left it, where, because of the

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twisted nature of both time and storytelling, the “presentday” Mr Snatch manages to enter the living room of the “future” Mr Snatch just after he had left to take his daily look at the horizon via his brass telescope as we discovered way, way back at the beginning of this little festive tale (even though it seems that nobody else is likely to actually remember that, and there’s been precious little that has been festive or jolly about the whole experience, I imagine). All of this introspection is, of course, a blatant attempt to distract you from the awful truth that very little actually happens in this particular segment apart from some rather leaden and badly written exposition which I’ve not had the time to rewrite, but now that I’ve warned you about that, I’m hoping that you might at least be more forgiving of these, the tentative scribblings of an obvious amateur. And so, Mr Snatch entered the currently unoccupied little room of another Mr Snatch and was surprised to find both a television burbling away to itself and just the slightest attempt at a Christmas tree standing in a corner of the room. He quickly looked around and, despite being sorely tempted to just take advantage of the warmth coming from the tiny stove that was burning away, he resisted. After all, he didn’t want to run the risk of scaring the legitimate owner out of his wits by being found there. Instead he decided to just leave the note and make a discreet exit and hope that he would be asked to return, if the owner of this little haven was feeling suitably willing to receive a guest. He looked around, looking for somewhere to place the card where it might be most noticed. He thought about the television, but couldn’t see any obvious way of attaching the card to it, and time was running out. The occupier was bound to return any second, and so he decided that his best course of

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action was to attach it to the door, and he headed towards the exit. As he was on the brink of leaving the oasis of warmth, he noticed a dancing cube sitting upon a shelf just beside the doorway. It was just like the one he had found in his old coat when he’d dug it out of the trunk. “Just how many of these things had they made…?” he began to wonder, before picking it up and looking at it more closely. He bit his lip in shame. It had been carefully glued back together, and, when you looked at it for any length of time, the sequence did appear to jump a few frames every so often, so it was undoubtedly the very invitation which he had swept from the hand of Olive Scrimp in another life, a whole other world, not more than a few hours earlier. It was even addressed to her, which made him feel even worse about everything. He noticed a drawing pin sticking out of the door jamb, not realising at all how something so useful could become so precious in a world where there is nothing, and prised it out, attaching the card with it to the wall behind the dancing cube. After all, he reasoned, it seemed to be an important object in the unfortunate occupant’s life. Then, with a last longing look at the warm fire, he scuttled out and headed upwards again, towards the now milky light of the moon, until he realised that he was running out of ladders and stairs and approaching the moonlight and the cold again. Worse than this, he realised that his potential host was also up there, looking towards the horizon once again, hoping against all hope for some kind of human company.

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Mr Snatch took this as a good sign that things might go well in terms of their meeting and backed away quietly and returned downstairs to wait. You may, or may not, remember that, once upon a long ago, the “future” Mr Snatch was disturbed by a creaking upon the stairs behind him…? Well, I might well try my very hardest to persuade you that it was the “present day” Mr Snatch that he heard, if that hadn’t occurred at a completely different time of the day, but if it makes you feel better to see a pattern in these things where there aren’t really any, or believe that I might have actually planned this story in some way, then you can believe what you like. After all, it could merely have been Old Marley’s ghost, still cursed to be walking the Earth long, long after the Earth no longer had much in the way of humans to occupy it, just checking in to see how the handiwork of his younger ghostly self was working out, because he did, after all, have a pretty long memory, if little else. Anyway, the upshot of all this was that a few minutes later, as Mr Snatch loitered in a lower corridor feeling a little like he imagined a nervous potential employee might feel like as he awaited his interview (because that was something he had never himself experienced, despite having held hundreds of the things over the years), as you will clearly remember if you’ve been paying attention, the card had indeed been discovered, and with a bellow of rage the “future” Mr Snatch had found his long-forgotten voice and found himself hurtling down the steps two at a time to take the opportunity to accuse his wicked ancestor. “You!” he bellowed furiously, “This is all your fault!”

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PART TWENTY-TWO It wasn’t the best first meeting that ever happened in the long history of mankind, and it rather surprised at least one of the Messrs Snatch that it turned out to be that way. He had, after all, believed quite reasonably that someone living such a lonely life as his descendant appeared to be doing might actually be rather more grateful to find that he might have any kind of company at all, no matter how unusual the circumstances of how that meeting might have come about. And, after all, family was family, wasn’t it…? Even if ancestors long-dead don’t usually make a habit of turning up in people’s lives and having a bit of a chat, and, quite literally going over old times, perhaps over a little drink of something or other. What he had utterly failed to consider (because, after all, consideration of what other people might be feeling was not, as we have already witnessed, something that he was well practiced in) was that during his long endurance of extreme loneliness, Mr Snatch had had plenty of time to brood and ponder upon how his situation had come about. Quite reasonably, at least from his point of view (which was, after all, the only one that really mattered any more), once he had finally managed to forgive himself for having clambered inside his shelter in the first place, he had turned his attentions to the sources of the conflict which had led to him making that most wretched of choices, with the certain knowledge of what the family archives had already told him when he had read them as a small boy. Buried deep in the archive was his family’s hidden shame and guilt, the great secret which they had tried so very hard to keep to themselves, but which, when it did finally seep out and become more general knowledge, had meant a sea-

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change in people’s attitudes which had escalated and escalated until it could no longer be controlled. It had been a moment which might have seemed rather insignificant in the great scheme of things but which had had devastating consequences for the whole of humanity. And here, delivered to him by the fickle finger of fate, and in a manner that was so very unlikely that he simply had no choice but to accept it and learn to deal with it, was the perpetrator of that very wrong, hoping to have a little chat with him over a nice cup of tea. Standing right there, on his own stairwell! Right in front of him! As large as life and yet only half as ugly. Well, to say that all of his pent up anger, rage and frustration boiled over at that moment from inside him where it had been bubbling, would be something of an understatement. The surviving photographs from the family files did not do justice to the sheer arrogance and audacity of this man, even if they didn’t really do his natural good looks all that much justice either. He was simply one of those people who do not photograph well. Setting all that aside, however, it appeared that it was indeed most definitely HIM, and the lonely little man who had spent so much time alone was willing to believe that any manipulators of events who were able to conspire to bring about the end of the world were just as capable of shifting the jigsaw pieces of time around enough to bring about this visitation, and he seized his moment and lunged at this despised figure at the first chance he got. There is little point in discussing what was said between them as they fought their way up and down and all around the tower, but we can be fairly certain that there was little in the way of seasonal greetings being flung back and forth. There

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might have been some discussion as to whether one or the other of them was being unreasonable, or there may have been something in the way of a sharp (and perhaps slightly biased) history lesson, or there might just have been the pointless outpourings of blind rage that occasionally are then to be regretted in the cold light of day, but it is unlikely that we will ever really know. And it wasn’t much of a fight, to be honest. Viewers of “Payper-view” would have been switching off in their droves at such a disappointing spectacle. Neither of the combatants had ever really been built for indulging in the less-than-gentle art of fisticuffs, nor were they really in the best of physical shape after their diverse recent experiences. So, in general, this meant that, whilst there was much huffing and puffing, and considerable quantities of ducking and diving, there was little for a connoisseur to appreciate, as they generally spent most of their time trying their very best to keep out of each other’s way, and not much else. They covered an awful lot of territory, in all directions, but made very little actual physical contact. The “present day” Mr Snatch spent much of the time pleading with his descendant as to whether they might not be able to just talk about things, and trying his level best to summon up the negotiation skills which had served him so well in his business life, in order to remind his assailant, time and again, what a dreadful thing it was to be lonely, because he genuinely believed that reminding him of this might actually help him to bring him to his senses. However, as time went on, this strategy was obviously failing to have any impact, and instead he found himself backing his way higher and higher up in the rickety tower until he found himself standing upon a ramshackle and rather hand-made looking platform, upon which there seemed to be standing little more than a brass telescope, and about which there

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seemed to be a great deal of what he could only describe as being a howling and rather icy wind. Surprised as he was to have run out of places to run, and desperate as he was to keep away from the flailing fists of a person who might once (in another reality) have more lovingly referred to him as “Great-Grandpa” (or something), he was most shocked when the railing that he was clinging on to gave way, and he found himself unexpectedly plummeting to the ground from the top of the remains of the very tall tower he once built to carry his own name into the bright new future.

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PART TWENTY-THREE Because death is still, as far as any of us can tell, forever, Old Marley still walks the Earth, and he also has a long, long memory, which means, in many ways, that he is in a stronger position than any of us to observe the results of his actions, and to consider the benefits of moving just one of the tiniest of pieces in the great chessboard of life. Marley walked a hundred years ago, he walks now, and he will still be walking long after the last human has dropped off this mortal coil. The only advantage the Marley of the far future has over the versions we might have contact with in earlier times, is that he has already witnessed everything they did, and remembered it, and has been around long enough to witness the various outcomes and results of his actions. So, like him, perhaps this is as good a moment as any for us to pause, reflect and philosophise upon the things which we have been perhaps unwilling witnesses to during the series of events which occurred in our little tale as it unfolded over these past three weeks or so. If there is ever likely to be any kind of a moral to this insignificant odyssey which we have journeyed through together, it’s most likely to be found here. Could, for example, the changes which seem to be occurring to the person we might consider to be the “present day” Mr Snatch mean that future isn’t quite as bleakly painted for his descendant…? Would a sea-change in his own philosophy mean that he changes his ways enough to ensure that the barbarians are no longer at the gates and threatening to tear the whole of civilisation down...? If he fails to survive his sudden plunge from the remains of his own high tower, will the future be irrevocably reshaped by the fact that his offspring fail to be even born…?

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We haven’t addressed the knotty little question about how the various Messrs Snatch have managed to produce this chain of miserable souls, despite them all seeming to be such unpromising prospects for any young woman seeking love, if that is what they are seeking, or find most attractive about this fabulously wealthy family line. We do, of course, know that there have already been a number of previous women who have borne the name, however briefly, of “Mrs Snatch” to the current incumbent, but we have not really considered whether there are already any little Snatches running around and biting the ankles of those whom they are ultimately set to replace. Perhaps this future is already shaped, or perhaps it remains as fluid as the thickening air through which Mr Snatch is currently plunging, where the gravity might still be unfortunately working, but perhaps without its usual efficiency. There are some other, perhaps bigger questions to consider, too. Petty, fiddling little things upon which we might like to mull like “Will the world die?” Well, of course, one day it will. These things, whilst perhaps not quite the sorts of things we like to dwell upon as we arrive at Chrimbletide and tick away another year in the long journey towards the inevitable, are unavoidable. We just prefer to choose not to think about them, and realise that in our short human spans, we are unlikely to live long enough to see them, but, if the actions of one man are significant enough, perhaps we ought to give at least some consideration to the fact that we might. Because, if this story is to be about anything, perhaps it is not so much about redemption, nor is it about the bleakness of that future, or whether the world as we know it lives or dies,

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but merely about how those things might happen. There may very well be a bleak future, and it might very well be just around the corner or a million years away, but how it is shaped rather depends upon what we choose to do right now rather than leaving it to somebody else to sort out. How we arrive at the future, and what shape we find it in, is largely down to us, and people like us, and we all have the opportunity to pause, to reflect, to take a moment to consider the consequences of our actions and see whether we can do anything now to make the outcome for everyone else as pleasant as it could be, instead of choosing the path which is easiest, or which brings along with it the most hurt for someone else. Speaking of which, back in the trivial world of this humble storytelling offering, there is the other tiny matter of the fate of Olive and, to a lesser or greater extent dependent upon your own philosophy on such things, Mitsy. What is to become of them as they remain sitting outside in the deepest, darkest cold of just before the dawn? And what, if anything, has any of this got to do with Christmas…? Ah well, you see. I personally struggle to find the joy of the season myself, which means that any Christmas tale which I can think up to share with you is likely to be at least a slightly cynical piece, and so, whilst this dark little tale might, ultimately, have the best of intentions and, perhaps, contain a shining diamond in the midst of all the coal, it’s always likely to be the darkness surrounding these joyous events which is most likely to draw my attention. As ever, I don’t know whether I write well, but I do know that I write, and this is the kind of thing that I seem to write about.

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Finally, we might ask ourselves whether it was, in fact, all a dream, which is, of course, is always the ultimate cop-out when the various strings in the cat’s cradle of a story start to get too knotted, and the imagination starts to run out, but it is something that you might wish to keep in mind as we return our thoughts to the fate of the still-plummeting Mr Snatch. Tomorrow.

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PART TWENTY-FOUR Mr Snatch fell… …and was completely surprised when he found that his hands, which he was holding out in front of him as a last futile gesture towards self-preservation, made contact with the thick pile carpet of his own office. His momentum caused him to still hit the floor with a bit of a thump which rather took his breath away, and he lay there for a moment, slightly winded, and let out a long, relieved deep breath. So it had all been a dream after all. He realised that somewhere a telephone was ringing, and he staggered over to the desk to retrieve it from where he had thrown it earlier on that night, or whatever night it had been. Time was playing tricks on him and everything seemed to be acting in a rather fluid manner, and he hadn’t quite worked out what day it was as he stumbled about believing that he was still half-asleep. As he picked up the telephone, he winced as he cut his hand upon one of the shards of glass from the broken picture which he had never had the opportunity to clear up because of his unusual diversion. Sucking in his breath to stop himself from inadvertently exclaiming something more unpleasant, he punched the “receive” button and listened as the message which he had failed to pay any attention to earlier was finally relayed to him. At the end of the message, he pressed the required number after the ghostly voice told him that he had several options from which he could choose; “To receive further information,

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press one. To dismiss this once-in-a-lifetime chance at redemption, press two. To tell…” He pressed “one” and waited as a strangely familiar yet unfamiliar harpsichord ditty tinkled away and another ghostly voice apologised for the fact that they were busy and that, if he was patient, they would answer his call just as soon as an operator became available. Eventually, an actual voice interrupted the music and Mr Snatch was able to ask a very important question, in response to which there was a distant unseen shrug and an absentmindedly muttered “Who can tell?” before an attempt was made at forwarding his call on to a colleague whom he assured Mr Snatch would be able to answer any and all of his questions about that particular matter before putting him on hold again. After making a less than original observation to nobody in particular that they might want to update their music, something with which Old Marley actually concurred, Mr Snatch clicked the “end call” button on his telephone, but it refused to be switched off and the tinny little tune played on and on and on. Mr Snatch sagged dejectedly and defeatedly onto the floor, and started weeping quietly to himself at the realisation that there seemed to be nothing he could do to change anything. After a moment, he noticed that the tune had, in fact changed to something slightly more modern, and, even though it still seemed to be a tune dredged up from the bowels of hell, the mere fact of its alteration made him stop and think. Then he stood up and wiped his eyes, before heading across to the little ensuite cloakroom with a view to “freshening up”.

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When he switched on the light and looked into the mirror, he was rather surprised to find that he looked to be in an absolute state, standing there wearing a ratty vest and a rather battered looking old overcoat. Then he looked down at the tattered remains of his once immaculate designer suit, and the battered non-matching pair of boots on his feet and realised with a growing sense of dread that it hadn’t been a dream after all. And then he had another thought. He grabbed a pair of jeans, some socks and a pair of trainers from the cupboard and threw them on. Hanging next to them was his overcoat, which he grabbed and roughly folded under his arm as he was dashing towards the door. Then he dashed back to the cupboard and grabbed a thick sweater which he then had to put on because the version of the coat he was now carrying had made the tattier one he had been wearing just seconds earlier inexplicably vanish from his body as it would now never make it back into the trunk from which he had first retrieved it. He was delighted. Things could change, and he could change them. Which is how, acting in a manner which was against everything he had ever previously done in his life, he then dashed off into the night in search of Olive Scrimp and, to a lesser extent, Mitsy. It took him quite some time to find them, as the streets of the city are many, but when he remembered that he’d met her in the park, he soon found her walking around and using the last of her energy in an effort to keep warm.

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She was very suspicious of him at first. Her evening had already been full of strange figures offering to show her various alternative notions of their ideas of what a “good time” might be, but when she finally recognised that the enthusing and caring face which was trying to help her was was a variation upon the same, sterner face which had flung her out into the cold just a few short, but potentially deadly, hours earlier, she accepted his invitation to put on the very welcome overcoat, and was soon warming through whilst gorging on abandoned party food in the upper banqueting suite of the SnatchCon Tower. In the distance, the chimes of Big Ben struck the midnight hour and drifted softly across the river to where they were just sitting and chatting in a pleasant and casual manner which Mr Snatch had seldom experienced before. Because she couldn’t help herself, she wished Mr Snatch an almost whispered “Happy Christmas” and, after a moment’s confusion, he actually returned the greeting, before sitting back in his chair and realising that he had an awful lot of thinking to do.

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PART TWENTY-FIVE Well, it’s Christmas morning and we’ve reached the final part of our merry tale and, because this is a Christmas story, it really ought to have a “happy” ending, so, if you are going to find one, then this is probably the best place to look. Especially, I suppose, if it’s an ending to the story I’ve been recently telling that you’re looking for today. And furthermore, whilst this morning is probably not the time or the place to discuss the relative merits of what the word “happy” might mean from several different points of view, or whether an “ending” only really works in a storytelling context and not in “real-life” where a story might get concluded but life itself carries on, we’re not going to dwell upon it. After all, our story needs an ending and, seeing as we have reached part twenty-five, it’s probably a good idea to allow it to have one. Of course, as its “author” (if that’s not getting above my station), I cannot expect anyone to be actually taking the time to be reading this, especially on such a busy morning as today is for so many people, but I can at least try to provide anyone who might choose to with that option, and make just one more vague attempt at making my own humble effort to entertain you in the midst of so many other distractions. As to that “happy” ending, well here it is. To be perfectly honest with you, Mr Snatch didn’t change all that much after his experiences, because the Mr Snatches of this world seldom do, but he did change just enough to make enough of a difference, and perhaps that’s really the point. If each and every one of us can change just a little bit, then the world might be a better place.

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After spending a few hours just chatting to the girl whose life he had saved from the brink of extinction, Mr Snatch found out that Olive was more than just a faceless nameless nobody but a real, genuine human being with hopes and needs and fears and worries just like everybody else, and that made him think about her and, perhaps surprisingly about everyone else who worked for him and, ultimately, about everyone else that he was sharing the good old world with. He was always going to have that cynical streak, and the occasional moment of impatience and disappointment. He was always going to remain ambitious and perhaps just a little bit ruthless too, at least in matters of business. After all, he had responsibility for all of the hopes and needs and fears and worries of his entire staff to worry about along with his own, but he did at least approach it with a little more humility. After all, when you’ve seen the whole world reduced to dust and how insignificant your legacy can be in the face of its obliteration in the crucible of time, you start to think less of such things and give more attention to the “here” and the “now” instead of what and whether people might think of you once you’ve gone, and, over the years, old Mr Snatch did really finally start to earn that “Humanitarian of the Year” Award. And things did improve for Olive too. Her life had its problems and they were never going to vanish overnight. After all, nobody ends up living in a hostel with their kids without having had at least a few hiccups along the way, but things did start to get better from that day. As she headed off in the company limousine for her joyful reunion with her children on that Christmas morning, courtesy of a longsuffering chauffeur who was still waiting for the call to come anyway (but got a huge – and rather unexpected - bonus for his trouble), Mr Snatch had already made arrangements for

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them to have a far better Christmas than they ever expected to, and the general welfare of his entire staff became very much his business over the coming months, and became very much the model for many of his fellow business leaders who kept wanting to create new and interestingly-named Awards for him, all of which he rejected as the pointless selfaggrandising nonsense that he knew they were. Mr Snatch found that he was just happy doing as much good as he could with the wealth he had, and finally learned the lesson that might be obvious to you, dear reader, but can take a long time to learn; that real wealth and riches really are those which areperhaps more spiritual in nature. But if you are wealthy, then it’s a damned sight easier to do some good than it might be for someone who’s struggling along, and, whilst it can be very tempting to do your level best to get even more wealth for yourself instead of trying to do some actual genuine good from your position of privilege, then it’s never the worst thing to remind yourself, every once in a while, and certainly around Chrimbletide, that there are limits to the amount of “stuff” that you can accumulate and that you really cannot take it with you. All of which probably means something or other, that may, or may not, be all rather profound, but which is probably not the sort of idealistic nonsense anyone wants to be told upon Christmas Day, even if that is possibly the one day of the year when that sort of idealistic nonsense is most likely to be understood and appreciated, so I think that it’s time that I shut up now, and let the rest of the story unfold as it should, which doesn’t take long and can be summed up in one, mercifully short, paragraph. In the far future, Mr Snatch got home from a very full and happy Christmas Day and settled down in his favourite armchair with a glass of something tasty to watch another

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rerun of one of his favourite Christmas episodes from one of his favourite sitcoms. Before the programme started, he glanced for a moment out of the window to watch the full and active world, which did not die, passing outside his humble and snug abode, and smiled with contentment. Happy Christmas everyone. Martin A W Holmes, Christmas 2012

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