On some planets, in some cultures, it’s traditional to celebrate on or near the shortest day of the year. Typical. Celebrating when light is in the shortest supply.
Here, however, we’ve got it right. Celebrate when the day is longest, when there’s maximum light to be able to do so. Much more sensible. Same as in those other cultures, presents, feast, visit from a mysterious visitor leaving gifts.
Poppycock, the whole damn lot of it. I’ve never been a believer that it’s anything other than an ordinary day. Didn’t like getting presents, certainly didn’t like giving them, saw the food as an unnecessary extravagance. It’s still the same. I’m a successful businessman. No one, and I mean no one in my company got the day off. They couldn’t even book it off as a holiday. Business as usual. No bonuses, no gifts. It didn’t make me popular, but I’m not in the business I am to make friends. Just the cash.
All that was true till this year. Then the bloody Electorates did what they did best. Stuck their noses in to other people’s business. Declared that, unless you were employed in an essential service, you had to get the day off, paid. Well, I soon found a way round that. I sacked the bloody lot of them. Every single one. The lucky ones will get their jobs back. The extremely lucky ones will get the same level of pay.
I was enjoying a quiet drink on front of the image box when I got a very mild surprise. My old partner, Joe Cregg, walked through the door. Literally, as it was still shut. That’s not the only thing to surprise me, the fact he was there at all was a tiny shock as he had been dead these six years previously.
‘Jex, Jex, Jex. What is going on? I’ve watched you these six years. I wasn’t that surprised with the direction you took the company, driving costs and wages down while keeping prices high. But sacking everyone just before Midsummerfest. Really? Really? That’s cold, even for you.’
‘Why does that surprise you Joeleph?’ I replied, lighting a cigar. This was deliberately to annoy him. He hated me smoking when he was alive and he couldn’t exactly do anything about it now. ‘You know how I feel about the whole ridiculous thing.’
‘That’s very true. But making them beg to get their jobs back, when you are the only game in town?’
‘If they don’t like it, they can take their chances and go somewhere else instead. You going to try and talk me out of this particular course of action?’
Joe shook his head. ‘I’m not that stupid. I know you, I know there’s no convincing you. I’m more the advance guard. There will be others. Don’t know who they will be, but there will be three of them.’
I grinned. ‘Bring it on. I can take it.’
Joe shrugged his shoulders and walked out the door. I would have been shocked and surprised by what had just happened, if I was capable of being shocked by anything. I finished my drink and went to get another one. I flicked through the channels, getting annoyed by all the bloody Midsummerfest programmes. I gave up and left it on as background noise while I looked over the books finding places to reduce our overheads and therefore make me more money. My favourite pastime.
I heard someone clearing their throat and looked up. There was a strange looking person standing there. Long hair, baggy clothes, I actually had to wait for him to talk before discovering it wasn’t actually a female. There’s no need for anyone to look like that really. Scruffy git. He tilted his head and stared at me like an infinitely patient guru. Or a complete and utter numpty.
‘I suppose you’re one of those folks that Joe warned me about?’
‘Indeed I am. If you would be so considerate as to rise yourself off the chair and proceed in a manner that is following where I lead you, it would be muchly appreciated.’
‘Did you swallow a bloody spellingbook or something?’
He continued to stare at me in a manner that I suppose was supposed to be piercing but merely made me think he had something wrong with his sight. ‘It has been commented before that I tend to communicate in a way that can be described as being ever so slightly on the side of the verbose, that much is in the record as a statement of fact. However, my fine person of the male persuasion, the manner with which I carry out my verbal interactions with other personages is not the matter or mission upon which I am currently standing in this fine room which is part of your place of abode. You, in all actuality, really do need to be following where I precede you to. If you find my style of conducting communications of the conversational variety to be not of your particular taste than the greater velocity with which he hence from this place of dwelling, the sooner I shall no longer be chatting to your good self.’
I got up, sighing. A spellingbook? This guy seems to have swallowed the entire language for dinner then another one for desert. I headed towards the door.
‘Oh, dear me, my fine and upright male type,’ he said. ‘There was a particular and very rational explanation as to why I asked your fine self to follow me. For you shall not be removing yourself from the confines of these four splendidly decorated walls in the manner with which you are quite accustomed. If you would ever so kind as to follow in the direction and general manner of which I shall be leading and proceeding, it would be much and greatly appreciated.’
It usually takes a lot for me to lose my temper but this guy was very close to it. ‘Where are we going?’
‘I would request that, in all humbleness and obsequiousness, that the sooner that we cease and desist tarrying and remaining in this place, the sooner your eyeballs will observe detail and catalogue our ultimate destination.’
‘Do you ever say things simply?’
‘My dear and sweet gentle person of the male persuasion, it is the humble opinion of my good self, your guide, mentor and narrator, that to use one piece of vocalisation when you could use ten is sheer, total and utter laziness. Shall we depart from the ground on which we currently stand and the space we presently occupy with no further delay?’
I gave up and followed him. We walked, not through the door, but through the wall at the rear of the room. Rather than ending up in my dining hall, as I would expect, it being the room through there, I found myself outside. The house we stood outside looked familiar to me, though I couldn’t quite place it. My annoying guide turned to me again.
‘Now I do find that it is my solemn duty to be informing you that in this place, at this time you are as spectral and non-corporal as my own good self, your dear, late and much lamented friend and partner in the world of business and the two personages that shall be paying you the honour and the privilege of a visitation once I have departed from your fine and muchly enjoyable company. Now, my dear sir, if you would once again be so kind as to place your lowest appendages in the steps of my own feet, we shall proceed with the entering of this simple, humble yet very homely abode.’
I followed him through the wall into the house. I got a shock when I saw someone I instantly recognised, sat slumped on the bottom step, crying over a package I again recognised. ‘Soxanna Hamilsmythe,’ I whispered.
‘So, your good self has recognition of this poor, weeping visage that sits before us? And would there be, perchance, any glimmer of familiarity with great concern to the package she is currently blessing and moistening with giant drops of water?’
I looked closer. ‘It is a present that she tried to give me. We must have been in Learning Eight at the time. I remember laughing and shoving it back in her face.’
‘Well, that simple act did give her much reason for the painful act of grievance. The poor, very unfortunate womanly person you see so tortured before myself and yourself spent a lot of time and no small amount of trouble to be absolutely assured that the small but perfectly chosen gift would be much to your liking. The poor dear was completely, totally and utterly head over heels in love with you. That simple but very much of the cruel description act with which you returned the present did break her poor delicate heart. And, may be as bold as to enquire as to the nature and direction of any feelings you may have harboured towards her?’
‘I was in love with her. I did try to approach her after this happened but got short shrift. Now I know why. Is this what you are planning to do, make me visit places like this?’
‘If that was indeed my intention and my plan, it would be very, very easy to do sir. For there is absolutely no doubt or equivocation in my, or anyone else’s, mind that of such personages supply cannot be described in any way, shape or form as being short. Beings of the human variety that may easily be described as friends of yours, familial members, there is indeed a plentiful supply of these types. However, our time together is, by necessity, short and thusly my humble self can only be of a mind to let you view and peek on one such example. This wretched creature was thusly chosen as being the one that you would catch sight and sound of as it may well be the one that made the biggest impression on you. Now, if it would please and pleasure you, I must bid you adieu and the most fairest of wells. You shall be departing of this place by the very means and direction with which you came in.’
With that, he was gone. I walked through the wall I went through to get in and was back in my living space. I went to the drinks cabinet, poured a very healthy measure of alcohol and downed it. What exactly was that supposed to teach me? When I turned back round there was someone else there. Definitely female this time. She pointed at me.
‘You. Follow,’ was all she said. Thank the Gods for that, short on conversation. We left though the front wall this time. We stood outside the house. She pointed to the house opposite mine.’
The house was festooned with horrible lit decorations. It was really not becoming. Then she turned round and pointed again.
I did. My house, looking perfectly normal, the way things should be.
‘You not decorate.’
‘It’s cheap, tacky and in celebration of something ridiculous. I really don’t see the point.’
‘But you make.’
‘Of course I do. Low production costs, massive profits. I’d be mad not to.’
She turned again. ‘Follow.’ I did. We walked down the street, turned the corner and followed the next street till she stopped, turned and pointed at a house. ‘Look.’
‘And this is important to me because?’ I asked.
‘Azander MacToro. You know’
‘The name rings a bell,’ I said. ‘Think he works in accounts.’
I followed her into the house. Sat there, looking morose amongst the bustle, was Azander.
‘Glad to see he’s not enjoying himself.’
‘First Midsummerfest with family,’ she said. Can’t enjoy. Can’t have fun. Busy worrying if will have job tomorrow.’
‘Good. Anyone having fun at this stupid time of year should be zapped on sight and then zapped again to ensure they are dead.’
She pointed back to the wall. ‘Leave.’ She disappeared and I walked through the hall, back to my place. This time I didn’t move. Sure enough, someone else appeared in my living space. Female again. She looked a bit kinder than the last one, however.
‘Let me guess,’ I said. ‘You want me to follow you.’
‘Dude, you catch on pretty quickly,’ she replied. She walked towards one of the side walls and I followed her. We were in my street, but there was something different about it. The lights looked completely different for a start.
‘Have a look in that bin. There’s something there that might interest you.’
I went over and picked up the box resting on the top. The fact that I could pick it up was a surprise. ‘I didn’t think I’d be able to do that, being non-corporeal and all,’ I said.
‘You shouldn’t be able to, but exceptions can be made if needs be.’
I looked at the box, drinking in all the information on there. ‘I don’t recognise this.’
‘We’re about 20 years in the future. That box used to contain the very latest in cutting edge technology.’
‘It’s not made by me.’
‘Indeed not,’ she agreed. ‘Come on, follow me.’
I put the box back and followed her down the road. She led me into the graveyard. I never liked this place. Far, far too dark and dingy for my tastes. If they sold me the place, like I’d asked, it would have been turned into an amusement fair.
We walked through rows and rows of extravagant monstrosities dedicated to people who can’t actually appreciate them to a bit at the back. This was the area for pauper’s graves. My guide pointed at one. Written on a tiny, badly whitewashed, crudely made cross was “J Washburne.”
‘That my grave?’
‘Your miserly cost cutting measures made your products unusable. You refused to invest in making anything else new. Competitors moved in and stole your staff. The company went bust. You lost a load of money and, due to your attitude, you had no friends. This is what you become. And now we must part ways.’
She disappeared and I walked through the wall from one version of my living space to the other. I got myself a drink and sat back down, flicking through the channels on the image box and thinking.
Now, you may be under the impression that everything I saw had given me food for thought, made me realise that I had to change things. Sorry pal, wrong story. I was actually recalling everything I learned from the box I held. There was a nice project for the development people tomorrow.
Time for the annual repost.