It was a bitterly cold night, a light fluttering of snow dropped quietly in the darkness, the sky heavy and vaguely orange in hue as the angry-faced man lifted the collar of his expensive overcoat up around his neck and hurried off towards his publicly subsidised comfortable accomodation, the workings of protecting government over.
The cold within him pinched his fizzer like he’d just bitten into a particularly sour pickled onion, his beady little eyes red, behind his glasses, his thin lips screwed up in disgust like he’d just passed a fellow Scotsman wearing a Yes lapel badge, he scuttled along the busy thoroughfare towards home.
Ebenezer Bundell, the Secretary of State for the protection of the British State from Scotland (a title usually just referred to as ERMINE CHASER) despised Christmas.
A time of the year when the poor demanded even more attention than usual, a time when his departmental staff insisted on leaving him to cut up copies of ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’ into toilet paper sized chunks on his own, whilst they selfishly sloped off home to try and inject some cheer into their miserable little lives.
He’d dock their wages if he could. They should be at their workstations, plotting, strategising, spinning bad news media releases about the Edinburgh government, and writing good news stories about how his government are continually rescuing Scotland from itself, like every other day of the year.
‘Humbug’ thought Ebenezer, “What if those fanatical nats sneak out a policy to further increase free childcare or something to cushion the blow of our glorious austerity whilst those lazy functionaries are all stuffing their faces with scrawny turkeys? How will we be able to work up a damning response for the media?”
Just at that moment a tall lady and an older man dressed for winter, both wearing lanyards and ID badges advising anyone who was interested that they were registered collectors for a well known charity organisation, stepped out from under a street lamp and into his path on the busy street.
“Hi there. Would you like to help those not as fortunate as us? It’s for a very good cause. Help provide food, a warm bed and shelter for someone who needs it. What do you say? ”
“Charity you say? Humbug! They’ve got their cigarettes, their cheap booze, their satellite TV, and they keep having children when they can’t afford them. Why should I pay for them with my hard earned money? Get out of my way. Aren’t there Foodbanks these wasters can go to? I opened one of those once, luckily I managed to dive out of the emergency exit when the riff raff outside weren’t looking. Spongers, they are all just spongers . You give them something and they’ll just want more.”
“Here, aren’t you on the telly?Something to do with the government?” said the man. “I’m sure I’ve seen you somewhere before.”
Ebenezer, taken aback, responded ” No, you are mistaken. I work for large financial institutions in the city, and some of the bigger corporations. Be about your business, and try and find something more profitable to do with your time than bothering me for money and feeding scroungers.”
With that he scuttled the last few yards into the foyer of his concierge-serviced apartment block.
“Good evening Mr Bundell” said the pleasant-faced soft-spoken lady, originally from the Polish port city of Gdansk, who was on duty at the the service desk, as he entered the foyer, Bogdana Kratchet.
Bogdana had been supposed to go off duty, handing over to the night porter an hour before, but the porter hadn’t turned up.
Her son,Tymoteusz, a sufferer of a childhood bone disorder in his legs which resulted in him only being able to walk with the aid of expensive, specially made leg braces which he was growing out of, awaited her at home. She had promised to watch the advertised movie ‘Polar Express’ with him on the tiny portable TV in their bedsit but that promise had now been broken.
“Good? Good? What’s good about it? ” mumbled the grumpy miserable man with the faint hint of ginger in his hair and beard, as he brushed flakes of snow from his jacket and walked past the concierge without as much as glancing at her, into the spotless sanitised lift to his fifteenth floor lair, and the view over his beloved London and the distant Palace of Westminster that it’s panoramic window affords.
Pressing the button to ascend, Ebenezer leant back against the spotless mirrored glass and closed his eyes for a second.
” Thump” the lift, usually a very smooth ride, came to a sudden disconcerting stop. There was a crunch of metal on metal and the whole lift shuddered slightly from side to side.
‘What now?”thought Ebenezer, as the overhead light started to flicker and went out, leaving him in the strange blue and white dim glow of the auxiliary lights along the floor of the lift carriage.
Although the building was temperature controlled Ebenezer felt a sudden cold draught on the back of his neck. There was a strange faint odour, kind of like the smell of wet Highland cattle, wafting around the lift.
There was a piercing scream. Ebenezer, having pressed the lift door button several times to no avail, took fright and dived at the doors, scratching feverishly with his fingers to try and break open the solid silver sliding panels. They were locked tight, solid.
Suddenly the blue and white lights around his feet started to flash intermittently forming the outline of a Scottish saltire.
He thought he could hear moaning, whispering, the sounds of unresolved constipation in the distance. It was all in his imagination he rationalised. Perhaps a fever brought on by a poorly digested mouthful of pate de foie gras, he’d eaten some earlier at the Knightsbridge restaurant he’d dined in. It’ll pass. Just give it a moment, he thought.
Just then the loud drone of bagpipes startled him. He let out a scream. It was a pipe tune he recognised from a movie he’d seen, a tune which honoured the ultimate sacrifice of Scots in foreign fields who stood their ground, who did their duty, for their country, a lament called ‘Sgt.McKenzie’.
In front of him a shimmering light appeared. A shape started to take form. A skinny, pale-skinned balding man with a slight five o clock shadow, thin lips, awkwardly wearing Highland dress, his figure that of the kind which grandmothers used to describe as not having the arse for a kilt, took form and faced him in the light of the blue and white saltire.
“Beware Ebenezer, repent, you must change your ways!” cried the figure, in a desperate tone.
“Snarley? Baron Snarley of Dumbean, is that you, Michael, is it really you?” said the now crouching Bundell.
“It is I, yes. I am the spirit of the golden boy, the beloved acolyte of the Iron Demon, the former incumbent of the sacred position which you now hold, the destroyer of Scottish self-confidence, the hexer of anything innovative that ever came from there, the humiliator and demoniser of the poverty stricken, the hungry, and the under-privileged. The promoter of cringe. It is me” said the oily beady-eyed creature.
“But you’re not dead. I caught a glimpse of you just the others day sidling into the Lords chamber in your beautiful ermine cloak, when I was hanging around there trying to get noticed.”
” No, true, I haven’t parted this mortal life, but every night when I sleep, if I can get to sleep that is, my dream spirit takes on human form and wanders the earth. I am damned for my arrogance and avarice, chained to this rock, the weight of which jars and tears my bones and skin as I drag myself along in agony. ”
At that Ebenezer noticed for the first time that the eerie figure was covered in heavy chains which were attached to what looked like an exact copy of the stone sacred to Scotland, the Stone of Destiny,once repatriated by students, and then eventually transported north officially, the awake version of Snarley having had his photograph taken with it several times, and in several places, on its journey.
“Humbug! You are a figment of my mind, a manifestation of a gin and tonic too many. Perhaps I’m working too hard. Maybe I should cut down the trips to Myanmar and South America to makes speeches about how bad things are in Scotland? Yes, that’ll be it, a touch of jet lag. Be gone spirit!”
At this the spirit became angry. “Enough! Enough Ebenezer. I am here to warn you to mend your ways. Don’t be like me. You can still be saved. You will be visited by three spirits, of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christm…..”
Ebenezer Bundell shook his miserable head, and turning towards the spirit said ” Can I stop you right there. I like things just the way they are thank you very much.Come up to my apartment for a snifter and I’ll show you my dossier on how we’re going to convince the peasants via the media that they are getting some returned powers from Europe, and I’ll let you see the strategy plan we’re going to use to nobble the rest of their renewable energy schemes. I think you’ll like that.”
With that the ferret-faced spirit grasped at what was left of its hair, let out a loud desperate sigh,and faded into the blue light. It’s last conscious thought for the night involved wondering whether the next recipient of one of it’s visitations really would have a Challenger Tank parked outside her house.