Marlowe was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Malcolm signed it. And Malcolm's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.
Old Marlowe was as dead as a door-nail.
THE THICK OF IT
“TERRI! Get your sugar plum fellating arse over here and tell me what in the Santa-fisting FUCK this is! It looks like a disco rent boy ejaculated glitter all over it after being brought off by a hungover kiddy art teacher!”
Terri rolled her eyes in that special way she reserved only for Malcolm. “And a Happy Christmas to you, too, Malcolm. It’s an invitation. Tonight. Dinner. Nicola thought since we were all stuck here dealing with this until probably late tonight we might all go out and try to salvage a little bit of Christmas Eve, yeah? I mean, we’ve all been here pretty much every moment since Monday and we’re technically not supposed to be here today and, come on, Malcolm, Ollie’s even popping home to get Jamie.”
Jamie, at his insistence, had been living with Ollie while recuperating from a broken ankle he sustained while kicking in a door to get to Ollie after another disastrous screw-up that was, admittedly, all Ollie’s fault. Ollie had been waiting on Jamie hand and foot for three weeks only out of fear for what Jamie would do to him when he recovered if he didn’t.
“Christmas dinner? With you fucking lot? Bah fucking bumfuck! I’d rather sit here and stick candy canes up my cock than have a fucking playtime and watch Glenn get pissed and hit on 18 year old waitresses who would only be interested if they were fucking paleontology students! Did you forget that we are in the middle of a fucking national crisis here? This isn’t like when you were eight and you thought Santa might not come because you sneaked something from mummy’s special whisky hiding place! I don’t give a fuck about Christmas any other year, much less this one. ” Malcolm threw the invitation in the trash bin.
“Alright! Jesus Christ, Malcolm. It was just an invitation. You don’t have to be such a fucking scrooge about it. What did Christmas ever do to you? If you change your mind, you know where we’ll be.” Terri backed out of Malcolm’s office quickly, but not quickly enough to miss the “I know where you’ll be if you bother me with this shite again,” that followed her out.
Free of Terri’s ridiculous distraction, Malcolm could continue threatening The Times to sit on the story until at least into the next week in peace…until Ollie popped his head in.
“Happy Christmas, Malcolm!” Ollie, the little shite, was actually wearing a Santa Claus hat. “I guess you’ve heard I’m dragging Jamie round tonight whether he likes it or not. Had to promise him several free drinks and I think I agreed to sleep with some MP’s assistant for some information, but if he doesn’t get out of my flat, at least for a night, I’m going to kill him. At least a waiter gets paid to deal with him asking for shit all the time.”
“Well, Ollie, perhaps next time you want to down too many fucking pink-umbrella fucking Oestrogentinis and walk in on two married men of fucking each other in the toilets, you might want to make sure one of them isn’t currently holding a massive story on a big fucking intelligence leak on our end over our heads, hmm? I suppose then that you will be balls deep in some twenty quid hooker tomorrow morning instead of here righting your fucking wrongs and blowing whoever you need to fix this, yeah?”
Ollie could see the vein on Malcolm’s forehead starting to pop, but of course he had to answer that. “Well, Malcolm. Unless you plan on paying me personally for tomorrow, I do enjoy the day off as a perk of this job. Besides, it’s mostly handled—“
“No thanks to you, you massive shit! Tell me, Ollie, when you open your mouth, do you ever stop to think about what you are saying or do you let your arsehole do that job for you?” Malcolm sighed. “Fine. Be here the 26th before dawn or my present to you will be Jamie and a locked room and I just ordered him a fresh roll of garrote wire for Christmas off Amazon! Now get the fuck out of my office before I make you the new topper for the Christmas tree.”
Malcolm continued his work throughout the afternoon without a break, stopping only for the occasional threat to “turn off the fucking Christmas music before I stuff you down a chimney and light a raging fire.” He barely noticed when, around 8, people started trickling out to meet at the restaurant and by 9 he was alone. There wasn’t much left he could do at this hour on Christmas Eve; all the people he wanted to strangle were either enjoying Christmas Eve or getting pissed avoiding it. He had been locked away in the office since 3am and he was beyond exhausted.
He locked his hit list in his top drawer and stretched in his chair, preparing to walk into the December chill, hoping it would wake him up long enough to make it home.
Twenty minutes later he was on his doorstep, the crunch of fresh snow underneath, the sound of little bastard children singing Christmas carols, and the knowledge of some good Scotch in his cupboard. His keys in his chilled hand, he fumbled with them to expose his door key from the jumble and he reached to insert it in the lock when he jumped back and almost slipped on a particularly icy patch.
Marlowe’s face. Jack Marlowe’s face had replaced the rather ornate knocker on his front door. Malcolm blinked and rubbed his eyes. He was overtired. Too sober for Christmas Eve. Ollie’s smug cunt face drove him to madness. He looked again only to see his regular knocker and it was then that he hurried into his house and downed a glass of Scotch before setting down his briefcase or taking off his winter’s coat.
He lit a fire in the fireplace and settled in his favourite chair, slipping off his shoes and nursing another glass of Scotch. It was quiet save the crackle of the logs and the occasional clink of glass on marble, so Malcolm was most alarmed when his phone, previously set to vibrate, started ringing with the volume one reserves for air raid sirens. He reached in his pocket to answer it and he saw that no one was calling. He pushed the talk button just in case, but there was nothing but ringing.
It continued on for seconds, minutes, what seemed like hours as Malcolm attempted to shut off the phone completely, but his efforts were rewarded with a loud CLANK so foreign to Malcolm that he could only describe it as the sound he would hear if he turned Jamie out with iron chains to kidnap that faff-arsed useless lump with a “Let’s Play Reporter” dress up kit and the ability to ruin Nicola with one ill-timed story and was bringing him to Malcolm like a child who caught his first fish or a cat bringing a gift of a half-eaten bird home to its owners only bound in chains and gagged instead of already dead.
The clanking continued and Malcolm stood from his chair. “What the FUCK is this? Am I on the fucking Titanic?”
The clanking drew closer and soon it sounded from the kitchen, the hall, right outside the door. And Malcolm, never one to back down from a fight even when he doesn’t know what he’s up against, picked up a poker from near the fireplace and held it like a sword.
He squinted, ready to strike, when the source of the clanking came through the door and Malcolm dropped the poker. It was Jack Marlowe. Marlowe in his perfectly tailored suit and shined shoes. The clanking came from heavy chains and lockboxes about his person. His body was transparent. Malcolm could not believe the sight before him. He was not drunk enough to hallucinate it, nor was he too exhausted to be dreaming, yet he could plainly see the apparition in front of him.
“What the fuck.” He stood, still incredulous.
“Malcolm. We need to talk, mate.” The ghost of Jack Marlowe sat in the chair across from Malcolm’s and invited him to sit.
“J-Jack Marlowe?” Oh, it must be food poisoning. He mentally cursed Ollie for encouraging him to eat that Chinese takeaway and made a mental note to throw the useless fuck into their meat grinder as soon as he could.
“No, you fucking git! It’s Santa fucking Claus and I’m here to tell you that you’ve been a very naughty boy this year! Who do you think I am, you twat!”
Definitely Salmonella and I’m dying and seeing things and I am going to haunt Ollie until the day he dies. “Ok, Jack. What do you want?”
“I’ve been condemned in the afterlife to walk the earth bound to these chains and heavy lockboxes. I was a bad man in my life and I must pay for it in my death. We royally fucked a lot of people, Mal. We drove reporters to suicide or worse—lifetime jobs at Asda. We lied, we threatened, and we ruined many a politician for speaking his mind when it didn’t conform to the popular way of thinking. We were horrible people, Mal. Horrible, rotten—“
“Yeah, we were brilliant, right?” The shade smiled in memory but quickly came to. “NO! Malcolm! I have to bear the burden of these chains. Each link I forged in my life I have to carry in my death and you await the same fate, Malcolm, unless you see the error of your ways. You will be visited by three spirits. Expect the first one tomorrow, by the toll of one. Expect the second the next night at the same time. The third on the third night.”
“Can I just have them all at once, Jack? I have an early morning meeting on the 27th—“
“Malcolm, for fuck’s sake! I’m trying to help you out here! Can you just shut the fuck up for five god damned minutes? You always did try to get the last word in and set your own terms. This time you can’t have your way! I’m leaving now. You won’t see me again, so please remember what I’ve told you, Mal!”
With that, the ghost of Jack Marlowe lifted his heavy chains and file boxes and escaped through a window that had opened at his approach. Malcolm swore he could make out the words, “…like talking to a fucking brick wall,” drifting back in.
At this point, Malcolm was exhausted and still not quite sure what he saw was real and he thought maybe sleep would help, so he went straight to bed and fell asleep instantly.
When Malcolm awoke, it was dark save the glow of his alarm clock, which read midnight. “Horsecock,” he said aloud. It was past two when he fell asleep. Fucking clock must be broken and there’s no way he slept for an entire day, was there? He checked the date on his phone and sure enough he had pissed away an entire day sleeping. Fuck.
The whole Marlowe situation was weighing heavily. It was just a dream and the product of exhaustion and bad Chinese. He was so obsessed with proving his subconscious wrong that he vowed to stay awake until one, the hour the first spirit was to arrive. He lay in bed, looking to the clock every fifteen minutes or so until the clock read one.
“Ha! I’m fucking mad, but I’m not fucking haunt—“
A brilliant light flashed into his room as the clock struck 1.01, so bright it made Malcolm squint and cover his eyes and when he thought his eyes had adjusted from behind his eyelids, he dared to open them only to be face to face with a man.
The spirit was dressed like a fairy fucking hippie protester fucking tree worshipper, all flowery and fucking sparkly like a club in west London.
“Who the fuck are you supposed to be?”
“I am the Spirit of Christmas Past.”
“Yeah, ok. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, virgins, donkeys, hay, I know all that. Can I go back to sleep now?”
The ghost smacked him upside his head. Malcolm reeled, but regained his composure quickly.
“Not that far back, you cock. Your past. Now get the fuck up and let’s go for a walk.”
The ghost grabbed Malcolm by his shirt and yanked him up. As his hand touched Malcolm, they were instantly transported to a house lit by warm light and not much else. No Christmas tree bedecked its halls. No lights adorned its structure. A young boy and his father sat perched at the front window, peeking through heavy drapes and a flurry of Christmas Eve snowfall.
“Do you know this place, Malcolm?”
“Know it? It’s my house when I was a boy! There’s my father and me playing our favourite Christmas game!” Malcolm stood still to watch the shadow of his younger self with his dad.
“Here they come, son! They’re at the MacCarsons'! Get ready!” Malcolm watched with gleeful nostalgia as his father guided young Malcolm to the front door where he knew the old silver bucket lay in wait.
The sounds of approaching carolers filled his ears, singing of Good King Wenceslas. Malcolm’s father opened the door and shuffled Malcolm through as if to hear the carolers better. He surreptitiously reached into the bucket and invited Malcolm to do the same. The carolers stopped in front of the Tuckers' house and began a round of “Carol of the Bells.” They managed to get to “throw cares away” before they were assaulted by an onslaught of snowballs. Young Malcolm and his father laughed evilly as the carolers ran for cover.
Older Malcolm chuckled and earned a stern look from the ghost. “Really, Malcolm? This is your happiest childhood Christmas?”
“What can I say? I’ve always been this way. What were you expecting? A humble, innocent, happy version of myself you can point out to me and make me all, ‘Ooohhhh, spirit! Show me no more.’” He affected an even thicker accent for effect. “’ I cannae take the memories!’ Fuck you, you dead fairy FUCK.”
The spirit looked a little taken aback at that, but soldiered on. “Let’s try another Christmas, shall we?”
With that, Malcolm was whisked away from the small house in Scotland to a small flat occupied by university students who had thoughtfully decorated the place with a few tinselly-type strands and a sad Christmas tree. The spirit looked around with delight at the festive attempt.
“Let’s see if the Christmas spirit ever made its way into you, Malcolm.”
Malcolm could hear grunts and squeals coming from his old bedroom and he smiled at the memory. “No, but I got into the spirit of Christy that year. She was my flatmate’s girlfriend and he got called in to work Christmas Eve and I just happened to be home.”
The ghost sighed. “Oh, forget it. Let’s move on.” He transported them to a small office in central London…where Malcolm was grinning holding blackmail photos of a very high ranking member of Parliament who would, in two days’ time, refuse to comply with Malcolm’s demands and by New Year’s Day would lose his job, his wife, his kids, his mistress, and eventually his entire life savings.
The ghost, finally fed up, turned to Malcolm with pursed lips. “I give up, Malcolm. You are a right bastard and you always have been. I hope the next spirit has better luck with you. I’m fucking out of here.” He yanked on Malcolm’s arm once and Malcolm sat up in his own bed.
“I really need to stop drinking so close to bedtime.”
He looked at his clock to find that it was once again one in the morning and he was relieved to find that no spirit had come. He really needed to have a pee and stood to make his way there, but was struck by the transformation his room seemed to be making before his eyes, growing trees bearing fruits and tangles of ivy and mistletoe, and gleaming sprigs of holly berries and at the centre of it all was a man of great girth feasting on a pile of meat laid before him, tossing bones and gristle on Malcolm’s pristine marble floor.
“What the fuck are you doing, you fat fuck? Get that off my floor before I give you a gastric bypass with a fucking biro and gaffer’s tape!”
“Malcolm,” the ghost exclaimed with great glee. “Come, join me! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present! I heard you gave the Ghost of Christmas Past some shit, but let’s go see what you are missing right now and maybe you’ll change your mind!”
“Not very fucking likely, but if it gets this tremendous waste of time over with, what the fuck ever.” Malcolm allowed the ghost to take his hand and whisk him away to an unassuming restaurant not far from his office.
There, amongst the cheap alcohol and even cheaper food, were Ollie, Glenn, Terri, Nicola, and various other cocks and wankers from the office. Ollie, still in his stupid Santa hat. Nicola slightly tipsy, giggling at Ollie. Glenn, as he’d predicted, ogling waitresses and wearing mistletoe on his belt. They were almost laughing…well…not actually having rows and calling each other names…well, still calling each other names but not in the usual angry way…the less usual “too drunk to get really angry way”…and Ollie probably couldn’t even pronounce “twatwaffle” without giggling if Malcolm judged the amount of eggnog in him correctly.
They were going on with their inane prattle about something or other and ham vs. turkey and that’s when Malcolm saw it: Jamie, sitting in a corner with his bad foot up, sulking and downing the most expensive drink the place had, which was still cheap as fuck and pisswater.
“Jamie! Oh, fuck, Jamie! Look at the sad fuck! I have to do something! Spirit! Look at him! He’s drinking cheap swill and forced to spend social time with these useless fucks! Spirit, please!”
The spirit looked perplexed. “Everyone you work with is gathered without you and most are having a decent time and you care about that miserable bastard in the corner drinking cheap alcohol and being forced to be social with people? Malcolm, they don’t even miss you. They could care less if you showed up. In fact, they only invited you out of sheer British politeness—something you never learned, obviously. You frighten them, Malcolm. They deal with you during the workday because they have to. After the day is over, they want nothing more than to get as far away from you as possible. Is this what you want, Malcolm?” The ghost looked pityingly towards Malcolm to wait for his response.
Malcolm cocked his head in confusion for a moment before answering. “Of course it’s what I want, you fat dead nutter! I can’t fucking STAND these unwashed syphilitic cocks during the day. Why the hemorrhaging fuck would I want to spend my downtime with them, too? Get me out of here, before I bring you to life only to kill you again by stuffing a fully lit Christmas tree up your cock!”
The spirit sighed and shook his head and walked away from Malcolm in defeat. As he did, a mist rose up about Malcolm and curled into him, shrouding him from the scene before him.
A hooded figure emerged from the fog, black and lean, as if under his robe were mere bones with no flesh attached.
“Are you the final spirit to visit me?”
The figure did not speak, but merely nodded.
“About fucking time. I suppose, then, that you are the Ghost of Christmas Future?”
The figure pointed a bony finger in the distance in response.
“Right, then. Lead on. I have people to murder in the morning.”
Malcolm walked with the spirit and came upon a dinner scene. Ollie Reader, the prat, was at his table, joined by various people from various offices including his own. He was slightly older, slightly rounder, probably had more venereal diseases, and yet there was a smile on his face.
The table was set for 15, but there was one empty seat and no one was eating. They seemed to be waiting for something. Ollie looked toward the empty seat wistfully before standing. He started to speak but was interrupted by one Jamie MacDonald bouncing in and wearing a, fucking hell, a Santa hat and a red tie with bells on it and carrying expertly wrapped presents in his arms. He was smiling and people seemed genuinely happy to see him.
“Sorry I’m late, everyone! The weather is just dreadful out there! I had to stop and help an elderly lady get ‘cross the street so she could see her grandchildren on this glorious Christmas day! Anyway, Happy Christmas, everyone!” He stopped to hug Ollie and Terri and even that fucker Julius. He nestled the presents under the large tree and sat in the empty chair so they could all begin eating.
Malcolm’s jaw dropped to the floor. “Spirit! Is this what is to come? This miserable scene? Why must you show me this nauseating display of Christmas fuckery? One month living with Ollie has done this to poor Jamie? ” Malcolm looked away from the horror before him. “Spirit, show me now more! I cannae take anymore of this! Take me home, spirit!” Jamie and the rest of the holiday revellers faded into an oncoming darkness and were replaced by winter dead trees and oblong shapes low to the ground.
“Spirit! I beg of you, take me home!” Malcolm grabbed at the spirit, who again pointed a finger towards one of the shapes.
“Spirit, where are we?” Malcolm attempted to see through the mist and could just make out his own name etched into the shape. They were in a cemetery. He was looking at his own headstone but he couldn’t make out the date of his death. There was no epitaph, no legacy etched under his name.
“Spirit? Are you trying to scare me with visions of my grave? Are you trying to imply that I died and not one of those fuckers visits my grave? Really?”
The spirit nodded. “Are you fucking joking, spirit? Of course no one visits my grave! I either died of a heart attack shagging some beautiful minx or I died of an aneurysm yelling at one of those fuckers and either way they are too fucking pussy to come visit my grave for fear that I will reach a hand out from the dirt over my coffin and drag those useless wastes of oxygen back down with me where I will fuck their arses with my skull for the rest of eternity for slowly killing me in the first place!” Malcolm was slowly cornering the spirit against a crypt.
“Don’t you know who I am? I’m Malcolm fucking Tucker and don’t you ever try to get one over on me like this again! I’m so fucking through with this shite! I’m leaving! I’m gone! I’m history! I’m a fucking member of Girls Aloud’s solo career! Now take me home now or I rip off that robe and piss in your skull! You think some crap little thing like you could scare me? I shit scarier things than you after eating Terri’s idea of good takeaway!”
The spirit crouched slightly in the presence of an angry Malcolm. Malcolm reached out for the spirit and grabbed him by the neck, squeezing and clawing and the spirit dwindled down to nothing until it was a mere desk lamp.
Yes! A desk lamp in his office! He was in his own office! He looked at the clock. It was just past ten on Christmas Eve. He could still make it to the restaurant if he hurried.
Springing up on light feet he raced to the door, pausing only to grab his coat. He ran past carolers and lovers on holiday strolls and the homeless begging for spare change and pushed past late night diners to find his merry group of holiday wankers.
“Malcolm? You came! I—“
Malcolm ignored Nicola and ran over to Jamie nursing that horse piss in the corner. “Jamie! I’ve got to get you out of here! They’re fucking trying to kill you! Any more of this Christmas spirit shit and they’ll brainwash you into enjoying it and then it’s all singing and joy and presents and Gift Exchanges with Terri and watered down beer and you’ll die, Jamie! I’m taking you away! You’re fucking coming with me and we’ll get pissed on good Scotch and wake up on Boxing Day ready to fix whatever Ollie fucks up between now and then! Are you with me?”
“Oh, GOD FUCKING YES, Mal! Get me the FUCK out of here before I shove a fucking ham up Glenn’s arse and carve it from inside him with my fucking COCK. And you, fucking OLLIE, if you ever drag me out like this again, I will gladly break my other foot BASHING IN YOUR EMPTY FUCKING SKULL so hard that you shit out the bone fragments for MONTHS.” Malcolm hoisted Jamie up and steadied him on his crutches. “Let’s get the fuck out of here, Mal. Have a miserable FUCKING Christmas and FUCK YOU, EVERYONE!”