The house was like something from a Scooby Doo classic. Dark towers at each corner shrouded in grim shadows. Cobwebs hanging like drapes in every nook. There may well have been a dense cloud of bats hovering in the cellars. Everything within me told me I shouldn’t be here. But here I was. Trying to settle for the night in a sleeping bag on an ancient four-poster bed, with a stuttering candle providing a modicum of unreliable light on the rickety bedside table. I was finally dozing off around 2pm in the morning when I felt the hand. Pressing on my shoulder. My eyes exploded. My body froze, every muscle taught.
‘What!? Who… who are…?’
‘I’m the voice,’ said the shimmering figure beside me.
‘Wh… what voice?’
‘The voice. Of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.’
‘Eh? You mean… in that book… A Christmas Carol? But… wasn’t he long and gloomy and quiet as the grave, and you’re… well, round and jolly and, to be honest, larger than life.’
‘Precisely!’ she roared and she laughed. Then she beckoned me close, but didn’t wait for me to move. ‘You could say I’m the Ghost of a Chance. Things don’t always go according to plan, do they? I think I seem to have lost my way in space and time again, I never make it to that meeting with Scrooge, so my silent partner has to do all the work. I never seem to get there.’
The large jolly figure opened her sack, and a burst of golden dust flew up and made her cough. It was dust all right, but it sparkled too. ‘I have presents,’ she boomed, in a voice not unlike a female Brian Blessed.
The first gift made my jaw drop, a present I’d wanted all my life, yet thought I’d never get. There’s no need to describe it, better perhaps for you to imagine the present that fits this description. She laughed as she saw my face break into a Cheshire cat smile. Then she handed me the gift, which I laid to one side, ever so gently for fear of damaging it.
‘Aren’t you going to enjoy it?’ she boomed. And I shrugged. So she went back to her sack, sent up some more golden dust and this time produced a strange looking thing. Little more than a hefty handful of hay. In fact, that’s what it was. I wondered if there might be treasure hidden in it.
‘Yes and no,’ she said, ‘that is the treasure. It’s old. And well used. Very well used actually. So you can handle it as much as you like. See the shape indented there, hollowed out, it made a bed you see, for a child once. A baby who didn’t stay a baby, but grew up. Astonishingly so. Look closely. Go on. There is something else in there. See? Three old nails in that straw. Not so shiny. Marked from loving. Now that is treasure too. Strange treasure admittedly. But priceless treasure all the same. So there you go. What you want and what you need. Two presents.’ She glanced up at the rotting rafters, the gaping holes here and there. ‘He could have been born somewhere like this you know.’
‘This old dump?’
‘Oh he’s never afraid of the dark, or the dumps. He’s spent a lot of time in places worse than this, he’s at home with folks like yourself. You know what I mean… A different kind of glory. Dusty, heart-warming, accessible. Real. A king like no other. One with grit in the creases of his hands and a welcoming smile in his eyes.’
She was speaking so quietly now I was forced to draw really close. Then abruptly she laughed again and I had to pull back, nursing my ears. ‘I’m glad I found you tonight. You know something? Perhaps I wasn’t so lost in space and time after all. Neither of us were. Maybe this was time well spent. Take heart.’ And she nodded towards the ragged pile of hay and disappeared.