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A Christmas Ghost Story... Well sort of. (part 5 finale)

 
Joe Spivey's picture
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The New Flagstaff Orphanage Ammunition Company technically does have actual staff. For tax reasons, however, the orphans didn’t count. Officially, they are on an extended work experience programme for which they earn points which are then turned into cash donations for the orphanage. In turn, the orphanage buys its supplies from Spivey’s Independent Trading Company so everything works out nicely. The overseers are classed as casual labour and are, in the main, made up from the less thuggish Union guards moonlighting from their main job. Occasionally, Joe will also employ drinking buddies in this role to make sure that they can afford to stand their round come Friday night. Other employees on the books are Joe’s secretary, Kirsten and his bookkeeper, Anneka. The pest control officer is Mittens, a stray cat that sometimes gets in if the back door is left open. The only real employee Joe has, therefore, is Taioko, Tuki’s partner and the father of their infant child, Ichiro. On the same wage as the other overseers, Taioko fills the roles of foreman, overseer, assistant manager and welfare officer. Joe sees him as good value for money, despite his frequent absences.

So then, it was Christmas day and Joe was sitting in his office happily humming while reading the latest production figures. At this rate the order would be finished by lunchtime and he could go home to see if the caterers had lived up to their advertising.

Just then, the pleasing sound of bullets, and hence chips, being made was replaced by the less pleasing sound of raised voices. This was rapidly followed by the familiar playground chant of ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ Joe swore under his breath as he got up from his desk.

Squabbles amongst the kids were not too uncommon but, fortunately, rarely ended up in bloodshed. The overseers were always quick to respond and a few well-placed strokes of their canes soon ended whatever it was that had kicked off this time and production could continue. More serious for the perpetrators than a stinging derrière was the loss of any points they would have earned that day. In turn, this loss in donation would lead to even further retribution from the orphanage itself. All in all then, being involved in a fight when you should be working was not a good idea.

Joe was about to fulfil his part in the process by taking the names of the miscreants. He opened the office door and stepped onto the balcony. Below was the typical scene. Two kids rolling around on the floor intent on causing harm to each other. All the other kids forming a chanting circle around them. Finally, the overseer on duty forcing his way through the reluctant ring to break up the fight with his cane. Then the scene became less typical as Joe identified the combatants.

On his back on the floor and trying to protect his face with his arms was Worms from Joe’s reading group. That was surprise enough. Worms was a strange little kid, happy in his own company and seemingly immune to germs. Which was good news, considering some of the things the boy often had in his pockets. More surprising, though, was the dervish of flailing arms and hair sitting astride him and seemingly determined to pound the life out him.

For a moment Joe was left dumbfounded and could only watch as the overseer, an overweight bully of a union guard called Bumble, reached the centre of the disappointed crowd and hauled the hissing, cursing Finny off her erstwhile friend and reading companion. But it was only when Bumble had flung Finny face down over a bench and was raising his arm that Joe snapped himself out of his shocked paralysis.

“Fucking. Hold. EVERYTHING!”

The scene below froze instantly. The crowd backing away from the overseer’s line of vision, sheepishly no longer willing to be associated with the proceedings. Worms, lifting himself onto his elbows and looking both scared and astonished in equal parts. The overseer, Bumble, cane held high, his expression of frustrated annoyance at the intervention. And finally Finny, red faced with anger and squirming not so much to escape the overseer as to once again get at Worms. All these faces looked up towards the balcony.

Joe put both hands on the balcony rail and leaned forward.

“You lot, back to work! Bumble,” Joe was talking to the overseer but his stare was focussed firmly on Finny. “Bring those two to my office.” Finny seemed to deflate as her anger withered under Joe’s gaze. Joe turned and disappeared back into his office.

The door closed behind Bumble and Joe was left looking at the tops of two bowed heads.

“What happened?” Finny’s shoulders rose and fell in a shrug and a second later Worms followed suit. Joe sighed. “You know, this is going to go a lot better if I can see your faces.”

This time it was Worms who responded first and looked up. He glanced sideways at Finny and a couple of seconds later Finny, too, lifted her head. Joe looked from one to the other.

“Good. Now, perhaps you’d like to explain what all that was about down there.” The two kids looked at each other but neither spoke. Joe understood. You didn’t tattle. But it was Christmas and he didn’t have time for this. “Fine then. I’ll let Bumble whip your backsides and then you can get back to work. Get out.”

Finny started to turn to leave, which is when Worms cracked.

“I di’n’t do nothing! She just started hitting me! ‘Snot fair!”

Finny groaned. She turned back to see Joe looking at her, Eyebrows raised expectantly.

“Finny?”

Finny folded her arms.

“What?”

“Did you attack Worms?”

Shoulder shrug.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Why did you attack Worms?”

Another shrug of the shoulders.

Joe was used to this. In fact it was par for the course when half your workforce was under twelve. It was just a matter of deciphering the shrugs and wordless utterances.

“There must have been a reason. Did he take something of yours?”

Silence.

“What then?”

This time Finny gave Worms a long sideways glance. Then she shrugged again.”

Joe got it. He stood up and opened the door.

“Worms. Bugger off. Tell Bumble I said you can have an extra ten minutes break.”

The seven year old gave Finny a last look of mixed resentment and disappointment then turned and left the office. Joe closed the door behind him. He folded his arms and leaned back against the door.

“Okay. So what’s it all about Finn?”

Finny remained facing Joe’s desk until Joe was about to raise his voice at her to get a response. Just in time, Finny slowly turned to face him.

“I had this dream…”

Joe listened as Finny started to retell her dream. Joe recognised the source immediately.

“Wait wait wait… So I’m in your dream, right?”

Finny coloured a little.

“Ermm, yeah. I guess.”

“I’m in your dream… As Scrooge?”

“Errrrrrr…”

Joe caught the rising desperation on Finny’s face. He shook his head and waved his hand.

“Never mind. Just, get on with it.”

Finny got on with it. Recounting every detail she could remember. Joe listened as the ghost of Christmas past flew with him across the countryside. Then Finny’s voice became softer and quieter and Joe struggled to hear as the sad little tale came to its conclusion. There was a silence between them that lasted for several seconds until Joe gently coaxed her.

“Then what happened? Another ghost?”

Finny dragged herself away from the thoughts and nodded. She took a breath and continued with the story. Joe listened, his chin on his chest, imagining the scene Finny’s words painted, smirking at the description of Finny’s vision of the factory. Then the words became stilted and Joe looked up to see Finny blushing as she stumbled over the tableau depicted beneath the ghost’s robe. She rushed through it, but not before Joe realised he was seeing a snapshot of Finny’s innermost thoughts.

Then the story changed again with the arrival of the third ghost and by the end of it Joe understood what had prompted the rage that fuelled the attack on her friend. Now Finny was looking up at him, waiting for him to… what? Pass sentence? Probably, in her eyes. But Joe was a grown up. He understood about dreams, what caused them, even a bit of the psychology behind them. But how to explain all that to an eight year old? To her the dream was simply black and white. Clear and prophetic. Joe wished Silja was here, or Tuki, or Kirsten. Hell even the bloody Troy woman. Just not him.

Inspiration struck. Or was it desperation? He could send Finny home, well, back to the orphanage, and have Maisie talk to her. She was ‘in loco wotsit’ anyway, wasn’t she? But even as he was thinking it Joe had stored away enough shitty memories of his own to realise that Finny would see in an instant that she was being fobbed off. Bugger it. He’d asked her hadn’t he? Made her tell him? Joe looked into green eyes set in the sea of freckles. Some of that shit she told him must have been bloody hard.

“Finny? It was just a dream. A shitty, awful, bad dream. But that’s all it was.” So far, so good. He’s used this on Annie before. But Finny was still staring at him. He wasn’t telling her anything new. “It was a dream full of bad memories. And things that scare you…” It wasn’t working. Finny’s lips were pressed tightly together. Joe knew that look. Annie did it just before she… just before… “Aww crap.”

With a rising, tearful whine, Finny ran across the couple of metres that separated them, pressing Joe back against the frosted glass and wrapping her arms around his middle. Then the sobbing started.

Joe froze, his arms held out to his sides. He wasn’t good at this. The whole tears thing. This was one of the reasons he was okay with the expense of hiring a nanny. He could feel his t-shirt starting to get wet, and not just with tears if the huge sniffles were anything to go by. This was normally the point Kirsten or Silja would take over. What the fuck do I do? Very tentatively, Joe reached a hand towards Finny’s head. He patted the mass of untidy red hair.

“There. There. It’s okay.” But it wasn’t okay because the wailing immediately got louder, Joe’s t-shirt got wetter and he was surprised how it was that such scrawny arms could squeeze that hard. He really was shite at this. It wasn’t him, it just wasn’t. In fact. He was starting to get just a bit pissed off, well, quite a lot actually. He needed a drink. Fuck it.

Joe prised Finny away from him. It took more strength than he realised to loosen the death grip she had on his waist, but he did it. Joe held Finny at arm’s length.

“Finny! OI!”

Finny blinked, then stared at the wet patch her tears had made on Joe’s t-shirt.

“Huh?”

Joe led her over to the table they used for lessons. He pointed to one of the boxes that were their chairs.

“Sit.”

Finny sat, sniffing.

Joe went to his desk, bent down to open a drawer and returned a few moments later with a half full bottle of decent bourbon and two glasses. He sat on the box normally occupied by Worms and tried not to think what the stains were. Finny watched wide-eyed, not quite sure what was happening just now. Joe poured two fingers of bourbon into each glass and pushed one over to the increasingly puzzled Finny.

“Drink.”

“What?! I’m eight! I’m not allowed…”

“Today you are. Sip it, don’t gulp. It’s not soda.”

Finny lifted the shot glass to her lips and sipped. She swallowed and then gagged and then gasped.”

“I don’t like it! It tastes horrible.”

“Nobody likes it. That’s not the point. Just keep sipping and listen” Joe watched Finny take another sip from the glass and gamely fight back her body’s reactions. He nodded.

“Okay then. You saw your mum getting killed. That sucks.” Joe took a swig from his own glass and leaned in. “But here’s the thing. You ain’t alone in seeing your parents being murdered. It’s happened to way too many people already, but your mum died quick, see, so she was one of the lucky ones.” Joe saw Finny’s eyes start to fill. “Drink!” Finny obeyed automatically. “And every time you think you’re going to start crying, you take another drink. Got it?”

Finny nodded.

“Uhuh.”

“Good. Now. Where was I. Oh yes. Your mum. You have that awful memory stuck in your head now and it will never go away. Never. You can either let it eat you up until you become a hate filled killer or some such or you can deal with it. What you don’t do, though, is bottle it up and ignore it. Got it?”

Finny felt a little light headed. But Joe was telling her stuff. Not like reading stuff, or writing stuff. Proper stuff. She nodded again.

“Got it.”

Joe refilled his own glass.

“Good. Now. Next thing. You’re eight, right?” A nod from Finny. “You’re an orphan, right?” Another nod. “You’ve got nobody to look after you, right?” Another nod, and this time a sip from the glass because she could feel tears coming.

“Wrong!” Joe’s response made Finny choke. “You’ve got you to look after you! You’re smart, you can do it. Sure the world’s a scary place with everything and everyone trying to kill you. But you’ve managed to survive for eight years, so you’re winning. Keep winning.”

Joe leaned closer.

“Look. You can survive by yourself, but it’s easier if you have friends. Pick your friends carefully. Make sure you can trust them and always have their back. Then they’ll have yours.”

Finny took another sip.

“Yes Joe.”

Joe sat back again.

“Good girl. Now then. Is Casper dead?”

“…nooo.”

“No. Is Onetooth dead?”

“No but…”

“Are you one of ‘those’ girls?” Joe wasn’t sure if Finny knew what a whore was… but he was definitely sure he wasn’t going to ask her outright.

Finny sat bolt upright.

“No!”

“And Worms isn’t some weird sicko murderer either. At least not yet. So what you saw in your dream was only what you are scared of happening. It doesn’t mean it’s going to.”

Finny thought about that while Joe again refreshed his glass. She looked at him.

“But it doesn’t mean it won’t either.”

Joe sat back against the back rest that wasn’t there and almost fell off the box. He righted himself.

“Look Finn. I don’t know about the others but you’re too bloody clever to let that happen to you and I can’t see you let that happen to any of your friends. Like that Liza girl.”

“Lisa.”

“Lisa then. As for the other three. You’re their leader aren’t you?”

“Umm. I guess.”

“Well then. It’s your job to look after them too.”

Finny stared off into space. Deep in thought. Joe drained his glass and watched her. He hid a half grin. See, he thought to himself, smart kid. Joe lifted the almost empty glass from her hand.

“Right. Well, you’re bugger all use for making ammo just now. You might as well go home.”

Finny stood up and Joe went to the door.

“Before you do, though, go and make up with Worms.” He opened the door.

Finny actually managed a smile.

“I will.”

She was just going through the door, a little unsteady on her feet, when Joe stopped her.

“Oh. And if I ever catch you drinking again I’ll tan your arse myself.”

Finny’s mouth opened with a retort but the door closed in her face.

Comments

Hyle Troy's picture

You 'nailed it'  . perfect ending to perfect story, Thanks xx

I would rather die peacefully in my sleep, like Grandad, than screaming, like his passengers

Joe Spivey's picture

((I can just imagine the mirth in the Spivey-Kjaer household when Joe tells them he appeared in Finny's dream as Scrooge :)

Stick with me kid and you'll be farting through silk.

Canni Belle's picture

((I can't think of a better Scrooge tbh <3

One minute your calm, the next your shooting someone in the face, then your doing your chickendance. If that is not chaos I dont know what is - Aiid



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