Tuesday, December 27, 2011

REPLAY: PCC's Ghosts of Christmas Present

I’d just settled back down to my laptop after the interruption of Christmas past. I really had no time for this nonsense! And if I wasn’t going to sleep, I might as well be productive. All this walking down memory lane was, in a word, ridiculous.

A bit of cold air brushed across my back as the clock struck two. Why did I insist on that stupid grandfather clock anyway? The chiming was damned annoying and so terribly impractical for a pirate ship.

“You ready for me?” A hearty voice sounded at my ear, just as a heavy hand fell on my shoulder, upsetting the careful placement of my fingers to the keyboard.

I jerked with a scream, my heart pounding painfully in my chest as I turned and gazed at the specter to my right.

His eyes were bright, but the wig, perched precariously atop his head, was crooked. He grinned. Before I could manage a reply, my eyes wandering to the bright red coat edged with dirty white fur at the cuffs, he scratched at the aforementioned wig. I watched a stream of sand promptly come lose and land on my keyboard.

With a screech of outrage this time, I shot to my feet. My hands were dusty with sand! “You idiot! You got sand all over my keyboard! SAND! God fricking danged blessed jaysus!” (Trying not to curse was working my imagination overtime. Screw Sin and that bet!)

He snickered and took a step back. I advanced, sand drifting from my hands to the cabin floor.

“Now, now, Captain Hellion, it’s just a little sand… A little Dustbuster and….”

“Who the frick are you and what are you doing in my cabin?” I tried to regain some dignity, in the face of this obviously deranged fop. I readied a fist to hurry him on his way….

“I AM THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT!” he intoned rather loudly. Standing tall, he bowed low, his hand twirling with a graceful gesture, “Daniel Defoe, Captain.”

The Heavens have got to be kidding me. They couldn’t have sent Mark Twain? Bronte, sure; Austen, definitely; but this lunatic? “Defoe!? The only Defoe I might be interested in seeing in this cabin isn’t you! Get out!”

“Another Defoe? Not that English buffoon, Gideon Defoe? He claims to be related, but it’s all nonsense. And the stupid childish pirate series he’s written is pure balderdash. Who ever heard of a pirate keeping a ham and not eating it?” The specter shook his head.

I had no idea what he was talking about, though it sounded vaguely like something Chance had prattled on about once. But I seldom listened to her. She was always saying I needed a hug. Crazy hippie! I pointed to the cabin door. “I have no time for Christmas, present, past or future. Get out of my cabin, I have writing to do!” If I could get the sand out of my laptop. Frick. That thing had cost me a bloody fortune!

The ghostly Defoe drew himself up and made a grand gesture around the cabin, “Make time, Captain! Or you will find yourself marooned…alone with no friends, no family, no celebrations….”

His sweeping gesture was having an alarming effect on my surroundings. Sand began pouring out of my bookshelves, as if the books had disintegrated, and out of the walls, streaming to the floor and immediately rising up to cover things on my floor. I gaped at my feet. The rising tide of sand was filling my cabin! Before I could react, it swelled, rising to my waist! To my shoulders! I was going to drown under the sand. I took several panicked breaths, wondering which one would be my last. The sand pushed at the cabin walls…I heard them creak with the weight…then they burst away. I screamed, covering my head with my arms, expecting the ceiling and assorted rigging to come raining down on me.

Instead, a calm and quiet descended. I opened my eyes to see nothing but sand, every direction I looked. Oh, and one lone palm tree. I sighed, began to brush the sand off my arms. “You don’t have to keep doing this. I’ve learned my lesson about ramen noodles and cock sauce before bedtime. Shit.” Well, there went the bet.

“Alo-o-o-o-o-o-one! Alo-o-o-o-o-o-one!”

I looked around, wondering where that stupid chanting was coming from. Shaking the sand out of my pants, I glanced up into the tree. It was that blasted ghost. He grinned at me, “This will be your fate, Captain Hellion. If you do not repent your isolated ways!”

“Nothing wrong with some peace and quiet. If I had my laptop, this would be an ideal place to write.” If one could keep the sand out of the keyboard. A sudden discomfort at my crotch made me aware of how much the sand had crept into every crevice. My temper broke again. “You bastard! The only way I want sand in my pants is when I get it there! Wake me up, you ragged impression of a ghost!”

He shook his head at me. “You aren’t asleep, you stupid pirate.” He jumped from the tree and grabbed my arm. I tried to shake him away, but he was persistent.

“Let me show you what you’re missing…”

The island faded away and suddenly, I was standing to the side of Santa’s galley. She and Chance were giggling over some orange liquid they were pouring into a huge glass mold of some sort.

“I don’t know where you found this, but it’s perfect,” Santa said with a laugh.

“Me glassmaker is most accommodatin.’ I think it be a perfect replica a’ the Kraken. Now, let me pour in the orange slices….” Chance reached for a bowl of sliced mandarins. They did smell good. The entire galley smelled good.

“How are you going to get them to float and not just stay at the bottom?” Santa asked.

“Me Mum said ta set a timer and stir them every ten minutes until the jello sets up,” Chance giggled as they splashed. “Gonna look like he ate every critic we toss ‘im!”

“Well, he does that anyway. You’re going to have to stir, Chance. I have to get this feast together!” Santa turned to her huge table, covered with delicacies of every sort. I reached out to flinch a bit a huge cookie, shaped like a treasure chest brimming with coins. My hand passed right through. Well, that was one way to stick to a diet. The icing looked thick too. Blast.

“Well now, off you go, Chance. I’m sure you’ve a ton of lights to hang along the masts. Don’t forget to tell Sin to stir that mulled wine over the fire we set up on deck earlier.” On the deck? Of MY ship? Were they trying to burn us to the sea? Someone had to stop this ridiculous…. “I love mulled wine. It just leaves me feeling all warm and tingly inside. I’ll be sure to set aside a glass or two to share with Capt’n Hellie.”

Warm and tingly, I muttered. I’ll tell you what makes me all warm and tingly and it has nothing to do with a bit o’cinnamon laced wine, I can tell you that much. A ship not burned to the sea is what made me warm and tingly!

Hmm, yes, I shivered as I looked over to Santa’s worktable and remembered another kind of feast Captain Jack and I made not too long ago while everyone was ashore enjoying the tropical delights of our latest port of call.

I weaved to the right as a roll whizzed past my head.

“Hey, watch it, Defoe. As I recall this is my dream!”

“You are as daft as you’ve ever been! Stay focused. I’m to show you what you’ll be missing if you keep to your singular, myopic vision of what a writer is. Can’t you see that it’s all around you? What’s really important?”

I watched as Defoe pointed to Yorkshire Pudding, platters of roasted vegetables, a roast pig, pepper-crusted filet mignon and more delights than I’d ever be able to stick a fork to. But it was just food. Empty calories to my mind. Food is an everyday thing and something we need just to—

THUD. A copper pot bounced off my shoulder and banged on the floor.

“What was that for?” I turned and glared at the direction the pot came from.

“I heard what you were thinking about food,” Santa bellowed.

“You can’t hear my thoughts! You’re just a part of this crazy dream!”

“I can do anything your subconscious wants me to do, Captain Dullard. Just empty calories, indeed. Best calories you’d ever be lucky to eat, they’d be!”

“Now. Now. Can’t we be friends? And, Cap’t., it’s not just about the food,” Defoe said congenially, smiling as both of us as if we were only having a schoolyard squabble.

“Speak for yourself, wilderness boy,” Galley Ho Santa muttered.

Defoe peered down his nose at my cantankerous ship cook, but she merely crossed her arms and “harrumphed” back. My guide cleared his throat nervously and continued. “Captain, by closeting yourself in your quarters, you are missing out on the banquet that is life. Your only hope for making your mark in the world of writing is to take a meal at the table.”

I was suddenly realizing why while Defoe had been a journalist and novelist, he had not been a poet. Thank God. The world was so much better off without these clichéd metaphors.

“I eat with this scurvy lot every night. I go ashore and can out drink and out wench any one of them! I’m a goddess in their eyes. How can you say I’ve not eaten well at all the entertainments I flood this rotting ship with?”

I gingerly moved away from the line of fire as Galley Ho made a grand display of handing a cast iron skillet to Daniel Defoe. Thankfully, he declined the offer and turned again to me.

“Since you refuse to listen to reason, I’ll show you what merry is being made without you and, more likely as not, will continue without your sorry arse.”

With a wave of his tankard, we were transported to the upper deck where the crew was still putting up garlands of seaweed and shells around the deck. They’d started a drinking game. For each failed attempt to swing the rope around the railing, that pirate would have to take a shot. They did not look to be trying very hard.

2nd Chance lifted the frosted shot of Lemoncello to her lips. She knocked back one shot and then, in quick order, threw back two more.

“One for the captain, two for me. Captain’s not here, so I don’t have to share, which makes it an even three.” Three was slightly slurred.

From that point on, each pirate in turn took a shot and lampooned the absent Captain.

“It’s a shame she isn’t here to join in the fun,” Marn, gently rounded by her latest stud research adventure, mused.

“She’d only chastise us for wasting good seaweed for decoration instead of roping. And then she’d confiscate our drinks. It’s all work, work, work with her and no room for fun. Speaking of fun, where’s that cheeky monkey?”

“I saw her moving Hellie’s strawberries. I’ve warned monkey not to screw with Hellie’s things but all I ever get is shrieking.” Bo’sun shrugged this off and continued sipping her tankard. Yes, I could see she was greatly concerned for me. They all seemed so greatly concerned on my behalf, after all I had done for them!

“I’ve seen enough. I don’t need them. I’ve my island. I could just sail away from this all and go to my personal treasure island. I don’t need anyone. I don’t need a furlough to re-energize or to make my writing shine! Take me away from here.”

I stole a quick glance at Christmas Present and saw that his countenance was not what it was at the beginning of our journey. Lines formed around his eyes and his beard was now a snowy white. His vim and vigor were waning. His time with me must be coming to an end. Thank God. This ridiculous side trip was coming to an end, and Defoe would would be returning to write bad poetry in the afterlife. And I could finally get some rest!

“You want your island? I’ll give you your island, and you’re welcome to it!” Defoe waved his hand, this time with a shot of Lemoncello in it, and suddenly we were no longer aboard ship.

We were on my glorious private island.


Where was my netting draped hut?

Where were all the servants I kept here year round.

Where was my beloved, half naked Jack? William? Richard Armitage? (Well, when Santa wasn’t fantasizing about him, he’d visit me.)

I twirled around and found nothing but a savage wilderness. Suddenly the sounds of the jungle rang in my ears, no longer quieted by the buzz of daily life that I’d made my island to be.

Suddenly, it dawned on me what was happening.

“Hey, Defoe, I’m no Robinson Crusoe! This is not my beautiful house.  Where’s my beautiful Jack?”

Daniel Defoe’s voice, thread-like now that his time on earth was waning, came from the heavens, “All you’ll ever have is this island, if you don’t change your ways, Hellion. That ship is full of merriment, all waiting for you to be a part of. Change your ways! Change your ways!”

His voice faded, leaving me stranded on a massive pile of sand where my desk once stood. I was never going to get the sand out of my computer. Let alone the cabin…on a ship I no longer had. Wearily I went to my knees, my belly grumbled in regret at the feast I’d seen in the galley.

Fine, I’d lose some weight. Always wanted to lose some weight. They’ll all get fat…and never finish their books!

“Screw them all! I’ll find my computer, blow the sand out and get working! And if that doesn’t work, there is always longhand! Ever hear of pen and paper, people! Ha! You’re not going to outwit me! Stupid Christmas! Stupid crew! Stupid ghosts!”

But I was talking to air, to the empty still walls of my cabin, which was devoid of sand and meddling ghosts and merriment. I lowered my hands, feeling for the first time that I was alone—or worse, lonely. Being alone was desirable. I could get a lot done when I wasn’t bewitched every five minutes with one nagging question or another. But lonely? That was another cask of rum. What would be the point of writing the most magnificent novels in the world if there was no one to share the triumph with? Was that what Defoe had been saying? That if I didn’t mend my ways, that in the end it didn’t matter how great a writer I was if there was no one to share it with.

I was being ridiculous. I couldn’t be lonely on a ship of writers. I tripped over more bodies on my way to the loo than any writer should ever have to bother with. There were an infinite number of writers here I could share my triumphs and trials with. They weren’t going anywhere…and I wasn’t going anywhere but back to bed.

This evening was a colossal waste. Ridiculous. I climbed up into the high Captain’s bed and pulled the comforter back over my head, but even as I closed my eyes, I felt a tremor of unease. So far tonight, Miss Austen had been correct in her foretellings. So far tonight, had been visited by two of the three ghosts she promised. And so far, they’d gotten progressively worse.

And even as I knew better—being a writer and all and knowing the danger of rhetorical questions—I had to think: How much worse could it get?

Question of the Day: What will your Christmas feasts entail and who will you be spending your holidays with? What traditions do you most cherish—or are most odd? Which Ghost from the Christmas Carol is your favorite and why?