The Christmas Gift

Imagine the scene, Christmas Eve 5.15pm everyone rushing home to their loved ones. A man hurries down a darken side street looking for hope. He finds the only light in a row of windows, a small rundown book shop. A sigh of relief as he sees others searching for those all important gifts. Entering the shop, he feels ill at ease, the other people ignoring him, the strain of hour clear to see. He wishes he had more time, so he can please his friends.

“I can’t do this; too many people, too little time, too many books. How I can choose? They have to be the right ones. If only I could have the shop to myself. I would give my soul for that.”

A desperate plea in the sea of people spoken out loud, but only one other hears.

“Who is that large man in the red coat? Concentrate. Books, that’s what I am here for. I have one ten pound note and three books to find. Look at this offer, two books for ten pounds and I need three books in fifteen minutes. I hate Christmas.” 

The first bead of perspiration runs down his brow as he searches for inspiration.

“Let me think, what about the classics, how about Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. What’s wrong with that one? Too obvious? It’s on the TV every Christmas in one form or another. Not the best pick. Wait! I have the prefect book for one person, The Hobbit. Its classic, it’s modern, it was on the cinema. That’s one, two more to find.”

He clutches his first prize as if his life depends on it. Little does he know the surprise that awaits. 

“Second choice, what about one of Ernest Hemingway’s great novels. No, that would just cause problems. Put that one back and that one. Why not buy three copies of the Hobbit who would know? Three copies under the ten pounds, it’s so tempting. No, keep looking something will turn up.” 

He needs more time, that is a wish all of us make at some point, but at what cost? Sometimes the greatest wish is for the wrong gift. He has other worries now, the man in the red coat is looking at him.

“He is talking to the shop assistant now. Who’s he pointing at? Me? Why me? Is he a security guard?” 

The pressure of time can make someone imagine details that are never there. Is the man following him?

“Forget him, concentrate on books, the shop will close soon and that will be that. There is local garage, they might sell something tacky. Look at this, 50 Sheds of Grey. Wait a minute is that a proper book, I thought it was something else? Another colour maybe? No, thats no good either. Back to the classics. Oh joy five minutes left. I could just close my eyes, grab two and hope. I wish I had more time.”

In everyone there is a fateful wish, that one last moment with a loved one, the need to find the greener grass and this man is about to experience his fateful wish. A flash of red catches his eye, is he being stalked?

“Excuse me, I think you need this.” 

Startled by the softly spoken words, the man in the red coat appears before him, in his right hand is the offer of a lifeline. 

“Who are you, what do you want?”

He is flustered by the image, the closeness of this stranger.

“I only wish to make your life a little less complicated. You seem to be struggling to find what you desire. Let me help. Take this voucher, it lasts a lifetime.”

There is the offer, there is his wish all wrapped up in a beautifully coloured ticket. Would you accept such an offer?

“What do I need to do?”

“Why nothing, just accept the simple voucher, it has a few terms and conditions, nothing a man like you would not understand. Consider it my Christmas gift.”

The man in the red coat is smiling, he knows the gift will be accepted.

“Thank you, thank you. You have no idea how this will help me.”

The words glow a little as he takes the voucher, accepting the contract in good faith.

“It is my pleasure. Now you have all the time you need to find those last gifts. I am sure I will see you again and again.”

There is a puzzled look on the man’s face, he should have known better. It is too late now.

“What do you mean … Hello?”

In the turning of a page the shop has emptied. Everyone has gone or so it seems. The odd whisper of a ghostly figure drifts past the man, as he frantically tries to escape. But the door won’t open. He examines the voucher again looking at the back.

“My god, what have I done!” His voice fades to an echo as he stares at the words.

‘Thank you for your soul. You can browse all these books forever. S’

The line glows in deep blood red as the voucher falls from pale white fingers.

In a small bookshop, down a darkened side street, if you look closely, sometimes you can see the ghostly outline of a man. He is trapped, unable to pass into the next life.