The Christmas Gift

The Christmas Gift

Imagine the scene, Christmas Eve, 5.15pm, in a small book shop on a busy university campus. A man is looking at the books, surrounded by people feeling the same strain of choice. 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. They have to be right. If only, I could have the shop to myself.What I would give for that. ”

A desperate plea in the sea of people, but only one other hears. He nervously shuffles on the spot, looking around.

“Who is that man in the red coat? Concentrate. Books, that’s what I am here for. I have a 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? Too classic? It’s on TV every Christmas in one form or another. Not the best pick. Wait! The prefect one, The Hobbit. It’s classic, yet modern and there is a new film for Christmas. That’s one, two more to find.”

He clutches his first prize as if his life depends on it. He is irritated by the carefree attitude of the other shoppers.

“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, it’s 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 the 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 is that a proper book. I thought it was something else? Another colour maybe? No. That’s 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.”

For 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 watched?

“Excuse me, I believe that 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 appear to be struggling to find what you desire. Let me help. Take this voucher, it will ease your pain and last 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 modest voucher, it has a few terms and conditions, nothing a man like you would fail to 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. The odd whisper of a ghostly figure drifts past the man or so it seems. He frantically tries to escape pulling at the door, but it won’t open, why? He examines the voucher again looking at the back.

“My God, what have I done!”

One line glows, deep blood red, ‘Thank you for your soul. You can browse all these books forever. L’

In a small bookshop, on a busy university campus, if you look closely sometimes you can see the ghostly outline of a man. He is trapped.

Mark O’Donnell

 

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