Selina Metcalf paced her penthouse office irritably, glancing occasionally at an e-mail that had sent her into that state. Finally she swept out of the door and stood glaring at her secretary with her manicured hands on her hips.
‘Gloria, I am sick to death of Christmas and all the hype so I am not pandering to it this year. Send a memo to everyone saying there will be no office party, no bonus, no decorations and no Christmas cards. I will have to honour the holiday because that has been fixed for this year but next year there will be some changes.’
‘No Christmas party? Oh, Selina, it has all been arranged at the King’s Head. Have I really got to….’ She paused as she saw the thunderous expression on her boss’ face. ‘I’ll send it right ‘way, Mrs Metcalfe.’
‘Oh and you’d better notify our suppliers and our customers too I don’t want them wasting money sending us season’s greetings which will just go into the bin.’
She swept back into her office, slammed the door and strode over to her computer. The offending e-mail was an advertisement for tawdry Christmas baubles on special offer. She deleted it with some satisfaction and then set up her computer so that it would block anything with the word Christmas or Xmas.
When the door shut behind her Gloria sent the e-mail and then waited for the protests. The first phone call came from Peter in Sales.
‘What’s she up to Gloria? Is she really banning Christmas? Has she suddenly got anti-religion or what?’
‘Sorry Peter she really means it. You should‘ve seen her face when I tried to object! The worse bit is no bonus I was counting on that to buy a few treats for the little ones.’
‘Yeh, that’s really rough. I don’t know how you manage on your wages with all those mouths to feed.’
‘Thanks Peter; I’d better get back to work.’ Gloria had no wish to discuss her difficulties with Peter. He was married and his wife had a very well paid job so they had no money worries. She had five brothers, two sisters and an ailing grandfather to feed on her measly wage and his pension. As she thought about them all and wished her parents were still alive the tears began to drip off her chin. She shouldn’t cry at work so she took a deep breath, wiped her eyes and tried to concentrate.
That evening Gloria decided not to tell the family about her disappointment. She would manage somehow even if it meant running up a bill on her credit card, something she hated doing. It was Saturday tomorrow, the last one before Christmas so she would buy those little treats and the food they would need and worry about paying for it next month.
As Gloria spent the weekend preparing for Christmas, making old fashioned paper chains with the youngest children and decorating the artificial tree, she knew she had wealth beyond money and even spent a moment to feel sorry for Selina, who had plenty of money but no family.
Selina tried hard to eliminate Christmas but reminders were constant, on all the media. She turned on the television to find a musical version of Scrooge, turned it off and chuckled to herself. I’m a female Scrooge, Selina Scrooge but no ghosts will haunt me. They’d know it was no use trying.
She went to choose a DVD, mostly horror movies, chose her favourite and watched it contentedly finally going to bed just before mid-night.
Selina normally slept without dreaming but that night she awoke after only a few minutes drenched in sweat and shaking. She got out of bed and went to the bathroom. It must have been something she ate. She drank some water and carried the glass into the bedroom. There was an incredibly handsome man sitting on her bed, in full evening dress.
She gasped. He smiled and spoke quietly with a faint hiss accompanying every word. ‘I hope I haven’t frightened you but I’ve heard you’re rejecting Christmas this year so I thought I would pay you a little visit.’ He stood up and bowed, ‘Satan, at your service.’
‘I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in God and I certainly don’t believe in the devil so you can just get out of my head!’
‘But my dear, Selina, I’m not in your head I’m in your bedroom. You’re not dreaming this is a real meeting of like minds. In fact what you’ve just said about your beliefs confirms you really are ready for recruitment into my very exclusive club.’
‘What do you mean? Go away or I’ll call the police.’ She felt threatened but was still convinced she was dreaming.
‘You’re not asleep, I’m really here and I’m going to show you some of my other recruits, ancient and modern.’
She began to protest that she didn’t want him to show her anything when the room revolved in a sickening way. When it stopped she saw a cold, dark dungeon with water running down the walls. She heard wails and screams from the prisoners. A brazier glowed, with branding irons and man, naked to the waist, his body glistening with sweat, chained to the wall. A scene of medieval torture, she had read about, enjoyed in horror movies, but this was appalling. She shut her eyes, covered her ears and screamed to leave. The sounds faded and when she opened her eyes she was back in her room, but the devil was still there.
His eyes were flames and his immaculate clothes were steaming, pitted with holes as if he had been too close to the fire. As he spoke acrid smoke spilled from his mouth. ‘I’m disappointed in you, Selina. You love horror movies, you’re totally ruthless, but you couldn’t stomach a little harmless fun! Well, perhaps hands-on-torture isn’t your cup of tea. Let’s try this.’
The room revolved around her and the scene this time was a village in Zimbabwe. The people were emaciated with starvation, dehydration and disease. They lay on the ground with flies, unheeded, crawling on their gaunt faces, too exhausted to move.
‘Great isn’t it?’ chuckled the devil. ‘Needless to say President Mugabe is one of my recruits. I thought you’d be impressed. I’ve lots more, mass murderers, Hitler, you name them they’re all on my books.
Selina was so shocked and appalled she forgot her fear and turned on him with scorn and disgust. ‘How dare you equate me with people like torturers, Hitler and Mugabe! All I wanted to do was ignore Christmas. It’s hardly in the same league is it?’
They were back in her room and the devil seemed to have shrunk, his body hunched and deformed. She noticed horns on his now grey, thin hair and his shoes were gone showing cloven hooves. ‘I’m beginning to think I was wrong about you; how disappointing.’ He hissed and his spittle sizzled as it hit the floor. ‘Just one more try.’
This time she found herself looking at Gloria, at home with her family. They were all sitting down to Christmas dinner but it was a very poor affair. She had eked out a small chicken by making it into a pie. The portions were small and the vegetables scant. The children were all thin and their clothes well washed and faded. The tree was hung with homemade trinkets and the presents under the tree were few. But, everyone was smiling and the love was tangible in the air. The devil gasped for breath, unable to cope with happiness. He whirled them away back to her room. ‘Did you see how poor they were? That’s your doing, low wages, no Christmas bonus. I really thought you were a likely candidate! Huh, How wrong could I be! You were envying Gloria her family and enjoying that suffocating feeling of love!’
She looked at him, dazed with all the mixed experiences and emotions. He was shrivelled to the size of a dwarf and writhed on the floor, naked, his pointed tail thrashing with irritation and discomfort. Then with a billow of sulphurous smoke he disappeared.
Selina sank onto the bed and looked at the clock, 6am. She decided to have a shower and get to work early. She found herself singing a carol as she dressed and on the way to work she stopped off at the supermarket and filled her car with Christmas cards, decorations and party food.
When the staff arrived the office was transformed and everyone had a personal Christmas card from Selina, with an apology for her e-mail cancelling Christmas and a cheque to make up for it. Gloria had her cheque and a note that told her to expect double the salary in future.
Nobody knew why she had such a change of heart, except Selina, who was the first person in Church on Christmas Day.