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Special Mention - Stuart McLean

A Hardboiled Christmas Carol

By Stuart McLean

Benny woke early, yawning and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
    He’d had the weirdest dream. Some stuff about Marlowe, his old
business partner. The guy had been dead for six months but, in the
dream, he’d showed up, spouted some garbage about how he wanted
Benny to turn his life around. Told him to embrace the warmth of
Christmas, be a better person. All that Dickensian kind of crap.
     Benny shook his head. Ah, forget it, he thought. Just a nightmare.
Marlowe’s long gone.
     He threw back the covers and slid his legs over the edge of the
bed. Turned on the bedside lamp. It threw a soft yellow light against the
     ‘Hello, Benny,’ said a voice.
    He looked up. ‘What?’
     There were three figures nestled deep into the shadows. The first
took a step forwards. It was man in a grey trench coat and a wide-
brimmed fedora. A thick brown cigar protruded from the corner of his
    ‘I take it you’re expecting us, right?’ A trail of smoke emerged
from the cigar tip, forming a question mark in the air.
     ‘Who’re you?
     ‘The Fat Man sent us. Didn’t Marlowe explain?’
    Benny tried to shake the fog from his brain. In the dream, what
was it Marlowe had said? Something about a chance for redemption?
     ‘Oh yeah. He said I was going to be visited by three ghosts. Going
to teach me the meaning of Christmas, how to be a good little boy. Well,
you can forget it. That crap’s not going to work on me.’
     The man puffed on his cigar. ‘We’ll see,’ he said.
     Benny sneered. ‘So you’re, what, the ghost of Christmas Past?
And that would make those guys Present and Future, right?’
     The man smiled through the cigar smoke. ‘Nope. Past, Present
and Future couldn’t make it.’
     ‘Then who’re you?’
     ‘We are your worst Goddamn nightmare.’
     The ghost took a step forwards. He grabbed Benny by the collar of
his pyjamas and hauled him from the bed.
     ‘Max. Open the window.’
    One of the other figures detached himself from the darkness. He
was similarly dressed in a dark trench coat and a wide-brimmed hat. He
pulled back the curtains. Undid the latch on the window, and pushed it
wide open. ‘Okay, Sam. You want I should break his legs first?’
     ‘Nah, let’s just throw him straight out.’ Benny was shoved towards
the open window. Sam grabbed hold of one of Benny’s legs. Max took a
hold of the other.
     Benny cried out, ‘Wait, ...’
     They lifted, one leg each, and hauled him through the opening. A
cold blew wind across his face as Benny swung through the air, held
upside down by his ankles.
     ‘Oh, God, please don’t drop me.’
     ‘That’s up to you,’ said Sam. ‘You ready to embrace the spirit of
     ‘Yes,’ he shouted.
     ‘You ready for peace on earth and goodwill to all men?’ asked
     ‘Yes,’ Benny screamed.
     ‘Think he’s lying?’ said Sam.
     ‘Yep,’ said Max. ‘Smell s like bullshit to me.’
     ‘I’m not lying!’ Benny screamed.
     ‘Get him inside,’ said Sam. ‘We need to turn this up a notch.’
     They tugged on his legs, lifting him back through the window. The
skin on Benny’s stomach scraped against the ledge as he was dragged
into the bedroom and dumped onto the floor.
     ‘I told you,’ said Benny. ‘I’ll be good. I’ll celebrate Christmas.
     Max slapped him in the mouth. ‘Shut up.’
     Sam turned towards the dark corner where the third ghost stood,
unmoving. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Your turn.’
     The ghost stepped forwards. This one was different. He wore a
dark blue boiler suit and a hockey mask. A metallic device was cradled
in his arms, almost three feet long, with an ugly serrated edge. A
     Max grinned. ‘Benny, I’d like you to meet the ghost of Christmas
     The ghost raised the chainsaw into the air and tugged on a ripcord.
The saw fired into life, filling the air with a frenzied buzzing sound.
     ‘Please...’ Benny cried.
     The spectre moved forwards, one heavy-footed stomp after
another, until the rasping blade was cutting through the air inches from
Benny’s face.
     ‘No,’ said Benny, tears running down his face. ‘I’m going to turn
my life around. I’m going to believe in peace and goodwill and stuff. I
mean it, I’m going to change.’
     ‘Okay, Turn it off,’ said Sam.
     The chainsaw fell silent.
     Sam grabbed Benny by the collar. ‘Listen, punk. There’s an all-
night shop round the corner from here. Way I hear it, there’s still a
turkey in the freezer. Big thing. Feed a whole family for weeks.
Question is, what you gonna do about it?’
     ‘I’m going to buy it,’ said Benny.
     ‘Then what?’
     ‘I’m going to cook it. And I’m going to go down to the orphanage.
Feed the kids. Then, I’m going to go to the office, give everyone a
Christmas bonus.’ He swallowed. ‘Right?’
     ‘Damn right.’ Sam pointed at a watch on his wrist. ‘The place
closes in about twenty minutes. I reckon you’d better run if you want to
get that turkey.
     Benny leaped to his feet and raced from the room. Didn’t even
pause to put on a pair of shoes.
     Sam looked at his watch.
     ‘How long did that take?’ asked Max.
     ‘Four minutes,’ Sam replied. ‘Must be a new record.’ He turned to
     The Fat Man was standing in the doorway. He was dressed in full
uniform. Red suit. White beard. Rosy-red cheeks. He was shaking his
     ‘I’m still not sure I approve of your methods,’ the Fat Man said.
‘But, damn, I must admit. You do get results. Merry Christmas, boys.’
     ‘Merry Christmas, boss.’

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