― Charles Dickens
From, “A Christmas Carol”
Maybe it was the bump in the night, but more likely the unearthly screech piercing the bedroom dark was that which awoke me at the start of another bewitching hour.
“What kind of nincompoop puts a chair at the foot of a bed!” the shrill female voice yelped, not in a roar yet not muffled.
Opening uncertain eyes, looking to my right at 12:05 in red digits, to my left at my slumbering mate and then straight ahead, I saw a tiny silhouette dancing on what looked to be one leg. Again fumbling for my glasses on the bedside table in an act of deja vu, I quickly realized the shadow’s motions weren’t as much a dance as they were a hop ... on one foot.
“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” came the pained lament in mouse-like squeaks.
Feeling I had traveled this road before, I sat up, squinted and made out the form of what appeared to be a small woman in a tutu, maybe pink but not quite white.
In casual tone, yet not altogether comfortable with my latest visitor of the night, I asked, “Can I help you?”
“Can I help you? Can I help you?” the squeaky voice repeated, mocking my sincerity. “Maybe if you got some ice for my throbbing toe! Who puts a straight-back chair in the middle of the floor?”
“Well who helps themselves to my house ... my bedroom, no less ... in the middle of the night without even knocking?” I countered.
“The same ghost who’s about to change your miserable male life,” she retorted, her hop now slowing as she rubbed the stubbed toe with only one hand.
“Ghost?” I asked, leaping from the bed. “Did you say g-g-ghost?”
“Y-y-yes, I said g-g-ghost!” she snapped.
“Hey, that’s not polite,” I reminded her.
“Oh, well excuse me, Mr. Martha Stewart!” the tiny figure exclaimed. Her hopping ceased as she caught a glimpse of my pajamas. “So you’re the one?”
“The one what?” I implored.
“With the ducks, moron!” she confirmed.
“These are geese,” I corrected her. “What kinda ghost can’t tell the difference between a goose and a duck?”
“And what kinda lamebrain guards his bed with chairs?” she countered. “Forget it, buster. Put some socks on. We gotta go.”
Stepping toward the sharp-tongued courier, I finally made out the face.
“Say, don’t I know you?” I asked.
“Maybe if you’ve been to heaven ... Cloud 2023. That do anything for ’ya ... goose guy?”
“You were in that Bill Murray movie ... ‘Scrooged’ ... you were a ghost then — ”
“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” this Carol Kane look-alike again mocked with impatience. “Present. The Ghost of Christmas Present.”
“You’re the Ghost of Christmas Present?” I shrieked.
“Do you see a gold bow around my head? Are these wings red or this leotard green? I’m the Ghost of Editors Present, genius,” she corrected.
“But what do you know about newspapers?” I sought. “And why are you a woman?”
“You got a problem with women, mister?”
“Well no, but the guy last night ... he was an editor, a guy editor,” I explained.
“In fairyland, Sherlock!” tonight’s ghost declared. “News flash, Einstein: Lou Grant wasn’t real! Geez! Can we go now?”
“Are we doin’ that stratosphere thing again?” I asked. “That was pretty drafty in PJs.”
This petite but feisty Ghost of Editors Present stepped forward, reached up and pinched my nose with thumb and forefinger, and offered in mocking baby talk, “Oooh, is big, bad manchild gonna get cold in that bad ol’ night air?”
The ill-tempered ghost pulled me to the window ... by nose, and we flew.
Our landing was not unlike the night before — on tile floor, but newer. Same newsroom, but different look. New paint. More desks. Better lighting. Added clutter. Lots of stacks of newspapers. Same smell of ink. The smell of journalism never veers.
I looked about. The faces were different. Most were huddled together around a desk across the way. Must have been a dozen of them. They were loud. Many were talking, some at the same time. Might even have been arguing.
I recognized them all.
“This is the newsroom, only now. This is the now newsroom,” I observed.
The Ghost of Editors Present rolled her eyes.
“Duhhh!” she declared. “See anything else?”
“The reporters, the writers ... they’re all together, all talking,” I noted. “They seem angry.”
“And geez, I wonder why?” the mocking ghost mocked again.
“I don’t know why,” I answered. “Why?”
She tapped her toe impatiently on the tile, probably the good one.
“Helloooooo? Wanna look at the calendar,” she directed, motioning to a wall. “Duz’ya see anything odd?”
Squinting at the distant print, I noted, “It’s December 24.”
“And they’re all huddled together talking ... and they’re still on deadline!” I declared. “Why do they look so mad?”
“Well, I wonder if it has anything to do with Christmas Eve ... and the fact that they’re all still at work, and not with their families?” the Ghost of Editors Present suggested.
And then I gulped.
“Oh? Oh? Is that all ya’ got, Pulitzer Pete?” She was mocking again.
“But we’re a newspaper. News happens. News is 24/7. It’s who we are. It’s why we’re here. It’s what we do.”
Without even looking, I could feel the ghost’s eyes roll again.
I felt the familiar sting of the thumb and forefinger grasping my nose. She twisted my head sideways and pulled it down. Our faces met. Our eyes locked. My nose hurt.
“Wanna try again?” she asked between clinched teeth and pursed lips.
In a ghost-induced nasal twang, I surrendered, “There’s no place like home for the holidays?”
She smiled softly, kissed my chin and offered sweetly, “... That’s my boy.” Then with fixed jaw and a surprisingly gravel tone for one so meek, she added, “Now let’s go!”
We returned to the clouds.
Like all weekday mornings at this unforgiving hour, I fumbled for the digital clock to shut down the deafening alarm.
Sitting up at bed’s edge to adjust my vision, I pondered the coming day.
And I rubbed my sore nose.
(Conclusion: A third apparition drops in.)