A modern Christmas carol
"Are you going to the Christmas party tonight?"
This is the fourth time you've been asked that question today, and for the fourth time you say:
"No, I've got a family thing to go to tonight I'm afraid."
It's a lie, but it's easier than telling the truth. You simply don't want to go. The thought of heading to the pub and being surrounded by all that festivity is enough to trigger a healthy dose of heart squeezing anxiety.
Head down, you leave the office before people start slacking off in anticipation of the party. Thankfully no one stops you on your way out and you can shake off the weight of social interaction.
Head phones in, music on, it's time to retreat into your own mind.
It's 7:30pm and no doubt people at the Christmas party are already pissed and acting inappropriately. You're glad you're not there. The weather is miserable, the pubs would be packed, getting a taxi after would be a nightmare and all you'd have to show for it tomorrow is a hangover.
"You made the right decision," you tell yourself.
Still full from dinner you're laid out on the couch flicking through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. When one gets boring you switch to another. There's always new content, you've just gotta give it five minutes.
An hour or so passes and at this point you're beginning to doze off.
It's your phone, vibrating so hard that it bounces off the couch. It doesn’t crash down to the floor however. Something catches it. A tiny glowing hand.
Heart pounding, you jump into an upright but still seated position. Standing before you is what appears to be a young child. But it's not a child, not a normal one anyway, it's translucent and glowing.
"Wh-Who are you? What are you doing here?" you say.
"Do not be afraid," the child-like specter says. "I am the ghost of Christmas past and I'm here to remind you of joy that this time of year once brought you."
It sits down and turns your phone towards you.
Occupying the screen is a photo album from ten years ago. Photos of you during your college years. It's December 24th and you are in the local pub surrounded by your friends. A group of about twenty people.
"I haven't seen so many of those people in years," you say, with a slight tremble still hanging out of your words.
"We used to go down to the local pub on Christmas eve every year, it was always annoyingly packed but that was half the fun."
"You look happy," says the Ghost of Christmas past.
The screen flickers and a new album appears. It's two years later and there are more photos of friends, family and smiles.
"You used to make an effort to get out of the house, to talk to new people. You loved just hanging out with friends."
"I did, but that changed. I don't know when it changed, it just did. Slowly..."
The ghostly child let your words linger for a moment before saying:
"It's time for me to go, but you will have two more visitors tonight... Farewell."
The spectral child fades away, leaving your phone momentarily suspended in the air before plopping down on the cushion beside you.
You sit in silence for the next few minutes ruminating on what just happened.
"Of course I was happier back then, I was young and stupid. I had no responsibilities. I hadn't been exposed to the shittiness of the world."
"Ha ha ha, and you think that's why you were happy?" says a large and jolly voice from the other side of the couch.
Sitting beside you is a giant bearded man, dressed in all of the colors of Christmas.
He towers above you looking like a Viking in a dressing gown. He smells slightly of thyme and has a smile plastered across his face.
You scramble towards the arm of the couch, pulling yourself as far into the corner as you can.
“Wh-Who are you? Are you the vistor that the ghost child spoke of?” you ask the giant man.
"Why I am the ghost of Christmas present,” he says. “Tell me, what do you think is going on at the Christmas party you so deftly avoided tonight?
"At this stage probably just a bunch of drunk talk, people doing and saying things they'll regret tomorrow."
The man picks up your phone in one of his giant hands and pokes at the screen with fingers far too large to operate the thing properly.
"Well lets have a look," he says.
He points the screen towards you as a video begins to play. It's one of your colleague's Instagram stories.
You watch on as she gives a little guided tour of the party, giving you a look at a bunch of colorful lights and smiling faces.
As soon as the video ends and you are presented with a collage of still images. Photographs of your colleagues enjoying their night out.
You feel a pang of guilt as you are confronted with the faces of everyone you had lied to that day. A small addendum to the anxiety brought on by the thought of the party. The thought of going out and somehow making a fool of yourself. That ever present hypothetical fear.
"They'd be delighted if you went out," says the giant man.
"They don't need me there, plenty of fun to be had without me, sure just look at the pictures."
"It's not about needing you there, it's about wanting you there. You do get on with most of the people right?"
"Yeah sure, I work with a lot of really nice people and I generally do enjoy being around them."
"So why not tonight?"
"I don't know... The path a least resistance I guess. Nothing can go wrong when I'm at home alone."
"There's nothing to be experienced there either..."
The giant mans words fade, as does his physical presence. Your phone once again drops to the cushion beside you.
"What's next?" you wonder.
The spectral child had talked of two more visitors, but the first two have left you emotionally drained enough as it is.
The air around you feels heavy all of a sudden. The lamp in the corner begins to fade as a black mist swirls in front of you.
From the mist a hooded figure emerges, its face obscured by darkness. It points to your phone with a single long and thin finger that uncurls from beneath a ghostly sleeve.
The screen of your phone has turned on by itself. It's Facebook, but there are no pictures or videos this time. It's an error screen. The one you see when an account has been deactivated.
"What's this supposed to mean?" you ask the hooded figure.
It does not respond.
It's the same for Instagram and Twitter. The accounts are disabled.
The date in the corner of the screen suggests two years have passed and there’s a message notification at the top of the screen. It simply says '“I miss you so much.”
"Why don't you speak, like the others? Tell me what's going on."
Still nothing. It uncurls that single long finger and again directs it towards the screen. Its contents have changed.
You’re looking at Facebook again, but this time your account is active. There are photos of you with a child. But it's not anyone that you know.
In some of the photos you are standing with someone. They bear a stark resemblance to the child. The both of you do, and you both look happy.
"Is this my child?" you wonder. "Is this my life?"
The specter is still standing over you, deathly silent.
"What is the meaning of all this? Is this me? What was that other deactivated account about?"
There is panic in your voice.
"Who is the child in the photo? Why don't you say anything!"
The dark spirit points to the phone one last time before collapsing in on itself, forming a puddle of smoke on the floor before dissipating entirely.
Back to the present
On your phone the screen seems to have returned to normal, to your current live feed of events. There's a new notification however.
You tap it.
It's a an event. A New Years party. One that one of the friends you haven't talked to in a while throws every year. You've avoided it the past couple.
There's a huge number of people on the invite list. Most of them you know pretty well but haven't seen in months, if not years.
"Is this a coincidence," you wonder, "that this alert should appear now... After what I just saw. I don't even know what I just saw!"
You linger on that page long enough for your screen to shut itself off a few times.
You accept the invite...
Happy Christmas everyone! Thanks for reading.