Dakin wakes with a start, sitting up bolt upright and shielding his eyes from the sudden blinding light.
Next to him in the bed, Dan - or whatever his name is - doesn’t seem to have noticed anything and slumbers peacefully on, oblivious to the music, wind, disco lights and… he sniffs – yep, that’s definitely a smoke machine.
He rubs his eyes as a figure begins to form out of whatever seventies hell is currently happening in his bedroom. It’s a smallish, drably dressed man with mousy hair and reading glasses. It looks like…
“That’s me – at least that’s my current form. I am the Ghost of Dickmas Past and I am here to show you the error of your ways. ”
“Wow I haven’t seen you since school! We must definitely catch up at some point but erm, now isn’t a good time. I’ve got company” He gestures to the guy beside him who has turned over to face them and is now snoring, open-mouthed.
“This is just in my head, right? I’m having a stroke or something - because otherwise I’m gonna have to call an ambulance; nobody should be able to sleep through this. Incidentally, is there any chance you could turn it down?”
Scripps nods and the deafening Donna Summer track fades out. “You are the only person who can see and hear me, but I’m perfectly real. Come. I have much to show you”
“I suppose I’m not getting back to sleep now anyway.” Dakin gets out of bed and glances down at his naked body. “Can I put some pants on first?”
Scripps shrugs. “You aren’t wearing any in most of the visions but if it makes you more comfortable”
The room spins around them and vanishes and suddenly he’s back at school, watching David Posner crying in an empty classroom.
“Cheer up mate” He mutters.
“He can’t hear us, we aren’t really here”
As they look on, the real life Don Scripps appears, Dakin’s childhood best mate, as he was when they were teenagers.
“What’s up, Pos?” He perches on the desk and listens as Posner pours his heart out about Dakin and how he can’t help but be in love with him but all Dakin does is ignore him, or laugh.
“That’s not fair!” Dakin exclaims angrily “We got to know each other better a few years after this!”
“A lot better, I believe” The grown up version of Scripps says, with a very un-Scripps like gesture.
The room spins again and when it rights itself they’re standing before teenage versions of both of them, chatting in his childhood bedroom.
“You have to tell him” The nineteen year old Scripps is saying. “You can’t keep leading him on like this”
Before Dakin can answer, Posner enters without knocking.
“This is where you’ve been hiding.” He greets Dakin with a kiss. Neither of them pay much attention to Scripps, who leaves minutes later.
“You’re missing out the good bits!” Dakin wails as smoke obscures the scene as they begin kissing again. When it clears they’re lying together, nude and spent on Dakin’s bed.
“Do you love me?” Posner is asking.
“Look, when I said that –“ The Scripps-vision levels a glare at him. Shit, he’d forgotten how fierce those glares could be. “Let’s see the next time you spoke shall we?”
“Must we? I don’t really want –“ but the room has already vanished and is coalescing into a hospital corridor. He knows exactly when this is – the night of the accident, when Hector gave Posner his one and only lift and they came off, breaking Pos’ leg. Dakin remembers when he heard, thinking it was a miracle neither of them was killed and his new resolve to stop playing games with Pos.
The Scripps floats through the wall into the ward and Dakin reluctantly follows, wincing at what he knows is about to come out of his mouth.
He hadn’t been able to look at Pos at the time, but now he is and a new wave of shame hits him - he looks like what he is: a distressed and injured child.
“Look, I’m sorry but this is too much for me. It’s too serious, you’re too into me, I can’t cope with it. There’s something else - there’s someone else. I’ve been seeing Fiona and I… I have a lot of fun with her. I think when we go to Oxford maybe we leave this behind us” His younger self leaves and they stand watching Posner wailing into his pillow.
“I was young and commitment phobic – I didn’t realise I’d break his heart”
“Even if that were true, can you honestly say you’ve changed that much now?”
He shuffles his feet and a vision of young Scripps comes in and holds Posner as he weeps.
“Scripps always loved him, but he never said anything. After Posner decided not to go to Oxford he went travelling and they never spoke again.”
“Me and Scripps lost contact after that night. I never knew why”
The older Scripps takes off his glasses to give him the full sarcastic effect of his gaze. “Really? A smart guy like you and you didn’t work it out”
“I guess I just didn’t think about it – was too wrapped up in myself”
“What a surprise”
“Alright, I was a teenage dick and screwed Posner over. That hardly qualifies me for a haunting!”
“Oh, as if that was the only time. Buckle up sunshine”
The hospital room spins and he’s glad to see the back of it. This time, he’s back in his bedroom.
“You were meant to be on the back of that bike, not him. If you hadn’t used him for sex, you would have been the one who volunteered to go!”
“That’s supposed to change my life, is it? I was supposed to have a horrible accident? Thanks!”
“I didn’t say you were meant to have the accident”
“So you’re saying it’s Posner’s fault they crashed?”
Dakin rubs his forehead. “I’m too tired for this cryptic shit. Can I just admit I’ve been a bastard and go back to sleep?’
“I’m afraid not.”
“Thought not. Christ, he needs to see someone” He mutters as Dan’s snores rattle on.
“This is where I stop, and I’ll pass you on to my esteemed colleague”
“Great” He mutters under his breath as Scripps fades into nothingness.
“Oh dear, Dakin. Did you forget your PE kit?”
“Mrs Lintott!” He goes to hug her but she stares pointedly at him standing in his pants.
“It’s not like I go to bed in a nightgown and cap” He mumbles, feeling a little bit of an exhibitionist.
“Oh, don’t change on my account, it’s been decades since I’ve seen as much male flesh. Shall we go take a sneak peak at Christmas Day tomorrow?” Without waiting for an answer she puts her arm around him and the now familiar spinning begins.
They’re in a club, the taste of dry ice is heavy in his mouth and the air tangs with sweat and sugar-sweet alcohol. She leads the way to a smokers’ area outside and he watches himself getting off with a man he doesn’t know. He’s pressed against the wall, their breath making a cloud of steam around them. It’s weird and arousing to watch himself as an outsider – it’s just a shame his old teacher is standing there to make it awkward.
“Looks like I’m going to have a good time” He jokes, trying to take away some of the weirdness.
“No need to shout, I can hear you perfectly. Remember we aren’t really here.”
“A good time you may be having, but what about your friends?”
“What about them?”
The lights of the club become the dim lights of a cottage sitting room. Scripps is there, sitting by the fire, looking much older than the version that appeared to Dakin, a microwave turkey meal on his lap.
Totty shakes her head, mournfully. “He never leaves the house now. He writes, but nothing he does ever sees the light of day. Care in the community bring him his meals.”
“Shit Scrippsy, what happened to you?”
“Without the friendship of you and Posner he never fitted in at university and had a breakdown”
“What about Posner? Why wouldn’t they have kept in touch?”
The room morphs into another cottage, where Posner and a very elderly Hector are sipping sherry together.
“Well at least he looks happy”
“After you abandoned him, Hector and Posner became close while they recovered. Hector is now in charge of the school as the governor”
“That old creep?!”
“And with Hector as his mentor now Posner preys on the boys too”
“Wait, weren’t you and Hector friends?” She shifts her eyes away. “And that really doesn’t sound like the Posner I know. Besides, Hector had no interest in being a governor, all he wanted was a captive audience so he could bang on about poetry and do a bit of perving on the side”
He might be imagining it, but she looks a trifle uncomfortable. “We must leave this place, there’s more you must see”
They’re on the street outside a nice set of London houses. Totty floats in through the wall and Dakin follows. The house is bare of Christmas cheer: not a speck of tinsel in sight. A man is sitting behind a desk in the living room, his hair messed from running ink stained hands through it. Stacks of paper litter the enormous desk in front of him.
His eyes boggle. “Is that Mr Irwin? Was he always this hot?”
“Yes, dear. But you weren’t interested. You only cared about using him to get what you wanted - an ego boost and an easy way to make Posner jealous. As a result he grew very bitter and now works for the government trying to persuade them to take away PIP from disabled people. He was responsible for the Iraq war and the spare bedroom tax”
“Jesus! That seems a bit much. Nobody thinks higher of me than I, but surely leading him on a bit wouldn’t be enough to sour anyone that much. Come to think of it, Scripps never had any problem making friends at school or uni… OK Irwin going to the dark side I can kind of see, but aren’t you putting a lot of this on me? It’s not like a few months of teenage crushes can be responsible for changing someone’s entire life… can they?”
“Oh dear we’re terribly late.” She glances at her watch, exaggeratedly. “I’m afraid I must leave you now. The next spirit can answer all of your questions. Take care and mind you pay him special attention”
She gives him a chilly kiss on the cheek and waves before she hurries off – he assumes that’s what she’s doing as she twinkles away into nothingness, anyway.
Chilled by standing barefoot on the pavement at midnight in late December, Dakin wraps his arms around his mostly naked body. A church bell chimes somewhere and he’s startled by a reedy voice behind him.
“Dakin, do you ever wear any trousers?”
He spins to see a stunted elderly man with a twitchy eye, bald head and hideous moustache. “Oh God, I remember you! What was your name again?”
“You may address me as ‘Sir’”
“Boring, no. It was… ugh something weird, like a cat’s name?”
The ghost bristles and so does his moustache.
“Cat’s name, kind of pervy, embarrassingly ignorant, funny smell…” He snaps his fingers “Got it: Felix!” He grins
The ghost draws itself up with a vindictive twist to its mouth that might be a smile. “Lets go and visit the Chlamydia-ridden pile of self pity that is your future, shall we?”
They’re in some sort of medical office, where a version of him is lying on an examining couch. The Felix said it was the future but he doesn’t look any different; either he ages very well, or it can’t be far ahead. He’s about to ask but the doctor speaks and derails that thought train.
“I’m sorry Mr Dakin, but I’m afraid amputation is the only option left to us”
“Shit, am I in a car crash or something? Is it an arm? A leg? At least tell me it’s doing something cool”
Felix’s ghost grins. “You are now so riddled with STDs that your penis has to be amputated”
Dakin can’t contain a laugh. “I am ninety-five percent sure that’s not a thing”
“Don’t backchat” Felix snaps, spit flying from his mouth, and the top of his bald head going red. “They film it for Channel Four and the whole thing ruins your life”
The other Dakin starts to weep hysterically in front of them.
He turns to Felix. “Laying it on a bit thick, aren’t you?”
“This is the only fate left to you if you continue down the depraved and disgusting path you’re on. However, If you change your ways…” He makes a sweep with his arm that Dakin is sure is only for effect and they are once more with Posner and Scripps.
They’re sat together at a piano, singing a duet the way they used to at school. He recognises it as an Ivor Novello piece. On top of the baby grand that takes up most of the cosy sitting room there are two large and fluffy cats sandwiched between an advent candle and a menorah.
“Free from your destructive influence your friends are happily married” Ghost Felix doesn’t look too happy about this outcome either. Dakin assumes he’s taken on the homophobia of the original and smiles as he decides he’s probably dead by now.
“Right… except I haven’t spoken to either of them in years so they’re already free of my influence. And I can’t change the past can I? What’s stopping them getting married in my reality?”
Felix looks nervous, patting at his head with a handkerchief and darting shifty eyes to either side.
“What’s going on exactly?”
“Let us see your future if you change your ways and all will, er… become clear”
Dakin folds his arms, interested to find out where this is going. “Sure” He grins.
Felix clears his throat and transports them to a steamy bathroom. Where a couple are in the shower together.
“Bit pervy to spy on them. Checks out with the real Felix anyway” He mutters.
“I’m not interested in your revolting lifestyle” The furious ghost hisses.
Dakin waggles his eyebrows “The lady doth protest too much”
Pointedly, the ghost turns its back. Dakin reckons he can probably still watch in the mirror though.
He sidles closer to get a better look through the steam and pulls the screen aside
“Jesus there’s a draft” He hears another incarnation of himself squeak.
“I’ll warm you up” The other man purrs, fastening his mouth to his neck. He hums in pleasure and cranks the water up.
“Soap my back?”
He’s not surprised when the future him turns away to reveal Tom Irwin as the person in there with him – the pair of them pausing to kiss and lick each other in between bouts of soaping each other down. Honestly, he can’t say the prospect is unpleasant.
“He doesn’t make the most of himself in those corduroys, does he?”
Felix’s head twitches alarmingly in response.
“It’s hot in here, and it’s not just the steam” He mutters as things in the shower start to get a lot more interesting.
“What was that, Babe?”
“I didn’t speak, don’t stop”
Scripps and Totty had said the visions couldn’t hear them, but these ones have apparently noticed something. “I’m confused. Can they hear us or not?”
“The partition between the realities is probably weak here, we should talk in the hall”
“Miserable git” Dakin moans, following Felix through the wall.
“Totty was showing me Irwin as well – it’s almost like this whole haunting experience is to set the two of us up. Mind you, we look happy”
“You are happy, and you still have your penis”
“I saw” He smirks, mostly to irk Felix
“Don’t be so vulgar, you little shit!”
“You brought me to watch them getting it on! So, is he still evil?”
“No, changing your ways has meant he didn’t take that path”
“But…. He was evil in the vision of the present, and this is the future ... which is dependant on what’s already happened in the past…”
“The ways of the spirits are mysterious, and you are just a mortal” Felix says imperiously.
“Yeah, whatever. This doesn’t sound all that likely, I mean all of this hinges mostly on me being a terrible boyfriend to Posner - when we were eighteen and going out for like a month.”
“Just go and fuck the man!”.
“Weirdest reason for a haunting ever”
“Do you want to be a selfish bastard with no dick or start a new life with the man you’re supposed to be with?! Well!?” Felix screeches. “Go and spend Christmas together or my masters will – I mean, you will be very miserable!”
“Ha! I knew it! Tell me what this is all about.” He clutches at Felix’s suit and wakes with a start to bright sunlight in his own bed. The sleeve of the suit is now the duvet clutched in his hand
“Fuck! bollocks” He nearly falls out of bed. “What day is it?” He asks the shadowed figure hastily dressing (and trying not to wake him) by the door.
Shit…What day was it when he last remembers being not haunted by judgemental spirits with some weird Irwin based agenda? The logical conclusion is that it was a dream, but somehow he knows it was real: his feet are cold from walking on the ground and he knows he didn’t go to sleep in his boxers. “Shit”
“Don’t worry, you’re not late for work. It’s Christmas day, remember?” He prompts, his eyes kind.
“Yeah, right, of course. They did it all in the one night. Makes sense, spirits can do anything I suppose”
“Er… ok. I’m going to go. Lunch with the parents, you know how it is”
“Listen, Dan. Get checked for sleep apnoea, yeah?”
He levels an odd look at him.
“Your breathing is not normal, and I say that with love.”
“Thanks. My name’s Ben”
“Oh, right. I’m Stu”
“I know. Merry Christmas”
Dakin thinks he catches a muttered ‘dickhead’ as Ben lets himself out but he can’t be sure – perhaps the Irwin obsessed spirits had a point about his sex life. Anyway, he has more important people to impress.
Rifling haphazardly through his bookshelves until he gets to the one he’s looking for, he opens the flyleaf and takes down the important details. A small amount of detective work and he has both Irwin’s number and an invite.
The voice on the other end of the phone hasn’t changed, the deep yet nasal tones causing something to stir deep in his belly. Examining the photo on the flyleaf again he wonders how he never noticed how extremely sexy his teacher was: probably too excited to be pulling the strings to think of him as a man in his own right. Perhaps those ethereal weirdos had a few valid points after all.
A quick shower and a spray of his most devastating aftershave and it’s just a question of calling a taxi and finding somewhere to pick up a pitiful present.
The short time between ringing the doorbell and waiting for someone to answer it feels interminable and Dakin is gripped by a terrible fear that it’s all a big mistake – but no. They’re meant to be together, the ghosts told him so – maybe he’ll keep that part to himself. The only thing left to regret is how much time he’s wasted realising it.
Irwin opens the door, he’s wearing thick socks, a silly jumper and a paper party hat, and leaning on a stick. Dakin wonders how he’s just noticing how beautiful the man is – he blames it on teenage short-sightedness.
“Ah, Dakin. Come in, I was surprised when you called, but it’s lovely to see you.” He catches sight of a blush blooming across his cheeks.
“Thanks for having me. I brought …a Christmas pudding and some booze”
Irwin rightly looks suspiciously at the bottle that’s probably closer to antifreeze than vodka, but nevertheless accepts both offerings with grace.
“It’s all they had at the garage. I haven’t really planned this, but –“
“Would you care to join us for lunch? We’re just about to - ”
“Fuck it” Dakin says and leans in and kisses him.
He has no idea what those spirits wanted from this, but as Irwin melts into the kiss, Dakin’s glad they got their way.