Joe Spivey woke up hearing the deep toll of a nearby bell that existed nowhere in New Flagstaff. But that wasn't the weirdest part. He was also in bed fully dressed.
Then there was the fact that there was no Kirsten shaped big spoon leaching away his body heat.
Finally, he was lying in a big four-poster bed, and he was pretty sure he would have noticed Kirsten sneaking that up the stairs.
Joe sat up, reaching for his shotty, and his hand came up holding a long bar of soap. He stared at it.
"What the f..."
Dropping the soap onto the bed,
Joe flung back the bedsheets then scooted forward and slid off the end of the four-poster just in time to witness an apparition float effortlessly through the wall opposite.
The spectre shimmered as it floated down towards the wooden floorboards in front of him. The figure was small, like a child, and its shape flickered like the brightest of candle flames.
So much so, that the thing's features seemed to shift just as they came into focus. Joe crouched down, squinting and discerned bare feet as they came to rest on the bedroom floor.
He shielded his eyes against the glare and could see that its stature was, indeed,
that of a child dressed in what looked like a nightgown and wore on its head a hat that resembled nothing less than a funnel.
Suddenly it lifted its arms and, alarmed, Joe stood back sharply until he felt the solidness of the bed against his legs.
Joe squinted again, looking for the face beneath the strange hat. Something was not right here. Not right at all.
Although not a believer in any kind of supernatural anything, Joe had yet to hear of a ghost sporting freckles.
The not very ghost-like wailing came to a sudden stop and the figure's arms dropped to its sides.
"Eh? No!" The voice, which did not sit well with the ethereal image, changed again to something more in line with the otherworldliness of the visuals. "WOOOOO.
I ammmm the ghost offffff Kidsmas Paaaaaast.
" There was a small pause, then the arms rose again, the fingers waggling in what the diminutive ghost hoped was the correct actions for something beyond the understanding of mere men.
It added another, slightly less convincing 'Woooo' for emphasis.
Joe took stock of everything that had happened since the non-existent clock had woken him up.
"You're the ghost of Chris... I mean Kidsmas past?" The ghost nodded its head vigorously, then had to catch its weird hat with both hands to stop it falling off. "Right. Of course you are.
" Joe nodded towards the hat. "What's with the funnel on your head?"
The ghost pulled its hat down tight.
" 'Snot a funnel." The voice was back to being very similar to that of Joe's favourite student. "It's a candle snuffer-outerer-thingy.
" Realising she had again broken character, the ghost tried to fix it with a belated "WooooOOOOO". She didn't bother with the finger waving bit this time.
Probably because of the way Joe was now looking at her.
Joe was also taking in his surroundings. Like the wood panel room. The bare floorboards. The candle on the table next to an empty bowl of what Joe assumed would have been stew.
It was all making a kind of sense. He still wasn't sure about the bar of soap replacing his shotgun...
or his most recent discovery that everything he was wearing was now brown, including his favoured footwear. Whatever it was that was happening it was obvious Joe had his part to play.
Only then would he likely find out what was really going on. Looking down at the Finny/ghost figure staring determinedly up at him, Joe sighed.
"Ok then Oh Ghost of Kidsmas Past. Let's get on with it."
The ghost of Kidsmas past almost did a little dance of glee.
"Cool! Grab my hand! Er, I mean WOOOOOO! Take my hand and follow meeeeee. Wooooo."
Joe allowed his hand to be taken and found himself floating towards the far wall.
"We could just take the door..." Finny or whoever it was started to slide through the wall. Joe squeezed his eyes shut as the wallpaper loomed large in front of him. "Fine. Wall it is then."
For a brief moment, as his atoms and those of the wall intermingled, Joe felt utter brickish contentment in a job well done.
Then he was Joe again and opened his eyes to find himself floating in mid-air outside the bedroom window of his own house.
Well, almost his own house, except for the fact that everywhere was covered in a thick blanket of snow. What surprised Joe was that he wasn't surprised. Of course there would be snow.
Just as of course he would be floating above it while holding the hand of a badly dressed ghost-child.
Joe let himself be led through the streets towards the centre of all New Flagstaff business, both the legitimate and the less so.
Apparently invisible to the few people around, Joe found himself floating over the pond on a descending trajectory towards one of the pond-side benches. They touched down. The Finny G.O.K.
P looked around her as if looking for something she had expected to be there. Then she sank down onto the snow-covered bench looking slightly perplexed.
Joe went to brush the snow off the bench to sit next to her. Instead of fluffy white powder, the 'snow' turned out to be remarkably solid... and a bit sticky. He sniffed his fingers.
"Wait a minute..."
Ghost Finny looked up at him.
Joe scraped some of the 'snow' onto his fingers and tentatively tasted it.
"This isn't snow. It's bleedin' icing." Joe sat down next to the ghost in silence, thinking.
Meanwhile, the ghost seemed to be coming to a conclusion of its own.
"This isn't right."
Joe looked at her thoughtfully.
"I know, that's what I said. But I think I know why we have icing instead of snow..."
The ghost interrupted him impatiently.
"I don't mean that." She stood up. Looking around her again. "I mean this. This is supposed to be like way back in your past."
Joe looked reflective.
"I'm a clone. My past is, well, complicated."
" 'K then. What did you do before you was a clone?"
Joe wasn't quite sure he wanted to get into a discussion about his previous self with an eight-year-old. Ghost or not.
The illumination from the ghost flared for a moment. Then she/it turned and stared off over the pond.
"Oh! It's happening!"