BONG! Joe's eyes opened. BONG! He sat up. Same bed. BONG! Still fully dressed. Joe sighed.
"Here we go again." Joe shuffled down the mattress until he was sitting on the end of the bed. He reached into his duster pocket for his cigars and opened the pouch. Candy canes.
"Fer fucks sake." Joe plunged the cigar pouch back into his pocket and stared at the wall where the ghost had appeared earlier.
He wasn't sure what was going to happen but he sure as hell didn't want to go through that again.
If little miss funnel-head wanted to take him on another night-time jaunt to Hope Springs she could go and...
The illumination in the room brightened noticeably. However, the wall Joe was watching remained free from floating Finnys. So where was...
? Joe's head turned to seek the source of the light and found a bright glow coming from under the closed door of the bedroom. He stood up and went to investigate.
As quietly as he could, Joe tip-toed across the bare floorboards and put his ear to the door panel. Nothing. No sound came from the other side.
But Joe could now see that the light flickered just as before, like a candle in a draught. Joe's face set into the same expression of parental displeasure that he occasionally used on Annie.
His hand turned the doorknob and he opened the door.
Joe stepped into the brightly lit antechamber with his eyes focused about four feet above the floor. However, the childish muffled snort came actually from somewhere above his head.
Joe looked up, and then up again.
"HO! HO! HO! Come in Joe and know me betterer."
Blood drained from Joe's face and his hand waved uselessly above the empty holster where his shotgun normally lived.
The figure he was confronted with was huge, filling the whole corner of the room up to the ceiling.
Seated on a giant pile of brightly wrapped boxes tied with ribbons, a giant Finny grinned down at him.
The giantess was dressed in a forest green velvet robe lined with snow-white fur and she held aloft a mighty lantern from whose candle blazed a furnace of light. Joe shielded his eyes.
There was a petulant stamp of a giant foot beneath the robe and the floor shook.
"No! I am the ghost of Kidsmas Presents."
Recovering, Joe took in the scene again but including this time toys too big or awkward to wrap. Joe knew from experience the near impossibility of trying to wrap a tricycle for Annie's birthday.
"Riiight. Kidsmas Presents. Makes perfect sense." He turned back to the giant Finny. "Any chance you could turn the bleedin' light down? It's frying me eyeballs." The light immediately dimmed.
There was an awkward couple of seconds of silence as Joe and the second Kidsmas ghost got used to the reversal in stature. It was Joe who eventually broke it.
"Sooooooooo, about last..."
This time Joe had to crouch to keep his balance as Finny's foot further tested the floorboards.
Joe shut up. This Finny could crush him like a bug, and if she had the short temper of her real-world counterpart? Well, best not annoy her.
Then his thoughts were interrupted as the giant juvenile stood up and her head and shoulders promptly disappeared through the ceiling. Joe heard muffled words from the attic.
He cupped his hands around his mouth.
Finny's head appeared through the ceiling.
"Duh. I said to get hold of my hand."
Joe's hand seemed smaller than Annie's as it disappeared into Finny's enormous grubby fist. Then Finny stood upright again and Joe was jerked off his feet and up once again into the night sky.
This time, however, their destination appeared to be much closer to home.
To be precise, Joe and the Ghost of Kidsmas Present, Presents or Imminent Painful Death were descending feet first at an alarming rate towards the roof of Joe's ammunition factory.
He closed his eyes.
Discovering, a few seconds later that his knees were not now level with his ears, Joe opened his eyes again. Then his mouth.
"What the fucking hell?"
It was Joe's factory, and they were definitely in it, standing on the factory floor to be exact.
But the interior of the building was reduced to some kind of backdrop, upon which the action was being played out in the flickering black and white images of an ancient silent movie. Literally.
Joe could recognise people as he slowly moved his head from left to right. There was a black and white Taiyoko...
but dressed in the costume of a very unrealistic ancient Egyptian, cracking a whip above the heads of two overdramatically terrified familiar orphan faces.
Further along, more orphans-come-slaves were busily packing strange stripped, pillow-shaped objects into boxes. Whatever they were, they definitely weren't bullets.
Turning his head further, Joe was met with the strangest sight yet.
Another overseer, again in the role of an Egyptian slave driver, was engaged in what looked like a sword fight with a heroically posing Finny.
Behind her, under the bench and cowering in melodramatic fear, were the other three usual suspects, more commonly known as Joe's reading group.
Just then the action stopped and all of the actors looked up above Joe's head to the balcony. Joe followed their stage-horror gaze. Above him was, well it was him.
Only this version of him was, like the overseers, dressed as an Egyptian. Only the costume this time was much more ornate. Gold and blue and ridiculously bejewelled.
The face, Joe's face, was heavily made up around the eyes and he even had a long sphinx-like black beard. Topping it all off was a magnificent headdress with a gold cobra-head crown.
Pharaoh Joe opened his mouth to speak. Immediately the scene went black except for some words in ornate white calligraphy.
Make more humbugs!"
The assembled workforce dropped to their knees with their foreheads pressed against the floor. Again, the scene went to black and more words appeared.
"Yes oh Lord.
Your wish is our command oh Great One."
Joe, not the Pharaoh one, started to get angry. He turned to the giant Finny, who seemed to be enjoying the show immensely, and pulled on her robe to get her attention.
And, just like Annie pulling on his duster, he was ignored. Joe's anger went up a notch. He considered climbing up the flowing velvet robe but then remembered Annie's much more simple solution.
Joe swung his foot as hard as he could and kicked the giant Finny hard on the shin.
The reaction from Finny was pretty much in line with what his own had been when kicked by Annie, but he certainly had her attention.
"What's going on Finny? This isn't right. Is this really how you see working in the factory?"
Finny's expression of pain from the kick turned to one of sulky contrition.
"You're making everyone work on Kidsmas."
"Only because I have to. Do you seriously think I want to?" He pointed up to the balcony. "Do you think I'm him? I'll be here too, remember. Don't you think I'd sooner be at home?"
Finny looked sheepish.
"This isn't how things really are, is it Finny?" Joe looked around for the swashbuckling Finny of the fake movie.
Everyone else seemed to be in place, but now all looking at each other as if they had run out of script. Joe tried to catch the giant's eye, but she wouldn't look at him.
"Where is she?" Joe kicked her again, not as hard, but it worked. The ghost glared at him.
"Show me the real Finny."
Then Joe saw the giant Finny's face blush scarlet. She turned her head away. Reluctantly, Finny, G.O.K.P. put down the lamp on the balcony next to the now bored-looking, scriptless Pharaoh.
Then her giant hands slowly pulled aside the folds of her robe. Joe stared; his breath stopped in his throat.
In the darkness of the velvet tent was revealed a little tableau of four figures sitting in a circle. In the middle of them all was a giant dictionary which seemed to be serving as a table.
Upon the table was a child's tea set, all bright plastic and unicorn motifs. On Joe's right, Finny was kneeling and pouring pretend tea into the cup of a small doll on Finny's own right.
The little doll looked handmade and sat at a wonky angle, but it had an unmistakable likeness to Joe's daughter Annie.
Nearest Joe was another doll. Even though it had its back to him Joe recognised it as Annie's favourite doll, called Annabelle.
The most surprising member of the tea party, however, was sitting or rather kneeling, opposite Finny. It was Casper, the closest of Finny's friends from the reading group.
Smartly dressed in a suit and waistcoat, Casper was reading a comic.
Just then Finny, having finished pouring the first cup of pretend tea turned to do the same for the other dolly.
Which is when she caught sight of Joe peeping in from outside the little scene of make-believe domesticity.
The happy smile on Finny's face disappeared and the expression of contentment altered into one of savage fury.
"Go. A. WAY!" Finny flung herself at Joe, hands raised into claws, nails at the ready and very eager to inflict damage.
Joe fell backwards. He had never seen so much anger contained in such a little girl. Just before the claws reached his face blessed blackness fell.