It had not been a good day at Scrooge, Marley, Marley.
But then, when had Christmas Eve ever been a good day at that benighted advertising agency?
One client had defected to their nearest rival, complaining of sloppy thinking and even worse proof-reading.
Another had demanded a refund after a website Scrooge had written personally had failed to convert a single visitor.
And, to cap it all, his employees wanted to change the way they worked, complaining they didn't have enough time to do a proper job any more.
Returning to his house later that day, he paused long enough to consume a bottle of port and half a pound of mature cheddar before donning his night clothes and retiring to bed.
It seemed to Scrooge that he had barely closed his eyes before a chill in the air woke him.
His bed curtains were open and there before him hovered a white-clad figure, a fountain pen in one hand and a sheaf of lined paper in the other.
“Who are you?” Scrooge asked.
“I am the ghost of copywriting past,” said the spirit. “Take my hand.”
Scrooge did as he was bidden and found himself floating out of bed and towards the window, his vision misty and dim, his stomach performing somersaults.
Then everything became bright and clear.
“But what is this?” asked Scrooge in amazement. There was a young man, hard at work at a tall desk. He was writing longhand; there were no PCs to be seen.
“Surely you recognise yourself,” said the spirit. “You were younger of course and ambitious. Eager to learn. And you knew that good copy came first and foremost from research.”
Scrooge watched wide-eyed as his younger self angrily scratched out headline after headline. Then, suddenly, his face broke into a smile like a ray of sun emerging from behind a word-cloud. He turned to his colleague, a pretty girl Scrooge vaguely remembered.
“What do you think, Ellen?” the young man asked, proffering his sheet of paper.
She held it up to the light and read aloud, a trick Scrooge had all but forgotten.
“‘Who else wants to double their income without working any harder?’ Oh, Ebenezer, it’s wonderful”
The couple moved towards each other, but as they embraced, the scene faded.
“Time to go,” said the spirit.
Scrooge blinked. He was back in bed, the curtains pulled tightly together. A dream, he mused. I should have left that cheese alone.
But then the air turned cold, the bed curtains shifted in a sudden breeze and standing before him was a comely young woman clutching a sheaf of Google Analytics reports.
“Are you another spirit?” he asked tremulously, clutching the sheet under his chin.
“I am the ghost of copywriting present, Scrooge,” the apparition said, and it held out its hand.
As he took it, Scrooge felt himself being torn from his bed. The air around him shimmered and then cleared.
He was sitting in a meeting room. A glass ashtray in the centre of the table contained three yellow boiled sweets and there were prints of old-timey hot air balloons screwed to the walls.
At the head of the table was his junior copywriter, Bobbie Scratchit. She was addressing the assembled company.
“As you know, old Nasty Nibs isn’t too happy. Again. Says we’re wasting time getting to know our customers’ markets when we could be generating more…” her mouth twitched in an expression of disgust, “… more content”. She spat out the last word as though it tasted bitter.
“But I think we need to stay focused on selling. That’s what pays for the Christmas turkey after all.”
Scrooge winced. “I didn’t mean it that way,” he cried, though they appeared not to hear him. “I just thought we could make more money if we wrote faster and focused on getting stuff uploaded quicker.”
“Listen,” the spirit commanded.
“You know what happened to that intern from Newcastle – Tyney Tim,” Bobbie said.
There were sorrowful nods around the table.
“Signed off with stress,” she continued. “His last landing page was so limp it needed crutches. I’m worried we’ve lost him for good.”
“So listen. We’re going to set up our own agency right after Christmas. Let’s get back to honest copywriting and shift some merchandise.”
There were cheers and catcalls as a dartboard was produced with a photo of Scrooge pinned to it.
Salty tears coursed down Scrooge’s face as the scene dimmed, and he found himself alone, in bed, trembling.
He barely had time to collect himself before the air turned even colder than before.
Through his bed curtains emerged a black-draped arm, crooking a bony finger.
“Come, Scrooge,” the apparition whispered in a voice like a paper jam. “I am the ghost of copywriting yet to come; it is time for your final journey.”
Scrooge, shaking, took the spirit’s hand and, once more, felt the peculiar sensation in the pit of his stomach.
As his vision cleared, he realised he was in a graveyard.
Ahead, two heavyset men were shovelling soil into a grave.
“Who is buried there, Spirit?” he asked, knowing the answer in his heart already.
“Take a look Scrooge,” it replied.
He hesitated before stumbling closer. Adjusting his glasses, he read the headstone.
“Here lie’s Ebenezer Scrooge, copywriter. Not missed by nobody.”
Scrooge screamed. “No, please no. Not on my gravestone.” Then, in his torment, he slipped on the wet soil at the graveside and tumbled into the pit.
“No” he shouted, again, only to realise he was back in his bed and it was morning.
“There’s still time” he said. Rushing to the window he threw open the sash and called down to a passing urchin.
“Run to the Apple Store and buy a half a dozen MacBooks.”
Dressing hurriedly, Scrooge raced out into the snow, wishing all and sundry a very Merry Christmas.
He skidded to a stop outside Bobbie Scratchit’s front door and knocked excitedly. When she opened the door he threw his arms around the startled young woman.
“Oh, Bobbie,” he cried. “You were right all along! I’m promoting you to Head of Copy on Monday and you’d better start by reminding everyone that if it isn’t selling, it isn’t copywriting.”
Perhaps believing she was experiencing a Bailey’s-induced hallucination, Bobbie drew Scrooge by his arm into the parlour.
“Look, everyone” she exclaimed. “It’s Mr Scrooge, and he’s brought MacBooks”
Amid the clamour, Scrooge permitted himself a small tear of joy as he saw Tim the intern snag one of the shiny laptops.
Before long everyone was composing Christmas haiku on their new machines, and also watching babies laughing on YouTube.
And as the family, plus Scrooge, sat dozing later that day in front of the fire, a careful observer might have seen, wavering among the flames, the faint figure of a man in red braces, smoking a pipe, and smiling.
With apologies to Charles Dickens.