Mrs Darcy's Christmas Carol

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, save Elizabeth Darcy — with child for six months now and struggling to find a comfortable position in which to settle herself.

‘Whoo hoo!’ came a familiar voice.

‘Who goes there?’ said Elizabeth.

‘’Tis I, the ghost of Mary Ann Nichols! Still wandering restlessly through this troubled world, still searching for solace in my meanderings, still — ’

‘Yes, well, jolly good for you. But some of us are trying to get to sleep here. Any particular reason for the visit? Some kind of message, perhaps?’

‘Well, yeah. But you gotta have the proper preamble first, like.’

‘Well, maybe we can skip it for now?’

The ghost, though invisible, still managed to appear crestfallen. ‘Suppose so,’ it said. ‘Been rehearsing that bit and all.’

There was a silence that in any other circumstances would have been described as a pregnant pause. Elizabeth coughed. The ghost sighed, and began again.

‘Behold, I am the ghost of Christmas Past! I bring you a vision of great significance! Look on my — ’

‘Just get on with it,’ said Elizabeth. ‘Please?’

It is Christmas Day. The two girls are playing by the fireside, dressing Mr McAvoy the cat in a variety of costumes based on contemporary military designs that Elizabeth has been given as a present by an eccentric aunt.

‘Whoa, Charlotte,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Doesn’t he look fierce?’

‘Looks gay to me,’ says Charlotte.

‘Well, I don’t think so. I think he looks really butch.’

‘Still looks gay.’

‘Don’t care. When I grow up, I’m going to marry a soldier, so there.’

‘Actually, my mama says you’re going to marry me when we grow up,’ says a boy who has just arrived. He is carrying a sprig of mistletoe in his hand.

‘Urgh! Get away from us, stinky Collins!’ says Charlotte.

‘Yeah, go and play with your bogies,’ says Elizabeth.

‘Shan’t,’ says the boy. He holds the mistletoe above his head. ‘If you don’t give me a kiss, I’m going to tell your mum about you and Georgie Wickham.’

Elizabeth pouts. ‘Pfft. Did nothing anyway.’

‘He says you’re a slag.’

Elizabeth rolls her eyes. ‘Go on, then. Close your eyes and pucker up your lips.’

The time it takes for Collins to realise that his mouth has just made contact with Mr McAvoy’s bottom is barely sufficient for Elizabeth and Charlotte to make good their escape from the room. Breathless, they pause by the back door.

‘Where now?’ says Elizabeth.

‘Into the woods,’ says Charlotte. ‘Let’s go pick some magic mushrooms.’

‘Excuse me? Charlotte?’

‘Charlotte … Charlotte …’ Elizabeth snapped out of her reverie. ‘What on earth was that all about, Mary Ann?’

‘What?’ said the ghost of Annie Chapman. ‘Sorry, love. Missed it. Mary Ann had to go and feed her baby. Greedy little bugger that thing is. Anyway, I’m taking over now. I’m doing Christmas Present.’

‘Well I hope it makes more sense than the last one.’

‘Doubt it. Looked a load of old bollocks last time I saw it. Still, here we go …’

Sir Humphrey Davy removes his ear from Elizabeth’s swollen belly, steps back and perches on the edge of his desk.

‘Hmmm,’ he says.

‘Hmmm?’ says Elizabeth.

‘Hmmm. Definitely hmmm.’

‘So no idea yet if it’s human or alien?’

‘Not a clue I’m afraid.’

‘I see. I was rather hoping for some guidance. As you may imagine, it is quite important to me as to whether I am carrying Mr Darcy’s heir or the evil tentacled spawn of a ravening beast from hell.’

‘I can see that, yes. The problem is that there is a kind of duality going on here. Your unborn child exists in two contemporaneous enantiotropic states and its true nature will not present itself until such a time as it can be observed and — ’

‘I beg your pardon? What kind of madness is this?’

‘’Tis merely a theory I have been playing with of late. Perhaps I can give you a small demonstration?’ Sir Humphrey leaves the room and returns with a box under one arm and a small cat under the other.

‘I did not know you had a cat, Sir Humphrey.’

‘Ah, I used to have a terrible problem with rodents here, but not since she arrived. She’s a real shrew-dinger.’

He puts the now somewhat distressed cat into the box and closes the lid.

‘Right. All I need to do is open this aperture at the side, like so … take this small phial of cyanide like so … and hey presto! The experiment begins.’

Elizabeth frowns. ‘I fear that you have lost me, Sir Humphry.’

‘Ah, ’tis simple. The cat in the box is in a dual state. She is neither dead nor alive. Only when we open the box and observe her condition will the duality collapse and the objective truth present itself.’

‘I see,’ says Elizabeth. ‘And yet, I must confess that to the untutored eye, her present condition is all too predictable.’

‘In that case, my dear Mrs Darcy,’ says Sir Humphry with a smile, ‘Perhaps you would be better off leaving this kind of thing to the men of science?’ With an air of triumph, he reaches into the box and removes the cat. Upon seeing the cat, the aforementioned air of triumph vanishes.

‘Well?’ says Elizabeth.

‘Curious,’ says Sir Humphry, ‘The exact same thing happened last time.’

‘The meaning grows ever more opaque,’ said Elizabeth.

‘Don’t ask me, darling,’ said a new voice. ‘I’m just one of the messengers. Lizzie Stride, by the way, at your service. Annie had to nip out for a customer. Busy night out there, I can tell you.’

‘So are there any more revelations? Will it all suddenly make sense at the end?’

‘Wouldn’t bank on it, love. But seeing as I’m here, we might as well give it a try. Here goes Christmas Future then …’

The cave is damp and cold. Every now and then there is a loud noise from above and the floor shakes. There is a smell of burning and the air is thick with soot. Elizabeth is strapped to a chair with crude ropes.

‘Hey! Do you mind?’ she says.

‘Captain! She’s coming round,’ says a man’s voice.

‘Good,’ says a woman. ‘We’ve expended half the power in our storage banks to bring her here. She’s our last chance.’

‘Excuse me?’ says Elizabeth. ‘Could you perhaps explain to me what is going on?’

The woman comes over and stares hard into her eyes. She is wearing some kind of military uniform with curious markings all over it. ‘Are you sure it’s her?’ she says.

‘Positive. Don’t you recognise her features?’

‘Hmmm. Guess so. God knows I’ve looked enough of those bastards in the face.’

‘Er … hello?’ says Elizabeth. She tries to wave, but her hands won’t budge an inch.

The woman squats down in front of her. ‘So, then, Mrs Darcy. We meet at last.’

‘Should I know you?’

‘No. But you are the cause of all our woes. Because of you, the entire human race has been reduced to a couple of dozen of us cowering underground in this wretched bunker. Within an hour or two, the cross-breeds will penetrate our defences and that will be the end.’


‘Your children, Mrs Darcy. You gave birth to the first of them — the first of a malignant race that has gone on to conquer the universe, murdering and despoiling wherever it chooses to go. And we — ’ she grimaces and waves her hand around ‘ — are the sole remaining resistance.’

‘But Sir Humphrey said there was some kind of duality thing going on — ’

‘Perhaps in some other universe, you gave birth to a normal, healthy human. In another, perhaps, a red, gold and green penguin — although that is one of the less likely options. The fact remains that in this one, you have essentially brought about the apocalypse.’

‘Do you intend to punish me, then?’

‘Of course not. What would be the point? No, we have another plan. We will use our remaining power to send you back. Only this time, you must make different decisions with your life.’

‘What do you mean? Surely not …?’

The captain shakes her head. ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Darcy. There is no alternative.’

‘No! I can’t do that!’

‘Look around you, Mrs Darcy. Do you really want to be responsible for all this?’

Elizabeth shakes her head. ‘Please let me think about it a little longer.’

There is a commotion nearby. A soldier rushes up to the captain. ‘Ma’am! They’ve broken through the outer wall! They are only seconds away from the aaaaaagh!’ Elizabeth looks on in alarm as a tentacle wraps itself round the man before dragging him off.

‘Send me back now,’ she says. ‘Just do it.’

Elizabeth woke up sweating.

‘Great heavens!’ she said. ‘I have had a Dickens of a night!’

The figure in the bed next to her rolled over towards her and put a clammy hand on her shoulder.

‘Never mind, my dear wife,’ said Mr Collins. ‘Perhaps I can make things better for you?’