Once upon a time – of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve – old Carol Wood sat busy in her counting house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather. The door was open that she might keep her eye upon her clerk, Jones, who in a dismal little cell was randomly making up degrees of disablement figures percentages and then, as soon as she had an arbitrary number in her head, erasing the actual number the medical practitioner had already decided upon and replacing it with her own. Wood had a large fire of smouldering personnel files, medical records of retired officers and ignored Freedom of Information requests. The clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like a single coal.
“A merry Christmas, Ms Wood! God save you!” cried a cheerful, dim but rather posh voice. It belonged to mad Sussie who owned the bakery shop next door. “Bah!” said Wood. “Humbug!”
Mad Sussie had so heated herself with spouting hot air in her latest press conference that she was all in a glow.
“Out upon Merry Christmas!” snarled Wood. “What’s Christmas time but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for trying to unlawfully reduce every IOD just to find every item in ’em presented dead against you.”
“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time,” returned the old and decrepit mad Sussie. “The only time I know of when men and women like us think of people below them as no benefit to the citizens of our good borough. If they really were fellow-passengers to reduce their injury pensions and force them to the grave or illness, and not another race of creatures to be treated with dignity and abiding by past promises.”
“I say of Christmas, God bless it!” cried the cheerful baker. “For it brings the PCC election closer.”
The clerk involuntarily applauded.
“Let me hear another sound from you,” Wood barked at Jones, “and you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your situation.”
The old crazy hag departed. As she did so, she let two other gentlemen in. Said one of the gentlemen: “AvonShire Human Remains Department, I believe. I am looking for Mr Hazel, your Director”. “Mr Hazel has been gone for years.” snorted Wood. “It is now a Mr Kern but he is out – busy driving his tax-avoidance, courtesy Audi A6 with complimentary blues and twos, on his way to world domination. I’m Ms Wood. HR Directors come and go – Mr Hazel, Mrs Zeeman, now Kern – but I’ve had my mucky fingerprints on all HR issues here for the past three decades. I am ‘in it’ up to my neck.” replied Wood.
The gentleman took up a pen: “You’ll do fine then. At this festive time of the year, Ms Wood, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some provision for the serving police officers who are on long term sick leave and who had been injured on duty. Many are on half or no pay and they are permanently disabled from performing the duties of a police officer. Medical retirement is the only right thing for them.”
“Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?” asked Wood. “Plenty of mental health hospitals,” said the gentleman, “in which some of these benighted creatures may yet rest.” He went on: “A few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy a means to provide welfare and support for these poor wretches as the Federation seems to ignore the plight of their members. What shall I put you down for?” “Nothing!” Wood replied. “I don’t myself make merry at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make ill idle people merry. I am also medically retiring no-one. I will protract their hell as long as I can until they resign themselves or better still expire themselves! No one gets an Injury on Duty award from me any more. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”
At length, the hour of shutting up the counting house arrived. Wood walked out with a growl and went home. She lived in chambers which had once belonged to her long departed former boss Mr Hazel. Wood, having her key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker not a knocker, but Hazel’s face. It looked at Wood as Hazel used to look: with a ghostly smile turned up upon its ghostly mouth. Though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That made it horrible. As Wood looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.
“Humbug!” said Wood. She closed the door and locked herself in; double-locked himself in.
The door flew open with a booming sound
Her colour changed when a wraith passed into the room before her eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame of the candle leaped up, as though it cried: “I know him! Hazel’s Ghost!” and fell again.
A chain was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail. It was made of old, nasty HR department decisions of the past 30 years that moulded the poisonous culture of AvonShire; readily retiring injured police officers on a whim because it suited the constabulary to recruit healthy younger and cheaper officers; cover-ups of institutional abuse, bullying and dodgy dealings; failure to redeploy injured officers by deliberately failing to make reasonable adjustments; allowing cronies and zealots to climb promotion ladders and standing back whilst these socio-paths drive their subordinates to illness. All in all the chains were the lengths of toxicity of a thoroughly rotten organisation. Why else had Wood and Hazel, in all their days together, had administered over 480 injury awards. Though she looked the phantom through and through, though she felt the chill of its death-cold eyes, she was still incredulous and fought against her senses.
“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.
“I don’t,” said Wood. “I never did.”
At this, the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with a dismal and appalling noise.
“Mercy!” said Wood. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?” “You will be haunted,” said the Ghost, “by Three Spirits.”
“You are fettered,” said Wood, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.
Then the spectre floated through the window and out upon the bleak, dark night. Wood, desperate in her curiosity, looked out. The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither, and moaning as they went. Many had been personally known to Wood in their lives. They were the former officers whose careers Wood and Hazel had help ruin. Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, she could not tell.
Wood was returned to her bed when the hour bell sounded with a deep, dull, melancholy One. The curtains of her bed were drawn aside and Wood found herself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them. It was a strange figure. What was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness.
“Are you the Spirit whose coming was foretold to me?” asked Wood. “I am!” The voice was smooth with a sinister yet fruity flavour. “What are you?” Wood demanded. “I am the Ghost of HR Directors Past,” replied the pale faced apparition.
It put out its hand. The grasp, though clammy as a snail, was not to be resisted. They passed through the wall and across space and time until they stood amidst an office with a doctor talking to a sad, downhearted and clearly unstable and injured police officer .
“Good Heaven!” said Wood. She recognised the doctor as the former police surgeon. A doctor who held the post for 35 years and died years before. “You are no use to this organisation any more” the doctor said to the tearful and shell-shocked now former police officer. “From this day your services are no longer required. Return to your station and get your belongings. I’ll certify you as a band 4 – you are clearly never going to work again. You’ll never get better, we won’t review you so just go and live your life”.
“Spirit!” cried Wood. “The doctor just gave a band 4! But there isn’t a wheelchair in sight! Why do you delight to torture me? Show me no more!”
“I told you these were the shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!” “Leave me!” Wood exclaimed. “Haunt me no longer!”
The hour struck again and with it came another phantom. “I am the ghost of HR Directors Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me!”
From head to toe, the phantom was clothed in rags. “Touch my robe!” commanded the spirit and whisked Wood on to the dwelling of a retired officer with an Injury on Duty award. Wood recognised the person as someone she and Kern had recently forced in front of Dr Johnson to be reviewed.
The former police officer was not living the high life. They were broken. Not only had their career been snatched from them 15 years ago but the past 2 years of being continuously under review; of being interrogated for 90 minutes by Dr Johnson; of having a report only for Dr Johnson to revisit issues, revoke the first draft and then write utterly incorrect drivel about his medical condition. Not having any conclusion was having its toll on an already damage mental health. Thoughts of ending the pain was the coursing through the synaptic paths of his brain. He reached for the bottle of cheap whiskey and drained it with no thought of how the alcohol will react to the powerful anti-psychotic medication he was taking.
The clock struck another hour. Wood asked: “I am in the presence of the Ghost of HR Directors Yet To Come?” The Spirit answered not, but pointed downward with its hand. “Ghost of the Future!” Wood cried. “I fear you more than any Spectre I have seen. Will you not speak to me?” The still silent Spirit conveyed her to the High Court. “I see it,” said Wood. “Let me behold what shall be in days to come.” Wood hastened to the window of his court, and looked in. A Judicial Review was under way. Wood saw herself standing looking dishevelled whilst giving evidence before the Judge. The ignominy of her situation was radiating from the Wood in the witness box .
Wood’s office back at HQ. The Spirit stood among the desks and chairs, and pointed to one. Wood crept towards it, trembling as she went. Following the finger, she read upon the desk a name she did not recognise but the job title was hers. Someone else now has my job!” she thought. Next to the name plate was the result of the Judicial Review – found in favour of the pensioner – and a critical opinion of the Judge in the failures of AvonShire HR senior officers. Wood recognised her own handwriting on a memo lying in the desk’s out-tray. It was a notice of retirement letter. She mouthed, “I’ve been forced to retire”.
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no! Why show me this, if I am past all hope!”
Holding up her hands in one last prayer to have her fate reversed, the phantom vanished.
Wood scrambled out of bed, resolved to change her future. Running to the window, he put out her head and called downward to a boy. “Hello, my fine fellow,” she cried. “Do you know the Poulterer’s at the corner? Go and buy the prize Turkey that hangs up there.” The boy was off like a shot.
“I’ll send it to the all the IODs whose lives I have rolled over these past 2 years,” whispered Wood, rubbing her hands with merriment.
She got dressed in her best, went downstairs to open the street door, ready for the coming of the Turkey.
The boy returned, empty-handed. “Where’s the Turkey?” demanded Wood. The boy shrugged: “They say they’ll not sell anything to a heartless person such as you. They say the only Turkey you will see this Christmas is yourself.”
“Bah,” groaned old Wood. “Humbug!”