GHOST of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
By William Odd
(author's note: this story is accompanied by a soundtrack of Ghost songs. The story continues Cues to start playing songs at certain points. Most are best enjoyed as a score to accompany your reading while some will be marked as a Break meaning I suggest they be focused on for their lyrics and sounds add to the prose but you may chose how you listen overall) user/22hatu7k6q4ig5ywnbtvwn3wq/playlist/5zzCynez63cRbqwdjNYG5P
Currently sitting in the passenger seat of Lisbeth's two-door Toyota is an invitation. It originally arrived in a black envelope, sealed with a wax stamp. Such sophisticated mail was hard to ignore and in her enthusiastic curiosity, opened it before being able to notice the G symbol pressed into the sealing wax. Inside it are the words HE IS RETURNING in red letters accompanied by an address. It is the eve of Christmas day and she had assumed this was an invitation to some sort of Christmas party for she had been told by some friends of hers that such a party was being planned. Naturally she assumed this was it. To confirm, she had spoken to her friend Tobias who informed her that he had received an identical invitation. The two have planned to meet outside the venue and enter together. To her "He is returning" seemed like a reference to Jesus Christ which was not a selling point to Lisbeth. Tobias would act as support in case this event was indeed overly religious and the two could conjure an escape plan.
She was running a touch late. Adding to the anxiety about being on time, is that parts of her past have included bad experiences at previous holidays; which has made her both sceptical and cynical of any and all holiday parties. Her least favourite being New Year's Eve. Her attendance at this Christmas event with Tobias has been a compromise to avoid attending any New Years Eve parties. She loathes the guilt and sense of obligation to improve your life on that relatively arbitrarily chosen calendar date; and the ghosts of past failures returning to ensure a hearty amount of pessimism to begin a new year.
And one can always rely on these ghosts returning. Nobody manages their time better than a ghost, be they metaphoric, or actual. People will often miss the anniversary of special occasions, or holidays, but try to make a ghost forget to haunt on the EXACT minute of their demise or trauma each time it arrives on the calendar. All they have is time, and the select times that have been deemed significant are the lifeblood of a ghost's existence. A random scare is startling...a scare you can anticipate for a whole year...is terrifying!
The only beings we could accuse of being almost as diligent when it comes to enforcing our remembrance of occasions as ghosts is religious leaders. Days of rest, days to mourn, days to feast, days to remember, days to punish, days to reward and celebrate. The foremost of these occasions must be Christmas. The occasion advertised as a banner of joy, somehow encompassing all those aforementioned emotional experiences. A time you do not need a watch or calendar to anticipate. The world around you goes through a nearly complete metamorphosis to become a vast valley of red. Decorations and images of trees, snow and smiling creatures.
Lisbeth looks upwards through her windshield to one such garish reminder. A particularly large billboard featuring the image of Santa Claus, this holiday's most recognizable mascot, next to the phrase HE IS RETURNING in a large red font.
For this journey Lisbeth has entered the party's destination into her GPS device. It's computer voice guides her, thus enabling her to not only watch the roads more safely, but also allows her to better enjoy the city lights that cruise past her car. Their glow smudged yet enhanced by the manner in which they reflect through her car's window glass to give off an almost ethereal visage. These passing pockets of almost uncanny light stretch further and further apart as Lisbeth travels closer to the edge of the city. The city street is now a highway she is traversing. She has her doubts but then her GPS keeps assuring her that she is on the right path.
"Your destination is on your left" chimes the feminine GPS voice Lisbeth had selected shortly after purchasing the device. On Lisbeth's left is a large industrial building. As unglamorous as a large greying cube can be. This is the site of the party she was invited to. Her hopes for siphoning fun from this have sunk even further than when she had contemplated the possible religious theme. Before the building is a veritable sea of vehicles. Fun or not, this event has attendance in the probable thousands based on how many vehicles she can see. Lisbeth turns off the GPS computer and turns on her Bluetooth phone device. As she starts to hunt for parking she calls Tobias.
Cue Deus Culpa
"Hello Lisbeth, we'll be late for the Mass," Tobias says over the phone, without the slightest bit of hesitation.
"Well was terrible parking part of God's plan? He'll have to wait and see I guess," Lisbeth replies, without the slightest bit of snark resisted. Tobias had mentioned it was a Mass. Lisbeth did not inquire about this. Instead she let the joy seep from her body as she wrestled with finding a parking spot, all to attend a strange Christmas Mass amongst thousands of strangers. This event has officially a chore in her mind, and a more laborious chore than she would ever wish for on Christmas Eve.
Eventually a spot was found. Tobias' impatient voice accompanied her through her blue tooth the entire time. Seconds after exiting her vehicle the two met face to face, plus one. Tobias had brought along their mutual friend Giuliana. Giuliana is a pastor for a United Church in Lisbeth's neighbourhood. It is not a church she attends but one she quite respects for Giuliana happens to be a lesbian, and Lisbeth always appreciated the resolve and strength this woman must have to not only face the inevitable Christian judgment, but also to retain her faith so strongly that she can actually preach it. In her more private inner moments, Lisbeth secretly admits to herself that she also enjoys the living taboo such a life takes. Lisbeth was raised Christian but defied it in the casual manner many who are not forced to attend church do. That mild defiance still has a seed within her, and said seed grows ever slightly with the idea of SOME Christian God being challenged. Seemingly not the United Church God, whoever that may be as opposed to, say, the Catholic one.
Cue Idolatrine (break)
"Lovely to see you Anna! So sorry it took me so long," Lisbeth says.
"Not a problem at all. I doubt I'm any more eager than any of you for this mystery," Giuliana tells her.
"Oh? You're not involved in it somehow?" Lisbeth asks, implying that as a member of a church, this might have been her event. She's relieved to find out it is not and that they share a similar dread.
"Nope. I assume you got the same black envelope?"
"Huh...so what is the deal? This does NOT look like a church. Why'd you call it a Mass Tobey?"
Tobias pulls his envelope from an inner jacket pocket, "the seal. Isn't that a cross?" He uses his middle finger to tap the broken wax seal as he holds it out for Lisbeth to see. She sees what seems like the letter G and a cross...but the manner in which he is holding it, the cross is upside down.
The group all walks towards to warehouse-looking building. As they approach they do not speak. There is something they all sense but cannot put their finger on. It is almost as if they can hear chanting. But the chanting is less something they can hear, but a feeling that is rising in them. An intangible sensation that grows as they get nearer to this building. None of them can define what this feeling could be. All they can agree on (with themselves, none of them dare speak aloud about their current confusion) is that it feels big...unavoidably so. They enter.
Cue Per Aspera Ad Inferi
The outside door leads to a corridor that could easily be recognized in any office setting. Fluorescent lights, some buzzing and twinkling from the struggles of age and disrepair, give the walls a pea-soup greenish hue. The group do not have to travel far to reach the next doorway. Passing through they are rattled by the sudden increase in ambient noises coming from too many sources to decipher them individually. Some could be music, some could be many voices talking, some could be echoed howls of wind in this large building. The ceiling is now enormously high, with catwalks crossing where a second floor would be. The lighting has the orange glow of candles but none are yet visible. Churches are often meant to hit you visually with their grandeur, which this space succeeds in doing but nothing about this space tells them it is a church. There are large metal beams and dormant machines everywhere. There are some walls but no ceilings aside from that at the roof, creating a sort of rat's maze of corridors. They cannot tell where they lead just yet.
Lisbeth stares up at the ominous shadows cast upon the very high ceiling as she speaks, "Jesus Christ."
An ancient voice chimes in from the shadows beside them as an immediate reply, "please, he is not a part of tonight's celebration." From those shadows appears Papa Nihil, a elderly man in papal robes with completely whited out pupils and some worn corpse paint that was placed on his face, what looks like, years ago. "But...I am overjoyed that you all will be!"
Lisbeth backs away from Nihil's approach and used her outstretched arms to keep Tobias and Giuliana behind her as she pushes them back. She shows no sign of fear in her voice as she asks, "And what exactly have we arrived at? I thought we were invited to a Christmas Mass."
Nihil reaches his hands slightly out to the sides, draping the Papal robes into a wing span of clean white cloth garnished with shimmering gold threads, "Christmas is a sham date, stolen from our Pagan friends. But tonight IS a celebration. Do not fear. I know the two of you are yet uninitiated into our clergy."
"Two of us?" asks Lisbeth.
"Yes. I was hoping brother Tobias would have explained why we are all gathering tonight at the forge."
"Tobias?...a forge?" Lisbeth steps away from Tobias enough to keep him and Nihil in her vision. Cast into this unknown situation, she instinctively moves in the manner taught to her in defence courses. Her left hand has discreetly moved to her pocket to grip her large car key as a small, but hopefully effective, stabbing weapon.
"Yes, this is a popular event and we needed a rather large building to keep people out of that beastly weather outside and this forge seemed perfect. As you can see, it is impressively large and has not been making anything for years." Two large persons in dapper formal wear wearing sleek silver demon masks appear from the same shadows from where Nihil arrived. "Oh! Where is our manners. You are guests here, may we take your coats?"
"I don't give a shit why you booked an old forge...I want to know what Tobey has to do with this?"
"Let Tobey answer..."
Tobias sees the concern and discomfort on Lisbeth and Giuliana's faces.
"Tobey?" asks Giuliana. Tobias smiles back in an attempt to both comfort his friends, and out of embarrassment for having a secret.
"I've been a member of the Clergy for a few years now. Tonight is our biggest party. It's a concert actually!" Tobias tells them.
"What sort of clergy?" Lisbeth asks.
"A group devoted to worshipping the true master. The glorious morning star..." Tobias says with a level of enthusiasm she had never before seen in him. "...and Papa Nihil has the honour of being the Prime mover of tonight's event!"
"Oh Tobey..." Giuliana says. She does not know of what he speaks, and is worried he does not either.
"You're being so bloody cryptic Tobey! Just tell us what is going on!"
Papa Nihil steps in, feeling he is better equipped to explain than a lowly member of this Clergy, "Naturally, he speaks of Lucifer. Tonight we celebrate his rebirth and the start of a new age!"
"Lucifer?!" Lisbeth gasps.
Before any more explanation can be given a song can be heard cutting through the rabble of the other sounds.
Cue Dance Macabre.
It's source is a boombox being held by a man in red catholic-cardinal robes. His moustachioed face bobs around to the rhythm of this rock song. When he reaches the group he stops the song and lowers his stereo to the floor.
"These people are late," says the red-robed man in a European accent whose origin nobody can pinpoint.
Lisbeth, baffled by the things she has been told so far, speaks lowly "parking was bad."
As the red-robed man waves a finger mockingly at Lisbeth Papa Nihil jumps in "This is Cardinal Copia. He is the master of ceremonies tonight. Forgive his impertinent behaviour. He gets very excited when he performs.
"It is going to be such a wondrous show! Late or not, I hope you also brought raincoats along with your winter coats...I tend to make the first few rows very wet!"
"Copia! Please..." Papa Nihil scolds the peculiar Cardinal.
Lisbeth is still awaiting an explanation, "So you're summoning Satan? Is that it? And what...we're here as some sort of sacrifice?!"
"Sweet Satan no!" Copias blurts out, "Unless...you really wanted to? We don't want to interrupt how you enjoy the show...but we do not recommend it at all...especially since you'd miss our encore. Don't worry! I won't spoil what it is..." Copia bites his bottom lip "It's an ABBA song! Gaaah! I'm no good at keeping secrets!"
Lisbeth is not yet satisfied and asks, "Then why the invitation? Why me? Why Giuliana?"
Nihil steps in again, "It is a party, we invited those we figured would appreciate good entertainment."
"And you thought of me?"
"You're the newspaper's food critic are you not? We naturally assumed you'd have good taste."
"Is that a joke?"
Copia adds, "Well...half of one maybe."
"And me" asks Giuliana.
"You were recommended by Tobias" explains Nihil. "He is rather fond of you and the good work you do."
"Good work? I'm a pastor. Aren't you some kind of Satanist."
"From what I understand, you are a homosexual woman. As such you have defied such confrontation from what is truly an oppressive institution, Tobias has regaled us with many stories of your hardships and we are delighted to have you with us on this special night."
"So my sexuality is novel to you?"
"We do not mean to offend. Your sexuality is neither here nor there. It is your spirit we, and your friends, admire. I mean, it is not as if we said 'Yass Queen' on your invitation." Those two words spoken in such a dry manner by this relic of a man that one might wonder if they could ever retain their former sass.
"I must get prepared," Copias says before taking a rather awkward bow for one dressed so regally. He brings his head back up. He nods at Nihil then bows again, this time to pick up his stereo. He hits plays and some more music accompanies his exit.
Continue Dance Macabre
"Yes, it is indeed getting late. I normally would not even greet guests at the entrance but I happened to be coming by on my way to the stage," Nihil tells the gang of final arrivals. "I do so hope you are more comfortable now."
Lisbeth takes a beat then asks, "So this is not some sort of ritual? It's a concert?"
"It can be both really."
"But you aren't actually summoning Satan? Or think you are?"
"We are celebrating the end of days."
"The end of days?!" Giuliana shouts.
"Yes, but that does not mean our demise. It is the end of the Christian calendar. A new beginning starts tonight for the chosen few. Feel fortunate. Humans are that of lice in Satan's eyes but we will be spared. We are beneath his vengeance yet given mercy. Blessed to see Year Zero!" Despite his apparent age, Nihil's voice boomed during this statement with the confidence and gravitas borne from someone speaking knowledge of the ancients. It is this conviction in his voice that stops Lisbeth and Giuliana from fleeing...they are willing to hear more.
From the shadows where Nihil first appeared a large pair of doors are opened by the dapper demon-masked ghouls who accompanied him. Past them is a brightly lit hall with paintings adorning the walls. This appears to be something installed for the sake of the party.
"If I may, I can explain it a bit better with some visual aids. There is still a bit of time before I am needed. Please join me. Tobias, this includes you. This will be educational for all.
Lisbeth and Giuliana hesitate. They look over at Tobias.
"Well, you two are more than welcome to get sweatier, but I'm trusting them with my coat!" Tobias says as he takes off said coat and hands it to one of the dapper ghouls then enters the gallery of a hall. Neither Lisbeth nor Giuliana speak. With an air of 'this may as well happen' they both take off their coats and entrust them to the ghouls. They follow Tobias into the gallery.
Nihil guides them on a tour of the various paintings. He first gestures to one depicting ancient norse persons holding goblets around a wooden table, some gesturing to a large light.
"I'm sure you all already know about how December 25th was originally a time for many people to celebrate the winter solstice. Ancient people celebrated and worshipped the sun and this pagan equinox was usurped by the Christians thousands of years later to create a Christ-yule. This was bound to be reversed, even if it also took thousands of years...and so it has."
The next painting is a familiar depiction of Lucifer descending from Heaven. It appears to be from the renaissance period.
"If mankind acts out God's will on Earth, then who better to take away the most important day from God's largest group of followers? No matter what anyone may believe, Lucifer is the constant figure recognized as God's enemy. It may not be a direct conflict between two supernatural beings, but definitely a clash of ideals and purpose. If God's work is unjust, then his enemy is the one to challenge it."
"So God is the Grinch that stole Christmas from the Druids?" Lisbeth asks, trying to enjoy herself now that she feels she has entered a rodeo of crazy.
"Wrong subset of pagans but you're not too far off," answers Nihil, immune to Lisbeth's snark. "The purpose of the Papa Emeritus lineage, my lineage, has been to spread the word of our master. We gave many hints about our purpose but not all of them seemed clear enough."
The next painting they walk to seems to depict a sermon in ancient times. The figure conducting the speech in the art dons dark robes and seems to have corpse paint not unlike Nihil's. Around him people are depicted cavorting with ribbons and instruments while others listen.
"It is so much easier to get a message across if it's entertaining. Bread and circuses will always draw more attendance than lectures. At the same time, those pieces of entertainment can be a smokescreen. You can get your message through and avoid much persecution from possible oppressors if it is hidden within say a poem, play or song."
They continue to another portrait of a Satanic Pope, this time appearing in a bit more contemporary setting.
"The depiction of Christmas has been no different. Thanks to our influence it evolved from a humbler time of food and prayer to garish display of blood red decorations and screaming signals of Satan's arrival. All the clues have been out in the open. Frankly, it's a bit sad how few have caught on to what is really happening."
"Is that so?"
"I mean...even Santa is an anagram for Satan, albeit a rather lazy one."
Cue Devil Church
At that Lisbeth grips Giuliana's arm. Not out of shock or concern. She does so out of relief. The experience at this forge turned party hall started out as concerning, but has since become a campy romp one might experience at a fairground's haunted house ride. When Nihil's claims that his satanic cult has been orchestrating the arrival of Satan by way of doctoring the images of Christmas to be less traditional hits her ears as pure comedy. She no longer fears for her or her friend's safety. She fears it'll just turn boring when it stops being funny. Giuliana seems to receive reassurance from Lisbeth in this moment and mimics her smirk of a smile.
Nihil notices none of this nor stops his speech.
"99% of Satanists have been introduced to him via music. It is bedazzlement that brings more into our clergy. So it is with music that we will celebrate his glory. It is our purpose. Can you hear it's rumble?" Nihil asks as he looks directly at Lisbeth and Giuliana.
They do. They can feel the enormity of the concert. It has indeed begun. They do not speak their answer. Despite this, Nihil smiles at their expression. He knows they do. He also knows that they are sensing something else. Lisbeth, Giuliana and Tobias all feel something deep in their chests and in their minds. The floor seems to vibrate from the music playing while they feel somehow lifted. Their feet all remain on the ground but something in them feels like it is pulling their entire being up. Giuliana immediately feels like it is her soul itself that is moving. At first it is terrifying...then she feels jubilant. There is no rational reasoning for it. And it is rather infectious. All three of these guests have this uncanny sense of glee warming their cores. Close to the euphoria of a morphine dose but none of their senses dull or change.
"Shall we find you a spot for the show?" Nihil asks, his smiling cracking parts of his skull makeup. They all nod enthusiastically then leave the gallery space. It is a short journey through a side corridor before then enter a grand hall. Huge buckets that once contained molten metals hang from the ceiling, now decorated with Christmas style bulbs. Copia is on a large stage, fully converted from awkward Cardinal in red robes to a swarthy gentlemen in a slim black suit. Pocket kerchief and all.
Cue Satan Prayer
The audience appears more than excited for the show, they seem devoted. They express themselves with the same lack of inhibitions as the attendees of a televised Baptist church ceremony. Legs stomping, arms and upper bodies all shimmying and waving. Some who have been blessed with a sense of rhythm do their best to move in time...others cannot but enjoy the music no less than if they could dance.
Partway into the latest song Nihil leans over to the trio of friends and tells them, "pardon me, but I must leave you now." With that he hustles away and disappears behind a curtain beside the stage area. Copia is not onstage and Lisbeth quietly speculates that perhaps the two of them have some sort of plan they are about to unleash on the crowd. It is not long after the tempo of the song goes through a change that Nihil reappears, but now onstage...and sporting a pair of sunglasses and holding a saxophone. Nothing on this planet could force them to tear their eyes away from the stage at this point. Nor could they anticipate what they were about to witness. Saxophone pressed to his lips, this ancient Papal figure launches into a rather upbeat saxophone solo. Once done Nihil leaves as Copia returns to the stage. Nihil's work was done.
Cue Square Hammer (break)
The concert had not yet completed but Lisbeth was feeling a touch restless. She was hungry and needed to find some form of sustenance. Normally this hypnotic spectacle could hold anyone's attention but Lisbeth, whose profession is to eat and evaluate food, has a special stomach that she feels obliged to attend to whenever it beckons. She tells Giuliana and Tobias of her plan to find food and insists they join her. She wants to keep these two in her view. They agree and they all head to the furthest back of the concert area to move around the rest of the crowd. Their quest is not a long one as a large guiding banner was found with FOOD written in obvious red letters above a doorway. What they saw behind that door was the most shocking thing of the evening. More shocking than the promise of Satan to arrive on a proverbial Santa's sleigh of Christmas wishes. There was a large set of tables covered in an impressive selection of savoury and sweet foods. Serving it however was a large group of naked individuals, naked save for the black plague masks they all wore. None of the trio have left the entranceway. They are not yet sure this is a place to eat and not some the quiet calm before some sort of well catered orgy.
A slender bald (clothed) man approaches them. His foppishness made apparent in his wardrobe, mannerisms, and tone of voice, "Ugh I know right? A little off putting at first but trust me children the food is more than delectable. Don't ask me about hairnets though! They just seem to have different standards."
Tobias chimes in, "Yeah...don't wanna seem overdressed by wearing a hairnet."
"Oh honey, I have planned many a party and now is not the time to worry about body inhibitions. We're honouring Satan for Pete's sake" the word 'Satan' being accompanied by a wrist-heavy shimmy of this man's hands. "Besides, YOU try finding a normal catering service that is available during Christmas! Gotta go to the fringes on a night like tonight!"
"So you're the party planner for this?" Lisbeth asks.
"And you think Satan is coming?"
"Oh honey, anybody who is anybody is coming to one of my soirees!"
Giuliana lets out a sigh then says, "fair enough I suppose. Well...I'm hungry" and she leads the charge towards the food despite this side-quest being Lisbeth's idea.
Cue I'm a Marionette
Partway into their second helping of some finely smoked kolbassa, the novelty of the nakedness in their peripheral vision had worn off. As the last notes of the promised Abba cover completed by Cardinal Copia and his band, the trio are still eating. With the music done, they then return to the stage area to see Nihil at the microphone.
"Thank you all for joining us," he tells the crowd. "As we draw the ceremony to a conclusion, I remind you all of the most important yet very simple task you all must undertake tonight. Be sure to set your watches, clocks and even calendars...to zero. The new age begins now!"
The crowd erupts into an enormous cheer. Tobias is amongst the revellers screaming joy towards the stage. Lisbeth and Giuliana clap out of habit. Tobias seems too distracted to be spoken to. He merges with the audience without looking back at the friends he had brought. Lisbeth and Giuliana make their way to the exit. They feel like their experience here is complete. They retrieve their coats from the dapper ghouls and exit.
"Did you ride with Tobey or shall I take you home?" Lisbeth asks Giuliana.
"No. I drove."
"Are you wanting to wait for him?"
"He seems to be amongst his own. He can sort himself out. Besides, I can used the drive to be alone with my thoughts."
"Yeah...that was a decent amount to take in wasn't it?"
"Hah...not the most traditional Christmas eve event I've been to."
"Speaking of, it's after midnight. Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas...that felt really weird to say."
"Yeah...it really did."
The two stand silent. They have been struck by another of those indefinable feelings. Like the words had lost meaning. More so than when 'Merry Christmas' turns into one of those placidly made statements such as when one would ask 'How are you?' without actually wondering. This was something different. The words felt somehow hollow.
"I guess it isn't exactly a festive Yule atmosphere is it?" Lisbeth asks.
"No...it isn't. Hmm. I do think I hear bells though."
Indeed, there was a chime of jingling bells rising on the wind. Who knows from where. And as these bells festively jingled away a new carol could be heard rising up from the masses both within the forge and all around the area.
Cue Year Zero (break)
Lisbeth and Giuliana stood still as the song commences and remain until it ends. They are not effected by the cold. There is a warmth being brought by the wind. An unearthly warmth that feels nothing like the summer sun or anything else they have ever felt before. It feels like it passes through them and seems to come from every conceivable direction. With this warmth came a feeling of certainly in both of their minds. As the sounds faded to that of just the winter air, both of them knew, without a doubt, that what they had just experienced was not a campy romp. Despite how outrageous it was...it was the truth. They were standing at a start of a new timeline. A time where Satan is calling the shots...and they are somehow in his favour. The rules of Giuliana's religion (even those that challenged her directly) have all changed. The knowledge of the supernatural that Lisbeth denied has flipped on her. They did not fear this knowledge, but it did load them with wonder and too many questions. Each went to their vehicles silently. It was time to go home.
As Lisbeth drives homeward snow starts to descend . Each flake unique when born amongst the clouds that have long symbolized the Heavens. The city lights hide away the stars but add a shimmer to each flake. Cold pieces of reflected light arriving on Earth to oblivion. The falling snow seems to be the only traces of evidence, little falling stars.
Lucifer himself has been likened to a fallen star, relating to his descent from Heaven. Now the so-called "Morning Star" has arrived on earth. Is such a star arriving to destroy like a blaze? Or to guide like a beacon in the night?
A great flame is burning the billboard Lisbeth had passed on her way to the forge. The flames do not disturb Lisbeth. She is too lost in the questions filling her mind. The billboard is facing away from her sight as she travels home, and it contains a portion of an answer. No longer an image of Kris Kringle next to HE IS COMING. Now it is a fiery bust of a human form, eyes flaring, next to the only remaining words: HE IS.
Cue He Is
Lisbeth arrives at her home to find a small parcel sitting outside her front door. It is wrapped in paper as black as the envelope her invitation arrived in. It too is emblazed with the G Cross of the clergy. She opens it before going inside. The gift is a small agenda book. On the first page it lists the date including the year...0.