He was dead all right.
"You've gone too far this time" said the PFY breathlessly.
"Well, I guess I just under-estimated the amount of power going through the doorknob."
It was Christmas Eve and the seasonal prank had just gone slightly wrong. Honestly, Old Ebenezer Bastard had tried the old "electrified door handle for the computer room" trick a dozen times before and it had all been good seasonal fun. Still, this wasn't the first manager to die on him and it was sure not to be the last.
Ebenezer must have stayed a bit longer than usual in the pub that evening - this kind of event does tend to shock you a bit and he needed a few to steady the nerves. Of course, the fact that the young beancounter felt 'obliged' to buy him drinks all evening helped - and all because Ebenezer had happened to mention something about video footage from the office party. So corny, but so effective.
Anyway, the drink must have been sitting heavily on his stomach when he got back to his flat, as he could have sworn that the door knocker changed shape to look like the face of his old boss (before the scorch marks disfigured it, that is).
Putting the effects down to the ten extra pints of Brainfrazzle he'd had, he ignored the door knocker and went up the stairs. But there was a restlessness about him that night. In truth, it had been a long time since he'd enjoyed Christmas. He hated all the false bonhomie and the pleasant chit-chat from people with whom he hadn't anything in common; he hated the way that people spent vast sums on their kids when that money could have been quite easily diverted into the Bastard Holiday Fund. What was worse, some of his work colleagues expected him to buy drinks for them.
Even young Cratchit, his PFY, had been affected and was spending his days wistfully dreaming about Denise from the pool and a few quick snogs under the mistletoe. The young fool even wanted him to join him for a few drinks on Christmas Day. What did he have to celebrate, on his salary.
"Bah, humbug." Ebenezer said loudly to himself, as he heated up the instant dinner that would represent his one solid meal that day.
As he went to bed in that sparsely furnished, unheated room that he called home he saw something in the corner: this time there was no mistaking it. It was definitely the shape of his erstwhile Boss but there was a horrible, clanking noise that seemed to fill the room and make Ebenezer shrink with terror.
"Ebenezer Bastard" came the voice, and though it was recognisably his boss's there was a touch of the underworld about it.
"Ebenezer Bastard" repeated the voice. "I have been condemned to a terrible place, where men of unspeakable wickedness live out their days.
Ebenezer breathed a sigh of relief. "So you're not dead after all, you've just gone to work for Microsoft. I wonder..."
"Silence" thundered the apparition and the clanking got louder. "I speak of a place where you surely will be condemned for eternal torment."
"What do you want with me, spirit?" stammered Ebenezer, finding that the effect of ten pints of extra-strong lager was diminishing somewhat.
"This night you will be visited by three spirits: the Ghost of Tech Support Past; the Ghost of Tech Support Present; and the ghost of Tech Support Yet to Come. Listen to them - there is time yet to repent."
"Spirit," said Ebenezer. "What is that rattling sound I keep hearing?."
"You mean this?" said the shade, shaking what appeared to be long tail.
Ebenezer Bastard peered through the gloom. He could dimly perceive a chain but tied to it were all manner of devices that had made his life easier: there was the claw hammer that was such an excellent "reconfiguring" tool, there was the anvil that he'd enthusiastically "tested" PCs on, there were power staplers galore, there was every item under the sun that had made his life easier.
"I see you recognise some of them" said the apparition with a grimace. "I used all these tools when I was a young bastard. Now my crimes have caught up with me and I must drag my tools around with me for eternity. But be warned, this chain is long and the burden is onerous but the chain that is being forged for you is already twice the length and three times as heavy."
In emphasis he shook the chain until all the objects leaped up and down and the whole room seemed to rattle.
"I must depart now but remember, three spirits..." and with a low moan he disappeared.
Ebenezer's courage returned.
"Bah humbug, ghosts indeed. That beer must have been stronger than I thought".
And with that thought he staggered off to bed and fell asleep without undressing.
It was just after midnight when he awoke and peered into the gloom. What appeared to be a small child was hovering at the foot of the bed.
Suddenly, the moon moved from behind the clouds and Ebenezer could see that it was no child but an old man of child's shape, dressed in what appeared to be a white tunic. As his eyes got used to the gloom, he discerned that it was an old freebie T-shirt with CP/M emblazoned on the front. The apparition's legs and feet were bare but round his middle was tied some thin Ethernet cable.
"Are you the Ghost of Tech Support Past?" asked Ebenezer.
"I am," said the spirit.
"No, your past."
The ghost waved his hand and suddenly the walls of the flat disappeared. Ebenezer and the spirit found themselves in a busy office, where a Christmas party was in full swing. The disco was booming out, sales people were chasing secretaries with bunches of mistletoe, the chief bean counter was slumped in a corner, the marketing manager was regaling the HR manager with the tales of the last campaign before last. The air was filled with the sound of laughter, shouting, chatter, breaking glass and a thumping disco beat: in short, a typical office party.
"It's fun isn't it," said the spirit, "but isn't there one person not joining in?"
"There is," said Ebenezer.
Down in the bowels of the building a solitary person was still in the computer room. Methodically working through the personnel records of the entire staff (the HR password having long been discovered), the young Ebenezer was ensuring that his Christmas overtime was not being wasted.
"Were you not invited to the party?" asked the spirit.
"No," said Ebenezer. "Not since the year when the fire alarm accidentally went and the sprinklers all came on. And of course, all the booze disappeared. For some reason they seemed to think it was my fault, just because I'd been seen with the alarm system technical manual that day. Miserable ingrates, after all I'd done for them."
Suddenly the vision vanished and Ebenezer found himself back in his flat again, his mind still filled with the wonder of what he'd seen.
He heard a noise from another room and peered round the corner. The room was filled with light and on a pile of PCs sat a jolly looking gentleman. His copious stomach seemed to fill half the room and his beard - for he appeared to be more beard than face - filled the other half.
"Are you the Ghost of Tech Support Present?" said Ebenezer.
The spirit laughed his assent.
"Take my hand," he said, "and let us look at the rest of the world this Christmas."
Suddenly, they were hovering over the City. Time and time again they appeared outside computer support rooms where teams of workers toiled diligently to solve problems as soon as they appeared. They worked with smiles on their faces, singing along to the boom boxes parked in the corner of their rooms.
At Megabank there was a particular tricky problem. "That's an easy one to solve," thought Ebenezer, "pull the mains switch and just say that there's a network outage. And because it's Christmas it can't be put right for a couple of days... and you still earn the Christmas bonus."
Instead he watched open-mouthed as his counterpart punched in the password and worked systematically trying to sort out the problem.
"Standards are slipping," he thought.
But suddenly, the scene changed. They were in a pub and his PFY was just buying a round of drinks.
"Here's to Christmas," he said to Denise, cheerfully raising his glass.
"And to us," she giggled.
"And to absent friends," said the PFY. "Here's to old Ebenezer."
"What, that old misery guts," said Denise. "I've never known someone hate the world so much. I wish he'd leave the company, why can't they get rid of him - no-one can stand him?"
"Well, he knows too much about what people have been up to. I certainly don't think the chairman wants all the details of his trip to Amsterdam coming out. Come on, where's your Christmas charity?"
Reluctantly, she returned the toast and the conversation turned to matters more interesting to young people.
In the distance, Ebenezer saw a shrouded figure approach. From the folds of his cape, a long, bony finger protruded and beckoned Ebenezer to him.
"Are you the Ghost of Tech Support Future that was promised to me?" he said.
The ghost nodded and again signalled Ebenezer to follow.
They trudged through the darkness until they found themselves outside a funeral directors' office.
Two undertakers were busily engaged in putting the finishing touches to a coffin.
"Good riddance to him I say," said one, with scarce regard for the sanctity of his profession.
"Though he'd never bleedin' die," said the other, with even less regard.
"When's the funeral?"
"Don't think it matters, there'll scarcely be anyone attending. Perhaps they'll just throw him in the ground and be done with it." They both cackled hysterically.
"Who are they talking about?" said Ebenezer.
The spirit pointed his finger and suddenly the coffin lid flew open. Aghast, the old misanthrope saw his own features.
He sat bolt upright in bed and saw the first glimmers of day coming through his curtains. It had all been a dream. And yet the events of the night had left him with a strange feeling.
He put on his shoes and dashed round to Cratchit, his PFY. He furiously banged on the door and demanded admittance.
It was a bleary-eyed PFY who let him in.
"I've just had the most amazing experience!"
"Don't tell me," chortled the PFY. "You've met three spirits like that bloke in the book and you're going to turn over a new leaf."
"Bollocks to that. In the long run, we're all dead anyway, might as well have some fun before we go. No, I've found out the admin password for the Megabank system, come let me show you how a real bastard behaves.....