There's something about Christmas in UNCLE's mailroom that I really loved. It wasn't so much that mail seemed to take on a friendlier edge to them. During December, traditionally we have the fewest number of packages that we have to be blow up. It wasn't that Old Man Collins lightened up then and let us play the radio. It wasn't even that the place was all decorated from floor to ceiling and that the stockings were hung on the wall with care, each one of us dropping something small into each of them.
No, it was rather that the ghosts didn't seem to walk as much and, for me, it was a tremendous breather.
I hadn't always been able to see ghosts. It wasn't until after the accident that spared me, but killed the rest of my immediate family. I came to in the hospital and noticed that the nurse taking care of me didn't walk, she floated. The doctors told me it was just a side effect of the concussion, but I kept seeing things, even after I moved in with my aunt's family and seen by a number of shrinks. They all thought I was nuts; I knew I wasn't.
Around the time I graduated, I realized I could hear them as well. Great, just what a guy wants on a date, to be chaperoned by ghosts. Still, being adaptable is something that worked for me. I got used to it... sort of.
One day I was getting ready to walk into an unemployment office and I saw a ghost following a little old man. It managed to pull an envelope from his suit pocket and I raced after him to return it.
That was my introduction to UNCLE—who says ghosts don't have a purpose?
I liked the mailroom. I wasn't an ambitious sort of guy. The job gave me a decent salary, benefits, and the work was interesting. The only problem was that it also seemed to be wall-to-wall ghosts at times. UNCLE being what it was, there were many people who made the ultimate sacrifice for UNCLE and there were times when you needed an aqualung just to wade through them in the mailroom. Why they hung out in there was a mystery, and, of course, my coworkers didn't know it. They complained about feeling uneasy or ill in there at night. They had no idea!
It was worse during the night. I worked the evening shift, from midnight to eight. Being a night owl, it worked well for me and no one complained. I was alone in the world since that my aunt had passed—and discovered that I wasn't crazy. It was a relief to have some place to be during those late night hours.
We traded off holidays as a rule, but I usually worked Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I had no place to be and others, well, they had family and friends. I just had my vaporous companions and a tiny studio apartment.
The night started out okay. It was just me and Mr. Donalds, but he was in the back enjoying some seasonal eggnog. Christmas music played on the radio and plates of cookies and treats from the other departments were spread out all over the work table. There was enough mail to keep me mildly busy.
That's when I saw Old Bill. He was a fixture down here in the mailroom, but I was surprised. Usually he never appeared at Christmas.
I sort of jumped a bit. It was the first time Old Bill had spoken to me. He was agitated and kept drifting through the door and then back in.
"What do you want, Old Bill?" I kept my voice low, just in case Mr. Donalds was listening.
I didn't know what else to do, so I grabbed a wire basket and yelled, "I'm going on a mail run!" If Mr. Donalds felt that odd, he didn't say anything, just mumbled something.
I walked out into the corridor and stopped dead. I'd never seen quite so many spirits all at once. The Wailing woman was wringing her hands and looking to the elevator. She never spoke, but she didn't need to. I could tell that was the direction she wanted me to travel in. Behind me, ghosts seemed to pile up, as if pushing me on.
I got into the elevator and jumped. Mr. Dunbar was standing there. He was the first UNCLE agent killed and tended to keep to the shadows. He was ex-Marine and he wasn't a ghost you took lightly.
"Which way?" he looked down and one of the buttons lit up. The only thing that I knew that was located on that floor was the employees' entrance through the parking garage.
The doors slid open and Mr. Dunbar raced past me to the entrance. The secretary frowned as I approached her.
"Good evening, Mr. Wallace, may I help you?" She was a frosty-nosed bit... young woman. I never liked her very much and at the moment, I liked her even less. She was just mean-spirited and treated people like dirt.
"Had a feeling, that's all. Everything all right down here?"
"Why wouldn't it be?" Oh, the temperature in the room dropped several degrees then and it had nothing to do with the other three spirits who'd joined us. How dare I question her abilities?
Mr. Dunbar was standing in front of the entrance and then I realized Old Bill was beside me.
"Where, Bill?" I whispered. "How?" He floated through the door and I looked back over my shoulder. Oh, boy, I was getting a glaring at.
That's when I saw Larry. He is one of the few people I called a friend. He knew about my little problem and never said a word. I should have been relieved, but all I wanted to do was scream. He was glowing, you see. That's what new ghosts do, they glow. As they age, the light fades. That meant Larry, my friend, was dead.
They need help, Johnny.
"Open the door," I ordered.
"I don't think so..."
"Open this door or so help me, God, I will report you for being the incompetent cow that you are!" Okay, that was a little heavy-handed, but it got the job done. Her mouth dropped open and the doors swung open.
Immediately I smelled the stink of gunpowder and heard the shots.
"Where are you, Larry?"
We're trapped behind those cars. I followed his point. There are five THRUSH that we could count.
"I'm getting help."
I raced back in and took a deep breath as the door swung shut. "Who's on duty now?" I spun the rack of numbers around, not even sure what I was looking for.
Old Bill floated away at a good clip and I ran to keep up, dodging down one corridor and then the other. I suddenly stopped in front of the communications room and Old Bill pointed.
"In there?" Old Bill nodded and I opened the door. A group of men stood around a table, talking.
"He's four hours late with check in." The voice was familiar and then I figured it out—Napoleon Solo. You had to love a Section head who was willing to work Christmas Eve like the rest of us slobs.
"Mr. Solo?" The men all jumped and pulled their weapons. Whoops, I forgot that it was bad manners to surprise Section Two agents. However, at this point I didn't care. "Mr. Solo, don't ask me how I know this, but there are two men trapped in the parking garage. Five THRUSH, maybe more."
Mr. Solo's mouth worked for a moment, but he took stock of my appearance and I guess decided it was worth a check.
"Nate, stay here in case they check in. Mr. Wallace, are you armed?" He looked at me expectantly and I bent over to pull my little pistol from an ankle holster. All UNCLE employees had to be competent with a firearm. I wasn't a great shot, but I could handle a pistol okay.
He nodded to the door. "We're following you."
I was never so scared in all my life, but only new ghost Larry was waiting for me. That meant the others were still alive.
"Where, Larry? Show us?"
Mr. Solo stared at me. "Where do you see Agent Phelps?" He looked around.
"It's a long story."
The door opened and Larry moved to a sedan that was half parked on top of another car. Gunfire blazed and thick smoke hung in the cold still air. I felt sick to my stomach, because here were two more new ghosts. Then I realized I didn't recognize them and felt better—at least our guys were still alive. We took refuge behind some cars and Mr. Solo shouted, "Illya?"
His partner was involved, no wonder he was concerned.
"About time, you slacker!" Mr. Kuryakin shouted back.
A couple of rounds blasted in our direction and Mr. Solo returned fire.
The parking garage resounded with gun blasts and suddenly everything grew very quiet. Mr. Solo moved slightly, chancing the risk of bobbing his head up from behind the car.
There was no return fire, so he started around the car and stopped abruptly. There was a sixth THRUSH, one we didn't know about, sitting there.
"What a Christmas treat for THRUSH. I get to kill Mr. Solo."
He aimed and suddenly Mr. Dunbar stood there. I swear he was radiating anger. I'd never seen an angrier ghost in my life.
Suddenly, he shouted, "Boo rah," and leapt in front of the THRUSH. If you get a ghost motivated enough, they can become visible and that's just what he did. The THRUSH jumped about a mile and I used that distraction to plant a sleeper bullet in his stomach while Mr. Solo dove for cover.
Mr. Dunbar grinned at me and gave me a thumbs up sign. At that point, I dropped to my knees and took a few deep breaths. This was a helluva Christmas gift!
They got Mr. Kuryakin and the THRUSH official he'd captured to Medical, although both of them looked okay. Larry, on the other hand, was pronounced dead at the scene.
I'm really dead? He followed me back to the mailroom, looking very lost and alone.
"I'm afraid so, but it could be worse. At least you'll never have to worry about losing your hair now." It had been his greatest fear when he lived.
He sort of laughed and looked a little less lost. Can anyone else see me?
"I don't know, but you'll always know where to find me."
The mailroom was just as I'd left it, although a different carol played now. "I'm back," I yelled and didn't hear anything. No doubt Donalds was sound asleep on a pile of mail sacks somewhere in the back. Oh well, 'tis the season.
The mailroom door opened and Mr. Solo stood there. He looked a little disheveled, which is not a way you see him often.
"Hey, Mr. Solo, how can I help you?"
"They'd disabled the cameras, so there was no way for any of us to know what was happening out in the garage. So how did you know?"
I glanced over at Old Bill. He perched on the top of a tall shelf and grinned down at me as he swung in legs in time to the music. I could tell Mr. Solo the truth and that ghosts saved his partner, but he'd never believe me. I could outright lie, but I respected the agent too much for that. Instead I nodded to Old Bill.
"Oh, let's just say, I have friends in high places and leave it to the spirit of the season." I pushed a plate towards him. "Cookie?"