GORDON Brown sat on the railing of the old iron bridge that takes people in and out of the small town of Bedford Falls and stared at the freezing water.
The savings and loan was in a bit of a pickle
Everything was messed up. Some people were saying it was all his fault. Maybe it was. Maybe it would be better if he just jumped into that deep, dark river and let it swallow him whole. He sighed and shook his head, wondering if he really had the courage.
Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see the smiling face of a kindly old man. The stranger held out his hand. "Hello Gordon, I'm Clarence," he said.
"Looks like you're fixing to do something drastic," said Clarence. "Well, let's just take a minute. Tell me Gordon, have you ever wondered what the world would be like if you had never existed? No? Well let's have a look, shall we?"
In the blink of an eye Gordon found himself transported to the middle of Main Street. Amid the glowing lights the good people of Bedford Falls were enjoying their last minute Christmas shopping. A cheerful song and the smell of roasted chestnuts filled the air. Everyone wished each other 'happy holidays!' as the shopkeepers stood in their doorways, beaming with delight and looking forward to another prosperous year.
"Nothing like having a man in charge who knows not to spend money you don't have on things you don't need and to save something for a rainy day," said Mr Malley, the baker.
"Last thing this town needs is a man who gives jobs and big, fat pensions to all and sundry at our expense just so as they'll vote for him," replied Mr Logan, the butcher.
Gordon spun around, taking it all in. His drab little town seemed so alive. With the giddy excitement of a child on Christmas morning he raced along the pavement, running so fast he almost tumbled over. "Hello Woolworths!" he shouted. "Hello MFI! Hello Whittards!"
But just as as he reached the local branch of Northern Rock, everything turned dark. He looked back along Main Street to see the shops boarded up, and for sale signs in every window. Mr Logan, a cleaver in each hand, was desperately fighting off some local youths. A burning mattress was the only source of light and somewhere in the darkness, someone screamed.
In an instant Gordon was back at the old bridge. Clarence appeared at his shoulder. "I'm afraid that's how life really is Gordon. And yes, it is all your fault, you total arsehole. Anyway, I just wanted you to see all that before I pushed you in."
And with that Clarence grabbed Gordon by the heels and tipped him into the dark, freezing river.
They found his hat three days later.