a nearly satisfactory verisimilitudinous creation

A Christmas Carol.
In Prose.
Being a Ghost Story of Reason.
OR
It's an Ayn Rand Christmas

Contents



Stave One
Marley's Ghost

Marley was dead: to begin with. And to end with, for that matter. There was no doubt whatsoever about that. He was as dead as a door-nail. Dead as a dodo. Dead as the class pet left to fend for itself over Christmas break.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail, a dodo, or any particular class pet. What ironmongery and large, flightless birds have to do with death I am not completely sure. The class pet? Well, the screams of the little 'uns may give the smallest of hints. But! The wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my hallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail. As dead as a dodo. And as dead as the class pet left to fend for itself over Christmas break.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residual legatee, his sole friend, and his sole mourner. Although I must be careful and explain when I say "mourner" I mean merely "funeral attendee" not "weeper at coffin-side," for Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event. In fact, he was an even more excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnized it by making sure to double check which of his customers were in arrears and penalized them accordingly.

The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced Jesus Christ had died for our sins, there would be nothing remarkable about him waking up on the third day and strolling out of his resting place, than there would be in any other Jewish gentleman waking up from a long rest and rashly turning out for breakfast – say at Mickey's Diner - literally to astonish Christians' weak minds.

Oh! But Scrooge was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! He never even bothered painting out Old Marley's name from the firm's sign above the door: saved the cost of paint, brush, and painter there. Hard and sharp as flint, was Scrooge, from which no steel has ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster clutching it's pearl (and three times as unlikely to give it up without a fierce fight). You may be, about this time, thinking of the word "miserly," but be warned that doesn't go far enough, for most misers cackle with glee over their large sums of treasure – but not Scrooge! - Scrooge merely coldly, calculatingly, used it as a way to keep score: he with more means, means more. He with the most means, means the most.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?" No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all their life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy and sycophancy to keep its distance.

So.

Once upon a time – of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve – old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather - foggy withal – and he could hear the people in the court outside go wheezing to and fro, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had just gone three, but it was quite dark already, and indeed had been so all day, for there'd been a dark, gray, leaden sky that moved at a brisk pace from the wind. Early on there'd been hope the strong wind would blow the heavy clouds away, but all it'd brought was more leaden clouds, a wind chill of nearly unbearable degree, and a great fall of branches, trees, and telephone poles, knocking out all power. Candles had been lit throughout the day and were flaring and stuttering in the windows of the neighboring offices.

The door to Scrooge's office was open that he might keep an eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn't replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. The clerk drew his candle ever closer to him in the hope it might offer warmth; what it offered, however, was merely more wax to be scraped off his carefully copied pages.

"A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!" cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

"Bah!" said Scrooge, "Humbug!"

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge's, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

"Christmas a humbug, uncle!" said Scrooge's nephew. "You don't mean that, I am sure?"

"I do," said Scrooge. "Merry Christmas! What right do you have to be merry? And which god do you believe will save me? What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough."

"Come, then," returned the nephew gaily. "What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough."

Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, "Bah!" again; and followed it up with "Humbug" for good measure.

"Don't be cross, uncle!" said the nephew.

"What else can I be," returned the uncle, "when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon Merry Christmas! What's Christmas time to you but a time for buying things on credit; a time to mindlessly and endlessly consume that which you are told to consume by your betters; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer, If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"

"Uncle!" pleaded the nephew.

"Nephew!" returned the uncle sternly, "keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."

"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it!"

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge. "Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they were really fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

The clerk in the cell involuntarily applauded. Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety, he started rubbing his hands together as if trying to keep warm, then poked his meager fire, and extinguished the last frail spark forever.

"Let me hear another sound from you," said Scrooge, "and you'll keep Christmas by losing your situation! You're quite a powerful speaker, sir," he added, turning to his nephew. "I wonder you don't go into Parliament."

"Don't be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us tomorrow."

Scrooge said he would see him – yes, indeed he did. When the roast ham he dined upon for the holiday grew wings and flew.

"But why?" cried Scrooge's nephew. "Why?"

"Why did you get married?" said Scrooge.

"Because I fell in love."

"Because you fell in love!" growled Scrooge, as if that were the only thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. "Good afternoon!"

"Nay, uncle, but you never came to see me before that happened. Why give it as a reason for not coming now?"

"Good afternoon," said Scrooge.

"I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be fiends?"

"Good afternoon," said Scrooge.

"I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas. And I'll keep my Christmas humor to the last. So, a Merry Christmas, uncle!"

"Good afternoon!" said Scrooge.

"And a Happy New Year!"

"Good afternoon," said Scrooge.

His nephew left the room without an angry word. He stopped at the outer door to bestow the greetings of the season on the clerk, who, cold as he was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned them cordially.

"There's another fellow," muttered Scrooge; who overheard him. "My clerk, with two hundred and ninety dollars a week, and a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas. Send him to the loony bin."

This lunatic, in letting Scrooge's nephew out, had let two other people in. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats in their hands, in Scrooge's office. They had pamphlets and papers in their hands, and nodded to him.

"Scrooge and Marley's, I believe" said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. "Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?"

"Marley died seven years ago this very night, "replied Scrooge. See? Scrooge did know Marley was dead.

"We have no doubt his liberality and generosity are well represented by his surviving partner," said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

And they certainly were, for Marley and Scrooge had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous words "liberality" and "generosity," Scrooge frowned, shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute-"

"Hold it right there," said Scrooge, moving to his desk and grabbing a large stack of bills. "Are you here for a handout?"

"Well," replied the gentleman, "yes, we-"

"Are there no homeless shelters?" asked Scrooge, flipping the money from one hand to the other.

"Ye-"

"Are there no soup kitchens? Local, county, state, and federal programs? Medicare? Medicaid? Social Security? Low income lawyers?" asked Scrooge.

"All very busy, sir" said the gentleman, laying his pen down again.

"Oh! I was afraid that something might have occurred to stop them since I'd last checked," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

"They scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or bod-"

"Oh yes," said Scrooge, putting down his large stack of bills. "Christ. Where is Christ when there are all these poor to be taken care of, I wonder?"

"You s-"

"And the two of you. Hired to do this?' continued Scrooge. "You see, if I give you money for the poor and destitute, then they will no longer be poor and destitute."

"B-"

"And if they are no longer poor and destitute then the two of you will no longer have jobs," said Scrooge.

"We-"

"And if you no longer have jobs, you will become poor and destitute." finished Scrooge. "Please, kind sirs, do not ask me to put you out of work on Christmas Eve!"

"We nev-"

"Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labors with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

The afternoon wore on to evening, and the cold became more intense. Piercing, searching, biting cold. A group of carolers huddled together outside Scrooge's business and began singing a carol, but at the first sound of, "God bless ye merry gentlemen, may nothing you dismay!" Scrooge rose with a LOOK, leaving the carolers to flee in terror.

As Scrooge turned his gaze toward his clerk, the lights came back on. "About time, too," said Scrooge, making sure the thermostat was turned down low as the electric heaters starting ticking on. "I was about to call and tell them to deduct the hours of inoperation from my next bill."

At length the hour of shutting up the counting-house arrived. With an ill-will Scrooge dismounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to the expectant clerk in his cell, who instantly put on his hat.

"You'll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?" said Scrooge.

"If quite convenient, sir."

"It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's not fair. If I was to stop paying you for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'd say."

The clerk smiled faintly.

"And yet," said Scrooge," you don't think me ill-used when I pay you a day's wages for no work."

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every Christmas day!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. "But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning."

"Yes, sir!" exclaimed the clerk as Scrooge walked out with a growl. The office was closed in a jiffy, and the clerk, with the long ends of his sweater dangling below his waist (for he could boast no great-coat), went sliding down the hill at Dunning Park with some of the local kids in honor of it being Christmas Eve, and then ran home to Selby Avenue as fast as he could.

Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy diner; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker's book, went home to bed. He lived in Summit Manor which had once belonged to his deceased partner. They were an exceedingly large and exceedingly gloomy suite of rooms in an exceedingly ritzy part of town. Scrooge would never have spent his money on the place himself, but since it was left to him by his old partner and the mortgage had been paid off, Scrooge rented out the rooms to merchants during the day and slept there at night.

As Scrooge approached the great front doors, it must be said that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It may seem a trifle odd to bring up such a fact in the midst of this exposition at this point in time, but rest assured that the reason for this seemingly strange addition will soon come to light. It is also a fact that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence at that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of Saint Paul. Let it also be borne in mind that while we have discussed Scrooge's old partner with some frequency these last few pages, Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley since his last mention of his seven years' dead partner that afternoon. And then let any person explain to me, if they can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change – not a knocker, but Marley's face.

Marley's face. It had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid color, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be a part of the ghostly apparition itself instead of something it was trying to project at others.

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.

To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, and walked in.

He did pause, with a moment's irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind it at first, as if he half expected to be terrified with the site of Marley's ponytail sticking out in the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the knocker on, so he said, "Pooh! Pooh!" and closed the door with a bang.

The sound resounded through the house like thunder. Every room above, and every cask in the wine-merchant's cellars below, appeared to have a separate peal of echoes of its own Scrooge was not a man to be frightened by echoes. He resolutely did not turn on the lights as he locked the door, and walked across the hall and up the stairs.

Darkness. Scrooge felt very comfortable in the dark. Darkness was cheap, and so was Scrooge. As he got to the top of the stairs he had just enough recollection of the face to check the entire house. Sitting room, bedroom, kitchen. All as they should be. Nobody under the table, nobody under the sofa; a small fire in the grate. Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his robe, which was hanging up in a suspicious attitude against the wall.

Quite satisfied, he closed his door, and locked himself in; double-locked himself in, which was not his custom. Thus secured against surprise, he took off his tie; put on his robe and slippers; and sat down before the fire to take his gruel.

He sat before his small fire in his comfortable chair and opened up his banker's book. Nothing soothed him more than seeing all those numbers lined up so perfectly in his favor. After getting through a couple of pages of the ledger, his mind calmed, he sighed, lifted his eyes, and let his gaze fall where it may. It fell upon his phone. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he looked, he saw this phone begin to ring. It rang so softly on the outset that it scarcely made a sound, but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every other phone in the house – all those merchants he rented out to with all their varying phone numbers, and still they all rang with the same infernal intensity and rhythm as the one in his private chambers.

This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The phones ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant's cellar. Scrooge then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains.

The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

"It's humbug still!" said Scrooge. "I won't believe it."

His color changed, though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon it's coming in, the lights leapt up, as though they cried, "I know him; Marley's Ghost!" and fell again.

The same face: the very same. Marley in his ponytail and usual waistcoat. Marley in his usual tights and boots, the former worn because of a very lucrative bet won against the president of NYSE and the latter with tassels bristling. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.

Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley’s motives were transparent, but he had never suspected he’d see his old partner as transparent as this.

No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before; he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.

"How now!" said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. "What do you want with me?"

"Much!" - Marley’s voice, no doubt about it.

"Who are you?"

"Ask me who I was."

"Who were you, then?" said Scrooge, raising his voice. "You're very pedantic for a ghost."

"In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley."

"Marley's been dead these seven years."

"You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.

"I do not," said Scrooge.

"What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?"

"I don't know," said Scrooge, looking discomfited.

"Why do you, who put so much stock in your sense perception, doubt your senses?"

"Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing, at times, affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than the grave about you, whatever you are!"

Scrooge wasn't much into playing with words or punning, believing the latter the surest sign of someone lacking measurable intelligence, but the truth is, Scrooge tried to be smart as a means of distracting his own attention and keeping down his terror; for the spectre's voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones, and the spectre's mere presence provided with an infernal atmosphere of its own. Scrooge could not feel it himself, but this was clearly the case; for though the Ghost sat perfectly motionless, its hair, and skirts, and tassels, were still agitated as by the hot vapor from an oven.

"Well," said Scrooge, "you've certainly managed to scare the dickens out of me."

At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon. But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round its head, as if it were too warm to wear indoors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!

"Ew!" said Scrooge. "Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?"

"Man of Reason!" replied the Ghost, "do you believe in me or not?"

"Of course not!" said Scrooge. "Besides a suspect dinner at that hole in the wall they call a diner, I've been under enormous stress from all the accounts I've been foreclosing on, given the end of this fiscal year; and my nephew and others have been 'Merry Christmas-ing' me and 'alms for the poor-ing' me and 'good will toward men-ing' me all week."

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the police would have been justified in arresting it for disturbing the peace. Scrooge would've been in complete agreement with the peace officers, for his peace was definitely disturbed by the Apparition.

"I will admit that I am very frightened; and I will admit the attention to detail and absolute terror my brain is able to conjure is truly astounding. Given the influence of stress and bad food, given that I can't seem to disapparate you for the time being, and given that my brain is trying to tell me something, it would seem to make the most sense to just get on with it. So," finished Scrooge, "why do spirits walk the earth and why do you come to me."

The Ghost sat down opposite Scrooge, sighed sepulchrally, and said, "It is required of all that the spirit within should walk among his fellow man, to wander the world – oh woe is me! - and witness the horrors and injustices it ignored in life without being able to help now."

"And the chains?" said Scrooge.

"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I-"

"Because I was thinking," Scrooge said, "that steel purse you have there might be a hit in women's fashi-"

"Enough!" said the Ghost.

Scrooge flinched, then cowered, at the word spoken by his old partner, for when he said it, Scrooge was overcome with a melancholy and misgiving he had never experienced.

"I made it link by link, and yard by yard. I created it of my own free will, and by my own free will I must wear it. Would you know," continued the Ghost, "the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was as heavy and as long as this seven Christmas Eves ago, and you have labored on it greatly since."

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. "You were the creator of the credit default swap!"

"Mankind should have been my business!"

Scrooge trembled. "Speak comfort to me, Jacob!"

"I have none to give. These chains are the very things keeping souls on earth. They weigh one down and prevent one from ascending to paradise. One cannot rest. One cannot stay. One cannot linger anywhere. My spirit must travel on for eternity, bearing witness to victims of horrors I cannot prevent. I have traveled far and I have sat invisible beside you many and many a day."

"You've, uh,"stammered Scrooge, "you've been, uh, peeping, uh, on me?"

It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief and unwarranted spying, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

"Observing you forge your chains!" roared the Spectre. "Hear me! My time is nearly gone. You will be haunted by Three Spirits."

"Four counting you," mumbled Scrooge, unable to lift his eyes to look at the Ghost.

"Three Spirits! Without their visits you cannot hope to escape my fate."

"I'd rather not."

The spectre took its wrapper and bound it round its head, as before. Scrooge knew this, by the ghastly sound its teeth made, when the jaws were brought together by the bandage. He ventured to raise his eyes again, and found his supernatural visitor confronting him in an erect – ahem! - attitude, with its chain wound over and about its arm.

The apparition walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that when the spectre reached it, it was wide open.

It beckoned Scrooge to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, Marley’s Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come no nearer. Scrooge stopped in surprise and fear of what he heard and saw outside - confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night.

Scrooge ran to the window.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

"Got it," said Scrooge, before he passed out, for his mind could take no more of the scene before him. "No rest. No peace. Incessant torture of remorse."



Stave Two
The First Of The Three Spirits

Scrooge woke slowly; there was a small circle of light surrounded by darkness; there was a sensation of swimming up out of the darkness toward the light, there was a sense of comfort and peace as he rose higher; upon reaching the light, Scrooge saw faces spaced evenly around the edge of the circle staring down at him; there was a sense of confusion and slowly dawning horror as his bedroom ceiling came into focus and he realized the faces were those of the ghosts he had seen wailing outside earlier.

The faces disappeared and Scrooge sat up, breathing hard, trying to glance in front, behind, above, and below himself all at once.

"Bah humbug!" said Scrooge out loud, scaring himself even more in breaking the heavy silence that hung in his chambers.

Marley's Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time he resolved within himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its first position, and presented the same problem to be worked all through, "Was it a dream or not?"

Scrooge glanced toward the window and saw light outside. "I made it through the night!" he said. "With no further visits from ghosts!"

Dream, thought Scrooge, figuring Marley had been a bit of indigestion after all. He immediately felt better.

Scrooge took his time getting ready for work, enjoying his morning ablutions. He put on his favorite suit and great coat, and made his way down the stairs, barely giving the mischievous knocker a second thought as he walked through the doorway, locking the door behind him.

He was about to set off down the walkway when he froze, seeing a Green Line train sitting on the street in front of his house. This was an unusual sight for Scrooge as the Green Line didn't stop in front of his house, or, in fact, go down Summit Avenue at all.

Scrooge slowly walked toward the train and saw the conductor beckoning him over.

Not a chance, thought Scrooge as he turned his back on the train and headed for his counting house. He turned the first corner and there in front of him was the Green Line train; Scrooge glanced behind him with a sense of dread and finality, and saw the same Green Line car - he could even make out the conductor beckoning toward him.

With a sigh and a growing sense of frustration, Scrooge walked to the other side of the street and cut down an alley before he was stopped short, seeing the Green Line car and the beckoning conductor. His frustration outgrew his fear; he stormed up to the train and was about to knock on the door when it opened to the smiling conductor.

"Green Line, sir," said the conductor.

"I do not take public transportation," said Scrooge. "I can smell the cheap liquor and unwashed humanity from out here. I am walking to my counting house. If you have business to conduct with me, dear conductor, and I'm not sure you do, then you can meet me there within the hour!"

Scrooge turned around and ran straight into the Green Line car. He had to take a step back as the doors opened and the conductor said, "Green Line, sir."

"Bah!" said Scrooge as he got on the car, holding his nose both literally and figuratively.

"$3.50, sir." said the conductor, shutting the door.

Scrooge looked around the car, spotting various lumps of clothing that, he assumed, must be sleeping people, for the snoring sounds and smell of cheap wine did indeed permeate the air. He turned back to the conductor. "I- "

"$3.50, sir," repeated the conductor.

"- will not pay to use public transport which has already been funded by my taxes!"

"$3.50, sir," said the conductor yet again.

"Did you hear me?" said Scrooge. "I will not pay twice for the dubious honor of using public transportation for which my taxes ha- "

"If my sources are correct, sir," said the conductor, "you've paid exactly zero in taxes for going on twenty-five years now, correct?"

"Well, I- "

"In fact, you've received rather large refunds, if I'm not mistaken."

"You see- "

"These 'inebriated lumps of unwashed humanity' as you think of them have actually paid to utilize this conveyance, not to mention paid their taxes," said the conductor. "You aren't trying to tell me that they have more money and sense than you?

"I never carry mo-"

"I believe, sir, that if you check the pockets of your fine suit there, you will find a couple of dollars."

Scrooge put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill. He handed the money to the conductor who palmed it. Scrooge waited for his change.

The conductor pointed to a sign reading, 'No change given.' "Off we go."

Scrooge, never having ridden light rail before, found himself on the floor as the train accelerated. He rubbed his head where he had banged it as he pulled himself upright with one of the grab bars. He was unsure of where to sit before deciding to sit as close to the conductor – being the least worst smelling thing on the train – as possible.

"First stop, Ramsey Junior High," said the conductor.

"Look here," started Scrooge, "I must get to my count- "

The conductor looked at Scrooge in his passenger-view mirror and pointed to a sign which read 'No talking to the conductor while the train is in motion.'

"I don't care!" shouted Scrooge. "I demand to know who you- "

Scrooge was stopped short by another look from the conductor as he pointed to yet another sign which read, 'I'm the ghost of Christmas Past.'

Scrooge, feeling suddenly uncommunicative, looked out his window, concentrating on rubbing his sore head and not looking at the other passengers. As he watched the world go by, he noticed a strange fog and twilight come and go every block or two. He turned toward the conductor and was about to ask where they were going when the conductor looked at him in the passenger-view mirror and pointed to a sign reading 'Ramsey Junior High.'

"Oh, yeah," Scrooge mumbled.

Scrooge put his head down, promising himself to look at nothing else and ignore the conductor completely. An indeterminable amount of time later, Scrooge felt the train slowing down. He betrayed his earlier promise to himself and looked around at his fellow passengers, seeing that some were no longer there and others had joined him in the car despite the train not having stopped once since he got on.

The train stopped and the conductor got up and stood in front of Scrooge. "Ramsey Junior High. This is your stop, sir."

Scrooge couldn't bring himself to look at the conductor, but shouted, "This is kidnapping! I demand you take me back to my house! I will not- "

At his outburst, Scrooge became aware that some of the huddled passengers began moving toward him. Strange sounds emanated from the piles of clothes and winter coats and bags. Strange, unearthly sounds.

Scrooge looked at the conductor in a panic. The conductor stared back and said, "Ramsey Junior High. This is your stop, sir."

As Scrooge stood up the other passengers returned to their seats with sounds that wavered between snickering and snarling. The conductor walked off the train with Scrooge fast on his heels.

As eager as Scrooge was to leave the train and its passengers behind him, he hesitated on the last step as he looked about him for the first time. "Good Heaven!" he said, clasping his hands together. “I was a boy here! The smells. The sounds. They're all just as I remember them."

Just then a red rubber kickball bounced past Scrooge. He looked to where the ball had come from and saw dozens of children running around the playground. He saw kids playing hopscotch and catch; he saw kids playing tag and four square; he saw groups of girls huddled together whispering about god knows who and groups of boys huddled together whispering about god knows what.

The conductor tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a far corner of the playground where a lone boy, smaller than most, was sitting with his head hung between his knees.

"That's me!" said Scrooge. A flood of memories engulfed him: sadness, loneliness, fear. He hadn't cared for recess, or school for that matter.

The bell rang and the children started racing toward the teacher, lining up to be counted before they went in. The child Ebeneezer got up slowly, started running to get in line, then tripped. No one noticed. No one offered their assistance or their scorn. As Ebeneezer held his scraped knee, the teachers and students in their lines started inside; he limped to get to the back of the line as fast as he could and then was lost to sight of Scrooge and the conductor.

"Spirit! It really was me? How is this possible? It cannot be! It's not possible. I've had two blows to the head recently, I'm probably lying on my bedroom floor right now dreaming all this nonsense."

"The second blow to your head," said the conductor, "was received right here in this car. Surely you can't count that one if you believe none of this is actually happening."

"Why did you bring me here? Why make me revisit this horrible time in my life? You can see no one cared about me. No one paid attention to me. I'd given control of my happiness to others and they completely ignored me. It was here where I began to learn that my own happiness was my own responsibility. I learned to not rely on others for that happiness, but instead create it myself."

Just then they heard, from across the playground, "I'm fine! Leave me alone!"

They turned and saw three classmates and a teaching assistant looking on as Ebeneezer glared at them before entering the school. The teaching assistant's face showed concern, and the children hung their heads in embarrassment.

"Why does he do that," asked one of the children. "He never lets anybody help him; or play when we ask him to."

The teaching assistant's response was inaudible as they all turned to follow Ebeneezer into the school.

"You see, Scrooge," said the conductor, "you chose to believe no one cared or had any compassion. You see now the reality of the situation."

"Reality is an absolute!" shouted Scrooge. "I chose to believe only what I experienced! The factual requirements of a person's life are set by their nature. People are individuals, each with their own body, their own mind, and their own life."

"Those children and that teacher wanted to help you. They wanted to play with you."

"Bah humbug!"

The spirit disappeared, and before Scrooge could think to be surprised, the conductor called from inside the train, "Next stop Fezziwig's Billiards and Bollocks."

"I've had enough, Spirit!" shouted Scrooge. "Take me home now!"

"Next stop Fezziwig's Billiards and Bollocks."

"I demand you bring me home!"

"I've a job to do, sir. Not worth it to take you home before the next stop. Not worth losing my job over."

"I never! If you don't take me- "

"Sorry, sir," said the conductor, looking anything but. "I'm not the one to complain to. The decision of where you go and what you see are above my pay grade. Next stop Fezziwig's Bollards and Bollocks."

"So you're just the help," spat Scrooge. "I knew it! Fine, let's finish this so I can get back to a decent night's sleep!"

Scrooge climbed the steps of the train. When he got to the top, the conductor held out his and said, "$3.50 sir, unless you have a transfer."

"What's a tr- "

"$3.50, sir."

"You are shaking me down," said Scrooge. "I'm most unhappy with your service! I demand to talk to your sup- "

"Don't let others control your happiness, sir," replied the conductor. "$3.50, sir."

Scrooge felt around in his pocket and found another five dollar bill. He handed it over to the conductor and demanded his change.

The conductor pointed to a sign reading, 'No change given.' "Off we go."

Scrooge wisely grabbed onto a pole to steady himself as the train accelerated away. He sat down by the conductor again and put his head down and rubbed his temples, just waiting for his bad dream to be over.

Sometime later, how long he could not gauge, he felt the train begin to slow. Scrooge dared look out the window. It was snowing hard. On the corner he saw a large, lit up sign flashing 'Fezziwig's Billiards and Bollocks' attached to a building occupying nearly the entire block.

Scrooge hadn't been here in ages; had in fact, foreclosed the mortgage of Fezziwig's many years ago. When he looked closer at the building he could see what looked to be a party. He most definitely did not want to go in there.

Scrooge heard the conductor's footsteps stop in front of him. The conductor said, "Next stop. Fezziwig's Billairds and Bollocks."

"Please, Spirit. I cannot bear to go in there."

"Scrooge, you have free will. You can either go in there or stay in here."

Scrooge opened his mouth to say he would stay here, thank you very much, but then heard some slithering noises from further inside the car. He darted past the conductor and headed out into the falling snow.

"Wise choice, sir." said the conductor, appearing next to Scrooge.

Outside the snow was swirling; great drifts were piling up against houses, cars, and fences. The blinking of Fezziwig's sign made the snow jump and move as if it were alive.

"Every year," said the conductor, "Fezziwig threw an enormous Christmas party, inviting everyone from the neighborhood, all his employees and their families, and all his customers and their families. None were turned away. Free music. Free food and drink. Nothing but joy and care for his fellow man. Come, Scrooge. Let's warm ourselves and partake of this delightful feast."

The conductor and Scrooge entered the building and found themselves surrounded by happy revelry at every turn, until they found Scrooge in the corner talking to a group of Fezziwig's investors. This group was neither drinking, nor feasting, nor dancing. Their heads were together and they were as serious a group as ever had been at a celebration such as this.

Suddenly there was a bell rung from the other side of the room. Soon enough Fezziwig - old, rotund, delightful Fezziwig – had gotten most of the party-goers to pay attention. "A toast," shouted Fezziwig so all could hear. "A toast to all of you for another wonderful year!"

The crowd shouted and drank their agreement.

Fezziwig rang the bell again.

"Another toast!" shouted Fezziwig. "To the man who lined up all those investors who will be taking Fzziwig's Billiard and Bollocks international this upcoming year. To Ebeneezer Scrooge!"

At the sound of his name, the young Ebeneezer tore himself away from the huddled investors and smiled greatly at his boss, raising a glass as he did so. The crowd roared their approval and drank to his good will. Ebeneezer returned to the investor huddle and the party continued on all around them.

"But that's not what the investors were for, was it Scrooge" said the conductor. "By the middle of next year, the investors purchased Fezziwig's out from under him, took out gigantic loans, cut salaries and wages across the board, liquidated everything not bolted down, then sold the business for as much as they could, insuring that Fezziwig's would end in bankruptcy and ruin."

"It was business," said Scrooge. "I saw a way to make more money and I did!"

"And Fezziwig?" said the conductor. "Dead of a heart attack exactly one year from now?"

"Very unfortunate," said Scrooge. "but Fezziwig was as fool. All he wanted to do was keep going on the way things were. He never cottoned to the fact there was so much more money to be made. He should've listened to me. He should've gone along with my idea."

"Your idea to strip all the value from the business he spent decades building with the employees, neighbors and customers he called family? A single member of which decided to betray that trust."

"Don't point your moral outrage at me! You want to discuss morality? Each individual should act in his own best interest and is the proper beneficiary of his own action. In order to live, people must take self-interested action and reap the benefits thereof. Human life requires egoism!"

The room around them darkened. A newspaper blew into Scrooge's face, when he pulled it off he found himself at the door to Fezziwig's.

"Look inside, said the Spirit. "Then look outside."

The room was a mess. Broken furniture and graffiti abounded. There was no merrymaking whatsoever. All that was left was dust and cobwebs. When Scrooge looked outside, he saw dilapidated houses with unkempt lawns. Even though it was a beautiful summer evening, there were no children running around or people walking the street. There was no sound of laughter or smell of meat on the grill. All there was were boarded up houses and cracked pavement.

Scrooge looked at the date on the newspaper. It was five years after he had sold Fezziwigs.

"Spirit," said Scrooge. "These are things I cannot change, nor would I choose to if I could. Many people made a lot of money doing what I did."

"I believe you mean many people who already had enough money made even more money by taking away money from hundreds of people who no longer had a livelihood," said the conductor.

"The opportunity was there for anyone to take! Just because I had the brains and the courage to do it when nobody else did- "

"It's easier, Scrooge, to make rich people richer. It takes careful thought and planning to make sure most people have enough to live a good life."

"He with means- "

"Means more. Yes. Yes. He with means usually just means more trouble for those without."

"Bah! Humbug! Take me home, Spirit. Right now!"

The conductor disappeared then reappeared in the train. Scrooge ran to the door and pounded on it for all he was worth.

"Open up! I demand you open these doors."

The conductor ignored Scrooge and went about preparing to leave. Scrooge ran in front of the train and pointed at the conductor.

"I said let me on!"

The conductor pointed at the sign at the front of the train which read, 'No Service,' then drove directly at Scrooge.

Scrooge started screaming as he fainted dead away from shock.



Stave Three
The Second Of The Three Spirits

Scrooge woke up screaming, then realized his throat was rather sore so he stopped, for now, given the night he was having, though, he reserved the right to begin screaming again at a moment's notice. Oddly enough, Scrooge thought he still heard screaming. He took a moment to make sure it wasn't him; took another moment to ascertain that he was, indeed, back in his chambers, then got up to follow the sound of the screaming.

The screaming was rather loud and seemed to be coming from behind his closet door.

"This is my house," said Scrooge walking toward the door. "Whoever or whatever foul thing is in my closet, prepare to- "

As Scrooge laid his hand on the doorknob in mid-bluff, a strange voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. Since the screaming had stopped, Scrooge complied.

It was his own bedroom. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The closet was gone and the colors of his admittedly drab bedchamber were turned up to eleven. It was as if someone had taken a living picture and cranked up the HDR to worrying levels.

Scrooge looked behind him and saw his colorless bedroom, then looked back toward the closet and saw the bright, gleaming, over-saturated bedroom; and how he hadn't noticed before he couldn't say, but on his bed lay the biggest man Scrooge had ever laid eyes on. He had to be twelve feet tall and weight at least several hundred pounds more than Scrooge himself.

The creature lying on Scrooge's bed opened his mouth and screamed. Scrooge covered his ears and was about to run when the giant began laughing. It was a warm, inviting laugh. A laugh that did not make you the butt of a cruel joke but instead invited you to appreciate a clever joke well told. When the giant laughed a feast appeared around him: turkeys, hams, and chickens of all sizes; sausages, hot dogs, and brats prepared on a grill; chestnuts, strawberries, and apples looking freshly picked; butter cream, carrot, and red velvet cakes frosted to the nines; barrels of ale, casks of wine, and more juices than Scrooge could name.

"Waking up with a scream," exclaimed the giant. "How invigorating!"

Despite the giant's booming voice, Scrooge barely heard the giant speak. The giant, used to such behavior, clapped once, a loud, thunderous sound that would have gotten Scrooge's attention from even miles away. Scrooge focused on the giant in front of him.

"Come in!" exclaimed the giant. "Come in and know me better, man!"

Scrooge entered with his dander up. In his mind, one did not simply offer a spread such as the one laid out before him without wanting something in return. While any passerby would have described the giant's eyes as clear and kind, Scrooge's first thought when seeing the giant was 'used car salesman.'

The giant, as if reading Scrooge's mind, said, "I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me!"

Scrooge did so, and seeing the loosely hung robe in shimmering emerald green, Croc'd feet, long curly hair, sparkling eye, cheery voice, and large suspect cigar held in one extra-large hand, Scrooge revised his initial impression and thought, 'trust fund frat bro.'

"You have never seen the like of me before!" exclaimed the Spirit.

"Every time I step foot on a used car lot or walk past fraternity row at the U," Scrooge made answer to it. "Spirit! Conduct me where you will and let us get this over with."

The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.

"Touch my robe!"

"Not a chance," replied Scrooge.

"Very well then. Grab an apple and we shall be off."

Scrooge did as he was told and held it fast.

His bed chamber, along with all the food and drink, save the apple in his hand, vanished instantly. They stood in a city street, snow falling pleasantly around them, yet Scrooge felt neither wind nor cold. It was evening and the neighborhood was full of children building snow forts and snow men while the sound of snow blowers and shovels filled the air. Across the way in an open lot, defenders were preparing a snowball arsenal in a snow fort while attackers at the other end of the lot prepared their offensive ammunition. Christmas lights on houses, garages, trees, bushes, and lampposts blinked merrily.

"To be blunt," Scrooge said, ignoring the activity around him, instead staring pointedly at the cigar held in the giant's hand, "that is a peculiar smell coming from your cigar."

"Mind it not, Scrooge. Follow."

And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in showing off this power of his, or else it was his own kind, generous, hearty nature, and his sympathy with all poor men, that led him straight to Scrooge's clerk's; for there he went, and took Scrooge with him, holding his apple; and on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless Bob Cratchit’s dwelling with the smoke from his cigar.

The Spirit entered the house and Scrooge followed. They came upon the Cratchit family dining upon their Christmas Eve dinner. It was a humble spread but one well made.

The children, three girls and two boys, all heartily enjoying their Christmas Eve supper, were engrossed in their own discussions. Bob Cratchit leaned over to his wife and whispered, "The doctor said Tiny Tim isn't responding to the new medication. It looks like she'll try to enroll him in the study at the U she told us about."

They turned to look at their son, Tiny Tim, who, despite eating well, for they always made sure he had enough to eat so he could keep his strength up for the various procedures he endured, looked frail and small. Tiny Tim, though, as always, was putting up a brave front for his family.

"Will we be able to afford it?" said Mrs. Cratchit. "The doctor said it would be so expensive."

"We always find a way, dear," said Bob, grabbing his wife's hand.

Tiny Tim turned toward the two of them and smiled, having overheard their exchange, then turned back to his siblings, who were now arguing over who would have to clear the table.

"I'll do it," said Tiny Tim.

"You will not!" said Mrs. Cratchit. "You can barely walk with your crutches now. Come, children, let's start cleaning up. Bob, you take Tiny Tim over by the fire so he can warm himself."

With half-hearted groans, the children began clearing the table while Bob and Tiny Tim settled by the fire.

"Why do you always volunteer to do everything?" said Bob to his son, stroking his hair with worry.

"Dad, I believe we are here for each other. I want to help others and experience as much as I can while I can. God bless us, every one."

Bob gave his son a big hug and grabbed the book they had been reading together from the coffee table. They both faced the fire, then Bob started reading to Tiny Tim.

The Spirit turned toward Scrooge, "I see Bob reading alone by the fire, and crutches without an owner, if these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die."

Scrooge looked surprised. "Why tell me, Spirit? You cannot believe this is my fault? It looks as though I pay Bob enough to have a Christmas Eve dinner and to afford medical care for Tiny Tim. Surely you cannot ask any more from me?"

The Spirit, usually carefree and relaxed, looked disgustedly at Scrooge, "The meal was provided by the local food bank and their medical coverage is provided by MinnesotaCare."

"Then Bob should find a job that pays better!" said Scrooge. "It's a free market. He doesn't have to work for me. He should just find another job. It's simple self-interest and self-responsibility."

"Tiny Tim will die."

"Then let the God that Tiny Tim believes in save him! Your God is all-powerful, right? Let your all-powerful, all-knowing God do something for him."

Mrs. Cratchit and the other children finished in the kitchen and brought Kemp's eggnog with them as they sat around the fire.

"A toast," said Bob. "Good will toward all!"

They raised their glasses and drank to the good of all mankind.

"Bah humbug!" said Scrooge. "They could all be out working this evening, shoveling sidewalks or plowing parking lots, instead of living off the charity of others. And look, over there, all those presents under the Christmas tree, probably provided by kindhearted fools who grabbed the children's names off an Angel Tree in Target or CVS."

Scrooge walked away from the warmth, light, and love of the house into the cold, dark night. "Take me back home, Spirit."

The giant turned to watch Scrooge leave and said, "You must first look at the apple in your hand."

Scrooge did as he was asked. The apple was shriveled and bruised.

"That is an apple from the tree of knowledge," said the Ghost. "It reflects in itself the knowledge and wisdom of the one who holds it."

As Scrooge watched the apple, it turned black, then to dust.

The Ghost appeared beside Scrooge.

"Without that apple," said the Spirit, "you are lost and have no way of getting home. I'm afraid I must leave you now."

Scrooge was about to protest but the Spirit disappeared into the falling snow which began to rage around them. Scrooge tried in vain to see Cratchit's house or any of the Christmas decorations lit nearby, but to no avail. Scrooge thrust his arms out in front of him and walked, hoping he was headed toward shelter; but hope soon turned to panic and, as the snow swirled wildly, stinging his face and hands, choking him when he breathed, Scrooge ran blindly. He made it only a couple of steps when he hit a tree, banging his head, knocking himself out.



Stave Four
The Last Of The Spirits

Scrooge could have sworn he was awake. He thought his eyes were open. He raised his hands and felt his eyes to be open. He could blink. No matter what he did, though, he could see only blackness. He looked all round himself, trying to find any light, or any thing, to focus on; slowly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw an even deeper blackness coalesce into a hooded form. The blackness of the hooded form made the previous blackness seem like a sunny day at high noon.

Scrooge had had enough. "Let me guess," he said. "You're the Ghost of Things Yet To Come."

The spirit answered not, but pointed with its hand.

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge raged at the silent shape so much that his legs trembled before him, and he found that he could hardly stand.

"I don't care to go anywhere with you or see anything you have to offer, Spirit!" said Scrooge. "I do not fear you, I only fear the time of mine you are sure to waste. You believe your purpose here is to do me good? The best good you could do me is to stop causing me concussions and letting me get a good night's sleep!"

The Spirit waved its arm at Scrooge and he saw a street scene. It was deathly cold out and snow was falling from a heavy sky. Two men were walking toward a bar when a street urchin ran toward them begging for money.

"Go away kid, ya bother me," said the first man.

"Oh, come on, Bill," said the second, grabbing his wallet and handing over a fiver. "Don't be such a Scrooge."

"Spirit!" said Scrooge, ignoring the rest of the scene. "I do not care what my legacy is, but if 'being a Scrooge' means not giving money to people who didn't earn it, than I, for one. am proud!"

The Spirit again waved its arm at Scrooge and the street scene changed to a hospital room. The room was crowded as two adults and four children stood vigil around a bed where a small child was hooked up to a heart monitor that had just gone from beeping to flat line.

"Tiny Tim!" screamed Mrs. Cratchit, squeezing her boy's hand.

Bob Cratchit silently cried and Tiny Tim's siblings held each other tightly.

Scrooge got a closer look at Tiny Tim and saw he was no older than when he had seen him at the Cratchit's house earlier in the evening.

"What of it?" said Scrooge to the Spirit. "Tiny Tim was getting the best medical care his family could afford. Of course the family is sad, but they'll get over it. People die all the time."

At this, the Spirit waved its arm at Scrooge yet again and the hospital room faded away as Scrooge's bed chamber came into focus.

"Finally!" said Scrooge. "Finally one of you Spectres takes me home!"

Scrooge was so pleased to be home, and so tired from his ghostly travels, that he jumped directly into bed without first changing into his night clothes or pulling back any of the bed curtains. The briefest moment later he jumped right back out so violently that he caused the bed curtains to fall from their poles before running up to the cloaked Spirit.

"How dare you!" said Scrooge, shaking his finger under the Spectre's hood. "How dare you!"

With the bed curtains fallen away, one could see Ebeneezer lying in bed alone, white as a, well, white as a ghost. If one looked carefully at his chest they would discern neither rise nor fall of whatsoever.

"My own death doesn't scare me, Spirit, despite the surprise of coming upon my own corpse in the bed I was ready to sleep in. Your cheap parlor tricks mean nothing. I care not what happens to me after I die for I will no longer be conscious to worry about it, and, before you try to show me what happens to all of my money, know that I care not about that either after I am dead. Money is simply a way to keep score while I am alive; when I am dead let my money go where it may! And before you take me to my graveside service where, I am absolutely sure, there are no mourners, know that I care not about that either! Now take me home!"

After the briefest of hesitations, the Spirit waved its hand at Scrooge a final time. The Spirit seemed to collapse into itself, then disappeared entirely.



Stave Five
The End Of It

There was no blow to the head. There was no slipping into unconsciousness. Scrooge blinked and the bed curtains were back in place. He edged to the side of the bed and tentatively pulled back the bed curtain with one finger.

Yes! The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own.

"Thank God!" said Scrooge, then chuckled at what he'd said.

Scrooge took a long hot shower, got himself a nice hot meal, then collapsed into bed and slept all through Christmas and into the next day.

When he awoke bright and early on December the 26th, he immediately opened his window to let in some fresh air. Scrooge breathed deeply, enjoying the cold air washing across his face for a long moment, then looked up into the bright blue sky which was, he noted, gloriously free of be-chained spirits wailing and lamenting the difficulties of others' victimhood.

"Bah! Humbug!" said Scrooge, closing the window then making ready to go to his counting house.

Those who saw Scrooge walking to work that day saw a man renewed; a man with a spring in his step; a man who had glimpsed the tragic comedy of the Heavens themselves and turned away in the knowledge that he was better. To Scrooge's way of thinking, he wasn't sure whether or not any of it had happened, but he was sure it didn't matter; all that mattered was that he lived his life by his Principles of Reason, the very same Principles that allowed him to win at life every day of the year.

When Scrooge got to his counting house, he decided to not start a fire, instead finding pen and paper; what he wrote was simple: Help Wanted, Clerk.

Scrooge sat patiently then, watching his pocket watch as it moved from nine o'clock to nine o'five to nine fifteen. When his watch read nine twenty-three he heard the bell above the door ding and the stomping of feet. Bob Cratchit came into view looking sheepish and worried.

"Running late, Mr. Cratchit?" said Scrooge, the smallest of smiles touching his lips.

"Sorry, sir. Indeed, sir. I was up late with the family telling Christmas Tales and drinking eggnog by the fire."

"Put this piece of paper in the window," said Scrooge, handing over the 'Help Wanted' sign.

The clerk put the sign in the window then turned to Scrooge.

"You're fired, Mr. Cratchit." said Scrooge, picking up a pen and starting in on the ledgers in front of him; the end of the fiscal year was always busy, so many peoples' money problems became even more problematic during the Holiday Season. He had many properties to foreclose on. "You came in late today despite your promise to come in early."

Bob Cratchit lowered his head and opened the door to leave.

"Oh, Cratchit," said Scrooge, closing the ledger in front of him and looking down his nose at his ex-clerk. "In lieu of two weeks notice and pay, please accept my best wishes for your boy, Tiny Tim."

As Cratchit left the office, Scrooge grabbed another ledger to work on from the very large pile on his desk. He had no further intercourse with Spirits, and had learned to keep Christmas in his heart, in his own way, ever after.