December 24, 2020

Another Christmas Carol

Filed under: Christmas Time!,Dead Tree Sandwiches,WTF Did I Just Write? — Katrina @ 11:55 pm

There are way way way way way too many versions of A Christmas Carol. Anyway, here’s another, with a couple of twists. Merry Christmas!

Marley was dead.

Ebenezer Scrooge gazed up at the “Scrooge & Marley” sign over his business on the seventh anniversary of his partner’s passing, his face impassive while filled with an emotion he could not identify, or a series of emotions he could not parse. He allowed only a minute or two for this before proceeding on inside.

It was also Christmas Eve, a fact Scrooge made a point to ignore. He sat at his desk. After a moment, he opened one of his desk drawers and gazed at something inside it. Then he shut it again and got to work, ignoring the sounds of carols and charitable requests going on outside.

“Merry Christmas!” came a cheery voice from his office doorway.

“Meh,” Scrooge grunted, not looking up at his sole employee, Bob Cratchit.

“I wish you’d at least try to get into the spirit,” Cratchit went on. “My wife and I working hard to create a wonderful Christmas for our Tiny Tim.”

Scrooge rolled his eyes. There he goes again about that boy of his!

“Tiny Tim was beset by God with his challenges, but we get by with it all, day by day,” Cratchit continued still. “Anyway, I shall get to work. I’ll be needing to leave early, as I’ve mentioned.”

Scrooge grumbled. “Fine, leave early if you’ll stop talking about it so much. I’ll relish the silence.”

The work day went on. Scrooge busied himself with his own tasks, occasionally stealing a glance into the desk drawer. That afternoon, the front door opened, and he heard an unfamiliar voice talking with Cratchit.

“Mr. Scrooge, there’s a man here to see you,” Cratchit said from the office doorway.

A man came in past Cratchit with a clipboard and a metal tin from which the sound of jingling coins came.

“Sorry to disturb you,” spoke the man, as Scrooge sneered at him. “But as it is Christmas Eve, there are so many needy families and starving children who have little to celebrate with. Perhaps you might contribute something to brighten up their holiday?”

“No,” Scrooge snapped, looking back at his work. “You may leave now.”

“Surely you can spare something? Such a small amount from you could make all the difference for someone-”

“Why should I?” Scrooge barked, looking up again. “What good would it actually do? You come in here and disturb my day with your words to be good to others because the calendar says so. Well, don’t they need help the rest of the year, too? I didn’t see you barging in here in August.”

The man was taken aback. “Sir, of course, they are needy in August-”

“But you do it now instead,” Scrooge interrupted. “Because it’s Christmas time. Not because you care about these people but because you want to make yourself look like you’re serving some holiday spirit. It’s every bit an act of selfishness that you do this. So, no, I’m not giving you anything. Go out and find someone who doesn’t see through the ruse.”

The man scowled at him. “Very well. Merry Christmas to you anyway.”

Scrooge grumbled and got back to his work. The man left the office and rejoined Cratchit out by the front door.

“Sorry about him,” Cratchit said. “Don’t think he’d know a happy holiday if it bit him.”

“I’m not worried about him,” the man replied, putting his coat on. “He’ll just be sitting alone in his big house tomorrow, no one to love him or make merry with him. And, you know, I’d say he deserves it. I’ve got my family, and I see you’ve got one, too? That picture on your desk of the little boy?”

“Oh, yes, that’s my Tiny Tim. He has his troubles, but we all get by.”

“Well, God bless you and your wife and him, too.”

“That means so much. Thank you.”

Scrooge was able to hear all this from his office. He rolled his eyes again and tried to ignore it. He again opened the desk drawer and gazed at the item inside before shutting it again.

Later on, Cratchit left early, and Scrooge enjoyed the quieter office for another few hours before he headed out. Time to be alone with his thoughts. He took one last glance inside his desk drawer before he left and went home.

Scrooge arrived on the front steps of his large house, remembering again the words of the man that afternoon. He shook his head and went up. He stopped at the door, looking at the old door knocker. It was a lion’s head, but for a moment it looked different. He decided it must be a trick of the light and went on inside.

He sat at his favorite chair beside the fireplace, looking over some books.

Suddenly, there was a rattling of chains just outside the room.

“Who’s there?!” he cried.

No sound.

“What on earth?” Scrooge muttered, going to investigate the sound.

Then the sound came again behind him.

“Hello, Ebenezer.”

“What?!” Scrooge screamed, ducking behind his chair. He looked out again. “What is going on?!”

There in the room was a floating translucent figure covered in chains. It was his late partner Jacob Marley.

“I’ve been sent to talk to you, Ebenezer,” Marley spoke.

“What is this?” Scrooge demanded, on his feet again and coming forward. “Is this some sort of sick prank?” He looked around the room to see where the ghostly light seemingly emanating from the Marley figure might actually be coming from. “Think it’s funny to scare the lonely old man on Christmas Eve?”

“You can’t continue like this, Ebenezer,” Marley said again. “That is why I’m here.”

“Continue like what?” Scrooge replied, still looking for the real source of the light and sound.

“The life you live. It’s Christmas Eve and here you are alone and bitter.”

“No different from when you were alive,” Scrooge spat. “You weren’t big on this holiday either. And that’s rich, judging me for my life when yours is lost and, well, why are you covered in chains anyway?”

“Yes, I’m covered in chains, but you needn’t be dead to be in chains. I’ve been sent to help you avoid the same fate.”

“Unbelievable. Even if you actually are the ghost of Jacob Marley, which I still highly doubt, why should I trust whatever it is you’re trying to do here? What help do you even mean to give?”

The Marley ghost sighed. “Tonight you’ll be visited by three more ghosts who will take you on a journey. It will not be easy, but you must listen to them and take to heart what you see.”

“Is that so?”

“It’s the only way to save you.”

“Save me from what? What exactly is it you or I have done that’s actually so horrible?”

Marley did not answer this. “The first will arrive at 1am. That is all I can tell you at this time. Farewell, Ebenezer Scrooge.”

At this, the ghost faded away. Scrooge looked around some more for the actual source of this supposed ghost or any sign of laughing pranksters spying on him during this. He finally got into bed, deciding it had just been a strange day and to pay it no more mind.

The clock struck 1am.

“Wake up, Scrooge!” came a small voice at the bedside.

“Oh, seriously?” Scrooge reacted groggily.

The visitor was floating in midair and completely orange like a candle flame.

“I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past.”

“What does that mean?”

“You’ll see. Won’t you come with me?”

“No. I want to go back to sleep.”

“Come on. It’s important. Take my hand.”

“Fine,” Scrooge sighed, taking the outstretched ghost hand.

Suddenly, the room around him vanished, and he was standing in a snowy field in the countryside.

“Where are we?” Scrooge reacted, looking around and noticing a nearby building. “Wait. That looks like my old school. About like it did then, too. I should think they’d have updated it in the decades since.”

“Those decades haven’t passed by,” the ghost explained. “Look over there.”

A boy stood alone outside the building, gazing up the road waiting for something.

“That’s me!” Scrooge reacted. “What is going on here?”

“Do you remember this moment?” asked the ghost.

“I do,” Scrooge replied. “Everyone else had gone home for Christmas, while I was waiting to see if my family would come get me.”

The boy they watched finally gave up looking and sadly went back inside the building.

“Everyone else seemed to have families eager to see them for Christmas,” Scrooge explained. “My father resented me because my mother died giving birth to me. He remarried after some years and then my half sister Fran was born. My stepmother did not die in childbirth, so my father treasured Fran much more than me. I was sent off to this boarding school so he didn’t have to look at me.”

The scene changed to inside the building, where young Scrooge sat alone in a classroom, crying. A young girl suddenly burst in.

“Fran!” the boy reacted, quickly wiping his face. “You came!”

“Of course!” she said, hugging him. “I asked if you could come home for Christmas this time, and they said you could. I’ve missed you so much!”

Current Scrooge sighed at this scene, as the ghost looked at him.

“Your sister loved you,” the ghost commented.

“She did,” Scrooge agreed. “For a time anyway.”

The scene around them melted away and changed to the inside of a large fancy house. Scrooge and Fran were young adults now, and another young man was there with her.

“Sorry, Ebenezer,” Fran said to her brother coldly. “We are only just married and we’d rather just do Christmas by ourselves.”

“Alright, I guess,” young Scrooge replied, looking crestfallen. “I’ll see you both some other time then?”

“We’ll see,” Fran said, leaving with her husband.

Current Scrooge winced. “That’s how it became with her,” he explained to the ghost. “Our parents had died. My brother-in-law never liked me very much. I never really knew why. I wasn’t even invited to their wedding. I can’t blame him entirely. Even before this I was seeing Fran less and less.”

“She had a child, right?” asked the ghost.

“Yes, my nephew Fred,” Scrooge said. “I’ve only seen him once or twice since he was little, and even back then just a few times. Fran died when he was young, and no one had even told me she died until well after the funeral. Her widower then raised Fred alone, and they definitely never sought me out. I once or twice tried to contact them but was ignored. So I gave up. If they didn’t want me, why would I try? I tried many times to think of what I might have done to make everyone leave. I wasn’t like I am now back then. I didn’t have any money nor had I been greedy or uncaring in anyway.”

“What do you think it is?”

“I can’t say.”

The scene around them changed again to the interior of an old accounting business.

“Fezziwig!” Scrooge reacted. “I worked for him a long time ago. He was a good man.”

Young adult Scrooge sat at desk beside another young man.

“And that’s when I met Jacob Marley,” current Scrooge added.

The scene around them changed multiple times, as young Scrooge and Marley did work for Fezziwig and went out to parties. Marley flirted with all the girls while Scrooge stayed in the corner and watched shyly.

“Get over here, Eb,” Marley beckoned him. “These girls want to dance. Loosen up, would you?”

Scrooge looked at the girls who looked eagerly back at him and gulped. He went out and danced unenthusiastically with them for a few minutes before giving up and retreating again to the corner. Only to find someone was waiting for him.

“Don’t do anything you don’t want to do,” the girl waiting there said. “My name is Isabel. We don’t need to dance, but we can just stand here in the corner quietly together if you want.”

Young Scrooge smiled at her, and the two of them stayed in that corner the rest of the evening and talked.

“Isabel,” current Scrooge sighed miserably.

The scene around them changed some more, showing young Ebenezer and Isabel going out to dinners together and walking hand in hand through the park. And to young Ebenezer in a store buying a ring.

“She made you so happy,” the ghost observed.

“Happier than I had ever been,” current Scrooge said. “Until what I’m certain we’re about to see.”

The scene changed to young Ebenezer in a room with Isabel and Marley.

“Is this true?” asked young Ebenezer in a choked voice. “Isabel, you’ve been cheating on me with Jacob?”

“For some time now, yes,” she admitted. “It just happened one day and has become more regular. As such, it’s right you and I should not be together anymore.”

“Had I made you unhappy?” asked young Ebenezer.

“Not exactly. Just perhaps you’re not what I’ve needed.”

Current Scrooge looked away, himself trying to keep from breaking down. “Spirit, I don’t want to see this. Why are we seeing this?”

“What happened after this?” the ghost asked.

“They got married. I didn’t go to the wedding, of course, and I had fallen out with them both for many years. They never had any children. Isabel died some years back. Marley was cheating on her all the time. He sought me out again a long time later.”

“And you two became friends again?”

“Not like before. Truth be told, ever since Isabel left me, I found myself unable to make any new friends nor love any other women. I could no longer trust anyone. Jacob contacted me, a few years after Isabel died, and wanted to reconnect. He was at this point the only person I even had in my life, so I agreed. We started our business and were very successful.”

“Still you could not make any more friends?”

“That’s the thing…”

The scene changed to middle aged Scrooge and Marley at a professional gathering. Every time Scrooge tried to speak to anyone, Marley would interrupt and take over the conversation.

“Ebenezer here is my business partner,” Marley said. “He’s a little slow and awkward sometimes, but I’ve taken him under my wing.”

At this point, whoever they were speaking with ignored Scrooge and talked only to Marley.

“I wish you’d stop doing that,” Scrooge said to Marley after. “I’m not slow or awkward or under your wing.”

“Aren’t you?” Marley replied with a mocking laugh. “Relax. I’m just joking around. And we’re still making business connections which are just as good for you as me. Sit back and enjoy it.”

The scene changed to this happening again and again, as over time Scrooge stopped trying to speak to anyone other than Marley, whom he’d resented more and more. And then, one Christmas Eve, Marley had died.

“I still don’t know how I feel about it,” current Scrooge admitted during the scene of Marley’s funeral, attended by some business associates who saw it as a chance to network. “I truly hated him much of the time if I’m being honest, but he was all I had. I couldn’t stand up to him, and he laughed me off if I did, knowing I had no one else. That’s the whole reason he ever reconnected with me at all. And then he died, and even now, seven years later, I don’t know how I feel. It also makes me more skeptical of this whole exercise we’re doing here, as it was he who appeared and said you ghosts were coming. Two more after you, I take it!”

“So with Marley’s death, you had no one?” asked the ghost.

“Not unless you count Cratchit, but he’s just an employee, not a friend. He’s always waxing about his disabled child and how he believes God gave him that child as some sort of test for him and his wife. So annoying to listen to day in and day out.”

“What is it you have inside your desk drawer?”

Scrooge sighed. “An invitation.”

“Oh? From whom?”

“My nephew Fred. He invited me to his Christmas Day gathering. He invites me every year, but I never go. Not sure why he keeps bothering with the invite.”

“So you’ve reconnected with him?”

“Not exactly. I bumped into him by chance some years ago, shortly after Marley died. We didn’t talk long. Ever since, I’ve gotten these Christmas invitations from him.”

“Why don’t you go?”

Scrooge shook his head. “I can’t. I barely know him. Who knows what his parents told him about me? For all I know, he’s only inviting me out of pity or expecting that I’m not going to come anyway.” He sighed. “And even if he truly does want to get to know me, what then? He’ll just drop me like his mother did. Like Isabel. Or parade me around to boost his own ego like Jacob did. If that’s all it would get me, I want none of it.”

The scene then changed, and Scrooge was back in the present day in his bedroom. The ghost was gone.

“What was that?!” he said aloud, getting back into bed. “And there’s going to be two more? I’ve more than had enough of this already.”

He dozed off for a little while before the clock struck 2am.

“Wake up, Scrooge!” came a booming jolly voice.

“Oh, no,” Scrooge grumbled groggily. “Whoa!”

There was a large glowing man in a festive fuzzy green robe with a wreath on his head. “I’m the Ghost of Christmas Present!”

“I suppose you have a journey for me as well,” Scrooge sighed, getting out of bed. “Alright, let’s get this over with.”

“Take my robe.”

Scrooge took the robe sleeve, and the scene around them changed to a street in front of a festively decorated house. Scrooge looked at the house number and street name and realized where he must be.

“I just told the other ghost I didn’t want to come to this!” he said.

The scene changed to the inside of the house, a cozy living room filled with people in ugly Christmas sweaters drinking eggnog and hot cocoa, with a big Christmas tree in the corner surrounded by mounds of gifts. Standing in the center was Fred.

“Merry Christmas to you all!” Fred announced. “I’m so pleased you all could make it. Who’s up for a game?”

The guests began playing a trivia game. Scrooge grumbled, knowing the answers to most of them as he watched these party guests struggle.

“Is this how you try to get me to want to go to this thing?” he asked the ghost. “Showing me that I would clean up in this game if I were here for real?”

The ghost only laughed.

“I’ve got one,” said one party guest. “I’m thinking of a solitary wretched creature that roams the streets and glowers at all who come hear him.”

Some other party guests chuckled, but Fred shrugged and asked, “I give up. Who do you mean?”

“Your uncle, of course!” The others laughed again.

“And there it is,” Scrooge sighed. “Seems I’ve been right to stay away.”

Fred shook his head. “Please don’t talk about him like that. You don’t know him.”

“Neither do you! You keep inviting him, but he never shows up. Why do you bother with him?”

“He’s the only family I’ve got left. And if he were to come here, I should like you all to be kind to him rather than mocking the poor old man so much. That’s all I ever hear anyone say about him, and I’m rather tired of it.”

The party guest nodded. “Alright, fine. I’m sorry. I’m sure your uncle is just misunderstood. Not that we’d know either way. But surely there was a reason your parents never saw him. Your mother was his own sister, right?”

“My mother was trying to please my father by distancing herself from her brother, which I believe was a mistake. My father only disliked my uncle because he thought him intimidating and odd, which is absolutely no reason. I’m not my parents, and they are both gone now. So I shall connect with my uncle if I so please.”

Scrooge gaped at this. “That was the reason?” he said to the ghost. “All this time? I’d thought it was something I had done. What on earth intimidated his father so much?”

“That I don’t know,” the ghost said. “But that is not important. Listen to what your nephew says now.”

“He says he genuinely wants me to join his party and get to know me. I suppose I’ll give it some more thought.”

“I’d say you give it a lot of thought. You do look at the invitation in your desk drawer constantly.”

“I admit I feel guilty not accepting. Maybe sometime.”

“Very well,” said the ghost, as the scene changed.

They stood now inside a smaller house. A woman busily prepared a Christmas dinner, glancing every so often at the front door. After a few minutes, her husband came through.

“Cratchit,” Scrooge reacted. “Spirit, why must we watch them now? I have to listen to him wax poetic about this family of his so much. I feel like I’ve been here a thousand times already.”

“Welcome home, dear,” said the wife. “Scrooge let you off early after all, did he?”

“He did. Though not before being so rude to a man collecting for charity.”

“Typical.”

“Well, it’s Christmas Eve. Let’s not think about such unpleasant things anymore tonight.” Cratchit turned from his wife and looked up the stairs. “Tiny Tim! It’s almost time for church.”

Scrooge rolled his eyes. “And now I guess we’ll be seeing that sweet little disabled angel he’s always going on about.”

A voice shouted from upstairs. “Stop calling me that!” With a clunk-clunk-clunk, Tim, who appeared to be about twelve years old, stepped carefully down the stairs with his crutch. “I’m not tiny.”

“You’ll always be tiny to us!” his father said in a sing-song voice.

“Do you expect me to find that amusing?” the boy snapped. “You calling me demeaning names that I don’t like to everyone we meet? I’ve told you to stop.”

“Calm down,” his mother said. “It’s almost time for church. Get yourself ready.”

“I don’t want to go to church!”

His parents both gasped. “You are going to church and that’s final,” his father snapped.

“Why should I? You just parade me in front of everyone to ‘remind’ them about how Jesus healed people like me. I don’t see Jesus showing up now to magically make me able to walk without my crutch.”

“Don’t you speak like that! You will come to church and keep these blasphemous thoughts to yourself. If the Lord keeps you crippled, it’s for that disrespectful tongue in your mouth.”

“Oh, is my condition my own fault now? Here you two are always going on about how it’s God giving you two a challenge to raise someone like me. I wonder why I should even continue existing at all.”

“Yes, it really is a wonder. Now get your coat.”

Scrooge gazed thunderstruck at this scene.

“The picture on his desk,” he muttered. “It’s of a boy of about four or five. But now that I think about it he’s had that same picture up for several years without updating. Of course the boy is much older now. And… the way they talk to him. Is this the same child he’s been talking about every day?”

“What people say about their lives and what their lives are actually like are often very different,” the ghost said.

“Why do they speak so harshly to Tim? It sounds to me like what we just saw is a regular thing.”

Scrooge and the ghost followed the three Cratchits as they walked down the street en route to church. Tim hobbled along with his parents, looking down at the walk and not speaking. They arrived at the church, as parishioners greeted the parents sweetly, followed by “oh, and here’s Tiny Tim! How wonderful that he could make it.”

“No one speaks to Tim himself,” Scrooge observed, growing more and more upset. “They speak about him. To everyone here, he’s nothing more than a disabled child his parents are beset with. Now that I think about it, that’s how Cratchit has always talked about his family. He sees his son as a challenge for him and his wife rather than a living breathing person. And as we saw, once Tim expresses his own personal thoughts, he is shouted down and silenced.”

Scrooge watched the scene, as Cratchit brought his son before a group of people and talked about how Jesus cured those like Tim. Tim kept quiet and stared at the ground. Afterward, his father scolded him quietly for not appearing more friendly.

“And there he goes with that right after Tim explicitly told him to stop,” Scrooge ranted. “Unbelievable. I don’t think I can stand to keep him in my office after this. I wonder if this vision is grounds for termination of employment.” He shook his head. “Er, no. I can’t do that. It seems he’s the only provider for the family, so cutting off his employment and salary would harm Tim as well. Spirit, tell me. What will become of this boy?”

The ghost sighed. “If these shadows remain unchanged, the boy’s situation will only worsen.”

“Because of his illness? Is it something that will evenutally kill him?”

The ghost did not answer this.

“You see, you and the other spirit have shown me all this, but it just confirms what I’ve already known,” Scrooge ranted. “There is no peace on earth or goodwill toward others that we’re suppose to celebrate this season. Even the seemingly kindest people turn out to have darkness in their hearts, darkness that permeates everything. Everyone judges me for it, and I hardly claim to be innocent, but it’s like I told that charity man. These seeming acts of kindness or charity are a ploy, to quench one’s guilt, to make one appear virtuous when they very much are not. And Cratchit? Honestly, much as I thought his talk about his family was nonsense, I never imagined it was like this. That he’s exploiting his own child to make him and his wife look good and get sympathy from the community. Perhaps then it’s best what I’ve been doing already. That I don’t get to know others, so I don’t need to see just how deep their darkness goes. Is this the truth you wanted me to find, Spirit? What, if not this, is your message here? What is the point of all this?”

But he realized the ghost was no longer there. In fact, the scene around him had faded away to black.

“Now what?” Scrooge said aloud, shivering.

The scene around him came into focus, and he was standing in a snow covered graveyard, as a large black-cloaked figure floated nearby.

“I take it,” Scrooge said to the figure. “You’re the Ghost of Christmas Future?”

The figure nodded but did not speak.

“I can’t say I’m feeling very hopeful after what I’ve seen so far,” Scrooge continued. “But I suppose there is more to see. I’m ready.”

The ghost led him through the graveyard. Ahead was a new grave with no one around it. No mourners or flowers.

“Is that mine?” Scrooge guessed. “I suppose I already knew this is what was ahead for me. A lonely end and a lonely grave. People probably pawing through my stuff, as I’ve left it to no one. I could probably have it left to Fred, though. I should maybe do that.”

They neared the grave, and in the weak light the name on it finally appeared.

Tim Cratchit.

“No!” Scrooge screamed. “No! What could have happened to him?!” He looked around. “And why on earth would he not have any mourners?”

The scene changed to the Cratchit house. Here there were flowers and sympathy cards strewn about. The Cratchits sat ashen faced in their living room as well-wishers dropped by.

“Such a terrible loss!” they said during their visits. “If there’s anything we can do. May his memory be a blessing. Remember the good times. He’s gone to a better place.”

Scrooge watched this play out, as the Cratchits thanked their visitors. “Did he not just say in the previous vision that it was a wonder that Tim should continue existing? Well, he got his wish perhaps.”

The ghost beside him said nothing.

“Alright, that’s perhaps cruel,” Scrooge admitted. “I’m sure he didn’t mean that and from the looks him now this is truly devastating. What could have happened to him?”

As the visits stopped, the Cratchits stood up and tidied up the room in silence.

“Do you think anyone knows?” Bob Cratchit asked his wife quietly.

“If they do, they aren’t saying anything, which is fine,” she responded.

“They believe it was his illness catching up to him. Don’t think there’s reason to doubt that.”

“The doctor perhaps. But he seems to be eager to keep it to himself as well.”

“Don’t need anyone asking too many questions. Like… what drove him to do it.”

“NO!” Scrooge bellowed, figuring it out. “You monsters!” He was sobbing now as he turned to the ghost. “There were no flowers or mourners at the grave because no one was mourning him. All the sympathy went here to his parents. All the sympathy always went to his parents. No one treated him like or acknowledged that he was a human being. And now…”

He looked up at the Cratchits, who’d stopped talking and tidied up in silence, their faces grief-stricken and blank.

“Is it remorse they feel?” Scrooge spoke again, still teary-eyed. “Do they not know? Or do they feel relief? The way they carry on, I can’t be sure.” He wiped his face. “Spirit, is there any way to prevent this? Why show me this if this innocent boy has such a bleak future?”

The scene changed back to the graveyard. Ahead of them was another grave, beside which stood a lone figure.

“Oh!” Scrooge reacted, as this new grave was in fact his own.

The lone mourner was Fred.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t get to know one another, Uncle Ebenezer,” Fred spoke sadly, setting a bouquet of flowers on the grave.

Scrooge gritted his teeth. “I’m an unlikeable cranky old man,” he noted. “And even I have someone mourning for me. Tim Cratchit had no one.”

The ghost floated there, still not speaking.

“Is this all I’m to see?” Scrooge asked. “Is everything you’ve shown me what will be or what may be? For sure, Tim and I and everyone else will die someday regardless, but I should hope under better circumstances and at a very old age after lots of happiness still to come. Yet… all I still see is darkness in everyone’s hearts. I don’t think I can have faith in kindness and goodwill after all I’ve seen and known. But I suppose there isn’t much choice. People will still be ugly to one another whether we have that faith in kindness or not. Maybe that faith and trust is what must make the world better or might at least give it a chance. Is that what you want me to think?”

The ghost made no sign.

“I can’t guarantee I can make anything better for anyone or for myself,” he continued. “But, at the very least for Tim Cratchit, all anyone can do is try, right?”

He looked up and suddenly found himself back in his bed, the sun rising outside.

“What?” he reacted, getting up and looking out the window. “That was it? Or is this another vision?”

He looked at the calendar.

“It’s Christmas Day! Ha! There’s still time.”

A little while later, he was knocking on a front door.

“Merry Christmas, Cratchit!” Scrooge announced when it was opened.

“What are you doing here?” Cratchit reacted. “And a Merry Christmas to you, too!”

“Thought I’d drop by to visit you and the family you’re always going on about.” He dropped a large bag on a nearby table. “Got some presents for everybody, too.”

Cratchit dropped his jaw. “I don’t know what to say! That is very thoughtful of you.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Say, where’s your son?”

“Uh, upstairs.”

“Well, let’s bring him down to open the presents. I wasn’t sure what he likes, so I had to guess.”

There was a clunk-clunk-clunk on the stairs.

“Oh, hi,” Tim greeted the visitor without emotion. “What’s going on?”

“Merry Christmas, Tim! I hope you like these presents I brought.”

The boy’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“Say ‘thank you’, Tiny Tim!” Cratchit scolded.

“Knock it off, Cratchit,” Scrooge snapped. “Let the boy say what he wants. I wonder, Tim, how do you feel about being called Tiny?”

“I hate it,” he replied. “I’ve told my parents to stop so many times.”

“That is enough!” his father reacted.

“You heard him,” Scrooge said to his employee. “From now on, I don’t want to be hearing this Tiny nonsense anymore.”

Cratchit blinked in surprise but said nothing.

“These are great!” Tim reacted, already opening some of the gifts.

“Glad to hear it,” Scrooge said. “I’ve heard so much about you over the years it’s time I did something.”

“You should stay for dinner!”

Scrooge smiled. “I’d like to, but I’m actually heading out after this to my nephew’s Christmas party.”

“Fred?” asked Bob Cratchit. “He invited us, too, but we never go.”

“Why not?”

“Dad’s afraid of being judged because I’m disabled,” Tim replied right away.

“That’s not why!” Bob reacted. “It’s just… we do our own thing here.”

Scrooge suspected Tim’s response was correct. “Well, maybe now it’s time. Why don’t you three come with me? It’s my first time going, too.”

So in a little while, Scrooge walked along the street with Tim at his side, with Tim’s parents following behind, still shocked at this whole thing.

“Is Fred a nice person?” Tim asked Scrooge.

“I believe so,” Scrooge said. “I haven’t seen him as much as I should.”

“I wouldn’t want my parents to know this, but I’m a little nervous. People always act weird around me because of how I walk and act. Whenever we meet new people I feel like it’s just going to happen again.”

They reached the front of the house. Fred’s face appeared at the window, and he cracked a wide surprised smile at them and went to open the door.

“Well,” Scrooge turned and said to them. “Here we go.”

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