by John McCaffrey
Ebeneezer Scrooge found his euphoria waning the third day after his Christmas epiphany. It was late Friday afternoon and he was at his desk settling the week's accounts. The haze of happiness and good tidings that had engulfed him after his visits with the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, began to peel away as he tallied his firm's meager earnings.
"Mr. Cratchett," Scrooge barked. "Please give me a moment of your time." Bob Cratchett was glazy and groggy and his back ached. He had arrived late to work, nearly past lunchtime, after sleeping off a terrific hangover.
"Cratchett, did you hear me?"
"Yes sir, sorry sir," Scrooge’s long-suffering assistant croaked. He dropped his quill atop the thick ledger, and reached with shaky hand for a tin cup perched on his chest-high wooden podium. He wrestled the cup to his mouth and drained the contents dry in two gulps.
"Mr. Cratchett," Scrooge thundered. "I want to discuss these dreadful figures."
"Of course, sir. Right away."
Cratchett wobbled across the room and stopped in front of Scrooge’s ink-stained oak desk. He coughed into cupped hands and cleared his throat. "Excuse me, Mr. Scrooge," he said, wiping both palms on his worn, brown waistcoat. "Is there a problem?"
Scrooge squinted through his spectacles, examining his long-time assistant’s bloated, pale face, and hooded, red-rimmed eyes. "I do say, Cratchett, is that rum I smell on you?" he inquired, wrinkling his long, pointy nose. "Dear God, you've the odor of a tavern cloth."
Cratchett blushed. His head swam. He felt nauseous and squeezed out a barely audible burp through his cracked lips. "Yes, Mr. Scrooge, I apologize. I was out late the night past celebrating the raise you gave me, and your promise to help Tiny Tim. It wasn’t my intention to revel, but Higgins, the Inn Keeper, heard of my good fortune and came by the house to personally invite me for a drink. Even though I barely had a quid on me, he gave me tick at the pub, considering my new financial windfall."
Cratchett swallowed and wiped at his weary eyes with the balls of his hands. "I guess I got a bit carried away," he continued, "but it was such fun. I even ordered a round for the lads. Oh, Mr. Scrooge, how I always wanted to buy the boys a pint. It was a grand moment. Of course, Mrs. Cratchet gave me what too when I came home. Lashed me across the back with Tiny Tim's crutch. A good blow for a lady, I might add."
Scrooge's throat filled with bile. His feeble hands dug at the corners of his desk. "Mr. Cratchett," he boomed, "how dare you spend money not yet earned on such foolery. You have a family, and a sick son. Where's your responsibility? Your discipline?"
Cratchett shook his head. "Well, it was only a few pounds, I'm sure, although I haven't tallied up yet with Higgins. Anyway, sir, you said my raise would be substantial. So I don't see how one night out will hurt the family’s finances."
"Uh, yes, yes," Scrooge stammered. "A raise. I did promise you, didn't I?"
"In public, Mr. Scrooge. You were quite demonstrative about it. The whole town was talking of your generosity. Must say it made me feel quite the grand man. Quite the grand man indeed."
Scrooge's head felt a knot. The desire to leap from his desk and strangle Cratchett nearly overpowered him. A blue vein spanning his forehead pulsed against the brittle, pasty skin. He rose from his chair and clenched both hands behind his back.
"Mr. Cratchett," he said.
"Yes, Mr. Scrooge."
"I want you to pack your things and...."
A sharp gust of cool wind howled through the room. The papers on Scrooge’s desk flapped at the corners. Cratchett wrapped his arms around his shoulders and shivered. "In heavens name Mr. Scrooge, what brings this vile breeze? There’s not a window open."
Scrooge cowered as the sound of his name and the rattling of chains reverberated through the shop.
"Over here, Ebenezer, over here."
Scrooge whirled around. "Who speaks? Tell me." His eyes scanned the room. It was nearing dusk and growing dark in the dim-lit room. "Come out where I can see you now. I demand it."
A stronger blast of wind pressed strands of Scrooge’s thin white hair flat against his scalp. Cratchett gripped the sides of his black bowler so it wouldn’t be blown from his head. The papers on Scrooge’s desk lifted into the air, and descended to the coal-dusted stone floor like large, flat snowflakes.
"Now do you see me, Ebenezer?"
Floating near the shop’s ceiling was the ghoulish specter of Scrooge's former business partner, Jacob Marley. Fist-thick, gray-metal chains linked his body, intertwining with a shroud of shredded rags of varying colors. Marley’s eyes were hollow and his face gaunt. His hair was matted and wormy.
"Dear God, Marley. You still look a wreck," Scrooge said.
"Yes, Ebenezer, I remain in purgatorial pain. I was close to shedding these chains, thanks to your recent metamorphis into a loving, charitable man. But your relapse into miserdom has rebound my coils. What have you to say for yourself?"
"Your situation is not my concern," Scrooge spat. " won’t benefit from any reward you get in the afterlife. So don’t come groveling to me, Marley. You chose your life. Now live with the consequences."
"Mr. Scrooge, who do you address?" Cratchett asked, looking up at the ceiling. “I don’t see anyone in the room but us."
Scrooge’s face burned red. "Just stand by," he hissed. "I'll deal with you shortly."
"Oh Ebenezer," Marley wailed. "What happened? Why are you again filled with such venom? Just a few more hours of goodness and I would have been welcomed into heaven. But now my task remains unfinished, and I will never enjoy the promise of eternal peace until you return to a righteous path."
"Humbug," Scrooge said. He waved a fist at his former partner. "Listen, this is the way I am, and this is the way I’m staying. Love your fellow man--what good is it? It nearly drove me to the poor house in just three days. Why Jacob, you should see the week’s ledgers."
"Mr. Scrooge," Cratchett said, his voice hard. "I can't take any more of this strange talk. My nerves are frayed. If you do not tell me of this business, I will leave and take the rest of the day off. Heaven knows I could use a nap."
Scrooge shook his head. "Are you blind, Cratchett? Can't you see? It's the spirit of Jacob Marley, my old partner, I speak with. And if he were here in the flesh, knowing of his wise and thrifty countenance when he walked the earth, he would join me in saying 'you're fired.' Now be gone and be gone soon. And don't expect any severance, either."
"But sir,” Cratchett whined, "what about my family? Your oath to help Tiny Tim?"
"Promises are cheap, Mr. Cratchett. Do you have it in writing? A legal contract? I think not. Now get out. Maybe if you stop soaking up rum like a maid servant's sponge, you can care for your family and boy yourself."
Marley rattled his chains. "Eb-en-eeee-zer," he moaned, "did not the three spirits show you the folly of your anger? Did they not show you the way to redemption? Did they not show you how to save yourself from the torment that has fallen upon my wretched soul?"
"Humbug," Scrooge said. "Redemption is for fools like Cratchett who've barely a shilling to their name. Your ghostly apparitions won’t trick me again. What good were the last three days? I feel more miserable now than ever, and I’m well on the way to the poor house. Now leave me be."
"I won't give up on you, Ebenezer," Marley wailed. "Don’t you want salvation from these terrible coils?"
Scrooge sniffed. "Chains don’t frighten me," he said. "If that is my eternal curse for being a thrifty and prudent man, so be it."
"Ebeneezer, you don’t know what you speak," Marley answered. "I know you can be saved. Tonight, three new spirits will visit you. I fear it is your last hope. Your last hope."
"Who are these spirits?" Scrooge snapped. "I hope they’re a bit more well presented than the last three."
"They are all experts in the human condition, Ebenezer. Behavioral scientists. Healers of the afflicted mind."
"Humbug," Scrooge snapped, "there is nothing wrong with me that a day of strong earnings wouldn’t cure."
"The first visitor," Marley continued, "is Sigmund Freud. The second is Karl Marx. And the third and last, is Charles Darwin"
"Listen, Marley. Please, no more midnight calls. I have to get up at dawn tomorrow and get the office back in shape. Maybe they can meet with me after dinner. Can you do me that one favor?"
"Sir" Cratchett interrupted. “Can we talk about my dismissal?"
"You're still here? Hit the bricks, Cratchett. Out. Shoo. Scat."
"But Mr. Scrooge."
"Do I have to call a constable? I said get out."
Cratchett's face blanched. He balled his hand into a fist. "OK, I'm going. But you'll get yours one day Mr. Scrooge. That I swear."
"Yeah, yeah, preach that rot to your fellow sots at the pub."
Cratchett slammed the door as he left. Scrooge turned to Marley. "You too, please leave me be to my books."
Marley drifted toward the shop’s front window. Before he disappeared into the glass, he moaned, "Tonight, Ebenezer, tonight you will finally be released from your agony."
"Humbug," Scrooge said, when Marley had disappeared. "Pure humbug.”
"Sorry I'm late, Mr. Scrooge. My last session went long. A curious case of obsessional thoughts: a peculiar little Frenchman named Rene Descartes who’s fixated on the concept of reality: ‘I think...I am...I'm here...’ God he drones on. Anyway, it’s always difficult getting out of the 17th Century, so I’m glad I got here as soon as I did. Let’s say we open up your lid, so to speak. Marley tells me you have some serious issues with money. May I start by asking if you were breast fed as a child?"
Scrooge clasped his hands together and held them over his genitals. He sunk lower into the water, his pointy chin piercing a cloud of soapsuds. "I dare say, Spirit," he snapped, "have you no decency barging in on a man while he's bathing?"
Sigmund Freud, clad in a gray flannel suit, hovered over Scrooge as he soaked in a freestanding, white-enamel tub. Freud’s right hand gripped a gold watch attached by a fob to his vest pocket. "We're on the clock, Mr. Scrooge," he said. "Let’s not dawdle. I trust Marley informed you of my rate for 19th century inhabitants: one hundred and fifty Austrian Shillings for forty-five minutes. Converted, that’s five pounds sterling."
"Five pounds," Scrooge slapped at the bath water with an open palm. "Are you mad, Spirit? For five pounds I can hire six Bob Cratchetts. What, pray tell, does your king’s ransom provide?"
"Ah, Mr. Scrooge," Freud answered. "I will give you the gift of insight into your subconscious motivations which will provide you more use and lasting reward than anything this Cratchett fellow can deliver." Freud paused. "Perhaps," he continued, "I could lower my fee if you agree to multiple sessions per week. Trust me, it's the best way."
"I'll give you nothing, Spirit, and I'll ask you to leave at once."
"Your resistance intrigues me, Mr. Scrooge. We're too early in analysis for any real transference to have occurred." Freud tugged at the frayed bottom of his white van Dyke. "But I have seen you naked. So maybe we’ve expedited the process. Let’s explore your suckling phase. Did you ever insert your thumb into your rectum as a child?"
"Listen, Spirit. I don't know where Marley found you, or why he cavorts with such an unsavory character in the after-life. But I dare say you are a vile Spirit, with a rather perverted mind."
Freud frowned. "Some Spirits carry chains to frighten their charges into compliance. Me, I don't believe in shackles – either the metal or the mental kind. Mr. Scrooge, you seem quite agitated by my presence in your bathroom. Care to share why?"
"Damn, Spirit, I’m tired of you and Marley's other ghouls probing into my life. Really, what's the use? Three days ago I was a wild man: throwing good money away like I was a Sultan; making promises I’d never dream keeping; and spewing phrases of love and other rot at the top of my lungs. Then I wake up today, my mood darker than a dungeon, and realize my hard earned savings have been nearly squandered."
"Aha," Freud answered, "Classic manic-depression. Up and down, like a Weiner Schnitzel at Octoberfest.
" "A what?" Scrooge asked.
"Never mind," Freud said, "I'm just hungry. These night sessions are murder on my stomach." Freud glanced at his watch. "Let's wrap this up with some dream work, OK?"
"Fine with me, Spirit. I’ll catch my death soon if I stay in this water much longer.”"
Freud reached down with his right hand and dipped his index finger into Scrooge’s bath water. "Please, Mr. Scrooge, I want you to look into the water. Tell me if you remember this dream."
Scrooge raised out of the bath on his elbows. He parted a round hold in the soapsuds near his midsection and peered into the clear water. "My God, Spirit," he shouted. "I see. It’s my childhood governess, Ms. Baston." Scrooge stared for a few moments and then blushed. He turned his head away from Freud. "Spirit, why are you showing me this?"
"It's your first nocturnal emission," Mr. Scrooge. "What some people call a 'wet dream.' You were seventeen, a bit late, but we can talk about that later. Right now, tell me how you feel seeing this."
Scrooge watched as his 17-year old self placed an apple in Ms. Baston’s mouth, and then smeared white-powdered chalk across her crinolines. "Stop," Scrooge yelled, "I can't stand anymore, Spirit. Have you no shame?"
"Why do you find this so embarrassing, Mr. Scrooge? It's natural for a boy your age to have had such thoughts. Of course you fancied her: she seems rather comely, and I'm sure the authority she wielded aroused your subconscious Oedipal desires."
Scrooge began to weep. "Oh Spirit," he cried, "I did lust after her. Forgive me, but I had many unclean thoughts of her."
"Let it out, Mr. Scrooge," Freud soothed. "This is good. Go deeper. Did you ever try to act on these thoughts?"
Scrooge buried his head in his hands. His sobs shook his body, and made ripples in the bath water. "Yes, Spirit, yes. Once I snuck into Ms. Baston’s room while she was out doing some shopping. My intentions were innocent: just to procure a tiny shred of cloth, even a piece of bare thread, that touched her skin. I must have lost all sense of time, because Ms. Baton returned and caught me fondling her bloomers. Oh Spirit, the humiliation." Scrooge swallowed and set his jaw. "But my weakness cost me dearly. Ms. Baston required of me a blackmail of three shillings per week to not speak of the incident to my mum and father. I dare not recall the pounds I invested to hold this silence. But it was worth not having my disgrace exposed."
Freud nodded his head. "So at an early age your sexual desires became enmeshed with shame and money. Now we’re getting somewhere."
"Yes, Spirit, yes? I must say it feels good to unburden myself. Let’s talk more. Let me tell you about the time I was spanked by my first cousin, Fiona."
"I’m afraid that will have to wait Mr. Scrooge. Our time is up for today." Freud slipped the watch into his pocket, and drifted toward the bathroom door. "I’ll let Marley know about the session, and we’ll see about setting a formal meeting schedule. I think Thursday evenings might work. I’ll get back to you." He waved a hand, "Avetizan, Mr. Scrooge."
Scrooge flinched and dropped a spoon into the bowl of soup set in front of him at his small kitchen table. "Dear God," he said, "you startled me."
"Sorry to disturb you. I let myself in through the back vent. I’m Karl Marx." He extended a hand that Scrooge ignored. "Anyway," he continued, "Jacob Marley suggested I pay you a visit. I see I came during your dinner. What a pity. All you have to eat is a meager dollop of broth, and not a slice of bread to go with it. You see how the mechanizations of capitalism deplete nourishment from the worker. I mourn your poverty, but abhor your ignorance."
"Mind you, Spirit," Scrooge snapped, "I’m neither poor nor uneducated. Why should I waste money on expensive meats and wine, when I can subside just fine on a bit of soup and glass of water? That’s the trouble with people: they squander their money on useless extravagances, then go crying to the world for help when they are bankrupt. Humbug, I say to those with their hands out."
Marx motioned toward the table. "You only have one chair?" he asked. "No place for anyone else to sit?"
"Of course not," Scrooge snapped. He extracted his spoon from the soup and licked the metal handle. "I do not waste money entertaining those who just want a free meal at my largess. If they need to speak to me, they can call on me at my place of business."
"Well, I’d like to sit down," Marx said, "I spent all day hovering over a labor rally in Detroit. I’m exhausted."
Scrooge tossed his spoon atop the table and rose from his chair. "You can take my seat, Spirit," he snapped. "I’ll stand. I hope your visit will be brief. I’m nearly ready for bed. Unlike you and your celestial brethren, I must get up early and work for a living."
"Marley said you were a hard case," Marx sighed. He settled into Freud’s chair, raised his feet, and rested them on the table. He was dressed in a burlap tunic. His baggy pants were made of the same coarse material. Thick, mud-flaked leather boots adorned his big feet. A wild mane of graying hair covered his head and face. He had the countenance of a deranged St. Bernard.
Scrooge folded his arms. His dressing gown hung to the floor. His stocking cap jiggled as he tapped one of his slippered feet. "Marley," he said, "is doing a lot of talking for someone encumbered by chains."
"We are all in this capitalistic world chained, Ebenezer." Marx swung his boots off the table and smacked them hard on the kitchen floor. "Don’t you know this supremely true fact? Anyone who spends one moment in a society predicated on the buying and selling of materials is enslaved."
"Humbug," Scrooge snapped. "I’m as free a man as there ever is. I do what I want. Say what I want. And I don’t rely on anyone but myself."
Marx grinned. "Is that so, Ebenezer. You mean you chose the nightgown you are wearing by your own free will. No advertising, no marketing coercion, no retail suggestion, was given that might have made this decision for you? This house you live, the coal that heats it, the business you run, all of this is born from your own desire. You were born to have this life. To work and sweat and put your energies into a day so you can sit alone in front of a bowl of cold soup and sip the night away."
Scrooge blinked and chewed at his lower lip. "That does sound unfair," he mumbled.
"You bet it is unfair, Ebenezer. You were born to serve capitalism. It is not your fault, just as it is not the fault of a beaver to damn a creek or a shark to kill its prey. It is programmed in you. Marley says you are tight with money. Well of course you are. Capitalistic society needs you to be this way. You are part of the machine. The savers balance the spenders. All life is balance, Ebenezer. The Chinese call this Ying and Yang. You are just completing the natural balance."
Scrooge smiled. "You mean I’m not a mean-spirited miser, as everyone says."
Marx stomped his feet again. His voice boomed. "“No. You are at your core a decent and loving man who has had no choice but to become in this system, as you say, a ‘mean-spirited miser’. Change the system, Ebenezer, and you change people. Mass revolution is the only answer to man’s problems. Strip away the fat of consumerism--cut it, burn it, peel it--and then we can unearth the true goodness in people."
Scrooge felt a burst of energy. He wiggled his toes. "Yes," he whispered as Marx continued to rant. "It’s not my fault."
"Let me show you something Mr. Scrooge." Marx slipped off his right boot. He extended his arm, holding the bottom of the boot inches Scrooge’s face. "Look into the mud, Mr. Scrooge," he said. "Stare into dirt that has been trampled on for centuries by peasants doing rich people’s bidding. Tell me what you see."
Scrooge narrowed his eyes. "It’s black," he said. His nose twitched. "Smells a bit like manure."
"Don't mind the odor," Mark said. "Look deeper, concentrate."
Scrooge bent closer to inspect the boot. "I see it," he exclaimed. "Within the soil. An image. My God, it’s Cratchett. What’s he doing? Dear heavens, Spirit, he’s banging on my shop’s door. He looks drunk. What’s that in his hand? A crutch? I shall have to fetch a constable before he does damage."
Marx lowered the boot from Scrooge’s gaze, and placed it back on his right foot. "You see, Ebenezer. This Cratchett is the perfect tool for capitalism. Hes is part of the angry working mass that directs their frustration and fury on the bosses, their capitalist masters, but they do not attack the structure that holds it all in place. By bringing down your shop, what will Cratchett accomplish but the need to build anew? The need to spend more money? Buy more goods? Put more people to work?. He and his kind are needed for capitalism to survive. They are like wood chips in a pyre."
"Either way, Spirit,” I don’t want anything to happen to my shop. So thanks for the interesting discussion, but I have to get dressed."
Marx reached over and rested a burly hand on Scrooge’s shoulder. "Remember, Ebenezer," he said. "All things end with a start."
Scrooge was rifling through his bedroom cabinet when Charles Darwin tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me, kind chap," Darwin chirped in plumy British accent. "But may you be Ebenezer Scrooge?"
Scrooge ignored Darwin, selecing a pair of trousers from the drawer and slipping them on. "I’m sorry to be rude, Spirit," he said, "but I'm in a bit of a rush. There is a mad man amok at my place of business, and I have to fetch a constable at once."
Darwin pursed his lips. "Sounds like dreadful business. But I shan’t take more than an eyelash of your time. Of course, some tea would be nice, if you have some stewing."
Scrooge smiled. "I must say you have wonderful manners for a Spirit. That accent. British, correct?"
“Oh yes, I’m one of the Queen’s loyal subjects."
"That explains your civility. I do hate to be short with you, but I really must dash off."
"Mr. Scrooge," Darwin stepped closer. "Just a moment, please." He was tall and thin, and, like Freud and Marx, sported extensive facial hair. "It really won’t take long."
Scrooge frowned. "OK, but only a second. I must say, Marley might be on to something. I do feel better. Not that I want to open up my heart again or give money to anyone who asks, but at least I’m clearer about the reasons behind my actions. It's quite freeing."
"Bully for you, Mr. Scrooge. But I think I can put the final piece together for you. You see, I am mainly interested in the evolution of life. How things of this earth have changed over millions and millions of years to adept to their circumstances. Survival, Mr. Scrooge, is the trump card in living organisms. Take a new virus, for instance. At first it kills the host it infects. But by killing the host, it kills itself. And thus it slows down its spread. So it develops and mutates until it becomes less lethal to the organism, giving the host more time to spread the virus. Thus increasing its survival. You understand, Mr. Scrooge. Fascinating stuff, am I correct?”"
"I guess, Spirit, but I don’t see how this helps me. Unless, of course, I come down with a chill.'
Darwin cleared his throat. In his hands was a thin pane of glass. Pressed inside the glass were several butterflies. He held it up so it caught the lone lantern burning in Scrooge’s room. "Please examine these specimens. I captured them in the Galapagos. They truly are remarkable in their markings. Look at the yellow one with the black circles on its wings. Did you know this is to confuse birds that wish to pluck them out of the air and eat them. The spots distort their vision and renders the butterfly invisible to prey."
"I never liked butterflies,"” Scrooge said. "But let me see what you’re getting at." He peered into the glass. After a few moments he rose and put his hands on his hips. "Spirit, I see nothing. Nothing at all."
Darwin smiled. He had two rows of even teeth that were stained a dull yellow. "Precisely, Mr. Scrooge. Like the birds, your vision is obscured and you see, as you say, ‘nothing.’"
"OK, Spirit, I see nothing. What’s the point? And please hurry, I do have to leave."
"That’s the point, Ebenezer. You do see nothing. Survival is based on these deceptions. What you see, others might not, and what they see, you might not. There is no rhyme or reason to life’s randomness, but there is no randomness in the rhyme or reason. Do you understand?"
Scrooge bunched his eyebrows. "Not at all, Spirit," he said. "Now excuse me, and good evening." He brushed by Darwin and headed for the door.
"Mr. Scrooge," Darwin called out. "That’s the key to life: See everything you can, and don’t try to see what you can’t."
Scrooge stopped. He turned to Darwin. "That’s the key to life?" he asked. "Yes," Darwin said. "That’s it. Understand that concept, and your cares and concerns will be as light as a butterfly in the wind."
Scrooge raised his chin to Darwin. "I say, Spirit, I think I’ve got it. I really do. I’m feeling reborn. ‘Light,’ as you say. You know, I’d like to share this with Cratchett. Perhaps I can ease his torment. Yes, I will do it. I’m off Spirit. And if I don’t see you again, have a Happy New Year. A Happy New Year."
Scrooge bounded down the stairs of his home. He snatched an overcoat from a rack hanging next to the door, and tossed a jaunty cap he had purchased at the height of his post Christmas hysteria on his head. He began humming a song from his youth, a hymn his governess, Ms. Baston, taught him. He opened the door and took a large breath of air from the cool night. "What a world," he shouted. “What a marvelous, flawed, upside down, topside up, magnificent world we live." He took his first neurosis free step on the earth’s soil and then fell headfirst onto the cobblestone street. Bob Cratchett, reeking of whiskey and with tears streaming down his eyes, raised Tiny Tim’s crutch and readied for another blow.
Scrooge never saw it coming.
This page was last updated September 1, 2005.