Happy holidays–whichever ones you celebrate, or if you don’t celebrate any, I still wish you happiness in general!
I thought it might be fun to celebrate Christmas by gifting y’all with a free Christmas-themed flash story I wrote. (Fair warning: it’s a little dark…)
Hope you enjoy the story! 😀
“THE SPIRITS DIDN’T COME”
The spirits didn’t come.
Scrooge waited, shivering in his threadbare dressing gown. Jacob Marley had said they would come. Scrooge had lingered all night by the dying coals of his fire, a poker at the ready in case the bloody spirits did come.
But the spirits didn’t come.
No Past, no Present, no Future.
The only past for Scrooge was the rattling fear that shivered through him every time he remembered Marley’s ghost. He gripped the poker tighter and strained his ears for the clank of dragging chains.
His future was the same as it ever was: work. And what more did he need, after all?
And his present, well, that was an aching chill in his bones from sitting up all night by a dying fire and the same persistent head cold he’d had all week. No spirits. No visitations.
He’d seen Jacob Marley. He had. The shivery fear that gripped him at the mere remembrance of it…that could not be imagined. Had not been caused by mere indigestion. Marley had ground the fear right into Scrooge’s bones, and Scrooge wasn’t sure he’d ever recover.
Three ghosts. Three nights. Marley had said.
Marley had also said that since his death he often sat beside Scrooge and watched him…Scrooge fought a powerful urge to check over his shoulder.
So, the first of Marley’s promised three nights had passed with no whisper of another ghost.
“False advertising, Marley old boy,” Scrooge muttered.
He hadn’t believed Marley when his old partner had said that three spirits would come to save old Scrooge’s soul. Though, after seeing Marley, it seemed much more worrisome if the spirits did not appear.
But perhaps…perhaps the second ghost would come tonight even though the first had not.
Perhaps Marley had mistaken the time.
Scrooge gripped the fire poker and glanced at the clock.
He could wait.
Three nights Scrooge waited. Days too.
Three nights he sat up all night by the ashes of the fire, gripping his poker, waiting for miracles that did not come. Waiting for a promised salvation that never even showed up.
Scrooge dropped the poker. It clunked heavily into the carpet as he squeezed moisture from his eyes. Speak comfort to me… he’d begged Jacob. Speak comfort to me—
“Friend.” Scrooge sneered the word and pushed free of the armchair. He padded into his bedroom, shedding his overripe, sweat-stained dressing gown on the way.
As soon as the first insinuation of morning light peeked through the sky, Scrooge left his ice cold, empty house and walked briskly to his counting-house. He kept his hands shoved deep into his coat pockets, lest anyone notice how they still trembled. It had been a real act of will this morning to touch the doorknob where Marley’s face had first appeared to him.
Marley. Blast and blight him. Was the dead fool ghost dogging Scrooge’s steps even now?
Or had Scrooge imagined the whole thing?
He caught sight of his nephew approaching him down the street. Scrooge dipped his head and turned a corner. He could not take any of his feckless nephew’s merry this and merry that. Not today. Scrooge had to tend to his neglected business at the counting-house.
A wind rolled over Scrooge, pushing his graying hair into his eyes, whipping at his coat. A whispery hiss of a voice seemed to puff against his ear, Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.
Scrooge hugged the coat near and closed his eyes; his heart fluttered in his chest. He did not often feel the cold; most people said it was because he was made from ice himself. He felt the cold now as that faint voice, vivid memory or current hallucination—he didn’t know which—echoed in his mind. It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.
Scrooge continued onward with brisk steps.
As Scrooge paused to open the door of the counting-house he happened to glance up. “Scrooge and Marley” it read above the door. He swallowed and reached up, tracing his hand over Marley’s name.
‘Speak comfort to me, friend,’ Scrooge had begged.
‘Without their visits,’ Jacob had said, ‘you cannot hope to shun the path I tread.’
Why hadn’t they come? Why had Marley lied to him? Terrified him. Poured this fear onto Scrooge until he felt submerged in it, drowning. Lost.
Was Scrooge so black at heart, so cold, so tight-fisted, so sharp and solitary, so utterly unforgivable that the spirits would not even make the trip to try and save him?
The sign swayed a little after Scrooge touched it. Noticing the movement he jumped back, worried he’d summoned his old business partner for another fruitless visit.
Marley did not appear. But then, he had said he wouldn’t, hadn’t he: ‘Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!’
Scrooge couldn’t help remembering, for all the good it did him. The spirits had not come. Useless. Three working days wasted. Three sleepless, terror-filled nights. The spirits had not come, so what good would it do for Scrooge to remember Marley’s visit? To think of it at all, ever again?
As he walked in the door, Scrooge frowned up at the counting-house sign. “Cratchit!”
“Y–yes, sir.” Bob’s eyes were red, his voice hoarse.
Scrooge pretended not to notice. “Find some paint. I think it’s past time we took Marley’s name off that door. He’s been dead seven years. He shan’t be coming back, after all.”
And Scrooge wouldn’t be thinking about Marley or his message ever again.
Scrooge settled in at his desk and pulled some foreclosure paperwork over to work on. Christmas? Good will on earth? “Bah.” What a silly season indeed. “Humbug,” he muttered to himself.