loosely based on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”
Ebenezer Scrooge was dead, had been dead for two years now. Everything he owned, his business, his savings, his house, even his cherished collection of exotic door knockers, everything with the name of Scrooge upon it he had willed to Bob Cratchit.
Before he had died, and after the incident with the ghosts, Scrooge had grown kinder and kinder. His business had prospered even more than it did before that particularly frightening episode with the three ghosts. In the old gentleman’s waning years, he developed a special affection for his trustworthy clerk. Bob Cratchit became the son he had always wanted.
It was the day before Christmas Eve. The staff at Marley, Scrooge, & Cratchit came in to work for a bit of good cheer, and their Christmas bonuses. Bob Cratchit was a generous man, so they were very pleased with the envelopes he delivered into their hands. With a “Merry Christmas and God bless us each and every one” from their employer, they were all out of the office by noon.
“Lock up as you go out,” a prematurely gray Cratchit called from his back office to his young assistant, Irving.
Bob Cratchit heard the door close, and he was alone with his glass of cider. It would be a lonely Christmas this year. All the members of his family were off on holiday expeditions, and he was left alone without anyone to share the Nativity with There had been a time when the family cherished each other for themselves, when he had been Tiny Tim’s only horse, when they were poor, and happy.
It seemed as if only Bob Cratchit had escaped their good fortune unscathed. His
wife Mary was always off on one of her little trips these days. This Christmas she was up visiting their oldest daughter in Edinburgh. Martha had married a count, or was it a baron? Bob couldn’t quite get it straight which. They had a new baby for Mrs. Cratchit to spoil. How he missed Mary’s cooking. She had to be the best Christmas-goose-cook in the whole of England.
His son, Peter, was abroad this year with several of his playboy friends. Belinda, his youngest daughter, was on tour in Wales, acting in the latest Shakespeare production of the Globe Players.
But the most disappointing of all was Tiny Tim. The operation Scrooge had paid for healed him of his affliction and Timothy Cratchit was no longer Tiny. He was now an Esquire, a very successful solicitor, and a Right Honourable Member of Parliament. He would be with the Tory Party leaders this Christmas on a retreat or some such thing which his father had nary an idea about.
Though proud of his family, they were never around anymore and he no longer found delight in the blessings bestowed upon them. Only the business brought him any satisfaction these days. And he wasn’t very good at that.
Things had begun to go downhill shortly after Scrooge’s death. In the two years since the funeral, he had managed to loose most of his benefactor’s capital. Upon reflection, Cratchit really couldn’t understand why but he knew he had to get to the bottom of things, and soon. Or Marley, Scrooge, & Cratchit would close its doors forever. Though he had done everything the way Scrooge had taught, the books were all in the red. Soon it would be Debtors’ Prison for Robert Elroy Perciville Cratchit.
He finished off his cider and thought how much he missed those long winter nights with Mr. Scrooge, or Ebenezer as he insisted Bob call him. As they drank their mugs of smoking bishop, that Christmas punch Londoners especially cherished, they warmed themselves by the old man’s fireplace. Ebenezer passed along his tidbits of business acumen, secrets of a master business magician to his apprentice. But, without Scrooge to cast his spell, the business was beginning to fall apart. The younger man had perhaps a year left, then bankruptcy.
It was getting late, almost night, when Bob Cratchit finally bundled himself up, his shoulders stooped with the weight of money and its worries. Money was not the root of evil but the worry of it must surely be.
He walked out into the London fog and locked his office door behind him. The bell of the church nearby tolled six. The street lamps were already lit. Soon the city would be dark, except for what little light the lamps gave off.
“Would you care for a carriage, sir,” a coachman offered from his horse-drawn taxi.
“No, thank you. I believe I’ll walk.”
Though the night air was nippy, it was not chilly enough for him to deny himself a brisk evening walk. He loved this time of year when the city streets and the lights from the houses along the way reminded him of earlier Cratchit family yuletides when they were poor. The simple joys of a Christmas pudding, a Yule log, and the unwrapping of their meager gifts. But that was then. Now the Cratchits were a wealthy merchant family, and as stylish as could be. All of London envied them for their good fortune.
“Then Merry Christmas, sir,” the coachman said.
“A very Merry Christmas to you as well.”
As he strolled along, he passed a court yard. Workmen were just finishing their repairs on the gas pipes. Several ragged men and boys stood around the brazier nearby and warmed their hands. Bob Cratchit walked past them and past the ancient gothic church. He dropped a coin into each of the beggars’ hands as he came upon them and wished each a Merry Christmas. He walked past a number of houses, the smell of roast turkey and goose and hen and Christmas pudding from them filling his nostrils with the happiest of smells. Strolling along the streets were bands of carolers, singing their “God rest ye merry gentlemen.”
Bob Cratchit made his usual stop for his supper in one of several of the taverns along the way home. He read his newspaper, then had his usual conversation with the tenants of the tavern. After an hour or so of this, he was out the door and back into the fog and the frost. Soon he found himself standing at the front of the house Scrooge had willed him.
He walked through the old black gateway to the house. He placed his key in the door and turned it. As he went inside, he felt a chill passed through him, a bit chillier than the night air that he was escaping. He shook himself free from the feeling and closed the door and stepped into the dark room that had become his home. He went to light a fire in the large fireplace but decided against it. Instead he lit a candle.
Standing there in the dark with only the candle for light, he looked up at the large portrait of a smiling Ebenezer Scrooge hanging from the wall. But tonight the old man was frowning back at him. Bob Cratchit closed his eyes, then opened them again. His benefactor was not frowning. He was smiling as he always was.
“Now I’m seeing things. Perhaps this is what Ebenezer meant by humbug.”
As he retired deeper into the cavity of the house, he found himself inside his bedroom. It would be another long, lonely night in this gloomy bedchamber Scrooge had once occupied.
He closed the heavy door behind him and quickly dressed into his long night shirt and crawled in beside his bed warmer. He blew out the candle that he had sat on the bedside table. Soon he dozed off.
Startled awake by some eerie sound, he sat up.
A squeak, perhaps from a mouse that had chosen his room for its home. But it didn’t sound like a mouse.
An icy breeze filled the room. The window was open, he guessed. He looked over at it. The window was closed. He shivered.
Slowly a translucent gray mist moved through the door.
Bob Cratchit grabbed his quilt and pulled it over his head as he lay back in the bed. Then he worked up his courage and he pushed the quilt down. After all, he was a modern nineteenth-century man. Humanity had banished all its needs for fear. Scientific progress was its destiny.
So what was there to be afraid of?
He lit his candle to abolish his fear. Then he looked over at the book on his bedside table. The title on the cover read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the distance, the church bell struck midnight.
Bob Cratchit looked up at the door. His face turned pale.
Before him stood a large specter.
“Bob Cratchit, Ebenezer Scrooge sent me,” the unearthly visitor whispered. “I am the Ghost of Business Past.”