A Christmas Carol #4


Stave IV

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

I must say, the phantom really does remind me of a Dementor, for in the very air through which this Spirit moved seemed to scatter misery and gloom. Perhaps that is why chocolate is the best prevention against these creatures. But, I digress.

The figure was shrouded in a dark cloak from head to toe. Nothing was visible, except for one hand. But still, it was difficult to differentiate between the ghost and the night.

The spirit filled Scrooge with dread, for it neither spoke nor moved.

“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come,” said Scrooge.

The spirit didn’t answer, but pointed onward with its hand.

In another attempt to get him to talk, Scrooge said, “You’re going to show me the shadows of things which are going to happen, right?”

The phantom merely inclined his head.

This ghost induced so much fear in Ebenezer Scrooge that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The spirit paused for a bit, giving him time to collect himself. But this terrified him even more, for he knew that there were ghostly eyes fixed upon him and he could see nothing but a dark hand.

He continued his one sided dialogue. “Ghost of the Christmas Yet to Come, I fear you the most. But since I know you’re here to do me good, I’ll swallow my fear. Won’t you talk to me?”

No response. The ghost just pointed in a direction, and Scrooge followed.

Suddenly, they were in the heart of the city, where shopkeepers and traders scurried about as usual. Scrooge and spirit stopped beside a group of businessmen.

There was a fat man with multiple chins talking. “No. I don’t know much about it either; just that he’s dead.”

“When did he die?” inquired another man.

“I think it happened last night.”

“Why? What happened to him?” said a third man, lighting a cigarette. “I never thought he’d die.”

“Who cares?” said the fatty, shrugging. His belly moved as he did so.

“But, what did he do with the money? Stinking rich, he was.” This uncaring comment came from a red faced man with a pendulous excrescence on the very tip of his nose.

“I don’t know,” said multi-chin. “Left it to his company, maybe. All I know is, he didn’t give it to me.”

They all laughed.

“It’ll probably be a cheap funeral; he was so stingy. How about we make a party and go to it? It’s not like there’s going to be anyone attending, anyway.”

This idea was met by approval, and then the group broke up. Scrooge looked questioningly at the phantom. He knew these men.

In response, the phantom led him to eavesdrop on the conversation of another two men. Again, Scrooge knew them very well. They were important and wealthy businessmen. In all of their chit chat, there was one sentence about the death of ‘Old Scratch’. And then their conversation went on.

Scrooge could not, for the life of himself, understand why all this was being shown to him. But trusting the phantom, he played along, trying to join the dots and look about for his own shadow.

As they moved to his office, he found a man in his usual place, one he didn’t know from eve. But there was no sign of himself anywhere even though it was time for him to be there. This, however, caused little surprise to him. Since he’d decided on a new outlook in life, he figured he must have brought in a change.

Breaking from his thoughts, Scrooge suddenly realized the phantom was staring at him. It made him feel cold, cold, cold.

They left the busy streets and went into a dingy part of the town where he had never been before, though he recognized it. It had a bad reputation. The people there were twisted and foul, drunkards and criminals. It was dirty and repugnant, a miserable place, home to a black market.

This black market was situated in a lowbrow cloth producing factory, where fibres were converted into yarn, yarn into fabric and then this fabric was dyed and decorated.

Here, scrap iron, offal and other such goods were sold. The floor was piled with refuse iron of all kinds. The owners of the shop generally stole only such small items which nobody bothered to chase after, but sometimes they did go in for stealing  more dangerous and expensive stuff and smuggling.

A seventy year old bastard sat by a small fire, keeping guard on the wares (though nobody was  likely to steal them) and smoking a pack of cigarettes.

Just as Scrooge and Phantom came by this man, a woman with a heavy bundle sneaked into the shop, followed by another. Right after her, a man in faded black entered, and he too, was startled at the sight of the two females. All three of them started laughing when they recognized each other.

“Let the charwoman be first,” said the woman who’d entered first. “The laundress can go next and the undertaker’s man be third. Look, Joe. We’ve all met up without meaning it.”

“You couldn’t have found a better place to meet,” said Joe, taking his cig out of his mouth. He blew a puff into the air and then ushered them into the ‘parlour’, cracking lame jokes all the while.

As Joe made space, the first woman threw her bundle on the floor, and urged them to do the same with theirs. She laughed.

“What a loser. I doubt he wanted to keep all this trash after he died, or else he’d have someone to take care of him instead of dying just like that. All alone.”

And then they opened each others’ bundles and went through them. Apparently, they’d all stolen from the same dead man without realizing it.

The man in faded black opened his first. It didn’t have much, just an inexpensive watch, a few shirts, and other such inconsequential stuff. Joe was pleased. He would fix a price for all this scrap, pay these kids to do his dirty work and sell his goods at a much higher cost. Standard trade rules.

Joe handed him some money, saying that he deserved no more. Next in line was Mrs. Dilber.

She had something of more importance. She’d picked up silver cutlery and sheets and towels.

“Ah. I always give a little too much to ladies,” said Joe, flirting unabashedly. “But, here you go.”

He came a little too close to comfort to her and handed her her account. The woman didn’t flinch, but smiled instead.

The first woman asked Joe to open her lot. And the first thing he found were bed curtains, which the woman had taken right from the dead man’s bedroom as he lay there.

The other three had perhaps, a slight sense of ethics and morals, but this one didn’t. She reasoned that the sort of man the dead man was, he didn’t deserve any respect, even posthumously.

There were more such items, for she had basically stripped the house of everything she could find, along with gold, in plenty, and expensive MacBook Pros and such.

As Joe pulled out an expensive Armani shirt, the woman laughed. “Don’t be afraid of that one. Ah. They would’ve wasted it, had it not been for me.”

“Wasted? How so?”

“They were going to bury the body, making him wear something as nice as that. Pfft. The man may be known for how niggardly he was, but he definitely did spend on a few fine clothes for himself. So, I took this off him and made him wear something else.” She cackled. There was no remorse.

Scrooge was done. He stared at them in horror. He was disgusted by them and he detested them. As they laughed at their spoils and exchanged them for money, Scrooge begged the spirit to take him away. He realized that with the way things were going, life could be for him as it was for this unkind man.

And suddenly the scene changed. Scrooge recoiled in terror.

It was a dark room; too dark to be observed. A pale light fell into the room directly onto a bed, where there was an object underneath sheets. It was dumb but it announced itself in awful language.

Unwatched, unwept, uncared for…it was the body of the dead man he’d been hearing about all through the visit. If he would have lowered the covers just a little, he could have seen the face, but he didn’t. He couldn’t, for as a traveller with a ghost, he could not make changes in the physical world.

“Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion. But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike. And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal.”

No one said these words to him, but Scrooge heard them anyway. They sounded like they were out of a scripture, but in his heart, he knew they were not.

If this man’s thoughts could be read, they would undoubtedly be full of avidity and selfishness. He had nobody to remember that this man had once been kind to them. It was a sad end, and he was determined to not let it be his own.

“Spirit, this is horrid. Let us leave. I promise I won’t forget this lesson, I have learnt it well and truly.”

Still, the ghost pointed to the man’s head.

“I get it, spirit, but I can’t do it. I would if I could.”

The phantom looked at him.

“Isn’t there anyone who feels saddened by his death?! Show me him. Please,” cried Scrooge, agonized.

And then the phantom led him to another scene. This one was of ashamed joy, for a couple who had been in debt to their cruel and hard hearted creditor were relieved. The man was dead. It was sinful to rejoice, but they couldn’t help it.

Here Scrooge looked for pain at the man’s death, and there he found relish.

“Forget it. Just show me pain of any sort, tenderness, related to a death.”

And those words took Scrooge to a house familiar to him. On Christmas day, there was a family that reluctantly drank a toast to him. A family that had been excited over a goose and pudding. The Cratchits.

But the noisy Cratchits, the jubilant Cratchits, the cheerful Cratchits…they were all quiet.

The little children were quiet in a corner. The mother and her daughters were stitching. Peter was reading. They all talked about their Tiny Tim, trying not to let grief enter their voices.

And then Bob came back. He looked saddened, but he tried not to let any sadness appear. He did his best. He was very cheerful with all of them. But he broke down as soon as he started talking about the place he had visited just now. Tiny Tim had loved it.

He went upstairs into a Christmassy room. There was a chair besides the child, and signs of someone having been there recently. He sat down, composed himself and kissed the little face, and then went back down again.

They sat and talked, with Bob narrating how Scrooge’s nephew had been extraordinarily kind.

“I only met him once, and he offered his condolences. How he knew I don’t know. He begged us to go to him,” said Bob. “Now, none of that was because he could change anything, but it was just support. Maybe he can find Peter a better situation.”

And they all cheered up and cheered each other up and battled the sorrow together.

“Spirit,” said Scrooge. “I have a feeling our parting moment is near. Tell me, who was that dead man?”

In response, the phantom showed him visions of many businessmen and their resorts, but did not show him Scrooge. And then he kept moving on till Scrooge begged him to stop.

“This is my house and office. Let me see what I shall be in the days to come.”

Peering in, he realized it was not his office anymore. All his furniture was gone. The phantom pointed as before.

He joined the cloaked figure and accompanied it till they reached an iron gate. He paused to look around before entering.

It was a churchyard.

Here it was; the place where the dead man was laid to rest. It was walled in by houses and overrun by grass and weeds. A worthy place.

The spirit pointed to one grave.

“Before I go closer to that stone, tell me something. Are these shadows of things that will definitely happen, or of what may happen?”

The ghost, of course, made no response. He kept pointing at the grave.

After giving some thought to it, Scrooge answered his own question. “The kind of things one does, that will lead to some end. If we stick to the same action, we’ll get the same end. But if our actions change, so will our end. This is true, isn’t it?”

The spirit was immovable as ever.

Scrooge sighed. He crept towards the grave, shaking with anticipation. Placing a finger on the stone, he read a name on the neglected grave.

Ebenezer Scrooge.                                         

Sanya Sharma

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