STAVE I – Dickens’ Ghost
Charles Dickens was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The time he roamed the streets and wrote his tales is now long gone by many decades. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
The other fact to bear in mind as we move into this story is how utterly plain and unremarkable its protagonist is. Apart from the events of this book, your faithful servant never attracted much attention. I led the most normal of lives, waking up as anyone would, splitting my days between a very normal work and very regular hobbies before going back to a most normal sleep. There was no setting me apart from any of my contemporaries.
So you can imagine my surprise when something quite peculiar happened once upon a time—of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve. I was readying myself for a traditional Christmas. It was cold, bleak, biting weather and I was alone in my room from where I could hear the people outside, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet to warm them.
I was turning my head to have a proper glance at them when I saw in the window, as clear as one can see their reflection when it is bright inside and dark out, a pale old face that looked familiar. Charles Dickens’ face. But as I looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was just a pane of glass. To say that I was not startled would be untrue.
“Humbug!” I said as I took a seat.
The door flew open with a booming sound, and then I heard a clanking noise come closer and louder, straight towards my door. And then stood before me Charles Dickens, in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights and boots. His body was transparent; so that I could see behind.
“It’s humbug still!” I said. “I won’t believe it.”
“Be still!” Dickens’ voice intoned me. “I have much to tell you. For I am doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what I cannot any more partake. I am condemned to be an impotent witness to the wrongs of the world. There is so much suffering and pain. So many evils and wrongdoings. And so little deserved…”
“I am doomed to stare at all and ascertain that it can be helped. None of this is inevitable, everything could be changed for the better. But not by me. It is too late for me. I cannot do anything. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. There is no torture like being powerless next to the suffering innocent and knowing what could have been. So much could I have done, so little did I do! No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
He paused for a while, letting the emotion in his voice trail off.
“Hear me!” cried the Ghost. “My time is nearly gone.”
“There is no light part in my penance, there is no fleeing my torment.” pursued the Ghost. “I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring. It is not too late for you. You will be haunted by Three Spirits.”
The prospect seemed dreadful, but the confidence of his tone left no place for response.
“Without their visits,” resumed the Ghost, “you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first prestly.”
The apparition walked backward; and at every step it took, the window opened itself a little, so that when the spectre reached it, it was wide open. It beckoned to approach, and soon as I did, floated out upon the bleak, dark night.
I tried to say “Humbug!” but stopped at the first syllable. And being, from the emotion I had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or this glimpse of the Invisible World, much in need of repose; I sat back and rested my eyes for a thought.
STAVE II – The First of the Three Spirits
When I came to, it was so dark, that looking up, I could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and I was faced with an unearthly apparition.
It was a strange sight – like a book, yet not so like a book as like a bird, floating eerily at the height of my eyes, surrounded by a cloudy mist that appeared to brim with a pale light. Much like the ghost of Charles Dickens, I could see through its translucent pages, but I could also decypher its content. It appeared to be very old, its pages seemed worn out, and they were adorned with hand drawn pictures.
“Are you the Spirit whose coming was foretold to me?” I asked.
It was rhetorical, and I did not expect an answer, but to my surprise one came:
The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside me, it were at a distance.
“Who, and what are you?” I demanded.
“I am the Ghost of ‘A Christmas Carol’ Past. Mine is a tale of redemption and glee. I tell of an old miser of the name of Scrooge who lived in loneliness obsessed by money and greed. He is visited on Christmas by Spirits who accompanied him through his memories of a hopeful past, the alternative of a cheerful present, and the prospect of a dire future. The tale ends with him deciding to mend his ways and to make amends for his selfish past. He turns selfless and comes to understand how little money means.”
“Such an inspiring account. So it is possible! I shall endeavour such a change.”
“Possible it may be.” replied the Spirit. “But truth is seldom so simple, and one epiphany does not a good man make. Rise! and walk with me!”
As the words were spoken, the Ghost lead me towards the wall, and in an instant we passed through it. We arrived in a small candle lit study where a man I recognized was writing a letter energetically.
“What is he doing? What could trigger such fervor in the man who birthed this tale?”
“It’s a year after I was published. My author is writing a strongly worded letter to his solicitor. He is suing a rival publisher for copyright infringement over a tweaked copy of me. He was frustrated by my financial results. The rival publisher will lose the suit and declare bankruptcy, and he will go on to quarrel others that were menacing his gains.”
“Irony can be pretty ironic. So he still wanted the fame and profit.”
“He probably earnestly strived for a better Christmas, but the world alas remains. It takes tremendous efforts even for the earnest to do the righteous thing. I am but a story. Christmas is but a day.”
The ghostly tome lead me to others. We saw children gathering around the fireplace to listen in awe to their parents reading the tale. How inspired they were by the story of the ghosts, how gleeful they were at the joyful denouement, how fast they ran away to go back to their toys. And yet they seemed somewhat kinder to each other.
We saw lonely elders reading the tale that felt so close to their own lives, so much so that they wept transfigured by the conclusion. They grew selfless and helped their neighbor, but as the days rolled and the time passed, the emotions also faded and life took back its course. It’s only natural that intents would wane and inertia triumph, but their small attempt did make the world a smitch better.
We saw all kinds of people demonstrating care and abnegation in the Christmas time, partaking in charity and helping the poor, but their resolution melted with the snow and the rest of the year was their own.
“Oh, that it were Christmas every day!” I lamented in a broken voice. “So much promise washed away by the rigor of life. Spirit! Remove me from this place! I cannot bear it!”
I turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon me with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown me, wrestled with it.
“Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!”
There was a flash of light, and the struggle was over.
STAVE III – The Second of the Three Spirits
I had no chance to regain my spirits or ponder my thoughts before holding a conference with the second messenger despatched to him through Charles Dickens’ intervention. Now, being prepared for almost anything, I was still not expecting the form of my second visitor. On the table stood a box of cardboard, adorned with a smile and the letters “AMAZONPRIME”. As I opened the container to reveal its prize, I saw that it was a thin circle imprinted with a green socket frog, and titled in golden “HD remake 2 extra collector edition”.
“Look upon me! and know me better, man!” said the Spirit. “I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Have you never seen the like of me before? I have countless siblings.”
“Spirit,” I said submissively, “conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have ought to teach me, let me profit by it.”
I did as I was told, and held it fast. The room vanished instantly, and we stood in an immaculate space, where innumberable desks aligned in a vertiginous geometry. All was plastic and metal, and everywhere were buzzing activities and conversations. People were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier yet. It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour, and their roar were heard all around.
“What merry place.” I said bewildered, “Spirit, how is this that these people are so jolly?”
“It is because their profits are up.” returned the Spirit. “See!”
They were cheering:
“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us! And so does the market.”
They looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the colored graphs on display around them. All were pointed up.
“Christmas is always our most profitable period, but this is beyond our predictions!” a voice exclaimed.
The speaker revelled in another laugh, and as it was impossible to keep the infection off, his example was unanimously followed.
“Oh what a strike of spirit to have wagered on the traditional christmas values. Nothing sells quite as well as authenticity!”
“That it does, my good friend, that it does!” said another, clapping their hands. “Why risk any chance when making a Christmas Carol anew brings the people what they want.”
“Christmas is the best of brands, and its eery happiness is the best of products!”
Handshakes and accolades were exchanged all around. None of them showed sign of leaving.
The Ghost lead me to other offices where the same glee was partaken. Then to some markets where passersby were searching for trinkets to impress their peers and fulfil conventions. There was no quenching the thirst that fueled their devouring consumption. It only begat more, trapped in a solipsistic loop.
These were the tales that were told at Christmas Present. Problems were forgotten and kept under wraps. What irony that the tale supposed to warn against greed had become its most faithful instrument even though it was known by all. It was a feast, all right, but the meaning had changed. Out went the heartfelt abstinence, and everything became opulence, appearances and mediated by money. None could see beyond themselves anymore. Quite a removal from the original Christmas Carol.
I looked about me for the Ghost, and saw it not. I remembered the prediction of old Charles Dickens, and lifting up my eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground towards me.
STAVE IV – The Last of the Spirits
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.
“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?” I said.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.
“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” I pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?”
The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head.
“Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”
The Phantom moved away and I followed in the shadow of its dress. But around us grew darkness. Soon, we were on all sides surrounded by nothingness. The ground was covered in dry ash. The wind howling in my ears soon turned into many voices whispering in pain and pleading for relief.
“So dark! So bleak! Is there no light any more? Is the unborn already doomed? Is there nothing but pain, suffering and death? Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death.”
The voices in the wind carried to me the hoarse voice of a weak mother, reciting to her sickly child a christmas carol. Tiny Tim replied in a trembling voice.
“So it is not too late. So there is still some hope. God bless Us, Every One!”
And the mother wept.
“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and girl who had been following us. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, some force had pinched and twisted them, making them monsters of horrible and dread.
“Spirit! are they yours?” I could say no more.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the black sky.
“Spirit!” I cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the man I was. Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life! I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the emptiness and terror of what is yet to come!”
In my agony, I caught the spectral hand. Holding up my hands in a last prayer to have my fate reversed, I saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down until it could not be perceived.
STAVE V – The End of It
I finally reached the last word, and detached my gaze from my reading. Quite an interesting tale, this carol of christmas carols. Really made you ponder on the difficulty of change.
I was out of my immersion, back to a reality that was my own, in a room that was my own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before me was my own, to make amends and improve the world in!
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” I repeated. “I shall be selfless, I shall make the world better for everyone. And I shall prevent the dreadful fate that befell the world of my vision, and this poor poor Tiny Tim”.
So I wrote, conversed and tried to spread the lesson the spirits taught me. I endeavoured to partake in charities and benefactions, and tried to help my neighbor. And most importantly, I tried to keep the flame of the carols going after the night of Christmas.
But time passes and flames do wane. Many a night I wept in despair, when all of it seemed vain and the world showed no sign of redemption. Surely, in spite of my best effort, did my fervor falter, for I am just like any human and therefore prone to fail. But my intentions were pure, and I would never let the dread I foresaw befall us.
Though how can I help if I don’t eat? How can I eat if I don’t work? Life goes on, that much is true, and one cannot escape it. You know what I mean, don’t you?
So as Christmas approaches, I offer you this carol, in hope it helps in any kind of way. And I bid you farewell to tend to all other things in life that are pressing. I have to buy presents for my family. I think I’ll order the new version of the Muppets’ Christmas from Amazon.
May your Christmas be merry and kind. And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!