A ‘A christmas carol’ Carol

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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.

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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:

“I am!”

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.

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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.”

“Touch me!”

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.

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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.

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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!

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[short story] What you’re implying (at best) backwards

Article 8. Of the fundamental axiom on which all of this rests

  • All Namuh beings are born unequal in abilities and needs, and should be treated as such. A variety of factors ranging from genetic to pure random circumstances places each and every one on different footing from the start of their lives.

Article 7. Of the necessity for different treatment

  • As such, it only makes sense for the law to take these specificities into account, and to differ in principle from one individual to the other. 
  • All Namuh beings are unequal before the law. They are entitled to different rights,  different degrees of freedom, and should respect different duties, depending on their predispositions and circumstances.

Article 6. Of the grouping of population into castes

  • One can distinguish several common traits in Namuh defining broad groups of population that share common needs and idiosyncrasies. These groups are thereafter named classes or castes.
  • The caste system is the unalienable indisputable foundation of the Namuh society legitimized by individual specificity.
  • Every Namuh is entitled to a Caste Assignment, no-one shall be deprived of his Assignment or the right to attempt to change it.
  • Changing caste requires the authorization of both castes. No-one shall be allowed to a new caste without proving undeniably that it is where they belong. This process shall be subject to strict control.
  • Until reasonably proven otherwise beyond doubt, Namuh children are assumed to be similar to their parent and environment, and are therefore of the same caste as their parents.

Article 5. Of the necessity for different rules for each caste

  • To ensure the optimal handling of each caste particularities, each caste shall have their own body of laws, freedoms, rights and obligations.
  • The laws of a caste may, but shall not necessarily, acknowledge, define and consider further subdivision of the local population and adapt their rights and freedoms accordingly.
  • In addition, castes may occasionally be further refined into smaller isolated components should they prove sufficiently distinct.

Article 4. Of the necessity for geographical localization of caste

  • In order to allow for proper application of caste law, and to best match each caste with a suitable environment, each caste shall be assigned to a fixed geographical area suiting their needs. They are referred to in the following as sectors, or camps.
  • Each caste is fully sovereign of their sector. No-one may intervene or interfere on another sector without their consent. The ruling power of the local caste is absolute. 
  • Laws and rights within the sector are entirely governed by the local caste, and may be widely different from one sector to the next.
  • The members of the caste are required total submission to the sector’s local law, and no other. They have no freedoms besides the ones specifically allowed by the sector law.
  • No-one may dictate the size of sectors. It is left to a decentralized process of competition between the sectors to adjust the sector’s sizes as seen fit depending on the variation of population size and needs.
  • Castes are to be strictly confined to their respective sectors. Freedom of movement between sectors might only be allowed on a case by case basis by ad hoc rules.

Article 3. Of the necessity for geographical boundaries

  • Each sector is delimited by strict boundaries, the crossing of which shall be regulated rigorously.
  • These boundaries shall be arbitrarily drawn and define clear territories for castes, though they may occasionally follow natural landmarks to facilitate demarcation.
  • No goods or population shall be exchanged between two sectors without careful considerations, so as to avoid unwanted interference between castes. Treaties and agreements may be considered to facilitate and regulate trade when appropriate.
  • Fences, walls and other separation apparatus may be considered. More lenient separation may be negotiated ad hoc on a case by case basis.
  • Sector boundaries shall be enforced by any means necessary, including but not limited to weapons and military means.

Article 2. Of the shared cultural and social history legitimizing sectors

  • This declaration shall be established as an unquestionable fundamental element of society, until every Namuh fully interiorizes their caste and sector and accepts the limits of their rights.
  • Alternatives should be negated out of the collective unconscious and shall be  inconceivable. In the end, Namuhs shall not notice much less doubt the dominion of the caste system. Its rule shall then be unopposed, and the Namuhs shall have no escape.
  • To that end, each sector may adopt their own customs and language to foster a sentiment of unity and belonging in the caste. Namuhs of a caste shall be conditioned to be emotionally attached to their caste and sector. Traditions, sports, culture, language and symbols are ideal vectors to reinforce the conditioning, until every Namuh is properly locked in their sector and caste physically, psychologically and emotionally.
  • It is expected that as time passes, the system established by this declaration shall gain strength through inertia until it becomes de facto absolute, as the sectors become invested in their identity and the separation between castes grows deeper.

Article 1. Of the acknowledgement of the reality of sectors

Anthropomorphic principle

 

I can’t even imagine what it must be to be normal. It’s been so long since I’ve lived anything close to the life of an average human being that I’ve forgotten what it felt like. I’m too different.
It wears you down, trying to fit in knowing you never will, facing your problems knowing they’ll never end. Every day the burdens pile up and the weight get heavier. Well I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of suffering. I can’t take it anymore. Now I just want to rest.
Why did everything end up that way? Why did everything keep getting worse, with no end ever in sight? What relentless curse kept dragging out my torment, as if toying with my life? All I wanted was a way out.
There comes a point when you’d accept anything to make the pain stop. And for someone like me, the only way is to end my life. Put an end to all of this bullshit. Leave this world where I never should have been.
I contemplated the bottle of pills that stood firmly on the table in front of me. It takes a lot of courage to fight your survival instinct. To make that final leap. Death is scary and terrible. But sometimes, the alternative is worse.
A final effort to put an end to suffering. The last bit of pain ever. After this, there would be no turning back. The story would end.I poured some pills in the palm of my trembling hand.
But contemplating the medicine, I got scared. I heard far too many stories of such attempts failing, which kept replaying in my mind as I was trying to gather my courage. I didn’t want to spend all night puking, only to come back to my hell in the morning. The point was not to add more suffering.
I decided to put the pills back in the bottle with a trembling hand. There had to be a safer way. I certainly envisioned a lot of things during the darkness of my days. I moved slowly through my apartment. Everything felt distant, like I was in a dream.
I took a deep breath and shoved the fistful of medicine in my mouth. I swallowed painfully. I really hoped that it would be enough, else it would have all been for naught. Just to be safe, I gulped down the rest of the bottle.
Now there was nothing to do but wait. I lied down in my bed, crying softly, until sleep carried me off forever.
Finally, I reached the window. My building was only a couple of floors high, and dominated a highway. I often stared at the flow of life on the road, watching the pulsating bustling of a world foreign to me. Maybe it was time for them to do something for me. If the shock didn’t get me, certainly the traffic would.
I yanked the window open. The fresh air from dusk came whipping my face, the rumbling of the cars at the end of rush hour filled my surroundings. Nobody noticed as I poked my head outside of the building. How fitting.
Dizziness overcame me as I watched the ground far below. This would do nicely. I took a deep breath and prepared to command my legs to push me for a last time. I closed my eyes, and jumped.
The wind lashed my body, as if to welcome me in its embrace. For a second that seemed like an eternity, I was falling down a vertiginous infinity. My soon-to-be-corpse kept tumbling and spinning disorderly.
I landed on my back, in a horrible cacophony of cracking sounds. I immediately lost consciousness. My head hit the ground first. My skull exploded under the impact. And I was no more.
The screeching sounds of tires stopping abruptly resonated all around me. People were honking and getting out of their cars, panicked. They yelled at each other and to themselves, trying to make sense of what to do in this routine-breaking situation they had never imagined.
Emergency services were called, and soon the strident siren of an ambulance tore through the chaos of the arguments. It fought its way to what was left of me. The medical staff came out and carefully moved my body to a stretcher.
The vehicle started up again while the paramedics applied whatever first aid they could. An IV in my arm helped the body hold on until the hospital. They kept exchanging information in a lingo I couldn’t understand nor hear. In our trail, on the freeway, the disturbed human life was slowly taking back its course.
The ambulance arrived at the hospital in a short time. The staff dragged my stretcher to the ER, through brightly lit immaculate hallways. Heads were turning on our way, but this was nothing out of the ordinary for this place. Medics were exchanging information in rushed but not panicked voices.
We made our way straight to an operating room. Nurses and doctors started to probe and tend to whatever was left of my body, their chatter punctuated by the beeping noises of the medical equipment.
The surgery lasted for some time. Many bones were broken, internal bleeding needed stopping… All the while the various machines kept insisting on the precarity of my condition, letting everyone know how close to death I was. One false move would be the end of it.
But there was none. After a long battle, the surgery staff put down their weapons and let out sighs of relief. I was stabilized.
It would obviously take a while before I was in any decent shape, but my life was out of danger. They carried me to a room where I was left on my own until I regained consciousness.
The surgery staff kept fighting against the dreadful state this lump of flesh was in. The machines confirmed it was not looking good. The internal bleeding was too dire for them to do much. They tried their best and worked at it for a while, but in the end the steady noise of the flat line confirmed that I was beyond saving.
It happened gradually, and it was hard for me to come to my senses, numbed by the intense pain that bathed every inch of me as well as the heavy doses of anesthetics that made it all tolerable.
It probably took hours for me to be lucid enough in any meaningful way. White lab coated people came and went every now and then. The rhythm of their visits was the only way for me to tell the passage of time.
After a while, one of them talked to me and explained, in a bored and disapproving voice, that I would be here for long and that they’d have to do a full psych evaluation of me the next day to figure out exactly what would happen to me. I knew what it meant, and it wasn’t good. In fact, it was probably the worst case scenario. But my brain was still too confused to think about it and fully process the information. I slept for some time.
When I woke up, it was still night. The fog in my mind had lifted a little, replaced by a growing anxiety about what would come next.
I gazed up at the starry sky through the window of the room, and felt an unexpected sense of serenity washing over me. After all that had happened, there was something especially magnificent about the view that unfolded in front of my eyes.
“Maybe the universe just wants to be looked at.”
For a short moment, I couldn’t help but accept the part of me that was in awe of this world, and lucky to have lived to tell the tale.