It had been the most extraordinary day. Never had a leopard changed its spots so quickly. Never had someone turned over a new leaf so completely. Ebenezer Scrooge had reconciled himself with anyone and everyone he could remember losing the favour of, and whilst Scrooge had indubitably reveled in the fellowship of mankind on this day that celebrates the birth of our saviour, something irked him as he sallied his way along the streets. Scrooge had enjoyed a splendid Christmas lunch with his nephew and his family, and afterwards how heartily he had volunteered to play all the parlor games and though he was now close to exhaustion he still gamely ambled his way home through the bitterly cold, dark London night. Indeed this complete reversal of Scrooge’s character had led many of those that had met him this Christmas day to think that he must have been delirious, suffering a fever of the mind, or the curious side effects of a stroke, but there had been no stroke, only the hauntings of four spirits could be held accountable for Scrooge’s apparent epiphany of the soul.
Still there was a thought tucked far away at the very back of his mind that unsettled him, a mere phantom of a thought, but as Scrooge could bear testimony, the shadows of phantoms are enough to bring about great change. Despite still being nearly full to the brim of Christmas cheer Scrooge couldn’t help but ponder on what it was that was bothering him, and he knew that if he were to go straight home he would only sit and stare into his fireplace for hours ruminating over this small, but undeniable vexation. It was then that Scrooge had a splendid idea, the old man knew exactly what he must do next, he would go and visit Skanky Jack.
The last time Scrooge had seen Skanky Jack he had given him short shrift and demanded that he repay all his debts by the new year. With a sense of guilt Scrooge reflected on how he had shouted and beaten Skanky Jack mercilessly with his gnarled walking stick. Scrooge felt his shame deeply and resolved that his benevolence could be still stretched a little further so as to come to some sort of agreement with Skanky Jack.
Scrooge had a pretty good idea where he would be able to find Skanky Jack at this time of night. He would be at Limehouse, about four miles east of Charing Cross on the north bank of the river, no doubt indulging in the Chinese molasses. A distance too far to walk so late into the night, Scrooge decided he would make his way to the river to find one of the silent highway men to take him the distance downstream.
As Scrooge made his way through the bitter, misanthropic chill a frosty rime settled on his eyebrows and wiry chin. The thickness of the fog was too much for even the most enthusiastic gas lamp to leave any meaningful impression, but still within Scrooge the spirit of the day burned with the greatest intensity. By the time Scrooge arrived on the north bank of the Thames many of the watermen were far too inebriated or had gone home to spend the last of what remained of the Christmas evening with their families. With very little ambient light the riverbank was a foreboding and sinister place, a place where criminal undertakings provided the main source of revenue. Scrooge however was not about to let this most miserable and foul setting put him out of favour with the season. He strode purposefully up to a group of three men huddling around a brazier warming their hands and announced, “Which one of you fine watermen would be good enough to take me down to Limehouse? I have business there that must be concluded before the day is out, and as it is Christmas I am willing to reward handsomely whichever one of you takes me there.”
As he finished his pronouncement he noticed a woman, who had for some reason been on her knees get to her feet. The three men turned slowly to look at Scrooge, the glow of their fire only accentuated the hideous contours of their three equally deformed countenances. In fact Scrooge was for a moment struck dumb by the sheer repulsiveness of these men who displayed as fine a collection of skin diseases as could be seen in any illustrated medical encyclopedia. One of the men replied,“‘andsomely rewarded you say? Will need to be this late into the night.” In the darkness it was difficult for Scrooge to tell which of the three had just spoken so he replied to all of them, “Yes, for today is Christmas, my first in many years, aside from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, it is a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time any of us know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.” Scrooge was interrupted in the midst of his flowery oration by the giggling of the men and the woman who added, “I’ve got something I would open up for you, but it won’t be freely. What says you and me go for a quick ball o’ chalk and find ourselves somewhere quiet?” Taken aback by the proposition, for Scrooge had received no such thing in the best part of half a century, he could feel his cheeks start to glow against the harshness of the night. “Well thank you young lady but that will not be necessary, as I mentioned before I have business to settle before the day is over.”
“Suit yourself” she answered and disappeared from sight as she resumed her kneeling position.
The shortest of the men stepped through the shadows towards Scrooge, “So how much were you thinking of paying then mister?”
Scrooge had that morning left his chambers with plenty of money, and although he had given much of it away throughout the day he was still in possession of plenty. Remembering the deal he had agreed earlier in the day with the boy about getting the prize turkey, Scrooge proposed similar terms, “I’ll give you a shilling, but if you can get me there before the chiming of the next hour I’ll give you half-a-crown!”
This gained the attention of all those within earshot, the woman’s face reappearing from behind the waist of one of the men and stared up at Scrooge. The man to whom Scrooge had made the offer started to grin, at least it appeared to be a grin to Scrooge, what with the poor lighting, lack of teeth, and the plethora of skin diseases, Scrooge could only assume that it was the man’s mouth that was making the facial expression.
“Alright then guvnor, if you’d care to make your way to the skiff o’er there I can start to earn meself that ‘alf crown.”
Making their way eastwards down the river felt perilous to Scrooge, the flaring of the lamp was not strong enough to penetrate more than four or five feet ahead of the skiff and no one could have known they were out there. Shut off from the city around them by the depth of the fog and darkness of the night, this was not the first time today that Scrooge had felt as if he had been removed from this world only to be placed somewhere between the living and the dead. How the waterman knew where he was with no landmarks visible only unsettled Scrooge further.
Before the hour struck the waterman placed the skiff by the bank of the river and informed Scrooge they had arrived. Truth be told Scrooge could not see enough to be sure of this, but in good spirits he had no reason to question or doubt his pilot. As Scrooge carefully alighted off the gently rocking skiff onto the bank he turned to pay the waterman both the money and the kindness of the season when he received a sharp blow to his temple. As he lay dazed on the ground the boatman delivered three swift kicks to Scrooge’ midriff breaking several of his ribs, then rifled through Scrooge’s pockets relieving him of all his money and a gold fob watch. As Scrooge lay on the cold ground he saw the boatman make his way back out onto the river. Somewhat philosophically Scrooge realised that the pain he was in at this very moment was nothing when compared to the agony he had brought on many a London family. So Scrooge shakily got himself to his feet and despite his injuries tried to wish the boatman a merry Christmas.
While struggling to catch his breath, doubled over in pain, Scrooge dragged himself along Thames Path to Narrow Street where he knew he would be most likely to find Skanky Jack. As he continued painfully on his way he heard the sound of voices coming towards him, this filled Scrooge’s heart full with joy as it presented him with another opportunity for more seasonal philanthropy. But, there was something odd about these voices, although they were definitely voices their tongues spoke a language that was completely alien to Scrooge. With the fog being so thick the two voices came upon him out of nowhere as suddenly there stood before him two short men with black hair and a complexion that was not of this scepter’d isle. Scrooge quickly realised that they were two China men sailors, a smile spread across Scrooge’s countenance as he offered the two men the felicitations of the season.
“Merry Christmas.” Scrooge wheezed as enthusiastically as his several broken ribs would allow. The two China men looked at one another and then back at Scrooge.
“Melly Chlitmas?” The two China men said to one another slowly and in a confused tone. “Melly Chlitmas?” Suddenly one of the China men sprang up like a jack in a box and twisted in mid air. Scrooge could just about see the extremity of a foot extended out tracing a perfect arc through the foggy night air. Before Scrooge had any chance of reacting one of the China men had executed a perfect flying roundhouse kick that came crashing down to the side of Scrooge’s face. Not for the first time that night Scrooge found himself on the cold and wet, filth strewn cobblestones, precariously balanced on the threshold of unconsciousness. “You think just because we sailors we rookin’ for sex. Well I just fucked you wheely good you fuckin’ old pervert.” And with that the two China men went on their way.
Even after having received two nearly fatal beatings during the last hour, the resolve of Scrooge’s Christmas spirit seemed only to strengthen itself. With broken ribs and a bloody swollen face Scrooge rationalised that this latest assault was nothing more than a cultural misunderstanding. Scrooge determined that he would not let this latest set back darken his mood, for he had already spent too many years edging his way along the crowded paths of life, and with this he again picked himself up and painfully made his way down the street.
Despite an iron will to see the day through with the enthusiasm with which he had started it, Scrooge was badly beaten, and much like Mary and Joseph had before him, he needed shelter if his goodwill was to extend into another day. If Scrooge had not had the good fortune of collapsing into the arms of Skanky Jack, then I am sure he would have died no more than a dozen paces from that spot. On this most holy of days it could have been said that divine providence itself was in Scrooge’s favour. Yet he still needed one more stroke of luck as the last time he and Skanky Jack had conversed they had departed on the most bitter of terms. Again fortune smiled on Scrooge as Skanky Jack was beyond remembering such a locking of horns having ever occurred, indeed from observing Skanky Jack’s attire with the most casual of glances it would appear obvious that Skanky Jack had great difficulty in even remembering to wear the clothes that most us would consider necessary for such inclement conditions, only the darkness and the fog covered what his clothes failed to. But little did Skanky Jack care for he had been in the opium den since the night of Christmas Eve, and if a physician had happened upon the pair of them then he would have been hard pressed deciding which required treatment first.
“Ay ya wellyawalkin will yafella? Wassyuptoaneewaay? Youzneeedz togetyaself taMidserChan’semporimum. Ya gottenymoney?” Now Skanky Jack had never been known around London as having a propensity for eloquence, but after having chased the dragon for over twenty-four hours even the dragon itself can start to tire. Scrooge had little understanding of what Skanky Jack had just said, but Scrooge had little choice but to go wherever it was that Skanky Jack was taking him.
They entered a house that from its extremity could have easily been regarded as abandoned. They then entered a poorly lit room, a thick smoke hung in the air much like the fog had doneoutside, through the darkness Scrooge could see movement and hear the groans of what he assumed were fellow human beings. As Scrooge lay himself down in a fashion so as to cause the least pain, Skanky Jack spoke with a diminutive China man who sorted out the required paraphernalia. Before long a pipe was placed at his lips and with what little energy Scrooge had left within him he inhaled. Less than a minute later and Scrooge could feel the agonies of his beatings dissolving throughout his entire body, and he smiled, a vacant but nonetheless contented smile. Languidly Scrooge exhaled, just letting the smoke decide its own rate of egress from his lungs. Again Scrooge inhaled, this time a little more deeply with the pain of his ribs now soothed. He held the smoke in his lungs a little longer this time and then, for all Scrooge cared, he could have exhaled his last.
In the darkness of the room the forms of shadows moved, mumbling infrequently and incoherently. Although there was very little light Scrooge felt a warmth and comfort as if he were swaddled within black velvet. His recent assaults were no longer even a memory, instead the joyfulness of the good deeds of the day radiated not just through his mind, but also stoked the fires of his heart and soul. If anyone had the opportunity to have looked into Scrooge’s eyes they would have attributed his delirium solely to his smoking of opium, but his level of contentment was so much deeper and fulfilling than that. The smoke in the room played and danced with what little light it could find as if challenging it to a game of blind-man’s buff.
Scrooge stared of into the darkness, through and beyond the darkness, until he arrived at such a time and such a place where the smoke and the shadows, the darkness and the Cimmerian shade coalesced. Within its depths Scrooge could see the darkness start to breathe and take form, anything but solid, but form nonetheless. China men, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, old Fezziwig, and Robinson Crusoe all morphed into forms of consciousness through the fleeting glimpse of a facial feature, an eye and a mouth or a nose and an ear. All of these partial countenances only added to the euphoria of Scrooge’s spirit.
Now anyone that has ever been in a condition similar to that which Scrooge presently found himself will tell you, that as with man’s attempts thus far to fly, “what goes up will inevitably come crashing down”.
Where there was once warmth there was now an uncomfortable heat. Where there was once a sense of security there was now an abyss of suspicion, a tumult of fear, and a piercing cacophony of doubt. Where only moments earlier Scrooge’s mind resided in a blissful state transcending the human condition, there now writhed and wrestled a chimerical beast of such malevolent contempt that it engulfed Scrooge without warning, hesitation or effort. The darkness and the smoke rose up and towered over him. Scrooge cowered before its presence.
“Look at me!” The voice reverberated through each atom of darkness, and through each sinew of Scrooge.
“Look at me!”
With what mental faculties he still had at his disposal Scrooge slowly raised his chin and brought himself to look upon what was the source of the ominous command. There standing before him Scrooge recognised the second of the three spirits, the ghost of Christmas Present. Like before it was clothed in its simple robe, bordered with white fur, but instead of the green of earlier it was now red. This garment hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, but appeared now to be decorated with tattoos. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the lurid red garment, were now wearing comical black boots; and on its head it wore a red hat also trimmed with fur. Where once Its dark brown curls were long and free, his hair had turned grey and white; its genial face now looked haggard, its sparkling eye, its open hand, and its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, now lost as if belonging to another time. Where once he proudly carried his burning torch all that was left looked like a damp lump of charcoal.
“Is.. is that you spirit, the spirit of Christmas Present?” Asked Scrooge timidly. The spirit looked down upon Scrooge with a weariness and desperation that made Scrooge’s kidneys freeze. “Are you alright spirit? I find you not as I left you”
“I’m going to be honest with you Scrooge, you were right, it’s all bullshit. I’ve seen it coming for some time but it’s all gone to hell in a hand basket. If you think it’s bad now you should see it in a hundred years time. Let me tell you I thought Christmas was commercial now with its great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts. The ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars. The pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; bunches of grapes, made to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might water gratis as they passed; the piles of filberts and Norfolk Biffins. The oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. I don’t even know what some of this shit is Scrooge! I mean what the fuck is a Norfolk Biffen anyway and what’s it got to do with Christmas?
“But it gets worse Scrooge, oh it gets much worse. A hundred years from now children expect gifts that are so expensive it will take their parents until the next Christmas to pay for them. And let me tell you the irony of this shit, all the stuff the children want is made in China. They don’t even have Christmas in fucking China Scrooge! You’re probably thinking “why don’t the people just spend what they can afford?” Well Scrooge if the people were to do this their government would say that the economy was stagnating, which in turn would lead to a recession and the “sensible people” losing their jobs. How well a person “keeps” Christmas has nothing to do with charity, love or tolerance, instead it is measured by the amount of debt one is willing to amass. I’m telling you Scrooge, it’s utterly fucked. And for the crowning turd atop of the Christmas pudding they dress me like this, like some sort of festive whore with no dress sense. And do you know why I’m now wearing red? It’s because of some fucking syrupy and gassy drink that their all consuming, that I wouldn’t even force my most arse-hole of a reindeer to drink.”
“But what about your message, your lesson to me, why did you do it?” Questioned Scrooge, puzzled by the spirits new message whilst still being confused by the effects of the opium.
“That was Jacob Marley’s idea I’m afraid. We were all sat around on Christmas Eve and had nothing better to do, so we just went along with it.”
“And what will you do now?” asked Scrooge.
“I don’t know, I’m very bitter about all this if I’m to be honest with you. Maybe I’ll hang around here for a few months smoke opium and think of ways I can fuck up Easter, sabotage Hannukkha, or maybe I’ll go to the orient and take a big shit all over Buddhist Lent. I still have some options.”
“Well spirit, I can’t say that I’m not disappointed, I believed what you told me earlier, I still do. What about love and forgiveness, what about goodwill to all our fellow passengers to the grave?”
“All total bullshit Scrooge. The secret to life is to take what you can and fuck anyone who tries to get in your way.”
It was at this very moment that it occurred to Scrooge what it was that had been bothering him since he had taken leave of his nephew’s house. It was like a lamp being lit in his very mind casting the light of revelation over the past twenty-four hours. Scrooge saw Christmas for what it truly was, the complete and utter humbuggery of it all became apparent to him.
So Scrooge took the spirits advice and applied every one of his teachings to his life, and infinitely more; and Tiny Tim did NOT die, instead Scrooge was able to keep his life hanging in the balance as an incentive to make Bob Cratchitt work harder. And as the spirit said he crushed the resolve of anyone that stood in his way. Of all the arse holes in the that good old city Scrooge was considered the largest; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people could not be exploited for his own personal ends. So Scrooge went on living for many years to come because you see, he could afford the best health care. He out lived Bob Cratchitt, Tiny Tim his nephew, all of them without batting an eye. For Scrooge was a good capitalist and lived by its rules making both money and misery in equal measure for generations to come.