Ebenezer Scrooge: Ghost Hunter

 

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Stave One

MARLEY'S GHOST

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. Scrooge was witness to the deed and having full first-hand knowledge of the events, knew his partner was gone. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will, therefore, permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead. Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. While the darkness of ghouls and netherworld creatures had touched his life first, it had been Marley who was Scrooge’s most trusted comrade in combating these evil forces. The nature of their business set the two apart from the rest of the living world and as a result, the funeral was quite bereft of mourners, friends, or anyone not being paid in the execution of the death rites. Sometimes it did not seem fair to Scrooge that the apprenticed partner had fallen first, and he more often than not, on these sad occasions, found himself deep in his cups to forget.

The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot--say St. Paul's Church-yard, for instance--literally to astonish his son's weak mind.

Scrooge never painted out old Marley's name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

His line of work, or maybe what drew him to it, had twisted Scrooge, that old wretch. Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained;  solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. Besieged by a lifetime of regret, the odor of a distillery seeped from his pores and from the bottle that offered him his cold comfort. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often "came down" handsomely and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?" No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and, when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, "No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!"

But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call "nuts" to Scrooge. In a way, Scrooge straddled both worlds in every step and every breath, a wraith doomed to watch the world, wail silently in the night, and having a sum null effect on the day-to-day transactions of the living.  

Once upon a time--of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve--old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house which acted as a front for his more clandestine work. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The City clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already--it had not been light all day--and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that, although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that nature lived hard by and was brewing on a large scale.

The door of Scrooge's counting-house was open, that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn't replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master would berate him with his bitter, vapor-filled rantings. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of strong imagination, he failed.

"A Merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!" cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach. Scrooge felt his shoulders tighten; his nephew always came round on some mission of mercy or good cheer. The poor boy was optimistic to a fault and therefore utterly simple by default. 

"Bah!" Scrooge steeled himself. "Humbug!"[JK1] 

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge's, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

"Christmas a humbug, Uncle!" said Scrooge's nephew. "You don't mean that, I am sure?"

"I do," said Scrooge. "Merry Christmas! What reason have you to be merry?”

"Come, then," returned the nephew gaily. "What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You drink enough spirits to keep a small army in good cheer."

Scrooge, knowing this to be a gross exaggeration, refusing to defend himself and having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, "Bah!" again; and followed it up with, "Humbug!"

"Don't be cross, Uncle!" said the nephew.

Seizing upon the straw of Christmas, as the convenient cause of all his woes, he launched into the easiest tirade he could think of. "What else can I be," returned Scrooge, "when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon Merry Christmas! What's Christmas-time to you but a time for buying presents without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; you toil and spin through a round dozen of months, only to have them presented dead against you? Merry Christmas is just a marking of the passage of time, one grimy year to the next, the people you love grow old, wilt, and die.  If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"

"Uncle!" pleaded the nephew.

"Nephew!" returned the uncle sternly, "keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."

"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it."

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge. "Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, and scraped away the grime of the year, I dare say," returned the nephew; "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round--apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has emptied my pocket on occasion, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

The clerk in the tank involuntarily applauded. Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety, he poked the fire, and extinguished the last frail spark forever.

"Let me hear another sound from you," said Scrooge, "and you'll keep your Christmas by losing your situation! You're quite a powerful speaker, sir," he added, turning to his nephew. "I wonder you don't go into Parliament."

"Don't be angry, Uncle. Come! Dine with us to-morrow."

The moment he had been trying to postpone had come and so the only response, to Scrooge’s mind, was to put an end to it for once and for all. Scrooge said that he would see him----Yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first.

"But why?" cried Scrooge's nephew. "Why?"

"Why did you get married?" said Scrooge.

"Because I fell in love."

"Because you fell in love!" growled Scrooge, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a Merry Christmas. "Good afternoon!"

"Nay, uncle, but you never came to see me before that happened. Why give it as a reason for not coming now?"

"Good afternoon," said Scrooge.

"I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?"

"Good afternoon!" said Scrooge, as there was no excuse or reason for him to give that his nephew would understand or believe.

"I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I'll keep my Christmas humour to the last. So A Merry Christmas, Uncle!"

"Good afternoon," said Scrooge.

"And A Happy New Year!"

"Good afternoon!" said Scrooge.

His nephew left the room without an angry word, notwithstanding. He stopped at the outer door to bestow the greetings of the season on the clerk, who, cold as he was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned them cordially.

"There's another fellow," muttered Scrooge, who overheard him: "my clerk, with a wife and family he can hardly afford, talking about a Merry Christmas. Only more mouths to feed and presents to buy. He is a lunatic, indeed, to be merry."

This lunatic, in letting Scrooge's nephew out, had let two other people in. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Scrooge's office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

"Scrooge and Marley's, I believe," said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. "Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?"

"Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years," Scrooge replied. "He died seven years ago, this very night."

"We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner," said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits, haunted by the same demons. At the ominous word "liberality" Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I am very glad to hear it."

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge. "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and of every bottle I consume, I put out in the trash one with a good swig left in it. It’s always empty by morning. My taxes help to support the establishments I have mentioned—personally I’ve funded them in blood - they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides--excuse me--I don't know that."

"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.

"It's not my business," Scrooge returned. "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine haunts me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, the boon of his previous deeds, though they were mostly seven years gone, proved righteous enough to bestow a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slyly down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards, as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense. In the main street, at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plug being left in solitude, its overflowings suddenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice. The brightness of the shops, where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers' and grocers' trades became a splendid joke: a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do. The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor's household should; and even the bobby, whom had fined Scrooge five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk and blood-thirsty in the streets, stirred up to-morrow's pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and the baby sallied out to buy the beef.

Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good St. Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit's nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose. The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge's keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol; but, at the first sound of, "God bless you, merry gentleman, May nothing you dismay!" quickly found himself in dismay.  Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog, and even more congenial frost.

At length the hour of shutting up the counting-house arrived. With an ill-will, Scrooge dismounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to the expectant clerk in the tank, who instantly snuffed his candle out, and put on his hat.

"You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?" said Scrooge.

"If quite convenient, sir."

"It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill used, I'll be bound?"

The clerk smiled faintly. Scrooge hated him a little for it. Tomorrow,  Cratchit’s day would be full of merry distractions, while Scrooge would count the bones of his former partner and the failures that went along with each one. With this in mind, Scrooge proceeded to take cold comfort in watching the good man squirm. After all it was, in part, the man’s fault.

"And yet," said Scrooge, "you don't think me ill used when I pay a day's wages for no work."

The clerk observed that it was only once a year. Truly, Cratchit seemed to have assigned no significance of the day and how it related to his employment.

"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. He paused to observe the clerk fidget uncomfortably. With a self-satisfied sigh, he continued, "But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning."

The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl. The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends of his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no great-coat), went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas-eve, and then ran home to Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blindman's buff.

Scrooge fumbled around in his pocket as he watched the clerk go, and upon grasping the metal, pulled the key into the light and inspected it.  The key, being primarily iron and ornamented with scrolled silver, fit the lock of the store room around back of the counting house. It was to here that Scrooge retired, shoving the key into the equally ornamented lock and turning it home. He did not light a lamp immediately but stood much like a ghoul himself in the gloom of the store room.

There in the shadows lay the real tools of Scrooge and Marley’s trade. Iron implements inlaid with silver runes, lanterns attached to mirrors designed to cast the brightest possible light, black powders that could ignite in an instant, herbs and salts to smudge and disperse the spirits. And darker still, vials of blood to draw the energies in and trap the worst of the ghouls that walked the earth. 

With a sigh of a man who had done the same for years gone by, Scrooge moved a few ancient logs from a dusty woodpile and onto the small hearth. He threw a handful of black powder on the pyre and struck it alight with a practiced swipe at the flint stone. The flames lit the room with a bright, hot heat and then died down to a small flicker as the mummified logs struggled to catch. Scrooge knew he could have easily struck the logs alight without the powder, but the resulting smell of burning sulfur suited his melancholy mood. 

Pulling a small flask from his deep pockets, Scrooge set about his task. As he had done every year on the anniversary of Marley’s death, Scrooge inspected the store room. With a practiced hand, he examined the protection wards on the doors and windows, feeling for weaknesses and looking for signs of molestation. Satisfied that the room was undisturbed, he drew up a hard stool, much like its twin in the counting house, and taking another long swig from his flask, proceeded to pull every weapon, tool and instrument of his defunct craft to his lap where he inspected, polished and cared for each one in turn. Not for the first time, Scrooge wondered about his old trade, ghoul hunting, and how the counting house had started as a front for this passion. With the passage of time and one death too many, the two professions had switched roles with the counting house taking prominence and ghoul hunting being regulated to a hobby mostly forgotten. Scrooge hadn’t taken a case since Marley’s demise.

Once Scrooge had satisfied himself as to the quality of the tools of his former trade, with the flames guttering in the hearth, he pulled out an old fob watch of his former partner. “For you, you sorry bastard,” Scrooge toasted before tilting back his flask and finding nothing but air, as he had drank the contents during the dischargement of his annual duties. He shrugged and stood, having to check his balance against the dusty doorjamb and leaving the final flickers of fire to burn themselves out, locked up the store room and stumbled out into the cold and foggy night.

Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having finished a few more cups, and silently toasted his former partner in equally vile terms, went home to bed. He lived in chambers, which had once belonged to his deceased partner. They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have 

run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and have forgotten the way out again. It was old enough now, and dreary enough; for nobody lived in it but Scrooge, the other rooms being all let out as offices. The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.

Now, it is a fact that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the City of London, even including--which is a bold word- -the corporation, aldermen, and livery. Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge, while plenty in his cups, had not been prone to flights of fancy or tricks of the mind. He had toasted and cursed Marley’s memory in turns all evening, but it was an utter surprise when Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change--not a knocker, but Marley’s face.

Marley’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow, as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath of hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid color, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face, and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again. 

 

To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked in, and lighted his candle.

He did pause, with a moment's irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind it first, as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight of Marley's pigtail sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the knocker on, so he said, "Pooh, pooh!" and closed it with a bang.

The sound resounded through the house like thunder. Every room above, and every cask in the wine merchant's cellars below, appeared to have a separate peal of echoes of its own. Scrooge was not a man to be frightened by echoes. He fastened the door, and shambled across the hall, and up the stairs: slowly, too: trimming his candle as he went.

You may talk vaguely about driving a coach and six up a good old flight of stairs, or through a bad young Act of Parliament; but I mean to say you might have got a hearse up that staircase, and taken it broadwise, with the splinter-bar towards the wall, and the door towards the balustrades: and done it easy. There was plenty of width for that, and room to spare; which is perhaps the reason why Scrooge thought he saw a locomotive hearse going on before him in the gloom. Half-a-dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn't have lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge's dip.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is comforting to dark souls, and Scrooge owned the lowliest. But, before he shut his heavy door, he shuffled through his rooms to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection of the face through the haze of drink to desire to do that.

Sitting-room, bedroom, lumber-room. All as they should be. No spectre under the table, no gholam under the sofa; a small fire in the grate; spoon and basin ready; and the little saucepan of gruel (to counter Scrooge’s inevitable morning head) upon the hob. No ghouls under the bed; no goblins in the closet; no phantoms in his dressing-gown, which was hanging up in a suspicious attitude against the wall and he hit it unsteadily with a cane for good measure. Lumber-room as usual. Old fire-guard, old shoes, two fish baskets, washing-stand on three legs, and a fire iron scrolled with silver runes, the only tool of his former trade that he kept in the residence.

Quite satisfied, he closed his door, and locked himself in; adding a ward against spectral intrusion, which was not his custom. Upon turning from the protections, the room spun too quickly to his mind.  Momentarily lost for balance and in correcting himself, Scrooge unwittingly disrupted his own magical works; scuffing his foot through the ward and thus feeling falsely secured against surprise, he took off his cravat; put on his dressing-gown and slippers, and his nightcap; and sat down before the fire to take his gruel.

It was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night. In his drunken state, having magiked himself in (to his mind) to the room, the fuel required for a larger fire was too far from reach being downstairs. He was obliged to sit close to the fire, and brood over it, before he could extract the least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel. The fire-place was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaoh's daughters, Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, and laid over all, in neat lines of silver, lay the runes he and Marley had laid together decades prior. Staring at those figures the face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet's rod, and swallowed up the whole. If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old Marley's head on every one.

"Humbug!" said Scrooge; and walked across the room.

After several turns he sat down again. As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a bell, a disused bell, that hung in the room, and communicated, for some purpose now forgotten, with a chamber in the highest story of the building. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that, as he looked, he saw this bell begin to swing. It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house.

This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The bells ceased, as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant's cellar. Scrooge usually thought of those casks with lust, but now that sound filled him with dread.

The cellar door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

"It's coming for me," said Scrooge. "It’s past time!"

His color changed, though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed the tampered wards and into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, "I know him! Marley's Ghost!" and fell again.

The same face: the very same. Marley in his thick trousers, and knee-high boots, his vest pulling at the buttons where time had expanded his waist; the very pocket watch Scrooge had held in the storeroom now decorated Marley’s vest; his beard, as always was unkempt and his pigtail wig sat slightly skewed on his head. It had been Scrooge’s idea, all those years ago to pose as men of business, Marley had never quite got the hang of it.  

The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of stones, keys, padlocks, rune inscribed tools, and even heavy tombstones wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.

Scrooge had often said that Marley had more guts than brains, but now he had no bowels at all.

No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before; he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.

"How now!" said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. "How did you come to this, old friend? Or are you not my friend at all, but some other pest wearing his guise?"

Marley's voice chortled, no doubt about it. His eyes danced with a cold mirth at his old acquaintance’s expense. The dry, dusty laugh ran chills through Scrooge as it sounded so familiar and yet so inexplicably wrong.

"Who are you?"

"Ask me who I was."

"Who were you, then?" said Scrooge, raising his voice. "You're particular, for a shade." He was going to say "to a shade," but substituted this, as more appropriate.

"In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley."

"Can you--can you sit down?" asked Scrooge, looking doubtfully at him.

"I can."

"Do it, then."

Scrooge asked the question, because he didn't know whether a ghost so transparent might find himself in a condition to take a chair; and felt that, in the event of its being impossible, it might involve the necessity of an embarrassing explanation. But the Ghost sat down on the opposite side of the fire-place, as if he were quite used to it.

"You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.

"I don't," said Scrooge.

"What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your own senses?"

"Evidence that you were Marley, for one. It’s not often that men in our occupation come back to haunt the living. Not by choice, anyhow," said Scrooge.

"Why do you doubt your senses?"

"Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"

The shade looked askance at Scrooge, “Or a bit of drink, old friend?”

Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he appreciate this phantom throwing his shortcomings back in his face. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre’s voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.

To sit staring at those fixed glazed eyes in silence, for a moment, would play, Scrooge felt, the very deuce with him. There was something very awful, too, in the spectre's being provided with an infernal atmosphere of his own. The phantom seemed to shimmer, as if a great heat stood between them, casting up waves to warp the air. Scrooge could not feel it himself, but this was clearly the case; for though the Ghost sat perfectly motionless, its hair, and skirts were still agitated as by the hot vapor from an oven.

"You see this fire iron?" said Scrooge, returning quickly to the charge, for the reason just assigned; and wishing, though it were only for a second, to divert the vision's stony gaze from himself.

"I do," replied the Ghost.

"You are not looking at it," said Scrooge.

"But I see it," said the Ghost, "notwithstanding."

"Well!" returned Scrooge, "Marley would know the implement and where it came from. Prove yourself or taste oblivion." In truth the threat was a bluff. The fire iron was the only weapon in the house enchanted with the power to disperse the shade, but it could not send it to oblivion. The shade looked at Scrooge sly, and gave a wink with a tap of his nose. It knew, as surely as Scrooge did, and the shade thought it a good laugh.

“The fire iron came with the house,” Marley chuckled, “the silver from hard work at a counting house neither of us cared for. The runes from a silversmith who thought the order vain and spat sideways for the coin. And the first chance you had to use it, you skewered a goblin and spent the next fortnight cleaning its guts from the channels and crevices the silver wrought.” 

 [JK1]

Footnote: A “humbug” is a sad excuse for a ghoul, haunting broken down buildings and wailing miserably at the world. It is easily dispatched with the administration of salt and a prayer, usually grateful for the execution. 

Ebenezer Scrooge: Ghost Hunter is available for Pre-Order on Amazon and Kobo

Publishing September 1, 2015.

 

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Ebenezer Scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge: Ghost Hunter will be available for purchase Sept 1, 2015

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