A Christmas Carol

Read by James Eckhouse

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"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

Many Christmases ago there lived a businessman in London by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge. Everyone knew Mr. Scrooge, but not because he was popular, and certainly not because he was generous. The name "Scrooge" became synonymous with greed, selfishness, and was often used in place of other words that don't belong in polite conversation.

Ebenezer Scrooge made his fortune in banking, partnering with his friend Jacob Marley, who was just as stingy as Scrooge. Together, they did everything they could to squeeze every last cent out of everyone around them. They lent money to people who needed it, but if you were even a minute late in paying it back, Marley and Scrooge would take everything you had, even the shirt off your back! They foreclosed on schools, hospitals, and even orphanages! They took money wherever they could get it. There was nothing those two liked more than money. Their hearts were as hard and cold as the gold coins that jangled in their pockets.

Jacob Marley passed away a few years back and, as Mr. Scrooge sat alone in his dark office, he sometimes thought of Marley, but when he did, he would try to force all those sad memories out of his head by focusing on the money.

He stepped out of his office and stood menacingly over his assistant, a kind and timid young man named Bob Crachit.

"Cratchit!" shouted Scrooge, "have you finished filing those papers yet?"

"A-Almost, Mr. Scrooge." he said. Crachit sat at a little desk, his teeth chattering as he shivered in the cold of the London winter. "It's just," he added, "I think I could go a bit faster if it was a little warmer in here." While Mr. Scrooge's office has a big, roaring fire, the only thing to keep Crachit warm was a tiny coal heater.

"Coal doesn't grow on trees, Cratchit!" said Scrooge. "I'm not paying for you to get comfy. If you put another piece of coal in that heater, it's coming out of your pay."

"Yes sir, of course, sir." said Cratchit. "I'm sure I can get this filing done by next week."

"I imagine you can. Since you seem to have been lazing about here, you'll have to come in tomorrow." he said.

"But...but Mr. Scrooge, tomorrow is Christmas! I need to be with my family. Especially Tiny Tim...I don't know how many more Christmases he'll be around for."

"That's very touching, Mr. Cratchit," Scrooge said dryly, "Alright, you've swayed my heart. You can have a half-day tomorrow, but I'll expect you to work through New Year's."

"Bless you, Mr. Scrooge!" Cratchit said, reaching for his coat on his way out. "Have yourself a merry Christmas!"

"Christmas," said Scrooge, "bah humbug!" With that, he shut the door on Mr. Cratchit and went back to his office. He sat at his desk, looking over papers with the frown he always wore when he heard a strange noise, something jingling and rattling. At first he thought it was a set of sleigh bells from the street, but when he heard it again it was definitely coming from upstairs, where he lived.

Slowly he crept through the halls, peeking cautiously into empty rooms. But just as he decided he was going mad, he heard moaning coming from the stairway behind him.

Scrooge's face turned white, as white as the all-too-familiar figure he saw hovering over the stairs watching him with large, sad eyes. It was Jacob Marley! In the flesh - well, sort of. He looked very much like Scrooge remembered him, except that he was transparent and dragged heavy chains from his arms and legs.

"Is it really you, Marley?" asked Scrooge.

"Ebenezer Scrooge!" the ghost bellowed, "I have come to give you a grave warning. You must change your wicked ways or you will wind up cursed like I am! You see, I forged these chains through a lifetime of greed and heartlessness. And I know you well, old friend--I am sure your chains will be heavier. That is why, tonight, you will be visited by three spirits who will try to open your heart. If they cannot teach you, you will be doomed to walk the earth in chains like me."

The ghost vanished before Scrooge could ask another question. Now looking around the deserted stairway, he saw no sign of the ghost, no proof that it had ever really happened at all. "Perhaps I was just seeing things," he thought. He decided he just needed to get some sleep, so he retired to his bedroom and crawled into bed.

He had not been asleep for long when his window opened by itself and a cold winter wind blew in. He shivered and got out of bed to close it. When he turned around, he saw a beautiful woman standing in front of him wearing a long dress of blue light. "I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."

"Christmas? Bah-humbug! If this some sort of charity, you can just forget it, you won't get any money from me."

"I'm not here for your money, Ebenezer," she said, her voice soft and reassuring, "I've come to rekindle your love of Christmas."

"I hate Christmas! It's nothing but an excuse for lazy people to get out of work."

"That's what you say, but that wasn't always the case. Let me show you something." She led him to the window, a window which Scrooge had looked out many times before. This time, however, the view was different. He recognized it at once: he was looking into the house where he grew up. It was early on a winter morning and there was a little boy opening a Christmas present with a smile on his face as big as all outdoors.

There was so much joy in the boy's face, so much purity and love. The Ghost of Christmas Past walked up next to the awe-struck Scrooge and quietly asked him,
"Whatever happened to that little boy?"

Scrooge didn't answer. He knew that the little boy was himself, but he honestly couldn't remember how he came to be who he was. "You've fallen a long way, Ebenezer." said the spirit.

Scrooge seemed to regain a hold of himself. "Times change...people change!" he said defensively.

"But some people change like food left out for too long... They go bad." She disappeared, leaving Scrooge alone with his thoughts. He tried to go back to sleep but he remembered what Marley said about three spirits... the thought of another ghostly visitor kept him wide awake with fright. Tossing and turning, he thought he heard a noise. It was a loud thump, and it came from the kitchen. He snuck through the dark hallways and peeked in. It looked as though someone was cooking, someone hungry and with no sense of taste. Laid out were bread, fish, cheese, pickles, and half of a pumpkin pie. Scrooge wondered who could eat like this, and as the refrigerator door closed he wished he hadn't. There stood a giant of a man, round and rosy.

"Are you a ghost too?" asked Scrooge.

"Yeff," replied the ghost, with his mouth full of pumpkin-fish-pie sandwich. He swallowed, then continued, "I am the Ghost of Christmas Present."

"Are you going to show me more visions?"

"Well, I did come all this way...Oh, look at the time! We really must be off. There's something important you need to see!" said the spirit. He grabbed Scrooge by the wrist and the whole kitchen vanished. Now they were in another house, a much smaller one. In the family's dining room, which in a house with so few rooms served as playroom, lounge and study, Bob Cratchit sat at the head of the dinner table and led the family in prayer.

"Lord, thank you for the glorious banquet you have provided us on this Christmas Eve."

"What banquet? Is it behind that turkey that's the size of a pigeon?" asked Scrooge.

"No, that is the banquet." replied the Ghost of
Christmas Present. "That's the biggest bird they could afford."

"But yet they seem so happy..." Scrooge wondered.

"Please look after our family, especially Tiny Tim who needs your miracles the most."

Scrooge remembered Cratchit mentioning the name before, but he had never really paid attention. But now he carefully observed the boy: he was small and thin, underweight in fact, and he carried a tiny wooden crutch because he could no longer walk well. He looked very sick, but his eyes shone bright with warmth and innocence.

Cratchit continued, "Also, please bless Mr. Scrooge and let him have a merry Christmas." His wife's faced turned red when she heard this.

"Are you really going to pray for that old tightwad!?" she demanded. "I've never met such a despicable human being! If he paid you as much as he should, we could move out of this tiny house, we could—" She looked at Tiny Tim for a moment, then began to cry.

Cratchit held her and said, "Honey, we have a roof over our head and we have each other. We should be thankful for what we already have." Though he would never have admitted it, Scrooge's eyes began to water too.

"Tell me, spirit, what will become of Tiny Tim? Will he get better?"

"If nothing changes?" said the spirit, sadly, "I see an empty chair and a tiny crutch without an owner."

Scrooge grabbed the ghost and shook him. "You can't be right!" he cried. "He's just a little kid!" The ghost faded away and he was left alone in his kitchen.

He sat in his study and waited. He knew the final ghost would be with him soon. Every minute that ticked by on the grandfather clock was worse than the one before it.

Though all the windows were closed, a cold wind blew and out of the shadows walked a dark, cloaked figure. He looked like the Grim Reaper himself, and with a single bony hand he gestured for Scrooge to follow him. Walking down the hall, Scrooge suddenly found himself at a funeral, but nobody was there except for the man in the coffin and a very bored priest who kept looking at his watch.



"What sort of man can die and have no one come to his funeral?" Scrooge asked nervously. "Doesn't anyone miss him? Didn't anyone love him?" But the ghost said nothing, he just kept walking out into the cold snowy night. Scrooge followed behind him, and soon they were in the town square.

Scrooge overheard two women having a conversation: "So the old bat finally croaked, did he?"

Her friend opened her purse, revealing a pair of men's leather shoes. "I swiped these off of him before the doctors took him away."

"I think it's the first gift he's ever given!" the other squealed, and both women laughed.

"Did you hear that?" Scrooge asked the spirit. "They must have really hated that man to steal from the dead!" But again, the spirit did not answer. He just kept walking through the freshly-fallen snow until they came to a vast opening on the side of the town. In the dim light, Scrooge could make out the outline of headstones.

"A graveyard?" Scrooge asked, "Why have you taken me here?!"

The ghost pointed out into the distance. Scrooge tried to follow where he was pointing, but it only led out into a sea of graves. Nervously, he worked his way through the headstones, occasionally looking back at the ghost for some sign but receiving none. As he looked back over his shoulder, he tripped on a tree root and fell face first into the dirt. As he looked up, he saw an old grave that had been untended and overgrown with ivy. As he clawed it off, he read:

HERE LIES EBENEZER SCROOGE

He expected it to say something about his life, but it didn't. Nobody in town could think of anything nice to say about him.

"The empty funeral and the vicious things those women were saying," Scrooge recalled. "They were all about me!" He leaned his head on the cold stone and began to cry.

"Spirit! This can't be my future! I want more than to be hated and forgotten!" he sobbed. But suddenly he had an idea. "Wait. Why would you show me things if I were unable to change them? No, I understand now! I can change, spirit! You'll see! I will be kind and generous from now on!"

As Scrooge jumped up, he found himself back in his bed. It was morning. At first his mind was blank as he yawned and scratched his head, but then he remembered his night. He ran to the window and and shouted out to a boy on the street, "You, boy, what day is today?"

"Why, it's Christmas day, sir." he replied.

"Then I'm not too late!" he said, tossing a small bag of money to the boy. "Take this money, buy the biggest goose you can and deliver it to the Cratchits. Keep the change for your troubles. Now, I have shopping to do!" he said.

A little while later there was a knock on the Cratchits' door. Bob Cratchit opened it and was promptly knocked over by the line of people marching in to his dining room carrying plump meats, vegetables, and puddings. Someone offered Bob a hand from behind a load of wrapped Christmas presents, and he was shocked to see that it was his boss.

"M-Mr. Scrooge, I was just about to leave for work right now!" said Bob nervously.

"Work? Well, it's Christmas isn't it?" said Scrooge.

"Well, yes, but yesterday you said..."

"Bah!" said Scrooge. "You've always worked so hard, you deserve a vacation. Why don't you come back to work after New Year's?"

Cratchit didn't know what to say.

"Just be in the office by 9 o'clock sharp," Scrooge added, with a hint of his old mean self. "After all, my new partner shouldn't be late!"

"Oh, thank you Mr. Scrooge!" proclaimed Cratchit.

Cratchit's wife and Tiny Tim both came over to give Scrooge a hug. Together they all enjoyed a great and merry feast, even Ebenezer Scrooge, who found that it gave him great joy to share his wealth, and he was never mean, cheap, or greedy again.

THE END

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