Scrooge was not the first person the ghosts visited that night...
A Ghostly Christmas Mistake
By Jesse Booth
© December 2017
Torchlight flickered about, sending shadows rippling around the wooden walls like black ocean waves. The chilly air of night blew in from holes from rotting wood, as well as the broken windows and the door-less entryway, snuffing out any heat that could have lived within the small abandoned cabin. But there was nothing alive within the cold confines of this forsaken home.
However, the room looked very much alive.
In the center of it sat an enormous wooden table full of fresh fruits and vegetables framing a turkey the size of a cow, cooked to golden perfection. There were rolls and crescents, glistening with melting butter, followed by cakes and pies accenting the far end of the table — enough food to feed multiple large families.
Only one person sat at this table, holding a cone-shaped torch high above his head, which happened to be carrying a crown-wreath of holly and ivy.
He was enormous — a giant compared to any mortal man. His rosy cheeks were raised up joyfully, causing his big lips to smile as his glistening eyes observed the feast before him.
He let out a deep, loud laugh that violently rattled the foundations of the deteriorating home.
“Could you keep it down, Present?” It was a hushed voice, like a whisper on the wind. The quiet question came from the other side of the table. Its owner flickered his own light, his face encompassed in a flame that caused his wax body to sweat. Somehow, he never got smaller, and his drips never pooled below him.
“Past, you need to enjoy yourself from time to time,” the giant said, selecting a vine of luscious purple grapes from the table. Plucking one carefully, he dropped the bulging, juicy fruit into his mouth. “You know, live in the present a bit. You’re always spending so much time thinking about what has happened.”
They were ghosts, of course. Ghosts who were stuck in the mortal world to find men and women who had lost their way through life and guide them to become better human beings.
“I’ll have you know that the past is —”
“Very important,” the Ghost of Christmas Present said with another booming laugh. “Yes, yes. My man, you have said as much incessantly for… how many years has it been?”
They had lost count.
“That… isn’t important, unlike the past,” the Ghost of Christmas Past said with whispered exasperation. “Regardless, it is once again Christmas Eve, and we have time to visit one person before we set out to haunt Ebenezer Scrooge.”
The Ghost of Christmas Present ripped off the thick, golden turkey leg and took a gluttonous bite, leaving an oily film on his red beard.
Through a mouthful of the meat, he said, “Can’t we enjoy our Christmas Eve before we go and do our haunting?” Swallowing down the enormous bite, he sat the leg down on the white plate before him and reached for a red napkin. After wiping his fingers, he dabbed at his mouth, missing the residue on his beard.
“Present, if I have to sit here and watch you pretend to satisfy your eternally unending appetite, I might just wink out and pass on into the next life.”
The Ghost of Christmas Present took a long draught from his wine-filled silver goblet that shimmered from his torchlight.
“Begone then, Past,” he said, resting the goblet on the table and shooing the candle-man with his hand. “Let me at least enjoy the present.”
“With the likes of him?” the Ghost of Christmas Past said with a hushed snort, pointing himself towards the corner of the room. There, standing alone in the dark, dark corner was a figure draped in black robes. A boney, lifeless hand stuck out of one of the sleeves, pointing at Past. It slowly raised up to where the figure’s neck should be then rapidly moved horizontally with a cutting motion.
“One of these days,” Past started, “We’re going to get you to speak, Future.”
The black hood slowly swayed back and forth in disagreement.
“I know just the one to visit,” said Past, shrugging off the unseen glare he knew he was getting from the Ghost of Christmas Future.
“Who?” Present said, munching on a roll.
“A young widow,” came Past’s reply. “She lost her husband a month ago, just three months after being married. A horse-riding accident of sorts — terrible, really. But since the funeral, she has turned cold to everybody. Her temper is easily tickled. Nobody wants to be around her because they are afraid of her.”
Picking up the turkey leg from his plate, Present pointed it at Past. “Seems to me she doesn’t need ghosts to help her — she needs a new man!” His booming laughter shook the cabin once more.
Past’s flame flickered with annoyance.
Present needlessly squinted, dropping the turkey on the plate and brought his hand up to his eyes. “For such a small flame, you put off quite a glare, Past!”
Slapping his hand down on his knee, he gave another hearty laugh.
“Get it, Future?” he said, turning his enormous body towards the corner. “Glare? Ha, ha!”
Future just shook his black, hooded head back and forth slowly.
“The widow…” Past said again.
“Fine,” Present sighed. “But I’m taking the feast with us.”
Standing up, Present snapped his fingers and the table folded in half, slamming loudly but keeping all of the food within. It shrunk down until it was as small and thin as a napkin. It floated up to his outstretched hand and he slid it into the pocket of his fur-lined green robe.
“Remember, I have to be in Scrooge’s bedroom at one o’clock on the chime,” Past said. “It’s about to turn nine o’clock now, so we should each get an hour to guide her.”
“What’s the widow’s name, Past?” Present asked, finding a piece of bread in his beard and slipping it into his mouth.
Wiping the rest of the crumbs out of his beard, Present said, “How unfortunate — a pleasant name for an unpleasant person.”
“We’ll guide her back to pleasantness again, right Future?” said Past, looking back with his flaming head.
Future shrugged his shoulders lazily, hovering behind them.
“Of course we will,” Past said, answering his own question as he turned back around.
“That’s the spirit, Spirit!” Present said, earning himself another glare. Changing to a more serious tone, Present said, “Listen, Past, I’m on the hunt to find a pun that will straight up put you out…”
Silence filled the cold, quiet cabin.
“Enough, Present,” Past said with annoyance. “I’m about to perform, so if you’ll excuse me…”
Past suddenly spun around, going faster and faster, ending with one last flicker. And then he was gone.
“Light ‘em up, Past,” Present mumbled with a smile.
Past’s light filled the dark room right as the clock struck nine. He glanced around, hearing heavy breathing coming from the quilt-covered bed.
“Such a nice home,” he said, seeing the pink wallpaper that covered the wooden walls. There was a wooden dresser nearby, and in front of the bed was an open box full of… small humanlike models? Dolls?
His fiery face furrowed. “What an odd thing for a widow to keep.”
Daphne Hastings stirred at the sound of his breezy voice.
“That’s right, Daphne,” he said. “Time to wake up. Daphne… Daphne…”
The sleeper bolted upright, tired eyes opening wider than a door.
She was a little red-headed girl — she couldn’t be more than four years old. She scrunched her blanket up close to her with a fearful squeak.
Past cleared his throat.
“I’m… assuming your name is not Daphne,” he said with a nervous chuckle.
“It is,” she said quickly. “And who are you?”
“Me?” he asked, as if it was the most absurd question he could have been asked. “That’s… not important right now. Are you Daphne Hastings?”
The little girl shook her head ever so slightly. “My name is Daphne Hastine.”
“Hmm, well isn’t that odd?” Past gave another nervous chuckle. “I sure hope you have not been married recently.”
Little Daphne gave him a curious look. “Married? Oh no, no, no. I’m too young for that. Are you a candle?”
Past’s head flickered as he considered how to respond.
“I suppose I am,” he said at last.
“A talking Christmas candle!” said Daphne, excitement in her voice. “Did Papa buy you as a present for me?”
“A ghost cannot be bought, child,” Past said, taking offense to such an idea.
“Then why are you here in my bedroom on Christmas Eve?”
Past thought about explaining himself — his purpose. It would be too much for a four year-old to understand.
“I came, young Daphne,” he said, “to tell you that what you did yesterday will determine who you are today, and what you do today will determine who you will be tomorrow.”
Daphne cocked her head to the side. “What do you mean, candle man?”
He flickered in thought. “What I mean, dear girl, is that despite what you go through as you grow, you can always try harder to be better to those around you. Learn to help others, and you will learn to love helping others.”
He began to swirl again, sending dancing shadows around the pink room. Daphne’s eyes widened momentarily as she watched Past’s mesmerizing spinning, then lay gently in her bed and fell back to sleep.
Past’s light escaped the room, and he reappeared within the abandoned cabin in the woods, next to the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Future.
His abrupt appearance caused Present to shout with alarm.
“Oi! What are you doing back so soon?” he demanded. “Why, you haven’t been gone even ten minutes! Did the young widow scare you away?”
Past didn’t immediately respond.
“Go on, man. Speak!”
“I went to the wrong person,” Past whispered. “But seeing an innocent youth in the present… my friends, there is much hope for the future.”
The three ghosts of Christmas communed with each other, two of them speaking words while the third nodded, right up until the clock approached one o’clock.
Past chuckled airily. “Let’s see what we can do with old Ebenezer Scrooge, shall we?”