The main character, Scourge, is visited by the first spirit of Christmas.
| Scourge lie in bed wondering whether he should go ask for more product on credit or just call it a night when his cell phone rang again. Again, he wondered, didn't I turn that off? Again, he was sure he had. He saw the removed cell phone battery on his bed and knew then that the Ghostly Slearch had been telling the truth about the spirits. They were coming for him. Only in that moment did it occur to him that Slearch did not say what these spirits were going to do to him,and then, for the first time, he was really and truly afraid. What would he be shown? He picked up the phone with much trepidation, and said, "Hello?"
"You're coming with me," a voice commanded. And before he could say a word in objection or even take a breath, Scourge felt himself being pulled roughly by the ear into the phone. His head and shoulders, and then his entire body and legs - all went through the small speaker on the phone. Obviously, he shouldn't have been able to fit, but neither should he be receiving phone calls on a dead phone from spirits. He had the sensation of being pulled for a long time, but then he landed hard on a dirt road.
Standing before him was a man in a suit. "Get up," the man said. Scourge continued to lie there for another second because, you see, he had landed hard; and despite his hard living lifestyle, Scourge was not actually very tough. "Get up!" Scourge lurched to his feet.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Why have I been brought here? Where is my phone? (For Scourge was never without his phone.) And where is here anyway?"
"So full of questions. And such stupid questions, at that!"
"Who the hell are you to be insulting me? And just who the hell are you?" asked Scourge. It was then that Scourge began to take in this strange man. He was wearing a suit, but a sort of queer one. One that might be seen forty years ago in 19--. He was shorter than Scourge, but much plumper. He looked vaguely familiar to Scourge. Scourge could probably take him and was considering trying, when the man spoke again.
"Why don't you try answering your own questions? Let's start with who I am. If I was told correctly, and I was, you were expecting me."
"Yes," replied Scourge. "I was told to expect three spirits. You must the first one. Now where is my cell phone? I can't go anywhere without it." Also, he hoped to turn it back on, call someone, and get the hell away from this strange man, who called himself a spirit, and back home.
"You don't need it," the spirit said. "It won't work here."
"Why not? Cell phones work everywhere except in far away places like Afghanistan. Or the moon! This is ridiculous. Give me my cell phone! I know you have it. You used it to bring me here!" Scourge cried in an outrage.
"You don't need it," the spirit repeated calmly. "It won't work here because where we are, or rather when we are, cell phones have not been invented yet. We are in the year 19--."
"How in the hell..." Scourge trailed off. He looked around and up and down the dirt road he had landed upon. He could not wrap his head around this idea: when they were. How is it possible to travel back in time? How was he here with this puzzling little man who called himself a spirit?
"Look, you obviously know my name. What's yours?" Scourge inquired.
"I had a name while I dwelled here on earth, but you may call me the Spirit of Christmas Gone By. I am here to show you your past Christmas's and remind you of the true spirit of Christmas."
"Bah!" said Scourge. And remembering an old ghost tale, added, "A humbug to Christmas."
"A humbug to Christmas? Really?" replied the spirit. "We'll see if you can 'humbug' this!" And suddenly they were inside a house on the dirt road. Scourge's old house. The one he grew up in. His family was there: his mother, father, and sister, and a younger, 10 year-old version of himself. There was no Christmas tree. There were no presents. It was as he remembered it. His father was drunk and his mother on the floor was crying. He himself was standing in front of his little sister trying to protect her from their father. Scourge's father had flown into one of his usual drunken rages.
"And these brats! Why did you have to have these brats?" his father screamed at his mother. He kicked Scourge's mother again. Scourge, now a grown man, went over to his father to stop him, but his hands passed through him impotently.
"Spirit," Scourge cried, "Why can I not stop him? Why can't I make him stop? I am grown now!" Scourge was furious. Why would the spirit bring him back to this painful place only to relieve its horror.
"Because they cannot see us. They cannot hear us. We can have no effect here. This is the past. What is done is done. We did not come here to change the past. We all must give up the hope of a better past."
Scourge remembered this day well. It was one of the reason that he disliked Christmas. He remembered that his father was supposed to be working Christmas Day, and he and his mother and sister had hoped that his father's absence meant they would have a good Christmas, if not in a monetary way. They would at least have peace and quiet to watch the television and enjoy each other' company, which they did when his father was not there with his drunken rages. His father had gone off to work that morning, but had returned home only a few hours later. He had been fired from his job for being drunk while there. He had often been drunk at work but this was the first time it had been known (or perhaps 'acknowledged' is the right word) because he had caused an accident. The accident resulted in another man's injury, and his employer could not ignore his father's drinking any longer. His father had been fired because his employer would be liable if he did not remove him from his position. His father came in in a particularly fierce rage that day having stopped at a local pub to bewail his station in life before coming home to berate his family about his station in life.
"These damn kids," is how the rage began. This was how it always began. His mother loved her children with all her heart and it showed when their father was not there, but she would not leave their father no matter how much they urged her. Scourge particularly urged her. "There are shelters," he would tell her. He had heard about these places on television. They would take in battered women along with their children. But his mother said these places were dirty and besides, who knew how they would be treated in a shelter? "Better than here," Scourge often thought to himself. But his mother remained afraid to leave. More afraid to leave than to stay because she did not have a job or a way to support two children she would often tell Scourge. He had told her time and again that he would get a job. He knew boys younger than he who worked in the hot pepper fields outside of town who were paid $2 an hour for pick milk gallons work of peppers, but his mother said that would not be enough. And she had no skills. So they stayed. The three of them. They stayed with his awful father, his awful alcoholism and his terrible rages in which he hurt their mother and then turned on them.
"Take me away from here, Spirit." Scourge said sadly. "If there is nothing I can do, take me away. I lived this misery and powerlessness once. I have no need of it again." After this day, his father never really had employment again. The family had become very poor and had to take food from a food kitchen and get their clothes from the Salvation Army. He and his sister tried to get invited to friend's houses to eat dinner as often as they could, as much as a desire for a decent meal as to get away from their father.
"Oh, but you are in need of much more misery and much more powerlessness to boot," replied the spirit enigmatically.
Nevertheless, the spirit assented to Scourge's request and, with a poof, they were transferred to a different time in a different room of the same house. Scourge knew it was a different room because now they were in his room. They were in his bedroom and he was now a young man of about 16. He knew this because he could see the box in which he used to conceal his marijuana under his bed. Scourge knew what was about to happen.
"Oh, Spirit! This is even worse! This day is even worse! How could bring me here? How could you make it worse? I was only smoking marijuana because I swore I would never drink like my father! But she wouldn't listen! Why would make me relive this?" Why was this Spirit so cruel? He watched his 16 year-old self walk into the room to get his marijuana and discover an empty box. He watched the panic cross the young man's face, which did not seem like his own. He remembered what he was thinking at this time: Where has my stash gone? And then his mother walked into the room.
"Looking for this?" she asked. He stood before her silent; he was caught. What could he say?
"You see what we go through here every night!" screamed his mother, flying in a rage. "You have grown up seeing your father get drunk every night and you ... you decide to top him? You start smoking marijuana!" This was the first time he had heard his mother yell - at anybody. It must have been softer than his father's voice, but it sounded like the loudest noise he'd ever heard at the time. Perhaps because it stung so much? He could not believe his mother had spoken to him like this after all the time he had tried to protect her from his father. He was big enough now to try to stop his father. He wasn't successful, but he did succeed in tiring his father before he got to their mother. So Scourge took most of his father's rage and his mother only got a few glancing blows. In fact, his mother had given him his nickname and was the first to begin calling him Scourge as a joke - because he took the blows she could not. Now, hearing her yell at him was a blow he could not take.
"But mom," in the voice of a meek child, he began to explain. "I was only--"
But his mother cut him off. "Get out," she said coldly. I have a drunken husband, a pothead son. I will not have my daughter turn out like you. You are a bad influence."
"Where will I go?"
"Go to the house of the person who sold you this pot. Or go to one of those shelters you are always telling me about," she said with a bite in her voice.
With that she shut the door, and the 16-year old Scourge began to cry. And without realizing it, the adult Scourge had begun to cry as well.
"Take me away, Spirit. Take me back to my current house. Take me back to the present. No more of the past. No more having to see all of this."
"Oh, if it were only that simple. You have remembered the pain. You have self pity. Some of your conscience has been reawakened, but not all of it."
"Then, if you must take me somewhere in my past, take me somewhere happy. If there is any joy in my past, let me see it now." Scourge had long since forgotten joy. Until this moment, he had long since forgotten sorrow. Until this night, he had long since forgotten anything, except business.
The Spirit nodded and with another poof, they were in a factory. "I know this place," cried Scourge. It was the place of his last legitimate job given to him by Mr. Kalus. Mr. Kalus was an odd, yet kind man. He had a wife and two children of his own and used to invite Scourge to dine often at his home. Kalus was not a stupid man. He suspected the circumstances under which Scourge found himself in life. He realized that some abuse must have occasioned such a young man to live in a cheap boarding house in a very bad neighborhood at age 18. As Kalus stood before Scourge, he was a thin man with a prominent nose and jaw. Smiling and happy. A head full of hair brown hair and blue eyes that shown bright, and even seemed to twinkle at times when he was especially happy. This particular Christmas they had received many orders for the following Valentine's Day, and there was overtime to be worked. Mr. Kalus's factory specialized in Valentine's Day. He and his wife had a special devotion to Valentine's Day since it was their wedding anniversary; so a year after they were married, Kalus opened this factory and had manufactured and distributed Valentine's Day cards and gifts ever since. Their love and generosity with the community had seen them prosper, and they hired good men and women and were generous with them. They offered overtime to those who needed and gave time off to those who needed that. If a person had ever worked for Kalus, he was a loyal person and usually a person who had died or retired well, as no one ever quit working for Kalus. Why would one if one had such a generous employer? And because Kalus's employees were so happy, they gave him 100% of their effort, Kalus had never ever had to fire anyone - quite a remarkable achievement!
And just as Kalus was generous with everyone in the factory, he was also generous with Scourge. Almost doubly so. He had taken quite a liking to Scourge and once told Scourge that he remind him of himself at that age - young, hard-working, ambitious. Even though the older men with seniority in the factory were first in line for overtime, Kalus always seemed to find some hours for to work Scourge as well. Scourge appreciated the money and the warm place to be, since his boarding house had no heat. It was especially nice for Scourge to be here on Christmas. It meant he didn't have to be cold and alone back at the boarding house. Plus, he had a few friends here at work, like Old Bill. Scourge called him Old Bill, but he wasn't really old. Maybe 35 at most. However, Bill had no family of his own and also didn't mind being here. Their work stations were close to one another, and they often joked together about this or that. It was pleasant banter and Scourge counted himself to work alongside such an agreeable person.
Suddenly, there was a flurry in the factory and a big bustle. He heard Kalus's booming voice call upward, "Shut down for the day!" Now, this the call that rang out every night over the factory signaling everyone to shut their particular machine down, punch their time card, and go home. But it was much too early to shut down for the day and Bill and he looked at each other puzzled. They had come here to work overtime for the whole day and it was just past noon. But nevertheless, being good employees, they both shut down their machines and made their way down the stairs to punch their time cards and go home. When they got to the time card machine, there was a sign there reading, "Come to a meeting in the conference room before punching out for the day."
Puzzled again, Bill and Scourge proceeded to the conference. There, finding a feast laid out on the conference table. A feast for kings, really. There was turkey and ham. There were potatoes of three kinds. Vegetables of every kind. And cranberry sauce! Scourge had never seen a meal like this! He thought at first that it must be for the supervisors who wanted to talk to them and then they would be dismissed. But Kalus said, "To thank you for your hard work and your willingness to work on Christmas Day, Mrs. Kalus and I wanted to bring you Christmas lunch. Please sit and eat."
A storm of emotion hit present-day Scourge more powerfully than it had then. Then, he had been grateful for the food and grateful for the opportunity to sit beside Bill and become better friends over good food and with good company present. As his past-self sat at the table laughing, smiling, and helping himself to everything on the table twice, his present-self dropped to his knees, silent tears running down his face. Scourge did not know if he was crying for joy or sorrow.
"You did as I asked, Spirit. You brought me to happier time and yet it is even sadder than the other two Christmases you made he relive."
"Why is that?" asked the Spirit.
"Because of the next day?"
"What took place the next day?" asked the Spirit, even though he must have known the answer, he made Scourge admit it.
"I went home from the factory feeling wonderful. I felt so luck and blessed. I decided to celebate and so I smoked a joint. I was drug tested at the factory the next day. I knew there was drug testing, but I didn't think of it, or thought I'd get away with it, or something. I'm not sure what aI thought looking back on it. I suppose it was sheer stupidity. I was the first person Mr. Kalus ever had to fire. He was the first person I ever cared about disappointing. He was the first person who had given me chance, and I let him down. I could never speak to him again even though I wanted to many times. Not to beg for my job back, but to ask for his forgiveness. He was the father I always wanted. No, that's not true. He was better than the father I was always. Now, Spirit, you have awakened within me sorrow and joy and even remorse. May I go home now?"
"Yes," replied the Spirit. "But you must do one more thing."
"What?" wailed Scourge. He was utterly defeated and just wanted to lie in his bed and pull his covers over his head.
"You must take a good long look at me and tell me what you see."
Without looking and just remembering what he had seen before, Scourge reported in a cursory way, "I see an old man in a queer suit who weighs too much and is going bald."
"Look upon my face! Look upon my face and recognize me, and you may go home. I never wanted any of this for you which is why I agreed to come here today."
"Recognize you. But how would I know you?" Scourge had barely completed the question when the spirit smiled and his blue eyes twinkled. There was a familiarity in that twinkle- the blue eyes. Scourge was dumbstruck. It could not be.
Suddenly, Scourge was right where he wished he had been a few moments ago- in his bed with his covers pulled up over his head. Before he could uncover his head, he heard the Spirit's voice say, "You must give up the hope of a better past."
Just as he was able to free himself, he saw the spirit's twinkling eyes and yelled as they disappeared, "But I'm sorry, Mr. Kalus! I'm so, so sorry!"