Please note here that nothing else unusual happened before Oliver went to bed, aside from the fact that Victoria and Daphne had taken a marginal interest in the discovered book at last. The family was in the library, where Oliver’s father was digging through digitized copies of hand-written records he’d found on Oliver’s mother’s family. The twins complimented Oliver on his sitting prowess, as neither of them had ever managed to crack a stone simply by touching their bottom to it. Oliver was inclined to take the ribbing as good-natured. He was still coming off the surreal high from the run-in with Dottie. His family was a bit surprised to hear that she’d moved back to London and immediately began prying into his future plans. That annoyance dumped the “sur” from his “reality” with full force. He immediately responded with something completely non-committal and then claimed he was tired and was going to get ready for bed. It was slightly early, but his sleep schedule was messed up in any case thanks to losing five hours over the Atlantic. He took a melatonin tablet, then a shower, then went to bed. He’d had nothing mind-altering in any way, which makes what happened next even more inexplicable.
His bedroom was one of two on the third floor of the house. The third floor also had a common room separating the two bedrooms, but it was seldom used. The best thing about the third floor was that it afforded him the luxury of not having to share any personal space with his sisters. If fact, it had been they that suggested it years ago, when boys were still conceptually and literally icky. It had never bothered him, as he found the floor soothingly quiet, and never had trouble sleeping there.
Tonight, however, he tossed and turned, never feeling like he descended beyond a light doze before twitching or snorting himself to wakefulness again. Therefore, he wasn’t very asleep when, just after the stroke of midnight, he thought he heard a knocking on the door across the landing. He sat up, waiting to be sure. A moment later, he heard the knocking again, followed by the creaking open of the other bedroom’s door and a muffled “Oliver?” He didn’t recognize the voice.
Oliver got out of bed, pulling on the bathrobe hanging on the bedpost. He cracked his own door open, peeking through to get a glimpse of what was going on. He was greeted with a sight most unexpected. A man, dressed in some kind of Victorian gentleman’s costume, was leaning through the half-open door opposite him. He heard the man quietly ask “Oliver?” again as he took a timid step into the empty bedroom.
“Don’t move! I’m calling the police!” Oliver yelled at him from across the common room.
“Oh!” the man opposite him yelped, jumping slightly at Oliver’s exclamation. “There you are. You startled me!”
“Sorry,” Oliver said reflexively, then realized that in this situation, the apology was probably unnecessary. “Wait, uh… You just stay right where you are.” He began edging slowly back toward his nightstand where he kept his phone.
“Of course, pardon me, but I implore you to delay alerting the authorities. You see, I need your help. Oh, where are my manners, I should introduce myself,” the man said, taking the black top hat from his head and bowing very slightly. “My name is Scroggie, Eleazar Scroggie. Most people know me by the name Dickens gave me — Scrooge.”
This nutter is worse than I thought! How did he get into the house?! Oliver thought immediately as he backed away more hurriedly, never taking his eyes from the old man.
The man held his hands up so that Oliver could clearly see them. “I assure you, I’m neither crazy nor criminal, neither screwball nor swindler. I am as harmless as a babe, as Wordsworth said. Please, feel free to get your cellular device, but will you at least sit and indulge me for a moment while I explain who I am and what brings me here? If afterward you are not convinced, I will submit to whatever justice and security you deem necessary.” He gestured toward the chairs in the common room.
The man certainly looked the part of Scrooge. He was dressed in an elegant, well tailored, black frock coat with a matching maroon waistcoat. His dress shirt with high starched collar was as white as the hair that neatly crowned his head. The red ascot encircling his neck would be proof against all but the chillest of winter winds. He wore his sideburns long and slightly bushy, and that style helped offset his sharp, hawkish features. His face was delicately lined, but the angles of the lines implied most of them resulted from ready smiles and laughter instead of age. Oliver didn’t feel particularly scared of the old man for some reason, but quickly retrieved his phone anyway. He cautiously re-entered the common room. The man calling himself Scrooge took the seat nearest the other bedroom, leaving the seat closest to Oliver free. There were only a few feet and a small table in between the seats. Oliver wasn’t sure why, but he swallowed his misgivings and took the other seat. The old man smiled at him and set his top hat on the table between them.
“Thank you, Oliver. I —”
“How do you know my name?” Oliver interrupted. He felt like he didn’t have to observe the normal level of politeness given the circumstances.
The old man smiled. “I’ve known you most of your life, Oliver. I’ve visited you many times, unseen.”
“Do you have any idea of how creepy that sounds?” Oliver replied, shuddering at the thought.
“Yes,” the man replied surprisingly. “I will ask for your indulgence now while I relate to you my brief tale. By the end, you will understand why what I just said is not, in fact, creepy."
Oliver nodded, but narrowed his eyes, silently reserving the right to interrupt whenever he felt like it.
The old man nodded once at him, leaning back in the chair. “I know that you read A Christmas Carol with some frequency. I also know that by now, you suspect that it was based on a true story instead of being a work of pure fiction. Allow me to confirm that suspicion as a fact. A Christmas Carol was based on a true story — my story, but also the story of your ancestors: your great-great-great-great grandfather, Tim Crocket, and his father, my former employee and partner, Bob.”
Oliver gaped at the old man. Actually gaped at him, slack-jawed, bulging eyes, perhaps a bit of drool forming at the corner of his mouth. The old man chuckled at him again. “You may recall near the end of that story, I uttered the following lines: ’I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future! The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me!’ Does that sound familiar?”
Oliver nodded. He recognized the lines as ones that Scrooge spoke when he awakened from the visitation of the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come.
“I lived out those words, my boy. I kept the Spirits of Christmas alive in me all through the year and the rest of my mortal life, even when Tim was taken from us too soon.” Here, the old man paused a moment, lost in his own thoughts, before continuing. “At the end of my life, I was content. I had lived more in my final few years than most people live altogether. My nephew Fred and Bob’s family were well provided for, and I knew I would rest in peace. Only,” the man paused again, shifting uneasily in his chair, “I didn’t. You see, one moment I was closing my eyes to shove off the mortal coil, and the next I was here, in this form.” Saying this, the old man seemed to fade slightly, becoming dimmer, the color washing out of him, like an oil painting kept too long in direct sunlight. Oliver could swear that he could even see through him to the back of the chair, as if he were translucent.
“What I didn’t realize when I spoke those words was that the Powers That Be considered them a binding oath. I became the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come.”
“The problem is, I’m not very good at actually being the Spirits of Christmas. I suspect that those original Spirits are part of Creation itself, that human spirits aren’t meant to carry those mantles. You may have noticed that Christmas has changed dramatically since I was alive. I need your help to alter the course of Christmas again, to restore it to its former and future glory.” As he spoke the last, Oliver saw that he resume his normal, solid, Victorian, form.
“My help?” Oliver was somewhere between speechless and incredulous. “How can I possibly help?
Scrooge drew himself up, standing tall and erect as he said, “I have been led here tonight by the Powers That Be with what has been made known to me to be a chance to set things right again, to restore the proper Spirits of Christmas to their rightful places. I cannot do it alone, as I cannot see them or commune with them in their current forms. You, however, can and will recognize them if we do, indeed, encounter them. It’s possible that you already know them.”
I might know them? How is that possible? Oliver thought. He’d moved on from speechless and incredulous to a full-on flabbergasted state.
“Will you help me, Oliver? As in the story, I will be able to convey us to places unseen and unheard by mortal eyes and ears. But I cannot succeed alone. For the sake of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, will you help me?”
Oliver tried desperately to be thoughtful and rational about the decision, but ultimately his heart overrode his mind. At the very core of his being, the base of his soul, he understood that there was only one possible answer to Scrooge’s question.