Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Yuletide Yarn, 7: The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

Without preamble, Scrooge walked through the gate. Inside was a small courtyard with steps leading into the buildings on the left and the right. Scrooge turned to the right and climbed the steps. The double doors at the top were made of glass, and florescent light shone through them. Illuminated inside was what looked like a sedate admittance area, a young man in scrubs sitting behind the desk. The sign on the wall behind him read “Silver Oak Care Center — Hope For A Better Tomorrow.”

They walked through the lobby to a common area. It was crowded, with every comfortable couch and chair occupied by an elderly person. They were all watching “Love, Actually” on a large, flat screen TV at the front of the room. Orderlies wandered around the perimeter, a few of them watching the movie with the group. Scrooge spared a few moments for them.

“Wow, I’ve never liked these places,” Oliver said, shuddering slightly. “They always seem so sad to me, old folks left to live out the rest of their lives in a place that isn’t their home.”

Scrooge continued looking at the crowd. “At least they have each other, don’t they?” Scrooge mused, more a statement than a question. “But you’re right — not everyone is so fortunate at this time of year.” He turned and walked down a dimly lit hallway, climbing the stairs found there to the second floor. The hallways here were even dimmer, but on Scrooge walked with Oliver close behind. They walked halfway around the building, passing doors that were either closed completely or partially open with the room’s interior lights off. 

Finally, they stopped in front of a room whose door was completely open. The room’s lights were off, but the television was on, causing dull monochromatic light to pulse at random intervals, almost like a strobe light whose timing was broken. Scrooge stepped aside, allowing Oliver to peek in.

An ancient man sat in the bed there, the covers pulled to his waist, his back propped up against pillows leaning against the headboard. He scowled at whatever was on the television, and Oliver heard him actually snarl a little as his right hand shot up and the channel changed. He made a similar sound and motion when presented with whatever was the new channel, and repeated the sequence.

Oliver stepped inside, unsure of what to make of the old man. As he did, the old man glanced up at Oliver, the scowl never leaving his face. “Are you new here? You realize you’re supposed to be wearing a uniform of some kind, right?”

Oliver was surprised that the old man could see him. Certainly he can’t be…

“Excuse me, but am I to understand that I am in the presence of the former Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come?”

The old man put the remote down, but didn’t stop scowling. “Bah! As if there were any spirit left in Christmases yet to come. Humbug!”

Oliver stepped further into the room. He sensed Scrooge behind him, but didn’t take his eyes from the old man.

“Look at this!” the old man said with disgust, pointing at the television with the remote control. “Just look. An advertisement for the toy of the season, as if every child didn’t already have more than they could ever play with. But wait just a moment!” He flipped the channel, and holiday music filled the air. “THIS! Someone ‘singing’ Silent Night. Would that they were silent tonight instead of warbling and noodling all over a sacred song! They aren’t celebrating anything but the hope of selling more holiday albums. And finally,” he flipped the channel a third time, finding another ad. This one was a short message sponsored by Harrod’s. Oliver recognized the handwritten-styled trademark right away. “Seasons Greetings from your friends at Harrods, indeed! I have no friends there! They simply want to remind me that they’ve got loads to consume. Bah, I say again! Humbug!”

Oliver turned to Scrooge. As he did, he noticed an orderly coming down the hall, headed straight toward the room they were in. He pulled Scrooge further inside, and the orderly entered. She was wearing some nondescript blueish green scrubs and had her hair pulled back in a smart ponytail. It wasn’t until she was fully in the doorway that Oliver realized who it was.

Dottie, or a middle-aged version of her, knocked on the old man’s open door. “Everything OK in here, Mr. Footeuray? The TV bothering you again?”

“Do you know that I used to have grand visions of what Christmas would be like? Now look what it’s become. An unending season of hyper-consumerism, where people joust each other over things that no one needs. An excuse to indulge yourself in every vice and excess, and neglect those that want for even the most basic provisions of life. A forced spiritual isolation, since no one understands forbearance, mercy, benevolence, charity, or the common welfare anymore…“ It wasn’t clear as to whether the old man was talking to Dottie or to Oliver and Scrooge. 

“Well, Christmas isn’t what it once was, to be sure, Mr. F,” Dottie replied to the old man, assuming he had been speaking to her. “But I can’t believe it’s as hopeless as you make it out to be.”

“No? Dorothy, why are you here tonight, on Christmas? Why aren’t you celebrating with your family and friends?”

Dottie’s face fell slightly, but rallied almost instantaneously. “The people here are my family and friends, Mr. F. After all, you are one of my favorite people in the world!”

“What of your parents, my dear? Your husband?” the old man asked, the care evident in his voice.

“Well, my parents passed ages ago. And as for my husband…” Dottie paused for a moment, looking out the window thoughtfully. “I was in love once, but it didn’t work out for me. He moved to America and I never saw him again. So I went about my business, the years passed, and it brought you and I together! How can I not be pleased with that? The Christmas spirit isn’t gone from my heart. In fact…”

Dottie had moved around to sit on the edge of the bed. She slipped an envelope out of her pocket and handed it to the old man. He opened it. It was a Christmas card with a picture of a dog wearing a Santa hat, seeming to smile for the camera. Inside was a brief note penned in Dottie’s familiar handwriting, although Oliver couldn’t actually see what was written.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Footeuray,” Dottie said, leaning forward and kissing him on the forehead. “Are you sure you’re alright? Can I get you anything?”

“You’ve very kind, Dorothy, but I’m fine. Thank you for the card.” He sagged back against his pillows, smiling wanly at her as she left the room.

When she was well down the corridor, the old man turned his attention back to Oliver and Scrooge. His scowl had returned full force.

“You see?” he said, his voice lower but no less vengeful than before. “She’s probably the only person left in the world that hasn’t given over to complete vapidity. And no thanks to you, I might add,” the old man said, jabbing a finger at Oliver.

“And you,” he continued, shifting the accusatory finger to Scrooge. “It took less than two hundred years for the spirit of Christmas to die. You realize that it had been going along just fine for thousands of years before that?!”

“Absolutely,” Scrooge said meekly, holding his hat between his hands again. “It’s the reason we’re here. We have visited the former ghosts of Christmas Past and Present in the hopes that they would take on the work of propagating the true spirit of Christmas again. They have agreed to do so, and I would ask the same of you.”

The old man stared at Scrooge for two seconds, then replied with a simple, “No.” He picked up the remote control and started flipping through channels again.

“No?” Scrooge questioned. He seemed flummoxed by the reply. Apparently he had expected nothing but a “yes” considering the willingness of the other two spirits.

“No,” repeated the old man. “I’ve already told you. It doesn’t matter what else has happened. By this time,” he said, waving his hand vaguely around over his head, “the spirit of Christmas is dead. I think it should be left to rest in peace.”

“Wait,” said Oliver, remembering lines from A Christmas Carol. “Your nature… Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.”

As in the story, the old man’s kind hand began to tremble, but he was not yet willing to relent. “You show me a shadow that gives me hope, boy, and I will consider it.”

Oliver walked around to the other side of the bed and sat on it, just where Dottie had. He took the remote from the old man’s hand and started flipping channels. He had no real idea of what he was looking for, only that he would know it when he saw it. He stopped when he caught sight of the large fireplace in living room of the Torrington house.

A large Christmas tree, modestly decorated, was in the corner. There was a fire in the fireplace, and it illuminated at least a dozen stockings. A chair was near the fireplace, and an old man sat in it, children of varying ages sitting on the floor before him. He was telling a story, one that they had all heard before but that they never tired of hearing.

“It was on Christmas Eve that we found the book—”

A Christmas Carol!” shouted out one of the smaller children. It was a little girl that heavily favored Victoria. 

The scene cut to a different angle, one that showed adults and older adults. Oliver saw two almost identical ladies sitting next to each other on a comfortable couch, and one of them said, “Yes, Gemma, now let your unkie talk.”

“Sorry, Gramma,” the girl said, putting her hands over her mouth and returning her attention to the old man in the chair.

The camera continued to pan around the room as the old man told the story of opening the time capsule, finding the books, being woken up in the night by the ghost of Scrooge, and the rest of the adventures they’d had together. Oliver watched as his aged sisters, their husbands, their children and grandchildren, and his own children and grandchildren came into and went out of view. The camera finally came to stop on an even older version of Dottie putting her hand on the old man’s (who Oliver finally recognized as himself) shoulder as he finished telling the story.

“And that’s how we helped change Christmas, the same way our ancestors Tiny Tim and Uncle Scrooge did in their time. So always remember the lessons the spirits teach, and keep them alive in your hearts all the year through!”

The scene faded to black as Oliver turned to face the old man. Both of their hands were trembling at this point.

The old man looked into Oliver’s eyes, and through them into his soul. “Do you have the courage to form this shadow instead of these others I’ve been seeing for so long?”

As he had done with Scrooge, Oliver replied simply and honestly. “I do.”

The old man turned to Scrooge and climbed out of the bed, looking at Scrooge expectantly. Scrooge handed the top hat to the old man, then removed his frock coat and handed that to him as well. The old man put the top hat on, then flung the frock coat into the air over his head. It landed on the top hat and seemed to melt down along the front and back of the old man, forming a long, dark cloak with a cowl that completely obscured his face. The only part of him that was still visible was the outstretched hand, no long holding a remote control.

“Go now, and do not forget what you have learned and promised.”

Oliver was about to reply when he realized that he was no longer in the presence of the spirit. He was, instead, face down in the bathroom of his third floor bedroom at the Torrington house.

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