The Tight-Fisted Hand at the Grindstone

Welcome to Redeeming Culture!  What follows is an adaptation of a scene from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  This is our second Christmas fiction, and I hope you like the story of a Scrooge who can’t save himself.

• • •

“Who are you?”

“In life, I was your partner, Jacob Marley.  …You don’t believe in me.”

“I don’t.”

“Why do you doubt your senses?”

scrooge_marley_2“Because the tiniest thing can upset them.  A slight disorder of the stomach can make them cheat.  You might be a bit of undigested meat; a blob of mustard, a crumb of cheese.  A fragment of some underdone potato.  Yes, there’s more of gravy than of grave about you!”

To this the spirit looked troubled, and removed the bandage from around his chin…a chin which promptly dropped to the ground.  The lack of a lower jaw didn’t seem to impede Marley’s speech, though.  “Could your imagination have conjured this, Scrooge?”

Scrooge’s eyes narrowed in disgust and fear (well, more fear than before, at least) as Marley retrieved and replaced his body part.  His bandage safely back in place, Marley gave Scrooge a forlorn look.  “Listen, Scrooge.  I’m here not to terrorize you, but for your salvation.”

“I can take care of myself,” said Scrooge with the disdain he usually reserved for the church ladies on the street corner.  “I’ve had quite enough saving, thank you.  Besides, it seems you’re the more distressed of the two of us,” Scrooge said, noting the chains restraining Marley’s ghostly figure.  “You…you’re chained.”

“Yes, that’s what I mean.”  He looked Scrooge in the eye for the first time, his sunken eyes far deeper than Scrooge had ever seen them in life.  “You wear such a chain too.”

Ebenezer looked down in spite of himself, nearly chuckling as he saw his unrestrained body.  “If you want to play a trick on me, you might try some more clever lies,” he said, raising his hand to point at Marley.  “I don’t know who you are, but I — ahhh!” He screamed, for at that moment, a long and heavy length of chain had wrapped itself around him, pressing him into his chair and keeping him still.

“Yours was the length of mine when I died, Ebenezer.  You’ve been working on it since, these past seven years, while I’ve been wandering the earth, pulling my chain along, and wishing I’d lived my life differently.”

Scrooge had a sinking feeling in his heart as he struggled against the chain.  It wouldn’t budge.  “But you were always a good man of business –”

“Business!” Marley cut him off, choked up.  “Mankind was my business.  The common good was my business.  My trade – ” he said the word as if it were a curse – “all the work I devoted to it amounted to less than a hill of beans in the face of my business.”

“You mean your greed forged this chain?”

“My greed, my idolatry, my cruel words, my unfeeling heart.  All my sins have bound me up in this abominable iron.  You knew me.  In life I’d sooner have insulted a beggar than given him even a kind word.”

scrooge“Speak comfort to me, then, Jacob.”

He laughed a rueful, mournful laugh.  “There is no comfort for me.  I am lost.  But you – for you, there may yet be some escape.”  He shook his head.  “I cannot give comfort, but you may still be rescued.”

“Anything that might keep me from such a terrible fate,” Scrooge said, hefting the chains with difficulty.  “Will this rescue come in the form of more ghosts?  Can I not just rescue myself?  I can be a more generous man.”

The apparition looked confused.  “No, Scrooge.  There will be no more ghosts.  And there is no hope of your rescuing yourself.  Look, you cannot even stand under the weight of your chains; how would you have rescued yourself?”

Marley shook his head as he stood, his chains clattering around him.  “I might find some ghouls who would haunt you if that is your desire.  But your generosity would not make up for your greed and cruelty.  Giving away all your money would not erase the fact that you worship your worth.”

“What should I worship, then?”

“I think you know the answer to that, Ebenezer,” Marley said, as he moved toward the window and pushed the pane upward, releasing a chorus of moans from outside.  Marley, however, was giving a slight chuckle.  “You need an ebenezer of your own.”

Scrooge’s eyes narrowed as he thought about his first name.  What did it mean again?  Help or aid or something.  It was religious.  Didn’t seem to matter before, but now…

Marley swung his spectral leg up over the windowsill, then motioned Scrooge to come over.  “Take a look, Scrooge.”

He made his way across the floor slowly, fearfully.  Outside, he saw the longest line of people he’d ever seen in his life, hovering in the air and wandering about, moaning fretfully.

procession_of_spectres“My time with you is nearing an end, old friend.  I must soon rejoin the procession,” Marley said, nodding at those who were mourning outside.  “You will see me no more.  But you will see others calling you to the redemption that you seek.  Living people, with a wisdom far beyond mine.  Put your faith in what they’ve put theirs in, and your chains will be ripped apart for you.”

With that, Marley began floating away.  Scrooge was at a loss for what to say, watching the old man vanish into the crowd.

Scrooge’s clock chimed the hour.  He looked at its face, and then back out the window…to see no ghosts or any other supernatural phenomena of any sort.  His chains were gone, and the last echo of the moaning procession was fading.

At that, the “hum-” from his customary “humbug” got caught in his throat.

• • •

If you’d like to read Dickens’ original classic A Christmas Carol, it’s available on Project Gutenberg to read for free; or check out my favorite film version.

Merry Christmas from Redeeming Culture!

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