(This story was inspired by "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.)
Hearts weigh heavy worldwide as Christmas Eve springs to life. Overdue bills and too much spending tend to make most people weary with doubt, and they often forget what the holidays are all about. Wealthy people hold on to their riches and care not for the agony of others. The poor gather what they have and make the best of things despite their peril. True happiness can’t be achieved without someone else’s suffering, an undeniable fact that is often denied.
For centuries, the Ghosts of Christmas have tried their best to make a difference in someone’s life. The person in question typically loses their way and gives in to anger and hatred. The specters usually come in three’s and appeal to the goodwill of the human spirit.
A man named Ebenezer Scrooge was by far their most famous success story, and thanks to Charles Dickens, there’s not a person in the world who doesn’t know Scrooge’s story. Most people, however, don’t know how it really ended. Scrooge couldn’t keep his mouth shut about what had happened that Christmas Eve night and was committed to a sanatorium and lobotomized.
This course correction rocked the supernatural world and sent the Ghosts of Christmas into a maddening frenzy. They no longer appealed to the goodness of human nature and turned a blind eye, leaving our black hearts to burn in a fire of our own making. This opened a door for new spirits to come forth and lead us astray with malicious intent.
That was then… and this is now…
Joy Winters spent every Christmas Eve volunteering her time feeding the hungry at the downtown homeless shelter in Ruby City. She loved giving, especially during Christmas. When a hungry person received a warm meal, she could literally see their spirits soar. Joy lived for that moment.
The Ruby City orphanage was also glad to see Joy because she would deliver a truck full of toys to the needy children every year. Joy would work three jobs during the summer to earn enough money to buy everyone a gift. The Christmas spirit lived well within her bones.
Joy lived on the outskirts of Ruby City in a single-wide mobile home and was often referred to as trailer park trash. Notwithstanding that negativity, Joy ignored the naysayers and lived up to her name. She had rosy red hair and a pale complexion that garnered many looks. Joy never married and wasn’t interested in dating despite her beautiful appearance and wonderful personality. She considered that aspect of life to be a self-centered and needless acquisition intended for weak hearts.
This Christmas Eve, Joy arrived late at the homeless shelter by thirty minutes because her boss at the Shop-A-Lot grocery store wouldn’t let her leave on time. He was arrogant and took advantage of Joy’s kindness. An employee called off, and Joy had to fill the gap until a replacement worker came in to relieve her.
Joy gasped as she saw the enormous line of people waiting outside in the freezing cold for a hot plate of food. Times were tough on everyone this year, and Joy was glad to do her part for the community. The food line was backed up due to a lack of volunteers, so Joy grabbed her red apron, put on a hairnet and gloves, and took her position. The other workers were glad to see Joy, and soon, the line moved a little faster.
Slinging mashed potatoes was not a great way to spend Christmas Eve for most people, but Joy didn’t complain. She flung that mushy goodness with a smile plastered on her face. The line moved at a brisk pace, with passerby’s saying thank you and warm wishes of a Merry Christmas.
A man dressed in black came down the line barking orders and cursing at the staff. Joy could only assume that he was having a bad day from his gruff appearance. When the man came to Joy, he held up his styrofoam plate and snarled. His teeth were stained brown, and he smelled like garbage. Joy scooped the mashed potatoes and slung them on his tray.
“Is that all I get, you nasty wanker?”
Joy didn’t know how to reply. “Um… I tell ya what, this is Christmas. I’ll give you another scoop, but it’ll be our little secret, okay?”
The dark man ruffled his face and uttered, “There are no chains on you. Where are your chains?”
Joy cocked her head and responded, “Chains? What do you mean, I don’t understand?”
The man smiled and chuckled. “No one can be that good! Tonight, you will be visited by three ghosts.”
“You’re joking, right?” Joy said sarcastically. “I think you’ve been reading too much Dickens.”
Shaking his head, the man interjected, “Oh no, this is no fairy tale. You can expect the first one at nine tonight, then another at the stroke of ten, and the last one will find you at eleven.”
Joy scrunched her lips into a line and scoffed, “Okay… that’s nice. Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy those potatoes.”
The dark man grimaced and scurried off like a rodent. The exchange rattled Joy a little, but she knew that when dealing with some of these people, their life experiences can sometimes have a negative effect on their mental health. Casting the awkward exchange from her mind, she waited on the next person in line.
Later that night, Joy headed home for some much-needed rest. She had to be at the orphanage to deliver her truckload of toys in the morning. The snow was falling steadily, and the streets were covered in a thick white blanket of flakes. Joy smiled because she knew it wasn’t Christmas without a little frozen precipitation.
When Joy got home at eight, she took a shower, ate some chicken noodle soup, and tucked herself into bed. She was almost off to dreamland when she heard a ruckus approaching from the hallway. Joy sat up and watched her bedroom door. Her pulse raced, and the thumping of her heart shook the bed.
“Who’s out there?” she yelled.
A shrill voice screamed in Joy’s ear, knocking her to the floor. She slowly collected herself and placed her hands on the bed. Lifting her head above the mattress, she saw a black flame glistening in the moonlight. White smoke filled the room, and Joy quickly rose to meet the entity.
“What are you?”
The dark flame flickered. “I’m a Christmas spirit, and I’ve come to show you the error in your ways.”
“Yeah…” Joy uttered. “I know how this story goes. Why don’t you get lost? I’m not a bad person!”
The flame spun around, creating a tornado-like funnel, and Joy closed her eyes to protect them from the black sparks. When the spinning stopped, Joy opened her eyes and saw a group of kids playing at a school playground.
“I know this place,” Joy said. “This is where my friends and I used to play.”
Joy looked at the flame wavering with evil intent as it whispered, “Shhh!”
Watching the kids, Joy realized the little girl wearing the blue dress was, in fact, her when she was only eight years old. Her friend Alice was wearing a pink dress and was swinging back and forth on the swing set.
“Hurry up, Alice,” Joy yelled. “Recess is almost over, and I want a turn!”
“No,” screamed Alice, “you can have your turn tomorrow!”
Joy growled and pushed Alice off the swing. She laughed as Alice fell into a muddy puddle ruining her pink dress.
“How could you do that?!” Alice barked. “My mother is going to kill me for getting this dress dirty!”
“That’s not my problem!” Joy said with a smirk. “Now it’s my turn to swing.”
The dark flame grew, turning the vision dark. “Do you not see that by evil deeds, you become stronger?”
Joy took a deep breath. “That was a long time ago, and I have you know that I made amends to Alice a few years ago.”
“You must remember how that felt. By committing that heinous act, you got what you wanted.”
“No!” I will not give in to your evil ways. Now be gone!” Joy cried.
The sound of bells tolling in the night rang true, and the dark flame turned to smoke and wafted away to reveal the next ghost, a robust white-bearded man wearing a lumberjack uniform. A giant golden table filled with rotting food stood before the man.
“Ho, ho, hooo!! Come hither, my dear child! Pull up a chair and join me!”
Joy reluctantly sat down and covered her nose. The smell was like being locked away in a garbage dumpster multiplied by a thousand. The bearded man cackled once more and removed a brownish-yellow drumstick from a dead turkey’s carcass. Joy recoiled as the lumberjack took a big bite and tiny white maggots fell from his mouth.
“Mm…” he boasted. “This is good. Why don’t you have some?”
No thanks, you disgusting pig!”
“Ho, ho, hooo, do not mistake my sentiments as an act of kindness!”
“I don’t think there is anything kind about you!” retorted Joy.
“Indeed!” the fat man chuckled! “Tell me… where are your chains?”
“I don’t have any chains, for I am a good person with a heart full of good deeds!”
“Ho, ho, hooo… My brothers have said as much, but I tell you that there is no reward for good deeds done. You must give in to temptation and want. It’s the only way to get what you want in this life, and the next, ho, ho, hooo… Agh!!!”
Joy heard enough of his blasphemy and threw a piece of butterscotch candy down his gullet. He coughed and gasped for air to no avail. His fluffy white beard turned brown like he was full of life, and as he stood grabbing his chest, he wailed, “You will pay for this transgression! My brother will have the last word!!”
“Oh, I’m ready for him!”
The lumberjack gulped and gasped, but he could not stop the sweet candy from destroying his insides. He collapsed on the table with a loud thud, and his skin melted away and turned to dust. Joy covered her mouth and closed her eyes. She didn’t want to ingest any of the dead flakes.
A warm breeze blew through Joy’s hair, and she opened her eyes. Standing before her was a tall man dressed in a white hooded robe. His hair was golden, and his eyes were devoid of color.
He spoke in an echoing tone. “The future is written for you,” he warned. “Your destiny is death.”
“What do you mean?” asked Joy.
The spirit shivered and explained, “I see you walking down a brightly lit alleyway delivering food to the homeless. There, you are confronted by a rag-tag group of villains who politely ask for your money. You refuse and offer them a warm sandwich instead. They savagely stab you multiple times and take what they want. Your kindness gets you killed!”
“No,” Joy snapped. “I believe the future is what we make it, not what you tell me it is!”
“I thought you would say that!” He pointed to an empty space in the blackness, and the Ruby City Cemetery sprang forth. Without moving, Joy and the spirit were transported to a freshly dug grave with no headstone.
“Do you see?” the spirit proclaimed, pointing to the grave. “They didn’t even give you a gravestone!”
Joy grabbed her head and screamed, “Nooo! Why are you showing me this!?”
“Join us,” pleaded the ghost. “Come to our side of evil and live a full and prosperous life where your chains are long and heavy. You can use them to smack others when they step out of line!”
“I thought you ghosts were supposed to change evil people to good?”
The spirit was quiet for a moment, then spoke. “At one time, yes, but that way of life was distorted when the world changed. Good deeds no longer mattered. Acts of kindness no longer mattered. Happiness no longer mattered. Want, greed, power, and acts of selfishness are the only things that matter now, and as the universe had changed, so in turn did we!”
Shock overcame Joy, and she knew that she was more holy than all the spirits combined. It wasn’t something she could describe but something that she felt. In the world of reality, such things do not exist, but in this nightmare, if the spirits held power, so did she.
“I will never join you!” thundered Joy. “I’m going to live my life the way I see fit, and you can burn!!”
Joy’s fury erupted in bright orange flames like a phoenix rising from the depths of Hell. The Christmas ghost didn’t have a chance to run or vanish because Joy roasted him to ashes. The evil plague that tried to devour Joy’s spirit was no more.
The sound of bells tolling in the background woke Joy from her nightmare. She looked out the window and saw the paperboy delivering her newspaper. She opened the door and startled the boy.
“What day is it?” she asked.
“It’s Christmas,” the boy said. “Have you been living under a rock or something?”
“No, no,” Joy uttered.
The spirits must have stopped all clocks and time. It all happened in one night!
“I can’t believe they're making you work on Christmas!” yammered Joy. She reached over and grabbed a twenty-dollar bill from her purse and gave it to the young man. “Here, have a Merry Christmas!”
“Thank you, lady!” gushed the boy. “This is the best day ever!!”
Joy smiled and sat in her recliner. The newspaper was filled with stories of good deeds and inspiring wishes that came true, and the television news echoed the same goodwill. This was odd because, typically, the news was filled with horrific tales of greedy politicians and evil deeds from bad people.
Could I have altered the Christmas Ghosts' state of being and changed their minds?
Do they now serve the holy spirit like they used to?
“By God… I think they do!”
Joy put on her jacket and headed down to the orphanage with an unwavering smile tattooed on her face. Those kids were going to have the best Christmas ever!
Daniel R. Hayes