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A Christmas Carol: Stave Two: The First Of The Three Spirits

A Christmas Carol.
In Prose.
Being a Ghost Story of Reason.
It's an Ayn Rand Christmas.

Stave Two
The First Of The Three Spirits

Scrooge woke slowly; there was a small circle of light surrounded by darkness; there was a sensation of swimming up out of the darkness toward the light, there was a sense of comfort and peace as he rose higher; upon reaching the light, Scrooge saw faces spaced evenly around the edge of the circle staring down at him; there was a sense of confusion and slowly dawning horror as his bedroom ceiling came into focus and he realized the faces were those of the ghosts he had seen wailing outside earlier.

The faces disappeared and Scrooge sat up, breathing hard, trying to glance in front, behind, above, and below himself all at once.

"Bah humbug!" said Scrooge out loud, scaring himself even more in breaking the heavy silence that hung in his chambers.

Marley's Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time he resolved within himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its first position, and presented the same problem to be worked all through, "Was it a dream or not?"

Scrooge glanced toward the window and saw light outside. "I made it through the night!" he said. "With no further visits from ghosts!"

Dream, thought Scrooge, figuring Marley had been a bit of indigestion after all. He immediately felt better.

Scrooge took his time getting ready for work, enjoying his morning ablutions. He put on his favorite suit and great coat, and made his way down the stairs, barely giving the mischievous knocker a second thought as he walked through the doorway, locking the door behind him.

He was about to set off down the walkway when he froze, seeing a Green Line train sitting on the street in front of his house. This was an unusual sight for Scrooge as the Green Line didn't stop in front of his house, or, in fact, go down Summit Avenue at all.

Scrooge slowly walked toward the train and saw the conductor beckoning him over.

Not a chance, thought Scrooge as he turned his back on the train and headed for his counting house. He turned the first corner and there in front of him was the Green Line train; Scrooge glanced behind him with a sense of dread and finality, and saw the same Green Line car - he could even make out the conductor beckoning toward him.

With a sigh and a growing sense of frustration, Scrooge walked to the other side of the street and cut down an alley before he was stopped short, seeing the Green Line car and the beckoning conductor. His frustration outgrew his fear; he stormed up to the train and was about to knock on the door when it opened to the smiling conductor.

"Green Line, sir," said the conductor.

"I do not take public transportation," said Scrooge. "I can smell the cheap liquor and unwashed humanity from out here. I am walking to my counting house. If you have business to conduct with me, dear conductor, and I'm not sure you do, then you can meet me there within the hour!"

Scrooge turned around and ran straight into the Green Line car. He had to take a step back as the doors opened and the conductor said, "Green Line, sir."

"Bah!" said Scrooge as he got on the car, holding his nose both literally and figuratively.

"$3.50, sir." said the conductor, shutting the door.

Scrooge looked around the car, spotting various lumps of clothing that, he assumed, must be sleeping people, for the snoring sounds and smell of cheap wine did indeed permeate the air. He turned back to the conductor. "I- "

"$3.50, sir," repeated the conductor.

"- will not pay to use public transport which has already been funded by my taxes!"

"$3.50, sir," said the conductor yet again.

"Did you hear me?" said Scrooge. "I will not pay twice for the dubious honor of using public transportation for which my taxes ha- "

"If my sources are correct, sir," said the conductor, "you've paid exactly zero in taxes for going on twenty-five years now, correct?"

"Well, I- "

"In fact, you've received rather large refunds, if I'm not mistaken."

"You see- "

"These 'inebriated lumps of unwashed humanity' as you think of them have actually paid to utilize this conveyance, not to mention paid their taxes," said the conductor. "You aren't trying to tell me that they have more money and sense than you?

"I never carry mo-"

"I believe, sir, that if you check the pockets of your fine suit there, you will find a couple of dollars."

Scrooge put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill. He handed the money to the conductor who palmed it. Scrooge waited for his change.

The conductor pointed to a sign reading, 'No change given.' "Off we go."

Scrooge, never having ridden light rail before, found himself on the floor as the train accelerated. He rubbed his head where he had banged it as he pulled himself upright with one of the grab bars. He was unsure of where to sit before deciding to sit as close to the conductor – being the least worst smelling thing on the train – as possible.

"First stop, Ramsey Junior High," said the conductor.

"Look here," started Scrooge, "I must get to my count- "

The conductor looked at Scrooge in his passenger-view mirror and pointed to a sign which read 'No talking to the conductor while the train is in motion.'

"I don't care!" shouted Scrooge. "I demand to know who you- "

Scrooge was stopped short by another look from the conductor as he pointed to yet another sign which read, 'I'm the ghost of Christmas Past.'

Scrooge, feeling suddenly uncommunicative, looked out his window, concentrating on rubbing his sore head and not looking at the other passengers. As he watched the world go by, he noticed a strange fog and twilight come and go every block or two. He turned toward the conductor and was about to ask where they were going when the conductor looked at him in the passenger-view mirror and pointed to a sign reading 'Ramsey Junior High.'

"Oh, yeah," Scrooge mumbled.

Scrooge put his head down, promising himself to look at nothing else and ignore the conductor completely. An indeterminable amount of time later, Scrooge felt the train slowing down. He betrayed his earlier promise to himself and looked around at his fellow passengers, seeing that some were no longer there and others had joined him in the car despite the train not having stopped once since he got on.

The train stopped and the conductor got up and stood in front of Scrooge. "Ramsey Junior High. This is your stop, sir."

Scrooge couldn't bring himself to look at the conductor, but shouted, "This is kidnapping! I demand you take me back to my house! I will not- "

At his outburst, Scrooge became aware that some of the huddled passengers began moving toward him. Strange sounds emanated from the piles of clothes and winter coats and bags. Strange, unearthly sounds.

Scrooge looked at the conductor in a panic. The conductor stared back and said, "Ramsey Junior High. This is your stop, sir."

As Scrooge stood up the other passengers returned to their seats with sounds that wavered between snickering and snarling. The conductor walked off the train with Scrooge fast on his heels.

As eager as Scrooge was to leave the train and its passengers behind him, he hesitated on the last step as he looked about him for the first time. "Good Heaven!" he said, clasping his hands together. “I was a boy here! The smells. The sounds. They're all just as I remember them."

Just then a red rubber kickball bounced past Scrooge. He looked to where the ball had come from and saw dozens of children running around the playground. He saw kids playing hopscotch and catch; he saw kids playing tag and four square; he saw groups of girls huddled together whispering about god knows who and groups of boys huddled together whispering about god knows what.

The conductor tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a far corner of the playground where a lone boy, smaller than most, was sitting with his head hung between his knees.

"That's me!" said Scrooge. A flood of memories engulfed him: sadness, loneliness, fear. He hadn't cared for recess, or school for that matter.

The bell rang and the children started racing toward the teacher, lining up to be counted before they went in. The child Ebeneezer got up slowly, started running to get in line, then tripped. No one noticed. No one offered their assistance or their scorn. As Ebeneezer held his scraped knee, the teachers and students in their lines started inside; he limped to get to the back of the line as fast as he could and then was lost to sight of Scrooge and the conductor.

"Spirit! It really was me? How is this possible? It cannot be! It's not possible. I've had two blows to the head recently, I'm probably lying on my bedroom floor right now dreaming all this nonsense."

"The second blow to your head," said the conductor, "was received right here in this car. Surely you can't count that one if you believe none of this is actually happening."

"Why did you bring me here? Why make me revisit this horrible time in my life? You can see no one cared about me. No one paid attention to me. I'd given control of my happiness to others and they completely ignored me. It was here where I began to learn that my own happiness was my own responsibility. I learned to not rely on others for that happiness, but instead create it myself."

Just then they heard, from across the playground, "I'm fine! Leave me alone!"

They turned and saw three classmates and a teaching assistant looking on as Ebeneezer glared at them before entering the school. The teaching assistant's face showed concern, and the children hung their heads in embarrassment.

"Why does he do that," asked one of the children. "He never lets anybody help him; or play when we ask him to."

The teaching assistant's response was inaudible as they all turned to follow Ebeneezer into the school.

"You see, Scrooge," said the conductor, "you chose to believe no one cared or had any compassion. You see now the reality of the situation."

"Reality is an absolute!" shouted Scrooge. "I chose to believe only what I experienced! The factual requirements of a person's life are set by their nature. People are individuals, each with their own body, their own mind, and their own life."

"Those children and that teacher wanted to help you. They wanted to play with you."

"Bah humbug!"

The spirit disappeared, and before Scrooge could think to be surprised, the conductor called from inside the train, "Next stop Fezziwig's Billiards and Bollocks."

"I've had enough, Spirit!" shouted Scrooge. "Take me home now!"

"Next stop Fezziwig's Billiards and Bollocks."

"I demand you bring me home!"

"I've a job to do, sir. Not worth it to take you home before the next stop. Not worth losing my job over."

"I never! If you don't take me- "

"Sorry, sir," said the conductor, looking anything but. "I'm not the one to complain to. The decision of where you go and what you see are above my pay grade. Next stop Fezziwig's Bollards and Bollocks."

"So you're just the help," spat Scrooge. "I knew it! Fine, let's finish this so I can get back to a decent night's sleep!"

Scrooge climbed the steps of the train. When he got to the top, the conductor held out his and said, "$3.50 sir, unless you have a transfer."

"What's a tr- "

"$3.50, sir."

"You are shaking me down," said Scrooge. "I'm most unhappy with your service! I demand to talk to your sup- "

"Don't let others control your happiness, sir," replied the conductor. "$3.50, sir."

Scrooge felt around in his pocket and found another five dollar bill. He handed it over to the conductor and demanded his change.

The conductor pointed to a sign reading, 'No change given.' "Off we go."

Scrooge wisely grabbed onto a pole to steady himself as the train accelerated away. He sat down by the conductor again and put his head down and rubbed his temples, just waiting for his bad dream to be over.

Sometime later, how long he could not gauge, he felt the train begin to slow. Scrooge dared look out the window. It was snowing hard. On the corner he saw a large, lit up sign flashing 'Fezziwig's Billiards and Bollocks' attached to a building occupying nearly the entire block.

Scrooge hadn't been here in ages; had in fact, foreclosed the mortgage of Fezziwig's many years ago. When he looked closer at the building he could see what looked to be a party. He most definitely did not want to go in there.

Scrooge heard the conductor's footsteps stop in front of him. The conductor said, "Next stop. Fezziwig's Billairds and Bollocks."

"Please, Spirit. I cannot bear to go in there."

"Scrooge, you have free will. You can either go in there or stay in here."

Scrooge opened his mouth to say he would stay here, thank you very much, but then heard some slithering noises from further inside the car. He darted past the conductor and headed out into the falling snow.

"Wise choice, sir." said the conductor, appearing next to Scrooge.

Outside the snow was swirling; great drifts were piling up against houses, cars, and fences. The blinking of Fezziwig's sign made the snow jump and move as if it were alive.

"Every year," said the conductor, "Fezziwig threw an enormous Christmas party, inviting everyone from the neighborhood, all his employees and their families, and all his customers and their families. None were turned away. Free music. Free food and drink. Nothing but joy and care for his fellow man. Come, Scrooge. Let's warm ourselves and partake of this delightful feast."

The conductor and Scrooge entered the building and found themselves surrounded by happy revelry at every turn, until they found Scrooge in the corner talking to a group of Fezziwig's investors. This group was neither drinking, nor feasting, nor dancing. Their heads were together and they were as serious a group as ever had been at a celebration such as this.

Suddenly there was a bell rung from the other side of the room. Soon enough Fezziwig - old, rotund, delightful Fezziwig – had gotten most of the party-goers to pay attention. "A toast," shouted Fezziwig so all could hear. "A toast to all of you for another wonderful year!"

The crowd shouted and drank their agreement.

Fezziwig rang the bell again.

"Another toast!" shouted Fezziwig. "To the man who lined up all those investors who will be taking Fzziwig's Billiard and Bollocks international this upcoming year. To Ebeneezer Scrooge!"

At the sound of his name, the young Ebeneezer tore himself away from the huddled investors and smiled greatly at his boss, raising a glass as he did so. The crowd roared their approval and drank to his good will. Ebeneezer returned to the investor huddle and the party continued on all around them.

"But that's not what the investors were for, was it Scrooge" said the conductor. "By the middle of next year, the investors purchased Fezziwig's out from under him, took out gigantic loans, cut salaries and wages across the board, liquidated everything not bolted down, then sold the business for as much as they could, insuring that Fezziwig's would end in bankruptcy and ruin."

"It was business," said Scrooge. "I saw a way to make more money and I did!"

"And Fezziwig?" said the conductor. "Dead of a heart attack exactly one year from now?"

"Very unfortunate," said Scrooge. "but Fezziwig was as fool. All he wanted to do was keep going on the way things were. He never cottoned to the fact there was so much more money to be made. He should've listened to me. He should've gone along with my idea."

"Your idea to strip all the value from the business he spent decades building with the employees, neighbors and customers he called family? A single member of which decided to betray that trust."

"Don't point your moral outrage at me! You want to discuss morality? Each individual should act in his own best interest and is the proper beneficiary of his own action. In order to live, people must take self-interested action and reap the benefits thereof. Human life requires egoism!"

The room around them darkened. A newspaper blew into Scrooge's face, when he pulled it off he found himself at the door to Fezziwig's.

"Look inside, said the Spirit. "Then look outside."

The room was a mess. Broken furniture and graffiti abounded. There was no merrymaking whatsoever. All that was left was dust and cobwebs. When Scrooge looked outside, he saw dilapidated houses with unkempt lawns. Even though it was a beautiful summer evening, there were no children running around or people walking the street. There was no sound of laughter or smell of meat on the grill. All there was were boarded up houses and cracked pavement.

Scrooge looked at the date on the newspaper. It was five years after he had sold Fezziwigs.

"Spirit," said Scrooge. "These are things I cannot change, nor would I choose to if I could. Many people made a lot of money doing what I did."

"I believe you mean many people who already had enough money made even more money by taking away money from hundreds of people who no longer had a livelihood," said the conductor.

"The opportunity was there for anyone to take! Just because I had the brains and the courage to do it when nobody else did- "

"It's easier, Scrooge, to make rich people richer. It takes careful thought and planning to make sure most people have enough to live a good life."

"He with means- "

"Means more. Yes. Yes. He with means usually just means more trouble for those without."

"Bah! Humbug! Take me home, Spirit. Right now!"

The conductor disappeared then reappeared in the train. Scrooge ran to the door and pounded on it for all he was worth.

"Open up! I demand you open these doors."

The conductor ignored Scrooge and went about preparing to leave. Scrooge ran in front of the train and pointed at the conductor.

"I said let me on!"

The conductor pointed at the sign at the front of the train which read, 'No Service,' then drove directly at Scrooge.

Scrooge started screaming as he fainted dead away from shock.