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Christmas series: 'Were it not for me'

Editor’s note: This serial, which explores the days leading up to that fateful night in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” continues through Christmas Day. The story thus far: Marley asks The Council to let him intervene on behalf of a friend destined to suffer a similar fate: an afterlife bound in chains.

The Council members exchange glances with each other. They murmur unintelligible phrases and glance back among themselves, at me, pointing crooked, clawed fingers and shaking their heads.

The leader’s eyes stay fixed on me through all of it.

“Silence,”hisses Samuel.

The Council obeys. Samuel grins a rotten grin.

“On whose behalf do you wish to intervene?”

“Ebenezer Scrooge. My former business partner and only friend. Even now, his chains are growing. At this rate, the coils will be twice as long as mine by the time of his death.”

“So must it be,” another Council member says. “Choices carry consequences, most of them unseen. Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, and interference on our part would only lead to fear and resentment among those we try to help.”

Other Council members nod or grunt in agreement.

“Perhaps,” Samuel says. “Perhaps not. It all depends on how you interfere, doesn’t it?”

“Samuel, surely you would not entertain notions such as these, if even for a moment,” Thomas says. “Damn what it would mean to our blessed natural order. Consider what would happen to him.”

He points at me. Ice crawls up my back. Samuel looks positively mad with annoyance.

“What will happen to me, Elder?” I ask.

Samuel breathes out coolly. “Your attempt to breach the spiritual plane will be met with resistance.”

“How?”

“Your chains bind you to this realm. Effectively.”

“Samuel, please. There are certain things that must remain among us,” Thomas pleads.

“You should have considered that when opening your mouth mere seconds ago,” Samuel says. "You saw fit to inform him of this warning."

“What will happen to me?” I ask again.

“Your chains will try and keep you here. It will hurt. It will burn. We”

“Which is why you must not do it at all,” Thomas says.

“SILENCE.”

Samuel’s voice booms, sudden and strident in the chamber, shaking the walls and brightening his throne of purple light to a white-hot flare. Thick curls of blue veins shimmer into place on his forehead, ice cold and pumping no blood and full of a very real fury. The rest of the Council quiets. I stare at the ground and listen to the stonework swallow the remaining echoes of the sudden shriek.

“Despite Thomas’s knack for interruption, he makes a grand point,” Samuel says, emotion suddenly level and in check again. “Why call more pain upon yourself? This friend of yours is but one greedy man in a world where millions exist, all bound by the same invisible chains. To help but one would be unjust. What of the others? Your affection for him is not good enough, Jacob. It would set a precedent. It would change everything.”

“It’s more than that,” I say.

“What else can there be?”

“I am responsible for his path,” I say. “Were it not for me, the chains would not bind him now.”

Samuel only stares. How I wish I could make out his features, understand what he feels in that wintry maelstrom of a face. I tell him of my life after Queen's Row, how I fought pain and loss with gold coins and iron fists.

Read part 10 here.

Christmas series: 'Were it not for me'