'Jacob loves no one but himself'
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 learns from the girl spirit that Samuel, ghostly lord of the dark realm, is the old man who befriended Marley in the slums of the living.
Resplendent light shines from the girl spirit’s hands, and the living memory shifts a final time.
I see the 1,814th birthday of the Christmas spirit andthe throng of dead souls who surround him at the mountain peak. Among them is Samuel, whose entry into this realm is yet but months old.
The spirit’s torch sears the night sky and refracts red and orange off millions of falling snowflakes.
The Christmas spirit pulls back the veil between the realmsof the dead and the living, and the ghosts disperse to visit their loved ones.Samuel flees deep into London, to Queen’s Row.
"He searches for you," the girl whispers.
We watch Samuelstroll among the alleys and slumsand happen upon a group he used to run with before I came along, before he took me into his care. They huddle about a crackling fire that seems to be doing little to ward off the night cold.
"He came here first," the spirit girl says. "He knows not that you have left and begun your life anew."
Samuel knows the rules of the night. He speaks in a whisper so as to plant a suggestion in the men’s minds: “Where's that little blighter gone off to? What's his name ... Jacob? Yes?"
Samuelwaits, fearing the worst. Still, he must know.
One man, a toothless sod with a haggard beard, looks up suddenly.
“You know what I was just finkin?” he asks. “Not sure why, but the boy used to hang round ‘ere ‘fore the old man spilled his brains all over the roadhe just popped into me head. Strange, yeah?”
“Not so strange,” a younger vagrant answers. “I’m glad he got out most days. But sometimes I miss having him here.”
The whole circle mutters in agreement, nodding.
“‘E’s over on Fleet Street, aye? That rich scamp who just took over Fezziwig’s?”
“Aye. I check on him from time to time, peek in through the window so’s to see he’s alright. It’s strange.”
“The way he looks while he sleeps, it’sit’s almost as though he’s forgotten this place already. Like we was all a bad dream to 'im.”
Samuel runs. When he finds his lungs are no longer a hindrance, he runs faster. Faster still. He finds Fleet Street, peers in several windows until he finds me. He drifts cautiously through the wall to the inside.
The home is candlelit and tidy. Voices drift from the adjoining dining room. One sticks out: my own, high-pitched and gentle, the voice I possessed before it dropped to such a miserable baritone.
The old man nervously steps into the room to see me, perhaps to impart some sort of wisdom as he’s heard can be done this night.
The young me sits at the table eating and conversing with Ebenezer.
Heaven preserve us, we were young.
The banquet before us is sumptuous: stuffed quail, potatoes, beans, rolls, warm butter, bottles of the finest claret.
Ebenezer holds his crystal goblet aloft.
“A very Merry Christmas to you, Jacob,” he says.
“And to you, sir.”
We drink. The young me sets my glass down and looks at Ebenezer from across the table. I remember this moment with sudden clarity.
“I owe everything to you, sir,” the young me says to Ebenezer. “But for you I would be dead.”
Ebenezer nods, continues to stare at the young me. Samuel glowers from the shadows, unseen.
“It's been months since your friend's burial, Jacob," Ebenezer says. "The plot is lovely. Perhaps it's time we go and see it. It would do you some good, I think."
The young me’s retort is sudden and jolting in the room.
“I’m sure it will be quite”
“No,” the young me says again, voice dropping to a whisper. “I can't...I can't be reminded of that life, Ebenezer. The old man he..."
I glance at Samuel, anxiousover the words to come.
"...I felt...sorry for him," the boy Jacob continues. "He was a dotty old drunk, a phony who boasted emptily of morals and hope and did nothing with it."
I remember these words, spilling forth. I remember how I did not mean them, how anger and sadness and the feeling of utter abandonment cracked a whip and drove them forth anyway. Darkness taints true feelings just so, deforms them into ugly things indeed.
Ebenezer nods. “I had not considered the traumatic ramifications for revisiting such squalor, Jacob. I am sorry. You have my word."
"You’re the first person to ever really care about me, Ebenezer. Thank’ee.”
In that moment, I see Samuel break, watch an almost literal fracture scissor across his soul. He flees from the room back into the cold night.
Next we find Samuel in a church, pacing the center rows. Thomas,theghost who befriended Samuel upon his arrival,approaches him.
“The boy has forgotten me. Worse,” Samuel says. “He'll go through life slandering me as a drunkard; as a friendless nobody so desperate for affection that I befriended a lad."
Guilt overruns me. I taste its acrid tang.
“The living must move on,” Thomas says. “You’ve loved and lost, Samuel. You know this.”
“I’VE BEEN ERASED,” Samuel yells.
Thomas jumps back. The echoes no living person could hear die down.
"He called a stranger his only friend. Just now. I see now how little I meant to the cheeky half-wit,” Samuel continues. “I was someone to cling to until someone better came along.”
“Jacob loved you.”
“Jacob loves no one but himself. It was never about us. It was about who could ensure his survival, who could keep him alive. And now he is...something else entirely."
"Youcan guidehim back, Samuel," Thomas says. "That is why the Christmas spirit allows us to be part of the living realm once a year. So that we may encourage, instruct and correct. Perhaps you..."
Samuel's interruption is knife-sharp, certain and smooth and cutting deep.
“I’ll not be responsible forcontributing to such a selfish prig’s redemption," he says. "No one should. No one of such a disposition deservesredemption. You choose your path, you walk it. No help. Just like Queen’s Row. Every man for himself. No ghost whispering in your ear that you ought to mend your ways. These creatures deserve nothing less than joining us here."
“The three spirits see good in them,” Thomas says. “That the livingsometimes forget it’s there and need to be reminded.”
“They are blinded by some misplaced sense of idealism. But no matter, I plan tochange things.”
“The torch. I plan to take it."
Thomas casts a paranoid glance over his shoulder, his headswiveling about to make sure they are quite alone and unheard.
“You can’t be serious," he whispers.
“Never more so," Samuel says, beginning to pace away.
“The power of the Christmas spirit is beyond anything you have encountered, Samuel,” Thomas says, keeping pace with him as he drifts from the church back to the outside. A post-Christmas snow is falling. The last crumbs of daylight spot the sky in streaks of brilliant orange and pink.
“Without the torch, he is nothing,” Samuel says.
"He has fire of his own," Thomas says.
"Not as a babe."
Thomas stares. Realization falls like the snow, staining the white with disbelief and horror.
"You cannot mean..." Thomas whispers.
Samuel stares back at him, vengeful eyes glinting from the shadows like just-sparked coals. For a moment, Thomas looks afraid. A strange thing, it is: to see a ghost frightened.
“The spirit girl and phantom will try to stop you,"Thomas tries to reason. "The hooded one sees the future, for God’s sake. You don’t think”
“When it looks. You think every second of the future spills through the specter’s mind? It must access it, Thomas. It must will itself. I am of no concern. My future is as mysterious as most of us who roam here.”
“Nothing good can come of this, Samuel. Nothing at all.”
“Nothing good can come of this farce we’re made part of year after year. It’s a lot of smoke so we can forget we’re dead for a day.”
Church bells chime in the distance. The village square is stained fully by night.
“That boy was everything to me,” Samuel continues. “And he’s buried any shred of evidence I ever existed. Sorry if I’m not excited to give him and a thousand others like him a second chance.”
He walks away.
"If you're not with me, then do not follow," he says. "This good-natured lie ends tonight."
Thomas says nothing at all while snowflakes continue to fall past and through him.
"Maybe he's right," he whispers.
Read part 20 here.