Having imbibed a fair amount of pro-small-town prejudice in the form of Hallmark Christmas movies (which I actually find relaxing in spite of this), I thought I’d retaliate with a link to my short story About Those Small Town Values, first posted in 2010.
Scrooge really doesn’t get it, someone thought. Perhaps he needs a little shove.
It was a fine Christmas Eve, and Ebenezer Scrooge was at home eating his supper. He had done well that day. Corn sold at above the market rate. Debts collected from people who couldn’t afford it. He’d put Bob Cratchit in his place, and he’d get that much more work from him in the coming year because of it. The collectors for charity had been sent packing. Everyone would know that Scrooge meant business, so those with business on their minds would come to Scrooge and Marley. That meant success!
He heard a loud thump on the doorstep. Then there was a rattle. Some clinks. The first could be an accident. The second might still have nothing to do with him. But the third convinced him there was someone at his door, and at this time of night that could only be a thief, though why a thief would make so much noise escaped him.
He grabbed his walking stick and went to the door. He was about to open in when there was another rattle, and then a clunk. (The distinction between a “clink” and a “clunk” is esoteric, but worth investigating.) There was something wrong here. He bent down to look out through the keyhole, but before his eye adjusted to the darkness something slammed into his head and he fell over backwards.
He recovered from that undignified position only to see a largish man. He was decorated with chains of gold and silver. He had two large chests encrusted with gemstones. Scrooge was wondering how heavy they were when the man set one down on a floor. Clunk! Now that was a real clunk.
“Who are you?” asked Scrooge.
“I am Jacob Marley, your late business partner,” replied the man. Scrooge hadn’t noticed until now that the man didn’t appear quite solid. Not wispy like a cloud, but just not entirely there, you know.
“You do resemble my partner, but what are you doing here?”
“I came to give you some advice.”
“It looks like you might need some advice yourself. Perhaps someone to help carry those chests.”
“Oh, no! I wouldn’t give these to anyone else for the world!”
“But if you’re dead, you’re a spirit. Does a spirit have use for any of those things?”
“Well …” Marley paused briefly and awkwardly. “We don’t actually use them here, but they’re a sign of status. I have very high status in the spirit world.”
“But you don’t use them?” asked Scrooge.
“Status is important,” replied Marley. “And besides. You have every bit as much, or even more, than I have. What good does it do you?”
“I can spend my money. I can invest it and make more!”
“But here you are in a dimly lit room. You don’t want to waste candles. That food you’re eating isn’t that much better than what the poor eat, and your clothes, while not exactly worn and ratty are not excessively fine or comfortable. In fact, other than making more money, I don’t see how you use yours any better than I do mine.”
“I see.” Scrooge paused thoughtfully. “So what was your advice?”
“You really don’t get the possibilities of Christmas.”
“Bah, humbug! Not you too on this Christmas thing. I don’t intend to waste my money making people merry on Christmas!”
“Ah, but you do like making money, do you not?”
“I thought so. And it is well that you do. You will have high status when you reach the spirit realm. You will have even more to carry around than I do!” Marley looked enviously at his partner.
“So how can Christmas make me money?”
“Finally!” said Marley. “You are asking the right question. How can you make money indeed! But that is not for me to tell you. You will be visited tonight by three spirits. They will advise you. Listen well! May you be honored with a heavy load!”
“But what if I don’t want a heavy load?” asked Scrooge, but Marley was slowly fading away.
As the clock struck one in the morning, Scrooge heard a whisper of a breeze run through his bedroom. He would have missed it if he hadn’t been awake worrying about the appearance of the spirits. A man appeared in the room dressed much like Scrooge himself would dress for business.
“Who are you?” asked Scrooge.
“I am the ghost of Christmas past. Or let’s just make it this past Christmas. That’s far enough to go.”
“So what do you do?”
“I show you your past mistakes. Like this!”
There was a whooshing sound, and Scrooge saw various colors and objects he couldn’t identify fly past him. Suddenly he was standing in front of a poulterer’s stand and he recognized himself talking to the owner. The stand was decorated with Christmas candles, quite an innovation on this street, and the owner wanted a loan. He remembered the incident. The owner had requested a loan and he had refused on the grounds that he was wasting money on the decorations. How could he be a sound investment with all that waste?
The owner argued that more people saw his stand and would buy from him with the decorations. He argued that it wasn’t a waste.
“Christmas is for idle people!” exclaimed Scrooge, refusing the loan.
“Stupid, stupid man!” said the spirit. “Big mistake!”
“But he went out of business within the month!”
“Because he couldn’t get a loan. Let me show you what would have happened if you had loaned him money.”
The scene shifted. Scrooge watched as more and more people went to that poulterer’s stand. By the time the next Christmas came around, he had a storefront rather than a stand. The moving scene slowed and stopped.
“He would have repaid that loan and borrowed from you twice more during the same year, and paid you back on time and with full interest. But you didn’t get it because you were upset about decorations.”
“But decorations are frivolous! They have nothing to do with making money!”
“People buy things. People like decorations. It’s all in how you look at it—or how you present it!”
And with that Scrooge found himself back in his own bedroom. It looked pretty drab to him for just a moment.
And suddenly he was awakened by a gong. It sounded like a very loud alarm clock. The spirit—he knew that’s who it was immediately this time—was a young flashily dressed man. Scrooge knew some younger men of business who would dress this way. He thought them frivolous. He was sure they would eventually fail at business.
The spirit wasted no time. “I’m the spirit of Christmas present. That’s today. Right now. Let’s go.”
And Scrooge found himself on the floor of the exchange where he was negotiating the price of corn.
“You think that was a good piece of business, don’t you?”
“Indeed I do!”
“Wrong! Bad idea! Very bad idea!”
“But I got an excellent price for that corn!”
“And later this year someone will show up and undercut you, and then what will you do?”
“There will always be someone who needs some corn.”
“But you could keep these folks as customers as well.”
“How would I do that?”
“You offer them a Christmas discount.”
“And give away money?”
“You are such a straightforward sort of villain! No, first you raise the price, explaining that you then give them a Christmas discount. You tie the discount to a longer term contract. Or, alternatively, you offer them credit, and make up the difference in the interest. Cornering them on one deal was good. Getting them tied to you as permanent customers who can’t afford to get away. That’s priceless! Christmas has countless commercial possibilities!”
But again the spirit took him by the arm and he found himself watching the Christmas party at his nephew’s house.
“Idleness! Waste!” he muttered.
“But such valuable idleness!” said the spirit.
“You see the drinks? Add up the price in your head. The meat? Bread? New clothes to show off at the party?”
Scrooge’s face fell as he added up the total of the waste.
“Why does your face fall?”
“It’s the waste!”
“But all of that money went to business in this community, and several of those businesses owe you money. In fact, you could get someone like your nephew to help you. He could talk about Christmas to all his friends, while you invest in the business that provide the necessities for celebrating Christmas right.”
“But my nephew really believes in all this. He would never do it to help me make money.”
“He wouldn’t really have to know. He encourages people to ‘keep Christmas right’ and you make money on it. Soon people think that if they don’t have a large enough goose for Christmas dinner, they’re not good people.”
“So I tell them to buy more stuff?”
“You don’t understand. You need to encourage people to have parties. They buy stuff for the parties. That puts money in your pocket. I know you envied the wealth your late partner carries in the next world, and you will have much more. But you could double, triple, or even quadruple that amount!
“About that,” said Scrooge, “I still don’t get what that money does for a spirit in the next world.”
“It makes you wealthy!” said the spirit. And he deposited Scrooge back in his bedroom.
Scrooge never really heard the clock strike three. He was overwhelmed by the sound of a large crowd. People were yelling and shoving one another. They kept running into one another in the aisles. Yes, those were aisles, with merchandise on all sides. He had never even imagined anything the size of this store, for a store it obviously was. At the front there were lines of people waiting to pay for things that they had piled up in little push carts. The lights were not candles, but Scrooge couldn’t identify them.
“Where am I?” asked Scrooge.
The spirit was a woman in some type of uniform with her name on a tag. The tag read “Ghost of Christmas Future.” She looked businesslike and efficient.
“You are in the future of Christmas,” she said.
“The future of Christmas? What does this have to do with Christmas?”
“This is what will happen if you will just follow the advice the spirits have given you.”
She led Scrooge up to the counters where people were, he thought, paying for their goods. He watched as they passed little cards through a machine of some time.
“Where is the money?” he asked.
“Those little cards pass the money through the machine. In fact, most of them are borrowing money to pay for their Christmas shopping. The card automatically borrows it for them.”
“Lending money to buy Christmas presents? Somebody must be insane! You borrow money to buy goods to sell. You borrow money to build buildings. You borrow money to create a business. You don’t borrow money to buy Christmas presents. You would be ruined!”
“Ah, but the people lending the money are doing very well. They make large amounts of money on the borrowers. These people will be paying the bankers for the next year, and maybe the next and the next.”
“But many of them won’t be able to pay the money back and the bankers will lose.”
“But there are increased interest rates, fees for late payments, fees for borrowing more than your limit …”
“Borrowing more than your limit? How is it a limit if you can borrow more than that?”
“The limit is flexible. But if you go over, there’s a monthly fee. Then the payment every month is very small, so once you add up the fees and the interest rates, your balance may actually increase every month even when you’re not buying anything.”
“But then you would never get paid back.”
“But that doesn’t matter. Eventually you can make more money in fees and interest than you loaned in the first place. Then if the people can’t pay, you sell your loan to debt collectors and let them pursue the people for the money. You only get a few cents on the dollar, but since they may now owe you thousands when they only borrowed hundreds, you don’t care.”
“But what happens if people start to realize what’s going on and quit borrowing, or they all fail to pay and end up in debtor’s prison. What do you do then?”
“Well, we don’t have debtor’s prison any more, but I get your point. It can all collapse when people start to get worried about how much they owe. But what you do is prepare a golden parachute for yourself.”
“What’s a golden parachute?”
“A golden parachute guarantees that while your business goes bankrupt, you yourself get paid a large sum of money and can continue to live comfortably and even start a new business.”
“How … No, I don’t think I want to know. I’ve been such an amateur at business!”
When Scrooge woke up in the morning he called a boy to go and get the biggest goose from the poulterer. He paid him an extra shilling, explaining that it was Christmas. He sent it to his nephew with a note.
“My dear nephew,” it said. “I want to make sure you make the right impression with your Christmas feast. I think you know how to keep Christmas. Stop by the store tomorrow. I have a proposition for you.”
From now on, thought Scrooge, I’ll keep Christmas right!
From my sister, Betty Nick, received in e-mail and posted by permission. She wrote this when she was a pre-teen.
Christmas is a happy time
With loved ones near;
God must feel sad to have
Another Christmas come
With so many of His children,
So content down here.
* “No!” yelled Evelyn at the apparition. “No! You’ve got it all wrong!”
“As I was saying,” the ghost intoned, “you will be visited by three spirits.”
“Yes, I know. Christmas past, Christmas present, Christmas future. Everybody knows that. It’s been done and redone. But it doesn’t apply to me.”
The ghost looked mildly disturbed, as though programmed to intone certain things and expect certain results. “Before dawn,” it continued, “you will be visited by three spirits.”
“Yes, you said that already,” Evelyn interrupted peevishly. It didn’t help that the ghost looked a great deal like her late husband, a quiet and self-effacing man who could easily lose his place in a conversation if interrupted.
The ghost looked a bit mistier, not to mention mystified. “You will be visited,” it started again.
Evelyn jumped out of her chair, the comfortable recliner where she had been dozing briefly, preparing herself for Christmas eve, a busy night for her. She charged straight at the ghost, unconcerned by its resemblance to her late husband—or perhaps the resemblance drove her on. She was already wearing the Santa suit, one of several items of apparel that helped earn her the nickname “Ms. Claus.”