Authors Note: Fourth in the Christmas Carol series.
Three apparitions stand beside a well lit Christmas tree in a studio setting. A camera pans over to them and then zooms in for a close-up shot of moaning and wailing.
“Welcome to ESP Network Christmas Eve haunting. I am the Ghost of Christmas Now. These are my co-hosts, Christmas Past and Christmas Future. We have a great show coming your way. A new ghostly triad takes on that inscrutable veteran of hauntings, Ebenboozer Scrooge,” says CN, the Ghost of Christmas Now.
“Gentle ghosts. How are you enjoying your retirement?” asks CN.
“Well, CN, I have lots of fond memories of shaming lost spirits back into goodness, but haunting is a young ghost’s game,” says, CP, the Ghost of Christmas Past. “We had our time.”
“Yes, CN, I miss conjuring up terrifying pictures of a lost spirit’s future, but the future is the only way forward. Time to let the young ghosts give it a go. I think they have some great talent and can take goodness through terror to a whole new level with just a little bit of planning and foresight,” says, CF, the Ghost of Christmas Future.
“Nothing like scaring the hell out of someone by showing them the gossip that goes on behind their backs when they don’t show up. I miss it too, but I love the action in the booth and bringing commentary to the eight monitors of the Dead Zone, the ESP Network patented broadcasting venue.”
“I love it too,” says CF. “I still look forward to each and every vicarious haunting.”
“Me too,” says CP. “Our team is still together. Let’s make some future memories.”
CN touches the spiritual transceiver in his left ear. He says to the viewing audience, “Okay. Mary Frickin Christmas is down on the field with Marla, the set-up ghost for tonight who will kick-off the haunting.”
One of the studio monitors shows Mary Frickin Christmas holding a microphone in her hand and Marla at her side.
CN says, “Merry Christmas, Mary Frickin Christmas.”
Mary is dressed in a blue down jacket and exhales the cold of death with each breath. Mary holds her black knit mitten to her ear over her black knit cap to receive the sound from CN. “Merry Christmas to you and the rest of the team. I’m here with Marla, one of Ebenboozer’s oldest and deadest friends.” She turns to Marla, “So what’s your game plan this evening?” She extends the microphone to Marla.
“I think this is just a routine haunting. Ebenboozer was a softy when I knew him. We’ll have him carving roast beast in no time.”
Mary shudders from the chill of death in front of her but maintains her professionalism. “He gave the old team fits back in the day. What makes you think you can turn him around so easily?”
“We have an awesome team of unique talents and the team has a great new playbook with whole new strategies on fear and shaming. But I don’t want to give too much away,” explains Marla.
Mary turns toward the camera. “There you have it. Lot’s of confidence down here on the field, CN. Back to you.”
“Well done, Mary Frickin Christmas,” says CN. He listens to another announcement coming over his spiritual transceiver. “Ok, now over to Holly Daze, reporting to us live from inside the living room of Ebenboozer Scrooge. Happy Holidays, Holly. What’s the mood like on the playing field?”
“Somber. Very somber. I’m reporting to you from the Christmas screen saver on the TV in the living room. The only signs of Christmas in this house are on this screen saver and its candles aren’t lit, its fire isn’t started, and its Christmas tree isn’t even turned on. I don’t feel a single vibe of Christmas. I don’t see any signs of Christmas. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t even know it’s Christmas Eve. I disagree with Marla. A routine haunting isn’t going to cut it. I think this is going to be a much tougher game than they expect. Back to you, CN.”
A shadowy image moves about the screen saver in Ebenboozer’s TV, lighting candles, starting a fire, and turning the Christmas tree on.
“We’re getting close to game time. Time to make your predictions,” says CN.
“I’ve seen this lack of situation awareness a thousand times before,” bodes CP. “I think the home team will prevail.”
“I agree with CP,” says CF. “The visitors better bring more to the game than a routine portrayal of a dismal future or this conversion is over before it starts.”
“Well, I’m going to buck the trend and go with the visitors. It’s going to be a great game. Marla’s opening kickoff is just moments away.”
It’s late at night. Ebenboozer sits alone in his house on Christmas eve working on his computer. On his TV, he has a screen saver showing a warm room with a Christmas tree, decorations, and a fully lit fireplace that makes the TV room glow a warm red. Outside the TV, the room is cold and is lit by a single office lamp.
An apparition passes through the front door dragging streamers of Christmas lights with presents caught in the mesh, clanking and cracking like tossed china.
Ebenboozer rises to greet the apparition and asks, “Who are you?”
“I am Marla, one of your closest friends.”
“Oh. I don’t recognize you. You sure I know you?”
“Sorry, maybe it will come to me later. What do you want?”
“If you don’t change, you will be miserable for the rest of your infinite days.”
“Why should the afterlife be any different?”
“Because it’s a long time,” crones the ghost.
“I don’t want to feel like this, I just do. I want to change. You don’t have to convince me. I need a plan.”
“Oooooh! Aaaaah! Oooooh!” Marla wails. Chains rattle. Lights flicker. The Zoom feed doesn’t freeze. “You will be visited by three different ghosts tonight.”
“Is that counting you?”
“Noooo,” wails Marla.
“Should I run out and get some snacks?”
Ebenboozer drinks his usual nightcap. “Marla? Marla? Nope. I don’t remember a Marla. Maybe she has the wrong Ebenboozer.”
He falls asleep on the couch. The computer screen glows a brilliant white. An apparition emerges from it waking Ebenboozer up.
Ebenboozer, no stranger to apparitions asks, “Who are you?”
In a deep haunting voice, the apparition says, “Oooooh. I am the Ghost of Right Action.”
“The what? The Ghost of Right Action?” Ebenboozer chuckles. “Sure. Okay. Ghost of Right Action. You can dispense with all the theatrics. This is my fourth haunting already. I hear the other guys retired?”
The Ghost of Right Action coalesces into a scruffy-bearded old man with thick bifocal glasses looking more like a middle manager than a ghost. “Forget about those other guys. We are here to talk about you.”
“Okay, let’s get on with it then. What is it you want to show me?”
“That you suck at Christmas. Oooooh.”
Doors open and close. Eggs crack and pop in the refrigerator. The dog licks Ebenboozer’s feet.
The Ghost of Right Action walks over to the nightstand and points to a stack of unopened letters, some postmarked from Christmases two and three years ago.
“Would it kill you to at least open and read the letters?”
“Why? Do you think there is money inside?”
“No, because these people are taking the trouble to let you know that you are in their thoughts on this sacred holiday.”
“So, you think they want money then?”
“It’s not about money.”
“Ha. I’m just playing with ya.”
“Oooooh! Aaaaah! Oooooh!” wails the angry ghost. A picture falls off the wall. The vacuum starts running by itself. The dog rolls on its back hoping for a belly scratch.
“Five lousy minutes. That’s all it would take. Are you telling me you can’t spare five lousy minutes to open the cards?” the ghost chastises.
“Well, I’m seeing who will keep sending for ten or twenty years even though I never respond. That way, I will know who really cares.”
“Jeeeezzz,” sounds the ghost. “Good luck with that. You’re further gone than the reports indicated.”
“Reports? Are you guys spying on me in the off-season?”
“I’m out of here.”
The Ghost of Right Action poofs into nothingness. The recoil from the implosion sends a shock wave through the room knocking down the electronic tree, gusting up the electronic fire, and blowing out the electronic candles, all showing on the TV screen.
Ebenboozer looks up to the ceiling and shouts, “Thanks for nothing. The place is a mess and it smells like smoke.” He scratches his dog under the chin and says, “But at least my feet are clean.”
Ebenboozer lies back on the couch. Just as he starts to drift off into visions of sugar plums, a second ghost materializes in front of him, singing nasally and off-key, “‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la, la la la la.”
Ebenboozer asks, “And who might you be?”
“I am the Ghost of Good Intentions, fa la la, la la la, la la la.”
“The what? The Ghost of Good Intentions?” Ebenezer tries to stifle a laugh.
The Ghost of Good Intentions coalesces into an energetic, fit young woman dressed in a fuzzy-brown reindeer antler headband, a red-nosed ball on her nose, flashing multi-colored Christmas lights blinking randomly about her neck, an elfish green blouse, yoga pants, and stylish suede black boots.
“Okay, let’s get on with it then. What is it that you want to show me?”
“That you suck at Christmas.”
“So, I’ve been told.”
She picks up the remote and flicks through all the inputs. Each input reports “No Signal” in turn. “What’s wrong with your TV? Did you forget to pay your bill?”
“I canceled it. Too many lame choices.”
“Well how are you supposed to get in the spirit of Christmas if you can’t watch any of the great classics? And there are so many wonderful new shows on Netflix and Hallmark.”
“Hallmark? Eeeewwww.” Ebeneezer shudders viscerally at the mention of it.
She turns the channel back to the screen saver. Holly Daze is covertly mouthing the words to her, “What the heck are you doing?”
“Well, let’s get on social media then. We’ll connect and spread cheer online. What accounts do you have? Facebook? Twitter? Insta? Tik-Tok?”
“I only have Facebook, but for all I know, they’ve canceled the account. I haven’t used it in years.”
“Well, I had like a hundred something Facebook friends, but I couldn’t stand any of them.”
“Oooooh! Aaaaah! Oooooh!” she groans with bewildered eyes. Thin wine glasses shatter. Aerosol cans spray aimlessly into the air. The heater kicks on because of the sudden chill in the air.
“How do you connect with anyone?”
“Do I look like I’m connecting with anyone?”
“You’re not supposed to be hanging out here by yourself on Christmas. Christmas is supposed to be fun and cheerful.”
“Well, that is what the drink is for.”
The Christmas lights around her neck all turn red and start blinking in sequence, her antlers grow sharpened tips, and her boots turn from suede to leather.
“Have fun with that. I’m out of here.”
The Ghost of Good Intentions disappears like the roadrunner eluding the coyote leaving nothing but puffs of dust in her wake. The curtains blow after her, a plant topples over spilling its speckled potting soil onto the rug, and the dog shifts to a more comfortable position on the floor.
Ebenboozer turns to his dog and says, “She was pretty hot. Ya think she’d go out with me after the holidays?”
Ebenboozer is sweeping soil from the rug into a dustpan and putting the dirt back into a pot. A third ghost materializes, glowing much brighter than the other two. Ebenboozer shields his eyes from the painful light and then puts on a pair of welding glasses that just happen to be stowed beside the fallen plant. The dog runs and hides behind the couch.
Ebenboozer asks, “And who might you be?”
“I am the Ghost of Radiant Ideology.”
“The what? The Ghost of Radiant Ideology? Where do you guys come up with these names? Do you have a marketing department or something now?”
The Ghost of Radiant Ideology coalesces into a high priest with flowing white robes backlit by a shimmering aura. Ebenboozer keeps on the welding mask as much to prevent retinal damage as to avoid direct eye contact with the high and mighty ghost.
“Ghost of Radiant Ideology, I fear you the most. What is it that you want to show me?”
“That you suck at Christmas.”
“Someone might have mentioned that to me already.”
The radiating priest spreads his arms to the sky. His loose sleeves hang from his wrists giving him the illusory appearance of an enormous giant.
“Ebenboozer. Ebenboozer. This is the season of giving.”
“Hmmm. Feels more like the season of spending.”
“Your gifts would bring joy.”
“Yeah, to the stockholders of the major retail corporations of the world. Isn’t every day already Christmas for them?”
“Spread mirth to all those you touch.”
“I’m not contagious anymore. The doctor cleared up my mirth with some penicillin,” Ebenboozer jests.
“Oooooh! Aaaaah! Oooooh!” moans the Ghost of Radiant Ideology. Plastics in the room prematurely age and crack in the radiant light, an unopened Christmas card spontaneously ignites, which Ebenboozer quickly puts out, and the mirror reflects light back into the room.
“Ebenboozer, why don’t you have a Christmas tree, the very symbol of radiant joy? And lights? And garland?”
“Nobody is coming over. So what’s the point?”
“Good luck with that. I’m out of here,” says the distraught ghost. The Ghost of Radiant Ideology turns off like a light switch.
Ebenboozer takes off the welding mask in the suddenly dark room. He shouts at the vanishing point of the vanished ghost, “Hey, whose power were you using to generate all that light?”
The dog whimpers from behind the couch.
Half Time Show
The camera cuts from the living room back to the studio for the half time report.
“Well that didn’t go too well for the triad,” says CN. “The offense sputtered, dropped the ball, fumbled, and failed.”
“Yep,” says CP. “The Ghost of Right Action started off with a routine nagging.”
A replay of the scene shows on the monitor as CP continues with the voice over.
“Ebenboozer easily deflected the attack with a few distancing jokes.
“The Ghost of Good Intentions tried to follow it up with the good intentions of connecting with other people but without any TV channels or social media connections, she really couldn’t drive the point home. Watch on the replay, as Ebenboozer recoils in disgust. She induced disgust at the thought of connection, not at the lack of it. A major sack on that play.
“Finally, the Ghost of Radiant Ideology comes in all aglow with shallow ideology.
“Back in the good days, we’d come at them hard with a proper shaming. A complete disaster for the triad,” concludes CP.
“The ideology of Christmas goodness is anything but shallow,” protests CN. “Do you think they can turn it around, CF?”
“It all comes down to proper planning and evaluation of your opponent. The triad needs a complete change of tactics. Berating, moralizing, and extravagant glowing aren’t going to get the job done. Ebenboozer has never responded to a proper shaming or force or vacuous ideologies. The triad is going to have to bring the real stuff if they want to turn this one around.”
“Let’s see if we can get some insight from Mary Frickin Christmas, standing outside the purgatory locker room,” says CN.
Mary Frickin Christmas is back standing with Marla. Mary says, “That was a tough first half. I think the triad took the worst of it. What’s the feeling in the locker room?”
“When a ghost has his or her back to the wall, they just go through it. They’ve lined up some new tactics and are ready to turn this thing around. I hope they get him good. I’m so angry he says he doesn’t remember me,” says Marla.
“That’s the inside scoop from purgatory. Down but not out. Back to you CN.”
“Thanks, Mary Fricken Chistmas. Holly Daze, are you there?” The monitor shows Holly Daze cleaning up the mess on the screen saver.
CN says, “Looks like some technical difficulties. Okay, we have an exciting second half coming your way.”
Ebenboozer falls asleep on the couch. The computer screen glows a brilliant white. An apparition re-emerges from it, waking Ebenboozer up. The Ghost of Right Action coalesces back into a scruffy-bearded old man with thick bifocal glasses.
In a deep haunting voice, the apparition says, “Oooooh.”
“You are/I am the Ghost of Right Action,” they say together.
Ebenboozer says, “I think we established that already. What the heck are you doing back here? Is it next year already?”
“Noooo,” wails the Ghost of Right Action.
“Didn’t you cause enough damage for one night? Are you bonded, by the way?”
“Noooo,” wails the Ghost of Right Action. “I just wasn’t finished.”
“Okay, let’s get on with it then. What is it you want to show me this time?”
“I understand it’s a bit of a pain to open up the Christmas cards, and even more of a pain to respond to them.”
“Yeah, I think we’re finally on the same page,” Ebeneezer concurs.
“If you are just responding to make it even, don’t bother. But let’s look at it as an opportunity to invite other people into your world. Why don’t you up the game a little bit and suggest something you can do together. Make an offer. Take the initiative and see what happens?”
“Ooooh,” Ebenboozer responds.
“From where I’m standing, you could use a little a company now and then.”
Ebenboozer glares at the minor slight, but takes up one of the old Christmas cards and opens it.
“From John, the needy bastard. I just saw him less than half a year ago.”
“Now. Now. Did you get something out of the meeting?” The Ghost of Right Action reaches into the computer monitor and pulls out a pen and a blank Christmas card that says, “Merry Belated Christmas.”
Ebenboozer starts writing, “Enjoyed our conversations last summer. Maybe we can do it again sometime sooner.”
When Ebenboozer looks up, a stack of blank cards with stamped envelopes is in a neat pile on the table he is writing on. The Ghost of Right Action has vanished into nothingness as if Ebenboozer had the idea to write the cards all on his own.
Ebenboozer tries to shake off an odd feeling he doesn’t recognize.
Just as Ebenboozer finishes with his Christmas cards, the Ghost of Good Intentions re-materializes in front of him, singing “Now we don our gay apparel, fa la la la, la la la la.” She holds a set of brown furry reindeer antlers and a fuzzy red nose.
Ebenboozer puts his hands to his ears, “It’s going to be a long night, isn’t it? And who talks like that anyway – don our gay apparel?”
“You are/I am the Ghost of Good Intentions,” they say together. “Fa la la, la la la, la la la,” they sing together almost in harmony.
Ebenboozer says, “I think we established that already. What the heck are you doing back here? Haven’t you come down from your sugar rush high already?”
“Ooooh,” she moans. “These are for you. I’ve brought you a reindeer antler headband and a red nose. You can’t feel bad about anything when you are wearing a pair of antlers and a red nose.”
“I suppose not. Who can feel bad about anything when you look ridiculous?”
“Don’t be such a fuddy-duddy.”
She ignores him and puts the antlers on his head and the red ball over his nose.
Ebenboozer rolls his eyes but can’t resist cracking a smile.
“Awwwww,” wails the Ghost of Good Intentions. “Did I see a little wisp of happiness?”
The Ghost of Good Intentions says, “Now you have a dinner you can go to tomorrow. I checked your pantry and refrigerator and you have all the stuff you need to make stuffing. I took the liberty of pre-heating your oven.”
They retreat to the kitchen.
Ebenboozer asks, “What stuff is the stuffing stuff?”
“We’ll start with that loaf of bread that’s harder than an iron anvil.”
Ebenboozer glares at the minor slight, but starts sawing the bread into small cubes.
“You’ll need to chop up an onion and a stalk or two of celery. Then add some spices.”
Ebenboozer finishes stuffing the stuffing stuff onto a skillet full of sizzling butter bubbles. He pours chicken broth from a carton over the mix.
“As soon as the oven is finished heating, stuff the stuffing stuff into the stuffing pan and stuff the stuffing pan into the oven for about forty-five minutes.”
She kisses Ebenboozer on the cheek and disappears in a puff before Ebenboozer has a chance to entertain any thoughts about her that could ruin the moment. On this exit, she breaks nothing more than her fair-scented wind.
Ebenboozer blushes again and shouts after her to cover his embarrassment, “Sure, leave me to do all the hard work.”
The dog sniffs at the cacophony of odors coming from the kitchen. Ebenboozer feels an odd feeling of warmth he is sure is caused by the poor insulation of his oven.
Just as Ebenboozer unstuffs the stuffing from the stuffed stove, the glowing Ghost of Radiant Ideology materializes, not glowing quite so bright as before. Without his backlit aura, the priestly robes look more like an oversized white cotton terry cloth bathrobe.
“You are/I am the Ghost of Radiant Ideology,” they both say together.
“Tough night for you ghosts having to work a double shift,” comments Ebenboozer.
“It’s only once a year and we get paid for the overtime,” answers the Ghost of Radiant Ideology glowing somewhat brighter at the thought of the extra spending money.
“What is it that you want to show me this time? Did you bring me a Christmas tree? Garland? Enough Christmas lights to overload a nuclear power plant?”
“A better analogy,” says the ghost tightening his terry cloth belt.
“A better analogy?” repeats Ebenboozer with disappointment in his voice.
“I think you are half-right about mirth.”
“Really? I’m half-right about something?”
“Yes. Mirth should be contagious, but you shouldn’t try to prevent it from spreading. It’s not a dis-ease. It’s a joy-ease.”
“Yes. The opposite of a disease. You should try to spread it. The more people you infect, the better off you are. The better off they are.”
“You want me to be a joy-ease super spreader?” Ebenboozer giggles at the thought. His reindeer antlers bob rhythmically as he chuckles. You could even say his shiny red nose glowed.
“We can work on the language, but yeah. That’s the idea.”
Ebenboozer can’t wipe the silly grin off his face at the unfamiliar warmth of joyous radiance warming his chest.
The Ghost of Radiant Ideology turns off like a light bulb.
Ebenboozer shouts after him to hide from the discomfort of joy, “I still would have liked a Christmas tree.”
Ebenboozer pulls the curtain open from the window. The dawn is stretching its rosy fingers across the morning sky. Ebenboozer checks the date on his phone.
“Christmas day. Wow! They did it. They did it all in one night.”
He stuffs the stuffing into the refrigerator. “I’ve got a busy day ahead of me. But if I don’t get a little sleep, the only mirth I’m going to spread is kids laughing at me sleeping in my own drool on a couch somewhere.”
Ecstasy reigns in the studio over the incredible comeback. CN, CP, and CF are jumping up and down in unison.
When the excitement fades, CN jumps back into his studio commentary. “Incredible. Simply the most incredible turnaround I have ever seen. What happened out there, CP?”
“A complete Hail, Mary. The triad completely changed their tactics.
“Watch on the replay. First, The Ghost of Right Action nearly fumbles the ball with the crack about him needing company. But then he actually provides genuine support.
“Then the Ghost of Good Intentions finds an opening in the defensive line with the possibility of genuine connection. This is unbelievable. She actually helps him prepare a meal so he won’t feel foolish when he shows up.
“And finally, the Ghost of Radiant Ideology tones down the wattage on his glow to cut through all the hyperbole and bullsh*t. Look at that smile on Ebenboozer’s face. In all my hauntings, both real and vicarious, I’ve never seen anything like it.” He wipes a tear from his eye.
“Any thoughts, CF?”
“I have to give credit to the team. They really came up with a great game plan. Who would have thought that using the tactics of goodness could actually induce it? It’s a real game-changer.”
“Happy Holidays,” says CN.
Holly Daze, still fixing up the screen saver, replies testily, “Maybe once I get this mess straightened out.”
“Merry Frickin Christmas,” says CN to all.
“Merry Frickin Christmas,” to you too, replies Mary Frickin Christmas.
All members of the crew and team members wave as the program fades to black.