You know what my Christmas stories have been missing up to this point? A love story. How about the story of the Fourth ghost that Ebenezer saw that night. The ghost that actually opened Scrooge’s heart and mind to what the Ghost of the Future had to show him.
Look out tomorrow for the truth about Rudolph and my closing remarks.
You know Ebenezer Scrooge don’t you? Of course you do. He’s iconic. Scrooge, Marley, and the Four Christmas Ghosts.
What’s that?You only know of three? That’s right. Old Charlie decided that the story would have more of an impact if seeing his past, present and being forced to realize the lonely future he would have if he stayed on his path were what led Scrooge towards his inevitable change toward the better.
And that’s a beautiful sentiment but there was a fourth spirit. Between the present and the future. He was brief and (admittedly) somewhat useless, but he was there and he deserves to have his story told just like the others. He was not the most profound of spirit but he served his purpose in preparing Ebenezer to hear what the future spirit had to say. Or point.
You know what I mean.
Scrooge shivered after being left, invisible, in the cold December dark on the outskirts of town.
He called out to the spirit of the Present to return him to his bed. His calls, however, went ignored or unheard.
Scrooge went to huddle with the homeless by a neglected fire.
Suddenly he heard the sound of someone tripping over their own feet, somehow both very close and very far away at the same time.
“Hello?” Scrooge called half-heartedly; It really was a bother to be there and have no one realize it.
“You’re telling me.” Spoke an out of breath, awkward looking man shimmering into view.
The spirit was tall, thin and held himself as a person whose limbs had always been too long for his body and he was just acclimating to being proportional.
He was less formal looking than the other two. No gowns or extravagant robes. Just a regular three piece similar to what Ebenezer wore to his office every day.
“Are you the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?” Scrooge asked.
The spirit, fumbling with a canvas he had been carrying barely paused to answer.
“What? No. No. I’m the ghost of What-Could-Have-Been. qqq wThings that might happen on any given path; things that could have been if you had chosen different roads at any given time from any given choice. Things like that.” He was setting the canvas, which Scrooge now saw held hand painted graphs.
“Didn’t the other spirits cover that already?”
“They can only show you on a very small scale. I can show you any outcome from every possible situation and the events that would or would not have led to said outcome.
“That sounds rather time consuming,” Scrooge answered, grimacing. The Sprits face fell momentarily and then he recovered. He was used to that reaction after a few centuries of following up the other two.
“Let me show you one thing. One ending you could have had. Let me show you Belle.”
“The last spirit already showed me Belle. I have no desire to see her again, thank you.” Ebenezer crossed his arms, nodding his head as though to say “that’s that.” He was freezing but he still had his dignity thank you very much.
“He showed you Belle with her husband and their children. You saw who she became with him and what she now thinks of you. Haven’t you ever wondered what would have happened if you had followed her that day so many years ago?’
‘Their ending together would not have been yours.”
Scrooge hesitated. He had wondered from time to time what would have become of him if he had followed her. Who hasn’t lay awake at night replaying moments in their lives with different endings? Belle had been his only love. And he had loved her deeply.
The person he had become, greedy and cold as he may have be had began as a genuine effort to be good enough for her. His father had drilled it into his head that he no one would ever love him. All he wanted was to be worthy.
It was ironic. Trying to be good enough to deserve her had driven her away from him.
“Okay.” Scrooge said, his voice barely a whisper and cracking as he spoke through the lump that had formed. He was afraid of what he might see next.
Would he have made her miserable or would he have made her happier than ever? Could he have learned to want more than money?
“Take my hand,” the spirit said. Scrooge put his hand on the skeletal hand of the ghost.
In a dizzying whirlwind they landed flat on their backs in a mercifully soft snow drift.
“Sorry. Sorry. Still working on the landing.” the spirit said, standing up and shaking powdery snow off his brown overcoat. He reached a hand down to Scrooge and heaved him to his feet.
It took a moment, but Ebenezer located Belle. She was smiling hugely, holding hands lovingly with an older Scrooge who was half laughing, half speaking. Four little girls screamed with delight as they ran between and around their parents legs playing tag. They all ranged from 5 years old to probably about sixteen or seventeen Scrooge guessed.
Scrooge and the spirit followed silently behind him. The spirit was content with silence and Scrooge was lost in thoughts he wished would leave him alone.
The older Scrooge still laughing, though now Belle spoke, telling her own story when Scrooge’s old partner, Jacob Marley, ran up the path towards them. He paused only long enough to pick up the youngest daughter.
The current day Ebenezer felt his jaw drop.
“Are you really trying to tell me that if I had gone after Belle Jacob would have lived?” Scrooge asked, baffled and full of doubt. He felt as though he had been tricked.
“Humans can rarely see the consequences of their smallest actions. You following Belle would not have only changed your and Belle’s lives. It would have changed his as well not to mention the lives of most of the people you have met since you let her leave. None of your conversations that you remember ever happened. Marley lives because he has something to live for. He died because he had nothing to hold on to. Nothing to fight for. Love of money is never enough to save a life in despair, Ebenezer. Despite what you have convinced yourself. Marley got sick around the time that Belle became pregnant with Christa there. He got better after she was born.”
The spirit continued walking while Ebenezer let it all sink in.
“Now you know for certain how your life could have ended, Ebenezer.”
“Is that all you have to show me?”
“Do you need anything else for me to make my point?”
“No.” Scrooge said, looking away. Then,”Why the chart?”
“What? You think you’re my only appointment tonight?” the spirit scoffed and then vanished, leaving Scrooge back in the cave just in time for the Spirit of Christmas Future to drag him away.
All the while, from one desolate, lonely place to the next Scrooge was painfully aware of what he had seen and where he might have been.
And when he saw the tombstone with his own name burned into the granite and realized what would become of him, he pictured her smiling face, hand in his, sending him off with a kiss.