Tuesday, December 21, 2004


[Part One]

Marley was gone: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Old Marley was as gone as the old cache. Scrooge never deleted Old Marley's name. There it stood, years afterwards, on the website homepage: Immanentizer, A Blog By Scrooge and Marley. He went on posting as though his partner had only gone on vacation, and would return any moment, though inside he knew the truth, and he was secretly consumed with guilt.

Once upon a time -- of all the good days in the year, on Winter Solstice Eve -- old Scrooge sat busy at his computer. The door of his office was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cubicle beyond was answering email.

"A merry Solstice, uncle! More sunlight ahead!" cried a cheerful voice. It was that of Scrooge's nephew.

"Bah!" said Scrooge, "Humbug!"

"Don't be cross, uncle!" said the nephew.

"What else can I be," returned the uncle, "when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Solstice! Out upon merry Solstice! What's Solstice time to you but a day for celebrating nature without a deity; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not a sacrament holier. If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Solstice' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"

"Uncle!" pleaded the nephew.

"Nephew!" returned the uncle, sternly, "keep Solstice in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."

"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it."

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge. "Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

"Don't be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us tomorrow."

Scrooge said that he would see him -- yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first.

"There isn't any hell, uncle. I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Solstice, and I'll keep my Solstice humour to the last. So A Merry Solstice, uncle!"

"Good afternoon!" said Scrooge.

The clerk, in letting the nephew out, had let two other people in. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Scrooge's office. They bowed to him. "Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?"

"Mr. Marley has been gone these seven years," Scrooge replied. "He disappeared seven years ago, this very night."

"We have no doubt his humanism is well represented by his surviving partner," said the gentleman.

It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word "humanism," Scrooge frowned, and shook his head.

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Brainwashed and Indoctrinated, who suffer greatly at the present season. Many thousands are in fear from religious nightmares; hundreds of thousands are in terror of imaginary afterlifes, sir."

"And your De-programming Camps?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are."

"The Cult Police and the Propaganda Ban are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had come down from Heaven to stop them," said Scrooge.

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish comfort of mind to the frightened multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the victims of religious terror tales some logic and science books. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when mystical Memories are recalled, and materialistic Reassurance is needed. What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied. I don't make merry myself at Solstice and I can't afford to make cowards merry."

"Many foolishly fear torment beyond the grave."

"If they are ignorant of whether anything comes after," said Scrooge, "they had better die, and resolve the uncertainty for themselves. Good afternoon, gentlemen!" Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.

Later one young man stooped down at Scrooge's keyhole to regale him with a Solstice carol: but at the first sound of "There was a wicked messenger....", Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror.

At length the hour of shutting up arrived. Scrooge made his way home, crossing to the other side of one street to avoid the high-pressure hoses the police were using to erase some theistic graffiti from the wall of City Hall -- a drawing of a Nativity scene. At one busy intersection a mounted officer used a stun gun to knock down some crazed homeless man who began shouting about Bethlehem, and holding up what looked like an illegal copy of the Bible. Routine ranting from tiresome troublemakers at this time of year.

At home Scrooge locked himself in and went upstairs to his bedroom. As he sat down in his chair, he heard the street door fly open with a booming sound, and then he heard noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

His colour changed when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the candle's dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, "I know him; Marley's Ghost!" and fell again. His body was transparent, so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.

Scrooge promptly fell on the floor on his hands and knees, touching his head to the carpet, and beseeching the spirit: "Oh, Brother Marley! Thank God you've come back! They said you had all been dissolved by a terrible synthetic virus that turned human flesh into gas, and forbade anyone to speak of the Rapture, but when I found your clothes on the floor, I knew! I knew I'd been a fool all along to deny God, and get left behind with all the other sinners. Then I saw that the Dispensationalists had been right all along. And I hadn't even realized you were a believer! Does your coming here now mean that the seven years of the Great Tribulation have ended, and that God will defeat Satan at Armageddon? Is there any hope for a late convert like me?"

The spectre looked down disdainfully at him and spoke sharply. "You always were a bloody fool, Scrooge! There hasn't been any Rapture, and I'm not a ghost. Marley really is dead, and I'm just a holographic projection in a form we hoped would be familiar to you, and thus less frightening. All the believers were really vaporized by us. We are an advanced species from another star system. We plan to land soon and take over the planet by pretending to be messengers from God. Naturally we didn't want any competing loyalties to other deities around. What we need are some rational people that are practical enough to see through all that mystical cover story and help us organize our new conquest for us. We had thought you would make a perfect P├ętain, but now we're not so sure."

The milky image shifted position and looked thoughtful. "I'll tell you what, Ebenezer, we'll give you another chance. Tonight we'll send you three other holograms, who'll test your thinking and see if you can still be useful to us, or if you're just a hopeless waste that we'd better dispense with. We'll need to do this quickly, because our choices have to be made before the actual Solstice, which will be at 12:42 tomorrow afternoon here in London. Expect the first one in an hour." And he turned, opened the window, and floated into the air.

Scrooge stood looking up at the empty sky, then looked down at the street. Two children playing in the snow saw him and shouted "A Merry Solstice to all!" He tried to say "Humbug!" but stopped at the first syllable. Scrooge closed the window, and being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the Invading Forces, or the heated harangue of the Hologram, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose; went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the instant, hoping this was all a dream caused by an undigested bit of beef.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com