The very appearance of Marley’s rotting skull was indescribable, the meaty flesh, its blood-soaked nature, the long, tangled whiskers, the sound of bone on bone, the smell of the rot and the mold. Marley brought more with his appearance than a typical ghost. Any other would slide through the folds of a curtain, sit in the corner, and yearn for life. A typical apparition only floated around, incessantly howling an unsounded howl. Scrooge’s old boss, however, was profoundly atypical.
The reader must understand that in contrast with the ghosts to come, Marley’s ghost brought the greatest impact upon his victim. Scrooge was immediately alarmed at the mere surprise of the situation. He had just been thinking of the man when he noticed the reflection in the doorknob. And now – now, the man stood, albeit a half-meter above the floorboards, more than an observer of Mr. Scrooge’s patterns of slumber.
Behind him and about his girth were links of chain, more often than not constructed of bank boxes and rusted purses. The links were solid and strong, without weld marks or stresses in the metal, as if forged not as individual links, but as a whole chain. The chains looked heavy even for a spirit. And the noise – the noise, as ironic as it sounds, would disturb the dead.
With his family in the next room, nary a wall betwixt them, Scrooge sat up at the noise and calamity. “Quiet!” He whispered and shouted at the same time.
“Dare you silence me?” Marley returned.
“I silence you and all of Hell fire, dreadful apparition! Allow a man his own retirement,” Scrooge ordered.
The spirit peered around the little room. “I see no man, Clerk. A man…”
“The man before you is no longer offended by your insults, Mr. Marley. Do you rather alert my family in the next room with the clattering and clanging of your blasted chain?”
“Scrooge,” replied Marley, drawing out the name, “No one can hear us.”
“Bah! You appear to be Jacob Marley, but are more likely a hunger pang. Now allow a working man to sleep.”
“You do not believe I am real, Clerk?”
“Are you not the smartest ghost in the room?” said Scrooge.
Ignoring the sarcasm, the ghost continued: “Listen to me, mortal. Surely you do not believe I would choose to watch you sleep, do you?”
“We will never move forward if you do not admit that you see me, Mr. Scrooge.”
Scrooge raised and lowered one shoulder. “Very well…I suppose you will be leaving now.”
The spirit laughed breathily. “A little respect, dear sir! I was your boss in life, and I continue to dominate you in my death.”
“How canst you dominate anything with half of a face? Is not life superior to death?”
“Your life is not superior to my death, Ebenezer! I know that to be truth, and you believe as much.”
Scrooge shrugged. “Bah! You have me. Wouldst that I could die in peace!”
“Dying in peace, in your current state, peasant, is an impossibility,” said the ghost. “Gaze upon these chains. They are the chains of every man – forged in life and borne in death. Each link represents a soul I beat down, a man’s family that I belittled, a man that I stepped on.”
“Why are you bothering me with this?” asked Scrooge.
“You say that I bother. I say that I warn. Unless you correct your errors, you will bear a similar chain,” said the ghost. “Like your old boss, you will walk among the living, cashboxes and ledgers around your neck. Like me, you shall weigh heavily with thoughts of what you might have done differently.”
“My life is already unbearable, ghost! And you tell me my death will be worse. I find your exposition difficult to swallow.” Scrooge pulled the blanket over his cold brow. “It is all humbug! Humbug, I say.”
“It is my business, Ebenezer!” The ghost raised his voice. “I wander the earth, dragging this load about my shoulders. And I know the destiny that you forge. You believe yourself to be poor, do you not? You consider your destiny to be doomed to poverty. You ponder and cogitate about solutions and have not found any. You think you are stuck in a rut…and why? Pray tell you are stuck in a rut and do not see a way out of it.”
Scrooge peered out from his blanket, steam rising from breath. “I do not see a way out of it, Marley!” he recognized. “But I see no reason for your taunting!”
“Shut your mouth, Clerk.” The ghost had enough. “Those growths on the sides of your pathetic head are used for listening, man,” he said. “The hole in the front is open far too often, and you spew vomit rather than words. Open the growths and shut the hole.” Scrooge said nothing.
“You purpose to belittle me – you and every man I encounter.”
“I need not do so,” said the ghost. “I warn you now that you may change paths. I shall not be the last spirit to visit you, sir. You should know there are more to come. Three spirits will visit your bedchamber.”
“One at a time?” asked the clerk.
“Can’t they arrive all at once and let me sleep. Already the air is filled with phantoms, and I can’t bear the stench.”
“They will arrive in succession, sir, one at a time and with order and truth,” the ghost returned. As he spoke, the ghost’s body and voice, chains and all, faded into invisibility. Scrooge was left alone in the moisture-laden room.
“Ridiculous!” said he. “Bah humbug! I must rid myself of thought. There is enough to worry a man without these so-called ghosts.” Laying his head on the blanket, he tried to lose consciousness, but try as he might – hungry, cold, and worthless – sleep only half came.