HUMBUGGED • by Paul A. Freeman

Scrooge removed a shilling from his purse. “Thank you for making sure my old friend Jacob rests in peace,” he said, handing the coin to the sexton.

“Very generous, guv,” said the gravedigger. “And a Merry Christmas to you.”

Returning from the graveyard, Scrooge pondered why he had been the sole mourner at Jacob’s burial. Perhaps, due to the vagaries of the country’s postal service, the funeral invitations had gone astray.

At Scrooge and Marley’s Loan and Mortgage, the clerk sat before a roaring fire, his boots off, wiggling his toes before the flames.

“How goes it, Bob?” said Scrooge.

“Wonderfully,” said Bob Cratchit. “Your festive, interest-free loans for the poor have proven most popular. Er, tomorrow’s Christmas Day. I was wondering…”

“Yes! Yes! Take the week off.” Scrooge handed him an envelope. “Here’s your Christmas bonus.”

The clerk opened the envelope, counted out three one-pound notes and pouted.

Noting his clerk’s distress, Scrooge reached into his frockcoat and extracted another one-pound note. “For your good lady,” he said, but seeing Bob was still not placated, added: “Let’s make that a fortnight off work.”

Later, while lying in bed and contemplating the wisdom of his generosity, the apparition of his recently-departed partner appeared before him.

“Open-handedness has been my downfall,” Jacob wailed, “and will be yours, too. Every jackanapes takes advantage of you, laughing behind your back. Now, mark my words, Ebenezer. Three spirits will visit you this Christmas Eve night, to teach you the error of your ways.”

With this Marley’s Ghost floated away through the closed window, and in his place stood a flickering, phantasmagorical being – the Ghost of Christmas Past.

The spectre took Scrooge by the hand and transported him back to his apprenticeship days, to an accountants’ warehouse and to one of old Frizzywig’s famous Christmas shindigs.

“Do you remember this particular Christmas?” asked the ghost.

“I’d rather not,” said Scrooge, as his munificent boss, after years of indulging wastrels and idlers, keeled over with a heart attack while energetically waltzing with Mrs Frizzywig.

“Such is the reward of benevolence,” lamented the spectre.

Moments after, Scrooge and the ghost were in a London park. Scrooge’s former self, in threadbare attire, was talking to a well-dressed young woman bedecked with expensive jewellery.

“We can marry next spring, Belle,” Scrooge was saying, “as long as I can borrow enough money.”

“What? Should I wed a pauper?” laughed the woman, fingering the gold-and-ruby necklace about her neck. “You’re too liberal a wretch, by far. Just imagine how much money you’ve wasted on me. How can I possibly wed such an irresponsible spendthrift?”

The older Scrooge covered his eyes in despair. When he looked again, the Ghost of Christmas Present stood before him; a portly, florid-faced creature, dressed in red, with a bottle of gin tucked inside the belt encircling its ample girth.

“Come!” said the ghost, taking Scrooge’s hand.

They flew to a distant, windswept moor, where a family of miners was taking a day’s respite from toiling in the bowels of the earth. Sitting about the hearth of a meagre fire, they lustily sang Christmas carols.

“They should be at the coalface, making Britannia great,” remarked the ghost. “Not engaging in such frivolity.”

Scrooge nodded. The spirit certainly had a point.

Next, they were hovering above London. Bob Cratchit was leaving church, on Christmas morning, huffing and puffing along the road with Tubby Tim upon his shoulders.

“I hope you’ve bought us better presents this year,” Tubby Tim whined.

“Of course I have, my little angel,” Bob panted. “My idiot boss has made sure of that with his ridiculous generosity.”

Before Scrooge could utter a word of consternation, he and the ghost were at Scrooge’s nephew’s house, where a glorious meal was in progress.

“So I told the old fool I was arranging a Christmas gathering just for younger folk this year, and that the occasion would not be conducive for one of his mature years,” said the nephew. “And guess what? He agreed to it, and still gave me ten pounds towards our festivities, even though he wasn’t invited.”

The assembly laughed uproariously.

When Scrooge turned around to vent his fury, he was back at the cemetery where he buried Jacob Marley. The Ghost of Christmas Future was standing in front of him; a spare, skeletal figure in a black cloak.

Beside Marley’s unkempt grave was a new grave, with the tiniest, poorest quality gravestone imaginable. On it, misspelled, was the name: ‘Abborneezer Scourge’. In contrast, the surrounding funerary monuments comprised ostentatious tombs, carved stone sarcophagi and ornate gravestones as big as obelisks, all constructed from the finest Italian marble.

“Noooo!” cried Scrooge, raging at the heavens; and when he looked down again, he found himself back on the snow-covered streets of London.

The first order of business was to punch a carol-singing vagrant in the face. “Go find a job, you wastrel,” he told him.

Scrooge strode off to one of the more upmarket districts of town, where his nephew was just arriving home. He was escorting his wife’s sisters, one on each arm, ogling their ample bosoms.

“I’m disinheriting you,” said Scrooge. “Striking you from my will, Sir. Good-day.” With that he flipped his nephew the finger and continued on his way.

His last port of call was Bob Cratchit’s humble tenement. Through a window Scrooge discovered that his largesse was feeding a burgeoning brood of obese Cratchits, as well as clothing Mrs Cratchit and her daughters in the richest attire.

“If we’re to continue living in the way we’re accustomed,” Mrs Cratchit told her husband, “ask that silly old goat Scrooge for a raise. We could even move into a semi-detached if that moron gives you enough dosh.”

Scrooge bent down, compacted some freshly-fallen snow and threw it through the Cratchits’ window.

“Christmas is a humbug! Count yourself fired, Bob!” he yelled, and stomped off.

All were speechless in the Cratchit household, except for Tubby Tim, who observed, “Gawd help us, every one!”

Paul A. Freeman reads A Christmas Carol (Dickens), The Gift of the Magi (O. Henry) and The Blue Carbuncle (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) every Yuletide. This is the second time he’s given a fresh spin on the story of Scrooge.

Help us keep the daily stories coming with Patreon.

Rate this story:
 average 3.2 stars • 24 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction