Cratchit splashed a bucket of grayish water on the ghost, and Marley melted away into the floorboards.
“You owe me one, Bob,” Scrooge said to his impoverished clerk. “Even though it seemed like he was coming after me, he was really coming to raise your taxes.”
Marley’s ghost reappeared an hour later with an ice pack over his eyes. He locked the door this time, then turned his infernal aspect upon Scrooge and said in a grave voice, “Ebenezer Scrooge, tonight you will be visited by three ghosts.”
Scrooge frowned. “Three ghosts? What exactly are you protesting — my past, my present, or my future? Your message is confusing.”
Marley tried again. “I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance to escape my fate.”
“What’s so awful about your fate? You’re dead, so by my calculations you don’t even pay income tax, you freeloading corpse.”
“I pay sales tax on chain polish,” Marley said quietly, and he held up a few shiny links as evidence.
“Hah, yum-hug!” exclaimed Scrooge. Noticing Marley’s puzzled expression, he added, “I had my exclamations focus-grouped by a political consultant, and ‘Bah, humbug’ doesn’t test well with peddlers.”
Marley gritted his teeth. “Perhaps this will convince you.” He set up another cry, clanked his chains and unwrapped the bandage round his head. His lower jaw dropped down upon his chest.
Scrooge recoiled in horror. “I suppose now you’ll expect me to pay for your health care.”
Marley disappeared to rethink his strategy.
By the time the ghost returned it was nearly dawn. “Ebenezer, I beg you!” he cried. “Have you no shred of compassion to spare for the less fortunate, or have you hoarded away your mercy alongside your wealth? Can you not see that while the poor have gotten poorer, you and your fellow misers have gotten richer?”
“I’m going to stop you there,” Scrooge said, casually leafing through a money-lending chart. “We don’t call ourselves misers anymore. We prefer the term ‘joy-creators.’ And what you and your fellow ghosts are asking for is a radical redistribution of Christmas spirit.”
On Christmas morning, Marley was too discouraged to materialize. He hailed a carriage from the graveyard to Scrooge’s office.
“So, how were the other ghosts’ visits?” Marley asked after making cautious small talk about the weather. “Did they show you how a paltry sacrifice on your part would make an immeasurable difference in the lives of the less fortunate?”
In response, Scrooge held up a copy of that day’s newspaper with the headline, “Ghost of XXX-mas: Spirit Arrested for Peeping.”
“I called the cops when I caught the Ghost of Christmas Present outside my nephew’s house,” he said. “He was crouching in the bushes beneath his window, spying on the cheer inside.”
“He was trying to show you that the wealth of a man is not measured by his bond portfolio, but by his bond with his fellow man!”
“Yum-hug! I suppose next you’ll tell me friendship is golden, but I checked with commodities speculators and they assure me it’s tin, at best.”
Marley started heading for the door.
“Cheer up, Marley, it wasn’t all for naught. When the Ghost of Christmas Future wasn’t looking, I asked one of the mourners at my funeral who won the World Series, and come October I’m hoping to make a killing.”
Marley didn’t reappear till New Year’s Eve. When he did, he found Scrooge alone in his office writing a generous check.
“I’m glad our message of charity warmed some small cobwebbed corner of your heart,” Marley said.
“Charity?” Scrooge said. “I have to get this donation to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform Foundation before the end of the year for the deduction to count.”
Marley slumped into an armchair and wept. Scrooge laid his hand on where Marley’s shoulder would have been. “I appreciate what you tried to do,” he said, “but times have changed. For instance, thanks to Tiny Tim’s sugary soft drink consumption, we now call him that only ironically. If you ghosts really wanted to influence someone’s opinion, you’d have bought your own newspaper like I did.”
He showed Marley that day’s paper, headlined, “Bedford Falls FAIL: George Bailey Gets Bailout From Socialist Townsfolk.” Marley continued his sobbing.
“Why don’t you get a job?” Scrooge challenged Marley. “It’ll take your mind off this whole income inequality thing, which if you ask me is just typical postmortem liberal guilt. Tell you what, I’ll hire you back at half your old salary. I’m going to be swamped next year collecting debts from all the paupers that those other ghosts showed me.”
Marley’s spirit’s spirit finally slackened. “I do miss the end-of-year bonuses,” he sighed. Scrooge handed him a W-4 form.
Frank Lesser is a writer for “The Colbert Report” and the author of “Sad Monsters: Growling on the Outside, Crying on the Inside.”
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