A Dickens of a Dream

by blondie AKA robin and NoMoreThanUsual

Summary:

At seventeen, Bella had a warm, dry, happy life in Arizona with her mom and stepdad. Can a wayward thought, an old movie, and a group of breathtakingly beautiful, golden-eyed spirits lead her to her cold, wet destiny?

* A fanciful Twilight retelling of A Christmas Carol*

(And, really, who wouldn't prefer Edward to an ugly old ghost?!)

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

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Authors' Notes:

NoMoreThanUsual: Blondie contacted me a few weeks ago to suggest working together to write this idea that came to her while in church. And well, since we're both going to hell anyways and since it sounded like so much fun, how could I say no? LOL

In doing some research, I found Charles Dickens' original preface to his 1843 book interesting and oddly relevant.

I have endeavored in the Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their house pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

The last line just makes me giggle!

blondie: Yes, twilght invades my every moment, it seems! Luckily my friend NoMoreThanUsual understands the obsession for all things twilight - even in Christmas. This is meant as canon...but since it's all a dream, we get to play just a little.

Since this first chapter is being posted on Christmas Eve, we'd like to wish everyone Happy Holidays!

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Chapter 1: Marley's Ghost

Christmas Eve, 2004
Scottsdale, Arizona

"This is the last one, Bella, and it's from me." Mom handed me a small box wrapped in wrinkled paper I recognized from last year. She was nothing if not environmentally conscious.

"Mom, you've given me enough already." I waved at the small pile of books and clothes she and Phil had showered me with.

"Come on Bella, it's Christmas. Besides I made this one myself."

Carefully I unwrapped the present, wondering if it contained the results of Renée's latest failed endeavor, hydroponic gardening. It'd taken her six weeks to learn that living in a desert made water-based gardening a very complicated proposition.

Lifting the lid, I was pleasantly surprised to see the gift had come from her previous hobby, kachina doll carving. A small wooden statue greeted me – a man, presumably, dressed in a costume representing a bird, I guessed.

"Wow, Mom, thanks." I overlooked the uneven separation of the feathers and nervous squiggles in the paint and accepted the gift as a sincere token of my mom's love.

"It's an eagle dancer. I thought of you, growing up and spreading your wings, while I carved it." She sniffled. "You're getting so old."

I cringed. "Seventeen isn't old, Mom. Give me a break."

"Renée worked on that for three weeks, Bella. I've never seen her so intense before," Phil said, rubbing Mom's shoulders with the same mushy grin on his face I'd seen on too many of the teenagers at school this year.

You missed her homemade paper phase, Phil. Now THAT was intense, I wanted to say, but just nodded instead. He'd only been part of our life for a couple of years so he'd missed a lot. As my mom's new husband, he was still catching up on what really excited my mom, hobby-wise, at least.

"Phil helped me pick out the colors for the costume," Renée added, batting her eyes at him.

With a mumbled "thanks to both of you" I added the doll to my little pile and prepared to pack-mule it into my room. One present remained under the tree, but I wouldn't open that one until tomorrow. Charlie had always insisted I open my presents on Christmas Day, and though I hadn't spent a Christmas with him in years, I still honored his tradition in this small way.

Charlie...with a guilty twinge I realized I hadn't called him yet. After I'd sent him this month's letter and gift – a 'Fly Fisherman's Friend' – I hadn't really given him a second thought. I grabbed the phone on my way out of the family room.

"Merry Christmas, Dad," I said when the ringing on the other end stopped.

"Same to you, Bells. Got your gift – it's real pretty under the tree." Charlie cleared his throat. We both knew he didn't have a tree. The little box was probably sitting next to the TV remote.

"Open it first thing, kay?" When Charlie wasn't working, he was fishing, and I figured he'd be going out tomorrow. Christmas morning isn't special when you're alone, I thought with a pang.

"I always do," he said. "Wish you were here, hon. It's been a long time since you've visited Forks. Your room misses you."

Guilt washed through me. I loved my dad, but hated the cold, wet, backwoods town he lived in. "Has it stopped raining yet?" I asked with a half-hearted laugh.

"It's actually supposed to be sunny tomorrow, you know, and it hasn't snowed much this year." The noise in the background disappeared; he'd switched off the TV. "You're always welcome, you know that, don't you, Bells?"

Charlie was never one to push me into anything, but I could hear how much he missed me. "Careful, you might end up with a roommate," I joked.

"That would be a Christmas present," he mumbled. "Anytime," he said louder, to me. "I wouldn't get in your way."

No, he wouldn't. He and I both enjoyed our personal space.

The awkward silence lasted a few seconds too long as we both realized we'd run out of things to say – already.

"So I'll call you tomorrow afternoon, if that's all right. I expect some major gushing over your Christmas present," he chuckled.

"You bet, Dad. I love you."

"Love you too, Bells," he croaked.

I tried to swallow the lump in my throat as I pushed the 'End' button. Charlie'd gotten the short end of the stick when it came to me – we only spent a couple of weeks together every year. He never complained, but I knew he wished for more time.

Truth be told, I did too. I just wish he lived some place dry.

I snuck back out to replace the phone, trying to avoid attracting Mom and Phil's attention. They were cuddled together on the couch, ignoring the grainy movie on TV.

"Why did you get married?" a grumpy Scrooge intoned.

"Because I fell in love," was the reply.

"The time will go by so fast, you won't even miss me, baby," Phil said softly. He stroked Mom's hair. "You could come out for a week, couldn't you?"

Mom shook her head. "I can't leave Bella here alone."

"Renée, Bella is completely capable of taking care of herself for a week. It's you I worry about." Phil did know my mom well enough to understand she'd lose her right hand if it wasn't attached.

"Are there no prisons?" Scrooge grumbled.

"I'd miss her too," Mom whimpered. "I'd worry."

The TV flickered. "Plenty of prisons."

I slunk back to my room, images of iron bars and black stripes filling my head. Was I imprisoning my mother? Phil was closer to my age than hers, but she loved him so much. I knew she was reliving her youth through the young baseball player, but she never had grown up, not really. My birth had taken away her twenties...and now she had a chance to experience them again.

I flopped down on my bed and counted the hand-painted stars on my ceiling. Phil at least had had the decency to keep his real desire quiet. I knew he wanted much more than a week out of my Mom. He wanted her to stay in Florida with him during training camp, and beyond, no doubt. But he hadn't even broached that subject with her, to the best of my knowledge.

Mom definitely could have done worse than Phil.

Seeing her torn between me and him made me feel like Scrooge. She'd never leave me here, though, and as a minor, my options were limited. Or were they? A ridiculous idea materialized.

From the rough-hewn frame on my nightstand, Charlie stared at me. "Anytime," he'd said. Did he truly mean it?

No, I couldn't move in with him. Go to live in that drippy, dank forest? All ten of the students at the tiny school would notice when I showed up – I liked the invisibility of living in the big city. I couldn't remember if the town even had a library. And whoever said hell didn't have snowballs had never been to Forks.

With a quiet rap, my door cracked open. "We're calling it a night, Bella. Merry Christmas, baby." Mom tried to hide her red-rimmed eyes with a huge smile.

"Merry Christmas, Mom. I love you."

"See you in the morning. No peeking at your Santa presents," she scolded.

I hadn't believed in Santa Claus since I was four, but she still maintained the illusion. "Of course not." I'd keep my eyes closed when I put her gift under the tree in the morning.

Was the travel votive set I'd gotten her an omen I'd missed?

Me, in Forks. To free Mom from the prison I'd created for her, I'd have to incarcerate myself.

I forced a smile onto my lips as she closed the door, then shut off my light. Escaping into sleep was a gift I'd indulge in tonight.

I knew I was dreaming when I opened my eyes and found myself in a nineteenth century bedchamber. The curtains hanging around my bed were dark and musty. The crackle of a nearby fire was interrupted by the clink of metal.

This wasn't my normal fantasy about Mr. Darcy, it seemed.

Happy to discover I was wearing my normal t-shirt and sweats, I fumbled around, trying to open the curtain and see what the noise was. The sound, and the bed, were familiar somehow, but I couldn't place them.

Finding the break in the curtain, I flopped onto the cold wood floor with a grunt.

"That was graceful," a soft, melodic voice teased gently. "You are, however, right on time."

At that moment loud, menacing chimes filled the room. As I collected myself and stood, I counted out twelve. Midnight, of course. I turned slowly to see who had invaded my dreamspace this night.

What greeted me was a glowing profile. Not quite a man, but not a boy, he stooped down toward the fire, a metal rod in his hand. The poker crashed against the grate and andirons as he stirred the blazing logs, sounding like chains banging together.

A single candle on the rickety wooden table and half-finished dinner next to it completed the scene for me.

"I'm Scrooge, aren't I?" I asked.

The poker disappeared from the ghostly guy's hand, seeming to have levitated back into its stand. He straightened up and turned on his heel.

"No, I don't think so, Bella. You look nothing like the crotchety old man Dickens envisioned." He straightened his surprisingly contemporary Oxford shirt, but my eyes were glued to his face. His hair, gilded in molten copper, mimicked the flames, rising and dancing above his strong forehead. But it was his eyes that held me. His golden eyes seemed to burn like the fire behind him, set in his deathly pale face.

He was fantastically beautiful.

"You're not...exactly Marley...either," I said, my voice cracking twice. "No chains?"

He chuckled, and the sound sent ripples of warmth through my chest. "No, not exactly. But damnation comes in many forms." His sculpted lips turned down in a heart-rending frown. "But that's not why you're here."

"I was wondering about that." I may not be the most socially adept person, but "Bah, humbug" had never left my lips. I didn't even scold my mother for having given me too many presents this year – okay, maybe just a little.

"What do you know of love, Bella?" My beautiful Marley picked up the fork lying on the table and fiddled with the gray substance filling the plate.

His fingers were so smooth and graceful.

"Um...love?" What kind of dream was this? Love? I looked at the fire, like it could give me a clue. Dancing in the orange and red was a hazing image of Renée and Phil, holding hands. More pieces fell into place. "I get it – Phil and Mom. I thought myself Scrooge for making Mom choose between me and him."

"Who's Phil?" the ghost asked, having lost interest in dissecting the 'meal.' He wasn't very informed, it seemed, but with a face like that, I'd forgive him anything.

"My stepdad." He cocked his head, confused, and I waved my hand, erasing the thought. "It doesn't matter, don't worry about it. The real question is: Who are you?" I looked a little closer, and realized I couldn't see through him. "Are you a ghost come to tell me that if I loved my mother I'd move away?" My imagination had gone haywire, clearly.

Marley laughed louder this time, and a delicious tingling covered my skin. "A ghost...that's a new one." He regarded me for a moment. "I suppose that's about as good as anything. This is all a dream anyway, right?"

"Right," I said, breathless. Please let me remember him, please let me remember him, I chanted.

"Actually, I'm not certain why I'm here. My sister said I was at a crossroads. Maybe you're supposed to help me."

It was my turn to giggle. "Help you what? I can't do anything – I'm pretty much invisible."

His nostrils flared and the smile disappeared. "Nonsense. A person would have to be blind, deaf, and dumb to not recognize you as an angel." Before I could argue, a completely incongruous buzz filled the room. The ghost reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone.

What kind of dream was this?

"Yes," he said into the shiny object, irritated. "That seems trite don't you think? ... Very well ... You'll see that she's kept safe?" His lips thinned. "I understand." The phone vanished. "You're not going to believe this," he started.

Suddenly I had to touch him, and rested my hand on his sleeve. Like an ice cube wrapped in a towel, cold radiated out through the fabric, but I didn't flinch. "Sure I will, it's my dream." I smiled up at him, hoping he'd smile back.

With a crooked smirk he pulled away. "Okay, Scrooge, your dream." He took a deep breath, and in a low, hallow voice said, "You will be haunted by three spirits." Sweeping his arm around regally, I expected him to take a bow after delivering such a corny line.

I laughed instead.

"I'm doing my best here," he complained, but grinned.

I tried to put on a serious face. "Sorry. Let me guess, Christmas past, present, and future, right?" Future...would I see my dead self? My old self? I shivered.

The ghost took blurry step toward me. He was incredibly fast.

"Don't worry, Bella, this is just a dream. I don't think any of us knows what it means, and none of it's real." His alabaster hand rose to my face, but stopped before he touched me. I could feel the chill of his skin from inches away, but I felt comforted, none the less.

"Okay," I murmured.

A soft, genuine, smile curled his lips. "Good. I think you know the drill." He glanced at the huge grandfather clock in the corner. "And my time is up."

"Wait! Will I see you again?" Dream or not, I didn't want him to go.

His gaze fell to the floor. "I don't know. I'm not..." The buzzing of his cell phone interrupted him again. "I guess I'm saying too much." The vibrating stopped.

He walked over to the bed and parted the curtain with a flourish. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Bella."

Reluctantly, I climbed back into bed. "It was nice to meet you too. I hope I see you again...what was your...?"

The curtains closed and the clock chimed once. "Goodbye," I whispered.

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