One Last Chance

When Scrooge saw his knocker, he couldn't believe it. It simply could not be. This phenomenon, this hideous, yet so endearing phenomenon, sent chills through his spine, drained the color from his once ruddy cheeks, made his fingers tremble in horror, yet also anticipation, and stopped his very breath – so much, so that his heart almost stopped. Its mussed hair, wide, impassive eyes – void of any compassion, or liberality, its unhallowed, spectral face, were all familiar to him. Scrooge was not mistaken. This phenomenon…the knocker was once again Jacob Marley's face.

"Marley!" Scrooge's voice quivered as his brain fully processed what was going on, "Marley! Oh, Marley! My dear friend!" A silent echo, leaving Scrooge with an apprehensive, foreboding thought, resounded in the dark, foggy night, with not but one forlorn star standing boldly in the sky, accompanied by a full moon, enshrouded by obscure clouds. With a sudden urge to see Marley, Scrooge dashed through the door, galloped up the stairs, tripping with childlike anticipation, and panted with exhaustion as he slammed his bedroom door, locked it, and began swiftly putting on his dressing gown and nightcap. At last, as he adjusted the cap on his head, he sighed in satisfaction and plopped down in his chair, right beside his capacious bed, waiting for Marley, who he knew would come. Clomp, clomp. The distinctive footsteps plodding on the wooden staircase grew progressively louder as the seconds ticked by. Scrooge grinned, almost frenziedly, and sat on the utmost edge of the seat, waiting. The first thing that appeared, through the door, mind you, was the face. Then in came Marley's body, covered with the same long chain, made out of cashboxes, keys, padlocks, and so on and so forth.

"Scrooge," Marley's monotonous voice acknowledged.

"Marley! I can't believe you are here! You see? I have changed! I never got the proper chance to thank you! I've lived in the spirits of the Past, Present, and Future. I've honored Christmas with all my heart, and I will for many more! Oh, Marley! I feel so light! So jubilant!" Scrooge's eyes, gleaming as bright as a beacon, told the story much clearer than any words could ever describe.

"I'm afraid that is where you are wrong, my friend. It is true that you have changed. However, I see one last padlock on the chain that winds around you. If you don't get rid of it…" Marley's unfinished words, heavy and dismal, hung in the air and choked Scrooge, as if his cravat was squeezing around and around his neck adamantly. Collapsing to the ground in a prostrate manner, Scrooge violently trembled. "…you have been given another chance, however. Show me you have honored Christmas! I shall return when the clock strikes midnight." As fast as he came, Marley dissipated into the air, slowly transforming into a white vapor, and vanished through the opening under the door. It was then that Scrooge remembered that today was Christmas Eve.

"Merry Christmas! Ah, is it not a fine evening tonight, Bob? Tiny Tim, you rascal, come over here!" Scrooge bellowed blithely. Tiny Tim, now a young, innocent, quite handsome boy, sprinted towards Scrooge and embraced him fiercely. From his coat pocket, Scrooge produced a small, giftwrapped box and hid it beneath his back, as Tiny Tim twisted and turned, attempting to grab the box. Scrooge mischievously smiled, and continued, "Now, boy, I trust you won't open this box until Christmas Day?" Without waiting for an answer, he strolled over to the small Christmas tree, with twinkling candles placed strategically around, and carefully positioned the mysterious box beneath the tree, concealed by the other presents already placed there. The Cratchit family beamed at Scrooge's actions, but failed to notice Scrooge's melancholy, nostalgic expression as he stared intently at the box. However, in an instant, his usual, jovial face returned and he faced the family, with his arms spread wide, making eye contact with every family member. "Thank you, Bob, for inviting me to this lovely dinner. I hold you, your comely wife, and all your wonderful children dear in my heart. I just want to say that…I am extremely grateful for your kindness and your support. Now, without further ado, shall we celebrate?"

As soon as Scrooge's impromptu speech was complete, pandemonium erupted. Children frisked throughout the house, cheering, laughing, and passing around slander, and were reprimanded by Bob or Mrs. Cratchit, but to no avail of course. This residuary commotion, so contagious, caused Scrooge to gaily join in, as he solemnized the special occasion. He chased the small toddlers in a circle around the dining table, where the delectable scent of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pudding made everyone's mouths water. He played silly, pointless games of blind man's bluff with snickering lads teasing the poor girls. His heart sung, with passion, with utter ecstasy and bliss, and managed to cause a smile on everyone's face. The benevolence he shared was truly a blessing to everyone. At last, the Cratchits and Scrooge sat down for Christmas dinner.

"Before we eat this delightful meal, why don't we make a toast?" declared Bob. Everyone nodded in reluctant agreement, and raised their glasses. "To Ebenezer Scrooge, the founder of this feast!" Clink! As Scrooge pulled his chair back, an excruciating bout of sharp pain coursed through his veins, and he suddenly felt an enormous weight of pressure on top of his lungs, crushing him, finishing him; Scrooge could not find the will, or the strength, to resist. He started violently coughing; the deafening, rancid coughs so severe his eyes could not help but water. With each cough, brought a new wave of suffering, and his face turned paler, with a horribly, gruesome, unhealthy yellow color. The Cratchits, horrified, could only stare in shock as Scrooge laid there on the ground hacking and wheezing.

"Scrooge? Scrooge? SCROOGE?"

"Call the doctor! NOW!"

"I'm afraid he's…uh…sick," the fidgety doctor timidly uttered, as Bob and Tiny Tim peered behind the nervous doctor to glimpse Scrooge's face. A sheen of sweat coated Scrooge's deathly, pasty face; his ragged, unsteady breathing indicated his obvious struggle. He thrashed and flailed about beneath the covers of the bed, and every minute or so, he would cry out in absolute agony. Furious, Bob clutched the doctor's shoulders and shook the life out of the poor man.

"Sick? Have you lost your mind? This man…he is going to die if you don't do something! Is there not some kind of cure? You are a doctor! You're supposed to know everything! Answer me!"

"I-I don't' know! I have never seen this kind of disease before!" he squeaked. With a shriek of anguish, Bob collapsed with a thud on the ground and fell unconscious along with Tiny Tim, who was traumatized from the past events. Ding, dong. Ding, dong. A thick cloud of haze seeped into the doctor's modest cottage and materialized into Marley. For a moment, he gazed at Scrooge with a peculiar expression on his face, but he came back to his senses and cleared his throat audibly. With a start, Scrooge's eyes opened.

"Marley! Please! Tell me! The chain…padlock…is it…?"

"You may die in peace, Scrooge," replied Marley. Scrooge's face gradually relaxed, as a serene look crossed his face, and the coughing subsided substantially.

"Give my… regards to Tiny Tim…"

Christmas Day…

With unsteady yet meticulous fingers, Tiny Tim gently unwrapped the box, removed the lid, and peered inside, after a lengthy moment of hesitation and fear. Inside the box was a seemingly thick stack of papers folded in half; Tiny Tim unfolded the papers, and started reading:

Dearest Tiny Tim, I hope that after you finish reading this letter, you will continue to honor Christmas, with all your precious heart, and carry on my spirit as well. You see, the whole story all began with Jacob Marley, who was as dead as a doornail…