Eb soaked in the rays, sipping on his martini. Tomorrow a whole collection of money grabbing fiends was flying in to Barbados, just for him. He felt the power running through his veins, and revelled in it. It was amazing what money could do for a man.
“Bob Cratchit, get over here!” His butler rushed out, sweating as the sun beat down on top of him in his heavy uniform. “Make me a new martini, this one’s warm.” He thrust out his arm, waving the glass about, watching the liquid slosh out onto the floor.
“Of course sir.” Torturing the staff was not nearly as much fun without Jacob. He missed his partner in Crime. It was to be his first Christmas party without him.
Lying in bed, the air-conditioning whirring away, Eb thought of his plans for the next day, and grinned with selfish and greedy satisfaction. He heard a rattling sound, and assumed the air conditioning was breaking again, but then he saw Jacob Marley standing at the foot of his bed, covered in chains.
“Yes, Eb, it’s me.” He looked miserable.
“What the hell?” Jacob shrugged, rattling the chains.
“I have a message. You’ll have three visitors tonight, and you’ll listen to them, or be cursed to an eternity in chains like me.” He waved his arms, slowly under their weight, and the noise deafened Eb. Before he could say another word, Jacob was gone. Eb decided he had drunk one too many martinis, and fell back on his bed, dismissing everything.
“Ebenezer, wake up.” Eb sat bolt upright. It couldn’t be. No one called him that anymore. He looked up at the woman standing at the end of his bed.
“Mum?” She smiled, a sweet smile that he had allowed to fade to memory.
“Come with me.” She turned and walked away from him, and he struggled to disentangle himself from the bed sheets to follow her. She turned and waited for him at the door, hand stretched out. “Don’t worry son, I just want to show you something.” He took her hand and she opened the door.
The hallway Eb had expected wasn’t there. Instead he was looking into the sitting room of the house he had grown up in. His gaze took in the peeling wallpaper, the worn carpet, and the ancient television sat in the corner, playing one of the Christmas movies he’d loved as a child. He looked around and saw his parents crushed together on the small armchair, beaming at their two small children playing with second hand toys.
“Do you remember this?” Eb gaped at her. This was a memory he had long forgotten about. But looking at it now, it felt as if it were yesterday.
“It was our last Christmas together.” She nodded sadly, and looked back at the happy family living in squalor.
“We were happy, weren’t we?” Eb felt tears threatening to fall from his eyes.
“Of course we were.” She pulled him into a hug. A hug only a mother could give, and Eb let the tears escape.
“I’m so sorry, son. You have to know that I hated leaving you.”
“I know Mum, it wasn’t your fault.” Cancer was never anyone’s fault.
Eb leant against the doorframe, watching his family with a morbid fascination. A tap on his shoulder brought him back.
“Grace? What are you doing here?” His secretary smiled up at him. A tiny and efficient woman who’d outlasted all his other secretaries.
“I’m here to take you to your present.” She held out her hand, and Eb searched the room for his mother. “She’s gone Eb. It’s my turn now.” Eb dragged a sleeve across his cheeks, drying his tears, and let Grace lead him out the way he came.
They entered a bedroom, but it wasn’t his. It was huge, and decorated with lavish furnishings. He saw a woman sitting at a dressing table, and couldn’t place who she was. It was only when James walked in from the en-suite bathroom that he knew.
“Why are we here Grace?”
“Shh. Just listen.” Eb watched James climb into bed and pick up a book. His wife turned to him, pouting as she let down her hair.
“Darling, do we have to go tomorrow?” James lowered his glasses.
“Cheryl, you know we have to go. My campaign needs funding. I need him.” Cheryl rose and made her way to the bed, her nightgown flowing behind her.
“But he’s such a creep. He never remembers my name, and he’s always giving me lewd glances. Can’t you go without me?” He laughed and leant forward to kiss her as she climbed into bed.
“You would really abandon me? Leave me to fend against him all alone? You know I need you to protect me from his schemes.” She sighed and relented.
“Fine, but I expect an extra large present for going through such horror.” James put his glasses on his nightstand, and turned out the light. He pulled Cheryl close and kissed her.
“Why don’t we start right now?” She giggled, and Grace yanked Eb out of the room. Back in his bedroom, Eb stumbled over to sit on the edge of his bed.
“Why do they hate me so much?” Grace sat next to him and shrugged.
“I’m surprised you’re surprised. Most people hate you.” Eb threw her a dirty look, and she threw her hands up. “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Eb let his head fall into his hands. He’d thought of James as a friend. A friend he manipulated every now and again, but a friend nonetheless. Grace stood up and shoved her hand out to him. “Come on, one more stop and then we’re done, I promise.” Miserably, he took her hand, and let her drag him along.
The next room was another dismal home, but not one he recognised. There was a man hunched over a beer bottle, trying to wrap a present with newspaper. When he threw his head back with frustration, Eb gasped.
“Tim?” He hadn’t seen his brother in years. He had been bad for business, and Eb had slowly pushed him away until he didn’t exist in his world at all. The years had not been kind to Tim. His face was gaunt, and it looked as if his hair was thinning. In fact he was dangerously close to being bald. Realisation hit, and Eb cried out.
“Yes, Eb, he has cancer.” More tears broke through the barrier and flowed down his cheeks. He ran to Tim, but couldn’t touch him.
“No, no, no. Not Tim, please not Timmie.” Grace pulled him back and placed a hand on each arm.
“I’m sorry, Eb.” He was sobbing now, practically in hysterics. All of the memories he had pressed down, of his mother on her deathbed, were rising to the surface, threatening to suffocate him.
“How… how long?” He hated to ask.
“That depends on you. He has no health insurance and no money. He’s barely getting any treatment. You could change that.” A fierce determination took a hold of Eb there and then, and Grace smiled at him as she guided him out of the kitchen. She gave his hand a final squeeze and disappeared. Eb looked around, but there was nothing. He was nowhere.
“Hello?” A chill ran through him. Turning round he saw a cloaked figure approaching him. It said nothing, but extended a gloved hand. Eb hesitated, but not for long. He had gone along with this charade so far, he might as well see it to the end. The second he touched the gloved hand, the world around him shifted, and he was in a brightly lit, very loud room. People were clinking their champagne glasses together and cheering.
“To Ebenezer Scrooge!” Eb was stunned at the joy, all for him? Not everyone hated him then.
“Where am I?” The cloaked figure shook it’s head, but said nothing. Thomas searched the room. Surely he should be making a speech for the toast?
“About time he left. I despised kissing his ass until he spit out change.” Were they talking about him? Why would he leave his own party? Eb followed the voices. “I tell you, this is one Christmas I don’t mind being away from home, right Cheryl?” James threw his arm around his wife.
“How much money did you get out of him?” Eb didn’t know who asked the question, he was too fascinated with James who was tapping his nose.
“That’s for me to know, and you to never find out. But, put it this way, he was too easy to manipulate on his deathbed. It was nice to have the upper hand for once with him.” Eb reeled back from the harsh words and laughter, and turned back to the cloaked figure.
“I’m dead?” It just extended a gloved hand again. Eb shot one final look at James before taking it.
Again the world shifted, and this time they were in a graveyard. The very graveyard they had buried their mother in after she passed away, as well as his father when he joined her. But, what he saw now, dropped him to his knees. There were two more gravestones. One for him, and one for his brother. Horror filled him, and he couldn’t even cry. There were no more tears.
Eb awoke in his own bed, the chill of the graveyard gone from his bones. He bounded out of his bed and shouted out.
“Bob! I’m going back to Denver! Make the arrangements!” A startled Bob ran into the room, confused.
“When would you like to fly out, sir?” Eb was pulling clothes on where he found them, in a mad hurry.
“Now!” Bob jumped, and made to rush out of the room. “Oh, and Bob?” The man stuck his head back into the room.
“Cancel the party, and give everyone the day off please.” Bob’s jaw dropped, and it took him a moment to gather his wits and shuffle away. Eb laughed as he pulled down a suitcase and started to throw his belongings into it.
Every second on the flight had been one too many. Now he was tapping his foot as the taxi driver tried to make mundane chit chat. Finally the taxi drew up outside a disheveled house amongst many. He had asked grace to get the address, and it had taken her seconds. His hands were shaking as he knocked on the door, and he waited a painfully long time for someone to answer. Eventually Tim opened the door, and they both stood staring at each other. He looked just like he had in the dream. Terrible. Eb felt the distance between them, and struggled to find his voice.
“Hey, Tim. Got room for one more round your table?” Tim threw himself at Eb, and Eb half expected a punch, but it was a hug. A fierce hug at that.
“Eb! I have missed you so damn much!” Eb threw his arms around his little brother, and squeezed gently, afraid he would break him. He promised himself that he would fix Tim, no expense spared. Next year Christmas would be different. Next year there would only be family at his party.