… that Scrooge saw in the knocker, without it’s undergoing any immediate process of change – not a knocker, but Marley’s face .
“Scroooooge,” moaned the apparition.
Scrooge stared at it in horror, then did what most of us would have done.
Marley’s mouthed dropped open in astonishment, which when you’re Jacob Marley isn’t just a turn of phrase. He went back into Scrooge’s house, and the other three looked at him.
“Where is he?” asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“He ran off,” said Marley.
The Ghost of Christmas Present laughed. He had a big, uproarious laugh, the kind that is usually accompanied by a hearty slap on your back just as you are taking a mouthful of beer.
His laugh drove the others mad.
“So he ran off, did he?” he boomed. “Good for him.”
“Where did he go?” asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.
One bony hand appeared from the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come’s robe, and a long finger pointed.
“I think he’s saying he went to the pub,” said Marley. “Honestly, I wish he’d learn to speak, it’s like trying to have a conversation with Lassie.”
“What’ll we do?” asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“We’d better find him,” said Marley. He hurled his chain around his neck like a scarf, and headed towards the door.
“Hang on,” said the Ghost of Christmas Present, “isn’t the chain supposed to be heavy?”
“It’s the ghost of a chain,” said Marley. “How heavy can it be?”
They headed off on an unintended Christmas pub crawl. Scrooge wasn’t in the King’s Head, the Queen’s Arms or the Prince’s Bowel. He wasn’t in the Cat and Canary, The Fox and Hound or the Baboon and Hamster. In each pub they visited, the Ghost of Christmas Present sprinkled good cheer upon the occupants, which in most cases wasn’t necessary, though it did stop three bar brawls and one drunken rendition of Mistletoe and Wine.
They eventually found Scrooge in the Poor and Workhouses, where he was sitting at the bar and warning the innkeeper, repeatedly, about the hallucinogenic properties of undigested beef. The innkeeper turned away from him in relief when he heard new customers approaching, though he blanched a little when he saw them.
“Ah, fancy dress,” he said. He looked at the Ghost of Christmas Present, who seemed to be wearing two small children as shoes. “Er, very festive,” he went on.
“We’ll have four pints of your best ale,” said the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“Four pints of Thunderbelch coming right up,” said the Innkeeper. “Possibly literally, later,” he muttered.
“How do you know what we will have?” Marley asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“Yes, well I looked back to what we wanted when we came in, then guessed that we’ll still want it now. It’s not rocket-science.”
“Don’t ask me,” said the Ghost of Christmas Past. “It’s something in the future.”
They went over to Scrooge. “Ah, there you are,” boomed the Ghost of Christmas Present, laughing uproariously and thumping him merrily on the back.
“Please,” whimpered Scrooge, after he had wiped the beer off his face, “leave me alone.”
“Hoy,” said the innkeeper, picking up the cudgel that he kept under the counter in case customers asked for credit, “are you harassing this gentleman?”
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come looked at him and pointed a ghostly finger towards the cellar. “Er, I think I’ll just go down and check the barrels,” said the innkeeper.
“Come, Scrooge,” said Marley. They lifted him off his bar-stool. Visions appeared at the end of the bar – men singing in lighthouses, a girl breaking off an engagement, a crutch propped up in a corner, carefully preserved. They were moving toward the visions when suddenly they heard a voice.
“Leave him alone,” said Bob Cratchit, walking across the pub toward them.
Scrooge and the others stared at him in amazement. “Bob?” said Scrooge, “you’d stand up for me?”
“Christmas Day, Mr Scrooge,” said Bob simply. “Christmas Day.”
Scrooge stared at him for a long time, then defiantly sat back on his stool. “If you all don’t mind,” he said, “I’d like this man to join me in a bowl of steaming bishop.”
The Spirits turned to the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, who seemed, as far as they could tell, to be thinking. Eventually he nodded, and the five of them left. Bob sat down beside Scrooge, who called for the innkeeper.
At the end of the bar, the crutch slowly faded away.