I’ve only been sitting at this desk for a few minutes, but it seems like a million years! The bell could not ring fast enough. Just one bell and I’m done with school until the New Year! Not that I hate going to school or anything, why should I? All my friends are worth being seen with, everybody adores me, and this school is like putty in my hands.
I’m sort of going to miss this place after I graduate. I’ve pretty much left a legacy at this school. I’m student body president, I’ve won prom queen three years running, and have already been accepted to Princeton. I’ve accomplished many things here at PS.116, the shelves full of awards in my bedroom prove that. I’ve definitely lived up to Marley Jacobson when she went to school here.
Her parents were old family friends. Marley’s parents were my godparents in fact. Our fathers were roommates in business school and eventually went into business together. Marley was like an older sister to me. I’ve learned everything I know from Marley.
I wouldn’t be who I am today without her. Tomorrow on Christmas Eve will be three years since she left me; she was only nineteen years old. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about this. When will the bell ring already? Finally, the bell rings!
My wait is over. School is officially out for Christmas vacation and I am heading home. I’m just minding my own business looking at all my texts (I have to know what’s happening at this school) and everyone keeps bumping into me. The hallway is packed with all these people blocking my way! I am trying to get to my locker, would everyone just move it?
The stuff I have to put up with sometimes, it just drives me crazy. After shoving my way through this ridiculous mob I finally reach my locker. I open it to see my gorgeous reflection in the mirror on the door. My blonde curls are just lustrous and my green eyes just sparkle; there’s no doubt that I’m the most beautiful girl in the universe. In the middle of admiring my perfect appearance two girls obstruct my vision of myself: the St. Madison twins, Charity and Grace.
Their family is like super religious and they’re like really strict Catholics who do a bunch of charity work with the church, like I care. I still don’t understand why people still believe in made-up crap like the Bible.
“What do you want?” I ask the two of them, not turning away from my reflection of course.
“This year for Christmas…” Charity St. Madison says.
“…we’re helping the church collect money for the poor,” Grace St. Madison continues.
“How is that different from every other time of the year?” I ask them.
Seriously, these girls spend twenty-four hours catering to a bunch of pathetic people, it disgusts me. There are plenty of other ways to spend their time. I’d never be caught dead getting my hands dirty for people who can’t afford soap.
“We were wondering if you would be interested in helping out?” they both ask.
Did they seriously just ask me to donate my own money? Like I would ever give up my own money for these low-lives?
“No,” I immediately answer.
“Why not?” Charity asks.
“I’m sure you have plenty of money to give,” Grace says to me.
“It’s true I have lots of money, but I have many better ways to spend it!”
If I can’t make myself happy at Christmas then I cannot make other people happy now can I?
“But it’s Christmas,” Charity says.
“Think of the less fortunate people you’ll be helping,” Grace states.
“You’ll be helping those in need,” Charity goes on.
These two are really starting to annoy me. I slam my locker door and turn to give them a piece of my mind.
“Let me ask you something, are there still prisons?”
“Yes,” they both answer.
“And the homeless shelters, are they still running?”
“Then why should I care?”
“But it’s Christmas, it’s the season of giving,” Charity replies.
“Don’t even start with that. Christmas is just an excuse to trick idiots into buying more stuff. Everyone knows that. Everyone who celebrates Christmas obviously has no brains. Christmas is nothing but bullcrap. Our tax dollars already pay for the organizations I mentioned. The poor can just go there.”
“But many people can’t go there,” Grace explains.
“Many people would rather die,” Charity explains.
“Well they might as well die now and be put out of their misery. I say let the useless people die and the better people live.”
Without another thought I quickly prance away from those two girls. I know they only asked me because everyone knows who my father is. Well, the rich stay rich by keeping their money and not throwing it away on people who live in boxes. Seriously, the nerve of some people.
I shouldn’t let this bother me; it’s Christmas vacation after all.
I’m spending the first day of my vacation with my two friends, Mia and Jane, at the mall. The mall has always been one of my favorite places. Once again it’s decorated for Christmas with the displays in the store windows lit up and a huge Christmas tree in the center of the mall and a line of children waiting to see Santa Claus. All of it is a waste of money if you ask me. The mall is packed with people rushing around doing last-minute shopping. That’s the only reason Christmas exists, so the stores have an excuse to market themselves. An effective technique though. I’ve been spending the day visiting all the stores, not the ones with cheap clothes though. All the employees know me and treat me with the utmost respect.
I have a reputation at this mall. My dad is the owner, and everyone who works here knows not to get on my bad side. After trying on several pairs of shoes and browsing at all the newest winter fashions the three of us head to the food court to get some lattes. At the coffee shop we approach the frumpy red-headed girl with freckles and cheap glasses at the counter.
“Get us three lattes!” I demand from her.
“Get us three lattes what?” she asks me.
“Now!” I answer.
“The word is please,” she says.
I never liked that girl. She’s the only girl in school who dares to talk to me like that.
“Let me explain something to you Missy,” I say to her.
“My name is Bobbi.” she tells me. “You should know that. We were friends once.”
“Do I look like I care?” I ask. “I am the customer and you are here to serve me! Got that or are you too brain dead to understand? Now why don’t you do something right for once and get us our lattes?”
“I’m sorry,” she apologizes reluctantly. “Three low-fat lattes coming up.”
After an endless wait she comes back with our coffees.
“About time,” Mia says while we grab the Styrofoam cups.
“You could try saying thank you,” she says.
“I could, but I won’t,” I tell her.
We walk away from her and sip our lattes. It was true, Bobbi and I were friends when we were in grade school together. It was a long time ago. I had to make choices. I had plans for my future that did not involve Bobbi. It was harsh, but I made my decision.
After finishing our lattes I return home and open my door to see none other than HER! What the hell is she doing here? She seriously had some nerve showing up here with that short hair that makes her look like a boy and that ugly green sweater and those mom jeans!
“What do you think you’re doing here?” I ask.
“Eb, please,” she replies. “I just came to see you. It’s been awhile, how are you? How have you been doing lately?”
“I’m fine,” I answer, trying the best I can to make small talk with her in hopes that she’ll leave. “How are you and Jerry?”
“His name is Harry,” she answers. I do not care even the smallest amount. “He’s fine and we’re doing fine. He asks about you sometimes.”
“Yes, so does Harry Jr. and Maggie.”
“Harry’s kids, they’re really good kids you should really meet them sometime.” I really hope this conversation isn’t going where I think it’s going. “So where’s your father?” she asks.
“Italy,” I answer.
My father’s always away on business. He’s hardly ever at home anymore.
“So you’re spending Christmas by yourself?”
Oh God, please not this again!
“What’s your point?”
“Well if you’re not doing anything on Christmas I thought maybe you would like to come over-”
I knew she was going to ask me that! I am stopping her right there.
“Are you serious right now? Did you really come here just to ask me to come over to your house for Christmas?”
“Every year ever since you and that loser got married you’ve been asking me that same question and every year I’ve said no. What made you think my answer would be any different this year?”
“Don’t talk that way about Harry!”
“Why you would marry a middle school English teacher with two kids is beyond me!”
“Eb I know it’s hard for you to understand, but Harry and I fell in love-”
“Don’t talk to me about love! You said that you loved Dad! You said that you loved me!”
“I do love you,” she says.
“Yeah right,” I tell her. “You can say that as many times as you want, but I’m not buying it!”
“Eb, please just give me a chance-”
“Why should I, you never gave Dad a chance!”
“Eb listen, your father and I just wanted different things is all, it had nothing to do with you.” I’ve heard that speech from her like a thousand times. “I don’t want what happened between me and your father to affect us. It’s Christmas Eb, you shouldn’t be here all alone; you should be with your family.”
“We haven’t been family since the day you walked out on me and Dad!”
“Eb I didn’t want to leave you-”
“Well you did and you’ve found yourself a new husband and new kids so I don’t see why you need me.”
With that I have had enough of listening to her.
“You know if you ever bothered to notice, my life is perfect right now. I’m popular, I have friends, I have done so many things and I did it all without you! I don’t need you in my life! I don’t want you in my life, got that? Now you just get out and never come back!”
“It was worth a shot,” she says to me. “I’ll be going now, I guess. But I just want you to know I’m never going to give up on you.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” I say to her.
“Merry Christmas,” she tells me.
“Whatever,” I say while she leaves the room.
I can’t believe that woman. She had some nerve. Who does she think she is coming over here like that? That woman has no right calling herself my mother.
It’s been a long day and I am ready for some well-deserved rest. The strangest thing happened though. When I was brushing my teeth I thought I saw a face in the mirror, the face of Marley. I was probably just seeing things though. I’m sure a good night’s sleep will clear my head. I’m trying to sleep, but there’s something keeping me up.
I have no idea what it is. Maybe somebody’s making noise outside? Don’t they know I’m trying to sleep? I need to have my beauty sleep. The noise is so faint I can barely make it out. It sounds like a person.
A really sad person. A sad person making these strange sounds. Sort of like moaning. The noise, it sounds so close. It doesn’t sound like it’s coming from outside, but in my room.
Somebody’s in my room! Immediately I pop out of bed with my fists held high.
“Whoever you are, come out!” I yell. “I’ve taken three years worth of Taekwondo training and I’m not afraid to use it!”
I hear a bunch of rattling, like a chain? I have no idea where that’s coming from! Now I hear footsteps. Footsteps coming from the closet. Is there someone in my closet?
How could they get in there without me seeing?
“Who are you?” I demand.
For some reason the door to my closet opens all by itself. Out of the closet walks the ugliest thing I have ever laid my eyes on! I think it’s a person, but it certainly doesn’t look human. This thing is so skinny, not in an attractive kind of way, but in a way that looks like it hasn’t eaten anything in years. It has no hair on its head, it’s completely bald, and only four teeth which are all yellow and rotten.
Its skin is so decayed and disgusting, it looks like it’s dead. It’s dressed in an old, tattered dress and strapped to its hands are a mass of chains and locks.
“You don’t recognize me?” this thing asks in what sounds like a woman’s voice.
“Why on earth would I recognize you?”
“You knew me once,” she says to me. “You looked up to me. You viewed me as a mentor. I am Marley Jacobson.”
Marley Jacobson, is this some kind of sick joke? Who does this person think they are?
“That’s it you creep! I’m calling the cops!” I yell.
I quickly reach for my phone and press the home button, but nothing happens. I can’t call or text or anything. I keep pressing the home button, but still my screen stays black. Is she doing this? How can she do this?
Is she really Marley? Is she really here? No, Marley is dead, she can’t be here!
“Eb,” she says to me, “please try to calm down.”
“How do you know my name?’ I ask her.
“I told you I am Marley,” she says. “I know everything about you. I’ve known you since you were a baby. We were friends, best friends, we were practically sisters.”
“This is impossible!” I tell her. “You can’t be Marley! Marley died-”
“Three years ago tonight,” she interrupts. “Yes I know. Marley Jacobson died at St. Bernadette’s Hospital at eight forty two at night on Christmas Eve. She was nineteen years old. She was driving while she was texting her friends and she crashed her Mercedes. Her careless actions led her to her death!”
“Lucky guess,” I tell her.
“Why do you doubt me?” she asks.
“How do I know you’re not a dream?” I ask. “Maybe that sushi I had for lunch was bad or something.”
“You must believe me hermanita,” she tells me. “I am Marley.”
Did she just call me hermanita? Only one person used to call me that.
“Oh my god!” I say. “You are Marley!”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
This doesn’t feel real. I need air. I feel as if I’m going to pass out. I can’t believe it, I don’t want to believe it, but Marley is right here in my bedroom.
“I don’t understand,” I say. “You’re so, so-“
“Hideous,” Marley interrupts. “I know. I have lost all of my hair, my teeth are all rotten, and this is my real nose.”
“Why?” I ask. “And what’s with the chains and that dress? Are you wearing polyester?”
“This is my punishment,” she answers. “I am doomed to wander the earth so hideous and so miserable for the rest of eternity.”
“Punishment?” I ask. “For what?”
“In my life I was nothing but selfish,” she says. “I thought of no one but myself. I did no good in my life. I bullied and harassed innocent people. I never helped anyone. I only cared for myself. I wasted my entire life!”
“What are you talking about?” I ask. “You were popular! Everyone at school respected you! You were student body president and prom queen! You’re practically a legend at school!”
“You don’t understand!” she tells me. “Popularity and all these titles, what do they really mean Eb? Are they really that important?”
“I can’t believe you’re asking me this,” I tell her. “You, out of all people! The one who shaped me! The one who taught me everything I know!”
“I made you this way,” she says to me. “This is my greatest regret.”
“You helped me!” I tell her. “I was nothing until you came along and guided me. Look at who I am because of you. “
“You’ve become exactly like me,” she tells me. “And I was forced to watch you act so selfishly and treat people the way I once did. Now you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes I have made.”
“I only wanted to make you proud of me,” I say.
“You can still do that,” she says. “It is too late for me, but it is not too late for you. You still have a chance. You don’t have to be like I was in my life. You can make a change. There is still hope for you.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
“I’ve come to warn you,” she says. “Tonight you will be haunted by three spirits.”
“I’ve had enough of that for one night!”
“Eb, please listen to me,” she begs. “Without these visits you will end up just like me. Expect the first spirit at one o’clock.”
“Can’t I take them all at once and get it over with?”
“Expect the first spirit at one o’clock,” she repeats.
Just like that Marley vanishes into thin air. All I want to do is go back to sleep, but I cannot bring myself to fall asleep. Why can’t I stop thinking about this? Every time I try to go to sleep her image appears and her words keep repeating in my head like an awful song. It’s all I’ve been able to think about since she left.
What am I saying? There was no “she”, there was no one in my room tonight. Marley Jacobson DID NOT visit me. She couldn’t have, it’s impossible, ghosts do not exist and there are no spirits coming here! I’m just going to go back to sleep and quit worrying about ghosts. All right, I can do this, I’ll just keep my eyes closed and fall asleep, there’s nothing to it.
I’ll just lay here in bed, relax, and sleep until morning. Just keep breathing: breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, this isn’t working. How late is it anyway? Is it one o’clock yet? Not that I believe in all this ghost stuff or anything, but it still wouldn’t hurt to check the time.
Just as I figured, my phone says it is one o’clock and there is no ghost or spirit or phantom or whatever here. Why did I let myself get all worked up over something so ridiculous? Now I am going back to sleep and nothing is going to keep me up. Sleeping would be much easier if it wasn’t for this annoying light in my eyes. Even my sleep mask can’t shield it.
I guess I’m getting up again to see what this is. The moment I take off my mask I’m almost blinded by this light. What the hell is this? Squinting through my fingers I can see what looks like a ball of white light floating right at the foot of my bed. It’s almost as if a star crashed into my bedroom.
I do not know what this thing is. I feel like I should get closer to it, but I’m not sure if I really want to find out what this is. This thing is just fluttering around like Tinker Bell. It’s as if it’s a- No, it can’t be, this is not a ghost!
Calm down Eb, calm down, you have already established that there are no such things as ghosts; I’m sure this is just my imagination again. I will close my eyes and when I open then it will be gone. All right, I am shutting my eyes, I am keeping my eyes closed tight and I will open them and- It’s still here, this strange thing is still in my bedroom! All right Eb, it’s ok just calm down, but how can I calm down when there’s a ball of light floating in my bedroom?
“Do not be afraid,” the ball of light says to me in a soft voice that sounds almost like a little girl.
Do not be afraid? How does she expect me not to be afraid with some strange ball of light speaking to me? Obviously ignoring it won’t make it go away so I guess there’s only one thing I can do.
“What are you?” I ask the ball of light.
“It’s all right,” the ball of light answers. “I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past.”
“You’re the Ghost of Christmas Past?” I ask. “You’re nothing but a ball of light.”
“Never judge by appearance alone,” says the ghost. “I represent the light of truth.”
“I don’t care,” I tell her. “I just want you out of my room!”
“I cannot do that!” the ghost says. “I have come to show you the past.”
“I’m off school now and I would rather do without a history lesson.”
“Not long past, your past,” the ghost says to me. “I know everything about your life. Who you once were and how you became who you are today.”
“They call it the past for a reason,” I tell her. “And I’d rather not revisit it!”
“You will either come with me willingly or I will have to force you.”
“I’d like to see you try,” I say to the spirit.
“Very well then.”
Suddenly the ball of light starts to grow brighter, so bright it consumes the entire room. I have to shield my eyes away from the light. Thankfully the light dims down and I am able to see again. I’m no longer in my bed though. I have no idea where the hell we are!
We’re standing outside somewhere and for some reason it’s daytime even though it was night a moment ago!
“Do you recognize this place?” the spirit asks.
I look around to see where we are. Oh my god I’d know this place anywhere!
“This is my old elementary school!”
It’s all here: the building, the jungle gym, the monkey bars, the see-saws, the little children playing in the snow. It all looks exactly like when I was a student here.
“Not quite,” says the spirit. “This is your old elementary, but ten years ago.”
I look at all the children playing, completely ignoring the two of us as if we were invisible.
“I don’t get it,” I say. “How come no one is noticing us?”
“They cannot see or hear us,” the spirit says. “These are merely memories. They are unaware of us.”
Before I can ask any more questions the ghost takes off in its own direction.
“Follow me,” the spirit says.
I follow the spirit to a window of the building. Inside is a chubby little girl with glasses and bushy hair sitting all alone, crying.
“Tell me, who is that little girl?” the spirit asks.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen this girl. I hardly even recognize her anymore.
“It’s me,” I answer.
She seems so sad and lonely all by herself. I’m starting to remember how I felt back then. I didn’t really have any friends when I was younger. I was always the shy girl. I was usually by myself. It wasn’t the best time in my life. Into the room walks another little girl with red hair, freckles, and glasses.
She notices me and sits in a chair next to me.
“Excuse me,” the little girl asks. “Why are you crying?”
“Some girls were teasing me,” my younger self answers back. “They started calling me fat, so I came in here to be alone.”
“It’s ok,” the little girl says to me while patting my shoulder. “Who cares what those girls think anyway? I think you’re beautiful no matter what.”
“Thanks,” my younger self says. “I’m Elizabeth, but everyone calls me Eb.”
“Nice to meet you Eb,” the little girl says. “My name’s Bobbi.”
“Nice to meet you Bobbi,” I greet.
“Do you remember Bobbi?” the ghost asks.
“Of course I do,” I answer back. “She was the first friend I ever had. We were best friends back then. For a long time she was my only friend.”
“What happened between you?” the spirit asks.
“We just grew apart is all,” I answer. “When we got older we both changed and made different friends, that’s all.”
“I see,” the ghost says. “Come.”
Just like that the light grows bright again and I cannot see. When I’m finally able to see again I notice we’re no longer at my school.
“This is my home!” I say.
The penthouse is all decorated for Christmas and a nice warm fire is blazing.
“Do you remember this?” the spirit asks me.
“Of course I do,” I say. “My family and I used to have a gathering on Christmas Eve every year.” Every year the Jacobsons would come over to our apartment. By the piano me, my dad, and my mom are all gathered together singing carols. The Jacobsons are there too with Marley. “There’s Marley, she looks so young.”
“You all seem to be having fun,” the spirit says.
“Christmas was always a happy time in my home,” I say. “I definitely had the best memories at Christmas. We are all so happy then. I wish it could be like this again.”
“I think it’s time for a certain someone to get to bed,” my mother says to me.
“I can’t sleep now,” my younger self says. “It’s Christmas Eve!”
“Now, now,” my mother says. “You don’t want to be awake when Santa arrives do you?”
“No,” I answer.
“In that case, up to bed.”
“Will you read me The Night Before Christmas?” I ask my mother.
“Of course,” my mother says to me while she carries me off to bed.
“We must keep moving forward,” the spirit says and in another flash of light we’re back in my penthouse. Once again it’s decorated for Christmas with all of the same decorations.
“Where are we?” I ask.
“One year later,” the spirit answers.
From upstairs I can hear my parents arguing. My parents were always arguing about one thing or another. I don’t remember a day passing by without them screaming at each other. My mother emerges from the bedroom with a suitcase in her hand. Oh no, not this day, no, please no!
My father follows after her.
“Winifred,” my dad begs. “Please, we can work this out.”
“I’m done trying to work it out,” my mom says with tears in her eyes. “We’ve been trying for years, but we’ve never gotten anywhere! I’m sorry!”
My mother turns away from my dad and opens the door. On the staircase appears me when I was only nine years old secretly watching her close the door behind her and exit my life forever.
“How could she do that?” I yell. “She was so selfish! She ruined our family!”
“Your mother remarried I believe,” the spirit says.
“Yes,” I say. “She got a job as a middle school nurse and married this loser English teacher there.”
“He was a single father with two children I believe,” the spirit says.
“Yes,” I answer. “She found herself a new family and completely abandoned me!”
“Are you sure she abandoned you?’ the spirit asks. “Or did you abandon her?”
I can’t believe what this spirit is saying! I didn’t abandon her; she abandoned me! Though it’s not like she didn’t try to reach out to me.
“We have more to see,” the spirit says.
In a flash of light the two of us are transported to the mall where Marley and I are looking at the shop windows.
“I remember,” I say. “Marley and I used to hang out together after school.”
“Everyone is so nice to us here,” my twelve year old self says to Marley.
“Well you know how it is when our fathers happen to own the mall,” Marley says.
“So how was school?” I ask Marley. “High school must be very exciting.”
“High school’s fine,” Marley says to me. “It can be hectic with student council and rehearsals for the school musical and planning the winter ball.”
“I wish I could be more like you Marley,” I tell her. “You’re so beautiful and you have so many friends and all the boys love you.”
“Believe it or not Eb I was like you when I was your age.”
“Really?” I ask.
“Of course,” she says to me. “There’s definitely hope for you. If you follow my lead I promise that you can grow up to be exactly like me. We can start with your wardrobe.”
“I don’t know anything about fashion,” I say to Marley.
“Good thing you have me then,” she says “Come hermanita, we have some shopping to do.”
Marley and I walk off together. Marley used to always call me hermanita. It meant little sister in Spanish.
“I idolized Marley,” I say to the spirit. “She was my role model. She got me where I am today.”
“Was it worth it?” the spirit asks.
“Of course,” I say. “Why would you ask such a thing?”
“Why don’t we see your middle school years, shall we?”
In another flash of light the two of us are transported outside my middle school building. Bobbi and I walk out together. This was the time when I started to peak. I had blossomed from that mousey fat girl and was now more beautiful. I now wore contacts and even lost some weight. I also started throwing up my food around that time.
“I feel like we never hang out anymore,” Bobbi says to me. “You’re so busy with student council and yearbook committee and all these other activities. I don’t know how you keep up with it all.”
“Marley says ambition is the only way you’ll succeed in life.”
“Of course,” Bobbi says, rolling her eyes.
“Why do you say it like that?” I ask.
“No reason,” Bobbi says.
“Tell me,” I say to her.
“Well, I’m not really sure about Marley.”
“What do you mean?”
“Eb you’re my best friend, but I don’t think Marley is someone you should be hanging around with.”
“How can you say that?” I shout at her.
“I just think-”
“Eb!” Marley shouts as she pulls up in her car. “I haven’t got all day!”
“I have to go,” I tell Bobbi.
I climb into Marley’s car and sit up front with her.
“Sorry,” I say to Marley. “I was talking with Bobbi. She doesn’t seem to like you for some reason.”
“I don’t know why you even hang around her,” Marley says.
“She’s my best friend,” I say. “We’ve been best friends since we were little.”
“Take it from me,” Marley says, “the right people can help you get ahead in life, but the wrong people can only hold you back. There’s going to come a day when you’ll realize what’s more important to you.”
“Do you still think Marley was a good influence on you?” the spirit asks.
“Her advice got me far,” I tell the spirit.
“At what cost?” the spirit asks. “Let’s skip ahead to eighth grade, shall we?”
The spirit and I are now standing in the hallway of my old middle school. I’m just walking along with some of the popular girls when Bobbi runs up to me.
“Eb!” she greets, but I just casually ignore her and continue walking. “Eb wait!” she shouts running after me. “We were supposed to meet up at the movies last night. Where were you?”
“Who is this?” one of the girls asks.
“Nobody,” I tell her.
“Eb what are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” I ask.
“Eb, what’s going on?” Bobbi asks.
“Look,” I tell her. “I have no idea who you are, so leave me alone you freak!”
The other girls and I all prance away from Bobbi. Bobbi stays there, alone in the hallway, wiping a tear from her eye. How could she do that? I just want to punch her in the face! What am I saying, that’s me!
“She was your best friend,” the spirit says. “And you tossed her aside like garbage!”
“I had to make a choice.”
“Did you make the right choice?” the spirit asks.
“Of course, I did,” I answer. Though I’m not really sure now.
“Let me ask you a question. These new friends of yours, are any of them like you and Bobbi?”
“Not really,” I say.
“We have one more shadow to see,” the spirit says to me as we are transported again.
“Where are we?” I ask the spirit.
“Christmas Eve,” the spirit answers. “Three years ago.”
I recognize this, it’s the emergency room of the hospital. This is a Christmas Eve I shall never forget. I see myself storm through the doors of the emergency room. Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson are there standing with the doctor.
“I got here as fast I could,” I announce. “Where is she? Where’s Marley.”
Marley’s parents and the doctor give one look. The look on their faces says it all. I hug both of her parents. Tears start pouring down our faces. My own eyes are starting to tear up by just watching this.
It’s all rushing back. All the pain, all the sadness of that Christmas Eve. It’s like it’s happening all over again.
“I cannot see anymore!” I yell to the spirit. “Take me back now!”
I swipe at the ball of light like a pesky little fly, but it’s too fast for me to catch.
“These are the shadows of things that have been,” the spirit says to me. “They are what they are; do not blame me.”
With those words the light of the spirit begins to grow dim and the images that surround me begin to fade. All I can see now is blackness. I’m back in my bedroom in my bed again. That was one hell of a trip. It’s like I was reliving everything all over again.
I almost forgot how I was as a child. How girls used to pick on me and how it used to hurt me. Those girls treated me just like how I treat other girls now. This is too much to take in. All I want to do is get back to sleep.
I start to hear noise that keeps me up again, it sounds like laughing, big jolly laughing. I take my mask back off to see a golden throne at the foot of my bed. Sitting on it is a weird, extremely oversized old man with snowy white curly hair and beard wearing a long red hooded cloak with a white fur lining, a black belt with a golden buckle encrusted with emeralds, and a pair of white gloves, carrying a long pole with red and white stripes and a golden ball on top. He’s also wearing a brown holster like someone would carry a gun in, but there’s no gun in it for some reason.
“Merry Christmas, little girl,” he greets me while laughing.
“Little girl?” I say to him. “I’m eighteen years old!”
“Everyone seems little compared to me.”
I’m not sure if that was supposed to be a joke about his age or his weight.
“All right, I don’t know who you are, but I have pepper spray!”
“Relax, no need to be alarmed.” No need to be alarmed, I guess I’ll remember that the next time I find a creepy old man in my bedroom! “I guess you’ve never seen the likes of me before, or any of my older brothers.”
“Older brothers?” I ask.
“Why yes,” he answers. “I have many of them. Over two-thousand to be exact!”
The spirit starts laughing at himself loudly.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” he says. “I am here to show you your Christmas present.”
“I don’t want any Christmas presents,” I say.
“Not that kind of present,” he says. “I mean as in today, but this will be a great gift.”
“I’d rather just go back to bed,” I say.
“How can you sleep?” he asks. “Don’t you know it’s Christmas?’
“So what?” he asks. “My dear, I have much to show you then. Touch my robe.”
I do as he says and in an instant the two of us are outside an ugly old apartment building. This neighborhood seems so ugly with its run-down buildings and trash everywhere. Under normal circumstances I would never step into a place like this.
“Why on earth did you bring me here?”
“I’ll show you,” the spirit says as we disappear from the streets into a tiny apartment that looks more cramped than a broom closet.
“What a dump,” I say. “Who lives here?”
My own question is answered when a little boy comes running in the room, followed by Bobbi.
“Come on Bobbi!” he shouts to her. “It’s Christmas morning!”
“Ok Timmy, you eager beaver,” she teases him.
“This is where Bobbi lives?” I ask the spirit.
“Indeed,” he answers. “She lives here all by herself with her little brother.”
“I don’t understand,” I ask. “Why are they living here by themselves? Where are their parents?”
“Bobbi got herself emancipated,” he answers. “After their mother died their father descended into alcoholism and grew abusive, so she moved out and took her little brother, Timmy, with her. She works overtime at the mall just to support both of them.”
“I never knew that,” I say.
“You never bothered to pay attention to her problems,” the spirit says. “You were too busy thinking of yourself to be a friend to Bobbi.”
I never knew Bobbi was living on her own. I guess I failed to notice. It happens when you haven’t been friends with someone in over four years.
“Look at the snow,” Timmy says, looking out the window. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?”
“It really is,” Bobbi says to him. “I wanted to give you this,” Bobbi tells Timmy, showing him a little teddy bear. “I know it’s not much but-”
“I love it,” Timmy interrupts. “Thank you!”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get you more.”
“Don’t worry about it,” says Timmy. “All I need for Christmas is my sister.”
“You’re the best brother a girl can have,” Bobbi tells him.
“I got you something too,” Timmy tells her, pulling out a bracelet made from plastic beads. “I made this in school.”
“I love it!” Bobbi says putting the bracelet on her wrist. “Thank you,” she says as the two hug each other. “Tell you what. I’ll make us both some Christmas tree pancakes and then how about we play a game of Sorry?”
“Ok,” he says. “But I’ll beat you.”
“In your dreams, Pipsqueak,” she says.
Bobbi and Timmy race off into the kitchen together.
“I don’t get it,” I tell the spirit. “How can they be so happy? They have nothing.”
“Not true,” the spirit says. “It may be true they do not live in a penthouse on Park Avenue, but what they share is far more valuable than gold or jewels.”
They both really care about each other, don’t they.
“I never knew Bobbi went through so much.”
“Why should you care? She might as well die now,” the ghost says with his mouth moving, but my own voice coming out, “and be put out of her misery. I say let the useless people die and the better people live.”
“I did say that didn’t I?” I ask the spirit.
The spirit just nods his head, staring at me and making me feel so guilty. I totally deserve it though.
“Bobbi could have used a friend,” the ghost tells me. “But you were never there for her when she needed you most.”
“Bobbi and I just grew apart,” I tell the spirit. “I have new friends now.”
“Is that so?” the spirit asks me. “Let’s just see these so-called-friends, shall we?”
From out of Bobbi’s apartment we are now at this café where Jane and Mia are having lunch.
“What are they doing?” I ask. “Getting lunch without me?”
“Do not tell Eb we were here,” Jane says to Mia.
“Don’t worry, I won’t say a word,” Mia says to Jane. “She’d skin us alive if she knew we were here without her.”
“It’s nice to get away from her once in a while,” Jane says.
“I have no idea why we even put up with her,” Mia says.
“I can’t believe they said that!”
“Some friends huh,” the spirit says to me.
Some friends indeed. I can’t believe they would talk about me behind my back like that. Though it’s not like I haven’t done it before and I really can’t blame them.
“There is more to see,” the spirit says as we leave the café and end up in this ugly living room in this tiny house with a horrendous Christmas tree with a bunch of crappy ornaments and gifts all around it.
Down the stairs comes running a little boy and girl in their pajamas followed by this curly haired man who is so middle-aged and dad-looking, and my mom.
“This is your mother’s house,” the spirit announces. “And that is your mother’s husband Harry and his kids, Harry Jr. and Maggie.”
“Why do you bring me here?” I ask.
The two kids race down the stairs so eager and anxious and full of energy.
“Merry Christmas,” Harry says to his kids.
“Looks like Santa was very generous this year,” my mom says.
“Let’s see what he brought you!” Harry shouts.
The two of them rush to open their presents while my mom and Harry watch.
“Merry Christmas Fred,” he says to her before kissing her.
“I don’t understand,” I say to the spirit. “My mom was living a life of luxury with my dad. Now she’s working as a school nurse living in a small house with a bunch of bills to pay.”
“But she seems happy doesn’t she?”
“She does,” I say. “Much happier than when she was married to my dad.”
All four of them are laying on the floor together tossing wrapping paper everywhere and smiling and laughing and just having a good time. It sure looks like fun.
“What a joyous Christmas morning,” the spirit says. “I believe you were invited.”
“I was,” I answer. “But I declined.”
“What a shame,” the spirit says. “It looks like you’re missing out on a lot.”
I really am, aren’t I? I wish I could join them now, but I know they can’t see or hear me. I want to stay, but the ghost guides me away and we end up in some back alley for some reason.
“Our time is growing short,” the spirit announces. “Christmas Day is almost at an end and pretty soon I shall be gone.”
“Gone?” I ask. “You don’t mean that do you?”
“I’m afraid so,” he answers. “Next year there will be a new Ghost of Christmas Present and I will become a part of Christmas past.”
The spirit turns his back to me and begins to walk away.
“Spirit, stop!” I demand as I follow it.
I grab onto the spirit’s cloak and turn him around to face me. I accidentally pull back the cloak to reveal a little boy hiding underneath it clinging onto the spirit’s leg. I open the spirit’s cloak to find a little girl hiding under it clinging onto the other leg. Both of them are covered from head to toe in filth and dressed in worn-out clothing. They’re so thin as if they were starving.
They seem so lost, so helpless. They look as if they’ve been living on the street.
“Spirit, are they yours?” I ask.
“They are every human’s,” he answers. “This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both.”
“Is there nowhere for them to go?” I ask the spirit.
“Are there no prisons?” he shouts back to me with my own voice again. “Are there no homeless shelters?”
I don’t even have a response to that. Right before my eyes the spirit just disappears out of thin air.
“Spirit!” I yell back, but he’s gone.
The Ghost of Christmas Present is gone! He is nowhere to be found and I’m standing all by myself in this dark alley. Suddenly, a thick layer of fog appears. In the distance there’s an ominous shadowy figure looking straight at me. The shadow is coming near me, it’s coming near me! I feel more scared with every step it takes! The shadow keeps moving closer and closer towards me until out of the fog emerges a tall figure in a black hooded cloak that covers its face.
I don’t think I want to know what’s under that cloak. This has to be the third spirit. So far I’ve been taken to the past and the present, so that only leaves one option.
“Are you the Ghost of Christmas Future?” I ask it.
The spirit does not speak. The only sound that comes from it is a deep breath, so it just nods yes.
“Are you going to speak to me?” I ask.
The spirit does not answer at all, it just stands there staring at me from under its hood. The spirit signals me and I follow it into the fog. I have no idea what to expect from this spirit, but I fear this one more than the others. The two of us walk through the fog until I see a light again. The next thing I know I’m standing in the gym of my high school.
It’s all decorated for Christmas and many people I recognize from school are sitting at round tables all dressed up, though they all look slightly older to me. Above the gym is a banner which reads; PS.116 HIGH SCHOOL 5 YEAR REUNION.
“Is this my high school reunion?” I ask the spirit.
Again, the spirit does not speak to me, it just nods yes. I’m looking all over the room, but I can’t find myself anywhere. The spirit points to a table where a group of girls in my class are sitting and talking with each other.
“Whatever happened to her?” one of them asks.
“She died,” another one of the girls answers. “Bulimia I believe. “Hardly anyone came to her funeral. She had no family and no friends. She died completely alone.”
“That’s so sad,” another woman replies. “I can’t say that I’m sorry.”
“She was just the worst,” another woman answers. “No one in our class even misses her. The world will be such a better place without her.”
“Amen to that,” they all agree.
“Who are they talking about?” I ask the spirit with no answer.
Who is this woman? Is she someone in my class? Have I met her? I don’t understand why they would all be glad she was dead. The spirit directs me towards another table where a man and a woman sit.
“Do you remember Bobbi Cratchit?” the woman asks the man.
“Of course I do,” he replies. “It was sad what happened to her.”
Wait, what happened to Bobbi? I don’t understand. Where is she? Why isn’t she at the reunion?
“She was such a nice girl,” the woman tells the man. “Nobody could understand why she did it. Why she killed herself.”
“No!” I shout. “Not Bobbi, please no!”
It can’t be true! She didn’t, she wouldn’t! She really did it. She killed herself, but why?
“I have no idea,” the man replies. “She was being bullied, I believe.”
This is all my fault! I was her only friend and I ditched her! I bullied her all of high school and called her names. She’s dead because of me, because of the way I treated her. Oh dear Lord, what have I done?
Why, why did I have to be so mean to her?
“What happened to her brother?” asks the woman.
“They took him away I think,” the man answers. “They put him in foster care.”
“Poor kid,” the woman replies.
Poor kid indeed, losing his sister like that and going into foster care because of me. I’ve ruined their lives. I don’t think I can even look at myself in the mirror. The image of the reunion are soon clouded by fog. The fog clears up again, revealing a cemetery.
The two of us come upon a plaque on the ground all covered in snow.
“Whose grave is this?” I ask the spirit. “Does it belong to the woman they were talking about at the reunion?”
The spirit nods its head yes and points to the grave. I don’t want to see the name on it, but I know I have to. I brush off the snow to read the name on the plaque. Engraved on the headstone is the name ELIZABETH SCROOGE.
“No, no, no,” I begin to sob. “This can’t be true!”
The spirit begins to laugh hysterically as the wind begins to howl and thunder roars. In one swift move the spirit removes its cloak. Standing before me is a horrendously ugly woman in a ragged old dress and chains with decayed skin, just like how Marley appeared to me.
“Who are you?” I demand.
“I am you,” the spirit speaks to me for the first time.
No, no way, this can’t be! Is this what I become? Is this what my future looks like? Fated to die alone and spend all eternity in misery!
“No,” I say to the spirit. “I don’t have to become you! That’s why you’re showing me all of this! These aren’t the way things have to be! Oh spirit please hear me! I will not forget what I have been shown tonight or the lessons I have learned. I have found the spirit of Christmas and I want to keep it there all year round! I will live in the past, the present and the future! Oh please spirit give me a chance! I can change! I will change!”
The wind begins to grow heavier as the thunder grows louder and lightning begins to strike. The images around me begin to disappear with the wind like dust blown away in a storm. Everything is gone, even the spirit! I cannot even feel the ground! There is nothing around me, I am falling. I cannot see any top or any bottom.
Will I ever stop falling? If I do, where will I land? Where am I? What just happened? The last thing I remember was that I was with the Ghost of Christmas Future and the next thing I knew I was falling.
All I can see is darkness and all I can hear is the tiny sound that almost sounds like bells sort of, a beeping bell. What is this, what am I feeling underneath me? It doesn’t feel painful or tortuous; it feels warm, so warm and so soft. Wait, that sound, that beeping, yes it’s my alarm!
Oh thank god, thank holy god, I’m here in my bedroom right on my nice comfy bed. I’ve never been so grateful to see this room in my life. I swear now I know what relief is. The sun, the sun is out just glistening though my windows and lighting my bedroom! What time is it now?
How long was I gone? I’m checking my phone right now! It’s nine-fifteen in the morning December 25th, Christmas Day! Yes, I haven’t missed it, it’s not too late! The spirits, they did it all in one night!
Well of course, they can do anything, they’re spirits! I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel as light as a feather, as happy as an angel, as cheerful as a child, as peaceful as a drunk! I feel so exhilarated, so free. I feel as if I’ve been reborn.
No; for years I had lost myself. For years I had let myself become something I wasn’t and somehow I convinced myself I was in the right. Now I see the truth, now I’ve found myself after years of losing myself. From now on the world will know a different Eb Scrooge. I don’t even know where to begin. I have so little time. I have to hurry before it’s too late! I need to start now!
My first stop is the St. Madisons’ house. I knock on the door where both Charity and Grace answer.
“Merry Christmas you two,” I greet.
“Eb Scrooge?” Charity says.
“What are you doing here?” Grace asks.
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for my behavior the other day and I would like to know if I can still make a donation to your church.”
“Of course, of course,” Charity says.
I hand them a check and their eyes pop at the sight of it.
“Are you serious?” Grace asks.
“Indeed,” I tell them. “I want that money to be put to good use.”
“We promise,” Charity says. “How can we ever thank you?”
“No need to thank me,” I answer. “I just want to help those in need is all.”
“Would you like to stay?” Grace offers.
“I’m sure our parents wouldn’t mind,” Charity says.
“Thank you so much, but I have somewhere else I need to be. But I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas.”
I hug them both before heading off to my next visit.
I walk up to the door of the house and knock. My mother answers the door and looks at me as if I were a ghost (if only she knew the half of it).
“Eb,” she cries out.
“Hi,” I greet. “Does that offer to spend Christmas here still stand?”
“Of course, of course,” she says to me while embracing me in the tightest hug ever.
“Mom,” I say almost in tears. “I don’t even know where to begin. I haven’t exactly been fair to you and I-”
“You don’t have to say anything,” she says with teary eyes. “I know, I know.”
“I just hope you can forgive me.”
“Oh sweetheart,” she says. “You’re my daughter and you will always be no matter what.”
“I love you mom,” I say to her after so many years without saying it.
“I love you too Eb,” she says to me.
“Fred who is it?” Harry asks my mother. As soon as Harry notices me he stares at me about ready to drop dead.
“Harry,” my mother says. “This is Eb. Eb this is Harry.”
“I’m glad we can finally meet, Eb,” he says, offering me his hand.
“It’s about time too,” I say, taking his hand.
“Oh please come inside,” he offers.
I take him up on that offer and step inside the house.
“Children!” my mother announces as we walk into the living room where Harry Jr. and Maggie are opening presents. “We have a special visitor this Christmas. I would like you all to meet Eb. Eb this Harry Jr. and Maggie.”
“Hi,” they both greet shyly.
“Hi,” I greet them. “It’s great to finally meet you. Merry Christmas you two.”
“Merry Christmas,” they say back.
“I just remembered I have a gift for your whole family!” I reach into my bag and pull out an envelope. “I’ve bought it at least, but you can’t have it yet.”
“You didn’t have to get us anything,” my mother tells me. “You being here is enough.”
“I insist,” I say, handing her the envelope.
She opens the envelope to find a brochure along with tickets to Disney World.
“Oh my!” she says, barely able to speak.
“Surprise! I got you all a trip to Disney for this summer! I’ve already booked the flight and hotel and bought the park tickets, it’s all set!”
“I don’t know what to say,” my mother tells me.
“You don’t have to say anything,” I reply. “I bought myself a ticket too. I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to-”
“Of course,” my mom says to me. “We want to have you there with us.”
“We’d be more than happy to have you come with us,” Harry tells me.
All of us gather towards each other and join in a big hug. After spending the rest of Christmas morning opening presents and getting to know Harry and his kids I head on over to Bobbi’s apartment.
Bobbi looks rather uneasy as she answers the door.
“Eb?” she says. “What are you doing here?”
“Why aren’t you getting me a latte?” I tease her.
“It’s Christmas,” she says. “We’re not at the mall and I’m not working today.”
“Oh, silly me,” I say. “Merry Christmas to you then!”
“Bobbi who’s this?” Timmy asks as he appears in the door.
“Timmy this is Eb,” Bobbi introduces. “Do you remember her? We used to be friends.”
“I don’t think so,” Timmy answers.
“It’s OK, it’s been awhile. I just came by to give you this.” I pull out a gigantic box wrapped in wrapping paper with a big bow on it and hand it to Timmy. “Merry Christmas.”
Timmy unwraps his present and his eyes light up at the sight of his new drone.
“Holy cow!” Timmy exclaims. “Thank you so much!”
I kneel down to Timmy and he squeezes me very tightly.
“You don’t think I forgot about you did you?” I tell Bobbi as I hand her a tiny wrapped box.
Bobbi opens the box and her jaw drops to find a key inside.
“Are you serious?” she asks.
“Indeed,” I answer. “It’s right outside.”
The two of us race downstairs and storm out of the building where Bobbi finds her brand new orange convertible.
“I don’t understand,” she asks. “Why?”
“I just wanted to make up for how I’ve treated you for the past few years,” I answer. “And I just wanted to apologize for everything I’ve done. I was wrong to end our friendship back then and I regret picking on you and calling you names and I wish I could take it all back. I want you to remember that you are a beautiful, strong, and confident woman and that there is no one on this planet like you. I understand if you can never forgive me, but I truly am sorry.”
“I always knew that the Eb I had known wasn’t gone for good,” Bobbi says sobbing.
The two of us join in a warm embrace.
“I almost forgot, I’m going to my mother’s house for dinner,” I tell her. “She said you and Timmy are more than welcome to join us.”
“Are you sure, I don’t want to intrude-”
“I insist,” I tell her.
“Well, all right,” she answers.
We gather Timmy and his drone into Bobbi’s new car and head back to my mother’s where we all sit down to a great turkey dinner.
“Thanks again for having us,” Bobbi says to my mom.
“No problem,” my mom tells Bobbi. “We’re happy to have you.”
“We should probably leave soon,” Bobbi says. “It’s going to be late by the time we get back home.”
“I have an idea,” I say. “I live closer by, so why don’t you and Timmy stay at my place tonight?”
“Do you really mean that?” Bobbi asks.
“Sure,” I answer. “In fact why don’t you two stay there for a while? It’s a big place and I’m sure my dad wouldn’t mind.”
“Really?” Bobbi asks. “Thank you.”
“What are friends for?” I reply.
“Merry Christmas,” my mother says to us all.
“Merry Christmas,” we all say.
“God bless us,” Timmy says. “God bless us everyone.”