A Covid Christmas Carol

A Covid Christmas Carol

“Bah humbug!” shouted Eversneezer Scrooge as he pulled into the parking lot of his corporation’s headquarters. Even though the parking space nearest the front entrance was clearly marked ‘Reserved for CEO,’ the spot was taken. With no other spaces available in the main lot, he drove down the street to the auxiliary lot, where parking was also scarce.  He carefully backed his new sportscar into a spot between two smaller cars, both of which were centered in their own spaces.  Stepping outside, he walked around his vehicle to confirm there was enough space on either side for the neighboring car owners to open their doors without banging them into his newest toy. If it happened, he could of course pull the security camera footage, track the culprits down, and make them pay for the damage.  That would take time and energy, though.  Scrooge needed it for other things.

Scrooge began his hike through the snow to the office, thankful that traffic was at a lull.  Most of the businesses in the surrounding area were closed for Christmas Eve, or at least operating on a shortened schedule. That made it easier for Scrooge to jaywalk across the highway to his office. While doing so, his phone rang. He stopped to retrieve it from his coat pocket and answer the call.

“This is Scrooge,” he barked, followed by a cough, then a series of sneezes.

“Bless you, Mr. Scrooge,” said the caller.  “And Merry Christmas Eve.”

Scrooge immediately recognized the voice of Bob Maskit, his top employee. Bob had started working at the company just after Scrooge’s founding partner, Jacob Normley, died the previous year.  Not only had he helped a great deal with settling Jacob’s business affairs, he’d been a good friend too, always willing to listen and share kind words whenever Scrooge found himself stricken with grief. Bob was smart, resourceful, and fiercely loyal. He was the kind of employee who would take ownership of things that nobody else wanted to do. Even though Scrooge had hired him as an assistant, Bob was essentially running the company and didn’t even know it. Scrooge hoped he would never find out, because his duties and responsibilities warranted much more compensation than his current salary.

Scrooge didn’t like most people, but Bob wasn’t so bad.

There was just one thing Scrooge didn’t like about him.

Those damn masks that Bob was always wearing. The Covid pandemic was over – that was the consensus among government and health officials, and even the media.  So it pissed Scrooge off to see reminders of 2020, when he’d had to skip his overseas vacations and go for months without indoor dining and entertainment events. Even worse, he’d had to let his employees work from home. Once everyone in the company was vaccinated, Scrooge declared the pandemic over too, and called everyone back into the office. Most people were ready for it, happy to move on and leave all Covid precautions and mitigations behind.

Except for Bob. He never stopped masking. Bob had an immunocompromised 5 year-old son at home.  Poor little Fragile Finn, as Scrooge had come to think of him. He had some terrible rare disease that Scrooge couldn’t remember the name of, in spite of how often Bob would bring it up. And Bob would play that violin whenever Scrooge would suggest that he needed to stop masking and get back to normal.

Scrooge had tried his best to force Bob to drop the mask. He’d planned a series of celebrations after bringing everyone back to the office, including breakfasts and lunches and corporate parties.  He required Bob to attend each one and insisted he unmask to eat, drink and make merry with his work family. Within a couple of weeks, Bob tested positive for Covid. A few days later, his entire family had it too. Hardest hit by it was Fragile Finn, who ended up in the hospital for several weeks, fighting for his life. Any other boss might have felt bad about that whole ordeal, but not Scrooge. Everyone had to embrace personal responsibility as the path forward. It was the only way back to the normalcy everyone had been deprived of for so long. Bob’s kid wasn’t Scrooge’s problem. If Bob didn’t want to unmask and risk bringing Covid home, he could always quit.

“Bah humbug,” Scrooge muttered into his phone. “What do you want, Bob?”

“I’m sorry to bother you, sir. I just had this nagging feeling that I should call you to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine. I’m just delayed because some moron took my parking space this morning, so I had to drive to the auxiliary lot. I’m walking toward the office now.”

“Oh, that’s probably one of our shareholders who drove in from out of town to be here for the annual board meeting today,” explained Bob. “I’ll get the license plate and find the owner so I can ask that person to move it.”

Annual board meeting! Scrooge had forgotten. He stopped in his tracks, right in the middle of an intersection. How could he have forgotten?  Scrooge was no spring chicken.  He was aware that his memory wasn’t as sharp as it used to be, but the forgetfulness seemed to be getting worse lately.

Just then a car turned into the intersection, nearly hitting Scrooge.  The driver blasted the horn and swerved around him. Scrooge waved his fist and shouted expletives as the car passed by him.

“Mr. Scrooge?  Is everything okay? Are you still there?”

“Of course I’m still here!” he barked into the phone.

“Okay. When you arrive, sir, the board room is all set up for the meeting.  I ordered coffee and breakfast for the shareholders and gave each of them a folder with their documents for the meeting.”

Scrooge paused for a long moment. “Including our financials from fourth quarter? Did you put that in there?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good God, Bob, why would you do that? We’re in the red again this year and this last quarter was the worst of all. The shareholders aren’t going to be happy.  And why didn’t you remind me of this meeting, anyway?  You could have done a better job of helping me prepare for today.”

“We had a prep meeting yesterday.” Bob offered.  “Do you recall, sir?  We met in your office, and you gave me a list of things to print and copy for the shareholders. The top item on the list was our financial statement for year-to-date.”

Scrooge sighed loudly. “When they see those numbers, some of them are going to bail, Bob. We’re not finishing up the year on a good note.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Scrooge. What can I do to help?”

“You want to help? You present the financials. You deal with the whining and complaining. You deal with the hard questions and convince those people they should keep investing in us.”

“Uh…okay. I’ll do my best, sir.”

“Good.” Scrooge continued walking across the intersection toward the office. “One more thing, Bob.”

“Yes Mr. Scrooge?”

“The mask comes off for your talk. I don’t want our shareholders thinking we’re a bunch of sissies here who are afraid of a damn virus.” Scrooge coughed loudly, then sneezed several times.

A long pause followed.  “But sir, my son—”

“I’ve heard enough about your son. If you don’t want to work for me anymore, you know where the door is. But if you want to keep your job, you’ll do what I say. I’m getting ready to walk through the front door now, Bob, and I’m heading straight into that meeting. If I see a mask anywhere in that room, you’re fired.”


After the board meeting ended, Scrooge retreated to his office and closed the door behind him. It hadn’t gone well. Many of the shareholders hadn’t show up, citing illness as their excuse for not attending. Among those who had come to the meeting, several were coughing and sneezing – including Scrooge himself. Some were having had a hard time staying focused on the meeting agenda. One asked the same question multiple times. Another got frustrated and hostile for no apparent reason and stormed out of the room. All were upset over how poorly the company had performed financially for the year.

And all were livid over having to show up in person for a meeting on Christmas Eve.

Bob Maskit had given the presentation unmasked as Scrooge had demanded. Immediately after his presentation, he returned to his desk and masked up again. He seemed upset. Scrooge hoped he hadn’t pushed Bob too far. The last thing he needed was for Bob to find a job elsewhere and leave the company.

Scrooge peered out the window to see that some of his employees were sneaking out early, trying to get home to their families for the holidays.  He wrote down the name of each person he caught in the act. He’d deal with them after Christmas. He didn’t understand why it was such a big deal, anyway. Christmas was just another day of the year. Santa Claus and flying reindeer weren’t real. Neither was Jesus nor angels nor spirits, he was willing to bet. No, there was nothing magical about Christmas. People just wanted an excuse to put up tacky decorations, binge on a big dinner, shop for pricey presents, and enjoy their new toys once gifts were exchanged.  It was all about indulgence, which was fine with him. He’d made a shitload of money throughout his career and had bought plenty of toys of his own to enjoy. A mansion in the city and a summer home on the coast, a private plane, a fleet of sportscars. Maybe a sports team or a private island in the Caribbean next, just for the heck of it.  Everyone loved getting new toys! Scrooge just wished other people would be honest about what Christmas really was and stop pretending that it was a celebration of miracles.

At any rate, he was certainly ready to splurge on a new toy for himself. Looking for inspiration, he scrolled through the news feed on his phone to see if there were any stories about how celebrities, public figures, and business moguls like himself were spending their money for the holidays.

o   Businesses still struggling to recover from losses incurred during pandemic

o   Hospitals cancel surgeries, warn public of long ER wait times as respiratory virus season overwhelms capacity

o   Job vacancies reach record highs throughout the country

o   At least 1 in 10 people infected with Covid will develop Long Covid, studies find

o   Saylor Twift concert tour dates canceled due to illness

“Bah humbug!” yelled Scrooge, pissed off by the headlines. It was just the kind of stuff that Bob would talk about whenever Covid was the topic of discussion. Maybe Bob was right about some of it, Scrooge pondered. The pandemic was supposed to be over, but things weren’t quite back to normal. Even the financial statement on his desk suggested his company was off course; business as usual was no longer profitable, and hadn’t been in some time. But Scrooge didn’t want to think about any of that. He’d leave the worrying to Bob, who was still at his desk. Scrooge packed up his things, made his way back to the car, and headed home for the night.


A snifter of brandy, a Cuban cigar, and an evening of browsing for yachts online by the fireplace were all the festivities that Scrooge was able to cram into Christmas Eve. It was well past Scrooge’s bedtime and both hands on the grandfather clock were dangerously close to 12. He climbed the stairs and settled into bed, trying his best not to think about Bob Maskit and his family. He wondered what they were doing for Christmas Eve.

He wondered too if Bob might have brought home any viruses from his unmasked presentation in the board room that day, and if Fragile Finn might be harmed again as a result.

“Bah humbug, not my problem.” Scrooge whispered to himself, quieting the uncomfortable thoughts in his head as he drifted off to sleep.


A loud noise startled Scrooge awake. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep but was surprised to find that the room had grown quite chilly. He guessed the THUD sound had been from the logs shifting in the fireplace as they burned. Maybe the fire had been extinguished. He hopped out of bed, donning his housecoat and slippers to return downstairs. Using his phone as a flashlight, he shined it on the floor to guide his steps.

Scrooge didn’t get very far. Standing in front of him was none other than his deceased friend and business partner, Jacob Normley, still in the 3-piece suit he’d been buried in last year. He screamed, then coughed, then sneezed several times. When Scrooge finally regained his composure, he screamed again. “Jacob! Is it really you? Am I dreaming?” He fixed the light on the figure in front of him.

“Sorry chap,” said Jacob.  “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“The loud noise? That was you?”

“I’m afraid so. I stumbled a bit, trying to crawl through your window.”

“Why were you coming in through the window, Jacob? Actually, what are you doing here? You’re…. you’re... dead!  Aren’t you?  I remember your funeral!  How can this be?”

“Calm down, old friend,” said Jacob. “I am dead, indeed. But I’ve been sentenced to purgatory, so I’ve got some wrongs to right before I can move on to the afterlife. That’s why I’m here tonight.”

“So you’re a ghost, but you crawled through my window and hit the floor?”

Jacob laughed. “I don’t have a body most of the time, so this is a real treat,” he said, shuffling his feet and flashing jazz hands. “I need for you to see me and hear me, so I’ve come to you in the form you remember. I don’t know how it all works, but apparently the rules are different during Christmastime. We can get away with stuff like this because it’s the time of year when people celebrate miracles, so they’re much more open-minded to a visit from the dead.  Anyway, let’s not worry about the details right now.  I haven’t got much time. How have you been, Sneezy?”

A smile slowly crept across Scrooge’s face. “Oh Jacob, you’re the only one who has ever called me Sneezy. It really is you! I’m fine these days, I suppose. Business is in a bit of a slump right now, but things will turn around. They always do.”

“Not exactly,” Jacob shook his head. “I need for you to listen carefully, Sneezy. Remember this morning, when that car almost hit you? It was supposed to hit you. You were meant to die today, but I intervened. I whispered your name in Bob Maskit’s ear.  I put the thought of you in his mind and he called you. It was that call that slowed your steps so you weren’t in the exact spot where the car was supposed to hit you. Had you died, you would have gone straight to hell.”

“Hell?” Scrooge’s jaw dropped. “What have I done to deserve hell?”

“Plenty,” Jacob assured him. “Listen, Sneezy, you’re a real piece of shit. Bob Maskit saved your life today, and you turned around and endangered his. And his little boy’s. And everyone else’s in your company, and all of their families, and everyone… literally EVERYONE else that you all come into contact with. The virus you turn your nose up at now and call mild is the same one that killed me.”

“But the government and every news media outlet are all in agreement that the pandemic is over.”

“Stop,” said Jacob. “That’s lazy. This is a global pandemic. You have to make life and death decisions every day on behalf of all the people who work for you. You should be looking to science for answers, not the government, not the media.”

“I just want everything to be normal again. Is that so wrong?”

“I felt the same way, if you recall.  I rushed right back to normal the moment we were allowed to – and look where it got me. This state I’m in now is far from normal and I don’t want the same for you. I’ve arranged an intervention of sorts for you tonight.” Jacob’s voice began to sound distant, as if he were drifting away. Then his body slowly turned transparent. “My time is up. I have to go now, Sneezy. You’ll be visited by three spirits tonight after I leave.  Each one will take you on a journey and will have something important to show you. You must open your eyes and see the truth. Then you must decide what to do with it.”

“Jacob, don’t go! I have so many questions for you!”

“Whatever they are, the three spirits you’ll meet tonight will have all the answers.” Jacob’s body completely faded from view. “Farewell for now, old friend.” His ghostly voice echoed throughout the room, then faded to silence.

Scrooge blinked his eyes several times, wondering if what he’d just seen and heard was real. The temperature in room had warmed again. He climbed back into bed, hoping it was all just a dream.

He left his housecoat and slippers on just in case it wasn’t.


The Ghost of Christmas Past

“Wake up!”

Scrooge startled awake again and turned on his bedside lamp. Sitting at the foot of his bed was Ms. Stern, one of his teachers from primary school. She looked just like he remembered her from his youth, with her hair pulled up in a matronly bun on the top of her head and thick glasses perched on the bridge of her nose.

“AAAAAGHH!” screamed Scrooge at the sight of her.

Ms. Stern whacked his knuckles with a wooden ruler. “Eversneezer Scrooge, you’re being loud and disruptive! That’s enough!”

“What are you doing here?” He asked in a whisper.

“Isn’t it obvious? I’m the first spirit to visit you tonight. I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past. Get up, young man. We’re going on a field trip.”

Scrooge climbed out of bed. “Should I drive us, or did you book us tickets on a ghost train—”

Ms. Stern brought the ruler down on his knuckles again. “Don’t get sarcastic with me, young man!”

“AGGGGH!! Fine! Just stop with the ruler already! Where are we going?”

“Back to class, of course.” Ms. Stern stepped toward him and placed a hand on his shoulder.

An eerie fog filled the room, enveloping them both. When it dissipated a moment later, they were standing in the middle of Scrooge’s old kindergarten class, surrounded by children. Scrooge could smell the chalk dust in the air. Suddenly, the students laughed in unison.

“Ms. Stern, why didn’t you give me time to change my clothes and comb my hair?” Scrooge asked with frustration.  “Did you bring me here just so the children could have a laugh at a disheveled old man in his pajamas?”

“They aren’t laughing at you,” Ms. Stern assured him. “They can’t see us or hear us, so they’re totally unaware of our presence.” Then she pointed to a boy in the corner of the room. He was facing away from the rest of the class and crying into the bend of his arm.

“I recognize that boy… that’s Tommy!” Scrooge exclaimed. “Why are the children laughing at him? What’s he in trouble for, Ms. Stern?”

“For stealing. He’s been taking money from his classmates’ cubbies. I’ve also caught him rummaging through my pockets for coins. Each time he gets a rap on the knuckles and must stand in the corner.”

“I remember,” said Scrooge. “The memories are rushing back to me now. Tommy was poor. His parents and didn’t have money to buy him lunch. That’s why he was stealing. The poor boy just wanted to eat.”

“Sad, isn’t it? He kept getting in trouble for stealing. So you took pity on him and decided to help him. Do you remember that too?”

“I do!” Scrooge said with excitement. “I started using my own lunch money to buy candies at the corner store on my way to school every day. Then I sold them to our classmates at a 100% markup. I kept the money in a sock in my bookbag and made enough of a profit each day to buy my lunch, and Tommy’s too.”

Most days,” Ms. Stern corrected him. “Somedays you were a little short, so I would throw a little extra in your sock when you weren’t looking.”

“You mean you knew? Sweets in class were against the rules, and I was dealing them to everyone! Why didn’t you put me in the corner as well?”

“You were helping a peer, which I thought was very noble,” said Ms. Stern, her face suddenly softening. “You bought lunch for Tommy for the first time as a Christmas present that school year. Then you bought it for him every day after that. The two of you became best friends. Look.” She pointed.

Following her finger, Scrooge turned around to find that the setting had changed. He and Ms. Stern were standing in the school cafeteria. Children were gathered at the tiny tables, chattering away while they ate their lunches. Scrooge scanned the crowd till he found the younger version of himself.  He clutched his hand over his heart. “Oh!” He gasped. “It’s little me! And Tommy by my side!” Each boy held a sandwich in one hand and half a corn cob in the other. They were engaged in a lively conversation in between bites of their food. “Look at us,” Scrooge said tearfully. “What fun we had! What good friends we were! I miss those days!”

“I miss those days too. I knew you were special, Eversneezer. A future entrepreneur and leader.  I was so proud of you for using all that creativity to do something good for others. What a shame you’re not that same little boy anymore. You had such a good heart. Somewhere along the way, you lost it.”

“Why do you say that?” Scrooge asked, taking offense at her words.                       

“I’ll show you. Time for stop number two on our journey into the past.” Ms. Stern placed her hand on his shoulder again. Fog swirled around them. When it lifted, they were back in Scrooge’s bedroom.

“Why Ms. Stern, you’ve brought me right back home. I thought you said there would be a stop number two. Did I misunderstand you?” asked a very confused Scrooge.

“Not at all,” she assured him. “This is stop number two. We’re still in the past. Five Christmases ago from the present.”

The sound of a child’s laughter carried through the house.

Scrooge gasped. “I know that voice! It’s Nicole!” He rushed downstairs to find a slightly younger version of himself seated on the sofa next to a little girl. The two of them were battling each other in a game of Fortnite. Her character killed Scrooge’s character on the big screen TV. “You got me!” yelled the slightly younger Scrooge on the sofa, throwing up his hands dramatically.  “You’re too good at this game, Nicole! I don’t even stand a chance against you!”

“I’ll teach you how to play better,” said the doe-eyed little girl.

“What a lovely child,” Ms. Stern whispered to Scrooge. “She adored you. What a great stepfather you might have been, had you stayed with her mother.”

Scrooge wiped a tear away from his eye as he started at the little girl on the sofa. Then a woman entered the room carrying a tray with three mugs of hot cocoa. “Carol,” he whispered softly, watching the woman place the tray on the coffee table before she settled on the sofa.

“They loved you,” said Ms. Stern.

Scrooge watched the three of them sip from the mugs. They started another round of Fortnite, laughing and cheering each other on as Nicole defeated her mother’s boyfriend once again. Then Scrooge turned to his former teacher. “What happened to us, Ms. Stern?  I know it was just a few years ago, but I can’t seem to remember. Help me!  What happened to Carol and Nicole?”

Ms. Stern nodded toward the sofa. “Look. And listen.”

“Nic, sweetheart,” said Carol to her daughter, “could you pause the game for just a moment? Maybe go put your warm clothes and coat on so we can go out and build a snowman.”

“Okay Mommy.” The little girl put her game controller down and skipped down the hallway, disappearing up the stairs.

Carol turned to younger Scrooge. “Thank you so much for getting her the gaming system for Christmas,” she said warmly. “She loves it. And I love seeing the two of you spend time together. You make us both very happy.”

Younger Scrooge turned toward his girlfriend.  “You both make me very happy too.”

“Sometimes I dream about what it would be like if we had a little one of our own.  Or two. Or three. Or more!  Nicole could be a big sister, and we could be…” her voice trailed off.

Younger Scrooge wrinkled his brow. “We could be what?”

“Married,” Carol said. “I could be your wife, and you could be Nicole’s stepfather. And we could have a huge family to fill this big house. It would be amazing, Eversneezer! We could be so happy!”

Younger Scrooge blinked several times. Then he opened his mouth, but no words came out.

“We’ve been together a long time,” Carol continued. “I’ve been hoping you’d ask me to marry you, Eversneezer.  I’ve been waiting and waiting. But year after year, Christmas after Christmas, you haven’t asked. So I’ve decided to wait no more. This Christmas, I’m asking YOU. Eversneezer, I love you with all my heart. Will you marry me? Will you make me Mrs. Scrooge and have a family with me?” She reached for his hands, giving them a gentle squeeze.

Younger Scrooge continued to stare blankly at her.


“Carol…I… I just don’t think—”

“Oh,” she said softly, pulling her hands away from his to wipe tears from her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You know I’m fond of you both, but I just don’t have time for a family. Business is booming and my company is growing. I have to make it my priority right now, if I want it to increase profits.”

“You’re already wealthy,” said Carol. Another tear slipped down her cheek. “But that doesn’t matter to me. I’d love you even if you were poor. What about you, Eversneezer? Do you love anything but money? If that’s all you love, will you ever have enough, or will you be chasing more till your dying day?”

Younger Scrooge looked away from her. “I’m very sorry to ruin Christmas, Carol.”

Nicole ran down the steps, skipping back into the living room in her coat, boots, mittens and hat. “Get up! Put your coats on!” She demanded “I’m ready to build a snowman!”

Carol stood and wiped her face again. “Actually sweetheart, I need for you to pack up all your things. It’s time for us to go.”

“No!” cried Scrooge, watching while the younger version of himself sat quietly on the sofa. “Carole, Nicole, don’t go!”

“They can’t hear you,” Ms. Stern reminded him.

“I guess it’s for the best,” said Scrooge. He began to weep, then coughed loudly and sneezed several times. “I suppose I did the right thing by remaining a bachelor. I wouldn’t have the same net worth if I had a family weighing me down. Maybe it’s best that I put them out of my mind. I’d forgotten about this before and I’d rather forget about it again.”

“I’d rather you not forget about it. You were quite the little shitass that Christmas,” said Ms. Stern, whacking him on the knuckles again with her wooden ruler.

“AGGGHHH!” he cried.  “Stop that!”

“That was the last time, I promise. You’ve seen enough of the past, Eversneezer.  You should realize now what you left behind in order to build your wealth. Now it’s time to look around at what that means in the present.” She placed a hand on his shoulder and the eerie fog returned, surrounding them completely.


The Ghost of Christmas Present

When the mist scattered away, Ms. Stern was gone. In her place was a younger woman with long, blonde hair and bright red lipstick. She was wearing the same white tuxedo shirt and black mini skirt she wore the last time he saw her. Scrooge gasped.

“What’s the matter, Eversneezer? Aren’t you happy to see me?” She raised a martini glass. “Cheers! I’m the Ghost of Christmas Present, at your service. We’ve met before. Don’t you remember me?” She stuck out her lower lip and pretended to pout.

“I remember you, Candy.”

He sank his face into his hands as memories of his last Christmas with Carol and Nicole came flooding back into his mind. After rejecting Carol’s marriage proposal, he watched them walk out the door, never once protesting their departure. With the two of them gone, there was no reason for him to be at home either, so he booked a last-minute flight to Las Vegas. He took a cab to his hotel on the strip when the plane landed.  Bypassing guest check-in, he wheeled his suitcase straight to the casino. He started off at the Craps table, where a stunning cocktail waitress placed a drink in front of him.

“On the house,” she said with a smile.

Scrooge eyed her from head to toe as she sipped from the martini glass. “What time do you get off work?”

“Oh… we’re not supposed to hang out with guests. It’s kind of against the rules here.”

He glanced at her namebadge. “Well bah humbug to that!  Let’s go elsewhere, Candy.  Anywhere you want to go.  On me,” he said, patting the wallet in his pocket and flashing a charming grin. “Whatever you want.  Dinner, shopping spree, dancing… I’m just a rich old man who doesn’t want to be alone for the holidays, so I invite you to take full advantage of the situation.”

She raised her eyebrows. “It’s Christmas… why aren’t you with your family?”

Scrooge shook his head woefully. “I don’t have one.  I mean, I had a girlfriend up until this morning.  I had planned to spend the holidays with her and her daughter.  But Christmas Day started off with a marriage proposal that sort of went sideways…”

“Oh my God,” gasped Candy.  “I’m really sorry.”

“It’s ok,” said Scrooge.  “I suppose I came to Vegas so I wouldn’t have to be alone. Maybe you could keep me company.”

She gave a sympathetic smile. “I’ll think about it.”

When Candy returned with another round of drinks for the table, she slipped a folded cocktail napkin to Scrooge.

It does suck to be alone for the holidays. I’m off in an hour. Meet me outside the main entrance.

Scrooge disappeared to check into his room and freshen up, then met Candy outside the hotel. She hooked her arm into his and led him on a walk down the strip.

“I don’t mind showing you around and giving you some recommendations for what to do while you’re here,” she said.  “But nothing too crazy. I have to head home soon.  I get to see my son tomorrow.  I haven’t seen him in a long time.”

“Well that sounds sad,” said Scrooge, feigning interest. “Why haven’t you been able to see him?”

Candy sighed loudly. “This may be oversharing, but I’ve had some problems with substance abuse and I lost custody of my son to my ex-husband. It was the wakeup call I needed, though. I went through a treatment program and got clean. My ex agreed to let me see him tomorrow for a few hours so I can give him his Christmas presents. It’s been almost six months since I last saw my little boy. His dad says he’s been through a growth spurt and joked around that I won’t even recognize him. I know he didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but the thought of it broke my heart. They grow up so fast, you know?”

“I’m sorry,” said Scrooge, this time feigning empathy. “Let me help you take your mind off of everything.” He pointed in the direction of a bar with a loud band blaring cover tunes.  “This sounds like fun!  Let’s go have a drink and dance for a bit, and then you can take off whenever you want.”

Candy smiled. “It sounds fun, but I really shouldn’t.  Alcohol wasn’t the substance I had a problem with, but I gave that up too. My liver isn’t in the best of shape, and it doesn’t mix very well with some of the medications I’m on. I admit, I miss having a drink every now and then, but it’s best not to risk it.”

Scrooge laughed.  “But you’re a cocktail waitress!  You’re around alcohol all the time!”

“I know,” she said. “But I won’t be there for much longer. My boss has been so supportive.  She helped me keep my job while I went through treatment, and now she’s helping me move into another position at the hotel, with wedding and events planning. I’ll start in the new year and it will be a better environment for me to help me maintain my sobriety. I just really needed some extra money and no one else wanted to work during Christmas, so I volunteered to come in and serve drinks today.”

“All the more reason for you to let your hair down and have a little fun,” said Scrooge, pulling her into the bar. “You deserve it.”

“I really shouldn’t…”

“C’mon.  You can trust me.”

Candy relented, following him into the bar. After that, it wasn’t too hard to talk her into the first drink. And a second one after some awkward attempts at conversation during the band’s break, immediately followed by a third round. Then they danced after the band took the stage again.  Candy was having so much fun she ordered a fishbowl filled with a blue mixed drink and gummy candy fishes. She took a long pull off one of the straws in the bowl, then reached her hand inside to grab one of the candies out. “My son loves gummy candies,” she slurred.  “I’m going to put these in my purse and save them for him.” But she stopped, slumping forward with her fist still submerged in the fishbowl.

Scrooge laughed, giving her a nudge. She lifted her head and looked confused. “I think I’ve had too much to drink. Can we go? I really should go.” Candy’s mouth gaped open and her eyes rolled to the back of her head. A few seconds later, she slumped forward again.  He grabbed her shoulders and shook her. She didn’t respond.

Scrooge carried her outside, still unconscious. He waved down a cab and loaded her in the back. “I don’t know this girl, but she’s had too much to drink and needs to get home,” he said to the driver.  He passed her purse to the front of the cab.  “Her driver’s license is probably in there with her address on it.”

The cab driver was furious. “I’m not driving away from here with an unconscious girl in the back seat!”

Scrooge reached into his pocket, pulling out a fat wad of cash and passing it to the driver. “Just be a sport and take her home.” The driver continued to yell in protest, but Scrooge walked away without looking back. Candy wasn’t his problem.

And she still wasn’t now, in the present moment.

“Hey,” said Candy, snapping her fingers in front of Scrooge’s face, bringing him back to the present.  “You taking a trip down memory lane in that brain of yours? Cut it out, Scrooge. Ms. Stern is the Ghost of Christmas Past, and she’s off duty.  It’s my turn now.”

“Wait,” said Scrooge, pausing thoughtfully. “I remember reading Ms. Stern’s obituary several years ago in the news, so I knew she was deceased. But if you’re the Ghost of Christmas Present, does that mean you’re…”

“Dead?” Candy laughed, then took another sip from her martini glass. “That’s generally a requirement for becoming a ghost.”

He blinked rapidly. “But you’re so young, Candy. You look so healthy, so full of life…”

“Appearances can be deceiving. Remember I told you that I wasn’t in the best of health, and that I shouldn’t be drinking? Or did you even listen to a word I said?”

“I didn’t force you to drink anything.”

“Maybe not, but you manipulated me.  You told me a sob story about a failed marriage proposal and let me believe it was you who got rejected. I felt sorry for you and was trying to show you a little bit of kindness. Instead, you pressured me until I gave in and had a few drinks with you.  Then you left me unconscious in the back of a cab. The driver rushed me to the hospital, but it was too late. My little boy will forever remember that Christmas as the one when his mother drank herself to death instead of staying sober enough to come see him and bring him his Christmas gifts.”

Scrooge looked away from her. “You made your own choices. You can’t blame me for what happened.”

“Man…you do know this is an intervention, right?” Candy sighed with frustration. “Trust me, I know one when I see it. Your friend Jacob cared enough that he lined this whole thing up for you in an effort to save your mortal soul. But you’re really sticking to your own script, aren’t you? Maybe I should just end this bullshit right now.  Maybe I should tell him to stop worrying because you’re not his responsibility, and that he should let himself off the hook the same way you dismiss yourself of responsibility for all terrible things you’ve done. But as odd as this sounds, I don’t want my death to have been in vain. I’m here because when I was headed in a bad direction, there were people in my life who cared enough about me to intervene and help me. So that’s what I’m trying to do for you. This entire night is a big wake up call for you, Scrooge. It’s time to open your eyes. Hold my drink for a sec, will you?”

She handed the martini glass to Scrooge, then placed her hand on his shoulder. With her free hand, she snapped her fingers and the eerie fog returned. Once it dissipated, they were standing in front of a fireplace. Candy took the martini glass back.

“Where are we?” Scrooge asked.

“Look around. I’ll give you one guess.”

Scrooge slowly turned around, taking in the sights of the cozy little home. Three children were adding ornaments to a Christmas tree. A fourth child was resting under a blanket on the sofa. The dark circles under his eyes were a stark contract to the paleness of his face.

“Fragile Finn,” Scrooge said softly. “You’ve brought me to Bob Maskit’s home.”

A woman entered the room and pressed a hand to his forehead. “How are you feeling, baby?”

“I’m okay, Mommy.” The little boy’s voice was weak and raspy. “I wish Daddy could be here with us.”

“Hold on, I’ll go get him.” She left the room, returning with a notebook computer. She placed it on the child’s lap and started a videocall. Then Bob Maskit’s face appeared on the screen.

Scrooge exhaled loudly, turning his face away.  Candy grabbed him by the chin and turned his face back toward the child. “Look,” she said. “This is why I brought you here.  Open your eyes.”

“Hey buddy!” said Bob on the computer screen. “How are you feeling?”

“Hey Daddy!” said the child. “I had an appointment today and I got another ‘fusion, so I feel yucky. I wish you could hold me in the rocking chair like you always do and tell me stories till I fall asleep.”

“I’m sorry, Finn,” said Bob, his voice trembling. “I wish more than anything that I could be with you in the rocking chair too.”

The child nodded with understanding. “Mommy told me you have to quarter-teen in the guest bedroom for a few days. I’m sorry you might have got ‘sposed at work, Daddy. Your boss was mean to make you take off your mask.”

“Let’s try not to say anything unkind about Mr. Scrooge.”

Mrs. Maskit exhaled loudly as she picked up the laptop and walked across the room, out of earshot from Finn.  “You can leave that part to me. I’ve got plenty of unkind things I can say about him. At the clinic today, they told me your new insurance isn’t covering nearly as much for his treatments. We have a big balance all of a sudden and they want more money before his next infusion. A LOT more.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Bob said without hesitation. “I can get a second job if need be.”

“When would you have time to work at another job? You already spend most of your waking hours on the one you have now. Scrooge is never going to give you a break. And he’s never going to give you a raise either.”

“We’ll talk about this later, honey. Try not to worry about it for now.”

She frowned into the camera.

“I’m so sorry,” said Bob softly. “I wish I could come out and hug you and tell you everything’s going to be okay. I wish I could open presents with the kids and rock Finn to sleep—”

“His weight is down again,” said Mrs. Maskit in a whisper. “He’s lost another five pounds, Bob.  I’m trying to hold it together for the kids, but I’m freaking out on the inside.”

“I’m so sorry,” Bob wept. “I love you. I’ll do whatever it takes. We’ll figure this out. We just have to have faith.”

“Faith isn’t going to keep our son alive. You need to leave Scrooge and find another job that won’t put you in horrible situations like this one.”

“I’ll start looking tonight.”

“Bah, humbug!” Scrooge yelled. “How dare he look around for another job after all I’ve done for him? Has he no sense of loyalty? I should call him right now and fire his ass!”

Candy threw the remainder of her drink in his face.

Startled, Scrooge recoiled and brought his hands up to wipe the liquid away. “It’s burning my eyes!”

“No it’s not, you big baby,” she said.  “There was nothing in my martini glass. It was just an illusion. Ghosts don’t drink booze. We don’t drink anything, for that matter. Because we’re dead.”

“So why did you do that?”

“To get your attention, you dumb bastard.” Candy shook her head from side to side. “You’re not getting it, so I’m going to spell it out for you. You think money can buy whatever you want, so you keep chasing the almighty dollar and treating people like all your other toys. You buy them, use them, then discard them when you’re done. And you don’t care about how you hurt them, or their families, or anyone else who cares about them and depends upon them. There are consequences for that, Eversneezer Scrooge. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help you understand that.” She placed her hand on his shoulder. “One more ghost to come, one more chance,” was the last thing Candy said before the ghostly fog swirled around them.


The Ghost of Christmas Future

Once the fog cleared, Candy was gone. A new spirit stood in her place.  Taller and wider than any of the previous visitors, the menacing figure was shrouded in a hooded robe. “The Ghost of Christmas Future,” Scrooge whispered. He peered under the hood to catch a glimpse of the ghost’s face but found only darkness. “Who are you? How do I know you? Reveal yourself!”

“I cannot,” spoke the ghost, in a voice that was eerily inhuman. “I am not a person you knew in your lifetime.  I was an institution.”

“What institution?”

“I was Public Health. I am no more.”

Scrooge’s eyes began to adjust to the darkness, aided by what little bit of moonlight shone through the cover of clouds overhead. Glancing around at their surroundings, he could see they were outdoors.

In a graveyard.

“Why are you a ghost?” Scrooge demanded to know.  “What happened to you?”

“I was abandoned by societies around the world. I was replaced with personal responsibility.”

“You became obsolete,” Scrooge scoffed. “I for one am a fan of personal responsibility. Good riddance to you and your rules and your focus on protecting all people.  Every man for himself!”

The spirit lowered its head. “That mindset is what killed me. It’s what killed little Finn too.”

 “Bob Maskit’s little boy Finn?  He died?”

“See for yourself.” The spirit stretched his arm out to the side, the long sleeve of his robe obscuring Scrooge’s view for a brief second.  When he dropped his arm again, the entire Maskit family was gathered before them.

All except for Finn.

Scrooge’s jaw dropped when he saw the headstone bearing Finn’s name.

“Spirit, what happened to the boy?”

The Ghost of Public Health stepped closer to the mourning family. He lowered his head even more and wailed loudly, grieving along with them. “You know what happened to him. You refused to protect his father from a deadly virus. When he brought it home to his family, Finn never recovered from it. Over time, his health deteriorated and eventually his little body could bear it no longer.”

“Bah!” barked Scrooge. “I won’t allow you or anyone else to make me feel guilty for the fate of that boy.  The poor feeble child was unwell before Bob Maskit came to work for me.  And even if he hadn’t been infected by his father bringing Covid home from work, he surely would have caught it from his siblings. They had to have been exposed to it every day at school.”

“So quick to place the blame elsewhere,” scolded the spirit. “Every infection causes cumulative damage.  But YOU, Eversneezer Scrooge, YOU could have done more to protect this family from the illness, suffering, and loss they’ve endured. One less Covid infection for this family might have meant a different future for Finn. He might still be alive right now.  Instead, his family is crying over his grave.”

“This is tragic indeed, but we had to get back to normal. Some lives were lost – and will continue to be lost – in the process.  It was necessary.”

The spirit raised its arm again, obscuring Eversneezer’s view of the Maskit family with the sleeve of its cloak. Lowering its arm once more, the Maskits were gone. Finn’s headstone was gone. In its place was a smaller, less ornate headstone. It was lodged crookedly in the ground over freshly laid dirt.

“Many lives were lost, indeed,” said the spirit. “Including this one.”

Scrooge stepped forward, squinting his eyes to read the engraved name on the stone in front of him. “Ev.. Eversneezer…. Eversneezer Scrooge.  Why it’s…. it’s me!” He paused for a long moment, then laughed loudly. “Am I supposed to be troubled?  I’m not! Everyone dies and I’m well aware I won’t escape that fate! But by this time in the future, I will have lived a long and happy life, having thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of my labor.”

Your labor,” smirked the spirit. “You seem to forget that you built your wealth on the labor of many talented and hard-working people.”

“I paid them and insured them accordingly.”

“And still you pretend that was benevolent of you. That it was enough.” The ghost stepped closer to Scrooge. “You didn’t protect them from a deadly virus.”

“They weren’t enslaved to me.  They could have left at any time on their own free will.”

“Which would have meant abandoning the paychecks and healthcare their families needed to survive.”

“Bah, bullshit. They could have gone to work for any other employer.”

“You mean, for another employer who was also unwilling to protect them. What would be the point?”

“Exactly!” shouted Scrooge, growing frustrated with the ghost’s arguments. “I did all the same things that every other business did – I got my company back to normal. You’ll pin no wrongdoing on me as I followed every law and health guidance issued by the government! They said Covid was over and that I didn’t have to worry about it affecting my business anymore.”

“And yet you knew that something wasn’t right. Your employees were getting sick all the time. It was affecting their overall health, their families, and every other aspect of their lives. When their productivity dropped, you made Bob Maskit – the only one still fighting to protect himself – pick up all the slack.”

“I did what I had to do to get my company back to normal.”

“In the past you had no problem rebelling against established norms for the greater good, Scrooge.  The Ghost of Christmas Past reminded you of that. She also reminded you that you used to care very deeply for others; that you once found fulfillment in relationships with friends and family rather than your wealth and your indulgences. Next, the Ghost of Christmas Present showed you how far you’ve strayed from that version of yourself.  How you’ve betrayed your own moral foundation.  She showed you how your decisions affect others, and how they’ve caused harm. How they continue to cause harm, even in the present moment.”

“And where does this leave us, Spirit? Here we are in the future, and all you have to show me is this dreadful cemetery full of dead people who were always going to die anyway? Do you think you’ve troubled me with this news that Fragile Finn and I will both die someday?” Scrooge laughed again.

The Ghost of Public Health placed a hand on Scrooge’s back, shoving him closer to his own grave.

“Tell me what you see, Eversneezer Scrooge.”

“My headstone. I don’t care. Are we done here yet?”

“OPEN YOUR EYES!” yelled the spirit.  “TELL ME WHAT YOU SEE!”

Scrooge stared down at the ground, chuckling with disdain. Then his laughter stopped abruptly. “This… this is a pauper’s grave.  Spirit, why am I in a pauper’s grave? I’m one of the wealthiest men in the country. I should have the biggest headstone in this entire cemetery! And where are my mourners?  The ground is fresh, so I must have just been buried. How is it that on this Christmas Day in the future I am forgotten and cast away in a pauper’s grave?”

“Because in the future, you are a pauper. And you were easily forgotten by those you knew.”

“No… no!  This cannot be. Spirit, take me home, I no longer wish to be here!”

“Very well, Eversneezer Scrooge.”

Foggy clouds swirled around them once more. When they cleared, Scrooge and the ghost were standing in a run-down hotel room. A fluorescent ‘NO VACANCY’ sign flashed just outside of the window. The stench of mold and cigarette smoke filled Scrooge’s nostrils.

“Why are we here?” Scrooge shouted.  “I told you, take me home!”

“This IS your home in the not-so-distant future,” explained the ghost. “In the coming years, Covid continues to mutate and spread, taking an even worse toll on your staff. Their immune systems are so damaged they can’t even fight off other viruses and bacteria like they once could. One by one, they become disabled and die. And you’re left with no one to sustain the company you built. So you try to replace them all, with younger, healthier people. But they don’t have the talent and experience that your previous staff had, and they want much more money. So you have to sell some assets to keep business going.”

“No,” Scrooge shook his head furiously. “That can’t be. I’ve always been good to my employees! I even gave Jelly of the Month club memberships to all of them as their Christmas bonus. How dare they get sick and die on me, requiring me to sell off my assets?”

The ghost continued. “At first, it’s just your summer home and your private plane. But the company’s financials continue to decline, so next you sell your collection of sportscars. Then you lay off your housekeepers and security team. Meanwhile your company is falling apart. The products and services you built your brand on are becoming obsolete, and there’s precious little happening in the way of new development. Your employees come together for meetings but can’t seem to assimilate ideas into action. They struggle with basic tasks and have a hard time remembering important things, which tends to stifle innovation.”

“What? The company won’t last long if that’s the case!”

“Indeed, it won’t. You can barely hold onto those new workers because now they’re sick all the time too. They bring their children to the office sick, because schools and daycares are closed more often than they’re open, which disrupts productivity even more when parents are trying to tend to their little ones who should be in bed at home. But you’re sure – so very sure things will turn around eventually. So you continue to push your employees to work under these terrible conditions.  And when they too become disabled and die, you’re left with only yourself to run the company. You try to replace human labor with automation and artificial intelligence, with disastrous results. And in a last-ditch effort to save the company, you sell your own home and move into this roadside motel, just hoping and praying it will be enough to keep a positive bottom line. You simply can’t accept that your business is no longer profitable, and that there won’t be endless streams of money to support your lifestyle.”

“No!” Scrooge clapped his hands over his ears.

“And that nagging cough and fits of sneezing that won’t leave you? The way your heart races and flutters at times? The way your own memory is failing you, more and more frequently? You have Long Covid and you won’t even accept that enduring harm has been done to your own body. You continue to get infected again and again, letting it wreak more havoc on you, until it kills you.”


“The police knock the door down here on Christmas Day, Eversneezer Scrooge. You fail to pay your rent for the week so the manager calls them to come evict you. They find you lying on this raggedy bed. Poor, alone, and dead.”

Suddenly, there was a loud pounding at the door.  “Eversneezer Scrooge? This is the police. Open up if you’re in there!”

Tears sprang to his eyes. “Oh Spirit, I cannot accept that this is my fate! Please tell me it’s not too late!”

More pounding at the door.  “Police!  If you don’t open the door, we’ll have no choice but to break it down!”

“Spirit, please!” wailed Scrooge. “You have opened my eyes! I understand now what I must do! I will change my ways and protect the very people I have so badly betrayed! I see now that I have nothing, and I AM nothing without them!”

The door opened with a loud CRASH. Scrooge let out a shrill, primal scream at the sight of police officers filing into the room, brushing past him as they made their way toward the bed. “I PROMISE I WILL CHANGE!” Scrooge cried out as the ghost placed a hand on his shoulder, the eerie fog returning to envelop them once more.  “I PROMISE! I PROMISE TO CHANGE! PLEASE GIVE ME ANOTHER CHANCE TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT!” Scrooge felt himself falling, falling, falling deeper into the swirling fog. He wondered where he would land.  In his own grave?  In the fiery pits of hell?


Stunned from the impact, he flailed his arms in front of his face to clear away the clouds of fog. It was heavier than he imagined it would be, but it felt nice to the touch.  Just like his favorite Egyptian cotton sheets. In fact, it was his favorite Egyptian cotton sheets, he realized, that were wrapped around his body.  He clawed his way out and shoved them aside to find that he had gotten tangled up in them and fallen out of bed. Scrooge glanced around to discover that once again, he was safe and sound at home.

“It was a dream!” He sighed with relief. Then he noticed the chill in the room. Snowflakes were drifting in through the window.  He never left the windows open during the chilly winter months, so why would they be open now? Unless…

Unless it hadn’t been a dream at all. Unless the ghost of Jacob Normley actually had crawled through it the night before, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future had followed, carrying Scrooge through time and space to show him his destiny. Scrooge leapt to his feet and raced to the open window, leaning outside to see the sun rising in the distance. He spied a boy in a heavy coat and scarf on the street below, poking his tongue into the air to catch snowflakes.

“You there, lad!” Scrooge yelled. “What day is it?”

The boy looked upward, following the sound of Scrooge’s voice and squinting to protect his eyes from the first glimmers of sunlight. “It’s Christmas Day!” He locked eyes with Scrooge. “You should know, my mom works for your company and you wouldn’t give her the day off.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah.  You’re a real dick.”

“I am!” Scrooge nodded in agreement. “Do you have a phone with you, young man?”

Reaching into his pocket, the boy retrieved an iPhone.  He held it up for Scrooge to see.

“Very good!  Now call your mom.  FaceTime her and turn the camera to me.”

The boy did as he was told. His mother answered, immediately scolding him for interrupting her at work. Before she could finish, he turned the phone to face Scrooge.

“You there, ma’am, what is your name?” He yelled down toward the boy’s phone.

“It’s Linda!” Her eyes glazed over with panic. “Linda from Accounting. What’s this about?”

“Pack up your things and go home, Linda. Right away.”

“Oh Mr. Scrooge, no! Please don’t fire me, sir!”

“You’re not getting fired, Linda! Your son is catching snowflakes on his tongue all by himself and that’s just not right. You really should be with him today. It’s Christmas, for God’s sake!”

A long pause followed. “What about work? Everyone else is out sick so I’m covering for the whole department and we’ve got to get invoices out by the end of the year—”

“Forget the invoices, Linda!  It’s Christmas! Take your laptop home with you and work on them tomorrow. And the following day. And the next. You don’t really need to be in the office to do your job, do you?”

“No sir.”

“Then work from home as often as you’d like! With all the illnesses going around, I want to make sure you don’t catch anything that might keep you from enjoying the holidays with your boy.”

A long pause followed.  “Is this a joke?” Linda asked.

“No joke! I know I’m not acting like the Eversneezer Scrooge you’ve known up until this point, but I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m going to be a better boss, Linda. And a better human being. I give you my word.”

“Well… okay then!  Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrooge, and thank you!”

“No Linda, thank YOU!”

The little boy turned the phone around, and waved goodbye to his mother as she gathered her things to leave the office.  Then he waved to Scrooge. “Thanks for letting my mom come home!” He shouted.  “Maybe you’re not a dick after all!”


Mrs. Maskit tilted the monitor of her laptop toward the children, who had gathered around the Christmas tree to open gifts. From the spare bedroom, Bob watched with excitement on his own computer screen as Finn tore the wrapping paper away from a shiny new sled.

“I love it!” he squealed with excitement, then turned toward his mother’s laptop.  “Dad, will you carry me up to the top of the big hill in the park and ride down with me?”

“Of course! Just as soon as I’m done quarantining, and I test negative,” said Bob. “Just a few more days, Finn. I can hardly wait! We’ll have so much fun—"

Suddenly, their conversation was interrupted by a loud knock at the door. Mrs. Maskit opened it to find Scrooge – in an N95 – on the doorstep, his arms loaded with gifts for the children.

“Merry Christmas!” he said joyfully.

“Oh God,” said Mrs. Maskit. “Let me guess, hell finally froze over?”

“I deserve that,” said Scrooge with a nod. “I understand I’m probably the last person you want to see darkening your doorstep today.”

“That would be an understatement.  What do you want?”

“Let’s just say that I finally opened my eyes,” explained Scrooge.  “I have a long list of wrongs to make right, Mrs. Maskit. But I’m starting here, with your family. May I leave these gifts with you, for the little ones, and have a word with Bob outside?”

“He’s quarantining in our spare bedroom to protect us.”

“Yes, I know.”

“What? How would you know that?”

“I mean… I know Bob, and I know he’d insist on doing everything he can to keep your family safe after he was… potentially exposed at work. I am sorry about that, Mrs. Maskit. I was wrong to put him in that position, and I am so very sorry that I made it impossible for your family to be together for Christmas. You won’t have to worry about it happening again.  Not because of me, anyway.”

She stared at him for a long moment, then gave a slight nod. “Okay. Thank you for that. I’ll send Bob out.” She collected the presents from him and disappeared into the house.

A moment later, Bob emerged, also in an N95.

“I’m afraid to ask why you’re here, Mr. Scrooge,” said Bob with trepidation.

“I came to tell you that I don’t think your position at the company is a good fit for you anymore.” Scrooge locked eyes with him.

“Mr. Scrooge sir, please don’t fire me! I’ll do whatever you ask—”

“What?” Scrooge cried, followed by a Santa Claus-style belly laugh. Then a cough, and a sneezing fit. When he regained his composure, he continued. “I’m not firing you!  Not by a long shot!  Bob, there’s so much I have to tell you. But first and foremost, I came this morning to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for putting you in the terrible position of having to risk your health and your life, and your family’s health and lives, by making you unmask to speak at a meeting. I’m sorry for every time I made disparaging comments about your precautions. I’m sorry for denying your request to work from home on occasion, when there was no good reason for me to say no. I’m sorry for not listening to you when you tried to talk to me about the dangers of Covid, and how taking protective measures could keep all of us safer, and help my business grow and thrive in the long run.”

Bob blinked in disbelief.

“I’m so very sorry, Bob,” continued Mr. Scrooge. “You’re the best employee I’ve ever had, but instead of appreciating how much you’ve done for me and my company, I’ve treated you like you’re disposable. I’ve been an absolute bastard and I’m ashamed of myself. I can’t run this company without you. I need you. And I need you to stay healthy, and keep your family healthy.  I’m going to stop standing in the way of your efforts to do so and give you my full support instead. Not just you, Bob, but the entire company. Everyone deserves a safer work environment.”

“Mr. Scrooge, I don’t know what to say.” Bob’s voice was strained with emotion.

“I’m going to need your help. I’m going to need a LOT of your help. So I was thinking it would be fitting for me to give you a promotion to a position with more authority and plenty of resources at your disposal. What do you think about ‘Executive Health and Safety Officer’ as your new title?”

“You mean… that would be my entire job?”

“Why not? I can’t think of anyone who would be better for the role than you. It’s been my responsibility to protect my employees and I’ve failed miserably. But you’ve been out there doing the work for me, Bob. You’ve been masking and sharing N95s with others who wanted to mask as well. You spent your own money to buy portable air purifiers and set them up in meeting rooms. You’ve done all that research and shared information with me on how flexible work policies are associated with higher employee satisfaction and retention, and you showed me what it would take to upgrade our ventilation, so we all have cleaner, safer air to breathe on the days when we’re in the office. You’ve been sharing information with others and helping them understand the difference between peer-reviewed scientific studies and clickbait crap in their news feed. Every time your colleagues have been sick, you’ve advocated for them to have paid sick leave so they have the means to recover without financial loss. You’re already doing this job, Bob, and you’re damn good at it. So I propose we hire someone else to take on all your other duties and free you up to focus on your new role. I think it’s possible you could even do some of it from home. Trimming down your commute time and cutting out those dreadful superspreader office luncheons would give you more time to spend with your family, yes?”

“Of course! This all sounds wonderful!” Bob nodded his head vigorously. “I’ve been hoping and wishing and dreaming that something like this would happen. I’ve literally prayed for this, sir, and I couldn’t be happier. What changed your mind?”

Scrooge grinned underneath his N95. “That’s a complicated story, but you’re the most important part of it, Bob. Like most people, I really wanted to believe the pandemic was over and that everything could just go back to normal. But perpetual illness isn’t normal. The impact it’s having on the entire world isn’t normal. Parents outliving their children who die from illnesses that could have been prevented…” Scrooge paused as his own voice tightened with emotion. “I don’t want to live in a world where that could ever be seen as normal or necessary. Government and health authorities have tried to convince us otherwise, and I’ve damn near got whiplash from trying to keep up with their ever-changing messaging. But you’ve been steady and consistent all this time, Bob. You’ve done your homework, and you always have sound science to back up what you say. You’ve shown through your words and actions that your motives are genuine. You truly care about others and you want to keep them safe. It’s taken a great deal of courage for you to speak such unpopular truths, to be a good role model by practicing what you preach, and to never give up hope that you could make a difference. Let’s just say I had a moment of clarity last night, with a glimpse into what the future might look like if we all stay this course we’re on right now. It wasn’t good. Thankfully it’s not too late to change our destiny. So are you with me, Executive Health and Safety Officer Maskit?”

“Absolutely, Mr. Scrooge, I’m humbled. I’m so very grateful. And I accept.” Bob extended his hand to his boss, who gave it a firm shake to seal the deal. “I’m just so happy to know that you care.”

“Oh, I do care,” said Scrooge with a nod and a twinkle in his eye. “Before I made the trip over here, I dug up those proposals you sent me about upgrading our HVAC system and modernizing our workspaces with state-of-the-art videoconferencing equipment to better support teamwork with remote workers and all that other great stuff you put together. You put some hefty figures in those projected expenses, but I realize now they would be investments that would quickly pay for themselves. The cost of doing nothing would take a way worse toll on the company, so it’s kind of a no-brainer. It also got me thinking about the fact that most organizations haven’t put any thought into it yet. So we can get ahead of the game, Bob. We can modernize our office and become a center for excellence as a Covid-safe workplace. If we can keep our staff healthy and happy, they’ll be productive and loyal. People around the world will want to come work with us, so that will give us an immense pool of talent and expertise we can tap into. Other companies will want to know what our secret is, so we can bring them here to show them how it’s done – and then we get into the HVAC business and videoconferencing technology business, and we can create our own pandemic-proof worksite safety program with testing protocols and paid sick leave and the best health insurance so employers can hold onto their most valuable assets – their people. Then we turn it into a certification that organizations can attain once they buy equipment from us and implement our full program. And then… get this Bob… then we take it to schools. Schools!  Maybe we sponsor a local school – the one your kids attend – and give them everything at no cost, write it off on taxes, and promote the hell out of it so other schools will want to do the same thing. Then we can help them go after government grants or corporate sponsorships to pay for it all. Do you realize how much money we could make off of turning the tides, Bob? You bet your ass I care!”

Bob pulled his hand from Scrooge’s enthusiastic grip and gave him a playful punch on the shoulder.  “It’s good to see you haven’t changed all that much, Mr. Scrooge,” he said with a laugh. “Whatever your reasons are, whatever it is you care about, I’m glad we both want the same things now.”

“Me too, Bob.”

Suddenly the snowfall picked up. Both men swatted snowflakes away from their faces.

“I should get going before the roads freeze over,” said Scrooge. “Walk me to my car, will you?” As they hiked over a snow-covered hill, Scrooge’s car came into view. Bob stopped in his tracks. “Holy Mother of God, who’s that sitting in your car… the Grim Reaper?”

“Someone I met last night,” said Scrooge. He gave a friendly wave to the Spirit of Public Health, who was crammed into the passenger seat, its face still obscured by the dark shroud. Two skeletal hands were protruding from the sleeves, wrapped around a hot coffee. The ghostly figure removed one from the cup long enough to wave back at Scrooge. “We hung out for a while, took a little trip together. I thought Pubby had taken off after that, but I was wrong.”

“Pubby…” Bob said, his voice trailing off in bewilderment. “He spent the night in your car?”

“Apparently,” said Scrooge. “Pubby has been out in the cold for a while. Abandoned and forgotten by people who used to care. No one deserves that. Especially not during Christmas. Pubby may have given up hope, but I haven’t. We’ve got lots of work to do in the new year, Bob. Pubby is going to stick around to help us.”

“I have sooo many questions,” said Bob, who continued to stare in wide-eyed wonder at the hooded figure in Scrooge’s car.  “But I believe in you, Mr. Scrooge.”

“Merry Christmas, Bob,” he said, turning to face his star employee. “And for the record, I do care about more than just making money. It took some hard lessons to open my eyes but consider me a changed man. I care about you, your family, and everyone else at work. And their families too. And our customers and associates. And everyone else in the world who’s going to need some help with figuring out how to move ourselves along to the next phase of the pandemic, the one where we embrace reality and do the work we need to do to ensure a better future for everyone. Now go enjoy your time with your family and don’t you dare show up back in the office until after the new year - in an N95 when you return, and please bring enough for everyone in the building. Buy in bulk and put it all on your corporate card. I like the black ones, if you can find them. They make me feel like a ninja, which is kind of badass.”

Bob stepped forward and surprised Mr. Scrooge with a bear hug, which he graciously returned.

While watching them through the windshield, the Spirit of Public Health’s heart grew three sizes that day, and then the true meaning of Christmas came through. And as the ghost came back to life, he found the strength to start anew.

“That’s the spirit!” shouted Public Health, as he teleported out of the car to where Scrooge and Bob were standing. Both men jolted with surprise and screamed loudly.

“Jesus, Pubby!” cried Scrooge, struggling to catch his breath after a coughing and sneezing fit. “You nearly gave me a heart attack! I’m going to have to work on taking better care of my heart, so don’t do that shit again!”

“My bad,” the spirit apologized. “I just wanted to share this moment with you and let you know I’m still here. The same old trusty Public Health you once knew is making a comeback. I can feel it.” He tapped a bony hand over this chest, then wrapped his arms around both men, pulling them into a group hug. They screamed again.

“I know, I know,” cajoled Public Health. “Change can be scary. We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us. But by this time next year, we’ll be in a different place. And we’ll inspire the world to follow us on this journey.”

“I believe in you,” said Mr. Scrooge. “Both of you.”

“Ditto,” said Bob. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrooge. And… Pubby.”

“Merry Christmas!” cried the Spirt of Public Health. “And God bless us, everyone!”


Author’s note: This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to characters, places, events, and incidents portrayed in the story is purely coincidental because duh, this would never happen in real life. Not at this moment in time, anyway.

But Christmas is a time for believing that miracles can happen.

Because of people like you, they can.

And they do.

Keep the faith, fellow dissident.

I believe in you.😊

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In good humor and solidarity,

Guiness Pig