A Christmas Carol, Chapter 1

By B.J. Mendelson and Charles Dickens

William O’Leary was dead. There is no doubt about that. The death certificate was signed by a Lakeside Hospital physician and then later by the mortician at the Heafey Heafey Hoffmann Dworak Cutler Mortuaries & Crematory. Ronald Chump signed it too, although it was unnecessary for him to do so. In his mind, Ronald’s name was good as gold for anything he chose to put his name on, and it was certainly true among some in the business community who considered him a genius. Although the general public may point to Chump Airlines, Chump Casinos, and Chump: The Game — A real thing that actually exists — to suggest otherwise. Regardless, Old William was as dead as a doornail.

Now, we don’t mean to say that we know, of our own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. We might have been inclined to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade, but the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile, and our unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the planet is done for. You will, therefore, permit us, Charles Dickens and B.J. Mendelson, to repeat, emphatically and for the hearing impaired, that William O’Leary was as dead as a doornail.

Did Ronald Chump know William was dead? Of course, he did. Of course! How could it be otherwise? William’s children, Maryanne, William Jr., Elizabeth, and Robert, had told Ronald so, and why would they lie about such a thing? Ronald and William were business partners for many years. Ronald was also William’s sole executor, his sole friend, and sole mourner. Or so that’s what Ronald thought on that last one. Ronald was surprised to see such a crowd at the funeral for that very reason, but then in his defense, there isn’t much to do in Omaha, Nebraska on a Monday morning.

And even Ronald, the alleged sole friend of William O’Leary, was not so cut up by the sad event of William’s passing. He was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral and solemnized it with an undoubted bargain between prayers concerning his and William’s last venture together, an outdoor shopping mall in nearby Gretna, Nebraska. Ronald was never one for prayers. His crippling inability to read led him to sit with his arms folded for most of the affair that day. Given the surprisingly large audience gathered however, Ronald seized every opportunity he could to remind the crowd of how big and important Ronald felt he was. For example, during the eulogy for William, Ronald listed off his recent business accomplishments. His obsession to appear smart and successful in the business community knew no bounds. He craved their approval as a stand-in for the approval of his long-dead father. Chump then also made numerous references to the size of his penis and intimated that it was bigger than the deceased’s. Why he thought this too was necessary is not known, but we will let you decide which of these things was more shocking to the audience gathered that day.

The mention of William’s funeral brings us back to the point we started from. There is no doubt that William O’Leary was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story we are going to share. First, because William’s family emigrated to America on the RMS Transylvania, and people from that country have a poor habit of remaining dead after their life has expired. William often joked that it took a team of hardy Englishmen, and one American, to put a relative down with a wooden stake in the 1890s. Second, and more importantly, If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot — say St. Cecilia Cathedral on Page Street for instance — literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.

Ronald never painted over William’s name. There the old sign stood, relocated from downtown Omaha years after the funeral, perched above the management office door at the mall in Gretna: The Ronald Chump & William O’Leary Organization. Known informally as Ronald and William. Sometimes people new to the business called Ronald ‘Ronald’, and sometimes ‘William’, but Ronald answered to both names because it was all the same to him.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Ronald! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous sinner with the smallest of hands! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his orange cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating, Queens-accented voice. A frosty and failed science project lived upon his head, and on his eyebrows. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced the mall office in the dog-days and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas. External heat and cold had little influence on Ronald. No warmth could warm, nor wintry weather chills him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. Nor did the giant bugs of the Great Plains. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down handsomely”, and Ronald never did.

The mall in Gretna was modeled after a busy neighborhood in Victorian London. William’s idea. He once visited Woodbury Common in Central Valley, New York, a highly successful outlet mall, and remarked on how wonderful the stores looked, fit within a replica of an old New England town square that was the hallmark of the Commons. William thought a vibrant little Victorian London town, out in the flat Nebraska landscape between the states two population centers of Lincoln and Omaha, would create quite a tourist attraction in its own right. And William, although he wouldn’t see it in his lifetime, was correct. Shoppers from nearby Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and even South Dakota often came to William and Ronald’s outlet mall to shop. He was always the smart one in their relationship. The actual smart one. The visionary. The self-help guru turned real estate mogul. But Ronald was good with the money, tracking every penny as though each one was a piece of his own blackened soul. So he provided some value of his own to their partnership.

But none of those shoppers ever stopped Ronald at the mall as he did his daily rounds to meet with store managers There was nobody to say, with gladsome looks, “Yo, Ronald, what’s up?” No children of family’s shopping asked him for anything, and no tourist ever inquired the way to such and such a place. Even for directions to the Mutual of Omaha Building, which was the one skyscraper in the city skyline and often impossible to miss heading west on Interstate 80. Even the mall security dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw Ronald coming, they would tug their owners into a store entranceway; and then wag their tails as though to say, “Even I wouldn’t sniff that guy’s asshole.”

The homeless people that littered the mall parking lots also never stopped Ronald, although their origin is worth remarking here as it was not something William had imagined: It should be stated first that they were not actually homeless, but students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. Students, who were at the mall working their second job as re-enactors of the Dickensian poor. Third job, in some cases, after they finished their shift at the mall’s Brooks Brothers or Le Creuset outlets. This was Ronald’s contribution to the project, to be certain. Their job? To remind shoppers of how much better off the shoppers are than to other residents of the state of Nebraska, as outlet malls are often visited by the wealthy most frequently of all. This was a marketing tactic Ronald enjoyed employing as it brought a ring of authenticity to the Victorian recreation that William dreamed up. The students were tasked with encouraging shoppers to continue buying the newest and most expensive items, lest they fall behind in society’s view and become just like the recreation street urchins themselves. Something that never failed to work, as capitalism depends on a permanent underclass to scare those above them from joining the ranks of the poor.

Manipulative? Sure. But what did Ronald Chump care? It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance. He was only interested in their money and the acquiring of more of it. That is, until one night. One unlike any that had come before it. The events of which we will share with you now.

Chauncey Durand & George, The Nephew

A curious thing occurred. It occurred, of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve. Ronald Chump sat busy at the mall office in Gretna, Nebraska. The mall office, such that you could call it one, was really just a large space divided into two parts by a paper-thin wall. On one side of the wall was the guest relations desk. This is where Chauncey Durand, Ronald’s long-suffering guest relations clerk, spent her days fetching strollers, wheelchairs, and mall gift cards for shoppers. Above Chauncey was a large television playing episodes of the ’90s Sailor Moon, whose volume was set low enough for only her to here. Chauncey thankfully had control over what was on this particular television, but that control only came after Ronald made some questionable comments toward the young black woman about the color of her skin. Not wanting to face yet another lawsuit over racist remarks, Ronald offered Chauncey a raise, a small one, and control over the television. Unable to find work elsewhere, despite having a master’s degree in Creative Writing and a bachelor’s degree in English, Chauncey reluctantly accepted. But having done so made her skin crawl, her stomach churn, and she yearned for the day that she would be free of this horrible man and employed elsewhere. Preferably in a job that made her feel fulfilled. That is if that sort of fulfilling employment was still to be found any more in America.

Chauncey was a poet at heart, and that’s what she wanted to be and empower others to be as well. It was in poetry that she found happiness as a child, and she wanted others to share that same feeling. Before taking this job, Chauncey ran a small not-for-profit in South Omaha where she gave artists there a space to create and perform. The not-for-profit struggled mightily for years until she had no choice but to close it, filing for bankruptcy as she did. Although she tried to work for anyone and everyone but Ronald Chump, jobs were scarce. The best Chauncey Durand could find was temp work as a janitor over at the Amazon warehouse just off I-80. And even that was an unreliable source of income, where she was often told she wasn’t needed, despite being out of pocket for the cost of the multiple bus rides to get to the warehouse. At the very least, this current job with Chump gave Chauncey enough money to buy a used 2004 Suzuki Grand Vitara to get around. Chauncey bought the car from a friend she used to waitress with for just over $1,000.

The paper-thin wall at the mall office also included a door. A door that that was often left open by Chauncey, much to the annoyance of Ronald, for it allowed curious shoppers to look within. (Ronald often refused to get up and close the door himself, feeling that the effort to do so was beneath him.) Those shoppers who did look within would find what could politely be described as a “minimalist” setting on the other side of the door. There was a conference table, a set of uncomfortable and inexpensive chairs, and a television on the far wall that played only Fox News. There was also a private bathroom. There was little more to the office than that in terms of decoration. As the holidays approached, the room also became a holding area for gifts sent to Ronald by his family that would soon go unopened, or worse, re-gifted to them the following year.

Concerning the private bathroom, Chauncey had to use the same bathroom all the customers did. It was located on the other end of the mall, next to the Under Armour outlet store, which required a ten-minute walk to reach. In the Summer and Spring, this was fine, but in the winter, it was torture. It was only Ronald, who guarded the keys to the private bathroom with his life, that didn’t have to travel to use the restroom at all.

This Christmas Eve was cold, bleak, and saw the biting weather commonly associated with winter on the great plains. It was foggy withal: outside, the shoppers were wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement to warm them. All the while complaining about the walk from their favorite stores to wherever they were lucky enough to get parking. Dodging the reenactors of the Dickensian poor as they did. It was just after three that day, but it was quite dark already. The fog came pouring in through every which way that it could within the stores. To see the dingy cloud of fog come drooping down over the outdoor mall and its neighboring cornfield, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard and partied harder.

Ronald used to sit at the head of the table when he was in town, but after hiring Chauncey, he sat right across from the open door to watch her every move, for what Chauncey would jokingly tell her family was “totally not racist reasons.”

It wasn’t just the mall office that was cold. It was the entire hallway that led to the office, which Ronald had deemed too expensive and pointless to heat. This was despite the fact that this area was commonly used by mall employees to exit their stores and take a shortcut through to the food court. But Ronald cared nothing for the minimum wage and non-unionized workers and their comfort as they made the way to the popular Voodoo Taco stand. So in the mall office, Chauncey froze every day and was often afraid to ask Ronald to raise the thermostat or request a space heater. They barely talked. There was no good morning or good evening. No pleasantries about what each other did. Ronald only discussed with Chauncey her job and any duties related to it. To battle the cold, and in a small way to mock Ronald, Chauncey used a leftover blanket from one of Chump’s failed hotels to keep herself warm. She was able to acquire the blanket from eBay for the low price of only three cents. Shipping and handling were free with this item. Ronald paid no attention to this visual bit of mockery, but every time Chauncey put on the blanket, she would silently mock Chump to herself, “successful businessman my ass, you orange Dorito.”

Today, after putting on the blanket, Chauncey’s day was interrupted. “A merry Christmas, father! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was Tiffany, Ronald’s daughter from his first marriage. She was promptly escorted out by Chauncey.

“A Merry Christmas! God Save you!” the new voice of Ronald’s nephew, George, who snuck in while Chauncey chased Tiffany away. George had moved so stealthily that he caught Ronald completely unaware of his presence until he spoke.

“Bah!” said Ronald, “Humbug!”

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Ronald’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was freckled and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again. “Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said George. “You don’t mean that I am sure.”

“I do,” said Ronald. “Merry Christmas! what right do you have to be merry? what reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

“Come, then,” returned the nephew happily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

Ronald had no better answer ready on the spur of the moment. He rarely did. Part of Ronald’s numerous attempts to appear as smart as William also came from a time he was described as “a little slow” by one editor at the Omaha World-Herald. Stung by the comment, Chump had tried to overcompensate ever since. Sending to that same editor, once a year, an online IQ test that Chump had performed well on. There was also a note that said, “Not so dumb!” The editor saved each and every one of these letters from Ronald and shared them with his family at their annual Hanukkah gatherings. “Bah!” Chump said again and followed it up with “Humbug.” Truly, Ronald Chump was a man of letters.

“Don’t be cross, uncle,” said the nephew.

“What else can I be” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for reviewing your books to prepare for future retirement and finding nothing saved, not even a dime! If I could work my will,” said Ronald, indignantly, “everyone who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas,’ on his lips, should be beaten to death with their scooters and buried with a stake of holly through their smartphones. He should!”

“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.

“Nephew!” returned the uncle, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine. Buried alongside my second, third, and fifth wife.”

“Keep it!” repeated Ronald’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Ronald. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew: “Voting. The most sacred duty of all citizens of a democracy. Donating to a stranger’s GoFundMe campaign and doing so anonymously. Registering to be an Organ donor and advocating for legislation that would automatically enroll everyone into the organ donor registry, unless they choose to opt out, and Christmas among the rest.

But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys or used as tools to drive sales.

And therefore, uncle, though it has never put any cryptocurrency in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God, bless it! And to those who don’t celebrate the birth of our Lord, I say God bless them as well with nothing short of peace, love, and prosperity for the rest of their time on this Earth.”

Chauncey applauded, having returned to her desk after shutting Tiffany into a nearby supply closet. A closet that was packed by Chauncey for just such an occasion with shiny objects. Those toys and other baubles would occupy Tiffany until Ronald left for the day. And after he did so, mall security would come around to let Tiffany out, as was their regular holiday routine when she came to visit.

Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety of her applause, Chauncey cleared her throat and began minding her desk again.

“Let me hear another sound from you,” said Ronald, “and you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your situation. You’re quite a powerful speaker, George,” he added, turning to his nephew. “I wonder why you don’t run for president yourself!”

“Don’t be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us tomorrow. Priscilla is preparing quite a feast!”

Ronald muttered under his breath about hating ethnic food even more than Christmas itself. Already in enough trouble with the comments, he made to Chauncey, Ronald kept the volume on this utterance low. Priscilla was Puerto Rican, and her and George’s marriage had caused a happy sensation within the, until then, entirely Irish Chump clan. Many of the family members welcomed Priscilla with open arms and open hearts as any family should, but Ronald was not one of them. Ronald paused before saying “I won’t be going.”

“But why?” cried Ronald’s nephew. “Why?”

“Why did you get married to your Puerto Rican princess?” spat Ronald.

“Because I fell in love, and love knows no ethnicity, gender, or creed.”

“Because you fell in love!” growled Ronald, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. “Good afternoon!”

“I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?”

“Good afternoon,” said Ronald. At this, Ronald crossed his arms and pouted like a child.

One would have expected him to stomp his foot if his nephew pressed on.

“I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had many quarrels, to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I’ll keep my Christmas humor to the last. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!”

“Good afternoon!” said Ronald, this time stomping his foot.

“And a Happy New Year!”

His nephew left without an angry word, He stopped to bestow the greetings of the season on Chauncey, who, cold as she was in the literal sense this day, was warmer than Ronald in a figurative sense on all others; for she returned the greetings cordially with a smile that lit up every room she entered.

“There’s another one” muttered Ronald; who overheard her: “my guest relations clerk, and a husband and family, talking about a merry Christmas.

As Ronald’s nephew spoke with Chauncey before departing, two other people entered the office. They were a fine gay couple, both wearing ugly Christmas and Hanukkah sweaters with irony. The men were holding hands and pleasant to behold, born and raised both from the same small town in Iowa, not too far from the airport that bordered the two states. And now they stood, with their hats off, in Ronald’s office. They had books and papers in their hands and bowed to him. Ronald grumbled to himself about yet another interruption to his day.

“The Ronald Chump & William O’Leary Organization I believe,” said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Chump, or Mr. O’Leary?”

“Mr. O’Leary has been dead for some time,” Ronald replied. “He died on this very night, come to think of it, seven years ago. But had he lived, the site of the two of you holding hands would have been enough to kill him.”

Ignoring the comment, the couple continued on their quest. “We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner,” said the gentlemen, presenting their credentials. They were from a local charity that supported Nebraska and Iowa public schools. At the ominous word “liberality,” Ronald frowned as if one of the men had audibly farted, shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Chump,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for our neediest of institutions and the constant assault they suffer from conservative Republicans and supposed education reformers in the Democratic party. Many students in our region are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts like clothing and breakfast sir.”

“Are there no Amazon fulfillment centers for them to work at?” asked Ronald. Chauncey winced at hearing this.

“Plenty of Amazon fulfillment centers,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And Walmart’s? McDonald’s, or combination Taco Bell and Pizza Huts?” demanded Ronald. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not, but those three remain our nation’s top employers.” Unhelpfully, the other man added that child labor laws prevented those under a certain age to be employed at such places.

“Unemployment is at a record low is it not?” asked Ronald.

“Yes, although those numbers don’t factor in the millions of people who have stopped looking for work or simply cannot find one, including many in our region as well, sir. Those federal unemployment numbers are cooked. Cooked almost as badly as the GDP, which not even the man who invented it could understand if asked to explain it today.”

Ronald glowered at the man, who quickly rephrased his answer.

“Yes, sir. The unemployment number is at a record low!”

“Good I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Ronald. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish non-denominational cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy students in need some food, books, and means of warmth, so that they don’t rise up and start to eat the rich instead.” He paused for a laugh. This line usually killed with wealthy donors because of its hint of truth. Hearing no laugh from Ronald, the man continued. “We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others when want is keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Ronald replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Ronald. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle and poor people merry. I help to support the establishments that employ them, ones I have mentioned, through real estate transactions: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there no matter how young they may be.”

“Many can’t go there, and many families would rather die than take welfare because society has shamefully brainwashed them to think it wrong to do so. And even when they do apply, sir, the government makes them jump through as many hoops as possible to keep them from getting what they need. Adding further insult, even if they do get what they need from the government, the government then interrogates and harasses them to find even the slightest gap in their story, all as a way to keep them from getting the assistance they so desperately need.”

“If they would rather die,” said Ronald, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that. I disagree with your assertion. This is a great country. A terrific country. The best country. And for those who are in need, they should simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps and work for a living to make ends meet as I did. Not take handouts from the government like some welfare queen!”

Ronald’s eyes darted over to Chauncey to see if she was listening, she was. And her death stare back at Ronald confirmed it so.

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman. “The world has changed. Jobs are scarce. The deck is stacked against the young. The infirm and disabled are not given enough to live off of from their disability payments, and the social safety net continues to be slashed, meaning less and less money for those depending on it. Sir, as it stands today, even recent college graduates must now live with their parents and have no savings to speak of!”

“It’s not my business whom they live with,” Ronald said, interrupting “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. My big, and very successful, businesses occupy me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Ronald resumed his labors with an improved opinion of himself, and in a worse temper than was usual with him.

Meanwhile, the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with their smartphone flashlights, proffering their services to go before Ubers and Lyfts, and conduct them on their way back to Interstate 80 from the mall’s dark access road. The replica church and its tower, which held the food court inside and was not referred to as a church officially, lest someone be offended, had installed an actual gruff old bell from Victorian times; and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards, as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense.

Outside what Chauncey referred to as the “totally not a church” church, some laborer’s were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a trash bin, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered as Ronald did not want to provide them with portable heaters: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture. None of them were here legally, and no one cared except for Ronald, who exploited the undocumented workers as much as he could under the guise of calling ICE if they did not cooperate with his requests. The laborers were only given days off when the governor of Nebraska, a conservative and ardent critic of illegal immigration, would come to the mall with his family; and even then, most of them were told to wait in their cars until he left. The governor often came to call upon Ronald for money, which Ronald happily obliged the hateful man with. In truth, it was the labor of the undocumented workers on the governor’s own farms, not to mention more than a few healthy subsidies from Congress that the very same Republicans who support these subsidies would ignore in their cries of socialism against the Democrats, that made the governor the successful man that he claimed to be. But then, it’s not often that hypocrisy gets in the way of political ambitions. The political graveyard is filled with politicians who have tried to eat finger foods with their forks.

The brightness of the stores where holly sprigs and berries visually crackled in the heat of the windows, made faces of all shades happy as they passed. Watching the store employees interact and try not to kill themselves on the ice that was forming became a splendid joke among them: a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do with their daily lives, especially when trying not to break their neck on the ice.

Foggier yet, and colder as the day went on! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose. [BJ: Uh, what?] [Charles Dickens: Shut up, it sounded cool at the time!] The owner of one scant young nose gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at the mall office to regale Ronald and Chauncey with a Christmas carol: but at the first sound of —

“God bless you merry gentleman!

May nothing you dismay!”

Ronald threw the nearest heavy object he could find, a useless gift left by Tiffany last year that had remained unopened, with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving to the fog and even more congenial frost. Then, in his Queens accented voice, Ronald sneered, “God bless you merry gentleman …”He was often confounded by why customers came to the mall office without needing something, but every day, especially around the holidays when the mall was packed to the brim, there would always be a shopper or two looking to say hello to the staff inside the office. Ronald hated these shoppers most of all.

Finally, the hour of shutting up the mall office arrived. With an ill-will, Ronald stood from the conference table and tacitly admitted the fact to Chauncey, who practically leaped from her seat as well.

“You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?” said Ronald.

“If quite convenient, Sir.” Chauncey made sure that the “sir” sounded as mocking as possible, as Ronald was unable to detect sarcasm.

“It’s not convenient,” said Ronald, “and it’s not fair. Who decided Christmas should be a federal holiday? Isn’t Martin Luther King Day enough? At least that comes during the slow season where your presence won’t be missed by anyone. Especially not me.”

Chauncey smiled faintly. “Of course, he singled out Martin Luther King Day,” she thought. It was often discussed within her family that she should quit and not put up with this awful man’s abuse, but quitting a job that paid well in Nebraska was easier said than done, as was moving to a place where jobs were more plentiful, and then what would she replace it with?

Everyone had a bachelor’s degree these days, and the crippling debt Chauncey earned by attending Creighton further ensured her limited economic mobility, to say nothing of her purchasing power. Even though Chauncey had filed for bankruptcy, that only discharged her non-student loan debt. She was still stuck with a balance of $137,000 from student loans that needed to be paid off; and that was not counting the interest those loans accumulated, which caused that debt to grow every year since her graduation in 2006.

It had almost become a game in the Durand family to watch as Chauncey paid her student loans for the month, always above the minimum required payment, only to find the following month that the balance had not only not budged, but had increased. It seemed a grand cosmic joke to Chauncey that she would be working at a mall where she was unable to afford anything sold at it, let alone her lunch at the taco stand.

“And yet,” said Ronald, “you don’t think me ill-used when I pay a day’s wages for no work. Why I bet most of your day is spent doing nothing but watching whatever animated filth it is you choose to occupy your time with.” Ronald was still bitter about Chauncey’s ability to control the television above her desk. He was also not a fan of anime.

She observed that although the mall office was fairly quiet most days, her presence was still important from a customer service perspective and she was being paid not just for the hours she worked, but the time it takes to get to the mall as well. This also included the intellectual and spiritual capital she expands every day upon assisting each shopper, leaving her exhausted and unproductive for her own projects and concerns, such as her poetry, upon returning home. It was the most she had ever said to Ronald since “the incident” that led to her control of the tv and she immediately regretted it. But Ronald was not completely without reason. He paused to consider what Chauncey had said before grumbling, yet again, “A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” as he buttoned his great-coat to the chin. “Fine. I suppose you must have the whole day. But be here earlier the next morning!”

Chauncey promised that she would, and Ronald walked out with a growl as he chewed over the words “intellectual and spiritual capital” in his mind. The worst thing about people Chauncey’s age, 36, thought Ronald, was that almost all of them were college graduates, and since most worked in fields, not at all related to what they got their degrees in, they wasted no time in trying to utilize the degree in some other capacity, like arguing about their pay. “I bet this one was a philosophy major”, said Ronald to himself. “No wonder she works here. What need is there of them or any other major in the liberal arts?” Why if Ronald had his way, a college would only offer useful degrees in fields where there were jobs, and as those jobs were eliminated through automation, those degrees would be eliminated as well. Too bad for those with obsolete degrees! There were plenty of McDonalds and Walmart’s for them to work at when obsolescence comes knocking.

The office door was closed and locked in a twinkling, and Chauncey, with the long ends of her white Chump comforter dangling below her waist (for she boasted no great-coat), went down a slide placed near the parking lot for children to play with on her way out, in honor of its being Christmas-eve, and away from that awful Ronald Chump for a full 24 hours. She then ran to her old and beaten car before driving back to Omaha as fast as she could, to open the Christmas Eve presents with her husband. A tradition they had taken with them from their time together living in a cramped studio apartment before the couple had to move back in with Chauncey’s parents. Every year, she would get him something inexpensive and practical, such as a new tie, and he would get her a superheroine costume, last year it was Wonder Woman, to wear exclusively in the bedroom for their kinky roleplaying. (Because although the costume may cost some money, it is worth noting, dear readers, that some of the best things in life truly are free.)
 
 Ronald took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern, a place called “Local” that had opened adjacent to the North Face outlet store. While there, and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his ledger, he then went home to bed.

It is here that Ronald Chump’s choice of homes should be noted. In the grand tradition of Walt Disney Land’s apartment that was built for Walt Disney, William O’Leary and Ronald Chump designed a few luxury homes to be built in a small development behind the mall.

Rather than have retail industry dignitaries stay at the local Super 8, just across the street from the cornfield, and because traveling to Nebraska from anywhere was a challenge, the small cluster of homes was designed to host VIPs and other parties. Ones who would come to see the mall, and perhaps be impressed enough with it to give Ronald and William all sorts of funding, both private and public, to build similar malls to the one in Nebraska. Plans were already in place to open one such shopping center in Kansas, paid for by state funding. Something Ronald relished. Any day the wealthy didn’t have to open their wallet and could spend other people’s money to fatten their own treasure was a grand one, and there had been many such days of late for Mr. Chump and his wealthy friends in that regard.

After William’s death, Ronald chose to live in his partner’s old house. Since the mall was William’s idea, William had the bigger home of the two, and when it came to size, Ronald always insisted that he had the biggest everything. William was barely in the ground before Ronald had most of William’s things moved out and burned so that nobody else could have them.

Inside, they were a gloomy suite of rooms, all devoid of the love and friendship that other people bring with each of their visits. The outside of the home was so dark that even Ronald, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. He was told numerous times that this was a safety hazard to keep the path connecting the mall to the homes so dark, but like any good company well aware of hazardous work environments and situations, he found it was less expensive to not do anything until someone sued then it was to fix or make the needed changes.

There was also this old door knocker on William’s house. One that we bring our attention to next.

William O’Leary, The Ghost

Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Ronald had seen at night and morning during his whole residence in that place; also, that Ronald had as much of what is called fancy about him as any man in Nebraska could, which is to say, none at all. Let it also be borne in mind that Ronald had not bestowed one thought on William, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon. And then let anyone explain to us, if they can, how it happened that Ronald, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without it undergoing any intermediate process of change: not a knocker at all, but the face of William O’Leary.

William’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects outside the home, but it had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. Or a dark cellar inside a bad lobster. We forget how that saying goes. It was not angry or ferocious but looked at Ronald as William used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up upon its ghostly forehead. (William was unable to wear contacts after scratching his left cornea. A thing he did constantly while trying to take out contact lenses he forgot that he already removed earlier that evening.) The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot-air; and though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its vivid color made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be, in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.
 
 As Ronald Chump fixated at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again, and not the kind Ronald preferred to comment upon. “This is what I get for doing coke in the ‘80s” he muttered. To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. He did, after all, witness the birth of Tiffany. But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked in, and flipped the light switch nearest to the door. He did pause, with a moment’s irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind it first as if he half-expected to be terrified with the sight of William’s behind sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the knocker on; so he said “For fuck’s sake!” and closed it with a bang.
 
 The sound resounded through the home like thunder. Every room above and every sex swing in the S&M dungeon below shook. (When Ronald had all of William’s belongings removed, the dungeon remained untouched. Not because Ronald wanted to keep it, he thought William’s activities down there were deviant and disturbing, but because he could not find a crew willing to come and remove it.) The sound of the sex swing oddly continued to echo off the walls of the home’s interior in an odd way moments later. Ronald was not a man to be frightened by echoes. Only by small children, poodles, and mimes. He hated and feared mimes most of all. Chump fastened the door and walked across the hall, and up the stairs.

[B.J: When I was younger, there were eight of us living under one roof. Six children and two adults, although who were the children and who were the adults seemed to vary often. In order for all of us to get around, my Dad bought a blue Dodge Caravan in the early ’90s. Its nickname was “The Big Blue Jew Canoe” and it was almost as wide as a city bus. Ronald’s staircase was wide enough for that Big Blue Jew Canoe to safely travel up and down those stairs and enter the home’s second floor.]

We are noting this, dear reader, because as Ronald made his way up the stairs, he thought he saw a blue Dodge caravan go on before him in the gloom, which these stairs were wide enough to easily support. He wasn’t sure. It was quite dark on the home’s second floor and Ronald was cheap. He only left the downstairs lights on to ward off potential burglars. The upstairs was left dim to save on electrical costs.
 
 Up Ronald went into the blackness, not caring a button for that: darkness is cheap, and Ronald liked it. But before he shut his heavy door, he walked through his rooms to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection of the face to desire to do that.

Reading room, bedroom, the room where he kept his collection of human skulls. All as they should be. Nobody under the table, not even the sex worker who had visited the night before and brought him dinner from the nearby McDonalds. Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his favorite suit, which was hanging up in a suspicious attitude against the wall. Skulls on his nightstand where they should be. Nothing moved. Not even the one with the weird face that he often had conversations with.

Quite satisfied, he closed his bedroom door, and locked himself in; double-locked himself in, which was not his custom. Thus, secured against surprise, he took off his clothes; put on his official Ronald J. Chump pajamas, which use to be on sale at Macy’s and were made in Vietnam, despite Chump’s insistence that they were made here in America. He also put on his night-cap.

There was a package waiting for him. He sat down before the fire to take his nightly cheeseburger, which was left for him by the sex worker next to the bedroom’s fire. One of the sex workers many duties was to bring McDonald’s as they arrived and left his home since Ronald couldn’t be bothered to go in person, and it was all the sex worker could afford to eat based on what Ronald was paying them. The sex workers out of Lincoln, whom Ronald cold upon often, were also the only people on the planet other than Ronald who had access to his home. But, dear reader, there was never a better case for the legalization and protection of sex workers, then to look upon the faces of those who would sleep with Ronald Chump for money and despair.

Tonight, it was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night. Ronald was obliged to sit close to it, given that he refused to touch the thermostat, and brooded over the flames. The fireplace was designed to look like an old one. One probably built by some asshole during the Lincoln administration, and paved all round with quaint tiles that Ronald enjoyed describing as “queer.” The tiles were originally designed to illustrate the Scriptures. But now in their place were odes to Mitch McConnel, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and other prominent conservatives of the day that Ronald enjoyed giving money to. There were dozens of figures to attract his thoughts; and yet that face of William, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet’s rod, and swallowed up all of them. If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with a power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old William’s head on every one.

“Humbug!” said Ronald; and walked across the room.

After several turns, he sat down again. As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a bell, a disused bell, that hung in the room, and communicated for some purpose now forgotten; but if Ronald had to guess, probably also related to William’s sex dungeon. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he

looked, he saw this bell begin to swing. It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell, phone, and other electronic devices in the house.

This included Ronald’s smartphone, which began to blare his ringtone, “Eye of The Tiger” by Survivor, as loud as the little device could. (Ronald had convinced himself that the song was written about him in the ’80s, but whether or not cocaine was involved in that thought process remains unknown.)

This might have lasted half a minute or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The bells and ringtone ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging the heavy chains from the sex dungeon up the stairs with them. Ronald then remembered to have heard that ghosts live in haunted houses. The real ghosts, not the fun ones that take you on adventures, and were often described as dragging chains.

The sex dungeon-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

“It’s humbug still!” said Ronald. “I won’t believe it.”

His color changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried “I know him! William’s Ghost!” and fell again.

The same face: the very same. William in his usual grey sportscoat, his purple tie, that giant face and even bigger jaw, which was always smiling … or ready to eat people. Even Ronald wasn’t completely sure, and he knew a thing or two about cannibals. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Ronald observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. A closer inspection would have revealed that the data found within each ledger and deed pertained to every self-help seminar William had conducted during his time on Earth. Millions of dollars’ worth. A keen eye could even spot a receipt for the jet he had purchased, which itself was hundreds of pages long. William’s extremely tall and gangly body was transparent: so that Ronald, observing him, and looking through his shirt, could easily see behind him and into the hallway.

Ronald had often heard it said by critics that William had no guts since he didn’t run across the hot coals at his seminars that his attendees did, but he never believed those critics until now.

No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked the phantom through and through and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and enormous chin, which

wrapper he had not observed before: he was still incredulous and fought against his senses.

“How now!” said Ronald, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

“Much!” — William’s voice, no doubt about it. Anyone would recognize it. There were dozens of self-help audiobooks released by William that had all become quite popular on Audible.com including such titles as “Awakening The Giant In You” and “How to Win Friends and Influence Others”.

“Who are you?”

“Ask me who I was.”

“Who were you then?” said Ronald, raising his voice. “You’re particular — for a shade.”

“I’m sorry, a what?” said the ghost.

“A phantom, a Spector, a poltergeist. You know man, a ghost!”

“In life, I was your partner, William O’Leary” replied the ghost. Having never been called a shade before, he wasn’t sure if he should be offended or not. But there wasn’t enough time to contemplate 19th Century English authors and their choice of words to describe the dead.

“Can you — can you sit down?” asked Ronald, looking doubtfully at the ghost.

“I can.”

“Do it then.”

Ronald asked the question because he didn’t know whether a ghost so transparent might find himself in a condition to take a chair; and felt that in the event of its being impossible, it might involve the necessity of an embarrassing explanation. But the ghost sat down on the opposite side of the fireplace as if he were quite used to it.

“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.

“I don’t,” said Ronald.

“What evidence would you have of my reality, beyond that of your senses?”

“I don’t know,” said Ronald.

“Why do you doubt your senses?”

“Because,” said Ronald, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheat. You may be an undigested bit of cheeseburger from McDonald’s, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato or onion. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

Ronald was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the specter’s voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones. But we all know how well Chump’s attempts to appear smart can go to people outside the business world …

To sit, staring at those fixed, glazed eyes, in silence for a moment, would play, Ronald felt unsettled. There was something very awful, too, in the specter’s being provided with an infernal atmosphere of its own. Ronald could not feel it himself, but this was clearly the case; for though the Ghost sat perfectly motionless, its hair was still agitated as by the hot vapor from an oven.

“You see this C?” said Ronald, wishing, though it were only for a second, to divert the vision’s stony gaze from himself and to a three foot tall solid gold statue of the letter C, for Chump, that sat next to his bed. “Isn’t it terrific?”

“The Best C,” replied the Ghost. If William could still roll his eyes, he would have. He hated that stupid C and thought it was a criminal waste of funds, but since Ronald had his own charity to pay for such things, even though illegal to do so, William never shared this thought with Ronald when he was alive. What did he care, when it wasn’t Williams money to be wasted.

“You are not looking at it,” said Ronald.

“But I see it,” said the Ghost, “notwithstanding” the ghost noted to himself what a sick burn this was, and if he could still smile, he would have.

“Well!” returned Ronald. “I have but to swallow this C and be for the rest of my days persecuted by a legion of ghosts and goblins, all of my own creation. Humbug, I tell you — humbug!”

At this, the spirit raised a frightful cry and shook its sex chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Ronald held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon. But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round its head, as if it were too warm to wear in-doors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!

Ronald fell upon his knees and clasped his hands before his face.

“Mercy!” he said. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”

“Man of the worldly mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or not?”

“I do,” said Ronald. “I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”

“It is required of us all,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within should walk among our fellow people, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world — oh, woe is me! — and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

“But didn’t you offer people in need comfort and relief to their most searing mental problems?” Chump asked.

“I offered only platitudes, pop psychology, and hot rocks!” As he said this, the specter raised a cry, and shook its chain, and wrung its shadowy hands.

“You are fettered,” said Ronald, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”

Ronald trembled more and more.

“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it, since. It is now a big chain! A terrific chain! The best chain!”

Ronald glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of sex chain himself: but he could see nothing.

“William,” he said, imploringly. “Old William, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, William.”

“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “Happiness comes from the journey, not the destination, and neither of us has traveled much! Comfort is conveyed by others, other kinds of men and women of varying faiths and beliefs, and from some with no beliefs at all! Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked far beyond our offices unless for work — mark me! — in life, my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our business transactions with others, and weary journeys lie before me!”

It was a habit with Ronald, whenever he became thoughtful, to put his hands in his pockets and shake them to see if there was any spare change he could refuse to give to the homeless later in the day. Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he did so now, but without lifting up his eyes, or getting off his knees.

“You must have been very slow about it, William,” Ronald observed, in a business-like manner, though with humility and deference.

“Slow!” the Ghost repeated.

“Seven years dead,” mused Ronald. “And traveling all the time?”

“The whole time,” said the Ghost. “No rest, no peace. The incessant torture of remorse.”

“You travel fast?” said Ronald.

“On the wings of the wind,” replied the Ghost.

“You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,” said Ronald.

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its sex chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the police would have been justified in indicting it for criminal mischief.

“Oh, captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labor by immortal creatures, for this earth, must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunities misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
 
 “But you were always a good man of business” faltered Ronald, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business! Wrong was I to offer advice to those desperately in need in lieu of therapy, medication, and self-care; and to make them fly halfway around the world and pay me great sums for the privilege of hearing me speak falsely to them!

It held up its chain at arm’s length as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

“At this time of the rolling year,” the specter said, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through the crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, unless they had enough money to gain my attention and supposed wisdom? And never raise those eyes to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no shelters for the homeless to which its light would have conducted me! I could have built them. I had the means! As do you! But everyone wants to talk about helping the homeless and yet does nothing about it when homes are what they need and access to assistance, money, and services not far from those homes. But not in my back yard the people cry, as did you, and as did I!”

Ronald was very much dismayed to hear the specter going on at this rate and began to quake exceedingly. In all of his years working in real estate, Chump did nothing for the homeless, and everything to evict as many of the poor as he could, leaving many of them to become homeless themselves.

“Hear me!” cried the Ghost. “My time is nearly gone.”

“I will,” said Ronald. “But don’t be hard upon me! Don’t be flowery, William! Pray!”

“How it is that I appear before you in a shape that you can see, I may not tell. I have sat invisible beside you many and many a day, smelling your farts and watching you shower, as all of the dead can do.”

It was not an agreeable idea. Ronald shivered and wiped the perspiration from his brow. The thought of dozens of angry ghosts in his bathroom watching him, or anyone else, shower was quite unsettling.

“That is no light part of my penance,” pursued the Ghost. “I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ronald.”

“You were always good to me,” said Ronald. “Thank you!”

“You will be haunted,” resumed the Ghost, “by Three Spirits.”

Ronald’s countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost’s had done. “Would Abraham Lincoln be one of them?”

William said nothing in reply.

“Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, William?” Ronald demanded, in a faltering voice.

“It is.”

“I … I think I’d rather not,” said Ronald. “I’d rather stay in my bed until it’s time to use the toilet and see what’s happening on Twitter”. Ronald’s eyes darted over to his clock to see that his Twitter and Toilet time was only six hours from now.

“Without their visits,” said the Ghost, “you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the food court bell tolls one.”

“Couldn’t I take them all at once, and have it over, William?” hinted Ronald.

“They are ghosts, not sex workers, Ronald! You can expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!”

When it had said these words, the specter took its wrapper from the table, and bound it round its head, as before. Ronald knew this, by the smart sound its teeth made, when the jaws were brought together by the bandage. He ventured to raise his eyes again and found his

supernatural visitor confronting him in an erect attitude, with its chain wound over and about its arm.

The apparition walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that when the specter reached it, it was wide open. It beckoned Ronald to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, William’s Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come closer. Ronald stopped.

Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings

inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The specter, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge, which sounded a lot like a depressing rendition of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night.

Ronald followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.

The air was filled with phantoms of stockbrokers, hedge fund managers, and other representatives of Wall Street wandering hither and thither in restless haste and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like William’s Ghost; some few were linked together with the chains having names upon them such as Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and Lehman Brothers; none were free.

Many had been personally known to Ronald in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a professional wrestler in need with whom it had denied health insurance and a pension in life. There was another still, who owned New York’s other baseball team and refused to spend any sort of money on them or hire competent people and get out of the way, who was chained to what appeared to be the old remains of their former stadium in Queens. Now the ghost wanted nothing more to spend lavishly and please its fans. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power to do so forever.

Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, he could not tell. But they and their spirit voices faded together, and the night became as it had been when he walked home.

Ronald closed the window and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He tried to say “Humbug!” but stopped at the first syllable. And being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the Invisible World, or the dull conversation of the Ghost, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose; went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the instant.