To begin with.


“And there’s no way to appeal?” The figure shook its head. Marley fiddled with a lock, licked his dry lips. It had seemed, at the time, the sensible option. Christmas Eve, how many years ago? Too many to count now. Another dozen, another score of links on this chain. He could count them later.

His mind ticked back to the offer, cast the image across his view like a magic lantern show. Not an offer, a desperate plea. The spirit came to him that night, bound tight in bedsheets, warning him of vice. Imploring him to listen to more spirits, to mend himself. He ignored him, ignored his own father, for he knew what vice was dragging the old man’s soul and he did not share it.

Refusing the phantom, he spent that Christmas Eve as he had spent this, his last. He sat at his bench; the clerks sent scurrying abed, even Scrooge had found his way home leaving Marley alone with the scritch-scratch columns of numbers. His fingers bitten by the cold, his arms and legs slowing as if pulled by hard weights, Marley died without missing a remainder.

Now he met that dread spectre in death, having refused its help in life. The blank hood watched implacably as the chains wound him round. He knew every link and every lock, remembered the cold forge of their shaping. He was dead, and so being saw the Christmases yet to come, and one he may yet save.

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