Lindenezer Scrooge scowled grumpily at his associate, Bob Scratchit and snorted in derision: “Early logout on Christmas Eve? What is the world coming to? – You’ll be asking for a Christmas bonus next… as if ten Lindens an hour isn’t more than enough! Go on – get out of my sight!”
Scratchit beamed happily, “Why, thank you, Mr Scrooge and a very merry Christmas to you!”. Quickly grabbing his threadbare coat and scarf, he TP’d out of the door.
“Christmas, humbug!”, muttered the cantankerous old avatar, “Ah what’s the use? I may as well go home myself – what’s the point in paying tier if you’re never at home to enjoy it?” Leaving the store, he switched on the ban lines, cursing loudly as he collided with a batch of snowballs thrown by his neighbour; with a grimace, he muted the offending resident and continued his journey homewards. Once safely back home, ensconced in his favourite sculptie armchair, (lower on prims – he guarded his allowance jealously), he dozed off, head slumped forward with his ‘Away’ tag glowing above his head.
Suddenly he was roused from his sleep by a jangling of chains and a cloud of sparkling particles, in the midst of which stood a colourful, yet ghostly, character wreathed in pink and lime green mist. “Wh-wh-who are you?”, stuttered Scrooge; “wh-wh-what do you want with me?”
“Friendly greetings. I am the ghost of your old business partner, Jacob Torley!”, came the answer, “Do you not remember how you robbed me of my livelihood and stole my intellectual property? And now that I have passed on to that Great Sim in the Sky… I bring you a warning, Scrooge!”
Torley paused a moment to trigger his chain rattling gesture once more, before continuing in a sepulchral voice… “Change your ways, Scrooge, and become a better avatar: There are two ways you can do this… either post a support ticket, or receive a visitation from three of my frightful and fearsome spectral companions before the night is done!”
“Humbug!”, uttered Scrooge, and kicked Torley off the Sim before rezzing his bed and settling down with a thumb-sucking, curled up asleep animation to pass the night in peace.
Around 3.00am SLT, Scrooge’s peace was shattered and the room was filled with a glowing emerald light, as the first of the promised three apparitions made its appearance at Scrooge’s bedside. Terrified, Scrooge tried to hide under the covers but in the confusion ended up sitting, perched on the rather pointy post at the foot of his bed! In a voice, hard as stone, the apparition spoke: “Lindenezer Scrooge! Mend your ways or forever be cursed with lag! I am the Ghost of Viewers Past and I am here to show you the error of your ways… Come with me.”
A pose ball appeared at Scrooge’s side, he clicked on it and floated out through the window with the apparition at his side; they passed over the rooftops until they reached a large private island, once – a long time past – the home of Bob Scratchit. Hovering outside the window, Scrooge peered in, moving a little closer to get within chat range. Inside the large homestead, Bob and his partner were in the middle of an argument…
“But Martha, there’s nothing I can do… Since Mr Scrooge diddled Uncle Torley out of his life’s savings we have nothing to support us… the Hippo box says the rent is overdue and we have no Lindens to pay it. We have no choice, we have to give up our premium membership, you will have to go pole-dancing for tips and I’m afraid I’ll have to go and work for Mr Scrooge, doing a bot’s work, because he’s too tight to buy one!”
“Oh, but Bob”, remonstrated his partner, “surely there’s some other way? Poledancing gives me backache and can you imagine how awful it’ll be for you, working for that tight old geezer?”
“Oi!”, spluttered Scrooge. “Hush, you silly man”, muttered the Ghost of Viewers Past, “they can’t hear you – it’s just a machinima!”
“My dear”, continued Scratchit, “We have to make sacrifices… there are rumours that big changes are afoot – they do say that one day we will have mesh and new viewers with enhanced features, there are even those who say that Emerald is to be banned! How on earth will we be able to keep our systems up to date if we have no income?”
Scratchit took Martha’s hands in his and together they turned to face the window, looking straight through Scrooge at the particle snowflakes slowly falling outside. “Oh that evil Lindenezer Scrooge!”, Martha hissed, “Thanks to him we’ll lose everything… how I hope one day he gets his just desserts!”
With that, everything turned grey and blobby; Scrooge experienced a feeling like intense lag and, when he opened his eyes, was once again back in his bed. The apparition was nowhere to be seen. Visibly shivering, Scrooge pulled the covers up to his chin.
The mantle clock struck 4.00am SLT and suddenly Scrooge found himself wide awake and looking straight into the face of his second apparition that night. The jolly, bearded fellow guffawed loudly and introduced himself with an expansive gesture…
“Well, bless my soul, if it isn’t that old sourpuss, Lindenezer Scrooge, hiding away under his bedclothes like a frightened schoolgirl! Allow me to introduce myself – I am the Ghost of Viewers Present, and we’re going to have a jolly jape at your expense!”
At the words ‘at your expense’, Scrooge shuddered and felt sick to his stomach. Before he had time to protest, a LM popped up.
“We’re off… that’ll be your destination! Now, hop to it!”
Chortling away to himself, the Ghost of Viewers Present poofed and Scrooge was left alone. There was, of course, no way he was going to follow, in fact he was about to delete the LM when an IM popped up:
[04:04] Ghost of Viewers Present: Don’t even think about it! Get yourself here right now!
Sighing, Scrooge did as instructed and arrived in a dark and shabby Sim, in front of an equally dark and shabby shack. The spirit was waiting for him and beckoned him over to peer through a crack in the wall. The scene inside was one of poverty, and yet there was a warmth and joy amongst the people there that belied their sorry circumstances. As Scrooge watched, he recognised his employee Bob Scratchit, looking tired and careworn.
Turning a spit over the fire was his partner, Martha, who looked as though the years had taken their toll – she appeared to be roasting a sculpted rat. A couple of child avatars played games at the table and another young avatar sat by the fire with his back to Scrooge. All wore freebie clothing and the youngsters were all system avatars… no money to pay for decent hair or skins.
As Scrooge watched, Scratchit walked across to the seated lad and hoisted him onto his shoulders. Scrooge gasped and looked in horror to the apparition beside him.
“Ah yes”, smiled the spirit, “Bob’s youngest; Titchy Tom – a brave lad with a sad story. His legs have never rezzed and Bob cannot afford premium membership on the wages you pay him, so they’ve never been able to open a support ticket.”
“What will happen to him?”, whispered Scrooge?
“Oh, I daresay he’ll struggle on for a bit, but eventually it will all be too much for him and, one day, he’ll simply stop logging in…
Now, hush, and listen!”
Inside, the Scratchits had gathered around the table; Bob had rezzed some freebie drinks and with an awkward – again, obviously free – animation, he raised his glass: “A toast!”, he declared, “A toast this Christmastide to all those who are not as well off as ourselves – may they find peace and joy this festive season! And also a toast to my most generous employer, Mr Lindenezer Scrooge – may he have a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year!”
“Oh, Bob!”, exclaimed Martha, “How can you drink a toast to that mean old goat? If it wasn’t for that miser’s despicable behaviour, we’d not be in the sorry state we are, and poor Titchy Tom…”, at this she sniffed and her eyes became moist, “poor Titchy Tom would have legs and be able to run, and jump and play just like normal avatars…”
“Martha, my dear, it’s Christmas – a time of goodwill. Perhaps one day Mr Scrooge will change for the better”
“Yes, mother”, piped up Titchy Tom in a shrill voice, “everybody deserves a chance, [cough], poor old Mr Scrooge is probably a nice man deep down inside, [wheeze], he deserves a chance, [cough, cough] – let’s drink a toast to Mr Scrooge… To Mr Scrooge, may Governor Linden bless him! [wheeze, cough, cough]”
As the little family raised their glasses, Scrooge dared not look up at the spirit stood next to him. Instead, he hid his tears, letting them fall hotly onto the cold snow at his feet.
The world twisted and once again he was lying in his bed.
Scrooge did not sleep – he lay awake, waiting for the clock to strike the hour. 6.00am SLT came, and with it, the final of the three spirits appeared – black clad and silent, brooding over his bed as he lay.
“Are you whom I think you are? Are you the Ghost of Viewers to come?”
The figure nodded slowly and, with a single skeletal finger beckoned Scrooge to follow. As he sat up and his feet touched the floorboards, a glow of light appeared in the corner of the room – a TP portal, through which the figure stepped. Scrooge followed and instantly found himself in a completely strange and alien realm.
Cartoon-like trees sprouted from a multi-coloured landscape; glowing crystals dotted the ground and, here and there, steaming lakes of poisonous water festered – despite the alien scenery, it looked strangely familiar to Scrooge.
He called up land properties… ‘Abandoned Land, Realm of Scroogeopolis. Property of Governor Linden’
“How can this be?”, said Scrooge, shocked to his core. The spectre at his side raised a bony finger to its lips and pointed ahead of them. As Scrooge watched, a small group of travellers came into view, talking animatedly.
“Well, if you ask me, it’s a good thing the old dog is dead”, said one of the group to his companions. “Even so”, came the response, “I don’t think we’ll ever find his treasure… he could have hidden it anywhere around here. They say he died a multi-Linden-millionaire, and some lucky person is going to find a crystal and take the whole lot one day! Mind you, I don’t care much for this place, it’s a complete dump!”
“Of whom do they speak”, Scrooge questioned the Ghost, urgency in his voice; “Who has died? Tell me!”
Once again, the ghostly being pointed, this time towards an overgrown and unkempt tomb, falling to his knees in front of the crumbling stone, Scrooge scrabbled desperately at the prim ivy obscuring the legend it bore…
“Here lie the pixels of Lindenezer Scrooge
Rezzed December 25th 2003
The texture hadn’t baked properly and Scrooge couldn’t read the remaining details… “Oh, spirit, tell me this isn’t so! What date is it that has not rendered? Please tell me – how much time do I have? I can change, I promise you, give me time and I will change!”
Before his eyes, the Ghost of Viewers to Come began to fade. “NOOOOOooooooooo!!!” shouted Scrooge in desperation; but it was too late – the scene around him faded and he was again back in his own bed, the pale colours of dawn Windlight beginning to show outside his bedroom window.
Later that morning, a street urchin was surprised by a shout in local chat: “Tell me boy, what day is this?”. The lad looked up to see Scrooge’s face peering down at him from his bedroom window. “Why sir, ’tis Christmas morn, (yer daft ol’ bugger!)”, called back the boy with a cheeky grin on his face. “Yay!”, gestured Scrooge,“Tell me boy, is that extra large scripted goose still hanging in the Marketplace – the L$500 one? – If so, order it for me and have it charged to my Concierge Account! Well, don’t hang about there… go on!”
The urchin paused a moment, weighing up his chances, selected ‘Always run’ and… ‘SPLAT!’ – Scrooge reeled back from the window, spluttering from receiving a huge snowball full in the face. He leaned back out of the window, waving his fist at the laughing urchin below, “Why you…”, he began – then his face split with a large smile,“Just you wait till I get my hands on my own snowball HUD, young man! Then you’ll be in trouble! Now, off to the Marketplace with you, and here’s a few Lindens for your trouble!”
All was merriment and laughter in the Scratchit household as they looked forward to their roasted rat for Christmas dinner, even Titchy Tom was beaming from his little stool by the fireplace Suddenly an unexpected knock on the door brought Bob to his feet. “Who could that be calling on Christmas Day? Martha, pull up another chair, it seems we have guests for lunch!” He swung wide the door, but the warm smile of greeting on his face soon vanished as the familiar, frowning visage of his employer filled the doorway. “M-M-M-Mr Scrooge, ummm, please do come in and make yourself comfortable.”
Scrooge walked in, looked with distaste at the rat on the spit and seated himself at the head of the table, he looked sternly at his employee… “Scratchit! What is the meaning of this? Why is the store closed and what is the meaning of this culinary extravagance?”
“S-s-sir, it’s Christmas Day – a holiday! And this wonderful meal is what I have scrimped and saved for weeks to afford… And, of course, you’re more than welcome to share it with us, sir.”
“Hmmm”, replied Scrooge, “I’ll be eating nothing but the finest goose today! Now, Scratchit, we must talk – I permitted you to leave early yesterday and now I find you making merry and abandoning the store for another whole day! Well, I think it’s time I reconsidered your position.”
Bob Scratchit collapsed onto the chair, a look of fear on his face.
“You see, Scratchit, I think it’s time that I let you go…” – he paused and looked sternly around the little family – “Time that I let you go on to the books as my partner! How does equal shares in the business sound and a guaranteed wage of, let’s say L$1500 a week?”
“Oh, not enough? Shall we say L$2000 then, plus commission on every sale? And whilst we’re at it, when was the last time you had a paid holiday? Coming to think of it, I probably owe you a whole lot of back pay too… maybe we can discuss it in work tomorrow?”
“Oh my goodness, Mr Scrooge… I don’t know what to say…”
Scrooge looked at Scratchit with a twinkle in his eye; “Good point! It is Christmas… no work tomorrow then! And, of course you can have the week off, what on earth am I thinking? Now, how about some lunch?”
At that, there was a knock on the door – the goose had arrived! Scratchit hastily rezzed some glasses and a bottle of wine he’d been saving for a special occasion. passing them round to each of the family members, when a quiet cough from the corner caught Scrooge’s attention.
Scrooge, put down his glass, and walked over to Titchy Tom’s stool, kneeling down in front of him.
“Tom, I have a special Christmas gift for you… I’ve had a word with my friends at the Lab and they’ve logged a Jira – They’ve promised me that by the new year, you’ll have the best pair of legs that there’s ever been!”
“Oh, Mr Scrooge”, said Titchy Tom, “I always said that deep down inside you were a good man!”
Scrooge smiled and fished in his pocket, drawing out a small paper bag; “I popped into the sweetshop on my way here”, he said, proffering the bag to Titchy Tom… “Humbug?”
To all my readers, followers and my very special friends – the compliments of the season and a very merry Christmas to each and every one of you!
They said there’d be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get, we deserve
Greg Lake – I Believe In Father Christmas