Michaelmorser Scrooge returned to quarters, the fog heavy in the Providence air, horns from the bay warning the ships still working Christmas Eve to steer clear of the rocky outcroppings. He climbed the stairs at the old firehouse and entered the dayroom. The members of Engine 13 gathered around a game of Monopoly, eating cookies and drinking homemade eggnog.
“Scrooge! A Merry Christmas to you, sir!” said Ryan, his cheeks ruddy with Christmas cheer.
“Merry? Humbug!” said Scrooge. “Loungeabouts call 9-1-1 for free rides to overflowing emergency rooms for medicines for which my taxes pay, and fools like you spend this cursed day at work in a dingy old fire station playing silly games with the rest of your ilk!”
“Surely you do not mean those words!” said Ryan. “Come, sit and join us. It’s only a game, and with each turn of the board, we put a dollar into the helmet to donate to the poor.”
“The poor?” said Scrooge. “Are there no workhouses? No homeless shelters? No orphanages?”
“There are,” said Ryan sadly, “curses upon this once great nation. But for a little generosity and less greed, those wretched places could be closed.”
“The poor will always be amongst us,” said Michaelmorser. “Let them die now and decrease the surplus population!”
He took his gruel from the icebox and walked toward his office. He turned the doorknob, and the traces of a familiar face appeared in the wood. He rubbed his eyes, and then the door, and found it to be sound and firm.
“Humbug!” said Scrooge, entering his office and closing the door, quieting the merrymaking behind him.
He dozed, sitting on an old recliner next to a drafty window. A dirty supper dish fell from the armrest, clattering to the floor, startling him awake. The clamor continued unabated. Scrooge looked about his surroundings but found nothing amiss.
A loud bell rang throughout the station, a clang that had not been heard in this or any firehouse in the city for decades. Vibrations rattled his cranky old body, and a mist appeared through his door, turning into the apparition he had seen in his office door.
“Okie?” said Scrooge. “How…why…what are you doing here?”
“How I am here is of no importance! Why I am here is what matters!” Okie moaned.
“But you retired! You are in Florida—I heard it just yesterday!”
“You fo-o-o-l!!” cried Okie. “I spent years that should have been filled helping those less fortunate by complaining about my misery and dodging runs and looking after nobody but myself!”
“That is not true! You and I are rescue men of the highest order! We take care of ourselves first and get these fools who call us to the hospital by doing as little as possible! We work excessive overtime so as not to be the dregs of society we are destined to treat!”
“Idiot!” moaned Okie. “This chain I wear? I forged it, link by link, callback by callback! It is the weight of a career of missed opportunities. I could have kept my skills up to date and learned new things. Instead I chose to simply exist, sleepwalking through most calls, never looking at patients, never lessening their suffering, never giving them even a little of the happiness they so needed!”
The apparition then rose from the floor of the tiny office and floated to the ceiling. Okie made his way to the window, his giant chain clanging after him. When he reached it he spun back toward Michaelmorser, underlining his words with shakes of a bony finger.
“You will be visited by three spirits tonight! One as the clock strikes 1. The next at 2. The third at the hour of 3! Heed me well, Scrooge: Listen to these spirits, and you just may avoid an eternity of misery forged from a lifetime of cynicism and gloom.”
“I’d rather not,” said Scrooge.
Okie moaned a most disheartening moan, filling Michaelmorser with dread. He watched as his old captain floated along the ceiling then disappeared out the window, the trail of chain clanging behind him.