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Maxed Out: A Whismas Carol

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and Billy Scrooge didn’t know whether to be tickled pink or scared witless.
Sorry, Dickens.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and Billy Scrooge didn’t know whether to be tickled pink or scared witless. Until just a minute ago, it had been a day of giddy excitement. He’d fired his longtime bean counter and whipping boy, Cratchit, for having the temerity to ask for both a raise and Christmas Day off. He remembered the forlorn look in Cratchit’s eyes and howl of despair when he said, “And furthermore, you have 24 hours to get your sorry butt out of my company house.”

“But Mr. Scrooge, where will I go? Where will the kids go? Lucinda’s going to have another baby.”

“And you’re telling me this why?” Scrooge had responded.

He’d celebrated by actually tipping the waitress who served him dinner every night at Tapley’s. She, of course, thought the loonie left on the table had inadvertently been overlooked. A nightly fixture in the corner booth, he knew everyone there and everyone knew him, though none spoke to the dude they referred to sarcastically as Sweet William, and none were spoken to by him.

But this Marley thing had shaken him. Just before bed, right after he’d called Cratchit and reminded him he now had only 18 hours to get out of his house, the ghost of Bob Marley—his old business partner not the reggae singer—had floated into his room. Scrooge and Marley had been go-getters in Whistler’s early years, money lenders to others starting businesses, condos, timeshares, T-shirt shops, coffee places and later, Billy had made a killing on Vail stock and foreclosing debtors who couldn’t pay.

“Heed me,” Marley had said. “Repent, be generous to, care for your fellow people... or be damned like me to wander the Earth forever in the afterlife, Billy. It’s not too late for you.”

“Humbug,” Scrooge had replied. He loved that word, especially around Christmas. But he was a bit worried about the three spirits Marley had warned would visit him as the hours grew long.

At the stroke of one, Scrooge woke with a start. Something was tickling his leg under the covers. Opening his eyes, he screamed. At the foot of his bed stood an apparition in patched bell-bottoms, stretched shapeless sweater, scraggly beard and Export A toque.

“Who are you?” he cried.

“The Ghost of Whistler Past, dude. Let’s go.”

Scrooge couldn’t believe his eyes. In a flash, his bedroom disappeared, and he was standing knee-deep in a mud puddle in the parking lot of the old Mount Whistler Lodge. Soft, yellow light shone through the windows, loud rock pulsated from within and the air was redolent of pot smoke.

“I know this place,” he said. “It’s the Freaker’s Ball.”

The spirit led him inside, through the walls. “Oh man,” Scrooge said. “There’s George and Rod and old Schultzie and T-shirt Al. Oh wow!” His gaze wandered to the corner, where a group with lit-up eyes and face-spasmed smiles made merry. “Oh look, it’s Charlie and Andy and... and me. Oh Spirit, these were such wonderful times. So full of hope and dreams and life lived for the moment.”

As quickly as they’d arrived, they were gone.

“I want to go back,” Scrooge implored. “Why did you take me away? Where are we?”

They were standing hip-deep in snow outside a spare wooden shed. Dim light from a lantern illuminated a young couple within. A girl with long brown hair was packing her few belongings into a backpack.

“I’m out of here, Billy. You’re turning into nothing but a greed-head. That’s not my scene and it didn’t used to be yours. We could have had a great thing together, but I’m not going to play second fiddle to your bank account. It’s over.”

“Oh you wicked, wicked Spirit,” Scrooge cried. “That’s my squat. That’s Karen, the only woman I ever tricked into loving me. And that’s my Hendrix 8-track she’s packing.”

“You bitch!” yelled the voice from inside the cabin.

Scrooge awoke in his bed. Sweat pooled in the small of his back and tears streamed down his face. He mourned for what could have been, and was about to call Toronto to see if he could track down Karen when a rich chimera, part human, part fat cat, drifted into his room. Dressed in a chi-chi Bogner one-piece, the ghost pointed a finger toward Scrooge and said, “I am the Ghost of Whistler Present. Come.”

The house, crowded with furniture, toys and boxes, was warm and inviting. Homemade decorations hung everywhere and three excited children played boisterously. In the bedroom, a woman cried as she jammed clothes into green garbage bags.

“I don’t care what you say, it takes a heartless bastard to fire someone and kick them out of their home on Christmas Eve.”

“That’s Cratchit’s wife,” Scrooge said to the Ghost who was carefully buffing his nails.

“Don’t be too harsh on him, dear.” It was Cratchit’s voice coming from inside the bathroom. “Maybe he was right, maybe I shouldn’t have asked for both a raise and Christmas off. Maybe I should have been more grateful just to have a job and a place to live. After all, this is Whistler.”

Just then, Mrs. Cratchit’s water broke and she went into labour. “Ohmigod! This can’t be happening. It’s three months early. Call 911.”

The scene vanished in a fog and Scrooge was back in his room with the Ghost of Whistler Present. “What’s going to happen?” he implored. “Is she going to be all right?”

“Chill, dude.” The Ghost answered. “Like, what do you care? They’re losers. As long as they get the hell out of your place by tomorrow, eh?”

“No, Spirit, it’s not right. It’s...” and it was gone in a puff.

Scrooge was confused. He’d never been concerned about anyone else’s welfare and it was an unsettling feeling.

He didn’t have long to dwell on it, for thundering through his door came a dark, sinister figure—the Ghost of Whistler Future. In a flash, they were standing at the base of the mountain. Well-heeled people in fabulous outfits with high-end equipment were lined up at the gondola.

“Where are the workers?” Scrooge asked.

“Look around, this is your dream come true,” said the Ghost.

Tickets were dispensed by machine, validators had been replaced by electronic sensors and synthetic life forms frothed milk for $10 lattés. “But it’s so devoid of life,” Scrooge heard himself saying.

“Wonderful, isn’t it?” replied the Ghost. “No one complaining about housing or hours or pay or working conditions, just happy, rich visitors spending money like drunken sailors. It’s what you always wanted.”

Quickly whisked to the cemetery, a clutch of old geezers were standing around an open grave. “Who died?” Scrooge asked. Walking closer, he was astounded to see the mourners, all old men, peeing onto the fresh grave. “No need to ask, I guess.”

“Oh Spirit,” Scrooge implored, “What can I do? Is there any way to change this bleak future?”

“I doubt it.”

And with that, Scrooge awoke in his own bed on Christmas morning, knowing what the future held in store but still not certain he really wanted to do anything about it.

Merry Christmas. 

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