Chains; The Preview, Part Five

Part Five

It was the most unsettling feeling he had ever come across. Marley was still in the street before the inn, of that he was sure, everything was in all respects exactly as it once was but that it had all taken on a queer one dimensional quality. No, that wasn’t quite right, it was not flat so much as… theatrical. You know how it is when you watch a play and the action demands that the scene be set in say a quaint old village in rural Japan? No matter the skill of the set makers, no matter how accurate the Tromp l’oeil of the backcloth you are still aware of the essential artifice of the scene. The bridge, just rough wood and paint, the river, just a cloth and mechanics, the distant pagoda, just a few flicks of paint on a cloth but all of which conspire with the eye into seeing a Japanese village in the willow pattern style.

The view of the street beyond now resembled such a painting, although without the pagoda of course. As Marley approached it he saw that it was indeed nothing more than a roughly painted backcloth. He looked up and, impossibly high, saw the bar that the sky was hung on and the blackness beyond with just the most subtle hint of ropes, machinery and other impossibilities beyond.

“Aye, that’s it lad” said the girl, “we need to get to a move on… we’re on a tight schedule… turn right.”

Marley turned to his right and rather than seeing the rest of the street as he had expected there was a dusty space filled with murky light.

He walked forward and the painted pavement gave away to just boards, the backcloth became plain and then stopped, He could see the chains that weighted it to the floor just poking out of one end of it. He looked back at what had been up until just a moment ago the wall of the inn, the back of it showed the raw canvas, the stage brace and the weight holding it down. Further on, into what should have been the interior of the hostelry was just another painted canvas showing Scrooge frozen in the act of peering at a questionable bit of food on the end of a fork. Past that was just a brick wall lined with hempen ropes and an opening into a corridor.

“It’s not real” he said to himself, “None of it is real!”

“O’ course it is,” said the young woman as she bustled past him, “it’s just that it in’t quite as real as you might have thought it was… this way.”

She led him down the claustrophobic corridor with doors and other corridors running down either side, sometimes a set of stairs. Sometimes they passed an opening that opened out onto other spaces that could very well have been ‘stages’ like the one he had come from. They turned up corridors, seemingly at random, and at a dizzying pace, as they did he caught glimpses of school houses, shabby offices, hovels and low places (all rendered in canvas and paint of course). This place is a veritable rabbit warren thought Marley.

“I don’t know your name,” he said as they passed some half painted pieces of wood that, from the front, made themselves out to be gravestones.

“No, ‘appen you don’t,” she said without breaking her stride or turning her head to look at him “If you must have a name to call me by then you can use Linton, I suppose that would be most ‘fitting’”

“Mrs. Linton? Miss?” said Marley.

“Linton, just Linton” came the terse reply. Suddenly she stopped walking, so suddenly in fact that Marley nearly barrelled into her.

Marley wondered why they had stopped, but could not see anything in the all encompassing gloom of the corridor in front of them. He could not see anything, but he fancied that he might be able to hear something, just on the edge of hearing a rustling was coming towards them. Like dry leaves and twigs swirling on an autumn day, closer and closer it came.

“Ah Madam Crowl,” Linton said into the darkness, “I have another customer for you,” then all at once a figure started to coalesce out of the darkness.

A female form, but as different from Linton as chalk is to cheese. An ancient beldam she was, tiny and crooked in stature, bedecked in satins and velvets. She walked with a queerly simpering gait and her eyes (as big as saucers) fixed on Marley with quite the malevolent gaze. Her gnarled face was powdered and rouged to distraction in a parody of fashion and her hands, like contorted and knotted stumps of wood, were clutched out in front of her in the manner of claws. Too easily could Marley imagine those terrible hands reaching up, up into his eye sockets and scrabbling about for the eyeballs therein. So much so that he could not entirely stifle the cry that leapt up to his throat as this horror approached.

Linton shot Marley a look at this exclamation and then went on to address the woman as if nothing had occurred.

“Madam Crowl,” Linton said to the older woman, “this is our Marley”

The visage of Madam Crowl underwent a spectacular change, incredulity swept across it like an emotional tidal wave. It began at her jaw (as it were, the coastline of her disbelief) which dropped away as the shock swept across it. This rent a great fissure, a gaping maw of an ‘O’ in the centre of the landscape of her face. This in its turn caused a landslide in the foothills of her cheeks, the great and primeval glacial carved valleys of her wrinkles almost smoothed by the emotional tectonic activity beneath them. Finally her eyes, those icy twin cities, rolled in their sockets with the aftershocks of the earthquakes of disbelief as the painted city walls of her eyebrows crumbled like the walls of Jericho and rolled up and away into her trembling hairline.

“This… is… NOT… OUR… MARLEY!” she spat out in staccato rage.

“There’s been a change of plan,” said Linton evenly. Marley was impressed, he was not sure that many could keep their heads in the face of the onslaught that this tiny harpy was obviously capable of giving yet Linton hardly seemed to notice it.

“I see that!” said Crowl, “What happened to Sir Simon? Nerves again? I’ll give him ner…”

“No, for once, no it wunt our precious delicate flower, it were t’boss this time; decided he wanted t’go fer authenticity for some reason,” said Linton, “Look Crowl, don’t get at me I’m just bloody messenger, it’s buggered me up as much as you… ‘is first entrance is probably only bloody minutes away and I ‘int briefed ‘im or owt… thank god it’s just an ‘owl.”

“Thank heavens for small mercies!” said the old woman suddenly conspiratorial in their shared woes, “Come on then let me have a look at him.”

Madam Crowl scuttled up to Marley and appraised him with a sceptical air. He could feel her two great glassy eyes assessing him as they travelled up and down him. Her hands pinched and pecked at his clothes like enraged sparrows. He knew from the sucking sound that emanated from her mouth that what she saw did not please her in the slightest.

“He looks nothing like Marley at all, terrible casting!” she said.

Marley boggled at this, no one had ever said that he didn’t look like himself.

“You see it’s all wrong,” she said, “I had Marley in something much more ‘winding sheet’ than this… I suppose it’s too much to hope that you have a winding sheet?” she put her head on a slant like an impatient toucan.

Marley realised that he had been addressed,

“No I don’t think I d…” he began to say but was cut off.

“Of course not! Why would you have your own winding sheet? I mean you’re only a ghost! They expect me to provide everything for them nowadays. I remember a time when every self respecting ghost would have his own winding sheet. Winding sheet, death mask and character shoes.”

Her hands flew up, fluttering in the air with exasperation.

“Well he won’t fit in Sir Simon’s schmutter that is for certain, it’ll look like a sail on him, it’ll all have to be taken in,” she said.  Her long nails, all cut into points (like little needles themselves thought Marley), clicked together impatiently as she talked.

“Oh, That’s the other thing,” said Linton, ”He’s moved Old Ben off Present and put Simon in his place”

If the first assault on Madam Crowl’s face had been a tidal wave then this one was a veritable Tsunami.

“More Costumes… MORE!” she screeched, “impossible Linton, just impossible!”

“We have t’make it possible. What about what he’s wearing now?” said Linton.

“Go out in civvies! Under no circumstances! I’ve never heard of such a thing!”

“Madam Crowl!” said Linton.

“Don’t say anymore Linton! If you want him all dollied up then I suggest you do it yourself. I’m off to take this up with his bloody lordship himself… I can’t work miracles all in one night!”

Madam Crowl stalked back off into the gloom.

“I think she likes you,” said Linton to Marley with a smile.

A scratchy voice came from out of nowhere.

“Overture and beginners, please get ready saints and sinners, Mr Marley to his premier entrance at the door…”

Linton let drop an expression that would have brought the colour to Marley’s cheeks if that was at all possible.

There was a gust of wind and a feeling of wings fluttering

“Mr Marley, first position…” said the voice.

“Yes, thank you, we’re on our way” said Linton up into the empty air.

“Mr Marley your rendition…” something large and black swooped low over Marley’s head but he couldn’t truly make out what bird it was.

 “With me, quickly!” she said and grabbed Marley by the hand urging him onward into the depths of this place.

“May it make you worthy to be called a troubadour! Only this and nothing more.” The voice receded into a mocking echo that could have just been the cry of a bird.

Through more of the dusty corridors they hurried. Around impossible corners that Marley thought must have double backed on to themselves but did not seem to. The architecture of this place constructed around a different set of natural laws than that he was used to.

And then all at once they were at the threshold of one of those dark spaces that Marley had come to think of as stages. In the middle of this the ‘set’ was very Spartan indeed, just a platform with three rough steps running up to it. On top of the platform there was a door standing in a frame which lead to nowhere at all as the space beyond the door just faced a large red curtain which formed a wall that stretched up higher than Marley could see.

Linton indicated that he was to be very quiet and they stepped into the stage area.

Marley could not help himself but wonder what kind of audience might be out there beyond the curtain; whoever they were they were blessed quiet. There were no customary sounds of sweet papers or muffled ‘excuse me’s as patrons attempted to take their seats. But audience there was, he could feel the anticipation pulling at him.

Linton indicated that he was to go up on the platform but as he placed his foot upon the first step he stopped.

“I don’t know what I’m to do!” he said.

Linton scowled and whispered back,

“Don’t worry, this is ‘easy bit. I’ll ‘elp you through it.”

“But have I got any lines?” he said.

Linton half smiled at him,

“Not as such” she said and gently pushed him in the small of the back to encourage him up the steps.

Finally they took their place behind the door. Marley worried about the staging of the scene, surely if he was to give some kind of performance he would not be able to be seen back here with the door between him and the audience but before he could give voice to these concerns Linton muttered one word,

“Showtime!” and the curtain began to rise.

The sound of a piece of silk being turned on a wooden drum to represent the sound of wind struck up, then after a moment steps on a gravel drive were approaching the door.

Marley found that his stomach was in knots when Linton, who was stood beside him on the platform took his hand in hers and whispered to him,


There was a sound of a key working in the lock of the door but who it was that could have been operating it Marley could not fathom for he had seen no one approach the door.

“Well…” he said.

“Good.” Said Linton and suddenly she pushed the hand she held up, round and into the small of his back  and then grabbed the back of his head and with remarkable strength she pushed his head towards the door.

It was a move that the prize-fighters in Cheapside would have been proud of; Marley was sure that she meant to dash his head against the door, to do him some terrible injury but in his surprise he had no time to resist the motion. The rough wood of the doors back rushed to meet him and he prepared for the impact… which did not come. His head passed clean through the wood of the door and out the other side.

And who was he nose to nose with once again but his old partner? Scrooge! Scrooge, bog eyed, in muffler and top hat. This time though, Scrooge could evidently see him, could see him all too well. Marley had some little satisfaction as the expression somewhere between shock and horror passed over Scrooge’s face as he looked upon Marley’s disembodied head sticking out of the door.

There was a dull ache in the front of Marley’s face like the ghost of the worst of toothaches and with something of the taste of brass polish about it.  He could not free himself however as he could still feel Linton’s hands upon him, holding him in place.

Scrooge, who had initially recoiled at the sudden sight of Marley, moved back towards him to examine the sudden appearance of his partners face in the place of the accustomed door knocker as if it were an uncommonly rare flower. It was at this point that Marley felt something slam down viciously upon his foot and pain shoot up his leg in response.

Marley howled in pain and Scrooge stumbled backwards on the no doubt traitorously icy steps in panic.

The next he knew of it, Marley’s head was being pulled slowly back through the door. As he passed through the matter he could see its strata as it went by; the metal of the doorknocker giving way to the wood of the door each ring of the wood passing by like a candy stripe on a piece of peppermint. Then he was back in the stage area and the red curtain was descending once again.

He was struck by an unnatural pain in his face, the part that had been pushed through the door. He had been a great drinker by the end of his life but never had he experienced in all his living days a hangover that as keen and sharp as this.

Linton’s face swam back into focus through the pain.

“Not bad,” she said, “I’m guessing the ould goat got a fair fright there and no mistake”

Marley could do no more than gawp at this, his torturer. He tried to speak but all that came out was a desperate moan.

“Come on,” she said, “I dunno ‘bout you but I could murder a tea” and she strode off towards the labyrinthine corridors forcing Marley to follow.

As they passed through the corridors once more they were forced to make way for a large representation of a steam hearse that was evidently on its way to some pressing appointment. It was piloted by a man whose head had been replaced with a large member of the squash family. Marley wondered how he could see where he was going with a head carved from a pumpkin and yet he could observe no evident impediment to his navigation.

At least, Marley thought clutching at his face despairingly and hoping that the pain would subside, things can’t get much worse. How wrong he was, how very, very wrong poor Marley was…

Chains; The Preview, Part Four

Part Four stopped in front of Marley for a second, such that the old partners were almost nose to nose. Marley, open mouthed with shock, boggled and almost panicked that Scrooge could see him and that he would be required to start the process of salvation here and now. What would he do? What could he say? But Scrooge, for his own part, showed not one inkling of detecting his partner’s presence and simply turned to the door of the tavern and went inside.

Scrooge! Why did it have to be him? He could see him now through the window of the Tavern packing away at the meagre portions proffered by the inn like a scrawny bird of prey. Of all the sinners in the world why did the old ghost pick him for salvation, and why Marley to be the agent of it? Well there was nothing for it; he determined would refuse this commission. Damn the ghost, damn it to hell, and damn Scrooge as well. Marley would not be compelled, what could the paranormal sovereign do to him if he refused his entreaty? Nothing! No torment was worse than the one he was currently engaged in. Ha! A fig for your commissions my good sir he thought and he was about to walk off and away when he heard another voice.

“Jacob Marley? Do we have a Jacob Marley here? “ The voice was female, had more than a touch of the Yorkshire about it and, to Marley’s mind, a voice that was obviously used to getting an answer when it called, but he was blowed if he would answer it!

Yet another ghost hounding him! How was it, thought Marley, that one could go through seven years of your demise without taking as much as a ‘by your leave’ from even one solitary other ghost and then all on one night you should be inundated by entreaties from almost the whole blessed spectral hoard! Well enough was enough, he was not ‘at home’ to any more visitations though they be from the very ghost of Caesar himself.

“Jacob Marley!” The voice was now more annoyed than insistent.

Marley made to go but found that he could not… the chains around him had pulled taught and stopped him from moving. He looked around and found that he was being prevented by moving by a young lady holding on to the furthest end of one of his chains.

She looked no more than eighteen but with a pale face that passed for even younger. Her simple dusky blue dress was a little ragged and wild, as was her dark hair. She had made some attempt to tame the hair with the liberal use of pieces of gorse and heather. Her feet were bare and covered in mud, as was the hem of her dress. She wore no jewellery save a locket around her neck. For all her untamed appearance she gave off an air of someone at last in control of herself after many a year of abandon. She held Marley’s chain lightly in one hand; he felt something of what it must feel like to be a dog, tethered to a stronger master, for try as he might he could not pull himself from this grasp.

“And just where do you think you are going?” she said to him.

“Madam! Kindly unhand me,” said Marley in return.

“Look! I’ve got no time t’be playing silly beggers with you, ‘you Jacob Marley or not?”

Marley boggled that anyone, let alone a young lady would be so rude as to speak to him in such a fashion, he continued to struggle with the chain but the her grip was so preternaturally strong it was like being fastened to an anchor of some great ocean going craft.

“And what if I am? What is that to yo…” Marley’s train of thought stopped as he noticed that the wrist of the hand holding him back was ragged and bloody.

“Don’t you mind that, attend to your own business and leave me to mine”, said the young lady as she noticed his gaze, “I take it I do have the pleasure of Mr Marley’s company?”

“You have!” he said and at last the young lady dropped his chain.

“Grand,” she said and clicked her fingers; a Mason Reservoir Pen appeared in one hand and a ledger appeared in another.

“Shall we to business?” she said.

It crossed Marley’s mind to make off straight away but the word business intrigued him, perhaps there would be profit in this situation for him.

“Indeed young lady?” he said “I have business? What business is that pray?”

The young woman snorted a sharp little laugh,

“Mankind, Marley. Mankind is your business, specifically that nasty little corner of humanity known as Ebenezer Scrooge” she said.

“Scrooge? What do I want with him?” said Marley, he thought he had the measure of this woman and was fairly sure he could out manoeuvre her.

“Much, I should imagine, but luckily enough for me I’m only concerned wi’ your duty tonight”

As she spoke she made another mark in her book, Marley attempted to see what the mark pertained to.

“Duty?” said Marley.

“Are you completely puddled sir?” she said, “Aye, your duty.”

She sighed theatrically, snapped the book shut and jammed the pen into her tousled hair.

“Look, my time is precious, as a believe I have mentioned before. You made an oath… an oath to th’unrevenged king. You are to save the soul of one Ebenezer Scrooge this night, or at least play your little part in his redemption.”

“Indeed?…tell me,” said Marley, ”Is there still a hell?”

“There is,” said the young lady with caution.

“And Hades?”  demanded Marley.  “Is that still in operation?”

“It is.  Still,” returned the lady, “I wish I could say it was not.”

” Tartarus and Purgatory are both in full vigour, then?” said Marley.

“Both very busy, sir.”

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

“Then you wish to do your little part to save your friend from the fire?” she said.

“I wish to be left alone,” said Marley.  “Since you ask me what I wish, Madam, that is my answer. As a Christian sinner myself I happen to support the establishments I have mentioned. I do not have the luxury of my own guardian angel and I do not see why I should be employed to keep those who are most fitted for the all consuming fire from those very flames. From what I understand they are hot enough and those who are bad enough must go there.”

“Many do go there; and many pray for the chance of release.”

“If they would be released,” said Marley, “they had better think upon that during their life, decrease the surplus population of hell that way rather than rely on other damned souls as brokers! Good afternoon, Madam!”

“Very well, as you would have it,” said the woman and she stuck an index finger straight up into the air, very slowly she started to describe a circle in the air with its tip.

Marley could not fathom what the woman was about, he saw her look up and smile, so he followed her gaze. It was then he saw the black line come spiralling down from the heavens towards him. Quickly it came into view like some vast black and segmented serpent it was heading for him there was no doubt about that and also there was no doubt as to what it was. Another vast and crippling chain, conjured no doubt by this hellcat’s magical summons.

“No!” he said looking straight up into its spiral, but too late. The vast chain slammed down around poor Marley’s shoulders. It brought him to his knees with a cry.

The young lady ghost blew on the end of her finger with self satisfaction,

“That’ll be me off then,” she said gaily and started to dematerialise.

Half suffocated in the all encompassing coils Marley panicked; if she left now then he would likely be pinned to the spot forever.

“Wait! Wait!” he shouted.

She paused in her dissipation,

“’summat amiss?” she said.

“Get this chain off me!” Marley protested, “It’s not mine! Get it off me!”

The woman swum back into view in front of him,

“Oh but it is,” she said, ”You broke your oath… dint want t’help yon fella… fine… then wear his chain for him instead, no skin off my nose which you do… all the best t’you, but word to the wise…” here she leaned forward to whisper in Marley’s ear which only just poked out from the pile of chains that enveloped him.

“Yon mon is a bad piece of work indeed” she said, “adds link upon link to that chain day after day he does. Likely he’ll live a good long time yet I’ll wager…  wouldn’t like t’imagine how long it’ll get by the end. It’s a good friend who will bear all that sin for another… A stupid friend, to be sure, but a good one just the same.”

“I will not bear Ebenezer’s chain as well as my own!”

“But unless you keep your oath…”

Marley, businessman to the end, tried to fall back on contract law, of which during life he had been a wicked exponent.

“Where was this written?” he said, “I did not agree to this… there was no contract!”

“No contract? No small print? No I’ll say there was not… but this is how it is Mr Jacob Marley, whether you like it or not lad, this is how it is.” She straightened back up and stood in front of him. For all she was small she certainly had presence.

“Stinks dun’t it? That’s life though… never turns out how you want. So here we are Mr Marley, no more playin’ about… You gunna honour your oath or are you to wear that chain, and more, into the rest of eternity?”

Marley knew he was trapped, he couldn’t possibly bear all these chains as well as his own, but the prospect of turning Scrooge from the path of sin! He was not sure anyone, least of all himself, had the power to complete such a monumental task.

“I’ll do it.” Marley said. It was a weak little sound, pathetic to hear.

“Well bless the lord for small mercies!” said the woman who clicked her fingers and the extra chains dissipated from Marley’s shoulders.

He stumbled, disorientated for a moment, felt the woman’s eyes upon him and quickly gathered himself together.

She regarded him with an ironic air,

“You quite alright lad?” she said.

Marley straightened his waistcoat and puffed out his chest,

“Madam, I do not wish to be any party to this charade but if you insist on strong arming me into… “ he began, but she had turned away.

“Right then… follow me!” she said as she walked a little way down the street.

“Where?” said Marley.

She stopped walking and looked back to him. A spark of humour entered her eye, Marley wasn’t sure he liked that look at all, there was madness behind it.

“Backstage.” she said and put her hand out, onto what seemed like empty air, her fingers flat. For a moment nothing happened, and then the fog behind her fingers seemed to hinge and move. It formed a perfect doorway. Beyond it Marley could still see the rest of the street.

“After you” the young lady said.

And seeing no harm in it Marley gathered up his chains and stepped through the fog door.


Chains; The Preview, Part Three

Part Three

It was a man; Marley could see that much, even as it was still wreathed in ectoplasmic smoke, powerfully built and strong of stature. On his head, fog curled into a crown that shone like the moon on a clear night and his flowing robes were fashioned from mist ermine and miasma velvet adorned with shadow jet and silhouette brocade.

A fine figure indeed, and had the shape had but the good grace to stay its hand at materialisation there perhaps Marley’s terror would have abated… but it did not.

The head that appeared within the crown was a horror indeed.

In most part the face was a pale death mask of a thing, the noble brow scowled (but in a countenance more in sorrow than in anger); the eyes (keen and shrewd) were as blue as sapphires and the lips (set hard and cold) all told of a man who had once been the highest of the high. This handsome and imposing visage was twisted horribly. The right ear had gone, burned away by some horrific and vile poison. The corrosive action of this venom had eaten into the surrounding skin also, consuming the face and exposing a goodly portion of the left side of the skull in a blackened and hideous wreck. The veins in the remaining skin were carved out with the finger of taint, dark green evil growing across the face like a hideous infection.

Marley wished that he could cry out… he wished that the dreadful apparition that had just appeared before him would shake the world with some hideous moan… he wished the very bricks and mortar of the buildings and the rough cobbles of the alley way would scream in terror… Any sound, anything, anything at all to break this silent horror that rooted Marley to the spot.

After what seemed an age Marley found his voice, small and quiet though it was.

“Speak.” he said in almost a whisper “what manner of apparition are you?”

The ghostly king made no answer.

“Did you journey from the lofty halls of heaven or the blasted wastes of hell?

No movement in the figure at all, just those eyes, those terrible eyes pinning Marley.

“Are your intents wicked or charitable?”

Still no indication that the thing acknowledged his existence in the slightest, and yet still it stared, still it stared!

“Please tell me… Are you a spirit of good or ill?”

This last question at least provoked a response, the king turned his gaze from Marley and walked to the mouth of the alley way. It stopped at the opening and turned back to look at Marley. It beckoned him, that one simple gesture filling him with dread but he knew not why.

“Would you have me go with you?” he said. The spectre nodded.

Marley knew that being a thing immortal himself he should not fear this ghost, that even were it to tempt him to drown in the Thames or fall from a bridge then the worst that could happen to Marley was the minor inconvenience of having to make his way through the filthy water to the mudflats and then on to the nearest wharf. But he also knew that there were worst places that the spirit could take him, into the depths of madness, the yawning pit of desperation and beyond.

Again it beckoned.

Marley realised that if he did not follow the ghost he would never yet find out what it wanted with him so somewhere within him he found a little courage,

“Go on,” he said, “I’ll follow you.” Although everything in his soul told him that he should not.

As he followed the king out of the alleyway Marley looked back through the window. He Scrooge sitting there in his office, alone and impassive. Evidently the various interviews had had no affect on his old partner. Scrooge was set in stone Marley realised, a ghost before his time and in that moment he understood that he had no desire to ever see his old partner again.

The ghost king strode through the streets of London with Marley at his back. The living and the dead parted before them both, the latter with obsequies the former with no apparent knowledge of their inadvertent homage to this insubstantial king.

As they walked the streets the fog and darkness thickened behind them as if the king was the wearer of some great train of melancholy that choked and congealed the air through which he passed. They passed a church, in whose ancient tower an old bell struck the hours and quarters. In all other days it was a merry chime indeed but with the passing of the king the tremulous vibrations took on a sonorous quality that likened it to the Lych Bell of Saint Kentigern. They passed labourers, huddled around a great fire lit in a brazier, and as they passed so the fellow’s conversation turned to those good friends that had gone before them and regrets of lost loves. All where they journeyed moved from the optimistic and cheerful towards the ominous and negative, even the carols chilled in the throats of their singers becoming mournful hollow dirges that could not entice a farthing from the most generous of benefactors.

Presently Marley and the ghost king came upon a melancholy tavern that Marley did not recognise. In his life he had been a patron of some of the finest restaurants that London could boast of, but this paltry inn looked to him like it kept its clientele on the competitiveness of its pricing rather than the reputation of its cuisine. At last the ghost king spoke,

“Mark me!”

The voice was both commanding and piteous, great pain was seared though every syllable.

“I… I… I will,” said Marley, “What do you want with me?”

“Much!” said the ghost king, that one word landing like a gravestone upon Marley’s ear, “Lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold.”

Marley realised that his little store of courage had all been used up and once again he was struck dumb in horror and all he could do was nod his acquiescence.

“Thou art a dismal spirit, doomed for a certain term to walk the earth till the foul crimes done in thy days of nature are burnt away,” said the king, “Cut off even in the blossoms of thine own sin, no reckoning made, but sent to thy account with all thy imperfections on thy head.”

“I was, at that, my lord,” he agreed, although in truth he thought it was rather a heavy way of putting it.

“It is required of every man,” the ghost continued, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death; cursed to watch without consequence the folly of all; to see the sins of the fathers repeated by the sons with no hope of warning such a one of the outcome. Tell me, vile spirit; wouldst thou save one sinner from thy fate if thou could?”

“My lord, if I could I would save the whole of the damned human race” said Marley.

“Presumptuous shade!” said the ghost,”Know thy petty place! One sinner! One Soul! Would you save One and One Alone from the same torment as you?”

“Forgive me, My lord, I would!” said Marley.

“Even if such a one were surely headed for the sulfurous and tormenting flames?” said the ghost.


“With a chain as full and long as yours, longer even?”

“Oh lord yes” he said (anything to save another from the dreadful chains).

“Then I have thy word upon it? You will intervene to attempt to save a soul? This very night?”

“I shall!”

“Then swear it!” said the ghost.

Marley faltered, ever the man of business he balked at a contract that he did not have all the information about.

“Which man my lord?” he said. A shrewd question as it turned out, and one that he had cause to regret not pursuing with greater vigour.

Marley’s impudence enraged the king.

“Wouldst thou question me? Were it the basest of men, the most foul serpent than ever crawled the earth wouldst thou refuse?” he said.

“No no my lord of course not!” said Marley.

“Then wilt thou swear or no?” the king thundered.

No doubt it will strike you as odd that Marley had not considered why the ghostly king had decided to conduct this interview outside this specific tavern. Perhaps you believe that if you were in a similar position then you might have taken this into account in your assessment of the situation. You may also believe you would have further ruminated on what sort of gentleman may frequent such a tavern and even may have contemplated who amongst all of your acquaintances in life might best be in need of supernatural assistance.

I have no way of knowing if you could have kept your wits about you enough to so judge these or any other such questions as to come to a satisfactory conclusion, but I can tell you that Marley’s wits at this time were so gone that none of this occurred to him in the slightest. Therefore the obvious solution to this conundrum (that no doubt you have come to from the comfort of your chair and without the added weight of a supernatural horror) eluded poor Marley and therefore the next two words he said he had cause to regret almost immediately.

“I swear!” said Marley.

The ghost king sighed a long and heavy sigh. He looked, to Marley, as if a great burden had been lifted from him.

“’Tis done” The ghost said and started immediately to fade from sight.

“Wait!” said Marley, “How am I to know who it is I am charged with saving?”

“He is upon us even now” said the ghost and a figure walked through the rapidly dissipating form of the king scattering the last of his figure into the fog once more. The face that replaced the kings Marley knew only too well.

“Ebenezer Scrooge!” he said.

Chains; The Preview, Part Two


Suddenly he felt an arm around him, clutching very hard at his spectral body. Marley had no time to question what was happening before he heard a chirruping voice in his ear.

“Hold tight ‘nuncle!” it said, there was a sound like someone attempting to stifle a sneeze and abruptly Marley’s perspective shifted.

No longer was he staring down the nostrils of an oncoming horse and cab but off safely in a filthy back alley cluttered with rubbish that ran down the side of Scrooge and Marley’s. A small window from the office looked out upon the alleyway and Marley could see through its dirty and cracked panes his old partner addressing the young buck who had caused Marley such distress. It seemed that Scrooge was even less enamoured of the lads sudden intrusion than Marley had been.

“’I’ faith, that’s better good sir!” came the voice from behind him (evidently whoever had grabbed him in the traffic had also travelled in the same instantaneous fashion to the alleyway).

“T’would not do to have you drifting about in amongst hurly-burly on such a good day as this God save you!”

Norman Rockwell - The Jester - Art Prints and PostersThe arm let go and a slight man walked into Marley’s view. He was dressed in full motley with cap and bells and quite unlike any ghost (for ghost he undoubtedly was) that Marley had yet set eyes on during the term of his preternatural wanderings. His skin was still of a pale and deathly pallor but his jesters motley sung out bright crimson and argent, a colour more vivid than would be even than possible in life. Marley never thought that one dead could be so obviously full of life. The Jester’s coal black eyes danced with intelligence and wit, his neat goatee beard framed a sardonic mouth and his chin jutted out in a defiant way that had no doubt caused many a king to reassess the monarchy’s position in the court. This face was recreated on miniature on a stick that jigged and danced in the jester’s hand constantly.

Marley took against him in an instant.

“Humbug!” he said. The word seemed to echo queerly in the alleyway.

“I most humbly beg thy pardon good sir?” said the little jester.

“I say Humbug ‘good sir’ Humbug! “, again the curious echoing quality on that one word, it was as if someone was repeating it in order to mock Marley.

“A good day?” Marley continued, “It has been many a year since I have had the pleasure of a good day and I doubt if ever I should be afforded such a luxury ever again!”

Marley was incensed at the very presence of the little man for he presented a thing that Marley had never thought he would see, a happy ghost. He never in his wanderings thought that it were possible for such a thing to exist, indeed the thought had not even occurred to him that it might. But now, presented with the happy little spectre, his fury boiled like an unchecked kettle.

The jester stumbled back in feigned shock at Marley’s tirade.

“Marry ‘nuncle! Surely thou dost not mean such a thing?”

“I do!” Marley said, “What right have you to be merry? What reason? You are dead enough!” In his youth he had been a great debater and he could feel himself just getting into his stride.

“I am that sirrah, but as dead as I may be, I am not so dead that I can not revel!” and with this word the fool started to caper in the most undignified way.

Marley boggled.

“Come ‘nuncle, dance a galliard with me betimes, I must be swift as I have a charge to procure but I shall perforce dally with you a while if it will please you?”

“Please me?! Take your hands off me you sprite!” Marley said as the jester attempted to get him to jig along with him, “Why do you insist on this folly? Can you not see my chains? Can you not see my suffering? What reason have I to dance? I am shackled to the cold dead earth as surely as a hanged man is lashed to his gibbet. You must be a fool indeed to rejoice in this never ending torment!”

“But ‘nuncle! Thy suffering…”

“My suffering? My suffering is my own affair!” returned Marley mockingly, “I’ll thank you to endure your death your way and let me keep mine in my own manner!”

The fool dropped hands and looked to the floor sadly. Marley turned on his heel meaning to make back off into the street beyond and away from this madman, he was stopped by the fools small sad voice.

“I’ faith all he does is suffer ‘nuncle” he said.

“What?” to hear the fool suddenly so serious rooted Marley to the spot. He turned to find him sat, cross legged, upon the ground and addressing the head on the stick that he carried.

“Ah Little Me, the poor little ghost is so determined to be punished and that is so, very, very sad. We have been amongst the dead for many a year now and have we not seen many like him, determined to go through eternity wailing at the world and all its follies. No doubt he was a bad man in life… a rotter and blaggard of the lowest water fit to be damned. And so damned he is, not but by his chains, but by his guilt. ‘Tis Christmas Eve, of all the good days in all the good year, will he allow himself no little respite e’en today?

You know, Little Me, A greater man than any other I can put mind to once said that suffering will always be within this world but also there will always be hope, hope for redemption, hope for forgiveness, hope for release. Over three hundred years we have walked together you and I, and I know of no reason why that state of affairs should change within the near future, but I am damned if I am going to permit all that long time to pass in misery. So yes I am a fool, I prance and giggle and make merry of myself, the quick and the dead. And even though it may not have advanced my situation to do so I believe that in some way it has kept me alive.”

“Fool”, said Marley, “your words…”

The Jester started as if he was surprised to see Marley still there watching him.

“Aye, good sot, I have a pretty tongue to be sure”, the fool stood again and shook himself as if to attempt to shake off the melancholic mood that had prevailed only a moment ago.

“Why, I fancy I do not flatter myself when I say that it was rumoured within the court of the good old King that his excellent and faithful jester could charm laughter from stone and tears from wood.”

Saying this, the fool held the painted facsimile of himself close up to Marley’s face. In this rough carved visageMarley fancied he could see a sadness beyond the painted smile, a nobleness within the haughty brow and a … sudden stream of water which gushed out of both eyes of the simulacrum and hit Marley square in the face!

Marleys rage exploded!

“Fool!”, he shouted, not able in his anger to lay breath to any more than this one syllable.

“Fool? Any man who argues with a fool often finds in the end that he is in fitting company!” said the jester, “perchance your wisdom prevents you from seeing where the real foolishness lies. Come my good sir, laugh at thine own folly… Laugh! Learn the secret of one hand clapping! Does’t thou not see? It is the only release possible.”

Marley was just about to rebuttal this most paltry of arguments when he saw a shadow cross the Jesters face.

With extreme dignity the jester lowered his eyes and said quietly,

“Forgive me my Lord”.

It was said with such obvious sincerity that Marley thought he may well let the matter go, after, of course, a suitable period of apology, when he realised that the fool was not talking to him.

“Is this miserable shade thine my Liege?” the fool asked, Marley looked around but could not see anyone man nor ghost, nor could he hear anything but the jester reacted as if he had been addressed.

“Ah no… of course, not him directly. Then I shall away, My Lord…  I see my charge now!” said the jester as he looked through the window into Scrooge and Marley’s.  Within the office the young man that had been Scrooge’s Nephew had been replaced by two new gentlemen, pleasant to behold, of ruddy disposition with books and papers in their hands.

The jester regarded Marley, who had the distinct feeling that the little man was taking very great account of him. Something sparkled deep down in the fool’s eyes and he spoke,

“You are going to learn something this night sirrah, a hard lesson to be sure but one that will benefit you in the learning. Never forget, thou are the progenitor of thy own salvation.”

“You are quite mad sir… my salvation is a thing I squandered long ago,” said Marley.

“Perhaps I am… Perhaps it was, but this is the time to hope for little miracles my lord”, said the jester, who smiled kindly then disappeared in an eye blink.

The jester reappeared in the office behind the taller of the two gentlemen, a rangy man with dandelion clock hair and a salmon pink suit. None in the office reacted to the jester’s appearance and indeed it was lucky that none could see him for within a trice he was mimicking Scrooge wickedly right in front of the covetous old sinner’s nose.

The fog crept through old Marley as he stood, quite alone he was sure, in the alley way. He tried to consign the jester’s strange change of mood to another of his whims and yet found that he could not.

Out of all the babble that the jester had spouted one phrase stood out, “The sound of one hand clapping?” Marley could not figure what the deuce what he had meant by that. Nevertheless the question swirled in his head just as the fog swirled through his body.

But by the Lord, he was cold! The cold had, of course, been with Marley since the day of his death like an all too loyal dog, but now this cold turned rabid and bit at him. He fancied that he could feel his ghostly bones freezing and rime forming on his spectral skin. He had another feeling also, that of being observed. You know, I’m sure, of that queer little itch right in the small of one’s back that lets you know that all is not well, that something bigger than you and more dangerous than you is watching, watching from the shadows; this itch worked at Marley now and it troubled him even more than the nipping and eager air.

And yet, when he looked around the empty alley way to see if he could discern where the hidden eyes were he could see nothing. The furthest reaches of the area were dark to be sure but not dark enough to hide one from observance.

Then, as Marley looked into the murky recesses beyond the discarded and broken barrels, he fancied that the half-light grew in intensity.  That is not to say that it got any darker (or indeed any lighter) but that it was slowly procuring for itself form and density.

Tendrils of nothingness snaked up and joined together becoming a mass some six feet away from him. First a rough form of no discernible design and then slowly and deliberately it began to become something in the shape of a man.

It was a simple thing to be sure but it struck dread in the heart of Marley to see it, even though he knew not why.

“Angels and ministers of grace, defend me!” he muttered.

And then horrifying vision came to view…

Chains; The Preview; Part One

Part One

Marley was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon anything he chose to put his hand to. So yes, Marley was dead. In fact some might go so far as to say that Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

Now… I could wax lyrical about the very dead-ness of a doornail and furthermore speculate on other more morbidly inclined pieces of ironmongery, but unfortunately if I were to do so it would be to utterly and completely miss the point. For a doornail, as any schoolchild could tell you, has never been alive, unlike a flesh and blood creature like, say, Old Marley. The states of these two objects could never be said to be concurrent during Marley’s life so why on earth would we be inclined to conflate them in death (or in the doornails case never alive-ness)? It simply isn’t a like for like case in this regard and so I must press this point upon you that no, Marley was not as dead as a doornail. Nor indeed was he as dead as a dead thing or even as dead as many dead people.

Marley’s body was dead? Of course it was, even at the moment of the opening of our narrative the body of Marley was at dinner with a certain convocation of politic worms, mouldering quite happily away in its grave for many a year without so much as a by-your-leave. But Marley himself, or perhaps I should say Marley’s spirit (cut off even in the blossoms of his own sin), had been doomed for a certain term to walk the earth.

Marley knew he was dead? Of course he did, he had attended his own death bed, the reading of his own will, the sale of his estate, the distribution of his worldly goods and chattels (to his utterly disinterested relatives) and, of course, his own funeral.  It has to be said that Marley was not so dreadfully cut up by this macabre turn of events as one might imagine a person to be, a shade attending his own interment, but rather he found it a fitting (if austere) memorial to a life well lived in business.

The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from; that there is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.


Since his demise Marley had regarded himself to be a changed man, although not as much in appearance as you might expect. Despite now being rendered in something no more substantial than the wisp of smoke given off by a guttering candle flame, his features themselves had not altered, and were an old friend happen upon Marley’s ghost he might very well observe that the countenance was remarkably similar to the man in life. In his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights, boots and coat-skirts, he was utterly the man who had strode up the city road and past the slums of The Eagle like a bewigged Caesar. Nor was it the terrible chain that wrapped around his body, the terrible chain that we shall and must come back to. No, Marley had changed in death because of the things he had seen.

You see, those who are condemned to walk the earth forever have that most terrible of gifts, time. Along with that they are granted two even more dreadful endowments, nothing whatsoever to do with that time but observe the workings of the world and an inability to do anything about the horrors they see.

Since Marley’s death he had endured seven years of these gifts. He had seen tragedies both large and small, from the starving child condemned to transportation for the theft of rotten potatoes from a grocers yard to the stinking cholera epidemic that raged in the slums decimating the population that were packed together in conditions not fit for animals. Inhuman acts that all had all been present in his life, but that he had chosen to ignore, and now these stark degradations tortured Marley.

A twisted wreck of the man he had once been. A tormented, powerless, agonized, grief-stricken, suffering, sorrowful, and desolated old sinner! The guilt he felt chilled him to the bone until he was as cold as iron; it deadened the ruddiness of his living features, iced his stare, gnarled his hands into claws and chilled his breath in his throat. He carried this temperature around him at all times to such a degree that if one of the living were to pass near his shade even they might feel a cold breath of wind and by degree a modicum of his torment.

External heat had no influence on Marley.  No warmth could warm him, and in fact he kept in the shadows during the day because he found that the light had an agonizing effect on his cold form, like hot water onto frostbite.

So, he was solitary in his grief, for even though London was as polluted with shades of the dead as it is with rats, each of these unhappy spirits is so wrapped up in its own torment as to make them as remote as an iceberg.

No spectre ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Marley, how are you?  When will you come to see me?”  No ghouls implored him to bestow a penny, no banshee asked him what it was o’clock, no spirit, either man or woman ever once inquired the way to ‘such and such a place’ of Marley.  Of the living only the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on they would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “Walk on Dark Master, there is no comfort for you here!”

And indeed, through all of this he was compelled to walk. During the day he kept to the shadowy streets to avoid the furnace-glare of the sun, but this confined him to the places of the worst degradation where he was forced to bear witness to the hopeless lives of the poor, some of which would have been known to him in life if only he had ever taken the time to put a face to a name kept in the ledger of the firm of Scrooge and Marley.

productimage-picture-scrooge-and-marley-1-1755Scrooge and Marley! Scrooge had never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door.  The firm was even now known as Scrooge and Marley to one and all. Sometimes in his wanderings Marley wondered if this was the last fetter that bound him to the earth but in his ghostly heart he knew that in truth it was his chains that kept him where he was. These chains that he had forged in life, each link a life that he had bound up in a stultifying contract, each cash box a deal that disregarded the well being of his fellow man and each lock a soul who he had turned out of his home for the want of a farthing. It was the Chain he that hated most of all…

Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — old Marley was walking towards his old counting-house, ruminating on the sign once more, with the dreaded chains dragging behind him.  It was cold, bleak, biting weather and foggy withal. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already — it had not been light all day, thus allowing Marley passage through almost any street without the pain of sunlight. Candles were flaring in the windows of the offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air.  The fog was so dense, that although the street was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms and Marley had trouble telling the living from the dead.  The people in the street were wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.

Marley hated touching the living to any degree and they had such an annoying habit of walking through one if you did not keep your wits about you. He attempted to keep out of everyone’s way but found that this was almost an impossible task as, this being the day before Christmas, the streets were more than usually full.

As he approached the door of Scrooge and Marley’s he observed the clerk’s office and Scrooges’ beyond it. There was a small fire in Scrooges office, smaller than there would have been in Marley’s day, but then he supposed there would have been two bodies to warm back then and Scrooge had obviously adjusted the amounts accordingly. The clerks fire was hardly a fire at all, being just one coal and some hope on a bed of ashes, and Marley watched as the clerk (he could not for the life of him remember the fellows name) shivered and attempted to stop his pen shaking.

He was so intent on observing the poor man’s endeavours to keep warm that he had no time to notice the fellow that bowled along the street towards him and towards Scrooges office. You could not, even in the dense winter fog, have mistaken this man for a wraith. He was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled with the very spirit of man. He walked with a purpose and with such palpable goodwill that people on the street who didn’t know him cheerfully greeted his cries of “Seasons Greetings” with felicitations of their own.

But even with this loud, cheerful overture the first that Marley was aware of the man was when he was nose to nose with him at Scrooges’ front door! Without a pause for Marley’s feelings (which of course the man knew nothing about as he couldn’t see him) the man reached clean through Marley’s stomach, turned the handle on the office door and boomed,

“A merry Christmas, Uncle!  God save you!” as he passed through the shade of Jacob Marley.

The man’s voice rang in Marley’s ears (you cannot imagine how loud a person sounds when they are actually speaking whilst passing through the interior of your head) and dazed Marley so much that he hardly realised that he had started to drift.

It is a fact that ghosts, though they may appear to be insubstantial, do in actuality have some little form and weight. Very little form and even less weight to be sure, but it has been calculated (by people much more learned than myself) that the average soul weighs in at just under three quarters of an ounce. This is made up of everything that made a person a person that could not be accounted for as body. This deficit-in-the-ledger takes up the same space that the body did in life. We can perhaps think of it like a very diffuse gas that somehow has transpired to hold together in one place. This is how ghosts can be observed to pass through things, or indeed to let things (Like the vigorous young gentleman) pass through them. In usual circumstances this not-the-body-ness can re-order itself to allow such a passage.

Unfortunately if they are not prepared for such an event they can drift. That is to say that because they have not much form, once this form is set in motion they can find it hard to make it stop. With no more control over his movements than a piece of thistledown in the wind, Marley drifted first towards the door and then, as the energetic young gentleman heartily slammed it back into its frame, out into the thronging street and into the traffic!

This was unconscionable! Once into the roadway Marley knew he would be tossed hither and thither as the carts and carriages passed by, not being able to get purchase for the devil knew how long. He cursed the young man (that he now recalled as a relative of Scrooges’) as Marley continued to drift out in front of an oncoming Hansom Safety Cab, the horses breath snorting like smoke down towards him.

horse fog

And that is where we are leaving poor Marley for today… come back later to find out what happens to him next!

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