Kevin Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the Director (Cricket), the Chairman, the Chief Executive, and the chief Guardian Cricket Correspondent. Ebenezer “Scrooge” Cook signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to’. Old Kevin was as dead as a doornail.
It was a cold and bleak winter in Essex – has been for years – and the lambs were bleating nearby. Ebenezer Cook was in his rooms, counting up his runs, when there was a knock at the door. “Bah” he exclaimed, “I’d just got to to 8,142 as well. Jimmy!” he called to his faithful servant, Jimmy Cratchit, “Go and see who is at the door”. Jimmy, puppy dog eyes as ever, returned a moment later. “There are two men at the door, sir, it’s about Christmas”.
Scrooge got up and went to the door, to be met by Mr Bumble and Mr Beefy, carrying champagne. “Merry Christmas!” they cried, and explained they were there to collect money for the peasants of Isleworth. “Humbug” said Scrooge, attempting to close the door. “But sir, this is for the poor folk of Sky, they need this desperately. How else will they be able to sell the company for vast profit to Mr Rupert?”
“Bah” said Scrooge again, as he shooed them away only to find his nephew Adil waiting behind them. “Hello Uncle, come and join us for Christmas! It’s a wonderful time of the year”. Cook frowned, “Hang on, you don’t celebrate Christmas”. “Er. Ah yes, good point, but it’s too good a character to ignore, so let’s celebrate” said Adil. “Quite frankly young man, this is another example of you having a weak personality. I’m going to have nothing more to do with you, and to prove it I’m going to have you running in until your fingers are falling off and you’re the most successful worker we have. I don’t think there’ll be any doubt at all about your weakmindedness after that”.
Slamming the door, Scrooge turned to find Jimmy Cratchit in front of him. “As it is Christmas sir, and I’ve been bowling non-stop for three years now, I was wondering if I could have Christmas Day off?”. “Don’t be absurd,” Scrooge replied “You’ve had a couple of months off with that shoulder problem of yours, you must be fully rested. And as far as I can work out, you’ve not done anything on the India work at all. Oh very well, but just one day”.
“Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. What a load of nonsense. It’s been only good for one thing, and that’s the historic birth of a noble creature, one who has changed the world. One who is known for being the greatest and most important of all, especially in the eyes of the Miller. Presents? Celebration? Humbug! Runs is all it is good for, lots of runs”.
That night, Ebenezer Cook got ready for bed. To the side were tomes of articles, praising Cooky for his steel, for his gimlet-eyed approach to the accumulation of runs. All was well, he read the latest adoring billet doux, sent in the Mail, and he gazed into the mirror to see if the bit about doe eyes was true; they became heavy, and he drifted into sleep.
A noise made him sit bolt upright, and reach for the light. In front of him was a figure, chained by the hands and feet, carrying a bat and hidden in shadow. “Who are you?” Scrooge asked. “Better to ask who I was”, the apparition replied. “Who were you then? You’re very particular, for a middle order player”.
“In life I was your batting partner, Kevin Marley. Most notably against India you might recall. I have been cursed to wander the world, picking up only T20 contracts, banished from my life irritating the hell out of that old telegraph operator, Pringle. I am here to warn you that you must change your ways, lest you too find the future filled with despair – although admittedly you won’t get the T20 contracts and your Twitter account will be a lot duller. Should you fail to do so, I fear you too will be forced to spend your days pretending Piers Morgan is your friend”.
“You were always a good friend to me”, Scrooge lied, “tell me how I can avoid your dreadful fate”. Marley paused, and looked at Scrooge, knowing his old habits were still present. “You will be visited by three captains. The first tomorrow night will be the captain of Christmas Past, then it will be the captain of Christmas present, and finally the captain of Christmas to come. Beware Ebenezer, you will not like what they say”.
The vision of Kevin Marley began to fade, and Scrooge returned to bed. “Humbug” he exclaimed, and went back to sleep. By morning, he was convinced it had all been a terrible dream, frightening, but no more real than the time some fool put the city clerk Downton in charge of the livestock.
The following night, convinced it was all his imagination, Scrooge went to sleep, content that he had spent his day wisely, making Jimmy Cratchitt say nice things about their best customers, something he knew he hated. In the early hours, his repose was interrupted by a presence in the room, a gentle figure, who spoke to him, quietly, calmly and with all the assurance of someone who had a degree in people.
“Who are you?” asked Scrooge.
“I am the captain of Christmas Past. I am here to show you things”. “What things?” cried Scrooge. “Come with me” came the reply. The bedroom disappeared, and a field came into view. “What is this dreadful place? I can’t bear it”. “It is Leeds”. “No, no, no don’t make me live through it again” begged Scrooge.
As tears rolled down his cheeks, he watched Angelo Mathews hitting balls to all parts, he saw himself stood at slip, unable to change anything. He saw people in the distance, appalled at the sight in front of them. “Can I change it? Let me change it, what can I do? Don’t make me wait to talk to Mr Moores again, I can’t cope with it”.
Puzzled, the ghost of the captain turned to him: “I have done nothing, this is who you are and what you did. Nothing can be changed, nothing can be altered. It is you, it is what you became”.
The scene dissolved, and Scrooge peered through the mist as it cleared, wondering what punishment would be next. A face appeared, one who had been precious to him, but who he had not seen for a long time. Scrooge’s heart leapt, and he called out “Bell! oh my precious Bell, we have spent so much time together, so many wonderful years”. “He can’t hear you” observed the ghost, “watch closely”.
As Ebenezer observed, he could see Bell was happy, and his heart was filled with joy, and some puzzlement. For the last time he had seen him, he was not, he was anything but. As the scene expanded, he saw Bell laughing with other people, full of the joy of life. Scrooge turned to the ghost and said “but what is this?”. “It is the happiness of being with friends, it is how he now is, since he moved on from you”. “This is down to me?” cried Scrooge, “but I thought he was my friend”. “So he was” came the answer, “until you turned your back on him”.
Before he could reply, Ebenezer Cook found himself back in his bed, but not bathed in sweat for it was well known he didn’t sweat at all. As he thought about his dreadful experience, he shuddered. “At least that’s the worst part out of the way” he thought, and eventually he drifted off to sleep.
He spent the following day distracted, his paperwork untidy, finding that the slips were numerous and his pen often simply went down the wrong line. Increasingly apprehensive, he readied himself for bed, and eventually, sleep overcame him.
Mere moments later, he sat upright. Another vision was at the end of the bed, one vaguely familiar, yet with an undercurrent of threat that made Scrooge recoil. The dark face was in shadow, but the beard was visible, as was the shining reflection of the earring, and the sound of thousands of people cheering could be heard softly in the background. As the hood was pulled back, he gasped, for although the eyes were kind, he did not dare to meet them.
“I am the captain of Christmas present. Look upon me”. Scrooge reverently did so, the feeling that this was a presence he had been close to seemingly for weeks strongly in his thoughts. Nagging at the back of his mind was that he somehow knew there was no way he could get him out, even if he wanted to.
“Touch my robe” commanded the dark, coaly vision. Scrooge dutifully did so, and found himself in the Cratchits front room. Christmas was being celebrated, Jimmy Cratchit pouring the drinks. “A toast to Mr Ebenezer Cook” cried Jimmy. “I shall do no such thing” answered his wife Broady Cratchit. “For we all know he is simply obsessed with counting his runs, and gives you nothing. Here we are at Christmas, you’ve worked all year for nothing, and here am I, preparing everything and getting no credit for it whatever. No, I shan’t toast him. And what about the boy? What has he ever done for him?”
Jimmy’s eyes moved to the corner of the room, where the broken child sat with his crutches. His eyes were bright, but the pain in them was clear. “Bless you Markwood Cratchit, it will all be well. We’ll get you the treatment you need, don’t you worry. Mr Ebenezer knows all the right people and he’ll see you right”. “He will not Jimmy and you know it perfectly well.” said Mrs Cratchit. “Look at how the Prior was treated. All he needed was a rest, and he wouldn’t have it, even though it was obvious to everyone. ‘It’s up to him’ he said, and before we knew it that was the end of him”.
Scrooge watched on, knowing in his heart that Markwood would get no help from him. “What will happen to him?” he asked the ghost. “I see a vacant seat, at the Finchale End, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved”. “No, no” cried Scrooge, “say he will be spared”. The ghost turned to him “If these shadows are unaltered by the future, there is nothing that can be done”.
With a flash of light, Scrooge was back in his bed, and he gazed down at his palms, amazed at the first sight of flecks of sweat on them. Unsettled, he thought about all he had seen, and resolved to change his ways. Probably. When he got round to it. He went to sleep.
That following night, he resolved to stay awake, to ensure no more visitors. But try as he might, he could not do so, and moments after he dropped off, a third figure appeared. “And you are?” said Scrooge. “I am the captain of Christmas future” squeaked a voice. “You’re very young” said Scrooge. “I’m not you know, everyone just thinks so – look at this whisker on my chin. I’m a proper adult, and I can do a really good Bob Willis impression to prove it. I am here to show you your future”.
Scrooge peered once again into the gloom, and an office appeared. The ghost led him through the door, marked ‘Dobell and Son’ into the space beyond. A group of people sat there, quietly talking among themselves. He moved in closer, wanting to hear what they were saying:
“Do we have to write about this? No one cares any more”
“We’d better be getting paid. I hope these drinks are included”
“He just went on too long. It all went wrong in the end. Apart from us, everyone is celebrating”
“The only one actually crying is that new man, and no one pays attention to him anyway”
“Good riddance I say”
Scrooge turned to the apparition, “who are they talking about? This person sounds terrible. Awful.” The ghost turned his baby face, beckoned, and led him over to a corner, an open booth, with half consumed cans of bitter and a nasty letter from his clerk pinned to the wall. There on the table was a headline “Cooked! At last”. Scrooge fell back, shocked. “It’s me! They’re talking about me”. He began to sob, and looked up at the ghost. “I will change. I will be a different person. I will make sure that everyone remembers me for the right reasons.” The captain of Christmas future smiled.
The following morning, Christmas Day and his birthday, Scrooge leapt out of bed. “Merry Christmas” he cried. He went out to buy a duck, and visited the Cratchits. “Jimmy my friend, allow me to give you this gift for today! Young Markwood, I have a gift for you – a small horse for you to ride so you will no longer be confined to those crutches. Mrs Cratchit, there is nothing more that you could want except to be given the credit for carrying us all even when it all goes wrong. And the password to a secret Twitter account. Merry Christmas one and all!”
And so it went on, from house to house. Scrooge had told everyone he would no longer spend all his time counting runs, that he would help everyone and ensure press conferences were the place to praise others and not himself. And the spirit of Christmas moved through the whole area, as all gaped at the change in Ebenezer. The joy he felt was shared by one and all, and he skipped like a newborn lamb through the neighbourhood.
In the churchyard was the grave of Kevin Marley. Scrooge paused in his celebrations, looked across at it and deliberately turned his back. For not even a fairy tale can create the impossible…
Deep and sincere apologies to the ghost of Charles Dickens, and I will spend Christmas in the hope I receive no visitations from his angry spirit for butchering his work of genius, or from the various characters (apologies to them too!) who have been shamelessly libelled for the sake of a smile or two. Maybe.
From Dmitri, Sean and myself – have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes to all our readers, commenters and detractors, may it be a time of celebration for you all.