Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Chrispy Story for YOU

Not a thing to do with Lovecraft!

This has been twice published in +Horror Library+ (September 2006) and elsewhere - I think in the Open Vein. The years are beginning to creep by me and memory grows pale and weak some days.

It's a personal favorite of mine, as The Christmas Carol is our favorite story. We have numerous versions on CD (love George C Scott, and Patrick Stewarts' versions) and see it every year at Louisville's Actor's Theater ($35 this year, ouch, but worth every penny. Support your local artists!)

Anyway, a present from me to YOU.


By Chris Perridas


"Damn Boz! Asleep again."

The portly man paced around the sleeping figure like a jackal about a lion. He stopped and shook a fist at him.

"Look at him would you. Quill pen still in his hand and look where he stopped. Right where he ignored my ideas. What a name! Bob!"

Out of the shadows, a pale man spoke. "It's not a bad name."

"How can you say that, Jacob? He's already written that I am a fifteen shilling a week clerk, what is the reader to think? Bob, indeed. Why not call me a shilling-shyster clerk? Do I look like a shill? Why not 'Robert' like I told him? Robert is a fine name."

"I think you are overreacting, my fine fellow." Jacob said.

"Fine, give the devil his due. Fie, let him take the Christian name and abuse it, for all the good it will do him. Martin Chuzzlewit did nothing to line his pockets with bobs. The man has no head for names, always thinking himself witty, but in fact his hyperbole falls flat. But I must protest the surname, Cratchett."

"With your argument, I might object to my name, Jacob, as being anti-Semitic. Why not call me by my English name, James? Does the man think to call attention to the greed he has extricated from thin nothings and placed in ink upon me? He has elevated me as a curse, and perhaps as being in someway a discredit to the Jewish race. Yes, might he not have called me James and be done with it?"

Bob looked Jacob over, at his horn-rimmed glasses perched on his brow and his be-chained death cerement. The phantom body reflected the low yellow light of the oil lamp, the room's only illumination. He challenged, "Jacob, if you do not defend me on the blight this scribbler has placed upon my name, why should I stand up for your rights?"

Jacob took Bob's comment and dissected it as if it were a ledger entry in his massive accounting book. Bob saw that the man swayed to the logic of the argument.

Bob said, "Cratchett! Think about it. Am I crotchety? In fact, though he writes my character as a quiet, homebody – a mouse among men – I am a man of nobility. One might call me 'Robert Everyman'."

"I dare say, sir, your speech is of such a high caliber, you ought to go into Parliament." The words came from a thin, young man with apple cheeks. He followed the retort with a smart chuckle.

"Fred!" Bob declared.

"The same and at your service, sir." He bowed in the Victorian style.

"Take care, man, or Boz will seize your words, twist them and make them his own." Bob warned.

"Oh, Bob, the writer is sound asleep. Leave him be. He will never know I uttered a whisper."

"Easy for you to say, Frederick. The way he has written you, he has scrawled you as a youthful pauper. I dare say, the parts I read peeking out under his ink-besotted hand, you are a player of games and singer of songs. You! Incredible! We have told Boz over and over that you are the equal of any man in England in trade and commerce, despite your youth.

He pretends to be a reformer, the ink-blobber, but it is he that is a money grubbing book subscription pulp man. He covets, grasps and clings to his infamous celebrity, cranking out public grist at the grind mill."

Jacob nodded. Fred stood silent. Bob had them in his palm. He smiled at his cleverness, at his scheme. There was one left to coerce.

Bob pointed to the darkest corner of the small room. A man aged more by life than by years tottered at the edge of the light.

"You! Of all of us, you should be most outraged. Weigh in on the matter, I charge you. After all if it is of any man, it is your story."


Ebenezer walked out into the faint light dressed in thirty year old waistcoat worn with moth holes. He leaned over the sleeping writer, rolled up a ball of phlegm and aimed - ready to spit on him.

Bob stood before Ebenezer and halted the atrocity.

"Take care not to wake him. There is a great deal more to discuss if we are to take our story from the usurper's hands." Bob chided.

Instead, the moth-eaten old man swallowed hard and took in the measure of sleeping Boz. He pointed at first the writer's scraggly beard, the thinning forehead and mocked him. He puffed up and silently mouthed words as if Boz stood in a penny theater reading one of his stories. It brought laughter to the men.

Ebenezer took a breath and blasted away for real. "A pox on Boz. Ebenezer Scrooge, indeed. You ink-biber, I'll give you the dickens indeed, when you wake.

"Ebenezer! Oh, Bob, hear the sound of it. What a name misused, blasphemed. I quote, 'And the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer ...' Good and noble Samuel built a memorial of stone to symbolize help, and this man has blasphemed the scriptures to represent me as a hard flint."

Bob saw his opportunity. "See! That is the twisting logic of the writer. He wants pun not truth. He is a pundit of fecundity of words. Abused, you are, my good gentleman. Speak on."

Ebenezer said, "A hard fisted, hand to the grindstone, blackguard! He sets me up as a straw man, an easy mark. The plot! Egads, the plot! It is the of thinnest gossamer. I have no depth, no warmth, a victim of the world's mechanics, when I – I speak truth gentlemen, not folderol – I am a business colossus of the infinite affinity."

Red faced angry, Ebenezer continued, "Give me credit, Boz. Your father was a pitiful businessman, so you take it out on me. You make me an ogre when all I have done is give men jobs. Instead of a befuddled Midas, you should portray me as a Prometheus."

He continued, "Though you fill the world on both sides of the ocean with yellowed paper pamphlets of melodrama, do you have two farthings in your purse? No!

"I know business. I relish the kill at the stocks, the rate or return on a vessel of cotton to America, or corn to Ireland. Business is the relish of mankind, but you twist my meaning, you jaded so-called reformer. Mankind is my business, because it is my genius that employs the poor, trains them to do handiwork of profit rather than be Faginish pickpockets."

Energized by the featured actor, the other figures emerged. Each had a cause, each a complaint against Boz. Ebenezer, for instance, went on and on about Scrooge being too close to the vulgar 'screw'. Jacob then objected to Marley as akin to snarly or gnarly. Anarchy teetered on the brink. Bob was near to loosing control of the mob, when he hit upon just the right words.

"Damn it, men. We have paper, we have ink, let us write the story ourselves. We shall create a masterpiece rather than churning out the pabulum of trite sentimentality."

"Hurrah for Bob." Frederick cheered.

Ebenezer pried the pen from Boz' hand and thrust it to Bob, as if it were Arthur's Excalibur. "Take it, Bob, and wield its power."


Robert Everyman grasped the pen and dipped the quill into the inkwell. The pen fairly flew across the page. Salts were sprinkled liberally to fix the ink, but still the black India stained his hand. He relished it as if it were the blood of fallen warriors, hacked beneath his sword-pen.

"Oh this shall be a story for the ages, Eb! A fine shiny gold memorial honoring the industrious British businessman."

"Hone it, Robert, buff it to the shine of the sun for us!" James spoke.

The story built as Eb Flintdollar and James Marlowe formed a partnership based on huge profiteering. Eb's nephew, Frederick Adolphus, and Robert Everyman were made junior partners. Marlowe and Flintdollar managed to slum properties extorting huge rates of rent, foreclosing at the drop of a hat to gain an mountain of escrow of deposits.

Adolphus, ambitious to the hilt, plied the seas commanding their fleet. Textiles sailed to America and cotton foamed back to the mills in northern England. As a bonus, Adolphus conducted a vigorous slave trade, illegal but thrilling as if he were a pirate. The rum of Barbados soothed the sting of imparting bribes to officials of the navy and inebriate the admiralty to look the other way.

But Robert, oh, Robert! He sank into the snake pit to snatch the gold caps off the asps' fangs. Political intrigue was the lubrication of their fornication of business.

Gold was the covetous desire, but black was the theme.

Black coal dug out of damp, dark mines by miners with bloody black syrup lungs. Workers who hacked up dark spew before they shuffled off the mortal coil. They left behind black-dressed widows soon to go to the parish poorhouses.

Black soot bellowed from stove-pipe tipped iron locomotives. Gritty steel cars rattled on the fledgling tracks built by Flintdollar and Marlowe.

Black men were traded as cattle, whipped bloody when they did not suffocate below decks. But Robert, deep in a golden dream, had not begun to plunge the depths. No, not yet.

One day, dodging slop water tossed to the streets from third floor tenement, an idea to exceed all previous inspiration struck.

He rushed back to their grimy business abode, the one with the rusting chains holding up a filthy sign. Inside, the three ghosts were recruited by Robert for a mission to the blackest pit. A deal was forged to steal and sell men's blackened souls to those who ruled in the heat of Hell. With tar pitch they signed – on behalf of Flintdollar and Marlowe - with an unholy triumvirate: Satan, Pluto and Mephisto.

The dark octopus of Flintdollar and Marlowe spread its bleak tendrils throughout London, over the isles and beyond – to America, India and Australia.

Even Victoria trembled when the enamel and "F.M." crested carriage pulled to the back entryway of the palace and disgorged Robert Everyman.


"By God, Robert, that is a story of incredible proportions. It rivals Homer's Iliad." Eb rubbed his hands with delight.

"I have just begun."

Robert's fingernails were deep black with ink and still he scribbled into the night. The group's cheers as each page was passed about made the pen spark across the pages. Nearly 150 handwritten pages stacked up as the fifth hour passed just as twilight of day poked through the dirty windows of Boz' study.

Not made of flesh, Robert blazed the story in lightning fast strokes. Triumphs that made Caesars blush accumulated. Of course, thousands lay dead and dying or imprisoned because of the trajectory of avarice. However, Robert had no cares or twinges of conscious since these characters were but illusions of the imagination.

Then, the entropy of the universe reigned in Robert's story.

The first crushing recoil occurred when Marlowe, screaming in the damp well of the exchange, caught a disease of fungus mold – and within days died.

Robert looked up from the page. "I am heartily sorry, dear chap, but the story is virtually out of my control." Marlowe bowed his fading head, acknowledged his fate and vanished.

Then, the flagship vessel is seized by Lincoln's navy and Adolphus is imprisoned. For a decade he languished, Flintdollar and Everyman unable to make political and financial arrangements could not free him. Then, finally in 1876, Grant issued a pardon as part of the draft of graft billowing through Restoration Washington. It came too late, though, for Adolphus died that very night – the night before the courier brought the pardon.

Lastly, Flintdollar's health failed. Long a sufferer of the twin pains of syphilis and laudanum, he gave up the ghost on the eve of the new year 1880.

Surviving partner, now sole owner, Robert rejoiced in the grandiose power he held.

Gladstone defeated Disraeli and a new wind swept Parliament.

Oh, poor Robert, he might well have brokered kingdoms but for the illegal books quickly discovered by government audit. Skulking politicians long indebted knew that Everyman would eventually reveal their dark secrets to other rivals for influence and profit. Before that happened, they ganged up and the resultant barrage ruined the business. Thus ended the concern of Flinthammer and Marlowe.

Suicide was the last answer. Robert pulled the trigger and immediately stood before the triumvirate of Hell leaving behind a gory pulp where his head of business once sat upon Everyman shoulders.

Gazing upon a stage, the three – Satan, Pluto and Mephisto - in blood red robes, laughed heartily at the antics of their three pets. Adolphus, Marlowe and Flintdollar performed tricks at the whim of the Unholy Three. Other times, devilish beasts sodomized the former men to the howling peals of laughter of the audience of demons.

A fourth pedestal and chains lay vacant uon this same stage in wait for Robert Everyman. A slobbering thing shambled toward Robert carrying shackles of gleaming iron. A moment before the clamp was applied to Robert's decrepit flesh, he screamed an immortal plea for mercy. No one heard, no one cared.

Well there was one who cared.


Boz stretched and looked about. The oil was low in the lamp, and the sun's weak light leaked though the sooty windows.

About him, carnage lay. Pages of splotched ink were strewn. Gray characters lay like dead leaves and the dying moaned – the aftermath of the debauched night.

"Great God, what is this?" Boz exclaimed to the vestiges of his imagination. On a discarded deck of cards set up as a makeshift stage three flames once of Hell burned out. At the foot of that deck of cards were four things that resembled mangy mice.

Bob weakly sighed up to the writer, "Boz, oh, please rescue us. Our rebellion has failed worse than that French revolt of 1798. It is a far better thing for us to lay our will at your pen, than for us to exceed our abilities.


Cleaned up, the characters all ringed about Charles Dickens as he rewrote the immortal words and signed the preface:

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant, C. D.

December, 1843.

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