Mrs. Filbert Crackit was getting tired of sitting on the riverbank. It was the best of times for gathering acorns, but it was the worst of times to be outside. Christmas was the next day, and a cold wind was blowing. Well, at least it was not a dark and stormy night.
Meanwhile, Bob Crackit was hunched over a ledger as usual
in the barely heated office of Ebenezer Squirge. He hoped Filbert
could gather enough nuts for the next day's holiday feast. Perhaps Mr. Squirge would let him have Christmas Day off so the family could be together?
"Our walnut exports were disappointing this year," Mr. Squirge complained.
"Pecans were a bright spot, though," Bob piped up.
Mr. Squirge glared at Bob. Perhaps this was a bad time to ask for Christmas off? "Squirrels are fated to work every day from the cradle to the grave," Mr. Squirge said.
"What about those who cannot work?"
"Might you be thinking of your lame child, Midget Macadamia?" the old miser said, a glint of malevolence in his eyes.
"Surely, Sir, you would not blame a father for wanting to remember a happy moment in the life of his family, given that it might be Macadamia's last Christmas dinner."
"A squirrel who cannot run across a telephone wire is a disgrace to squirrelhood," Mr. Squirge snapped, "but I've read the rest of this story, and the ghosts will give me no peace if I don't grant your request. Just remember that Little Macadamia will prick his finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel on his sixteenth birthday and die! Unless that cockamamie author steals an even crazier plot twist in the next paragraph."
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, Bob Crackit mused as he swept the floor prior to going home for the day.
Meanwhile, Mr. Squirge was musing that you are what you eat, and squirrels mainly eat nuts. In the beginning there was the word. Then more words, and finally too many words. Bah, Butternut! He went straight home without stopping for food. There were stale peanuts in the pantry....
Actually, those peanuts had gone a bit past the stale stage, but Mr. Squirge believed in letting nothing go to waste. Perhaps that was his downfall, for in the middle of he night he as awakened by the sound of heavy branches rubbing against the walls of the room, and an equally unsettling sound of acorns rustling.
He sat up and beheld a sight fit to freeze his blood. It was Jacob Gnarly, the ancient oak tree in whose hollow trunk Squirge had had his first office.
"Repent, Squirge!" Gnarly said in a scratchy voice. "I was too attached to my acorns, never wishing to let them drop to the ground and start new trees. Now they weigh me down for all eternity."
"How is it possible for you to even be here?" Squirge protested. "The last I saw of you was a log that I put into my fireplace."
"What part of 'I'm a ghost' don't you understand?"
"Well, this is a story by Paulh, so I doubt that even *he* understands half of it."
"Good point," Gnarly admitted. "Trust him to be somewhat lazy, though. There are supposed to be three more ghosts. Chances are, he will have them come together, briefly show you how silly your life has been, and then rush off for afternoon coffee together."
Gnarly's words were strangely prophetic. Or maybe they were prophetically strange. In any event, Squirge could hear distant, high-pitched singing:
"Christmas, Christmas time is here,
Time for toys and time for cheer..."
The singing grew closer:
"I want a plane that loops the loop.
Me, I want a hula hoop."
Finally Squirge remembered his teenage years in the 1960s. He even remembered a hula hoop that he used to play with. Could he ever have been that young and feckless? Then he realized who the singers were, and he groaned.
"The chipmunks?!" he exclaimed. "They aren't even proper squirrels, even assuming they weren't animations."
"Chipmunks are ground squirrels," Simon corrected him. "And for your information, even animated chipmunks like us have more life than you have, you dried up old sourpuss."
"Flattery will get you nowhere," Squirge rasped.
"Well, we've shown him Christmas past with our song," Theodore said.
"And we see Christmas present," Simon added.
Simon and Theodore looked expectantly at Alvin. "This is your chance to show Squirge the lonely tomb Squirge will end up in," Simon whispered in Alvin's ear.
Alvin did his best, but Squirge wasn't buying. "Sorry, guys, but I'm with Gnarly. I look forward to the afterlife with him, nibbling on all those acorns that dangle from his branches."
"Not the outcome we were hired to achieve," Theodore groaned. Jacob Gnarly rustled in the background.
"Well, what did you expect from a squirrel?" Squirge said. "A squirrel is born to hoard everything he touches."
"He has a point," Simon whispered to Theodore, who shrugged.
The end, or what passes for one.