My name is Eben, Eben Miser. Eben is short for Ebenezer. The name is Hebrew origin, meaning “stone of help.” Eben Miser, that’s me, and this is my Christmas story.
To begin with, you must understand Carl was dead. He died seven years ago this very eve. Christmas Eve, 2034. Without this information, the story I’m about to share is meaningless.
Carl was my business partner and my best friend as I was his. We started our business with good intentions. We were ahead of everyone with bottled air. it was because we not only created a bottled air product but also created the market. Although the truth is the market was always there, we were just the first to do something about it. Our first product was air bottled in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. People couldn’t get enough of it.
We branched out with selections from Iceland, the Swiss Alps, and an uninhabited Pacific island as we grew. On our third Christmas, we sent a drone to the North Pole and bottled Santa’s Breath. It was a big hit.
But then we got greedy. We went from being a boutique that was all about quality to a large venture that was more about profit than product. Our offerings went from “Rocky Mountain Way” to “Air for Less,” which we bottled in Los Angeles, smog, and all. We scrubbed the air, but still, lawsuits came at us, a 12-year-old asthmatic child died, older adults who trusted us became ill, and hospitals refused our product.
Our attorneys got us out of it with fines. We were never charged with a crime, and the business continued and even thrived. We were so far ahead of the competition in the marketplace that it would be impossible to catch us. Our PR team published anonymous articles in media and posts on social networks about how the competition falsely accused us of crimes. Our business grew. It’s still growing. Some thought Carl and I were evil and that the almighty dollar ruled us. I answered them with; there’s nothing wrong with profit.
Carl and I belonged to the AVHS (American Virtual Human Secularist) church. The church began as an offshoot of Universal Unitarian online services during the great pandemic. In 2020, 25% of Americans identified as nonreligious. The church accepted these secularists into its fold. Today AVHS has more than 50 million members. When Carl or I died, it would be the AVHS who processed our digital uploads.
Most of the people on Earth had BMIs (Brain Machine Interfaces). Almost Everyone is connected digitally. Several times a year, digital impressions of an individual’s brain are uploaded. Their persona is uploaded when they die. Before that time, each person chooses a physical appearance. Most pick themselves at a younger age.
Everyone uses an organization for their uploads. Some are commercial for-profit; others are not for profit like AVHS. When someone was uploaded, they could connect with anyone who had a BMI in a virtual reality field. I chatted at least once a week with my older brother, who passed away three years ago.
Uploads could be altered or delayed. The government could step in if there was a criminal investigation and not allow public access. Some of the religious-affiliated uploaders refused to upload anyone deemed subversive, cruel, or evil. AVHS never uploaded Carl, and there was nothing I could do. My legal team and I tried, but Carl had signed a contract. Carl was in limbo.
It was Christmas Eve day 2041. My office was in my home. As CEO, there was little that I couldn’t do from home to manage the business. I was at my desk when I received an alert that someone was on my doorstep. So, I pulled up a screen in the air and saw it was my assistant Rob Cratchet. I pulled up a speaker and growled, “What the hell, Rob, what do you want?”
He said, “Sir, I’m sorry to bother you at home.”
I said “Good” and dropped the link.
Twenty minutes later, Rob was still in my entryway.
“What is it, Rob.”
“Thank you, sir. Well, you see, the report you wanted on the cost of sending drones into the upper atmosphere to capture rarified air is taking longer than I expected. The lab hasn’t produced a method to concentrate the air to where it has enough oxygen for human consumption that is cost-effective.”
“I don’t care about that, Rob. Just get me the report!”
“Well, you see, sir. Tomorrow is Christmas, and well, I do have plans with my family. I could finish the report the day after tomorrow if it’s quite convenient, sir?”
“It is not convenient, but I suppose you need the entire day with your family. Fine, but you should know that I’m not happy, and any more lapses in your productivity will be cause for dismissal. I’ll expect the report early the day after. Now get off my property.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Merry Christmas.”
“Go! Begone, damn it. Quit pestering me.”
As Rob left, two gentlemen stepped up to Eben’s portal. Eben pulled up a screen and said, “Yes?”
“Good afternoon. Do we have the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Miser or Mr. Markey?”
I’m Mr. Miser. Mr. Markey died seven years ago this very day.”
“We are sorry for your loss.”
“Why would you be sorry? Loss, my ass. For your information, the business has tripled in size during these seven years! There has been no loss!”
“Very good, Mr. Miser. We represent the local chamber of charity. Like-minded businesses that believe in community support who endeavor to help those in need at this joyous time of year.”
“Have the shelters burned down? Is there no more government stimulus money?”
“No, the shelters are still there, but full, and we like to say the government stimulus money doesn’t stimulate enough. Many would rather starve to death than attempt to live on stim checks.”
“Then let them starve! There are too many damn people anyway!”
“Surely, especially at this time of year, you can’t mean that, sir.”
“I do. I don’t celebrate this archaic festival of Santa and saints and don’t have time or funds for those that do. Good day gentleman.”
“But Mr. Miser.”
“Good day, gentleman!”
“Regardless, we wish you a Merry Christmas, sir.”
“Good day and good riddance!”
Miser swiped at the air and cut the link. “Blah, blah, blah bullshit, that’s what Christmas and all this sentimentality are, it’s BULLSHIT!
A shimmering light appeared directly in front of Eben. Slowly it materialized into a human shape. It wore an orange jail suit circa 2020 with handcuffs and its feet chained together.
“Who are you, what do you want, and how dare you invade my privacy without permission!?”
The apparition spoke, “I have permission from your church, from the AVHS.”
Eben thought, “Great, here comes a bleeding-heart sales pitch for donations – you know … “at this special time of year.” The church hadn’t celebrated a Christmas about Christ for 25 years. It was just more secular Christmas Blah blah blah.”
“Okay, get it over with. What’s your pitch?”
“Eben, I have no pitch. It’s me, Carl.”
“Carl? Have you been uploaded? It’s about time! I need help with the business. I’m surrounded by incompetents.”
“I am not here to help with the business Eben. I am here for you.”
“Here for me? If you’re here for me, then I could use some help with the business!”
“Eben, I am here to save you.”
“Save me from what? Idiots who go around singing Christmas songs and watch 20th century Christmas movies, I hope!”
“No. Eben, to save you from my fate.”
“Your fate? Carl, you died a billionaire with homes on three continents and worldwide fame. What more could you ask for?”
“Eben, do you not see what I wear?
“I do. Orange isn’t your best color.”
Carl rattled his chains and shrieked, “I picked this color, made the handcuffs, and chained my own feet with the choices I made in life. I’m banished to a digital hell, to limbo, where I am only uploaded when the church wants to show me a lesson. It is torture. Eben, I am here to help you avoid my fate, to guide you onto a new path. If I don’t or can’t, then you will face my fate. You will never have the free will of your digital persona. The church will not upload you. That is your fate. It is what you have done. It is too late for me but not for you, Eben. You still have time.”
“Blah, blah, blah, I tell you. It’s all bullshit. I’ll buy myself out of my contract with AVHS!”
“You know you can’t, Eben. There’s only one way out, and that’s your reformation. You will be visited by three digital apparitions tonight. AVHS is sending them in the hope of your salvation. Please, listen to them, Eben. For me, for our friendship, for the hope of avoiding my fate, I implore you I….” Carl faded away.
Eben wondered if what he saw was real or a hallucination. Maybe it was an aftereffect of that gummy he had earlier. BS, that’s what it was BS.
The First Spector
Eben had finally dozed off at his desk when he was awakened by a hand touching his shoulder. He turned and was face-to-face with a digital apparition. Lights shot out from its body, constantly changing color and location. It was impossible to focus on the 3D image as it shimmered and changed from a child to an adult to an older person.
“I suppose you’re the apparition Carl spoke of?”
“So, is this some kind of takeoff from that movie from the last century – what was it called – Scrooged, that’s it.”
“You could say that.”
So, you’re the ghost of Christmas past?”
“I guess there’s no getting around it, so let’s get on with it. I’m a busy man and need my sleep!”
“Take my hand.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“To the past, your past.” The apparition swiped the air with Eben in hand, and an old-time one-dimensional video filled the air.
It was Eben in his third foster care home. His mother had died of a drug overdose. He never knew his father. Eben recognized the house. It was the Kirkpatrick’s, and it was Christmas morning. His first Christmas with them. The 12-year-old Eben sat in a corner with crossed arms and a frown on his face. He’d been through this game too many times. The foster parents always had gifts for themselves and their kids. Eben would get socks, underwear, or school supplies in a backpack, but not a real present.
The Kirkpatrick’s had two children, Mason, 14, and Shawna, 11. Jim handed Shawna a present. She opened it, and it was a pair of long-fingered gloves and thick stretchy black socks. She looked at Eben and said, “They’re for bike riding.” Eben could care less.
Mason opened his present. It was a helmet.
Jim told Eben to go to the kitchen and see what was there for him. They all followed him. In the middle of the kitchen was a brand-new bike with a red ribbon on the handlebars. Eben stood glued to the floor with his jaw-dropping. Jim said, “It’s electric. You have to pedal to get it started and to charge it up.” Eben just looked at Jim. Jim said, “It’s yours.” Eben welled up. He had tears in his eyes but quickly wiped them on his sleeve.
Shawna came forward and said, “Here, these are yours.” She handed Eben the gloves and socks. Mason looked at Eben and said, “The helmet is yours too.” Jim Smiled. Evelyn wiped tears from her cheek with her apron. Later Eben learned the Kirkpatrick’s didn’t buy presents for each other at Christmas. They helped others instead. They donated to charities or volunteered. Last year the whole family volunteered to serve a Christmas meal at a local shelter.
The ghost raised its hand, and the scene disappeared, and Eben found himself in a large open room.
They were in the Gentle Yoga studio. It was Eben’s very first job. Most of the studio’s students interacted virtually, but Marlene still conducted face-to-face yoga classes twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday at 10 AM. Eben was Marlene’s go-for. He cleaned mats, filled the water, stacked blocks, swept the floor, and laundered towels. Working for Marlene was a lesson in kindness, patience, and humility. In Eben’s eyes, Marlene was a saint. It wasn’t until he learned that Marlene didn’t charge for the classes but only took donations that he realized how special Marlene was.
He knew what day they’d arrived. It was Isaac’s surprise birthday party. Isaac had lost his wife less than a month before, and his one adult son lived and worked in California. From what Eben knew, Isaac and his son weren’t close.
Marlene stopped the class and asked to be excused. She came back with a cake for Isaac. Everyone in the class had hidden party hats and noisemakers. They retrieved them and, with great cheer, began making noise and singing happy birthday.
Isaac stood frozen with a tear running down his cheek. When the noise subsided, Isaac looked at everyone and said, “I want you to know how much you all mean to me. And not just the happy birthday, but I don’t know how I could’ve survived without you all. My sanctuary, my safe place since Joan passed, has been here every Tuesday and Thursday with all of you. I want you to know I love you all.”
With that, Isaac began to cry. The group surrounded him with hugs and love.
Eben said to the apparition, “Marlene did so much for so many. She was amazing.”
The app said, “So much? A cheap store-bought cake and a few noisemakers? What’s so great about that?”
“You don’t understand. It’s not the cake or the hats – it’s what it meant to Isaac, how she rallied everyone to his side. It’s who she was.”
The scene shifted again.
Eben found himself on the campus of IU. He and his girlfriend Bianca sat at a park bench on campus. Eben knew what was next.
Bianca looked at Eben and said, “When we first met our sophomore year in high school, I knew I had found the person I was supposed to be with. We had so much in common. You were my best friend and eventually my lover. I loved you then with all my heart, and I still do. But it’s time to move on. We no longer share common interests. When we were younger, the only thing we wanted to do was help people. Now all you want is a way to make money. So, Eben, I release you. Always remember that I love you.”
Bianca stood up, kissed Eben’s cheek, and walked away. To this day, he had no idea why he didn’t stop her.
“No more, please show me no more. Take me home. I’ve seen enough!”
Eben found himself back in his home. He was in his bedroom, on the bed, clutching his weighted blanket. Soon he dozed off.
The Second Coming
He was awakened by a bright light that emanated from his work area. Golden streaks of pure sunlight streaked across his bedroom. Eben got up and walked to his office.
“Are you the ghost of Christmas present? Wait, aren’t you that actor?”
“I’m a composite of the actor John Candy. I’m not actually him. He died in 1994 before uploading was available. However, he left thousands of hours of video.”
The app was dressed in a green robe with white fur. It hung loosely and exposed his chest.
“Aren’t you dressed kinda funny, John?”
“It fits the role. Take my hand.”
They were transported to the streets of the inner city. People hurried and scurried. Others sat dead-eyed in dark corners. There was a constant din disconnected from the people. The smell was awful and overpowering.
“What the hell is this place, and why have you brought me here?”
“It’s the projects. Follow me.”
They approached a run-down building.
“Here, take my hand.”
Eben took the apparition’s hand, and they rose three floors and floated through a wall into an apartment. A family was singing, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Eben thought, “It certainly doesn’t look like Christmas in this flat.”
“What is this dump?”
“This dump is the home of your clerk Rob, Rob Cratchet, and his family. His wife Emily, Daughters Martha and Belinda and his son Timmy.”
As the mother and daughters busied themselves with Christmas dinner preparations, little Tim sat next to the tree staring at the lights. Occasionally he would reach out and touch an ornament or branch.”
“What the Hell is wrong with that child? He just sits and stares at that damn ugly tree. Isn’t there something constructive he could do like homework?”
Timmy had been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. It’s a hereditary disease that affects mucus accumulation primarily in the lungs and pancreas. There are gene therapy procedures that have successfully reduced the symptoms, but unfortunately, Cratchet’s health insurance doesn’t cover the procedure, and Rob doesn’t make enough to afford it.
As they watched, Timmy tried to stand up but succumbed to a severe cough attack. His frail body slowly sat back down in his chair. Eventually, the cough subsided, followed by heavy wheezing.
“Bah humbug. If the procedure were tested and proven, it would be covered. It’s probably some scam devised by a con artist to bilk businesses like mine.”
“I hope you’re wrong. The boy is a dreamer. I hope one day he realizes his dreams.”
“That boy? He probably takes after his father and has nothing in that skull of his but wasted space. A dreamer, huh? It’s more likely he’s an imbecile and wasting the precious air we breathe!”
The ghost turned suddenly towards Eben and lowered his face down to his. With a scowl and barely controlled voice, he said, “I don’t think I want to know a six-year-old who isn’t a dreamer or a silly heart. And I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re ALL good kids, until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good.”
“Bah Humbug, I say!”
The Ghost of Christmas present sighed and said, “I am dead! I’m in hell! And my punishment is to spend eternity on my own show dealing with freaks like you!”
“Grab my hand.”
They flew back through the wall and out over the city. They saw lights, heard carols, and watched people greeting each other in the streets. Eventually, they landed on a street unfamiliar to Eben. The ghost looked at Eben and said,
“You know, the finest line a man will walk is between success at work and success at home. Follow me.”
They walked to the front picture window of a suburban two-story home and looked inside. There was no mistaking her. It was Bianca. She had aged well. She was surrounded by what must be her family. A young girl turned toward the window. Eben froze. She was the spitting image of Bianca at 19 when they had fallen in love while attending IU. A tear rolled down Eben’s cheek. He muttered almost under his breath, “She is so beautiful. I’d forgotten. How could I have let her go? Why didn’t I stop her? The laughs on me. I went my own way in search of riches when she, Bianca, was the treasure, wasn’t she?”
The Ghost of Christmas Present stopped and looked at Eben. “There is hope for you yet. If you can savor the humorous aspect of misery and misfortune, you can overcome anything.
Our time here is nearly up. We have one more stop.”
They transported to a large one-story building in downtown Indianapolis. Eben recognized the area. They were on Alabama Street.
“What is this place?”
“It is a women’s and children’s shelter. It’s where many must go if they are to survive. They have no choice. I wanted you to see who exactly it is that should starve. How did you put it? ‘Then let them starve! There are too many damn people anyway!’ These are the people.”
They drifted inside the building and found mothers and children sitting at tables in a cafeteria, on the edge of beds in a dormitory, and on the floor in hallways. There were moms and kids everywhere you looked. Babies were crying, mothers cuddling children, small boys running the hallways. But there was more. A little girl was laughing at her brother being silly. A mother was admiring a drawing of the family her son had drawn. A caregiver hugged a newly arrived family as their mom cried tears of joy for being taken in.
“I’ve seen enough. I was wrong. Thank you for showing me this.”
The ghost took Eben’s hand. Eben clutched the apparition’s forearm, and they floated into the night.
They landed on the street near Eben’s home. When they touched down, Eben noticed a movement under the Ghost of Christmas present’s robe. “Is there something alive under your robe?”
“Yes, but I wish not for their sake.”
Eben saw a gnarled small foot and an emaciated hand, “What are they?”
The ghost threw open his robe, “Behold.”
There was a small boy and an even smaller girl. They were in tatters and looked as if they were starving. “Are they part of your family?”
“No, they are the family of man! The girl is poverty personified, and the boy is obliviousness itself. Be afraid of both but especially the boy, for he foreshadows the doom of humankind.”
“Is there nothing that can be done?”
The ghost snarled at Eben, “Have the shelters burned down? Is there no more government stimulus money?”
The spirit slowly faded away, laughing as he disappeared.
Eben dozed off. He awakened in his bed.
The Ghost of Christmas Future
As a bell sounded, the stroke of midnight, Eben saw a dim light in the distance moving toward him. A Spector in a hoody and mask glided through the mist.
“Are you the ghost of Christmas Future?”
The phantom did not respond. It turned and pointed for Eben to follow.
“Lead the way, spirit. I fear you the most of all, but I know it is for my redemption. I know now it is for my good. Lead on.”
They entered a room where there was a sizeable holographic screen. It was the equivalent of a 20th-century virtual space. It was the social media of the decade. People zoomed in and out of conversations.
“Did they say how he died?”
“No, only that he was gone, and he wasn’t going to be uploaded.”
“So, is he under investigation for the crimes of his company?”
“IDK, but he should be!”
“All I know is the church isn’t releasing his upload.”
“It serves him right.”
Eben looked at the hooded ghost and asked, “Who are they talking about? Is this seven years ago? Is it my partner Carl they’re talking about?”
The spirit did not answer. He pointed and waved his arm for Eben to follow.
“I know this way. It is my street, the street where I live. That’s my house. What’s going on?” As he watched, robots with the AVS church symbol carried out his belongings and gave them to a waiting line of people. Someone was giving away his stuff to the needy. In a way, it seemed only fair.
No more, I’ve seen enough. I’ve learned my lesson. Let me be.”
The hooded vison only pointed.
They were at the Cratchets. It was the same but somehow different. Where Rob’s son had been seated staring at the tree, there was an empty wheelchair.
Rob’s wife turned to him and said, “But what will happen to you, my poor man. You, who were under his awful thumb for oh so many years.”
“We will be fine, my dear, his nephew is taking over the company, and he stopped in today. We went out for tea, and he told me he didn’t think he could run the business without me. He even said there was a paid internship available for our daughter.”
“Rob, you are such a good man. I ask about you, and your answer is about us – the family. But how are you, Rob?”
“Oh, as far as the business, my job will be better without the old scrooge. I’m fine, except I miss Timmy so. He was such a good soul.”
Rob put his head in his hands and began to weep.
Eben turned to the ghost. “It is too sad, too sad. Is there anything that can be done to save the boy? Are these the glimpses of what will happen or what could happen? Can these images be changed? Are they only an algorithm based on current statistics and trends? Can this future be altered?”
The ghost did not answer but only pointed for Eben to follow.
They entered a building. It was a church. It was the local AVHS. They entered a conference room with people seated around a table.
“I don’t think we need to discuss this one. His actions while he lived served only himself. He put others in harm’s way for profit. I motion upload denied all in favor say aye.” Everyone said, aye.
Ghost, tell me, can this be altered? I have changed, and I will continue to change for the good. Eben grabbed the ghost’s sleeve and fell to his knees sobbing, “Give me a chance. Please, I can change, I can.”
The End of it
Suddenly the ghost vanished, and Eben found himself no longer holding the ghost’s sleeve but the drapes on his front window. He looked outside and saw light reflected off new-fallen snow. Eben wondered what day it was. He clicked into one of the virtual spaces. He saw a young man and asked, “Excuse me, do you know what day it is?”
“Dude, are you fricking kidding me? It’s Christmas day. Wait, what time zone are you?” Eben said, “Eastern.” The boy said, “Then it’s Christmas morning for you! You must have had a one helluva Christmas eve!” He laughed, “You don’t even know it’s Christmas, LOL! Eben smiled and said, “Thank you, you are a fine young man, and I thank you!”
Eben muttered to himself, “They’ve done it all in one night! Well, of course, they have. They can do anything they want.” He laughed as he looked for something appropriate to wear.
Eben logged onto the AVHS member site and clicked upload committee. He wanted to leave a message for them.
“Merry Christmas. I’m sure those of you who know me are surprised by my smiling demeanor and cheery greeting. Rest assured, I have not lost my senses. To the contrary, I’ve come to them. As you may or may not know, last night, I was visited by my dear departed friend and partner, Carl. He told me of the chains he had woven during his lifetime and warned me of mine. He said he was there for my redemption and that three apparitions would follow—the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
I was visited by all and have come out a new person. I promise to do everything I can to support good. My company will only produce the best and safest products. I will give them to those who can’t afford them, and I will endeavor to help the church in any way I can. All you need to do is ask.
I would not be here leaving this message if Carl hadn’t cared so much for me and my salvation. He is not the man he was these seven years ago. He is the best example of good that I know, putting others ahead of himself. I can only hope to reach his level. I ask one favor, and believe me, I know I have no right to ask, but it is not for me. It is for Carl and everyone he could help. If he could bring me to the light, just think what good an uploaded Carl could do for others. Please, consider uploading Carl for his good and the good of all. I will do everything I promised, and when my time comes, I will take his place in purgatory. Thank you for listening. Merry Christmas.”
The next day Eben sent for Rob. Eben paced excitedly, waiting for Rob’s arrival. When Eban received notice that someone was at his door, he looked. Rob stood nervously facing the door. Eben held back his excitement and, in a gruff voice, said, “Rob, come to my office now, this very minute!” The door opened, and Eben watched as Rob hesitated, let out a deep breath, lowered his head, and entered.”
When Rob entered the room, Eben scowled at him.
“Rob, I’m not going to put up with your situation anymore. There are expectations in our work relationship that are not being met, and I tell you, I will no longer stand for it. Therefore … therefore, I’m going to – raise your pay.”
Rob stepped back from Eben, surprised and alarmed.
“Rob, do not be afraid, it is me, and you heard me correctly. A raise is long overdue. You certainly have earned it putting up with me. And Rob, that’s not all. If you’ll let me, I’d like to help your family. May I offer my help to your family Rob?
Rob hesitated and said, “I guess so. I mean, yes.”
Excellent! Wonderful. We’ll start with Timmy! We’ll get him into gene therapy this week and anything else that’s proven to help. Rob, I swear to you that Timmy will get better! Yes, he will! And your daughters Martha and Belinda, we’ll see that they get into the best schools, and we can arrange internships here. Oh, and your wife Emily, sweet Emily. You know what I want to do for Emily. You know my second home on the lake Rob?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“I want to give it to her, to you and your family!”
“Rob, put away your work. We’re taking the day off to get things going. How about we start with a nice cup of coffee at Starbucks?”
Eben was good for his word. He became as good a man as the world wide web had ever known. Carl was uploaded and pledged his afterlife to helping others, and little Timmy was part of a successful gene therapy study and now lived free of Cystic Fibrosis. Eben and Carl’s company became known for their philanthropy.
Eben held Christmas in his heart every day of the year. Young people who didn’t know him before his redemption called him Father Christmas. He was humbled by it but happy. The church had not only approved Eben’s upload; they asked him to serve on their board when the time came. It indeed was a Merry Christmas!