A Kindle Carol
In celebration of the holiday, I’m going to repost my original fiction, A Kindle Carol. The first part originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 1, 2009. It was inspired by A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
A Kindle Carol, Part 1
This story, inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, originally appeared in ILMK on December 1, 2009.
It was a cold night in the publishing house. Every night was cold, and the days weren’t much better. The employees (well, the ones that were left after the latest round of layoffs) had been told it was a cost-cutting measure. Samir in Accounting had gotten quite a laugh when he suggested it was to match the CEO’s reptilian heart. Michel had disagreed…he said Scrooge had no heart.
Bob Cratchit would have disagreed for a different reason, if anyone had shared the joke with him. He’d been Mr. Scrooge’s Executive Assistant for nearly twenty years. He believed that there was some humanity left in the Old Man, although it had been diminished by years of declining sales. It had been ten years since his last raise…before any of his children had been born. Company policy prohibited raises based purely on longevity, and Scrooge had given him a perfect review ten years ago. Nine years ago, his boss had said there wouldn’t be any point in doing another review…unless Bob’s performance declined. Bob was proud of the fact that it hadn’t.
Tonight was going to be a particularly difficult test. It was time for the annual holiday marketing strategy meeting. J. Marley Publishing hadn’t turned a profit in three years, and was rapidly depleting its cash reserves. It had accepted an offer of twenty-five cents on the dollar for its audiobook business in exchange for a considerable loan that would see them through the spring. If something didn’t change, there would be no Jay-Em romances on the beaches that summer.
Scrooge’s voice carried into Bob’s little cell of a cubicle. He didn’t shout: he saw no reason to spend the extra energy that would take. The phones would only accept incoming calls…even salespeople had to use their own phones to call their clients. There was no way to call someone’s extension from inside the building, and Scrooge wasn’t going to waste the valuable time it would take to walk the ten steps from his inner office. Time was money: although when Scrooge saw his own face in the mirror, he knew he might soon have very little of either left.
“Yes, Mr. Scrooge?”
“How many are going to be in the meeting?”
“Just three of us, sir. You, your nephew, and myself.”
“Don’t bother printing out any agendas, then. We can’t afford the paper. No coffee, no donuts. Don’t bring the garbage can: we won’t need it.”
“Yes, sir. Anything else?”
“No. Don’t be late…I can’t abide tardiness.”
“Yes, sir.” Bob Cratchit had never been late for anything in his life, much less a meeting. He wondered what had made Scrooge forgetful, and hoped the Old Man wasn’t ill.
Scrooge wasn’t sick, or not especially sick. When you get as old as he was, you were always sick with something. You outlived most of the viruses…it was your own failing systems that would probably get you. That’s why they call it natural causes…only fools were surprised when the end came.
Marley had been no fool. Everything was in order, and Scrooge had found it all laid out in minute detail. He had followed his old partner’s plans for three years. Marley had always been the face of the organization, and his name could still open a few doors. Lately, though, there had been fewer and fewer of those doors…open or otherwise.
He could almost picture Marley now. They would strategize before these meetings. But strategies suggest choices. Nobody in the book industry had a lot of choices left. “People just don’t read any more”, thought Scrooge, “unless it’s under 141 characters”. Books were going to go the way of newsreels and LPs. Even if the electronic cancer didn’t kill them, the rising cost of paper would…the expense of natural resources bringing on natural causes.
Scrooge’s nephew burst into the room.
“Seven minutes early.”
“I figured that would be okay. Why not get the meeting done, and we can get out of here early…it’s the night before Thanksgiving, after all.”
“Hmph. That doesn’t mean today has to be any shorter. Why not two hours…or half the day? Why not take the whole week off?”
“Why not? A lot of people do.”
“Idiots. You can’t run a business by taking off time. If it was up to me, we’d work through Thanksgiving.”
“You don’t mean that, Unca.”
“I do…and if you had any sense, you’d agree with me.”
“Oh, I have plenty of sense, Unca…runs in the family, right? So, you want to have Bob join us in the Conference Room?”
“You’re already here. Cratchit! Cancel the lights and turn off the heat for the rest of the building. We’ll meet here now.”
“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.”
“You mean the heat’s on? It’s like a refrigerator in here.”
“Mr. Scrooge, would you like to begin with old business?”
“Let’s dispense with that, Unca. I wanted to let you know…I met with some guys from Amazon.”
“They were talking to me about the Kindle–”
“Hear me out, Unc. They were telling me that they thought the Jay-Em line would be a good bet. Romances do well…all those Harlequin imprints…Kimani, Silhouette, Steeple Hill…Samhain’s moving titles, too.”
“We’re not in the software business. We sell books.”
“These are books, Unc…they’re just a different format.”
“Paperbacks and hardbacks, those are different formats. E-books are nothing. What do they charge for those things?”
“Well, actually, they suggested we offer a couple of them for free–”
“FREE? That’s not a business, it’s a charity. Call Bill Gates…he can give them away in South America or something.”
“If those e-books were worth anything, they wouldn’t be giving them away. Books are paper, period. Nobody’s going to pay any real money for fake books.”
“They really open up the market, though, Unca. People who have difficulty reading the paper books can really use the increasing text size and the text-to-speech. It’s easier for people with arthritis and you should understand about the aging population.”
“Our market’s dying off, you don’t need to remind me. As to the blind, they can already get books for free. That’s no help.”
“But this is more convenient, and they can share with the family. They don’t have to prove any kind of disability to buy books from the Kindle store.”
“We’re not here to make their lives easier…we’re here to make money.”
“But Unca, I’ve got some numbers here…oh, my cell! It’s my wife…excuse me while I take this.”
“Cratchit, go work on those end of year calculations. No point in wasting the time while my nephew conducts his personal business.”
Left alone in his office, Scrooge’s gaze fell on the J. Marley Publishing logo on the wall. It was a stylized silhouette of old Marley himself. As he stared at it, he fancied he saw the portrait turn and look at him.
“These old eyes of mine are playing tricks on me,” Scrooge thought.
“Audio hallucinations as well. It was only a matter of time.”
“I am no hallucination.”
“Nonsense. My mind is starting to go…I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately. After the holidays, I’ll catch up and then I won’t have to worry about mind slips like you.”
“You know who I was.”
“I know you appear to be Jacob Marley, but you could have been a two-headed giraffe. It’s just a normal consequence of sleep deprivation. See that stack of bills? That’s real.”
At this, the figure of Marley let out a wail that shook Scrooge to his toes. He was sure that Cratchit and his nephew must have heard it, and would rush in at any moment. When that didn’t happen, he knew that only he could hear and see it.
“It seems it’s just the two of us. Alright, I’ll play along. ”
“We do not play games in this office…you of all people should know that.”
“What do you want of me?”
“Good luck with that. There is very little of me left…I’ve already given everything to this company.”
“You do not know what you have to give. But you will. If you can still learn, you will.”
These last words chilled Scrooge. He was unsure that he could learn anything new…and if he couldn’t, what would be the consequences? He frantically looked at the ghost, looked for anything there that might give him a way to avoid the lesson. He noticed the spectral ruins of buildings at the feet of the phantom.
“What…what are those crumbled walls?”
“Those are the chains to which we sold when I was alive…Crown Books, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks…I am tied to them in death as I was in life. I stumble over them, wander their empty halls…I can not leave them, can not move on to more fertile markets. If you can not change, you will join me here in death.”
“Tell me, spirit…tell me what I have to do!”
“That is not for me to do. When you see me, you see our lives together. The echoes of the past will overwhelm any truth I might tell you now. That will be for the others.”
Scrooge’s heart beat faster than it had in years. Seeing your dead business partner was one thing…he could manage Marley. But other people…other ghosts…Scrooge had always been better with numbers than people. That had been Marley’s area.
“Three others. Listen openly to what they tell you, Ebenezer. You will not be given another chance.”
At this, the figure faded back into the logo on the wall.
The ruins crumbled into dust, and the dust to lesser dust, until there was no sign that anything had ever been there.
“Delusions,” said Scrooge, “brought on by stress and lack of sleep. Where is that nephew of mine? Work…that’s what I need. Back to work, and I won’t be bothered by these ridiculous visions any more.”
He noticed the old-fashioned Rolodex that sat on a corner of his desk. He flipped backwards, precisely one letter at time. “Just the thing,” thought Scrooge. “I’ve been meaning to get this organized.”
He began with the letter A. He looked at the first card. “Dead.” He put it in a large envelope he used to take shredding to the bank…JMP wasn’t going to pay a shredding service while he was in charge. He looked at the second card. “Out of business.” The third: “Merged.”
Soon, his envelope was filled to overflowing. He decided he would need something bigger. He took a dusty plaque honoring the company on its first million seller out of a box. He tried to shake the cards into the box, but they wouldn’t come out of the envelope.
“Out, you lazy garbage! Staying together isn’t going to save you!”
He shook harder, and the cards came out in a lump. Scrooge was stunned, though, to see that they didn’t fall. They hung in the air above the box. Slowly, the cards began to spread out…first in one direction, then another. Two long flows spread towards the floor, and two more towards the walls. A fifth formed a lump at about Scrooge’s chest level. It took on the shape of a child.
“Neezy,” it said in a soft and gentle voice.
“Neezy?!” No one had called Scrooge that since he was a child himself. Scrooge had almost no memories of his own childhood…they had long ago been crushed under the weight of corporate responsibility.
The figure, who ruffled and shuffled as its card body constantly flowed and changed, held out a “hand” to the Old Man.
“No, no! What is it? Where do you want to take me?”
“Only where you have already been. You will see nothing new…nothing you haven’t already lived.”
Scrooge thought about that…if there was damage to be done by the past, it had already hurt him…and he had beaten it. He had forgotten the worst of it before…he could do it again.
“Spirit, you do not frighten me.”
“It is your past we will see…do you frighten yourself?”
The hand began to withdraw, but Scrooge snatched it before it could merge back into the card cloud. He had never been afraid to seize an opportunity.
The rustling became an overwhelming sound, like being swept up in a tornado! The sprite grabbed Scrooge’s other hand, and they whirled in a mad game of ring-around-the-rosy, spinning faster and faster, until it seemed to Scrooge he was in danger of exploding outwards into a million pieces!
The spinning stopped, the sound subsided…and Scrooge saw something he would never have expected…
To be continued…
A Kindle Carol, Part 2
This is part 2 of a story inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It originally appeared in ILMK on December 22, 2009.
This is part 2 of the story that had begun in this earlier post.
“The Greasy Cat!”
The spirit child rippled with laughter at the name.
Scrooge’s eyes grew large, and he shook his head to clear it. There could be no doubt. Although it was much smaller than he remembered it, he was seeing the treehouse of his youth. They had called it “The Greasy Cat” after a secret meeting place in The Scarlet Pimpernel. While the name, Le Chat Gris actually meant “The Gray Cat”, that had been beyond his level of French at ten years old. Marley had known that “chat” meant “cat”, and the rest had been a guess.
“But how can it still be standing after all this time?”
The spirit child rippled again.
“It couldn’t be, could it…the house was sold years ago. This whole area is an industrial park now.”
“Not now, silly head,” said the child.
“Of course! This is the past. Oh, the times Jakey and I had up there! The laughter and the secrets. I’d love to see the inside again…but my legs are more rickety than that old board ladder.”
There was no whirlwind, just a whisper…like the too loud hsh-hsh-hsh of small children hiding behind a couch.
Scrooge suddenly found himself inside The Greasy Cat. He thought he would feel claustrophobic, but he didn’t. The room hadn’t gotten bigger…and he didn’t seem smaller. In fact, he didn’t seem to be there at all, and yet, it was all perfectly clear.
The only lighting in the room came from a two-battery flashlight with a cracked lens. If Scrooge needed any more convincing, that would have done it. He remembered reading so many things with that thin black jagged line across the words. They pretended it looked like a Z, and that they could use it like a Zorro signal to call that masked defender of the people. Although there was one night when they would swear they had both heard Tornado’s hooves, Don Diego remained as hidden from them as he had from Sargent Gonzales.
But who was holding the light…
“They seek him here,
They seek him there…”
The boy with the flashlight read on, paying Scrooge no heed.
Suddenly, another child’s voice echoed through the gloom in a lightning crack:
“They seek him in his underwear!”
Both kids exploded in raucous laughter, slapping each other and rolling on the floor.
The older Scrooge smiled. The spirit child became a cloud and whirled around the room, mirroring the boys as they made no attempt to control themselves.
“Oh, I loved that book.”
“Not a book,” said the spirit child sternly.
“Of course it is! That’s The Scarlet Pimpernel! That’s why we named the treehouse the Greasy Cat.”
“Comic…say, that’s right! We were reading the comic books! I remember now. We would get them at Fezziwig’s. We used to ride our bikes down there and sneak the comics back under our shirts. Wouldn’t do to have Dad catch me with a comic, even if it was a classic.”
“Not a real book.”
“They were real to us! Realer than school, realer than anything!”
“Hey, at least we were reading, right? I might not be what I am today without those comic books.”
The spirit child flew at Scrooge, and for a moment all he could see was a wall of white.
He blinked his eyes and found himself back in his office.
He jumped when a figure suddenly entered the room.
“Hey, Unc…I just need to make one more call…gotta follow up on something with one of the kids. You know how kids are, right?”
Scrooge’s nephew turned away, his thumbs flicking on the keys.
Left alone in his office, Scrooge gave the question more consideration than it had been meant to deserve.
It had been a long time since he’d thought about children. Children didn’t buy JMP books. He didn’t have any kids of his own. This company had been his life. When Marley died, he had felt like a single parent. JMP had been theirs…it still was. But he had suddenly had to do it all by himself. They had always divided everything. It wasn’t as simple as good cop/bad cop, or tough love/tenderness. They were both tough, and everybody knew it. They were just tough in different ways. Marley was tough with people…Scrooge was tough with the numbers.
When he’d been left by himself, he didn’t try to copy Marley. He couldn’t, there was no point to it. So, he’d just let that part die along with Jacob.
He missed him now. He’d know kids. He’d known what people…all people wanted.
Didn’t Cratchit have kids? Scrooge thought he did…in fact, he was sure he did. He’d never met Cratchit’s family…not that he could remember.
“I wish I knew more about them.”
A breeze seemed to cause the potted plant in the corner to wave from side to side. But it couldn’t be a breeze: there were no windows, and the air conditioning was off.
The plant continued to move. Scrooge smelled that distinctive plant smell, like walking by a park after a rainy day. The smell terrified Scrooge.
The plant was plastic.
The smell began to fill the room. It reminded Scrooge of a particularly unpleasant trip, when he had gone to Hawaii for a publishing convention. He’d always hated travel…meeting with people had been Marley’s part of the deal. But Marley had been too sick to go…he’d gotten better, that time.
Scrooge coughed and hacked. Why wasn’t his allergy medicine working?
When he could stand again, he saw that the room was covered in ivy, overgrown in leaves. They were still growing…flowers sprouted, tendrils twisted around branches.
A man stepped into the center of the room. At least, “man” was the closest approximation Scrooge’s confused mind could make. Whatever it was, it was part of the jungle that was all that Scrooge could see. He couldn’t see where the man started and the plants stopped.
“Are you the second of the spirits?”
“I am here and now.”
“What will you show me?”
“I am here and now.”
The ivy continued to grow and expand. Scrooge felt it pressing against him, wrapping around him. He struggled. It covered his face. He couldn’t breath! He felt it go through his skin, becoming part of him…or he of it? Scrooge found it hard to think…his mind was stretched, and the thinner it became the less of him was left.
He fought to control it…control was always how he got through things.
To be continued…
A Kindle Carol, Part 3
This is the third part of a story inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It originally appeared in ILMK on December 24, 2009.
This is part 3 (and the conclusion) of the story that had begun inthis earlier post.
It was like being everywhere at once.
Warmth and sorrow, family and fear, here and there…it was all the same. It seemed to flicker like an old nickelodeon…phft-phft-phft as each smallest split second changed to the next.
At first, Scrooge/Everything couldn’t focus. It was one rush of feelings, emotions, thoughts, and nothing. You couldn’t look anywhere in particular because wherever you looked, you saw something else…or was it the same thing? You (and I) saw yourself (and it) whenever we/they tried.
Eventually (although it happened instantly), Scrooge/Everything became aware of scenes. Not as things separate from himself or from each other, but as part of existence (and yet, the whole of it).
Scrooge felt the immersion of someone reading a book…how you enter the author’s universe, while still being part of yours.
He was a single mother, a soldier in Iraq, the captain of the high school football team, himself, a surgeon, a small child sleeping on a cement floor with five other siblings, a cat, a dog, a thought, a prayer, a kiss, a tear…a moment.
He became aware of the Cratchit family. Bob was still at work…we had that meeting tonight. He felt his (Bob’s?) wife’s resentment, but resignation at the same time. Two young children, who he knew were the twins, were playing a videogame. A third tiny youngster shouted encouragement.
“Get him, Robby, get him!”
“I’ll get him, Tim.”
Scrooge knew there was nothing on the screen right then for Robby to get. He was humoring Tim, who was blind. His video self fired off a shot at the wall…the TV made the distinctive “pzzoo” sound of the ray rifle.
“Did you get him, Robby?”
“Sure did, Tim! Sure did!”
The other gamer, a girl named Kelsea, rolled her eyes. She didn’t really approve of lying, but it made Tim happy to be a part of the game. She was itching to see the next level, and they weren’t going to have as good a chance of getting there if Robby kept wasting his ammunition charge like that. Still, she figured it was worth it to see Robby high-five tiny Tim’s outstretched hand.
A voice came through the intercom.
“Mom, it’s me!”
Scrooge knew it was Martha, the oldest daughter. “I’ll get it!” Tim ran unerringly to the button and buzzed his sister up the stairs.
“Hey, Double-T! I got you something!”
“Well, the teachers let us out early for Thanksgiving, and Ms. Ramirez dropped me off at the library–”
“Did you get me a book?”
“I did,” Martha said smiling. “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
“Oh boy, thanks! What’s a pimplemill?”
Tim’s mother called from the kitchen. “Pimpernel. It’s a flower.”
“A flower?” Tim was still holding out his hands to Martha.
“Not this Pimpernel, Double-T! He’s a hero…with a secret identity and everything.”
“Even better. He saves people from the bad guys in old France. If he didn’t, they’d cut off their heads!”
“Yaaaaay! I’m going to go listen to it right now! Thanks, Martha!”
Tim took the box of CDs that Martha slapped into his open hands and ran down to the room he shared with Robby and Kelsea.
“That was nice of you, Martha.”
“Well, Mom, Ms. Ramirez offered to drive me. Mr. Cho brought turkey in for everybody, so I had enough lunch money left for the bus. I can probably get one of the other kids to take it back.”
“Mom,” Kelsea said hesitantly, “Latella’s cousin is blind. They don’t have to get books from the library…he gets all the audiobooks he wants sent to him for free.”
“That’s great, dear. But to do that, you have to have a doctor certify you as blind as there is a lot of paperwork to fill out.”
Scrooge/Kelsea fell silent. S/he knew that they couldn’t afford a doctor. Scrooge/Mrs. Cratchit wished again that Bob had a job with full benefits. She’d always wondered if little Tim’s eyesight could have been saved if they weren’t just going to the community clinic. She knew it probably wouldn’t have made any difference, but she couldn’t help wondering.
“Mom, when is Dad going to get here?”
“I don’t know, Robby. They have that annual marketing meeting tonight.”
“Dumb old Scrooge!”
“That’s Mister Scrooge, Robby…he is your father’s boss, after all.”
“I know. I just hate that guy sometimes. Why doesn’t Dad just quit and get a better job?”
“We don’t say hate in this house, you know that. It’s not that easy, Robby. It’s a hard time to find work out there. Besides, your father likes working for Mr. Scrooge.”
Martha pouted. “I don’t know why. He treats him like dirt. He doesn’t pay him anything, and he makes him work all the time.”
“I can’t say I really understand it either, dear, but it’s what your father wants.”
Scrooge suddenly found himself back in his office. He was just himself again. He was thinking about Bob, when a dark figure grabbed him by the wrist.
“Wait! Slow down”
The ghost of tomorrow did not wait…it never does.
“Where are you taking me?”
Scrooge felt himself fall through the floors of the building. He thudded on to the lobby floor. Workers went past him, carrying chairs and tables. They came out of the freight elevator, headed for a big truck on the street.
“Somebody must be moving,” thought Scrooge.
The spirit pointed to where the building receptionist was opening the glass case that contained the directory. She slid out one of the printed names.
“Spirit, tell me…what is happening?”
The spirit continued to point. The receptionist walked over to the garbage can where a security guard was standing.
The guard smiled at her. “Well, that’s it, huh? They are finally gone.”
“Well, it was only a matter of time, I guess. I heard on the news that they went bankrupt.”
“Got any news on a new tenant?”
“It’s not that easy to fill a whole floor. I’m guessing it will be awhile.”
She dropped the laminated name in the silver bin and walked back to her desk.
The spirit led Scrooge to the garbage can. Scrooge stood, afraid to look inside, afraid at what he might see.
“No, spirit, no!”
The spirit stood, immobile and impassionate. Scrooge couldn’t help himself…he saw the J. Marley Publishing sign, with the logo of Jacob on it.
“Bankrupt! It can’t be! I won’t let it happen! You…you wouldn’t show me this unless I could do something about it, right? Jacob said it could change…he said I had a chance if I could learn something! I’ve learned, spirit! I’ve learned that books are books, whatever the format! Its not the paper, it’s the words that matter! And poor Tim Cratchit, and a million others like him! We…I can help them! Please, spirit, please! Give me another chance!”
“Unca? Are you alright?”
Scrooge found himself back in his office again.
“You…you’re still here! The business is still here!”
“Sure it is, Unc. Geez, how long was I on that phone call, anyway? So, you want to get back to that meeting?”
“Yes…yes, I do! Cratchit!”
Bob was surprised to hear his boss yelling.
“Get in here. No, wait, start some coffee first. Nephew, tell me about those e-books. I want to do them…I want to get started right away! Make sure they have that read-aloud thing…that’s important!”
“Sure, Unc, that’s great!”
“Cratchit…Bob, I’ve decided you are going to get a bonus!”
“Uh..a bonus, sir?”
“Yep! I’m getting everybody in your family a Kindle! You tell Tim he can have all the books he wants, and you send me the bills. When he gets done with The Scarlet Pimpernel, you tell him old Neezy wants to talk with him about it.”
“Yes sir! Bless you, sir!”
Scrooge was never again troubled with spirits. Jay-Em e-Romances were a permanent part of the bestseller lists, with the first one in the series always being offered for free. Martha Cratchit wrote a few herself, eventually become a successful author. The company thrived, and the Greasy Cat Foundation, with Timothy Cratchit as its Executive Director, became a leader in providing free e-book readers to those in need.
May we all learn from the past, savor the present, and build a future not just for us, but for others.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.