“The allegorical nature of A Christmas Carol leads to relatively simplistic symbolism and a linear plot. The latter is divided into five Staves, each containing a distinct episode in Scrooge’s spiritual re-education. The first Stave centers on the visitation from Marley’s ghost, the middle three present the tales of the three Christmas spirits, and the last concludes the story, showing how Scrooge has changed. The Ghost of Christmas Past represents memory. The Ghost of Christmas Present serves as the central symbol of the Christmas ideal—generosity, goodwill, and celebration. Appearing on a throne made of food, the spirit evokes thoughts of prosperity, satiety, and merriment. Within the allegory, the silent, reaper-like figure of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come represents the fear of death, which refracts Scrooge’s lessons about memory, empathy, and generosity, insuring his reversion to an open, loving human being.” – Spark Notes
After a month on the road, I was home again for three days. My youngest son, who is eight, gave me hugs of a quantity and ferocity that he hadn’t given me since he was six, back before third grade had taught him that it wasn’t cool to hug your dad. He’d missed me, and told me so—verbally and via his actions. We played all day, and I showered him with all the little presents and trinkets I’d picked up during my tour of the south. When he was asleep that night, his mother and I discussed things, and whether or not we thought my travel was having an adverse effect on him. Nothing seemed apparent, other than his clinginess, which could be chalked up to having missed me.
Still…I felt guilty as hell. Not since that drunken night in the Chattanooga hotel room had I been so riddled with self-doubt. Sure, I told myself, he seemed okay, but how could we know for sure? He was eight years old. You know what I remembered from being eight years old? My father never being home. My Dad worked seven-day-a-week shifts at the paper mill. If he wasn’t there, then he was sleeping or working the farm (we had sheep, a cow, chickens and beehives). I saw him for one meal a day.
Since the beginning of this tour, my son had seen me even less than that.
But, I told myself, my father had worked that grueling schedule to earn a living—to keep me fed and clothed and secure. This tour was accomplishing the same thing for my son.
That’s what I told myself.
I just wasn’t sure I believed it anymore.
When my father worked himself to the point of exhaustion, there was a paycheck at the end of the week. In my case, not only was there no paycheck, I wouldn’t get paid royalties on the books sold thus far on the tour until mid-2017—provided I’d earned out my advance by then.
I wasn’t broke, but I was hemorrhaging money. Replacing the Jeep’s radiator in West Virginia, the gas wasted during me and John Urbancik’s alligator-hunting side trips, my bar tab for Scares That Care, postage spent shipping bottles of bourbon home when there was no more room left in the trunk—these things had taken a toll on my savings. In two days, I had to head back out on the road again, travelling to Morgantown, Beckley, and Pittsburgh. I’d need money for gas, food and lodging. Luckily, I knew where to get some.
I’ve written earlier in this series about The York Emporium and its owner, Jim. He and I had a standing deal. Whenever I needed quick cash, I’d sign a dozen or so foreign editions of my work, and sell them to him. Jim would then resell them online. For years, this has been the only way for my readers in Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Poland, and elsewhere to get signed editions of my books. They benefit from the arrangement, Jim benefits from the arrangement, and I benefit from it, as well.
Mary and I loaded up a box of German and Italian editions and headed for the store. While Jim went through the box and worked up a price for me, I walked back to the horror section to visit Jesus. I hadn’t checked in on him since our signing there earlier that month. I vaguely recalled the strange feeling of doom that had overcome me before, but it seemed like something from another lifetime. Standing there now, facing the wall behind which a portion of his ashes were interred, it all came back to me now—the cow, the fires, and everything else.
Mary was browsing through the True Crime section. Jim was up front at the counter. Nobody else was around. I cleared my throat, and spoke aloud.
“Hey, brother. I’m home for a few days. I got your message. Damn near ran over that fucking cow.”
You know how your limbs feel when they fall asleep? That tingling, pin sensation? My entire body began to feel like that. I glanced around. The Horror section was still empty, except for me. The tingling sensation grew stronger.
I can’t say I heard his voice. That would be a lie. I didn’t hear his voice. I didn’t hear anything. But all of the sudden, I had an impression of his voice—a distinct visualization of words in my brain. It wasn’t a conversation. It wasn’t a back-and-forth exchange. It was more like he was putting images of words and emotions in my head. I got “Hey” and the names of his wife and daughter. I also got “lonely” and “old man” and “home.”
I reached for the wall. Both the tingling and the impressions grew stronger. “Lonely.” “Home.” Then his wife and daughter’s names again, so strong that had they been spoken words, he would have been shouting. The “old man” bit confused me, but then I remembered that multiple people have reported the ghost of an old man haunting the aisles of the Emporium over the years.
I tried to speak, and couldn’t.
I tried to breathe, but I couldn’t do that either.
This isn’t really happening, I thought. This is fucking wish fulfillment. I miss him. I know he’s buried inside that fucking wall, and therefore, I think he’s trying to communicate with me.
That was when Mary rounded the corner, pressed close to give me a kiss, and then paused.
“Wow,” she gasped. “Do you feel that?”
“What do you feel?” I asked, not wanting to lead her.
(Chuy was Jesus’s nickname—one he normally hated—but there were a small handful of us who could get away with calling him by it.)
“Do you…do you hear anything?”
“He’s happy to see us.” Mary paused. “And he’s…lonely?”
“He wants to go home.”
“Or maybe he just misses everybody.”
“I need to test this,” I told her. “It could be both our imaginations, right?”
HOME. The impression jackhammered into my head.
Jim called out from the register, telling me he had cash for me. Mary grabbed my arm.
“Do you want me to stall him?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Go on up. I’ll be there in a minute.”
After she was gone, I bent down next to the wall. The tingling sensation engulfed me.
“I want to believe it’s you,” I said, “but you’ve got to give me proof, brother. If this is really you, and not my imagination, give me a sign.”
I waited. The tingling sensation subsided. The impressions ceased. The moment passed.
I got my cash from Jim and went home.
* * *
The next day—my last day home before heading out again—I picked a new book off my To Be Read pile after my son went to sleep. Turned out I had selected Chet Williamson’s short story collection A Little Blue Book of Bibliomancy. I wasn’t really in the mood to read, but I enjoy Chet’s stuff, and I needed a distraction. I opened the book at random, and the page I landed on was Chet’s tribute to Jesus, written shortly after his death.
I flipped to the front of the book and began to read Chet’s Introduction. The book begins as such:
Erstwhile editor Tom Monteleone came up with “Bibliomancy” in the title of this Little Book, and it appealed to me instantly. Bibliomancy, after all, is divination by book —letting a text fall open and dropping your finger at random upon a passage, which will then tell you what you need to know.
Sighing, I closed the book, took off my glasses, closed my eyes, and pinched my nose.
Then I opened my eyes again and nodded.
“Okay, brother. I believe.”
The next morning, I kissed my son and my girlfriend goodbye, climbed into the Jeep, and headed back out on the road—wishing that the tour was over, because my heart was no longer in it.
I had work to do.
Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism for money. He is the author of over forty books, including the recently releasedPressure and The Complex. The father of two sons, Keene lives in rural Pennsylvania.