A Christmas Car

By Lee A. Hart

Marley was dead; as dead as a doornail. Of that there can be no doubt. The death certificate said so, and Scrooge said so, and what Scrooge said was invariably true (or would become so with a few well-chosen phone calls).

Yet the firm still bore both their names: Mobul-Exon, for Mobul Marley and Exonezer Scrooge. It remained the largest corporation on earth; wealthier than nations, mightier than kings. Marley and Scrooge had poured their lives and souls into it, leaving precious little for anything else.

But Marley was gone, and Scrooge had retired, ostensibly to enjoy a well-earned rest from the inexorable pressures of commerce. At least, that was his story for the gullible masses. In reality, he worked as hard as ever, applying his talents to activities best conducted discretely, unobserved by the prying eyes of the Commerce Department or the circus arenas of Senate subcommittees.

Oh, never was there a more grasping, squeezing, manipulative, covetous old sinner than Scrooge! He was undoubtedly famous, or rather infamous, though he cared not about his reputation. He was most certainly wealthy, but his wealth did him no good; it was but a tool for achieving his ends. For Scrooge had discovered long ago that oil was the life blood of the world economy. He had spent his entire life to put his finger on that vein, and he wasn't about to release it now.

Thus he could be found on that cold Christmas eve, still hard at work in his cheerless office, accompanied only by his personal secretary, Bob Cratchit.

Scrooge kept his office door open, that he might prevent his assistant from meddling with the thermostat. And so he heard the door open, and saw the visitor enter. A moment later Cratchit announced, "A gentleman from the Transportation Coalition to see you, sir. A mister..."

"I know who he is," growled Scrooge. "Since you seem to be incapable of getting rid of him, send him in and I'll do it myself."

Despite this inauspicious welcome, the caller began, "Mr. Scrooge, in light of your vast experience in the oil business, I would like to solicit your support for our Clean Air Initiative. We..."

"What, have the shoe stores all closed?" Scrooge interrupted.

"Uh, not as far as I know," said the caller.

"And are not bicycles still available?", Scrooge asked.

"Yes, but I do not see the relevance," the visitor replied.

"The point, sir," said Scrooge, "is that if you Greens want cleaner air, you can all bloody well walk or ride a bicycle!"

"But Mr. Scrooge, that is hardly practical," came the reply. "Many stores have no provisions to reach them on foot. Few communities are still providing sidewalks. Those who must walk or bicycle in the streets are taking their lives in their hands!"

"All the better," replied Scrooge. "Let them be run down in the streets and thus rid the world of its excess population. Now *that* would do something positive for the environment. Good day!"

"I see your mind has been made up," the caller answered sadly. "Nevertheless I wish you a Merry Christmas."

"Bah, humbug!" Scrooge shouted.

Scrooge waited impatiently for his caller to leave, then snapped, "Cratchit, get Mangles and Craven on the phone. Those cursed Clean Air mongers are at it again. Tell them to step up our campaign! There's no time to lose! More letters, more phone calls. I've bought another Carnegie Mellon study that says..."

"But it's Christmas Eve, sir. They'll be home with their families and friends."

"I don't pay them good money to sit around drinking eggnog and singing insipid songs. Call them at home, then."

Cratchit did as he was directed. "It's no use, sir. All I'm getting are Christmas greetings on their answering machines."

"Humbug! Doesn't anyone do a decent day's work any more?"

"Ahh, that me reminds me, sir. Tomorrow is Christmas, and I was hoping, if you wouldn't be needing me..."

"Yes, yes, I know. I expect you'll be wanting the whole day off, too," muttered Scrooge.

"Yes, sir, if it's convenient."

"Well, it's not convenient, as if that mattered. The law says I have to pay you, too. Very well. But you had better arrive all the earlier next morning, or you'll find yourself looking for another position! Now, get out of here before I change my mind."

"Oh, yes sir, thank you sir," exclaimed Cratchit. "Good night to you, sir, and Merry Chr-- I mean, uh..."

"Bah, humbug!" shouted Scrooge. "Now get out!"

Cratchit was gone like a shot. Scrooge grumbled, and continued to work on his latest scheme to get lead banned as a dangerous toxin. At last, he locked up the office, and drove himself home.

Scrooge parked his huge SUV in the garage of his elegant home. Such luxuries weren't to his miserly tastes, but were inherited from Marley, who had no living relatives.

As was his daily custom, he turned on the TV to watch the business reports while a frozen dinner thawed in the microwave. But the usual announcer's face appeared subtly wrong. Scrooge looked more closely. The features seemed to melt and flow like wax. The more Scrooge watched, the more disturbing it became. It reminded him of someone; but whom? With a sudden shock, Scrooge recognized the face; it had become that of Mobul Marley, Scrooge's dead partner.

The announcer's voice droned on, "Corrected for inflation, gasoline prices are still at a 30-year low, due to deliberate over-production by the oil companies and the needs of oil-producing nations to purchase military weaponry..."

Bah. Scrooge angrily punched the remote. It was another newscast, but amazingly, the announcer still looked like Marley. He was saying, "The World Health Organization reports that cancer deaths among children in Iraq are now 4 times above normal, due to the depleted uranium warheads used in US bombing of water treatment plants during the Desert Storm campaign to secure oil..."

He punched the remote again, and again. Every channel was a newscast, and every announcer had Marley's face! And every word an attack on big oil!

"... USA remains the sole holdout in refusing to sign the treaty to reduce carbon dioxide emissions..."

"... Exxon Valdez that spilled millions of gallons of oil..."

"... lobbying to defeat California's zero emissions mandate..."

"... burning fossil fuels remains the main cause of global warming and acid rain..."

"... a known carcinogen, is widely used as a gasoline additive..."

"Humbug! Who is responsible for this outrage!" he shouted. He punched the off button on the remote, but the TV kept on playing, madly switching from channel to channel on its own, each with the face of Marley condemning oil with every word. Scrooge threw down the remote, and marched to the TV set. Even the on/off switch had no effect. Grabbing the cord, he yanked it from the wall socket. A foot-long blinding arc flashed, and singed the hair of his hand. But the hateful TV programming did stop.

Surprised and more than a bit shaken, Scrooge finished his uninviting repast, then went up to bed. But as a hint of his state of mind, he checked every room and locked every lock, even that of his bedroom door before retiring.

Sleep was difficult. Every sound in the house seemed amplified and ominous. The clock had just struck midnight when a new sound began; a wet, sticky sound, of muffled clanks and moans, seeming to come from deep below. The furnace? Then came the crash of the locked basement door being torn open, and the noises became louder. Burglars! Scrooge punched at the alarm system on his bedside table, but it was dead! He tried the phone; only silence greeted his ears.

The noises were now on the stairs, louder still. Now they were in the hall. Now outside his door. But one should not suppose that Scrooge was not resourceful. He grabbed his pistol from the bedside table drawer, and hastily loaded it. Shaking, he raised the pistol and shouted, "Don't open that door! I've got a gun!"

He was thus completely dumbfounded when the source of the noise passed into his room, right through the heavy door without opening it.

A fantastic sight greeted Scrooge's incredulous eyes. It appeared to be a man. Draped about him was a most incredible collection of chains, drill bits, guns, stock certificates, dead animals, and cash boxes wrought in steel. The exact nature of these items was difficult to ascertain as the whole of it was covered in sticky, oily tar, which oozed and flowed onto the floor. An intense smell of oil and gas filled the air. And the face was that of... Mobul Marley! Scrooge tried to say "Humbug" but the words died in his throat.

"What, or... Who are you?" Scrooge gasped.

"In life, I was your partner, Mobul Marley," sighed the apparition. "Now this miserable spirit is all that remains. I am condemned to wander the earth to witness all the suffering and misery brought on by my deeds." With that, the ghost moaned piteously and shook its greasy chains.

"Why are you arrayed so?" asked Scrooge.

"I made these chains in life, link by link, yard by yard. Every greedy, uncaring act forged another link. Now they bind me to these tokens of my evil deeds; the destruction, pollution, violence, and death I caused."

"But you weren't an evil man," said Scrooge. "Just a good businessman."

"Our business is mankind, not money," accused the ghost. "All the activities of our trade are but one drop in the ocean of our true purpose in life. Yet I neglected all but profit. Too late did I learn that profits gained at the expense of others are ill-gotten gains."

"Humbug," said Scrooge. "We didn't force anyone to use our products. They were free to choose, so let them worry about the consequences."

"Do you deny the corrupting influence of money? Or intimidation by the vast armies arrayed against anyone who opposed us? Fool! We were the ones entrusted with the world's future energy resources -- and we have embezzled and squandered that wealth in a single lifetime!"

"Yes, yes; I've heard it all before, and from more eloquent speakers than you," said Scrooge irritably. "So why are you here spouting such nonsense?"

"In life I was your only friend. I have come to give you one last chance to escape my fate. For I have seen the chains you have forged; and they are longer and heavier even than mine!"

Now, that shook Scrooge considerably. "Me? What have I done to deserve this horrible fate?"

The ghost ignored him. "You will be haunted by three spirits. Heed their warnings. Think deeply upon what they reveal. And change your ways, Exonezer, before it is too late." As he spoke, the spirit gradually faded away, until at last, there was nothing left of it.

Scrooge looked around. The gun still lay in his hand, unused. The door was still locked tight. Was it real? Or just a dream? Much preferring to believe the latter, Scrooge willed himself to sleep.

He was disturbed by the downstairs clock striking twelve. Again? No; it struck thirteen times! "Time to get a new clock," he muttered.

But there was another sound. A muted click, and a whir. The creak of tires. Scrooge was not about to be surprised again. He arose, and opened the door.

But he was indeed surprised. A tall black antique car was driving down the hallway. It stopped at his bedroom door. The driver opened the car's door, and said, "Please enter, Mr. Scrooge."

"Who are you?" he inquired.

"I am the ghost of EV's passed," she replied, for the ghost was a woman. Thin and gray haired, but with a resolute demeanor and a commanding voice as clare as a bell.

"What do you want?"

"You were told of my coming. Now stop dawdling and get in!" she ordered, thumping the seat beside her.

Scrooge did as he was told. It was a very strange car. The interior had the feel of grandma's parlor. There were tie-back window curtains, cut glass vases with red roses, and a comb and brush case where the dashboard should be. The driver sat in the rear seat, holding a tiller which apparently did the steering. The two front seats, more like overstuffed chairs, actually faced rearward.

Scrooge could see no gas gauge, but did spot a voltmeter and ammeter. "What manner of car is this?" he asked.

"It's a 1916 Detroit Electric," she replied. The spirit pushed a lever, and with a soft click, the car moved silently forward. Straight for a wall. Scrooge gasped and braced for the impact, but somehow it did not occur. The car continued to move majestically forward, but they were now cruising serenely down a city street. The cold and darkness of winter had also vanished, for it was a warm sunny day.

And the traffic! Pedestrians everywhere, dressed in antique styles. Bicycles by the score. Men on horses, and horse drawn carriages of every description. A streetcar, loaded with passengers, went by in the other direction.

"It looks like the days of my childhood," exclaimed Scrooge with a smile. "I could walk or bicycle all over town. And I remember those streetcars. They were electric too, as I recall. Very clean and silent, and you could go anywhere for a nickel. My, it was such fun! I roamed the whole city."

"And was it 'fun' when you saw to it that the streetcar lines were all dismantled, so they could be replaced by buses?" the spirit asked?

The smile vanished from Scrooge's face. "That was business," he declared. "How can you expect me to sell more gas and oil with alternatives like electric trolleys? I was just making sure that no matter how people got to work, they would be using my gas and oil. The streetcars were doomed anyway; I just helped the process along. And GM took the heat, not me. 'What's good for General Motors is good for the USA', you know."

A loud clattering noise came up from behind. The motorcar paused for an opening in traffic, then roared past them, leaving an oily cloud in its wake. "Now there's a real car," Scrooge coughed. "A Duesenberg, if I'm not mistaken. Three tons if it's a pound, and six miles to the gallon. A real man's machine. Ah, if we only had its likes today!"

"And its pollution, too?" the spirit asked.

"Back then we were replacing horses. Their 'emissions' had to be worse. All natural, too! Which would you prefer? Although," he mused, "I recall Henry Ford testing an engine in his wife's kitchen. Smoked 'em right out of the house in nothing flat! Maybe a horse would have been cleaner."

They pulled up to an elegant estate. "Well bless my soul, it's my old club", exclaimed Scrooge. "Everyone who was anyone was a member. Look, that's Henry Ford just getting out of his wife's car. Hmm; now that I think about it, she refused to drive anything but electrics."

The spirit smiled knowingly and said, "Perhaps she remembered the consequences of a gasoline engine in her kitchen."

Ford walked over to where a group of men were gathered around a car. Hatches were open front and rear, and an older man was excitedly explaining something to the crowd of onlookers. "I remember that day! That's Tom Edison. He drove his Baker electric to the club to show off his new battery," said Scrooge. "He'd been working to perfect it for years. It looked like he'd finally succeeded, too. He was giving people rides when it died unexpectedly. Ford had to tow him home. Edison was so humiliated that he gave the whole thing up. He never did figure out what went wrong."

The group moved away from the car to examine some sample batteries around the corner. A young man loitered behind, near the car. He looked about furtively, then unscrewed the vent caps and unzipped his pants. A trickling sound was heard.

"Why, that's me!" said Scrooge, blushing slightly. "Sorry, spirit. I guess I was a bit of a scalawag in those days. A youthful prank, you know."

"Indeed," said the spirit icily. "And were they 'youthful pranks' to sabotage or buy up every alternative technology, to keep them in the laboratory and off the market? Why do the oil companies own all the solar cell companies, Scrooge?"

"Oh, that. Uh, well, there were stockholder interests to protect, you see, and..." His voice trailed off unconvincingly.

They traveled on, witnessing the growth of the gasoline automobile and the decline of electrics. Somehow, it was not quite as honorable as he remembered. He saw himself conspiring with wealthy auto tycoons, lobbying government officials for special tax breaks, bribing ruthless dictators to insure cheap oil supplies; his ever-growing wealth always used to further his own power and crush any opposition.

At last, they returned to the hallway outside his bedroom door. "Farewell Exonezer," the ghost said. "I hope you have learned from our journey."

"Well," began Scrooge, "I'll admit that I was perhaps a bit underhanded at times, and something of a bully in getting my way. But electrics never had a chance anyway. They'll never be a car for anyone but timid old women."

"We shall see," said the spirit. With that, she silently drove off, the car fading into insubstantial mist until it disappeared completely.

Scrooge felt drained; tired to the bone. He threw himself into bed, and fell immediately into a deep sleep.

Again, he was awakened as the clock chimed thirteen times. Scrooge looked about for any hint of a spectral presence, but saw nothing. He checked carefully in each room, without success. His search might have been more thorough if not for the noisome distractions of screeching tires and a loud thumping stereo coming from the street outside. At last he could stand it no longer. He opened his front door and stepped out, only to be nearly run down by an electric blue Datsun as it skidded to a stop.

"Lunatic! I'll have the law on you," Scrooge shouted. "What do you think you're doing here at this hour?"

The driver opened the passenger's door and shouted, "I'm here for you, Oily! Did you forget our appointment?" And with that, he grabbed Scrooge and jerked him into the car so quickly that any chance for further protest was prevented. The door slammed, and without an instant's warning the car shot away with another tire torturing squeal.

Scrooge desperately scrambled for the seat belt as the car careened up the winding road at breakneck speed. Then he covered his ears in a vain attempt to block the pulsating Christmas music wayland from the car's stereo. Only with great difficulty was he then able to tear his eyes off the road to get a look at the driver.

He was thin, and appeared to be middle aged. He had a full beard and mustache, cut rather short and with but a touch of gray. Dark hair protruded out from under a red baseball cap, which was emblazoned with the cryptic word "Optima". He wore jeans and a T-shirt that said "Electrifying Times" across the front. He was a veritable bundle of energy, bouncing about and laughing like a kid on a roller coaster. Noticing Scrooges' gaze, he shot out his hand and said, "Welcome to the spirit of EV's present, old man."

"No, no; just drive if you please," Scrooge shouted back, still shuddering as they weaved past every car on the road at apparently double their speed.

"Oh, this is nothing," was the reply. "I coulda brought the Zombie, but this one's batteries were full and it's got a heater. Twin ceramics, high output blower 'cause I'm running 15v on the DC/DC so it really kicks..."

"You mean this is an electric car?" asked Scrooge.

"Of course! You didn't hear any engine, did you? It's got a 9" ADC motor, Auburn controller, and 156v worth of Optimas. Just look at that E-meter; 600 amps and only a 12v sag. Why, flooded batteries could never..."

"Where are we going?" queried Scrooge.

"Why, to the races, of course!" the drive replied. "You think EVs are only good for grannies and golf carts. I think it's time for a little attitude adjustment. And here we are!"

He turned into a parking lot, and slid into a spot with a screech. Scrooge got out, and looked around. It was a mad scene. Half the cars seemed to be electrics. Many were conversions, sporting license plates like LECTRIC and ZAP IT and NO GAS. Others were clearly custom built, everything from sleek sports cars to boxy plastic bodies like a cheese wedge. People were milling about, chatting enthusiastically. A couple guys were chasing each other around the lot on what appeared to be motorized bar stools. A garden tractor went by with its annoying roar replaced by stereo music.

They walked toward the sounds of cheering, to find a race in progress. Sleek bullet-shaped cars were racing around a tight course. "These are Electrathons," the ghost advised. "The trick is to see how far you can go on a single 12v battery. Good ones will go 40-50 mph, and 30 miles on a charge."

"Amazing," Scrooge replied. "My car couldn't make it to the end of the driveway on so little power."

They watched the race progress. Scrooge was delighted by the absence of noise; he never could stand the racket of conventional auto racing. He could even hear the friendly banter of the drivers as they out-maneuvered each other on the twisty course.

The sound of madly squealing tires caught their attention. "Come on," the spirit said. "Let's see if EVs are really a 'drag'."

They walked over to the grandstands just in time to see a race-prepped Dodge Viper warming up its tires in the right lane, and a wilde red Mazda RX7 lining up in the left lane.

"That's no EV," Scrooge shouted above the noise. That Viper is one of the fastest street legal cars on the road."

"And that's one of the fastest street legal EVs in the left lane. Now you'll see just how fast today's EVs can be!"

The christmas tree flashed green, and the Viper shot away. But the RX7 was even quicker. When the times came up, the RX7 was the winner at 12 seconds and over 114 mph.

"Time's a-wastin," said the spirit. "Gotta get you back before *my* race."

Scrooge was pulled along toward the parking lot. They dodged past various small EVs; electric bikes, Zappy scooters, even some madman on a motorized sofa. As they went through the vendor display area, Scrooge noticed someone familiar admiring a Geo Metro EV conversion.

"Why, that's Bob Cratchit!" he exclaimed. "And that's his wife and Tiny Tim with him. How dare he look at EVs -- why, that's treason!"

"I suppose you were unaware that Tiny Tim suffers from severe asthma. It's particularly bad in the city; air pollution is killing him. Yet they are forced to live there due to your miserly salary and long working hours."

Scrooge said, "I had no idea. But... EVs aren't the answer. They just transfer pollution to power plant smokestacks."

"Save that fertilizer for your astroturf campaigns. You know full well that half our pollution comes from cars. And auto emissions get dumped right where it hurts the most -- in urban areas. Every objective study shows EVs are far more efficient, and reduce pollution substantially."

"But EVs don't have the range," Scrooge countered. "We need to wait for a superbattery."

"Hah! The average guy drives 15,000 miles a year. That's only 41 miles a day. EVs can easily do that with today's batteries."

"The auto companies say EVs aren't practical or affordable."

"What do you expect? They have a vested interest in the status quo. *Your* status quo," said the ghost. "But look around you. EVs are here today, right now. Even a guy in his garage can make 'em work. Major auto company executives are even beginning to admit that the ICE is a dinosaur. Look at Robert Stempel; he left GM to head an EV battery company. Look at William Clay Ford, or Lee Iacocca; they got the message."

By this time they had returned to the car. They climbed in, and Scrooge had another white-knuckled ride back to his home.

"What have you learned?" the ghost prompted as he dropped Scrooge off.

"EVs are better developed than I thought," admitted Scrooge. "I guess I was misled by the auto companies' propaganda. It seems they left out some important details."

"Perhaps they take the lead from your oil industry propaganda. Would you say it is designed to educate, or misdirect? Think about it, Exonezer."

Scrooge opened his mouth, but made no reply. The car raced up the driveway, and disappeared. Thoughtfully, he returned to his bed. Sleep did not soon come, for there was much upon his mind.

He was awakened again by the chimes of the clock. Eleven... twelve... thirteen. The air seemed thick and oppressive. He rose, and opened the window to get some fresh air. But that only made matters worse; a choking brown fog drifted in, making him cough. He backed away from the window, into something that wasn't there a moment before. Something, or rather, someone.

It was a tall, gaunt figure, robed in black. Its face was invisible, for it wore a mask. It held out a similar mask for Scrooge in its gloved hand, and motioned for him to put it on.

Scrooge did as he was told. "Are you the third spirit that was to visit me? I take it you are the spirit of EV's future?"

The ghost said not a word, but slowly nodded in the affirmative. It reached out to take hold of his hand, but Scrooge held back.

"Spirit, I've been thinking," he said. "Once, I would have gladly looked upon my future. But after tonight I'm not so sure. Now upon seeing you, I fear the future more than anything I have yet witnessed. So please, leave me in my ignorance."

But the ghost grasped his hand, and stepped resolutely out the open window. As for us all, Scrooge had no choice but to be pulled gently but inexorably into the future.

They found themselves on a busy city thoroughfare. But it was not a cheerful scene. The roads were jammed with huge vehicles, crawling in the stop-and-go traffic. There was no sidewalk; Scrooge could see they had been paved over to add lanes. They were forced to walk on the shoulder, dangerously close to the ponderous vehicles. Through tinted windows rolled up tight, one could barely glimpse the lone driver or rarely, a passenger or two.

"The SUV craze has continued with a vengeance," observed Scrooge. "But why are they so big?"

The ghost pointed to a huge billboard along the highway. It displayed an elegant HummVee-sized van with a smiling family inside. It was crushing a rusty economy car, whose maniacal driver was firing at the van with a gun. The text read "Protect your family with 3 tons of armored safety. People get what they deserve."

"I'll bet that thing costs a pretty penny for fuel," Scrooge said appreciatively.

The spirit pointed to a gas station, advertising Regular (85 octane) at $0.99, Premium (87 octane) at $1.29, and EcoGas (whatever that was) at $1.49. It sounded good until he noticed they were priced per liter. "Egad; that's around $5 a gallon! How can it be so high?"

The spirit pointed to a moving-sign billboard displaying news headlines for drivers. It said, "Oil imports top 70%... Recession deepens as mideast war continues... Terrorists now targeting oil refineries... President sends in troops..."

"So it's war again," Scrooge replied sadly. He tried to read more, but his eyes were burning from the acrid air. The hazy yellow sun hung low as if it were winter in a northern latitude, though the air was hot and humid. The smell of car exhaust and smog still crept through his mask, and he could imagine how horrible it would be without it. "Where are the EVs?" he asked the spirit. "I thought they were supposed to reduce this pollution?"

The spirit guided him to a bar, and they went inside. A newspaper was laying on the table. The headline read, "Court upholds lead ban on consumer products as dangerous toxin... Execs say will add $1000 to cost of new cars."

"But that can't be enough to stop it. Surely there are enough alternatives to lead-acid batteries by now."

The spirit pointed to the TV set in the corner. The business announcer was saying, "...filed for bankruptcy after nickel prices hit $10 a pound. In a related story, Mobul-Exon Corporation announced that it has purchased the remaining rights to lithium battery technology. A company spokesman said, "Lithium is promising, but it will take years more research to bring it successfully to market."

"Well, that might raise the cost of batteries, but with gasoline so expensive, EVs should still be more economical."

The ghost returned to the paper, and pointed to another story. The headline read, "EV owner fined $100,000 for illegal charging." The man had secretly charged his EV for years with an unlicensed charger, disguised as an electric dryer. The fine was the estimated costs for evading NEC, UL, DOE, SAE, FCC, HASMAT, and NHTSA regulations, and for unpaid city, county, state, and federal motor vehicle fuel taxes. The article went on to say, "Hart was also indicted as a co-conspirator in an underground internet list of EV activists; further arrests are expected."

"It appears that my machinations had a few unexpected side effects," Scrooge admitted.

The ghost led him from the bar, and to a graveyard. Two grave diggers were just finishing their work.

"He died pretty young, he did," one said.

"There's a lot of it these days," said the other. "Kids don't got the sense to stay indoors."

"Why do they do it?" asked the first. "Can't ride a bike no more. Ain't no sidewalks to walk. The playgrounds is even took down so they don't exert themselves in the bad air."

"Who cares," was the reply. "Let 'em be run down in the street and rid the world of its excess population." Scrooge cringed visibly upon hearing these words.

"Still, his dad sure went off his head over it."

"Oh yeah, how's that?"

"Don't ya know? It's him that dumped a bucket of gas on his boss's head, and torched him off. Said it was all his fault."

"Now there's a bunch that really helps our business," the other quipped. They both chuckled at their grisly humor.

Scrooge asked the spirit, "Why did you bring me here? Who are they talking about?" He edged closer to the grave to read the headstone. "Timothy Cratchit. My God, it's Tiny Tim! So they're talking about Bob Cratchit... and me!"

The spirit made no reply, but stood stiffly with arms crossed. Scrooge could almost imagine a malevolent glare behind that mask.

"Spirit, say it's not true! It's not my fault; or, maybe some of it was, but I've changed! Oh please, I beg of you -- tell me, are these the visions of what *must* be, or only visions of what *might* be?

The spirit made no reply, but its stance did appear to soften.

"Spirit," he cried, falling to his knees. "Hear me! I am not the man that I was. Why show me this if I am past all hope?"

The spirit seemed to consider. Then, it reached down and put a hand on Scrooge's shoulder.

"Oh, thank you spirit," Scrooge said tearfully. "I *will* change. Truly, I *have* learned that mankind is my business. I will use my resources for the good of others. And above all, I will keep the spirit of Christmas alive in my heart always." He grasped the spirit's hand tightly, yet it was as unresponsive as a block of wood. He tried in vain to look into its face, but could see nothing for his tears.

He wiped away the tears on his sleeve... and found himself back in his own bed, hands clasped around his own bedpost. It was daylight; Christmas day.

"What?" he exclaimed. "The spirits did it -- I have another chance! Hah-hah, I'm as giddy as a drunk; as happy as an angel; as merry as a child on Christmas! Oh, spirits, you'll not regret it!"

Scrooge was better than his word; he did all he promised, and more. He sold his SUV, and leased an EV1. He bought a Solectria EV for the Cratchits as a bonus (along with a healthy increase in pay). He even moved his office from the city to a delightful planned community with clean air and blissfully short commuting distances.

Publicly, he joined with other industrial visionaries in promoting alternative energy sources and conservation. He set up independent foundations to counteract the lies and half-truths of the entrenched special interests. He used his fortune to foster R&D to find new solutions to age-old problems.

In short, he worked tirelessly to build a future that worked for everyone, and not just the privileged few. He sought to learn from the past, in order to build a better tomorrow. Some scoffed, or laughed at him, but he cared not. For he was wise enough to know that change never comes without effort, and that pioneers are often derided. He knew in his heart that he was right, and so was happy.

It came to be said that if any man alive knew the true spirit of Christmas, it was Exonezer Scrooge. Peace on Earth, good will toward man. May we all learn from his example. For when that is done, then shall Tiny Tim's blessing be truly earned; "God bless us, every one!"