Having recently performed as Jacob Marley in a local community theater production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” I began wondering what happened to his tortured soul. For those that don’t remember, Marley is Scrooge’s old business partner who passed away seven years before. He is the first spirit to visit Scrooge. Burdened by the chains of his own sins Marley warns Scrooge of the other three spiritual visitations coming his way that Christmas Eve. Could Marley ever find his own redemption?
I set out to answer the question in the short story below.
Whatever Happened To Jacob Marley?
Marley was not like the other spirits that visited Scrooge on Christmas Eve. Those ‘Forever Spirits” had existed for as long as mankind had Christmas spirit. They were not the tortured souls of evil men, but manifestations of Christmas love and joy within humanity. Marley’s tortured spirit had existed only since his death seven years ago, and unlike those happy spirits, Marley was bound by countless pains that made every second a living Hell.
Jacob Marley knew every link in the chain that bound his soul to eternal misery. After all, he had created them in life. What’s more, he intimately knew the story of each link. Marley constantly lived with every cruel act, every taunt, every insult, every instance of his living callous disregard for humanity that forged that seemingly endless chain. The pain and suffering felt by others for each cruel act associated with each link was the totality of Jacob Marley’s experience.
So when one link fell off the chain Marley knew instantly. In seven years of constant torment, every moment identical to the one before, this was different. In confusion Marley looked about. He was, as always, chained to his old bed.
That’s when Marley saw Scrooge. At least it looked like Scrooge, it sure didn’t sound like the Scrooge he visited the night before. Scrooge was shouting, dare Marley say “giddily,” to a boy in the street, “I am alive! I lived through the night! Do you see me boy? Am I alive?”
As the boy answered he was clutching a half-crown piece that Scrooge, of all people, had tossed to him. It was then Marley realized that half-crown was it. It was that act of unfiltered generosity that had caused one link of Marley’s long chain to fall off.
The conversation continued. Scrooge threw another half-crown to the boy. Marley felt the boy’s joy and another link in his chain fell away. Scrooge threw another coin, this time a full crown! Another link fell away, and Marley’s soul felt just the tiniest bit lighter.
So it was throughout that Christmas Day. Each time Scrooge brought joy to others Marley himself felt that joy himself and a link of his chain fell away. When Scrooge visited the Cratchetts, and their ten children, links broke and fell away like rain.
Still, Marley’s chain was very long, a lifetime in the making. For a year it remained, growing shorter by the day as Scrooge again and again lifted the lives of those around him.
On Christmas Eve a year later, only one link remained. Still it tethered him to his old bed, the one thing Scrooge had brought with him when he moved out of the old house. Of course Marley was thoroughly acquainted with that link. It was the last link he had “earned” in life.
It had been Christmas Eve eight years earlier. Saying goodnight to his partner, Scrooge, Marley had left the office a bit early, as he was feeling a bit off. While crossing the street to his house a little boy, holding his mother’s hand, came skipping down the cold street, bursting with Christmas cheer, giddily shouting “Merry Christmas!” to all he encountered. Unfortunately, this included Marley. As they crossed paths the little boy, with a beaming smile, looked right at Marley and shouted as rousing a “Merry Christmas” as has ever been uttered.
In as foul a mood as he always was, Marley turned and snarled at the boy, “CHRISTMAS? HUMBUG!”
The boy was terrified at the attack. He shriveled and pressed close to his mother, who wrapped her arm around him, and quickened their pace away from Marley, as she cast him a withering glance that Marley relished. Marley smiled inwardly, feeling his own corrupt version of pleasure at ruining the boy’s presumptuous joy. Marley chuckled but as he opened his front door that chuckle became a violent hacking cough. Feeling suddenly weak Marley went straight to bed . . .
As Marley’s spirit recalled the painful story of his last remaining link, Scrooge was not in the apartment where Marley’s bed remained. It was Christmas Eve and Scrooge had gone to spend it with his good friends, the Cratchetts.
As Scrooge stepped through the door a healthy Tiny Tim came running to give him a big hug and with his own beaming smile shouted “Merry Christmas Uncle Scrooge!” The words “Uncle Scrooge” filled the old man’s heart with joy, a joy felt just down the street by Jacob Marley. The last link in his chain, forged by another little boy’s pain, broke. Marley floated upward to a new adventure, one free of the pains he brought on himself.
Marley realized that Scrooge had saved him as he had saved Scrooge. He wished only that he could let Scrooge know what he had done.
Scrooge returned to the small apartment later that night, skipping joyously into his bedroom fulfilled from an evening of feasting and joy at the Cratchetts. He paused. There, on the floor, next to a post of the old bed, was a broken chain link. Scrooge was absolutely certain it had not been there before.
He bent over, and picked it up. He recognized this iron from a year ago! Scrooge smiled, “Why old Jacob Marley, good luck to you, and Merry Christmas!”
A short distance away, in Jacob Marley’s old house, Tiny Tim settled down in his bed. Like all small boys he was excited for the coming of Christmas Day, but not so excited that he forgot his nightly prayer. “God bless us, every one!”