December 2019

Bah, Humbug!?

CIDMIconNewsletter Dawn Stevens, Comtech Services

It’s the Christmas season and whether or not you celebrate the holiday, you’re almost certainly familiar with Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, the redemptive story of a crotchety old man, Scrooge, who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future and in the process learns to keep Christmas in his heart all year round. As a reminder, it goes something like this:

A Christmas Carol1

(Adapted by Dawn Stevens, with apologies to Dickens)

WordPerfect was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Did Scrooge know it was dead? Of course, he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge used the program for I don’t know how many years and was its sole fan and sole mourner when his company replaced it with the Microsoft suite of tools in the mid-1990s. Scrooge never removed the program from his computer. There it sat on his desktop, years afterward, taunting him with its presence and calling him back to the good ol’ days of technical writing.

Oh! But he was a stubborn man, set in his ways, Scrooge! Despite the advances in technical publications, he dug in his heels at every turn, refusing to adapt his approach for new media and more savvy users. As solitary as an oyster, he kept to himself day after day, alone at his desk, mumbling to himself about Oxford commas, title case in headings, and the demise of the index. He selfishly hoarded his hard-won information gathered from subject matter experts, the thought of sharing with his peers never even crossing his mind. And certainly no one ever approached him to implore him to bestow a trifle, be it information or advice. In fact, when his co-workers saw him coming, they would scurry back to their cubicles, as one might duck into an entryway to avoid a bitter wind or pelting rain.

But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked — to edge his way along the crowded paths of life, keeping everything at a distance.

One day, near the Christmas shutdown, old Scrooge sat busy in his cubicle when he was interrupted by a cheerful voice. “Good news! We’re moving to DITA.” It was the voice of his young colleague Bob Cratchit. “Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!”

“Surely, you don’t mean that, Scrooge!” said Bob.

“I do,” said Scrooge. “What else can I think when I live in such a world of fools as this? DITA, indeed. What’s DITA but another passing fad? An empty promise of better documentation with less effort? An extremely lengthy list of complex rules and elements that severely tie the hands of the technical writer in doing the job that he has always done?”

“Scrooge! Please!” pleaded Bob.

“Write documentation in your own way and let me do the same in mine!” returned Scrooge, sternly.

“But your ways are so dated.” Bob opined.

“Do subject and verbs no longer need agree?” asked Scrooge.

“Well of course they do…”

“And should words be spelled correctly?” continued Scrooge.

“Obviously, but…”

“And periods still belong at the end of sentences?” Scrooge raised his eyebrows.

“Yes,” sighed Bob.

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to redefine basic writing practices,” said Scrooge. “I’m so very relieved to find things are as they have always been.”

“But our audiences and their expectations have changed over the years. Many would rather fail than read our thousand-page tomes,” observed Bob.

“If they would rather fail,” said Scrooge. “they had better do it and decrease our documentation and tech support costs.”

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue his point further, Bob wandered back down the hall and Scrooge returned to his labors with an improved opinion of himself and a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

Per normal Scrooge stayed late at the office, eating at his desk and working late into the night. The office was dark and silent when Scrooge finished for the day, shutting down his computer and stretching with a satisfied sigh of a job well done. Keys in hand, he turned to walk out of his cubicle when his path was suddenly illuminated by the soft light of his computer screen. Puzzled, he turned to find not only his computer on, but an application launched and ready for use – and not just any application, but WordPerfect.

WordPerfect! It is a fact that Scrooge had used WordPerfect morning and night for years in his early career and had refused to remove it from his computer. It is also a fact, however, that, as is expected in business, his computer was eventually replaced, and the application never reinstalled. Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on WordPerfect for at least a full decade, if not longer. So then let anyone explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having shut down his computer for the night, saw not a dark screen, but WordPerfect open, with a blank document ready for input.

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, the screen went dark again. To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. But he turned around again and took three steps toward the exit. There he did pause, with a moment’s irresolution, and he looked cautiously behind, as if he half-expected to be terrified with the sight of a new document, this one with words on the screen. But the computer remained dark, so he said “Pooh, pooh” and walked down the hall.

His footsteps resounded through the office like thunder, but Scrooge was not a man to be frightened by echoes, and he continued down the hall, checking the news on his cell phone as he went. Before he reached the front door, however, he was startled to hear the distinctive chime of a computer turning on; not only one, but a steady stream of chimes as if, one by one each computer in the office was powering up. This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The chimes ceased as they had begun, and as he looked back over the cubicle farm, each one began to glow from the light of a newly booted computer.

“It’s humbug still” said Scrooge to himself. “There must be some explanation.” His color changed, though, as he reached the receptionist desk and saw glowing in readiness, WordPerfect. Reaching towards the power button, his hand paused as his name appeared on the screen. “How now!” said Scrooge caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

“M-U-C-H” the letters appeared on the screen one at a time. Scrooge quickly pressed the power button but was dismayed to find that no matter how often he pressed or how long he held the button down, the screen would not go out. Not knowing how to answer, with word or keystrokes, Scrooge simply took a seat and stared.

“You don’t believe in me? Why do you doubt your senses?” The letters came quicker now.

“Because,” Scrooge spoke out loud, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”

At this a random string of letters scrolled rapidly across the screen, faster and faster, in different fonts, sizes, and colors, until Scrooge fell on upon his knees and clasped his hands before his face.

“Mercy!” he cried. “Dreadful word processor, why do you trouble me?”

“Dreadful? Alas you are right,” displayed the computer. “For this reason, I am doomed to haunt a generation to whom I failed to provide a vast means of usefulness. Now I must try to make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.”

“You were always good to me.” said Scrooge.

“But a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.” mourned the computer. “Why did I never enable you to produce structured, standalone, and reusable topics?”

Scrooge was very much dismayed to read the words and began to quake exceedingly.

“HEAR ME” capital letters yelling from the screen. “I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of becoming a better writer than you were with me.”

Scrooge shivered and wiped the perspiration from his brow.

“You will be haunted,” resumed the words, “by three spirits.”

Scrooge’s countenance fell. “is that the chance and hope you mentioned?” he demanded in a faltering voice.

“It is,” displayed the computer.

“I – I think I’d rather not,” said Scrooge.

“Without their visits, you cannot hope to keep your job. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one.”

“Couldn’t I take ‘em all at once and have it over?” hinted Scrooge.

“Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!” When Scrooge had read these words, the screen again went dark. Standing up, Scrooge observed all the screens in the office shutting off in quick succession until he was once again surrounded by the dark quiet of the empty office. And being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his dull conversation with WordPerfect, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose, he went straight home and without undressing fell into bed and was asleep upon the instant.

The First of the Three Spirits

When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of the chamber. He was endeavoring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of his grandfather clock struck twelve. Remembering, on a sudden, that the word processor had warned him of a visitation at one, he resolved to lie awake until the hour was past. He turned his eyes to his digital alarm clock and watched the minutes click by. As the digits turned from 12:59 to 1:00, light flashed up in the room in the instant and the door to his room opened.

Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who entered his room.

“Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?” asked Scrooge.

“I am.” The voice was soft and gentle.

“Who and what are you?” Scrooge demanded.

“I am the Ghost of Documentation Past.”

“Long past?” inquired Scrooge.

“No. Your past. Rise. And walk with me.” It put out its strong hand as it spoke and clasped him gently by the arm.

It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that the weather and the hours were not adapted to pedestrian purposes. The grasp, though gentle, was not to be resisted. He rose, but finding that the Spirit made towards the window, clasped its robe in supplication.

“I am mortal,” Scrooge remonstrated, “and liable to fall.”

“Bear but a touch of my hand,” said the Spirit, “and you shall be upheld.” As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood outside a modest, Tudor-style home.

“Good heaven!” said Scrooge, clasping his hands together, as he looked about him. “I was raised in this place. I was a boy here.”

“Your lip is trembling,” said the Ghost. “And what is that upon your cheek?”

Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead him where he would.

“You recollect the way?” inquired the Spirit.

“Remember it!” cried Scrooge with fervor – “I could walk it blindfold.”

“Strange to have forgotten it for so many years,” observed the Ghost. “Let us go in.”

They walked into the house, Scrooge recognizing every room, and chair, and knick-knack until they found themselves within a playroom. A young boy of no more than 8 knelt on the floor with a screwdriver in hand, pieces of an unidentifiable toy strewn around him, squinting at an open book, propped open with his knee. His lips moved as he read and reread the page in front of him. A younger girl sat nearby crying softly.

“Fannie!” cried Scrooge, moving toward the girl, but he was held back by the Ghost’s firm grip.

“These are but shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “They have no consciousness of us.”

“Can you fix it?” the young girl sniffled, leaning over the book to gaze up at the boy’s face.

“I’m trying, Fan!” the boy replied, picking up the book and holding it much closer to his face. “But the instructions don’t make any sense!” He threw the book across the room.

At this the girl commenced her weeping more loudly, and the young boy hurried to comfort her. “I’m sorry, Fannie. I’ll figure out something.”

Scrooge sat down upon the bed and wept to see his poor self as he used to be. “It was this event that led me to become a technical writer. I eventually put it back together, but it never worked properly again. She cried for weeks.”

The Ghost nodded thoughtfully and waved its hand: saying as it did so, “Let us see another event!”

At his words and gesture, the room in the house faded and they now stood in the midst of a bustling college campus. A poster tacked to the tree in front of them announced “Interviews today! Hampden Hall”. A young man rushed by, a portfolio tucked under his arm.

The Ghost turned to follow, but Scrooge held back, uneasy. “I remember this day. I was so sure of my chances to secure a position, but instead I faced more years of education. It took me years to pay off that schooling. Do not waste my time here; I remember it quite vividly!”

But instead of moving on, Scrooge instead found himself suddenly in a small office, where an interview was taking place.

“Technical writing positions?!” the interviewer sniggered. “But you’re graduating with an engineering degree!”

“Yes, sir,” the young man replied. “You see, my high school career counselor advised…”

The interviewer cut him off. “Engineers make more money, son. Don’t you have any ambition? Classes too hard for you?”
“Yes, sir, I mean no, sir. I mean, well, I enjoy writing and …” the young Scrooge – for indeed the young man seeking employment was Scrooge in his youth – tried to explain.

The interviewer closed his notebook with a sigh. “Then start a diary. Enjoying writing and doing it well are two very different things. In all my years, I’ve never seen an engineer who could write well.”

“But I’ve brought my portfolio. If you would just take a look…” Scrooge pleaded.

“Want to write? Go back to school.” The interviewer walked to the door. “Thank you for your time.”

The older Scrooge looked at the Ghost, and with a mournful shaking of his head, muttered, “He never gave me chance.”

The Ghost replied, “Then let’s look at the chances you were given.” And they left the school behind them, standing now in the busy thoroughfare of a city, where shadowy pedestrians bustled by and cars honked and battled for the right of way. The Ghost stopped at a certain office building and asked Scrooge if he knew it.

“Know it!” said Scrooge. “It was my first job! Old Fezziwig, bless his heart, finally gave me a chance, even while I was still studying. A paid internship!”

They went in. But at the sight of the scene in the office, Scrooge’s countenance went from happy anticipation to a grievous scowl. “So many happy memories to choose from, and you bring me here, to this time?!” Scrooge rounded on the Ghost. “Are you so set on making me miserable?”

The Ghost, putting finger to his lips, hushed Scrooge. “It seems an announcement is being made.”

“…as part of the sale, I am stepping down.” The man Scrooge had identified as Fezziwig was saying. “I trust you’ll show your new manager all the respect and devotion, you gave me.”

“It was the beginning of the end.” Scrooge sighed. “the place was never the same. They brought in their new tools and their new processes. I went from right-hand man to nobody, overnight.”

“But,” said the Ghost, “you were given warning and opportunity, were you not?” and time advanced ever so slightly. It was still the same meeting, but now Fezziwig was having a private conversation with a man in the prime of his life. It was Scrooge, and he clearly was not happy with the words Fezziwig was offering.

“…but the changes are unnecessary.” Scrooge was saying. “No one ever complains about the documentation. We know what we’re doing. Why change it? They don’t know our business! They need you!”

“Oh, dear Scrooge,” Fezziwig replied. “You must think ahead. Times are changing, and me, well, I’m too old to make the transition. But you? You have great opportunity here. Seize it! Keep an open mind. Show them you can adapt. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Sometimes big steps forward require a few steps back to get a running start.”

Scrooge became conscious of the gaze of the Ghost, looking full upon him. “Wise words from a wise man, but you did not heed them.” And the office before them transformed, individuals aging before their eyes, until an older Scrooge, beginning to show the harsh and rigid lines of maturity, sat before a young woman at a desk.

“I’m sorry to tell you that you were not selected for the new manager position.” she said to Scrooge’s former self.

“May I ask why?” he asked voice tinged with bitterness.

“Need you ask why?” she replied. “Scrooge, you are strongly rooted in the past. You cannot possibly believe you can lead a team into the future.”

“Consistency is a hallmark of documentation and is what this team greatly needs.” he retorted.

“Your approach is dated and ineffective. Our company and our clients have evolved. Our documentation must too.”

“Humbug!” the past Scrooge exclaimed. “Our documentation is award-winning.”

“Was award-winning.” The young woman corrected. “and we’d like it to be again.”

“But it’s still the same award-winning content. Nothing’s changed.”

“Exactly!” she said, standing and walking over to where Scrooge sat. “Look, honestly, you’re lucky. Your deep knowledge of our product lines keeps you employed. But you’re not moving up as long as you hold on to the past.”

“Spirit!” said Scrooge in a broken voice, “remove me from this place.”

“I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!”

Scrooge turned upon the Ghost, “Show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?”
“My time grows short.” The Spirit agreed. “Quick.” And the Spirit pinioned Scrooge in both arms. He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He barely had time to reel to bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.

The Second of the Three Spirits

Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Scrooge had no occasion to be told that the bell was again upon the stroke of one. He felt that he was restored to consciousness in the right nick of time, for the especial purpose of holding a conference with the second messenger dispatched to him through WordPerfect’s intervention.

Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was not by any means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck one, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came. At last, however, he began to think – as you or I would have thought at first; for it is always the person not in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done in it, and would unquestionably have done it too – at last, I say, he began to think that the ghost might be in an adjoining room. This idea taking full possession of his mind, he got up softly and shuffled in his slippers to the door.

The moment Scrooge’s hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.

“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in, and know me better, man.”

Scrooge entered timidly and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.

“I am the Ghost of Documentation Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.”

Scrooge reverently did so. “Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have ought to teach me, let me profit by it.”

“Touch my robe.”

Scrooge did as he was told and held it fast. The room vanished instantly and they stood in the middle of a warm kitchen, unfamiliar to Scrooge. Accustomed as he was to the visions of the previous night, Scrooge exclaimed, “Here now! You’ve made an error! I know not this place!”

“I?” cried the Spirit. “Look more closely.”

It was then that Scrooge noticed his colleague, Bob Cratchit, perched on a kitchen stool laughing with a young woman standing by the stove, vigorously stirring something in a saucepan.

“He really said, ‘humbug’?” she giggled.

“I swear it!” Bob laughed. “I’ve heard DITA called many things, but never a “humbug”!”

“What will happen, do you think” she asked suddenly serious. “Will they fire him?”

“It’s hard to say.” Bob replied thoughtfully. “He seems to be a sacred cow.”

“So what then?” she replied angrily. “You’ll be expected to do his work? Moving everything to DITA after he uses whatever antiquated program he still holds on to?”

“Now Martha. Don’t be like that. I feel sorry for him. I really do.” Bob said gently. “I won’t do his work, no. But I will offer to teach him, if he’s willing.”

“You’re a good man, Bob Cratchit.” Martha replied bending over to kiss his head. “Far better than he deserves.”

And then, without a word of warning from the Ghost, Scrooge found himself transported to a bleak and dark field. The weak light from a cell phone made known the presence of a man tinkering with a vehicle.

“What place is this?” asked Scrooge.

“’tis the livelihood of a farmer, who labors long hours to reap little reward.”

Scrooge closed the gap between himself and the farmer. “Why this is the equipment I support!” Scrooge cried. He peered over the shoulder of the farmer. “Uh-oh. Looks like he’s having some sort of problem.”

Another light appeared in the distance, and in a few minutes, a girl of about 12 approached the farmer. “Mom sent me to check on you.” she offered as an explanation and she handed him a travel cup of hot coffee. “She wonders when you’ll be in for dinner.”

“Not for a while, I fear.” he replied. “I have to get this thing running tonight. I can’t afford another day of down time.”

“Can I help?” she asked.

Scrooge expected the man to send the girl on her way, but instead, he nodded slowly. “You can be my book stand!”
“Your book stand?” she repeated confused.

“Yes,” he replied, handing her a large manual. “I don’t know why they can’t put content online – where I could access it on my phone or even the instrument panel up there. But it’s all the documentation I’ve got and it’s hard to keep it open to the right page and do my task at the same time.”

“It sure is heavy.” the girl observed. “It must be really complicated.”

“The book or the task?” the man joked. “It’s really not that hard, once you find the right page, and sift through all the extraneous information. Someone must get paid by the word to write that. Lord, knows there is no other logical explanation for all the useless stuff in there.”

It was a great surprise to Scrooge to hear these words.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to watch a video on YouTube?” the farmer’s daughter asked, shifting her grip on the heavy tome.

“I hadn’t thought about that!” he exclaimed. “Do you think you can find me one?”

“I’ll trade you,” she said quickly, holding out the book and gesturing to his phone. “There are much better uses for that than a flashlight!”

Scrooge sighed. “She won’t find anything. We don’t create videos. They can’t possibly provide all the information needed for this repair. The book is long because it needs to be.”

“Well, there’s nothing from the manufacturer.” the girl confirmed in a few minutes. “But I found several videos from other people.”

“Sounds great!” her dad replied. “Anything to get me home to dinner!”

At this, Scrooge became outraged. “But they can’t know it’s correct!” he cried. “How can they not appreciate all my work.”

“Perhaps time is more precious than consistency and thoroughness,” replied the Ghost. And gazing upon the Ghost, Scrooge realized that time was certainly most precious to the Ghost who grew older and older as the scenes he showed progressed.

“Are Spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.

“My life upon this globe is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends tonight.”

“Tonight!” cried Scrooge.

“Tonight, at midnight. Hark. The time is drawing near.”

At his words, the bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of WordPerfect, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.

The Last of the Spirits

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Documentation Yet to Come?” said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not but pointed downward with its hand.

“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Scrooge pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?”

The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit pauses a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”
It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

“Lead on,” said Scrooge. “Lead on. The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit.”
The Phantom moved away as it had come towards him. Scrooge followed in the shadow of its dress, which bore him up, he thought, and carried him along.

They scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the city rather seemed to spring up about them and encompass them of its own act. But there they were, in the heart of it. The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of businessmen. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk.

“Yesterday.” said one man as Scrooge walked up. “A terrible time for cutbacks, right before the holiday.”

“I thought he’d never get cut.” said a second.

“It was truly long past due.” added a third.

“Will they replace him?” inquired the last.

“Honestly, I don’t know that anyone will even notice he’s gone. His contribution was so little to the overall workload.” answered the first.

“But what about his prime place by the window? Who gets that?” asked the last man eagerly.

“I don’t know about that, but he does have that nice office chair. I shall have to show up all the earlier on Monday to grab it!” laughed the second.

“Dibs on his space heater!” cried the third as the group walked away. “It’s always so cold in the office!”

Scrooge thought he knew the menu and looked towards the Spirit for an explanation. The Spirit glided on, its finger pointed ahead to two other business people talking. Scrooge listened again, thinking that the explanation might lie here.

“We’ve received three resumes today.” The first woman said to another. “But I think only two are viable.”

“Oh? What’s wrong with the third?” the second asked.

“Well, he has over 30 years in the industry, to his credit. But look at the skills he chooses to highlight.” The first said while handing over a piece of paper.

The woman scanned the page and snorted. “WordPerfect?” she said incredulously. “Is it even sold anymore?”

“There’s nothing about structured authoring, XML, SEO, AR, VR, artificial intelligence. You think he just suddenly was transported here from 40 years ago.”

“The Rip Van Winkle of technical communication, huh?”

“How can anyone let their skills get so out of date?” the first woman mused as she took the paper from her colleagues’ hands, tore it in half, and dropped it in the nearest bin.

Quiet and dark beside him stood the Phantom with its outstretched hand, pointing to the garbage left behind by the women.

“Spirit,” said Scrooge, shuddering from head to foot. “I see, I see. The case of this unhappy man might be my own. My life tends that way, now.”

The Spirit moved closer to the bin, pointing down to the torn paper. Scrooge advanced trembling. “Before I draw nearer and read the paper to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be only?”

Still, the Ghost pointed downward to the bin by which it stood.

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.”

The Spirit was an unmovable as ever.

Scrooge crept toward it, trembling as he went, and following the finger, read upon the paper his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE.

“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!”

“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”

“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.”

“I will pursue advances in technical documentation and encourage others thus. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may yet retain my livelihood!”

Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate aye reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.

The End of It

YES! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.”

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to his department, he was a stellar example. He became as good a friend, as good a man, and as good a leader, as the company knew. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but led his peers onward, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew his users and the industry well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of all of us!


My best wishes for a joyful season and a prosperous new year! God bless us everyone.

1 Quotes taken liberally from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. 1843. London, England: Chapman and Hall.