mantel in his living room struck twelve, he bolted awake and rubbed his eyes. His lips
were quivering and his arms were trembling; he realized there were no covers on the bed.
He looked down at his naked body for a second, then looked up at the window closest to
his dresser. It was wide open and the white curtains were blowing into the room. There
were a few inches of snow on the windowsill and a few puddles of melted snow on the
He jumped out of bed and jogged to the window, trying to avoid the puddles of
water. When he slammed the window shut, he stepped back and stared at the glass for a
moment. He knew he hadn’t left it open. He never opened the windows in the wintertime,
because he didn’t like turning up the furnace. He scratched his dick and shook his head.
As he was about to turn and get back into bed, he heard loud clinks and thrashes
coming from the other side of the room. His body jerked, his heart began to pound, and
his eyes opened wide.
He wasn’t alone.
He grabbed the bed post and turned fast. When he focused on a stream of light
hitting his bedroom door, his arms and legs tingled with goose flesh.
While Carl’s jaw dropped. A dark, familiar image covered with shackles and
chains tossed its head back and bellowed with laughter. “What’s the matter, Carl? Don’t you recognize your old friend and business partner?” The laughter echoed through the
Carl stared for a moment, unable to move his arms or legs. The image was
transparent, but vivid enough to see a face and body. It looked exactly like his old partner,
Marty Keller. But Marty was dead. This had to be a dream. Carl let go of the bed post and
shook his head a few times. Then he rubbed his eyes and slapped his cheeks. But the
image didn’t disappear. “I must be dreaming,” Carl whispered.
“You’re not dreaming, my friend,” Marty said. “It’s me, Marty.”
Carl blinked. It sounded like Marty’s voice, with that deep, raspy tone he’d
acquired from all those years of smoking strong, non-filtered cigarettes. And the face and
body were identical to Marty’s. The short bulbous nose always red from drinking too
much cheap wine, the beady, close-set eyes, and the bald head with a few long strands of
white hair could not have belonged to anyone but Marty. The image was even wearing
the dark brown tweed jacket Marty had been buried in. It was the same jacket Marty had
worn every day of his life. The only noticeable difference that Carl could see was his skin
color. Marty’s skin had always been red and flushed, as if he out of breath from running a
long race. But the image standing in front of Carl was pale gray, with dark lines around
the mouth and heavy black circles beneath the eyes.
Carl didn’t believe in ghosts, so he squared his shoulders and turned toward the
bed. His imagination was running away with him. He’d been working too hard; he
needed to sleep. Marty leaned forward and laughed. When he lifted his arms to his face, the chains
attached to his wrists clanked together. “I’m not going to disappear just because you
don’t want to see me,” he said. “I’ve come to warn you about something, Carl.”
Carl stopped moving. He turned and faced the bedroom door. “I don’t believe in
ghosts,” he said. “This is all a bad dream. I’m going back to bed now and I’m going to
get a good night’s sleep and forget all about this.” He wasn’t sure if he was talking to
Marty’s ghost or to himself.
Marty pointed a crooked finger in his direction and said, “I noticed the sign over
the front door, Carl. I see you’ve taken my name down and replaced it with your own. I
guess deathbed requests don’t matter to you.” Now his voice was wrecked, sullen.
Carl clenched his fists and took a step forward. He glared at Marty’s ghost and
shouted, “This is my place now. I wanted my own name on the door.”
The ghost lifted his arms, opened his mouth, and roared. The chains on his arms
and legs clacked together and a powerful gust of cold wind passed through Carl’s entire
body. It raised Carl’s hair and blew the dollar bill he’d taken from Able off the top of the
Carl lifted his arms in surrender and took a step backwards. He waved his hands,
palm up and said, “I’ll change the sign. I’ll put the old one back up tomorrow. I have it in
the basement. I didn’t throw it away, Marty. Just leave me alone.” He had no intention of
changing the sign. But he figured that if he said he’d change it, the ghost would leave him
alone. Marty lowered his arms and laughed. “Don’t be obtuse, Carl. You’re not a stupid
man, and neither am I. I’m not here about signs and I don’t care about business, money,
or anything involving antiques.”
“Then why are you here?” Carl asked. “And why are you bound with chains and
“Ah well,” Marty said, taking a few steps toward Carl. “I’m here to warn you, so
you don’t wind up like me. These chains and shackles are my existence now.”
“I don’t understand,” Carl said.
Marty lifted an eyebrow and sighed. His voice became softer and kinder. “I didn’t
live an authentic life, Carl. I cheated people all the time. I made money on so many poor,
unfortunate people, I lost track. I never gave to charity, I never offered help to anyone,
and I overlooked everything and everyone who ever cared about me. I’m wearing these
chains and shackles because I deserve to be wearing them. I’m doomed, Carl. I’m
doomed to wander the universe this way for eternity. And if you don’t change, this is
exactly what will happen to you.”
Carl tilted his head to the side and said, “You weren’t that bad, Marty. You helped
me get a start in life. You left me everything you owned when you died. You taught me
everything you knew. You were a good businessman, and you made a lot of money. Why
should you be punished for making money?”
Marty lifted his arms again and roared, this time with more strength. All of the
windows in the room opened wide and the curtains blew into the dark, snowy night.
“You’re not getting it, Carl. I didn’t teach you anything because I was a good person. I
didn’t care about you. I needed you because I was getting old, and I used you. I treated you as if you were worthless. But more than that, I made you exactly as hideous as I was.
Do you really want to know why I took you on in the first place?”
Carl shrugged his shoulders. “I thought you hired me because you saw promise in
me. When you hired me, that’s what you said.”
Marty rubbed his ample stomach and laughed. “Don’t be an idiot, Carl. I hired
you because you had a nice ass. In the beginning, it was the only reason. If you’d been fat
and ugly, I never would have looked twice at you.”
Carl’s eyes opened wide; this was shocking news. “I thought you were straight,
Marty. You were even married once.” Carl had always assumed Marty was a lonely old
widower too set in his ways to marry again. He figured that after Marty’s wife had died,
Marty had become bitter and disillusioned and he’d devoted the rest of his life to his
“Quite the opposite,” Marty said. “No, Carl, I knew all my life that I was gay. But
instead of living an authentic life and having the guts to be who I was, I hid my sexuality
from everyone, including my wife. We slept in separate bedrooms. I used to leave her
alone and go out cruising for men in adult book stores, porn theaters, and bathhouses. I
lived a double life, because I was too stupid and selfish to be honest about who
I really was. And, in turn, I ruined her life, too. She never knew about me, and she went
to her grave thinking it was her fault that I never touched her or treated her like a
Carl took a deep breath. “I never suspected anything,” he said. But some things
made sense to him now. Whenever there was an openly gay man around, Marty looked at
the man with disgust in his eyes. And Marty was never shy about sharing his opinions when it came to equal rights and LGBT issues. More than once, he made it clear to Carl
that he thought gays were freaks of nature. Carl had never commented to Marty one way
or the other about his own sexuality. Marty was his boss, and money was more important
to Carl than politics or civil rights issues.
“I hired you for two reasons,” Marty said. “First, because you had a great ass, and
then because you reminded me of myself when I was young. I knew I could mold you.”
Carl lowered his eyes and frowned. “But I never hid who I was,” he said. “I never
talked about being gay and I’ve never worn my sexuality on my shirt sleeve, but I’ve
never denied it either. Most people know I’m gay and I don’t care. So I’m not like you at
Marty laughed. “Oh, yes, you are. You just don’t see it. Look at the way you treat
your own employee, Able. It’s no different than the way I treated you. Actually, in a way
you’re even worse than I was.”
“Because times are different now,” Marty said. “When I was younger people
didn’t accept men like us. Everyone thought we were nothing more than queers and
freaks and fags. But nowadays it’s different. You don’t hear those words often, and when
you do they aren’t meant as insults. People your age are out working hard to change
things. The world is a different place, yet you couldn’t care less. The only thing you care
about is making money and saving money.”
Carl frowned. “This is bullshit. I’m over it. There’s nothing wrong with money.”
Marty pointed at him and said, “There’s no time to argue. Tonight you are going
to be visited by three different ghosts. Starting at one o’clock, they will arrive on the hour. And they are going to take you on journeys to places that may or may not open your eyes.
You’re getting a second chance, Carl. What you choose to do with it is entirely up to
Carl closed his eyes tightly. “Now I know I must be dreaming. Am I going to get
a visit from the tooth fairy, too? Maybe Santa will stop by and we can have cake?” Or
maybe Carl was dreaming all this because of the new sign in front of the shop. His
subconscious mind might be playing tricks on him because deep down he felt guilty
about changing the sign.
“I’m leaving now,” Marty said. “Good luck, Carl. You’re going to need it.”
When Carl opened his mouth to speak, Marty’s ghost vanished before his eyes.
Carl blinked a few times and rubbed his elbows. All the windows were still open and the
room was freezing. He closed the windows fast and jumped into bed. When he reached
for the covers, he pulled them all the way up over his head.
At one o’clock in the morning, Carl felt a cold breeze pass through his bedroom.
He opened his eyes and sat up. He heard a deep, hoarse groan echoing from the other side
of the room. His whole body jerked and he turned to the right to see what it was.
When his eyes focused, he saw a tall, dark figure standing in the middle of his
bedroom. The figure was wearing a long, black cloak, with a hood so deep and so heavy
its face was completely hidden from sight. Carl pressed one hand against his stomach and
one over his mouth.
“Who are you?” Carl shouted. “Why are you in my home? I have no money here.
And as you can see, I’m a poor man.” There was a fireproof strong-box with ten thousand
dollars in cash under his bed. He kept it hidden there, beneath a few loose floorboards,
for emergencies. But he wasn’t about to let anyone steal it from him.
When the dark figure didn’t answer him, he reached for his cell phone on the
dresser and said, “If you don’t leave, I’ll call 911.” His cell phone was on the nightstand.
He was hoping he’d remembered to charge the battery. He didn’t have a land line in the
house. One phone was good enough for Carl Smite.
The dark figure made another bizarre noise that sounded like a rusty hinge, then
lifted its right arm. A large hand covered with a black glove reached out toward Carl. The
figure moaned this time and said, “I am the first ghost you were told about, the Ghost of
Christmas Past. Come with me.” Carl jumped out of bed and braced his back against the wall. The voice was deep,
but not loud. It sent a chill through Carl’s naked body and his nipples tightened. “Get out
of my house, you fucking creep. I’m over it.” Then he opened his cell phone and started
to dial 911. He remembered his visit with Marty, but he didn’t believe it had been real.
He thought it had been a dream.
While he dialed, the dark figure floated toward him. It didn’t take normal steps; it