A Christmas Carol
Co-authored with BFL
Written December 2001
Synopsis: Madeline is visited by three Ghosts on Christmas Eve who try to teach her that Paul is an integral part of her life.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. This story is a take on “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. No infringement is intended.
Madeline stirred into consciousness. Her head was cradled in her arms, and her body was now slumped over her desk. She stretched a little, stifling a yawn.
Something wasn’t right.
Frowning, she sat up and found herself staring at a middle-aged woman with short, curly grey hair and crinkled eyes. She wore a tweed business suit, like something Madeline herself used to wear before she went to basic black. It was slightly antiquated, however, like it had been folded up in an attic trunk for years and was just now seeing the light of day.
“Are you the new recruit?” Madeline asked, straightening her posture. She wasn’t exactly sure if there was a new recruit or not, but it sounded more professional than ‘Who are you?’
“If I’m the new recruit, then Section’s in some serious trouble.” Her voice was deep and gravely, and she drew back on a cigarette before blowing the smoke in her direction.
Madeline sat back in her chair and glanced at the clock on her computer. 1:10 AM. She turned back to the woman, Sarah’s warning echoing in her head. I’m still dreaming? “You’re late.”
The Ghost snorted softly. “Yeah, well, I took a wrong turn at the Pearly Gates.”
She stood up and rounded the desk, finding herself almost a head taller than her visitor. “Why are you here?”
“Did you already forget what your dear sister told you?” she scolded. “I am the Ghost of Christmas Past…but you may call me Prudence.”
It was almost laughable, but Madeline maintained her composure. “The Ghost of Christmas Past. What kind of past, long past?”
“No. Your past.” She sucked on her cigarette again, and Madeline folded her arms across her chest.
“Would you not smoke around my plants please?”
“Why not? Studies have shown that smoking doesn’t have any harmful side effects.”
Madeline found herself grinning in amusement at this candid specter but quickly concealed it when she noticed Prudence staring at her intently, as if she was about to say something uncharacteristically serious.
“Your smile… I’ve seen it many times throughout the past, but now it’s almost nonexistent. Do you remember the exact moment that it disappeared?”
She stared at her hands in painful recollection, speechless.
“I will show you that moment, as well as others from your past.”
She lifted her head. “Why bring up something that’s long dead?”
“Because it’s not dead if you remember it.” She held out her hand, balancing the cigarette between her lips. “Come with me, dear.”
The moment Madeline touched her hand, the world spun and she found herself at a place she never thought she would see again. It was a child’s bedroom with two frilly pink beds and dozens of dolls. A woman sat on the hardwood floor next to the bed closest to the door, wailing loudly, clutching a pink blanket.
Madeline stared at the familiar face. “Mother,” she murmured softly. She looked so much older than she was. Madeline recognized the blanket immediately; it had been Sarah’s. It was a hand-made gift from her mother to her ‘little angel.’ Madeline never received such gifts. Sarah was always the favorite, always doted upon.
She caught a glimpse of the falling snow outside and nodded to herself. It was Christmas. But there were no gifts exchanged that year, no carols or sleigh rides. Just snow. It was the first Christmas without Sarah.
She turned her attention to the large collection of dolls and noticed one missing. But not just any doll. Her doll. The one that cost Sarah her life.
She walked around the first bed, her sister’s bed, to the other one. A nightstand separated it from the farthest wall, and Madeline took a breath before peeking between the bed and the stand.
A young girl was nestled between the two pieces of furniture, holding a doll against her chest. Her expression was so hollow, and there was no feeling in her eyes. Madeline leaned against the wall and sighed softly, staring at the child.
“The interesting days were those when Mother didn’t cry,” she said quietly. “Then she would just explode at everyone and everything. I used to hide here on those days. But then I began to use it more and more frequently, and I took my doll with me. Mother hated to see it. Once, she threw it in the trash, but I retrieved it and cleaned it up.” She chuckled slightly. “Of course I destroyed it a few years later.”
“Of course,” Prudence repeated, sucking on her cigarette again.
“The only thing I loved was that doll,” she continued. “And that doll was the only thing that ever loved me back.”
“Now, now, Madeline, aren’t we forgetting about someone later in life?”
Immediately after her words were spoken, the scene shifted around them, and they were at a different point in Madeline’s life. A man dressed in black, carrying a gun, was running toward them, and Madeline instinctively stepped back. The setting was only vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t remember why or from where.
Suddenly, there was a loud boom, and the entire building exploded. Smoke poured from the windows, and bright orange flames began to devour the brick. The man, who had been knocked down from the force of the blast, jumped to his feet, staring at the building in horror. “Madeline!”
She recognized that voice anywhere. “Paul?” And then she knew. She gasped as the memory of the event came back to her mind; she had never witnessed it from this perspective before. Madeline walked around him to see his face. It was frozen in an expression of pure terror. She followed his gaze back to the building, her heart pounding in her chest.
“Tell me what’s happening, Madeline,” came Prudence’s voice, which sounded so far away.
“It…” She released a shaky breath. “It was just an intelligence-gathering mission. We lost our communication uplink with Section. Then Paul found a bomb. Time to detonation…fifteen seconds.” She paused, trying to ignore the feelings that surfaced with the memory. “Paul ordered everyone out, but we were all over the complex. And then it exploded.”
Madeline turned back toward the building, and Prudence did the same. Finally, they saw her, coming out of the smoke, pulling the stocking cap off her head. It was Madeline, about twelve years younger. She was limping slightly, staring at the ground and shaking her head. She didn’t notice Paul, and he had yet to notice her, his eyes closed as his body trembled with sobs.
Shocked, Madeline watched her former self as she crossed the courtyard, oblivious to anything but her own emotions. “I was so angry,” she recalled quietly. “I was the only one who made it out alive.”
“Not the only one,” Prudence reminded her.
Madeline-of-the-past continued to hobble away from the burning infrastructure, wiping dirt and grit out of her eyes. Paul still choked back his sobs, shaking his head in anguish. Almost simultaneously, they looked up–Madeline to focus on her exit, Paul to watch the destruction– and their eyes met for the first time since their narrow escapes. She stopped walking and stared at him with the same disbelief that touched his face.
Paul wasted no time. He jogged over to her and, before she had a chance to say anything, pulled her face to his and kissed her.
Madeline watched the passionate embrace, her heart a flurry of regret and longing. “That was the first time we ever kissed. We had a mutual attraction that we had never acted upon until then, when we almost lost each other.”
“Mutual attraction. Ha! I’d say a full-blown romance, full of passion and…” She chuckled softly, leaving Madeline to wonder what she was going to say. “Now this next part really gets me all aflame. The Higher Powers didn’t think it was pertinent for whatever reason, but I managed to get it approved. I think it was the PowerPoint presentation that sealed it.”
Madeline frowned, turning her eyes toward Prudence. “What are you talking about?”
Once again the world moved around them, and the breath escaped from her lungs for a brief moment. She and Prudence had arrived in a dark apartment, the only light being that which came from the windows. Various articles of black clothing were strung along the floor, creating a path to the bedroom. Madeline knew exactly where and when they were.
“You brought me here?”
Prudence nodded. “Logically, this is the next scene.” A wicked grin appeared on her face. “Let’s follow the trail left for us by these insatiable nymphomaniacs.”
Madeline walked behind her, as if the Spirit would shield her from the activities in the bedroom. When she passed through the door, her long-dormant feelings appeared with a strength she didn’t recognize, and she gasped. “What’s…why do I feel like this?”
“Your present emotions are reacting as they did in this past moment. Did you know you felt like that?”
“No, I…I had forgotten.” In truth, she hadn’t forgotten; she had merely buried every affection for Paul deeply in her heart.
“Explain this scenario to me,” Prudence requested.
Madeline raised her eyebrow. “What does it look like we’re doing?”
“The circumstances, dear. I think even the neighbors knew what you were doing.”
She hesitated. “This is…not long after the explosion. Section didn’t know if we were alive or not. The implantation of internal clocks originated with Paul when he took over, so all we had were our communication channels. We…” Madeline swallowed over the lump in her throat. “We didn’t want to go back. We couldn’t be lovers in Section, so we…”
Madeline couldn’t continue because she found it difficult to breathe. Her eyes remained on her former self and Paul as they made love. She had hidden this memory from her consciousness because of its effect on her, and now she was forced to relive it. It was… beautiful. Their bodies were in perfect harmony with one another. Paul was whispering her name, kissing her face, caressing her body. Madeline sighed and closed her eyes. She didn’t need to see it; she remembered every move made and every word spoken.
Gentle moaning rose from the throats of the lovers, and she opened her eyes again. A blush touched her cheeks, the cries of release sounding even more erotic than they had when she had first made them. Had she always sounded like that, so honest? Making love to Paul was the only time she ever felt safe enough to express her true feelings.
“Damn, that was good!”
Prudence’s voice startled her, and she looked at her. “What?”
“Sex in my day was never that exciting. I need a cigarette.” She put one between her lips and offered the packet to Madeline. “How about you?”
She shook her head. “No, thank you.” She looked at her former self as she curled up in Paul’s arms and kissed him. “That was such a happy moment for me.”
“But it scared you to death,” Prudence quickly replied.
There was no point in lying. “Yes, it did. I spent so much of my childhood alone and unloved that for someone to treat me like Paul did was unnerving. I questioned his motives at least a hundred times. He would get so frustrated with me because he did, truly, love me. I still don’t know why.”
“Who can explain love? No one. You just have to live in the moment because it never goes away, no matter how much you want it to…”
The darkness lifted, and subtleties of the room changed. The bed was made, there were no more clothes on the floor. Madeline could hear voices in the living room, and she started in that direction, wondering where in time Prudence had taken her now.
“What am I doing wrong?” It was Paul, his voice a bit angrier and louder than normal. They were arguing again. Madeline sighed. If this was the scenario she thought it was…
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
“The catch-all explanation,” he muttered sarcastically. “Why do we always fight over the same thing?”
“Paul, don’t,” she pleaded. “You know I can’t.”
“You keep saying that, but I don’t understand why! What’s so hard about it? It’s–” She had turned away from him, and he wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “You’ve been so distant since we took over Section.”
“Things are different now,” she answered softly, pulling away from his embrace. “We lead different lives, have different goals. It’s not the same. We’re not the same.”
“We are exactly the same. Madeline, please don’t do this. This can’t be what you want.”
“I’m sorry, Paul…”
Madeline had remained silent up until then, watching the events unfold in the same manner as they had years ago. “I don’t want to see the rest of this.”
Prudence raised her eyebrows. “Why not?”
“Take me back to my office.”
“Don’t you want to see his reaction after you walk out?”
Fury sharpened her voice. “You think that seeing this is going to help me? Well, I don’t need your help! Take me back to my office!” Prudence remained still. “What, you want me to admit that I ruined my one chance at happiness by walking out that door? Fine! I admit it! But it doesn’t matter now! It’s too late!”
By the time she had finished shouting, she was back in her office, and Prudence was staring at her thoughtfully. “It’s never too late, Madeline.”
She choked back on her anger and growled deeply, “Get out.”
With a slight shrug of her shoulders, Prudence approached the door, and it slid open. “Merry Christmas, Madeline.” She stepped out, the door closed, and Madeline was alone again.
“I’ve had enough of this,” she muttered, heading for the door. It didn’t move. She waved her hand in front of the sensor, but it didn’t open. “What?” She banged her fist against the door. “Prudence! Let me out! I don’t want to play these games any more!” She sighed. “Prudence? Anybody?”
She went through the same routine as before: yelling for help, checking the activity log, calling Birkoff in Comm. And once again, she found herself isolated from everyone and everything.
End of part 2