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 looked around, expecting to be back in her prison-of-an-office. But surprisingly, she realized that she was still in the Perch. The gift box remained on the ledge, and she stared at it curiously. Wondering what was inside, she slowly reached out to touch it. As her fingers approached the box, it began to fade from view. She gasped. What’s happening? Her eyes turned down toward the gathering below. Subtle changes occurred, in dress and attendees, and she soon realized that she didn’t recognize a single person at the Christmas party.
She heard someone enter the Perch and turned around. “Paul!” He didn’t hear her–evidently she was still invisible–as he stood by the railing and darkened the windows. She glanced at his face. How he had aged… The tenderness in his eyes was gone, replaced with a hollow sadness. She reached out to touch him, moved by his expression, but couldn’t bring herself to make contact.
Her interest in his expression wavered when he reached in his inside jacket pocket and removed a small box. She drew in a breath. It was the wooden box she saw him with just moments before. So I never received it after all, she thought. The green had lost its luster and some of the gold had flaked off. He turned it over in his hands, a faraway look in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. She watched him set it on the ledge again. “No, Paul, don’t do that. Just go take it to me!”
But he didn’t do anything. He just stared at it. “Oh, Madeline.”
The sound of his voice startled her, especially since he said her name and didn’t know she was there. She backed up and collided into something. Spinning around, she found herself face to face with a figure dressed in a long black cape. She cried out and stumbled backwards again, this time running into the ledge. “Who–who are you? What are you?” Then she remembered what Sarah had told her. Three Ghosts. This must be the third. A hood covered its face from sight, and all she could see was a skeletal hand peeking out from beneath the long sleeves.
The Spirit pointed toward Paul, and she looked at him again. Years must have passed for things to be so different. He wasn’t even trying to win her over anymore, just holding onto a gift that he wouldn’t give.
“I thought I’d find you up here.”
Madeline turned toward the voice. It was Nikita, surprisingly. She looked much more mature; she had cut her long hair to above her shoulders, and her wardrobe had become considerably more conservative. She glanced back at Paul. He was desperately trying to hide the box. Then he turned around. “Hello, Nikita.”
She smiled and approached him, her hands respectfully behind her back. “Will you be joining us for the celebration?”
“I don’t think so.” He sighed and gave her a weak smile. “There isn’t much for me to celebrate.”
She seemed to understand his meaning, nodding solemnly. “You’ve been through some hard times lately.”
“We all have.” He sat on the edge of the ledge to get a better view of her. “The two year anniversary of his death is next month. How are you holding up?”
Madeline frowned. “Whose death?” She glanced at the Ghost but received no answer.
Nikita shrugged. “Some days are harder than others. Holidays are always the worst, and Michael loved Christmas.”
“Michael’s dead?” Madeline asked incredulously. “But how?” Again, no response.
“Today just makes me miss him even more,” Nikita continued. Her voice softened. “But you know all about that, don’t you?”
Paul looked away, affected deeply by her words. Madeline frowned but said nothing, watching him. “I’m going home. Will you keep watch for me?”
She smiled. “That’s what your second-in-command is for.”
“Hey!” Madeline exclaimed, glaring at the Spirit. “Wait a minute. Nikita has my job? That would never happen. Paul hates her. She’s completely unqualified…” She sighed when there was no reply. “Okay, fine. If Nikita is second-in-command, then where am I?”
Paul gave Nikita a quick nod as he picked up his coat. “Thank you.”
“Sure.” As he walked away, she called out, “Say hello to your wife for me.”
He hesitated slightly before walking down the stairs.
Madeline folded her arms across her chest and scoffed. “His wife?” Silence. “Who is she? Take me there.”
The scene changed to a small, cozy house that she didn’t recognize. There was a wonderful smell coming from the kitchen, but Madeline was more concerned with the opening door. Paul walked in and closed the door quietly behind him. He looked worse than he did when he left the Perch, as if he had battled with some demon along the way and lost.
“Paul, is that you?” came a tender voice.
Madeline followed Paul’s gaze and saw a petite, relatively attractive woman enter the foyer. They embraced, and she felt a twinge of jealousy.
“I’m so glad you’re home–and early!” the woman said. She looked happier than he did, and Madeline raised an eyebrow at that. “I just made some ham.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I only stopped by to get a change of clothes. I’m flying out tonight, I’ll be back in the morning.”
“You’re leaving me alone on Christmas?” she asked in awe. Then she drew in a breath and regarded him angrily. “Why do you do this? Why do you live in your memories, when everything you could possibly need is right here!”
Paul closed his eyes briefly and sighed. “I’m sorry, truly sorry, Caroline. I just… I have to go.”
“Won’t you let me comfort you?” He turned and walked down the hall. “Paul!”
Madeline tilted her head to the side. “How did he get like this?” she wondered aloud. “He’s so cold and distant. He didn’t used to be like that.” She glanced at the Ghost. “I don’t understand! If I’m not his second-in-command and I’m not his wife, then what am I? What has happened to me?”
The setting changed once again. They were outside, on top of a hill. It wasn’t snowing, so it must have been somewhere with a fairer climate, but there were leaves coating the ground. Madeline looked around curiously. She didn’t recognize this place either, and there was nothing specific in the area to hint at a location. She turned her head again and noticed a figure sitting on the slope of the hill. It was Paul, she noted, and she began to walk toward him.
As she approached, she heard him speaking softly. There was no one nearby–probably not for miles–so she stopped to listen. His words made no sense; he seemed to be talking about Section. Madeline frowned and walked around to his left side to see his face. His eyes held a faraway look, and tears pooled in the corners of them. Again, she felt compelled to reach out and hold him, but she couldn’t move.
She looked around for the Spirit, but it was gone. She felt a momentary surge of panic. Had it abandoned her? She was about to call out until she saw Paul stand up. Was he leaving, too?
“Caroline says I live in my memories, and she’s right. I’ve lived in the past for so long that I need to live for her now. I hope you understand.” He paused, his voice lowering to that of a soft whisper. “But I will never stop loving you.” He didn’t bother to wipe the tears that fell from his eyes as he bent over and sat something on the ground before walking away, his head bowed.
She watched him leave then turned back to where he had been seated. What had he left on the ground? Trembling with apprehension, she knelt down to examine the object. The color drained from her face. It was the gift box, with the gold trim. Why would he set it on this hill, unless…
A sudden gust of wind blew the leaves away from the box to reveal a small cement stone in the ground. She breathed in shallow, quick gasps as she ran her fingers along the plot. She felt an inscription, only one word, a word that was all too familiar to her.
She cried out and fell backwards, breathing heavily. “No!” She turned over and crawled on her hands and knees to look at the tombstone again. “I’m dead? No, this can’t be right! This can’t be my destiny!”
The Ghost appeared once again, towering over her as she knelt at the plot. Steady and silent.
“Spirit! Why did you bring me here? This can’t be right!”
The Ghost seemed to move away from her.
“Wait!” She looked at the box. “If I go to the party tomorrow, and he gives me this gift, then he can’t leave it on this tombstone in the future. Right?” She gazed up at the haunting figure in search of answers. “Why show me this if there’s no way for me to change it?” Something clicked in her mind, and she began to speak faster. “But that’s not it. No. This gift is a symbol of Paul’s love for me. If I accept this gift tomorrow–or any day–then I am accepting his love. I understand now.” She laughed out loud, a great weight suddenly lifted from her. “I understand what you and the other Ghosts were telling me.”
As soon as the words escaped her lips, the Spirit vanished. For a moment, she was speechless. What had happened? Wasn’t that the lesson, that she needed to accept Paul’s love? Maybe it wasn’t enough to understand it, but she had to act on it, too. How could she if she was trapped at her own grave?
Tears began to fall from her eyes, and she stared in disbelief at the spot where the Ghost had been. “Wait! Where did you go? Don’t leave me here! I want to go home. Do you hear me?” Her body shook with anger and fear. What if she could never get back to Paul? What if she never got the chance to tell him how she felt?
Madeline broke down in a fit of sobs that she hadn’t experienced since she was a young girl. She kept repeating Paul’s name over and over again, hoping that somehow he would hear her.
As she continued to call his name, all of the moments they had shared came back to her in one intense wave. The weight that she thought had been lifted was replaced by another, of the love that she had found but could not share. She began to sink to the ground until her face fell against the cold dark stone that bore her name. She continued to cry until exhaustion once again lulled her into a painful and uneasy sleep.
End of part 4