"This Twist is an amazingly dull and useless character."
"He just kind of rounds out the group..."
"No. I don't like him."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Kill him off."
"That seems cruel and unnecessary."
"Kill him. Quick and easy. Axe to the head, opening scene."
"Don't argue with me. Do it."
Just after Ike went off to haunt the corridors of the mansion in which Lord Cabot Eulridge quartered himself, an unknown foe entered our camp. His footsteps were alarming to us. Unknown to our ears! And then the axe, crowned squarely into the side of Twist's head and the murderer was away from us. We were saddened by Twist's death, but we knew we needed to go on without him. There was too much at stake and Ike was already getting ready for his spooking. We could only pray it would work without the introductory ghost segment that normally began these types of hauntings.
"Don't let Twist's dance with death get you down, old friend. Life goes on with much dalliance into autumn."
"I'm not so much upset about that as I am about whether we should have summoned McKinley instead of Franklin Pierce. McKinley was responsible for a historically memorable tariff."
"Indeed he was, but is tariffs what's gots you down, miserable friend? Don't let tariffs get you down. Let's sing a song."
Before this valuable question could have an answer attached to it, another human being of average proportions approached our camp. He was an older man suffering from much baldless in the form of loss of hair and wore an knitted cap. He looked shaken and in need of a friend.
"How may we help you, man who has lived too long?"
"Mrs. Mildred Robinson. I am looking for Mrs. Mildred Robinson. She sometimes takes a meal with me."
"We know of no such woman."
"I need to tell her that the children are playing those wretched video games again and that the devil is daring them to dance with him on a dance that will only end up in the calamitous fires of Hell itself."
"If we see her we sure will pass that message along to her."
"Fine then. I will continue to search the moors for my missing Mildred. I will search until we are finally united in the love that--"
"Did someone let one of the Brontes in here while Dickens was in the shitter?"
"No. I don't think so."
"Get rid of this guy. He's some kind of weird Bronte crossover."
"Axe to the head, again?"
"No, just tell him he has easily outlived his usefulness in this scene."
Once we were clear of the old man, whose purpose was completely unknown to us, possibly due to our tragic upbringing, we continued to wait in silence for Ike to return from the home of the senator. We hoped he would be able to put a scare into Lord Cabot Eulridge without needing the introductory ghost who kicks off most holiday hauntings.
Ike returned to our camp with a man in his stead. We knew this was not Lord Cabot Eulridge, for we had seen his countenance many a time. This was not even one of the noble classes, for he wore a workman's clothes.
"This the bastard that cuts off kids toes?" sneered Ike.
"I don't know what for I deserve this ghostly visitation!" protested the man Ike had dragged back to the camp. "I am but a clean and hard worker, a landscaper for the property of Lord Cabot Eulridge. My name is Stillman Overchop and I have a wife and a young lad who goes by the name of Young Mr. Clocksdale."
"Young Mr. Clocksdale? I thought this was your son, is he not of your loins and so not of your name?"
"No such thing, penniless rabble. He carries a different name so as to distinguish himself apart from the weight of our family name, for long ago my own grandfather did dirty his hands with woman's work."
"Yes. It is a terrible phrase to hear uttered in connection with your own heritage, but it is a black mark forever on my family name. My boy has taken the coward's route and changed his name so he can start over on his own."
"Aye, only a brave lad takes the coward's route. It can alienate him from family and indeed his own history."
Jonathan pried us apart to direct us towards the conversation going on between Ike and Fagen. Our friend Donald Fagen looked as if he might be losing his patience with Ike and so our intervention was necessary for reasons of public health.
"What has happened, Ike? Did you see Lord Cabot Eulridge or did you just drag this landscaper back to us? The plan was to scare Lord Cabot Eulridge in his home, not to kidnap a horticulturist."
"I didn't much like the looks of him. Shifty eyes."
"That's great, Ike, but you have to look at the big picture here. We need to frighten the dickens out of Eulridge by Christmas morning, which is tomorrow morning, in case you weren't paying attention. If we don't frighten him in time, then a small child will not get a piece of silver and a turkey dinner. A pine tree might also become involved at some point, although we have no place to put it, being homeless and useless to society as a whole."
"Where is you young men's strength of character and all-American gusto?" We could tell by his tone of voice, we had pushed Ike too far now. "What are you, a bunch of momma's boys who can't lift yourself up by your bootstraps and make something of yourselves in the greatest country on the face of the earth?"
"Yes, well, Ike we don't really have that option open on the table for a focus group right now. What is on the table is the haunting of Lord Cabot Eulridge and the turkey, piece of silver and possible tree for a youth."
"Trees for youth? What is this, one of those New Deal things?"
"Maybe we can have this discussion another time. Right now my concern is with logistics. Franklin Pierce will be along any minute now and you still haven't done the whole Christmas Past trip deal with Eulridge. If you don't get in there and do it now, Pierce will be here and we will have to do this, not only without an introductory ghost, but without the first of the three spirits and jumping right on to the second. Is that right? I don't think so, Ike."
"You know what? Screw you boys. I am not being manipulated by a bunch of petty scumbag kids who can't go get themselves a job and make something of themselves. They've got a lot of programs, as I recall, to help disadvantaged kids get into college. Maybe you could look into one of those programs."
We concluded our business with Dwight D. Eisenhower's ghost at that moment. We were down to two ghosts now and it would be difficult to work the con with only half the number of ghosts normally used. The only way we could assuage our chance of failure now was to get the best possible performance out of Franklin Pierce, now patiently waiting alongside Jonathan, who was telling him about catching fireflies in summer camp when he was a boy, long before the Libertarians came.
"Good evening. I am former president Franklin Pierce, or a ghostly facsimile thereof. I was the only president to have hailed from the great state of New Hampshire until Martin Sheen was sworn into the land's highest office."
"Martin Sheen was never president."
"I have seen much footage. You will not sway me on this position. What is it that you ask of me this chilly winter's evening?"
"We need you to go into the mansion where Lord Cabot Eulridge holds court and beds down for the night and put a scare into him about the world of the present and how his evil deeds impact the lives of others and, in turn, his own."
"Balderdash. You must be riling me with inconsequential humor on a sophomoric level."
"No. We really need to do it. This is Christmas Eve and there is a young boy who needs a turkey, a piece of silver and a pine tree."
"Sounds like his folks haven't been pulling through on the old wagon train of the American Dream, does it my fellow Americans? Perhaps we should just visit the boy and find other means by which we could bring him a joyous holiday repast without bothing this other man."
"No. Actually, Frank, we need you to go up to the house right now. Here is a manila envelope which contains details regarding events happening in and around the life of Lord Cabot Eulridge. Review it and it should help you figure out what kind of magical journey you are going to take him on."
"Look, I know I don't get called very often for these things, and with this I have no quarrel, but first of all, I did not bring my reading glasses with me. Second of all, I am not going on any magical journeys. I would like to return to the place from whence you brought me and continue my intellectual discussion with John Madden."
"There is an entirely different paradigm for choosing your friends where you come from, isn't there?"
"Yes, quite. Now, if you are quite through with your annoying and childish prank, I will depart your most unpleasant company."
"That was pretty much a let down, huh?" Jonathan asked out loud after Franklin Pierce left us.
"I guess everything rides on Taft now."
"Once again, the future of the country is in the hands of none other than William Howard Taft."
"If he can't do it, no one can."
"Truer words have never been spoken. Would you ragamuffins like to pass the pipe around again while we wait for the big guy?"
"Sounds like a good plan, my ringworm infested chum."
"I think I see Taft," Fagen chortled excitedly after we had shared in the goodness of the smoking pipe. "He has this powerful presence that kind of reminds me of Hamlet's father."
"Hamlet? What movie was he in?"
"One of those old Mel Gibson religious bio-pics."
William Howard Taft was, without leaving any room for doubt amongst those who would have doubt in the first place, coming towards us up the road. His massive frame and ample girth overwhelmed our efforts to avert our eyes. Wherever you turned your head, William Howard Taft would be. He simply could not be tamed by a single camera lens.
"Who dares summon the spirit of William Howard Taft? Who dares to call upon me, from out of the ghostly slumbers from which I came, to ask me to do their bidding?"
"It is I, Donald Fagen as well as Jonathan Oliver and the narrator."
Jonathan pulled me aside and whispered with much gentleness into my ear, "He has quite a stage presence. I like the cut of his jig."
"Silence, whippersnappers! The great William Howard Taft, consistently ranked amongst the top ten United States Presidents of all times, and the only one to achieve not only the highest office of the executive branch of our great government, but also the highest office of the judicial branch. For my next trick I will become Speaker of the House."
"We're not interested in your resume as much as we are in your ability to throw a bit of a fright into Lord Cabot Eulridge, a senator who has taken great liberties with those of us who are much disenfranchised in the current political climate of the United States."
"I see. I was president from 1909 until 1912 and was responsible for setting the stage for the roaring twenties. Without the groundwork I did in those days, we never would have had The Great War or Charlie Chaplin."
"Mr. Taft, we really need to get on with the haunting."
"It angers me that I am best remembered as the answer to a trivia question regarding the weight of presidents. When I think about this I become filled with a rage that needs to be taken out on someone."
"Well, this is why we've brought you in as the ghost of Christmas future. That's the really chilling tour. The whole 'What if this goes on like this' kind of thing is very effective."
"I've thought about growing a beard."
"His mansion is right over there," Donald Fagen told William Howard Taft, pointing eagerly towards the house.
"Due east, you say?"
"I guess so."
"Boys, gather around me. I would like to tell you a story that might give you a different perspective on these shenanigans you are wanting to play on this respectable man of great personal wealth. Gather round."
We did as he asked, as great woe befalls any who do not follow the directives of William Howard Taft. Jonathan tried to say something about the matter of time, the encroaching dawn, and his belief that we needed to make something happen soon or our entire journey would be for nothing. We were with him. We slapped him on the back as we came into Taft's ghostly story circle.
"Okay, boys, here is the deal. There is this special room where I come from now which only admits two-term presidents and celebrities who have won awards of some kind in music or theatre. I cannot get into that room. Do you know why? I was betrayed by my friend, Teddy Roosevelt, at a time when I needed him most and his betrayal cost me a second term in office. If I haunt this captain of industry, then you must agree to help me kill Teddy Roosevelt."
"Isn't he already dead?"
"This is a trivial matter. Where does your loyalty lie? With the boring and lifeless Teddy Roosevelt or the wise, steadfast and inspirational rule of William Howard Taft?"
"Just go with him on this," Jonathan whispered to me. "It isn't like we're actually going to have to kill Teddy Roosevelt."
"Will you show Lord Cabot Eulridge the future?" Fagen asked the former president.
"I will show him what you imagine are the errors of his ways. However, I must have a sworn commitment from all three of you to kill Teddy Roosevelt."
"Wasn't he kind of a ass kicker?"
"I am the ass kicker. San Juan Hill, my ass. One hand washes the other, boys. Take the deal or I will walk out of this scene, never to return."
"Okay, we'll help you kill Teddy Roosevelt. Can we get started with the haunting already?"
Dickens' America: Epilogue and Special Features
Dickens' America: Chapter Three