A Christmas Carol (PG)

Seventeen year old Denny Humphrey knew he was running out of chances and that he needed to remain sober and out of trouble or his Probation would surely be revoked and he would face jail time according to his no-nonsense Probation Officer Joe Johns.

"It's your choice, Humph," Johns advised. "Get your act together here and now or face the consequences."

"Hey, I'm studying to take the GED and I've still got 200 hours of community service as part of my probation," Denny said defensively. "I owe thousands of dollars in restitution and I can't find work because of my record."

"Whose fault is that?" The burly Johns asked from where he sat behind his big metal gray desk in the overcrowded probation office located in the bowels of the Blue County Court House in Greenville.

"I've been shunned and forgotten," Denny sighed. "A loner with no life."

"You get zero sympathy from me," Johns replied with a shrug. "But stop by tomorrow and I might have a volunteer opportunity for you."

Denny did as he was told and he found Joe Johns sitting at his desk with another man when Denny entered the Probation Office the next morning at ten o'clock.

"Hey, Denny," Joe said.

Denny nodded and took a seat in front of the desk.

"I want you to meet Dixon Hughes," Johns said.

Denny glanced at the man and shook his extended hand. The guy looked like the baseball manager Joe Torre.

"Dix is the director for the fund raising community theatre production of A Christmas Carol," Johns explained. "All sorts of folks are in it, including me. Your community service hours will count if you got involved," he added.

"I'm looking for an assistant." Hughes voice sounded like sandpaper.

"Me?" Denny asked with surprise. "I don't know anything about this stuff."

"I'll teach you," Hughes assured him.

"We're throwing you a bone here, Denny," Joe said. "Take it."

"There are people in town that won't be happy having me around," Denny warned.

"It's my show," Hughes replied.

Denny peered at the director. "Did Mr. Johns tell you the things I've done?"

"I told him," Joe answered. "He understands."

"Don't worry about it, Humphrey," Hughes said, standing. "Everybody deserves a second chance." He shook Denny's hand again. "Besides," he added with a smirk. "Theatre is a great place to meet girls!" He chuckled as he left the office.

"This will give you something to do, Denny," Johns explained once Hughes was gone.

"Hanging around people who hate my guts wouldn't be my first choice," Denny sighed in reply.

"You need some social opportunities, Humph," John said. "You need to stop isolating if you're going to make it."

"Well, just remember, this was your idea," Denny said as he left the Probation Office.

A Christmas Carol was being staged at the Miller City Community Performance and Arts Center with a cast that consisted of community personalities and leaders. Mr. Waverly, the English Department Head at Miller City High School, was Scrooge. Football Coach Jimmy Gordon was Marley's Ghost. Popular area Doctor Lewis was the Ghost of Christmas Present. The Mayor of Riverside was the Ghost of Christmas Past. Hank Sawyer of the popular Hank's Barbeque was the Ghost of Christmas Future. Radio personality Chris Martin was playing Scrooge's nephew, Fred. Greenville Police Chief Dave Harvey was Bob Cratchit. Mrs. O'Toole, the Hillsboro High School Principal, was Mrs. Cratchit. Popular Barber Durwood Mosher was Fizziwig and Greenville Librarian Lois Watson was his wife. Young Billy Hanson, son of Riverside Car Dealer Jeff Hanson, was Tiny Tim. Reverend Campbell and Sun Rise Lake Fire Chief Bob Neilson were playing the charity seekers. Members of the town council were playing the greedy businessmen. Joe Johns were among Nephew Fred's party guests, along with Nurse Betty Hay and YMCA President Cecila Morriston. Several other business and community members and local kids comprised the Company.

As he predicted, Denny was not greeted with open arms when he first entered the Miller City Community Performance and Arts Center. His numerous offenses were well known and chronicled throughout Blue County.

"I'm responsible for Humphrey," was Dix Hughes's stock reply whenever someone complained about Denny's presence but the grumblings from cast and company lasted throughout the rehearsal grind.

"Why are you doing this?" Denny asked Dix with a frown several days into the routine. "Why would a guy I've never met before go out on a limb for me?"

"Everybody makes mistakes, Humphrey," Hughes replied. "Everybody deserves a second chance. But only one. Do you understand?"

"I mess up here and I'm toast," Denny replied.

"You'll wish you were Marley," Hughes threatened.

Denny couldn't believe the number of people involved in the production that were directly affected by his crimes and misdemeanors. He had broken into the Police Chief's house (not realizing it was the Police Chief's house!). He was verbally abusive to Mr. Waverly whenever he had the chance. Coach Gordon kicked him off the football team for insubordination and violating team rules and Denny responded by wrecking the football field with a stolen school truck. Doctor Lewis sewed up his face after he got beat up resisting arrest. He got arrested (again) creating a disturbance at Hank's Barbeque. He got arrested a third time for urinating on a car parked on the Hanson car lot. It was embarrassing, humiliating and degrading to be among the community's most prominent leaders as one of the county's worse offenders.

"You can't tell them you've changed, Denny," Joe Johns the Probation Officer explained during one of their weekly probation meetings. "But maybe you can show them. And maybe one or two of them will be willing to forgive you."

"And maybe they won't," Denny sighed. "There's a lot of risk doing this," he complained.

"All you can do is the best you can, Humph," Johns told him. "Show up, do what Hughes tells you, and don't worry about what people think or say. Most of it will be the truth anyway and that's something you're just going to have to accept no matter how rough it gets. You have to own up to your past."

It wasn't easy but Denny was present at every rehearsal. He was the first to show up and unlock the doors and he was the last one to leave at the end of rehearsal, locking the doors behind him. He set up the stage for the scene being rehearsed. He ran errands for Dix. He printed out the rehearsal schedule and kept the cast informed of events. He gave out lines to forgetful actors.

Denny liked being involved but he had few direct interactions with anybody other than Dix and Joe. Many of the actors didn't want anything to do with him and they'd grudgingly respond when Denny passed on information from the director. He was a black sheep in the eyes of most and they avoided or ignored him, including Police Chief Harvey who refused to even acknowledge Denny's presence.

Dix the Director was demanding and outspoken but he was a natural leader who got the most out of his actors. Many in the cast were rookie amateurs with little or no stage experience involved in the production as part of a community fund raiser but Dix treated them as if they were all Sir Laurence Oliver.

Dix didn't care about Denny's scandals and he treated him as a respected member of his tea, but Coach Gordon went out of his way to be disrespectful and mean.

"Haven't quit yet, Humphrey?" Coach Gordon asked with distain every time he saw his former football player.

"How's it going?" Joe Johns asked Denny a few weeks into the rehearsal schedule.

"I'm alone in a theatre full of people," Denny answered with a sigh. "It's as if I'm wearing a Scarlett Letter on my chest."

"You're doing a good job," Johns assured him. "Dix says you're great."

"Everybody hates me," Denny announced.

"People need time to heal," Johns reminded him. "The only way you're going to get any credibility is to prove to them that you've changed."

"I'm not sure it's worth it," Denny replied. "Some of those people will never give me a chance."

"But one or two might," Johns advised. "That's why you're doing this. Look, you haven't gotten angry once," he pointed out. "That's something to be proud about given your history."

Denny was sitting in one of the house chairs waiting for the rehearsal to start when Reverend Campbell took a seat next to him. The Pastor dressed conservatively and always had a Bible in his hand. Oddly, he wore his salt and pepper hair unusually long with a goatee on his chin. Denny knew The Pastor because his daughter had gone to school with him before he was expelled from Miller City High. The Reverend was cordial to the boy and he was one of the few who were willing to talk with Denny during the rehearsal grind.

"Do you believe in redemption?" The Pastor asked.

"I'd like to," Denny admitted. "But I've learned that forgiveness and reconciliation don't come easy."

"Have you atoned for your sins?"

"I've been trying," Denny said.

"Have patience, son," The Pastor advised. "Sometimes things happen in their own time for their own reason."

"Thanks, Sir."

"As a Man of God, I believe that Jesus Christ is a forgiving God and I respect the guts you've shown getting involved here given all that has happened."

"How's Carol doing?" Denny couldn't help but ask after the Reverend's daughter.

Denny had been enchanted with Carol since third grade and they were friendly all through elementary school. She was everything he wasn't – polite, kind, respectful, considerate, concerned, caring, giving, friendly, smart, pretty, personable, popular, spiritual and unassuming. She was the daughter of a preacher living a virtuous life while Denny was the orphaned son of a couple killed on Christmas Eve.

Carol was as close to a girl friend Denny ever had, although they only went to one movie together in seventh grade. She never held his faults against him like many of the kids and she forgave him whenever he screwed up. It was only after he became uncontrollably out of control that Carol stopped associating with him and Denny knew his atrocities cost him any chance with a remarkable girl like Carol.

The Reverend smiled. "Carol is doing fine, son. Remember. Things happened for a reason."

Two nights later, Denny was sitting on a stool in the wings of the stage watching the rehearsal.

"Hi Denny."

He was stunned to see his lost love Carol Campbell standing beside him. She was as beautiful as ever with a shag blond hairstyle, dancing blue eyes, full rosy cheeks, and the figure of a ballerina.

"What are you doing here?" he asked with surprised.

"I'm Belle," she replied. "Young Scrooge's Fiancé. And I'm one of the anonymous girls in the crowd scenes."

Puzzled, Denny looked at his production notes and cast list. "Diane Buzzell is Belle."

"She's going on a ski trip the week of the show," Carol explained. "So ta-da, here I am, thanks to Daddy."

"Your father got you the part?"

"He told Mr. Hughes that I was available and that I've acted before," Carol explained. "Presto, here I am!"

Denny glanced into the house and saw the Pastor sitting in a row of seats with Joe Johns. He nodded toward Denny who almost fell off his stool. Was the Pastor offering Denny redemption in the form of his daughter?

"So, I'm told you're bad news around here," Carol stated with a sly smile.

"The worse of the worst."

"Oh, I bet you're not that bad." She smiled before disappearing into the shadows.

#### ####

Mayor Chandler described Mr. Waverly as "the perfect gentleman" and the lead had earned the respect of the entire production. He showed up for every rehearsal wearing his famous three piece suits with his short gray hair neatly styled and his pencil moustache appropriately trimmed. He was the most distinguished man in the cast.

As the lead, Mr. Waverly carried the largest load. Scrooge had the most lines and the most stage time. "The Wave" as Dix had taken to call him was struggling early with his lines and Dix ordered Denny to run lines to help the actor memorize his part. They met a half hour before rehearsal and Denny fed Scrooge his lines and cues to help him get off book.

Waverly barely looked at him when they read. Denny had been a disruptive, insulting student and especially mean to Mr. Waverly who he found a bore mostly because the old guy didn't relate to kids on their level.

But Denny was impressed with Waverly's ability to transform himself into the miser Scrooge. He was a proficient actor who took on the mannerisms and personality of Ebenezer with each reading and Denny couldn't help but laugh when they were running lines.

"Am I amusing you, Humphrey?"

"No, Sir. I…well, yes, as a matter of fact, you are," Denny said with a grin. "You're great. I see more of Scrooge coming out every time we do this."

"Good," Waverly replied with satisfaction.

When the actor had his lines down pat after three or four nights of work, The Wave thanked Denny for working with him. "I appreciate your help, Mr. Humphrey."

"I'm sorry I was such a shit head in your class."

The teacher frowned at his former student but then nodded in agreement. "Yes," he said. "You certainly were."

Mr. Waverly treated Denny better after that and it helped that the show's lead was giving him a break.

Bonnie Dailey was the young woman playing Fred's wife Kate. Denny had never met her before but he was attracted to the pretty twenty-four year old woman and her fluffy personality. One night, Denny handed her a glass to use as a prop while rehearsing a scene.

"Please stay away from me." Bonnie was unusually curt and he embarrassingly vacated the area.

"Fred's wife is the sister of the guy you smacked in the store that night," Joe Johns explained as Denny retreated to the seats in the house.

"Is there anybody in this show who doesn't know and hate me?" Denny moaned.

"It's a small community, Denny," Johns said. "There is no six degrees of separation."

"I should go hide in a hole."

"You need to face this stuff head on," Johns advised. "It's the only way you'll get beyond it."

A remorseful Denny tentatively approached Bonnie when she was done with her scene but he stopped when he saw her dagger eyes.

"Please accept my apology for that night," Denny said as Bonnie stepped off the stage. "I was drunk and I don't remember much about what happened but that doesn't excuse what I did. I hope your brother is doing okay."

"He's got fake teeth because of you." Bonnie was still bitter, a year after the incident.

"I'm sorry."

"Big deal," she barked, refusing to look at him as she walked away.

"These are nice people, Denny," Joe said. "Bad things happened."

"I'm going to be a bad person forever," Denny sighed

"You're not a bad person," Joe assured him. "But you did do some bad things."

"Am I going to be haunted by my past forever?" Denny groaned.

"Perhaps," Johns replied honestly.

### ###

Denny opened the theatre for rehearsal one evening and he sat in the house waiting for the others to show up. Carol was one of the first to arrive and she took a seat next to him.

"This is so much fun." She was cheerful and excited.

"Not for me," Denny replied, feeling persecuted and misunderstood.

"Ah, lighten up, Humphs," she said with a laugh. "It's a long way back from the dead."

He peered at her. "I'm dead to you?"

"Don't you see yourself as Scrooge?" she wanted to know.

"Scrooge?"

"Yeah. I mean, this play is about redemption and second chances. Discovering the true meaning of doing good. Overcoming obstacles to find happiness."

"What's that have to do with me?"

"You're Marley," Carol explained. "Your soul is dead. But Ebenezer is inside and if you give him a chance, he'll come out."

"I'm not the one in need of a revelation," he told her.

"Oh," she said, shaking her head in understanding. "You think everybody else needs to find the magic of Christmas?"

"They're the ones who can't forgive."

"Sure they can," she said, patting his leg. "If they had a reason."

He stared at her for a long moment. "It's always going to be up to me, isn't it?" he sighed.

"You don't even like Christmas, do you?" Carol asked.

He shook his head no. "Not for a long time," he admitted.

She smiled at him. "See you around, Ebenezer."

"Goodbye, Belle," he called as she walked down the aisle toward the dressing room.

She looked back at him and winked. "Get it?"

He watched her disappear through the door under the stage. Was she saying she'd be Belle to his Ebenezer? His heart skipped a beat.

### ###

Nick Wayne from the high school joined the staff as the production's Musical Director and Beth Morning from Morningstar Dance Studio was doing the choreography. Wayne, a dumpy overweight man with unkempt hair and wrinkled clothes, was aware of Denny's reputation, but the petite and elastic Beth had never heard of him and she was among the few who treated him like a normal person.

Some of the smaller kids joined the group later in the rehearsal schedule Dr. Lewis' three children (Cassie, Bobby and Jessica) played three of the Cratchit children and Carol's kid brother Tommy was Buck, the street urchin. Denny sometimes looked after them during the large rehearsals.

"Are you the ax murderer?" Eight year old Bobby Lewis asked Denny as the group sat on the edge of the stage waiting for their cue during one of the rehearsals.

"Bobby! Shhh!" His nine year old sister Cassie warned. "Don't get him mad!"

Denny glanced at the kids and smiled. "I'm not an ax murderer," he assured them.

"I think you're nice," seven year old Jessica said.

"Thanks," Denny said. "But I did do bad things," he revealed.

"How come?" Bobby asked.

"I was angry," Denny replied. "But that was no reason. And I'm sorry for what I did."

"Is that why everybody says stuff about you?" Cassie asked.

"What did you do?" Bobby wanted to know.

"Okay, kids, we don't need to be talking about this." It was Gail Raines, playing the 15 year old Martha Cratchit, speaking up from a few feet away. "Let's focus on our parts and leave Denny alone."

Denny nodded his appreciation to Gail, who was a year behind him in school, a pretty girl active in many school activities and routinely participating in beauty pageants. Dix called the group of kinds onto the stage to discuss blocking.

"I still think you're a jerk," Gail said as she passed Denny to join the others.

Coach Gordon hadn't been to many rehearsals yet but once the big Thanksgiving Day rivalry game was over, Denny saw more of him and he realized how much Gordon hated his guts.

Upset at being kicked off the team, Denny pirated a school van from the parking lot and mangled the football field by doing donuts and digging up the turf with the truck tires. He tried to make his getaway by driving the truck through the wire mesh fence surrounding the field but the underside of the vehicle got hung up on a tree stump and Denny was apprehended by the Police before he could get away on foot.

"Been on any more joy rides lately?" The Coach sarcastically asked Denny on Marley's first night back at rehearsal.

Denny locked up the theatre as he did every night and he walked to his car parked in the alley behind the building.

"They still let you drive?"

Denny turned to see Coach Gordon stepping out of the shadows. He was short but muscular with a military haircut and pork chop sideburns.

"I got my license back a couple of months ago," Denny nervously revealed.

"Too bad." Gordon raised a six back of beer toward Denny. "Brewski?"

"I don't drink anymore, Coach."

"I bet," he muttered before pushing Denny against the car and stepping close to him. Denny could smell beer on his breath.

"You don't know how bad I want to beat the shit out of you, Humphrey."

"Go ahead," Denny replied.

"Why don't you do everybody a favor and just go away?" The Coach snarled.

"I made a commitment to Hughes."

The Coach laughed. "A commitment? You made a commitment to me and the team too. You didn't honor that, did you?"

"No, I didn't." Denny tried to step away but Coach kept him pinned against the car with his arm pressed across the teen's chest.

"Why couldn't you have just taken it like a man, Humphrey?" The Coach wanted to know. "Why'd you have to wreck the field for?"

"I was out of control," Denny answered. "I barely remember doing it."

"Yeah, well lucky for you I'm in control," Coach said, stepping back. "Or you'd be floating in the river with a busted head, you little bastard."

The Coach opened the door to the car and forced Denny into the driver's seat. He tossed the beer into the driver's lap, closed the door and disappeared down the alley.

Denny stared at the beer for the longest moment. Five cold ones (Coach must have had the other). Denny hadn't been drunk in a year and he knew if he opened one of the beers now he'd polish all five off in a matter of minutes.

Maybe Coach wanted him too. Maybe it was a set up. Maybe the cops were waiting for him around the corner. Everybody in the play could say "Told You So" if Denny screwed up again.

Denny climbed out of the car and tossed the beer into a nearby dumpster. He wasn't going to take the bait He owed Hughes and Johns that much. Carol too, he hoped.

### ###

Nick Wayne the Musical Director recruited a couple of his best singers from school to play carolers in the show. Unfortunately, one of them was Brandon Gilson, a terrific tenor but also the kid that Denny had threatened to kill.

Denny smashed several of the trophy cases in the school lobby in a fit of anger after another run in with a teacher and he would have gotten away with it had Brandon not walked around the corner to witness Denny's act of destruction.

Denny chased the kid down the hall and threw him into a row of lockers. "Say anything and you're dead," Denny warned before disappearing into the shadows.

Gilson eventually told authorities what he saw but only after Denny had been arrested on other charges. Brandon was a mousey and timid fellow and he looked like he was going to faint as he walked into the theatre for his first rehearsal and saw Denny sitting on the edge of the stage.

"Don't worry about it," Denny told the frightened Brandon as the newcomer walked past him and joined Mr. Wayne on the stage. "I've been to anger management."

Poor Gilson didn't look convinced as he nervously peered at the stage manager.

Denny was among the volunteer group that spent a weekend helping Set Builder Pete Perrifield and his crew construct the various sets for the play, including Scrooge's bedroom, The Office of Marley and Scrooge, the homes of Fred and The Cratchits, and Fizziwig's Tavern. Pete was a friendly fellow who enjoyed great rapport with the workers and he made the project fun.

Pete wasn't aware of Denny's history so he made him the team leader of the kids since he was Dix's representative. Gail Raines still thought Denny was a jerk and former classmate Jake Lachance wanted nothing to do with him either but high school wrestler Don Jackson didn't have a problem talking to Denny, and Carol was extra attentive which made it easier for Denny.

Carol was bold enough to suggest that they all go to the pizza parlor down the street when they were done with their construction session and when the group declined the invitation Denny and Carol went alone, placed their order, and took seats in a corner booth.

"I'm surprised you're willing to be seen in public with me," Denny remarked.

"You need to take the chip off your shoulder, Humph," Carol replied. "It's Christmas for heaven sakes!"

"Problems don't go away just because Christmas comes once a year."

"It's a magical time of year."

"You come from a religious and spiritual family that believes in all that stuff," Denny protested. "It wasn't like that for me growing up."

"I know."

"I remember one year your father brought presents to my Aunt and Uncle's house at Christmas."

Carol leaned across the table. "Who do you think told him to, silly?"

Denny sat back in his seat. "You?" His face turned red.

"I know it hasn't been easy for you," Carol said. "And I know that's why you've had your…..issues…..but Christmas is about hope. Jesus the Savior was born and all of us have a chance to be saved again too."

"Tell it to my dead parents," Denny seethed.

"It's not too late for you," she said quietly.

Denny frowned at her. "So, you think I'm going to wake up on Christmas morning like Ebenezer Scrooge and see the world in a whole new way?"

She shrugged. "Something like that."

"Why do you care about what happens to me anyway?"

She thought about it for a moment. "Fifth grade, I guess."

"Fifth grade?"

"I got hit in the face playing dodge ball. Got knocked on my rear wearing a dress, underwear showing. Everybody laughed." She looked straight into his eyes. "Except for you."

"I'm the one who threw the ball."

"And you were remorseful. You picked me up and carried me to the nurse's office."

"I wanted to make sure you were okay."

"You were a gallant hero that day."

"I was a crass bully."

"Not to me."

"You're the only one who believes in me."

"Maybe," she said.

"You put too much faith in me."

"What else is there?"

"Do you know the things I've done?"

"Are you still doing them?"

"No."

"Well then. That's good enough for me."

One of the workers brought the pizza to their table.

"What happened to you?" Carol asked after the waiter left.

"I let anger consume me," Denny sighed. "I was pretty messed up after my parents accident. Killed on Christmas Eve? What kind of cruel joke was that? All I wanted to do was drink and forget but the more I drank the angrier I became. And the angrier I became, the worse I behaved. It became an endless cycle."

"You don't seem angry now," Carol observed.

"I guess I got tired of being one angry son of a bitch," He told her.

"Did you ever pray?" Carol asked hopefully.

"For what?" He asked with resignation. "To Who? The God who killed my parents on Christmas Eve?"

"God didn't kill your parents," Carol told him. A snow plow in a snow storm did."

"Yeah, right," he grumbled.

"Do you remember that story I told you about my lost locket?" Carol asked.

Denny searched his memory for a moment. "You mean your Mother Mary Medal that was passed down from your Great Grandmother?"

"I lost it in the ocean," she reminded him. "The chain broke when I was swimming and there was no way I was going to find it in the great big sea. The waves moved me around and the sand was kicking up under the water and I couldn't see anything. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack and I was sure the medallion had been swept away, lost forever."

"But you kept looking," Denny recalled.

"That medal was very important to me," Carol said. "So, I kept diving down, maybe 15 seconds at a time, looking. I could only see a few feet."

"And you started praying," Denny said, remembering the story.

"I prayed and dove, dove and prayed," she affirmed. "This went on for about ten minutes. All I could do was look straight down, moving to different spots each time but I had no idea if I was even searching in the right area. The medal could have been a 100 yards away by then."

"But you kept looking," Denny said. "You refused to give up."

"I saw something reflect in the sun shining through the water," Carol told him. "I could barely see through the foggy surf and the swirling sand and I was afraid that a wave would push me or the medal out of sight. If I went up for air, I'd probably lose sight of the reflection. I remember praying, 'Please Jesus, just one more chance.' I stretched my hand towards the reflection and grabbed at the shining. I couldn't believe it when I realized I had the medallion in my hand. What were the chances?"

"You said you never doubted the power of prayer after that day."

"You remembered that story?" She asked with surprise.

"Because you told me it," he admitted. "I admired your belief in the power of prayer."

"But you never tried it," she sighed.

"I guess I was in the dark," Denny shrugged. "Like that medallion in the ocean. Only a prayer was going to let me be found."

"I prayed for you," Carol revealed.

He eyed her with surprise. "You prayed for me?"

"Every day," she said. "I think it worked, don't you?" She smiled contently. "I came to the realization that I had nobody but myself to blame for all my problems and troubles," Denny told her. "It was my fault for breaking and entering. It was my fault for driving while intoxicated. It was my fault for punching that store clerk and getting arrested and stealing the school truck and wrecking the football field and threatening poor Gilson and pissing on those new cars and being a drunk and getting kicked out of school and getting kicked off the football team and wrecking the Barbeque and flashing my dick at the cheerleaders and….well, everything was my fault."

"It wasn't your fault that your parents died," Carol said quietly.

"You must not think very much of me," Denny sighed with embarrassment.

"Oh, I guess I've heard worse," Carol said with a laugh, taking a bite of her slice.

"What could be worse than what I just told you?" Denny asked. "Is it any wonder people don't like me? I don't even like me!"

"It doesn't have to be a ball and chain around your neck, Denny," Carol advised. "Your past doesn't determine your future."

"I can't escape my past," he sighed. "Notice? We're eating alone. Nobody came. Nobody wants anything to do with me."

"I like you and I like being with you," she said.

"Even after hearing all the awful things I did?"

"God forgives."

"I don't deserve it," he sighed.

"It's Christmas, remember?" She said. "Watch the Christmas movies that are on television all the time now. They'll remind you that there is hope and promise, if you believe in the spirit that is Christmas. Good things can happen if you believe."

"Bah, Belle! Humbug!" He teased

She smiled. "Oh, Ebenezer. I bet you say that to all the girls."

"I wish I could play young Scrooge so I could be with you on stage," Denny admitted.

"Then you'd have to act like you loved me."

"I wouldn't have to act," Denny replied and they both blushed.

Neither said anything for the longest time. They finished their pizza while chatting about the show and then Denny walked Carol home to her house behind the small church at the end of Main Street.

"Thanks for the date," she said, pecking him on the cheek before disappearing along the path that led to the Campbell house.

Date? Denny felt a lump in his throat as he waked to his car parked at the theatre.

### ###

Dix said the production had reached "crunch time". Final touches on the musical numbers were worked on. The sets received their last coats of paint. The lights were hung and set. The costumes were finalized and adjusted. The props were gathered and placed on set.

Dix and Mr. Waverly brought a group of students from the high school English department backstage before one of the tech rehearsals.

"Here's your crew for the run," Dix told Denny. "They'll be helping back stage and on the lights."

Denny recognized burly Sanderson James from the football team. He remembered the shapely Lisa Archambault as a cheerleader. Bi-focal and afro-haired Ben Oglvie was on the student council. Shy Keegan Roberts' brother had been in the group that Denny ran with before Roberts got killed in gruesome drunken car accident. Christopher Zambola played Tuba in the marching band.

"Thanks for volunteering," Denny told them. "I know you've heard a lot of stuff about me and I venture most of it is true. But that has nothing to do with what we're doing here so I hope you'll work with me to give the audience a show to remember."

"Hey, man. We're getting three credits for being here," Zambola revealed. "I'll kiss your ass if that's what it takes."

"Yeah, I'm two credits short for graduation," James said. "Even though you wrecked our football field, I'll do what you ask."

"You're one of those perverts who pranked us," Lisa complained.

Denny and a group of his degenerate pals stood on the overpass by Route 17 and exposed themselves to the passing cheerleader bus as it came back from a game late one Saturday afternoon.

"I was drunk," Denny said. "But that's no excuse and I apologize for offending you."

"Actually," she whispered with a giggle. "I thought it was funny. But don't tell anybody!"

"We're getting credits for being here," the sorrowful Keegan said. "What are you getting?"

"A second chance," Denny mumbled.

"You're lucky," Keegan said, her eyes tearing. "I wish my brother could."

"He was a fun guy," Denny said, hoping to make her feel better.

"Just not as lucky as you," Keegan observed with haunted coolness.

### ###

The DJ Chris Martin was thrilled to be involved in the production and he was having a great time interacting with the other performers and crew. Martin was endlessly if not shamelessly promoting the play on his morning radio program and he brought a tape recorder to several rehearsals to record sound bites to play on the air. Dix Hughes called Martin in the Morning the best free advertising money didn't have to buy.

Chris was one of the few in the cast who didn't care about Denny's scandals and the stage manager took a liking to the pony tailed, good humored, voice modulated disc jockey who got plenty of laughs during rehearsals with his variety of voices and his funny nature.

One evening, Chris stuck his miniature tape recorder in Denny's face and said: "Tell us about the production!"

Denny had heard Chris' spots on the morning radio show so he was prepared to respond.

"Hi, my name is Denny Humphrey and I'm the stage manager for this great production of A Christmas Carol. I urge everybody in radio land to buy tickets because it's going to be terrific. For all you folks out there who had Mr. Waverly for an English Teacher at Miller City High, you've got to see the show. He's the Best Scrooge ever.

"My job on The Christmas Carol is to assist the director and help the backstage crew. I got involved through the generosity of kind people like Director Dixon Hughes and Community Member Joe Johns, my probation officer who is also in the production. I would like to thank the cast and crew for making this experience a memorable and rewarding one and I'm deeply appreciative for the opportunity to give back to the community in such a positive way. I'm proud to be part of this great community."

"Gee Denny, Joe Johns is your probation officer?" Chris asked. "Having gotten to know you working on this show together, I can't imagine a fine young man like you getting in trouble."

Denny was surprised by Chris' follow up comment but he appreciated the opportunity to respond. "Chris, I hope all the young people listening to your show today understand what can happen when you make bad choices and bad decisions like I did. I hurt a lot of people and I caused a lot of harm to our community. I've been fortunate enough to be given a second chance and I want all the people I've offended to know that I'm turning my life around. I can't take away the hurt I caused, but I'm doing the best I can to change my future in a positive way."

Chris shut off the tape player and looked at Denny. "Good stuff, Humphs."

"Thanks for giving me a chance to explain myself."

"I'll play this tomorrow and maybe some of the folks around here will join your fan club."

"I won't be holding my breath," Denny replied.

"Hank says you went nuts in his barbeque place one night."

Denny shrugged. "I was pretty wasted and I don't remember much. I'm told I was eating right out of the buffet dishes and that I started throwing food when they tried to stop me."

"Hank says you mashed some guy's face into a pot of baked beans." Chris gestured to the tape recorder still in his hand. "Maybe we should give Hank's a plug. He flipped the machine back on. "Hey, Denny," Chris said. "I hear Hank Sawyer from Hank's Barbeque is in A Christmas Carol."

"He's doing a fabulous job playing The Ghost of Christmas Future, Chris," Denny replied. "And I gotta tell you the future looks pretty good for Hank's Barbeque, one of the best eateries in the area. Hank's staff is very friendly and welcoming and I'd recommend the Barbeque as the place to go, especially right after you see A Christmas Carol!"

Chris turned off the tape player and grinned at Denny.

"Do you think that was too much pandering?" Denny wondered.

"What do you have to lose, kid?" Chris asked with a wink.

### ###

Denny had many responsibilities as stage manager and he couldn't worry about how others perceived him. He needed to perform his duties and if that meant politely directing someone who hated his guts to do as he asked, so be it. As long as he was professional and respectful, he couldn't worry about how others reacted to his position and authority.

"I heard you on the radio the other day," Hank Sawyer remarked when he saw Denny standing in the dressing room prior to the first tech rehearsal. "Thanks for the plug."

Sawyer was tall and gangly with long thinning gray hair and a hook nose.

"I know I'm banned for life from the Barbeque and for good reason but I hope you and your staff will accept my apologies for that night," Denny said. "I was pretty hammered but that doesn't excuse how I acted."

"You're not the first drunk we've had and I'm sure you won't be the last," Hank replied. "But I'd say you rank up there as one of more angry drunks I've seen."

"I'm sober now and I'm working on the anger thing," Denny replied. "I'm trying to make amends for my behaviors."

"One of my guys suffered third degree burns on his face getting dunked in the baked beans," Hank said. "It's going to be pretty hard for him forgive."

Dixon's production had come together. The tech and dress rehearsals went well and the show was ready for opening night. The actors had transformed themselves into believable characters and the layers of the show – acting, dancing, singing, tech, costumes, lighting, and make up – had merged into one seamless production.

Denny's backstage crew bonded as a cohesive unit and wore red tee shirts with "Scrooge's Crew" written on them to signify their unity. They also wore red Santa hats and called Denny "Boss". There were plenty of special effects and technical cues to worry about, but 'Scrooge's Crew' was confident and well prepared to make sure their assignments went off without a hitch.

The crew was linked by portable head sets with the ability to communicate (and jabber) to one another during the show which allowed them to establish a friendly rapport as they bantered color commentary and humor back and forth over the head sets.

Denny asserted himself as the Stage Manager, keeping the cast and crew on schedule and on point with little room for error, miscommunication or misunderstandings. Even those who hated the guy admired his ability to run a tight ship to help make the production a success.

Opening night arrived and Denny was surprised by how nervous he felt but his excitement and pride truncated any apprehensions he was experiencing.

Dixon Hughes made an appearance in the dressing room under the stage ten minutes before opening curtain to make a few remarks. He was wearing a black tuxedo with a white scarf around his neck.

"Okay," he said in his usual dramatic flair. "The time for the big speech has long passed. You are ready to give a great show and nothing I can say can prepare you any further. I'm just here to wish you luck and to thank you. This has been a marvelous experience for me and I've been humbled by your commitment and your talent. I also wanted to personally thank Denny Humphrey. He was railroaded into joining us and he's done a fantastic job as my assistant and as our stage manager. We wouldn't be as well prepared if Denny wasn't a part of our production. Thanks, Denny."

An embarrassed Denny nodded his appreciation to Dixon, the guy who had become his mentor. Denny's only goal throughout this process was not to let Dixon Hughes down.

"Okay, people. Have a great show but, more importantly, have fun." Dixon left as dramatically as he entered and there was nothing left to do now but put on a show.

A couple of people congratulated Denny but the usual suspects continued to ignore him. Carol gave him a hug.

"I'm so proud of you, Humphs," she whispered in his ear.

Reverend Campbell offered a prayer of thanksgiving and luck for those willing to listen. Afterward, his daughter Carol sat on a mat in the corner of the dressing room and began practicing yoga moves.

"What are you doing?" Denny asked, noticing her stretching and concentrated breathing.

"Relaxing," she explained. "This is my private little prayer time before the lights go up. I recite a little one line prayer over and over in my head."

"What prayer?"

"I sanctify this present moment," she answered. "I just say that over and over in my head. Sometimes I'll feel for my pulse in my neck and put a hand on my beating heart. It helps me stayed focused on being Belle."

"Can I feel your heart?" Denny joked with a grin.

"Behave yourself, young Scrooge!"

The orchestra began playing the intro. "Places!" Denny hollered. "Places please for Act 1, Scene 1. Thank you!"

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Produced and Directed by Dixon Q. Hughes

Musical Director: Nick Wayne

Choreographed by Beth Morning

EBENEZER SCROOGE Dr. Wes Waverly, Ph.d
MARLEY'S GHOST Coach Jimmy Gordon Ghost of Christmas Present Dr. Jonas Lewis, M.D.
Ghost Of Christmas Past Mayor Marjorie Chandler Ghost of Christmas Future Hank "BBQ" Sawyer
NEPHEW FRED Chris Martin (in the Morning)
KATE (Fred's wife) Bonnie Dailey
Fred's GUESTS Mike Edmons, Joe Johns, Betty Hay, Cecilia Morriston BOB CRATCHIT Police Chief Dave Harvey
MRS. CRATCHIT Principal Peggy O'Toole
TINY TIM CRATCHIT Billy Hanson PETER CRATCHIT Gerry Raines
MARTHA CRATCHIT Gail Raines
BELINDA CRATCHIT Cassie Lewis
FREDERICK CRATCHIT Bobby Lewis
HARRIET CRATCHIT Jessica Lewis Mr. Fizziwig Barber Durwood Mosher Mrs. Fizziwig Librarian Lois Watson BELLE Carol Campbell
POOLE Reverend Henry Campbell
LAMB Fire Chief Bob Neilson
FAN Karen Chandler
BUCK Tommy Campbell
BUSINESSMEN Councilors Mickey Malone, Al Sicard, Marc Olsen
BOY CAROLERS Brandon Gilson, Theo Patton, Jerry Wayne Company

Holly Anderson John Barker Hannah Carlson Wendy Frost Gary Hurst Don Jackson Jake Lachance April Morriston Heather Neilson A.J. Parks Lew Roston Bridget Sheen

Set Design: Pete Perrifield Set Construction: Pete Perrifield, Paul Perrifield, Dick Raphael, Denny Humphrey, Jake LaChance, Carol Campbell, Gail Raines, Don Jackson Lighting: Bruce Hancock and Dick Raphael Costumes: Jean Morley and Michelle Jargis Stage Manager: Denny Humphrey Stage Crew: Sanderson James, Lisa Archambault, Ben Oglvie, Keegan Roberts, Christopher Zambola

Opening night went well. The acting was crisp, the pacing was tight and there were only one or two tiny gaffs. Chris Zambola missed a sound cue and Keegan Roberts had trouble with a spotlight during one of Scrooge's scenes but for the most part the show was flawless.

Denny was calm and relaxed in his duties and happy for the actors. He congratulated the performers every time they exited from a scene, including folks like the Coach and The Police Chief who weren't talking to him.

Bonnie Bailey was practically hyperventilating as she stood in the wings waiting for her first entrance as Kate, Fred's wife. Denny had respectfully avoided her after their one confrontation earlier in the rehearsal run but he leaned over and whispered "You're going to be great!" hoping to help calm her nerves.

"Thanks," she said, forgetting who she was talking to. "I'm always like this on opening night."

Denny had tears in his eyes watching Carol wow the audience as Belle. She looked radiant and she was movingly believable in her emotional scene.

"This music box is a beautiful gift, Ebenezer, but I realize I matter little to you, very little. To protect yourself from a hard and cruel world, you have become hard and cruel in response. I have tried to cheer and comfort you, but another idol has displaced me. You now worship a golden idol. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off, one by one. Oh Ebenezer, you've become another man. I seek tenderness, not riches – therefore, even thought it is Christmas, I release you from our engagement, with a full heart, for the love of him you once were. Dear Ebenezer, may you be happy in the life you have chosen."

There were tears in Carol's eyes as the scene ended and Denny grabbed her as she came off the stage.

"That was unbelievable!" He cried, giving her a hug.

She hugged him back. "Thanks, Humphs. I dedicated my performance to you!"

The cast got a standing ovation during curtain call. The actors congratulated one another when Denny closed the curtain for the final time and there were plenty of celebrations backstage and in the dressing room in the show's wake.

Denny thanked his crew for their job well done and Dixon Hughes made another appearance in the dressing room to give his thumbs up and assure the cast that they had a hit on their hands.

Many were heading to the pancake house for a post-show celebration, but Denny decided to skip the gathering knowing he wasn't an accepted member of the club.

He was surprised to find Carol Campbell sitting on the couch in the dressing room as he made the final rounds, the last one in the theatre.

"You're not coming out with us?" she pouted.

"Na," he said. He took a seat on the couch next to her. "You're amazing as Belle," he told her. "You know that, don't you?"

"Wanna know where I get my motivation?" she asked with a smile.

"Where?"

"From you, of course! I think about you and your sad story and how you're a lot like Scrooge in a hard cruel world and how you became hard and cruel in response. Booze was your idol and I couldn't bare watching you slip away these past few years. So I released you from my heart."

He pulled her close and she rested her head on his shoulder. "I'm back now," he offered.

"Almost," she agreed. "But you still haven't found Scrooge's cheer and freedom of Christmas morning."

"I've done what Joe Johns and your dad and others suggested," he reported. "I've tried to show people that I've changed and that I'm sorry."

"I know," she said. "And you're almost there."

"Almost only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades," he said.

"Well, maybe this will count," she replied, leaning up and kissing him hard on the lips.

He rubbed his fingers along the side of her cheek. "You're the best Christmas Carol I know!"

She laughed as she sprang from the couch. "You can drop me off at the pancake house on your way home," she said and he walked her out of the darken theatre.

### ###

"Well, you're a hit," Denny's Uncle Mike announced at the breakfast table the next morning, showing Denny the review in the morning paper.

They're All In It Together with A Christmas Carol Fundraiser

Chet Lee

Staff Reporter

Supporting a community fund raiser can be fun. That's what the audience at the Majestic Theatre discovered last night watching Dixon Hughes' production of "A Christmas Carol". A cast of community personalities came together to stage an entertaining production with proceeds offered to the charity fund drive saving the historic Godwin Mansion from demolition.

From the moment the play begins with a twinkle of lights and a tinkling of bells, the stage comes alive with Christmas spirit, ghostly apparitions and moving caroling.

The protagonist, miserly and miserable Ebenezer Scrooge, is convincingly played by area English Teacher Wes Waverly, who portrays the heartless old businessman believably with just the right mix of humor and "humbug." He says the word "Christmas" with sneering disgust while others let the word dance off their tongues with chipper over-pronunciation.

Audience members will have fun looking for familiar community faces playing featured parts in the play, many in stand-out performances. For example, local high school students may not recognize their Principal Mrs. (Peggy) O'Toole in her maternal and moving performance as Tiny Tim's gallant mother, Mrs. Cratchit.

The well-known ghosts that appear to Scrooge on Christmas Eve are affective in their presentations. The ghost of Marley, Scrooge's late business partner, appears in a spooky flashing of red lights and smoke. His warning strikes straight into the heart of the play's message. "I wear the chains I forged in life. I made them, link by link." Popular local football coach Jimmy Gordon delivers Marley's lines with a grim desperate tone. Waverly's reactions are perfect and even funny as he cowers by the staircase in his nightcap.

The Ghost of Christmas Past appears in clouds of billowing smoke in a white princess gown in the unexpected form of Mayor Marjorie Chandler as the Spirit. The Mayor is comfortable in her role and strikingly sympathetic in her performance.

Area Physician Jonas Lewis is blunt as the Ghost of Christmas Present and local restaurateur Hank Sawyer steals the show as the Ghost of Christmas Future. Watch Sawyer's face as the gravestone with Scrooge's name etched upon it emerges in midair, terrifying the old man with the prospect of dying alone and unloved. The horrifying question remains unanswered: Are these shadows what must be, or what may be?

Little Billy Hanson brings the audience in tears as the lovable and angelic Tiny Tim, asking God to Bless us Everyone. Durwood Mosher and Lois Watson are brilliant comic relief as Mr. and Mrs. Fizziwig, and the rest of the supporting cast are strong in their performances. Special mentions go to Carol Campbell as Belle and local radio personality Chris Martin as Nephew Fred.

Music plays an essential part in setting the atmosphere of the play. Christmas carols are interspersed through almost every scene to entertainment during scenery changes and to convey emotion in particular scenes. The caroling transforms from lighthearted and fast-paced to slow and woeful. Musical Director Nick Wayne prepared his singers marvelously for this important task.

The pay off comes as Scrooge emerges from his life-altering journey like a newborn baby, grateful for his blessings and committed to helping all those in need who before he snubbed so heartlessly. Waverly is terrific as the new and improved Ebenezer, rolling around joyously on the floor and bursting out of his room half-dressed to begin his new life of charity and love. Liberated from his own fears, he comprehends the ghost of Christmas Present's message that "life can change in an instant."

Last night's applause after the standing ovation is enough to warm any winter's night. The play continues tonight at 7:30 and closes with a Sunday matinee performance at 2:00.

"Makes it all worth it, doesn't it?" Denny's Aunt Kim asked with a smile as she read the review over her nephew's shoulder.

"Thanks for sticking with me though all the crap I've put you guys through," Denny sighed. "I wouldn't be here without your help and perseverance."

"I've heard positive things about you from a lot of people involved in the show," Mike told him. "Scrooge's Crew thinks you're great."

"I've been given a gift," Denny said. "A second chance to do something with my life."

"Just like Scrooge," Aunt Kim observed, rubbing the top of her nephew's head. "I know there's something for you out there."

### ###

Denny had faithfully shown up for each and every rehearsal, taken his responsibilities seriously, and tried to do the best job he could to help make A Christmas Carol a success. He was indebted to Dixon Hughes and Joe Johns for trusting and believing in him enough to give him a chance.

He was thankful to Mr. Waverly, Reverend Campbell, Chris Martin and Hank Sawyer for giving him the benefit of the doubt, accepting his apology, and treating him with respect as the production progressed. He was cheered by his crew who went from suspicious doubters to motivated troopers. And he was buoyed by the belief of the lovely Carol Campbell who refused to give up on him even when he had given up on himself.

The rest of it was out of his control. All he could do was try.

Denny arrived at the theatre extra early Saturday night knowing that his time at the theatre was almost over. The play had been a big part of his life during the past six weeks and he would miss it once the show was over. There was unfinished business between him and The Coach and the Police Chief and Principal O'Toole and the others who hadn't forgiven him but he didn't know what he could do to gain their forgiveness or understanding.

Denny offered his congratulations to the actors for the great review.

"I got a special mention!" A tickled Carol laughed when she entered the dressing room. "What a thrill!"

"I'm thrilled that you're thrilled," Denny told her with a happy smile. "Great job!"

She hugged him. "What a great Christmas this is becoming."

"We missed you last night," Mr. Waverly told Denny when the lead arrived. Denny was impressed the guy had noticed his absence at the pancake house.

"You're a star according to the paper, Sir," Denny noted.

"It's not about me," he replied. "It's about us."

Denny was enlightened by Mr. Waverly's response, realizing it was always about the show. Perhaps for the first time in his life, Denny Humphrey felt like he belonged to something and that he was part of something. He liked the feeling.

That inclusiveness continued when Reverend Campbell offered another prayer of Thanksgiving and good fortune before the show began.

"Especially for me," the Pastor said, "Who dropped a line last night and was only bailed out because of the quick thinking of my fellow actor Bob Neilson!"

The second night's performance was just as strong and tight as opening night and the audience was lively and reactive which was a great lift to the actors.

"You had them eating out of the palm of your hands tonight, Durwood," Chris Martin told Mr. Fizziwig when he and Lois Watson came off stage after their big scene.

The show got another standing ovation at the end of the curtain call.

"Fantastic job, guys," Denny told his crew over the headsets. "Thanks for everything."

"You too, Denny," he heard Keegan Roberts reply. "One more to go, huh?"

"I'm sorry to see it end," Lisa sighed into her microphone.

"No crying," Sanderson warned. "Your tears will electrocute us!"

"We'll see you tomorrow," Denny said.

"Most of the cast is getting together at the Pizza Parlor, I hear," Ben Oglve reported. "You coming, Denny?"

"I'm still in the dog house," Denny reminded his crew.

"I let you out," Keegan revealed.

"Me too," Sanderson agreed. "Come with us."

"Thanks, guys," Denny responded. "But I'd better not. Over and out." He turned off his mike and took off the head set.

Denny helped Sanderson and Chris reset the stage for Act 1, Scene 1 and then he wandered into the dressing room, hoping Carol was still around.

Gail Raines was in tears, upset at Jake LaChance who had mistakenly stepped through the sheets separating the woman's dressing area from the rest of the dressing room, catching a glimpse of Gail's bare backside in the process.

"You did it on purpose," Gail complained.

"I didn't know anybody was back there," Jake insisted. "I was looking for the bells for tomorrow's performance."

"Peeping Tom!" Gail sobbed. "This is the most humiliating moment of my life."

"Ah, grow up," an unsympathetic Jake replied. "It was an accident. Get over it."

"Thanks, Jake," Denny said. "Have a good night. See you later." He motioned with his chin for Jake to get lost.

"I know I'm just a jerk," Denny told Gail once they were alone. "But there's nothing for you to feel humiliated about. In my book, you're like a piece of art and art in all forms is beautiful to look at."

Gail peered at Denny with disbelief. "Jesus," she said through her tears. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

"It's all I got," Denny admitted. "Think of it this way. Jake LaChance is going to remember you for the rest of his life."

Now she laughed. "What a memory, huh?" She sighed. "Thank, Denny." She studied him for a long moment. "I guess you're not such a jerk after all," she decided.

"That's right!" A smiling Carol joined them. "Are you up for pizza this time, Gail?"

"Sure," she said. "I hear everybody's going."

"Come on, Denny," an excited Carol said. "We can go together."

"I think I'll pass," Denny replied. "There are still those who think I'm a jerk."

"You can't let that stop you," Carol advised. "You can't control what others think."

"Yeah, but I don't want to wreck the night either," Denny explained. "You guys go ahead without me."

Carol kissed him goodnight. "You deserve better, Ebenezer," she said.

"Thanks, Belle."

Gail smiled at their mushy exchange. "You guys," she laughed.

Denny was melancholy as he did his final tour of the theatre. He liked being the last one out every night and he enjoyed the private ritual. He felt a bit lonely driving home, knowing most of the cast and crew were enjoying themselves at the Pizza Parlor, but he was didn't need to put himself in a situation where some would question his presence.

He was heading down Prospect Street when a car raced by him going at least sixty miles an hour in a 30 mile per hour zone. The intersection at Elm was only a half block up the street and there was no way the car was going to stop for the stop sign. Denny blasted his horn in a fruitless warning attempt but the car never slowed and it smashed into a pick up truck traveling through the intersection at Elm.

Denny could hear the sound of crushing metal and smashing glass even through his closed windows and the roar of the car heater. The speeding car and victimized truck were both pushed off the road, taking out a mail box and street sign before coming to rest against a huge Elm Tree off the side of the road, some fifty feet from the intersection.

Denny skidded his car to a stop and ran toward the accident. He saw a couple of guys fall out of the car and disappear into the night but the occupant of the truck sat dazed behind the wheel. Denny noticed smoke and flames popping out from underneath the truck that was at a forty degree angle against the tree. The wrecked car was blocking the driver's door and the passenger's door was mashed against the huge tree, so there was no way to get into the cab of the truck.

"Mister! Mister!" Denny screamed.

Then he realized who was in the truck – the ghost of Marley himself, Coach Jimmy Gordon.

"Coach! There's a fire! You need to get out of there!"

Gordon pushed against the door. "No way," he shouted. "I'm trapped."

Denny looked around and saw the pole of the street sign lying in the street. He ran and grabbed it. A mother and a teenage girl appeared from a nearby house.

"Call 911!" Denny shouted. "Tell them there's a fire."

The lady pulled a cell phone from her bathrobe pocket.

"Cover your head!" Denny yelled to the Coach. "I'll bust out the rear window!"

Denny pole-vaulted the street sign post through the back window and smashed out the glass. Tossing aside the pole, he stuck his head into the cab. "Climb out, Coach."

"I'm stuck, Humphrey," The Coach reported. "The dashboard's pinning my legs."

Denny tried to pull the coach, but it was no use. The driver was wedged tight.

"This thing is going to go up like a Chinese fire cracker any moment," Coach warned. "Better save yourself."

"I'm committed to you, Coach," Denny replied.

The stage manager jumped off the back of the truck, picked up the street pole, got back on the truck, stuck the pole through the smashed window and tried to pry up the dashboard so Coach could get his legs out. The flames were coming up through the hood of the truck now.

"A little more," Coach yelled. "It's moving. Hurry up, Humphrey. You can grill a hot dog in here."

Sirens wailed in the background as Denny put all his force and might into the prying and he felt the dashboard buckle.

"I'm free," Coach shouted. "Grab me!"

Denny pushed the pole away and grabbed Coach by the shoulders.

"Pull, Humphrey! Pull!" Coach yelled.

Denny pulled with all his strength and the Coach came sliding out of the window like a baby out of a birth canal.

Denny jumped off the back of the truck, dragging Coach with him. He heard an explosion and felt himself being thrown to the ground, his ears ringing as a flash of energy and heat rushed by.

Two firemen and a cop had them now, carrying them clear of the flames.

"You okay?" A fireman asked.

"The other guy was in the truck," Denny yelled. "Make sure he's alright."

"I'll live, Humphrey," he heard Coach say. "Thanks to you, you little bastard."

The fire department doused the flames of the wreck and tended to the Coach until the EMT and ambulance arrived a few minutes later.

A uniformed cop took Denny's statement.

A blue sedan arrived and Denny recognized Police Chief Dave Harvey and Fire Chief Bob Nielson approaching. Somebody must have called them at the Pizza Parlor where the Christmas Carol celebration was taking place.

The Chiefs talked to the other cops and to Coach as the EMTs loaded him into the ambulance. Denny was resting against his own car.

"You okay?" Chief Harvey asked, joining Denny as the ambulance sped away.

"EMT guy said superficial scratches and some scorched clothing is all," Denny reported. "What about Coach?"

"He's pretty banged up. They'll check him out at the ER. He said he'd really be the Ghost of Marley if you weren't here."

"I guess I finally did something right," Denny observed.

"I've been a cop for more than thirty years, Humphrey," The Chief said. "I've never come close to firing my gun in all that time. Except for the night you broke into my house. You don't realize how close I came to blowing your head off."

"I'm glad you didn't."

"How could you be so stupid?"

"I've been telling people I was drunk and don't remember and didn't know and all that crap for months now," Denny replied. "But none of it matters. I was wrong and I have no excuse. I apologize though."

"Okay," the lead cop said. "You can go home."

Denny started for the door, but Harvey stopped him. "I guess I was as mad at myself as I was at you," he said. "It scared the hell out of me realizing I was a hair trigger away from killing someone."

"Toby Taylor was one of the guys in the car," Denny told The Chief.

"Thanks, Denny." The Chief motioned to one of the other cops. "We'd better find him before he sobers up. Good job."

The cop extended his hand and Denny gladly accepted it in a shake.

The theatre was abuzz with excitement the following day. The cast and crew were preparing for their final show but there was also plenty of focus on the heroics of Stage Manager Denny Humphrey who pulled Marley's ghost from a burning truck.

"Didn't I tell you there's always hope and promise, if you believe in the spirit that is Christmas?" Carol wanted to know when she came into the dressing room and planted a welcoming kiss on the stage manager's lips. "Good things can happen if you believe, Denny."

"I never thought I'd enjoy Christmas again," Denny admitted flat out.

"Joe Johns says you've been looking for a job," Hank Sawyer said.

"Nobody will hire me," Denny sighed.

"I'll hire you," Hank replied. "Come down to the Barbeque tomorrow."

"What about the baked beans face guy?"

"He's moved on," Hank said.

"You sure you want me there after what I did?"

"I think you've proven yourself."

A reporter from the newspaper showed up for a quick interview and Chris Martin recorded a couple of sound bites with Denny for his morning program.

"Thanks, Superman," the D.J. grinned when they were finished chatting.

Dixon Hughes entered the dressing room with a script in his hand and Chief Harvey by his side. "Where's the hero?" he demanded.

Several cast members pointed to Denny who was standing in the corner of the room.

"Let's hear it for the boy!" shouted Librarian Mrs. Fizziwig Lois Watson and the entire cast broke out in applause.

Chief Harvey told Denny they caught up with Toby Taylor and nabbed the other kid too. The drinking pair stole a car from a grocery store parking lot and went for a joy ride when the accident occurred.

"That was me not to long ago," Denny admitted.

"But not now," Joe Johns reminded him.

"Looks like I'll be Marley today," Dixon announced to the cast. "I don't think Jimmy Gordon is up to it."

"Bullshit!" It was the Coach entering the room behind Dixon with Dr. Lewis by his side. "The show must go on, right?" Gordon was walking with a cane and both his hands were bandaged.

"Is he medically cleared?" The Director asked the Doctor.

"Against my better judgment," The Ghost of Christmas Present replied. "He's a stubborn fool."

"Are you really up to it?" A concerned Dix asked the actor.

"Gotta play hurt," Coach replied. "Now, where's that little bastard Humphrey?"

Coach limped across the room and stopped in front of the stage manager. "Thanks for pulling my ass out of the fire," he said, and the others applauded again.

Gordon motioned for Denny to follow him to a private area of the dressing room.

"Humphrey, you've got to understand that the football field you destroyed is our Sanctuary," The Coach said. "Our turf, no pun intended. It's where we defend our honor and our integrity. It's bad enough when others desecrate it but when one of our own betrays us? Well, that's just sacra religious."

"I regret what I did," Denny replied.

"And I've decided to suspend your death sentence," The Coach revealed.

"I'll continue to pay my penance," Denny assured him.

"Do what you must," The Coach advised. "You're square with me, Denny."

"Thanks, Coach."

Reverend Campbell offered a prayer of gratitude and appreciation for all of God's Gifts presented to the Cast and Crew of A Christmas Carol. "We have received the message of Scrooge through God and we are moved by what we have witnessed," The Pastor prayed. "We believe in the magic and promises that comes with the Christ Child on Christmas and we are better people now then we were when we started this show. We thank you for the talent and the love that you have graced us with here. We thank you for keeping Jimmy Gordon safe and we thank you for your divine presence that allowed Denny Humphrey to do the right thing by all of us."

"God Bless us everyone!" Billy Hanson added in his Tiny Tim voice which drew a laugh from those who had partaken in the prayer.

"How do you feel?" Carol asked Denny as she walked with him to his backstage post.

"Like I've finally been freed," he admitted, trying not to grin. "I feel great."

"Do you believe in the magic now?" she wanted to know.

He stopped and looked at her in her Belle wardrobe and make up. "I believe in you," he said.

She smiled.

"And I love you," he added.

"Oh, Ebenezer," she said. "I've always loved you."

"Merry Christmas, Carol," Denny said with a happy smile. "Do you know how long it's been since I've said those words and meant it?"

"Five years," Carol replied. "Since the night your parents died."