Inside Kafka's department store, on the fifth floor, behind womens lingerie and above electronics, was an employee break room.
This room had no doors or windows, and was designed solely for four workers who did not work for any department in the store. They didn't work for the Athletic store on the first floor either. Or for any of the other chains that occupied the building.
Entrance to the break room would have been forbidden to anyone except the four employees that knew of it's existence, save for the fact that no one even knew it existed. It was a design flaw that had been fully furnished sometime in the early nineteenth century, and promptly sealed shut.
There was electric lighting with bulbs that had not burned out or needed replacing. Not because there was anything magical about them. The bulbs were simply from a time when craftsmanship and dedication to a superior product were what people endeavored for. The bulbs would eventually burn out, and the problem of changing them would be dealt with at that time.
There was also an electric heater, four overstuffed chairs, a small table, a hotplate with kettle, and a French press for coffee. A sink was also provided, to wash the French press, but none of the four employees had ever washed it. Communicable diseases weren't their problem.
An old man in chains was the first to arrive. He seemed to simply step into the room as though he belonged there. He doffed a top hat, shaking some inarticulate particulate off of it and threw it in the corner. He went over to the hotplate and set the kettle on it, then fell into one of the chairs.
The entire time he grumbled happily, as though putting on a great show that he hated what he was doing, when in actuality he enjoyed it. Like the husband forced from his warm bed by his wife, and into the much more comfortable couch in the living room.
After a time the kettle began to sputter instead of whistle and with a sense of great immediacy peppered liberally with urgency, he ignored it.
After a while a young looking being stepped into the room and glared at the old man in chains. It, for it seemed to have no gender "being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away" grabbed the bubbling pot and dumped the contents into the press and let it sit.
“Honestly, Marley. It's like you want to wake the dead.” Past said. Marley allowed his jaw to slacken and lifted the chains that wrapped him, shaking them with open mockery. “Oooooh! Boooooo! Aaaaaah!” He moaned.
Past stared at Bob Marley with a smirk on its face. It was difficult to stay mad at the old codger. Somehow he had managed to turn purgation into some kind of working vacation. To a workaholic, endless jobs to be done would seem less of a punishment than an actual reward. It appeared that through the centuries of warning people of the dire situation their lack of holiday cheer had brought them, fidelity towards a worthy purpose had become Marleys gold.
“Come, sit by the fire, and know me better man!” Cried a boisterous voice that shook the break room. Past shook her head. She knew what was coming, after all, her memory of the past was historic.
Throughout the years it had become something of a running gag between them all, with ebbs and flows of hilarity. Present was, well, always present, and his signature phrase had become by turns heartwarming, tedious, annoying, downright irritating, until someone would get upset and the whole thing would start over. Right now it was heartwarming again but bordering on irritating.
“Present! We already know you, you bearded old fool.” Marley snapped with a bemused look on his face.
“Don't snap at him, you know he can't help it.” Past reminded him.
“I know he can't help it. He reminds us every hour.” Marley said affectionately. “He won't even remember that I snapped at him, will he?” Marley looked over at Present, a jolly giant with dark brown curls. He wore a fur-lined green robe and on his head a holly wreath set with shining icicles. He was in much better shape than Marley in the clothing department. Marley was still wearing gloves with no fingers and had been since his death. He got up and dragged his chains over to where Present sat, and thumped down beside him. Together they warmed their hands by the electric heater. Present offered Marley a goblet of sweet wine, procured from nowhere, and Marley drank it eagerly knowing that it would be sweet only for a moment before disappearing entirely.
“Past, remind me again what he did to get here?” Marley asked.
“Nothing. This is his first Christmas with us, like every year. You're here because you were a workaholic who didn't care if people were chewed up inside as long as you made a profit.” Past said gently. Past knew Marley was only asking out of habit. He often did, as though hearing it another time would somehow answer a deep question. What he could not seem to understand was that his being a workaholic was never the problem, not entirely. He was now learning that working with a purpose didn't mean you went into work everyday with a smile on your face. He would get it, the idea that he could never work off his cruelty in life. Maybe he would come to understand that this was going to be his job forever, no matter how many people he introduced the spirits to. Just as this would always be Pasts job, and Present would always pass away on this night, and future would always be goading them ever onward.
“What's the point of it all? Huh? If nothing is ever going to change, why keep doing this?” Marley tossed the goblet aside, where it vanished.
“The point is not for everything to always get better, Jacob. The point is to stop things from growing worse.” Past said. Present nodded vigorously. He tended to be very agreeable.
“Yeah, yeah. The Myth of Sisyphus and all that?” Marley picked up his top hat and looked deeply into it. Possibly he was expecting a rabbit.
“Right, it never actually happened. You know, you should try reading a book sometime. In it this guy messes up, and the gods sentence him to push a boulder up a hill, telling him that he'll be free when its at the top. The trick is, as soon as it gets to the top, it just rolls right down. So Sisyphus just keeps rolling the boulder, but the joke is on the gods, because he's laughing the whole time at how absurd it is for him to keep trying, but he does it anyway.”
Past nodded. It understood completely the lesson, but didn't think that Marley fully got it yet. As Marley was relating the story, The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. He laid a spectral and on Marely's shoulder.
“Hey guys! Great news! Old Sam Gregor had a change of heart, so to speak! We all have this Christmas off! How's that sound!” The Ghost of Christmas Future yelled.
“Sit by the fire, and know me better man!” Present called.
“Don't mind if I do!” Future answered, and the two of them sat by the electric heater. Marley just stood there, blinking.
“There's an awful lot out there that's changed. You could go out and see the sights.” Past suggested to Marley.
“What a great idea. Past, would you like to come with me?”
Past agreed. Arm in arm they left the break room and went off to explore how well people were valuing their existence, and if they still carried a jolly tune and that they, too, could achieve a similar salvation in a selfish world that had blunted their generosity and compassion.