Crabus Craberson looked at the snow falling outside his window with disgust.
"Bah humbug," he growled, sipping at his lukewarm coffee. The Rangers post game played softly in the background, the illumination of the television acting as the only light in the room -- flashing distorted shadows all over the walls.
The TV could be heard over the gentle hum of the hot water heater from the basement.
"The Rangers lose this one 7-4, which is not the way they wanted to go into the holiday break," Sam Rosen says.
"You've got that right, Sam," Joe Micheletti responds. "You know, the Rangers have a lot of soul searching to do over this break. They're hurt, and that's a big part of this, but there's no spark."
"You've got that right!" Crabus roared with a fury that shocked even himself. He turned off the TV and threw the remote at the floor.
He looked at the story for tomorrow's paper and shook his head. He had done all he could do. Asked all the right questions about the goaltending and talked about the forwards not doing their job. He'd turned over every stone.
Submitting his story, he picked up his things and got into his car. The soft snow had piled onto his windshield and he had to scrape it off with his scraper, muttering under his breath the entire time.
"Mr. Craberson?" A voice called from the darkness.
"Mmmm," Crabus responded in annoyed tones. It was his other writer Eager Reporter. The boy had new ideas about the job of a reporter and it irked Crabus to his very core.
"I noticed my sidebar about the defense not being good was rejected."
"Yes, Eager, it was," he rounded on him. "Dan Girardi is both a warrior and a guy who did amazing things five years ago. He deserves to get the benefit of the doubt for ten years or so and then we can gently dissolve into debates about whether or not we can talk about it before he eventually retires and we all forget about it!"
"I see. Also, Mr. Crabus, there was the bit about my raise?"
"You'll never see such a thing with these ideas rattling around in your head! I'll see you tomorrow!"
"But, sir, it's Christmas!"
"I'll see you bright and early or you'll be fired!" Crabus erupted, slamming the door closed and pressing the gas so hard he sprayed Eager with slush as he drove off.
Crabus made his way home, grumbling the entire time. This team needed grit! Toughness! Someone to punch back! That would solve all of this.
He took a cold shower -- nothing warmed his bones anymore -- and threw himself into bed.
Crabus was nearly about to find sleep when his eyes sprung open. He could have sworn he heard something -- a rattling of sorts.
The noise occurred again, this time much louder. Curling up into a ball, Crabus huddled with his pillows and tried to control his shaking. He was terrified.
The rattling occurred again, this time right outside his door. “I’m warning you!” He cried into the distance.
The door to his room burst open, and from it sprung Crabus’ old friend and former partner Oldschool McBeatReporter. He was void of colors other than black and white, and had a translucence to him that allowed Crabus to see through him into the hallway.
“Oldschool!” Crabus said, with tears in his eyes. “How is this possible? You have been dead and buried for years now.”
“Crabus,” he replied, his voice dragging with a soft hiss of a hundred whispers. “Crabus I am here to warn you!”
Crabus felt sick. What was his old partner doing here? Was he dreaming.
“Oldschool,” Crabus gasped as his friend walked into the room, “what is that behind you.”
Oldschool walked slowly, tethered to a giant anchor that was wrapped around him with thick, iron chains. “I am forever cursed to walk this earth after death, tethered to the same anchors I forced on actual skilled hockey players.”
“How awful,” Crabus said sadly. “How can I help you, my old friend?”
“You cannot help lift this curse from me, Crabus,” he said softly. “But you can avoid this for yourself.”
“What do you mean?” Crabus asked, his voice shaking.
“Crabus tonight you will be visited by three spirits, and you must listen to them, otherwise you will be condemned to carry an anchor much larger than mine.”
Oldschool began floating away.
“Wait, Oldschool!” Crabus yelled.
“Heed my warning, Crabus,” he said, being pulled into the darkness. “Heed it or forever be punished like I am.”
The door closed and for a moment or two Crabus actually questioned whether or not it was a dream or reality. Soon, stuck in those thoughts, he fell asleep.
Awaking with a start, Crabus rolled over and looked at the clock. "Two in the morning?" Crabus asked aloud.
The door to his room slowly creaked open, with a smooth cloud of mist entering. From that mist sprung an angel, both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. The being floated, rather than walked, and gently flapped the wings on its back.
“Crabus,” the voice spoke in soothing tones. “I am the Ghost of Hockey Past, and I am here to remind you what your life was like before you became the way you are.”
“The way I am!” Crabus took offense to the verbiage.
“You will see,” the ghost replied, grabbing Crabus’ hand.
He tried to pull away but the spirit’s grip was strong. Then, before he knew what was happening, Crabus felt himself being pulled from his room and flying over Manhattan! For a few blissful moments Crabus allowed himself to actually enjoy something!
They landed on pillowy green grass. Crabus recognized the area but could not put his finger on where they were. The ghost led him to the living room window and Crabus looked in.
It was him! As a boy! Why he must have been no older than seven years old!
“What is this?” Crabus asked in awe.
“This is the first Christmas you got Rangers gear,” The Ghost of Hockey Past said. “Look at how happy you were.”
Crabus’ younger self received a present from his father with wide eyes. He tore into the paper with fury, throwing the scraps all around him until he revealed the present. Holding it before him, Crabus could see his younger self begin to cry as he saw the jersey.
Crabus was caught up in the moment, being taken aback when the ghost grabbed his hand and they were off again. “No,” Crabus pleaded, “just a few more moments.”
The ghost paid him no mind, and the two flew to another area.
The two landed in a brightly lit room. Crabus immediately recognized it as the editorial room at The Herald, the first newspaper he ever worked for. It was a Christmas party the first year he worked there.
Crabus’ past self was older now, and he was drinking scotch with Jabarcus Mullen, his first editor. The two were current both overtaken by a fit of hysterics that had Crabus’ past self curled into a ball.
The moment suddenly turns serious, and Jabarcus tells Crabus that he has won an award for best local reporter of year. He won the award, Jabarcus told him, because of how involved with the local hockey readers he was. Always being respectful to fans, and helping them understand the game No matter how they rooted.
Crabus watched his former self take the news with shaking hands. For a second he could feel how important winning the award was to him, although he embarrassedly realized he no longer knew where the award was anymore.
The two reserved themselves to watching the Rangers game that was on in the background. The Rangers were winning with skill and Crabus saw his former self thoroughly enjoying the game.
“Come,” the spirit said, “we have one more place to visit.”
They flew over the city again, but this time Crabus did not enjoy the ride. He kept thinking about his past.
They landed in Crabus’ old editorial room. Crabus was yelling at a former reporter who asked a question that annoyed the coach. Both had gotten yelled at and now Crabus was taking it out on him back at the office.
“You’ve stopped doing your job!” The reporter yelled. “You’re more worried about life being easy that informing the fans!”
“Get out!” Crabus screamed. “Get out and I never want to see you again!”
The Ghost of Hockey Past turned, and when Crabus turned with him he saw his former reporter being honored at an award dinner for a rival company. He was happy, sitting beside his wife and children.
They came to another house, this one in the warmth of Florida. There sat Anton Stralman and his family, laughing with some new teammates at dinner. Awards sat on shelves, the children chased each other around a real Christmas tree as Stralman held his wife.
“Remember when you wrote about how losing him wouldn't matter?” The ghost remarked. “"Remember how you said he wasn't really all that good? How the Rangers needed to keep others over him.”
The doorbell rang. Stralman jumped up with a huge smile on his face, opening the door to Keith Yandle and his family.
“No more,” Crabus pleaded. “Please show me no more. Take me home.”
“These are the truths of what has been,” the spirit replied. “Do not blame me for what you’ve done.”
Crabus grabbed the spirit by the throat in an unquenchable rage, but as soon as his fingers closed over its neck he found himself back in his room laying in bed.
True to Oldschool’s word, the second spirit appeared much like the first.
“Crabus!” He roared with a laugh. “Crabus I am here to show you life as it is now, for I am the Ghost of Hockey Present!”
Just like the Ghost of Hockey Past, Crabus felt his arm grabbed and was transported, this time to a hockey rink.
Children were playing with snow falling outside. The puck slid across the ice with ease as the children moved from end to end. There were no fights, nary even a hit but goals were aplenty.
Crabus saw the looks on the fans faces as they watched. They were enjoying the skilled hockey? There was no way.
One boy took a long cross-ice pass from the defensive zone from a defenseman which turned into a breakaway. The moment was so shocking to Crabus that the player scored before he even knew what happened.
“Softies,” he muttered to himself. “That breakaway wouldn’t have happened if there was an enforcer on the ice to punch him in the face!”
The Ghost of Hockey Present rounded on him. “Softies?” He laughed. “Come.”
Next they went to a bar. Groups of friends were watching a Western Conference hockey game. The game was fast and had tons of pace, to the delight of everyone in the bar looking for something to entertain them.
“Where are the fights? Where is the toughness? The grit?” Crabus asked eventually. “How can these youths enjoy this game? It’s not the way it was meant to be played.”
Again they transported, this time to Eager Reporter’s house. He sat in front of the computer, eating a meager dinner as he tried to blog. The article was short and pitiful, and Eager could do little to find a spark of his own.
“His love for the game is being extinguished,” The Ghost of Hockey Present said.
“Why?” Crabus asked, feeling a growth of guilt in the put of his stomach.
“You and those like you are attacking him for how he chooses to root for the game,” the spirit replied. “Now he sits here and tries to keep his love for the game alive, but it is hard.”
“That blog post won’t die will it?” Crabus asked sadly. “It will survive, his love for the game, won’t it?”
“If the path of time remains unaltered the blog post will die, and Eager’s love for the game with it,” he answered. “That shouldn’t bother you though, since wasn’t it you that said ‘if you don’t think toughness is a part of the game then pick another sport?’”
Crabus turned to respond but noted the ghost had aged horribly.
“Come,” The Ghost of Hockey Present said weakly, “we must return.”
Crabus was back in his bedroom, and the ghost was now nary more than skin and bones. “I am born to live for but a day,” he explained. “I walk this earth on this day and this day only, before I die to never live again. The present can be changed, but not once it dies. Time flows ever forward. Remember that, Crabus, remember that.”
With that the ghost died, his pile of bones falling onto the floor and turning to dust, blowing away in the wind.
Even Crabus was smart enough to know which ghost was coming next. True to form, his door creaked open as the final ghost appeared.
This ghost was not like the others, it was black and resembled the depictions of the Angel of Death. The spirit did not speak, but used a bone-white hand to gesture. Crabus grabbed the spirt’s hand on his own, and waited to be transported to the future.
Crabus found himself in a warehouse. Stacks of newspapers sat bundled as far as the eye could see. Crabus felt himself feel a spark of excitement. Newspapers prepared for the masses, how wonderful!
The spirit noted his change in emotions and pointed to the wall where a giant clock stood. It was well after five, what was the big deal? Wait, Crabus realized. Five in the afternoon?
Why were these papers here? Why weren’t they sold? Why were they just sitting.
A man stood by the door talking to a delivery man.
“We can’t pay people to take these things anymore,” he said.
“We’ll have to shut the warehouse down,” the manager said sadly. “Too bad, too, we’ve had some great times here.”
“Shut it down! “ Crabus yelled. “No!” He rushed over to the man and put his hands on his shoulders, but his hands fell through him as though he weren’t even real. Crabus turned to the spirit who shook his head. Crabus understood, there was nothing he could do right now.
Crabus was then taken to Eager Reporter’s house. They stood on the street for a long while, until Crabus questioned why they didn’t go look inside. The spirit turned towards the trash can.
Crabus lifted the lib and looked inside, where he saw Eager’s laptop discarded like a used napkin. His love for the game, it was dead.
“No!” Crabus cried.
The spirit moved towards the house and the two looked inside. Crabus was relieved to see Eager was alive and well, sitting on the couch enjoying a beer. The spirt pointed towards the wall, to which Crabus saw Eager enjoying a competitive bowling event.
Crabus lurched forward and vomited onto the ground as he fell to his knees.
“Please, kind spirit,” he pleaded. “Please tell me I can change what you have shown me! Please tell me I can change it!”
He closed his eyes a gripped the spirit’s hand. For a moment he felt nothing, then he opened his eyes and realized he was holding his bedpost.
He turned towards his phone. It was Christmas morning! He had time to change!
He texted Eager and told him to stay home and enjoy the holiday, but to be ready to work bring and early on Tuesday with a full column about that defense! He went onto social media and promised to be a changed man! He even readied a few tougher questions for the coach after their next game.
Then he sat down, and watched a hockey game. For the first time in his life not finding himself disgusted that there were no fights.
He even cheered when he saw a pretty goal.