BOSTON, MA, CHRISTMAS DAY -- Archibald C. Reilly III, born to a wealthy North Carolina family of tobacco barons in 1932, has spent his eighty-six years on this Earth with the single-minded purpose of accruing a vast amount of wealth. Through a long series of prudent investments, careful planning for each phase of his life, and an unwavering, miserly resolve to waste not a single penny earned, Mr. Reilly is one of America's few multi-billionaires. It is unknown to anyone but his accountant, Robert Cranch, the collective amount of his accounts, but estimates place the haul at around 2.5 billion.
"None of your damned business," said Mr Reilly back in 2013 during an interview on NBC's 60 Minutes. In the interview, the old man can be seen leaning forward from a highback leather chair, fiercely gripping the silver head of his walking cane, and shaking angrily with every question from interviewer Leslie Stahl. "And don't go running to Bob, either. He'll keep his mouth shut if he knows what's good for him."
Compared with other modern American figures of great fortune -- Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or the late Steve Jobs, to name a few -- Mr Reilly has generally been regarded by most of America as the very picture of corporate greed. Having given none of his wealth to charities of any sort, and having spent millions over the decades lobbying local, state and federal government agencies to bend to his will against the interests of his less fortunate compatriots, many regard Mr. Reilly as the embodiment of Charles Dickens' classic character, Ebenezer Scrooge.
"A heartless pig -- that's what he is," proclaimed Mary Wendt, a resident of Boston, Massachusetts, where Mr. Reilly currently resides. "He sits up there in his mansion, looking down on us like royalty. It's sickening."
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh complained, "Mr. Reilly could definitely do more for his community. He did once offer to help with the homeless problem by building a debtor's prison, but there are currently no laws in place to allow for it."
Archibald Reilly, for his part, is not only aware of his moral standing in the community, but appears to welcome the vitriol. "What does it matter," he explained with a smile. "I know I have nothing to worry about. Not from them. Not from anyone. Not anymore."
In fact, Mr. Reilly had been keenly aware that the chickens would eventually come home to roost, and says he had prepared for, and already conquered, that inevitability.
"I'd been expecting it for decades -- and planning for it, too!" he said in a new, exclusive interview. "I'd read the story and I'd seen all the movies. I've had my eye on those ghosts for decades now, and last night it all paid off."
Mr. Reilly is referring, of course, to the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future -- the inevitable collective punishment for his years and years of shameful avarice.
"I'd always known they were coming. For the most part the idea didn't bother me. I really felt I could handle the Ghost of Christmas Past just fine. The Ghost of Christmas Present? Pfft, no problem. But that third one -- I don't like that third one at all. I resolved long ago that when the time came I'd be ready for the bastard."
Old Archibald chuckled mischievously under his breath, and leaned back in the same high-back leather chair featured in the 60 minutes interview from 2013.
"It was 1985 when the idea first came to me. Young Bob convinced me to accompany him to the theater where we enjoyed a tale of three men in New York City who made a meager living capturing ghosts with some sort of futuristic contraption. 'Bob!' said I. 'Get me that contraption! Stop at nothing! Do that one thing and I'll strongly consider paying for your son's operation!'
"Lest anyone think me truly heartless, I will confess to feeling a twinge of guilt at having to pull the 'crippled son' card on poor Bob." Archibald's face suddenly hardened. "But business is business, and when I want something, I get it!"
He continued, "Well, it took many years of who-knows-what on Bob's part, but eventually he did come through. For the past ten Christmas Eves I've kept the equipment at my bedside, ready and waiting. T'was not in vain, you see, as last night came the moment of truth!"
Mr. Reilly then proceeded to tell the tale of how, just the night before, he may have ended all of our Christmas traditions once and for all.
"I crept into bed and pulled the covers up under my chin and waited in silence. Not a creature was stirring. After a while I began to hear the sound of rattling chains, and I knew the time had come. First, the Ghost of Christmas Past, in the form of my old business partner, Jacob Wilson, came to visit. I knew it would be him, of course, the poor bastard. [He] died in a hot-air balloon catastrophe back in '67 -- a surprising end to such a droll fellow. He gave me the expected tour, and it was a great bore, of course -- I'd seen it all before, you know."
"Then came the whole 'Christmas Present' thing. I pity anyone who has had to endure the company of that lunatic spectre. If there ever was an argument for giving to charity, avoiding this nut-case would be number one on my list. By the end of it, I was practically begging to give up my own ghost.
"Finally, the moment had arrived. The Ghost of Christmas Present had only just dematerialized (I thought he'd never leave) when the dark, foreboding figure of the dreaded Ghost of Christmas Future presented itself. It faded in slowly at the foot of the bed, dressed precisely as you would expect in a dark robe with a hood over its head -- a hood which hung dreadfully over a hole of darkness where a face might have been. Of course, having seen all the movies as part of my research, I knew that lifting the hood would expose a grotesque skull of death - no worries of surprise there. However, the next bit was an unexpected revelation, for nothing in my research had suggested the blasted thing could speak. The other two ghosts I had known to be vocal -- the second even turning out to be a regular gasbag. But the Ghost of Christmas Future had always been depicted as completely mute. So imagine my alarm when the ghastly figure slowly lifted its robe-draped arm, extended a bony finger at me, and spoke thus:
"'Archibald Reilly... I am the Ghost of Christmas Future... you will accompany me--'
"It was then that I leapt from the bed, producing from beneath my covers the armed-and-ready ray-gun my accountant had procured for me ten years before. Also at-the-ready on the wooden floor by my feet was the fantastic contraption that would, in mere moments, be the foul spirit's eternal prison.
"'What the--' the startled ghost exclaimed as I kicked the box forward. It came to rest directly beneath its levitating body and popped open like some infernal jack-in-the-box.
"'Wait!" the ghost pleaded in a panic. 'You don't have to--'
"I lifted the ray-gun in a flash. Holding it firm and steady, I pulled the trigger. A blue lightning streamed forth, wrapping itself like a cocoon of power around the unfortunate phantom, holding it taut in an inescapable, clinching grasp. The apparition screamed horrible, otherworldly screams, and began to spasm and squirm in painful fits. Mercifully, I lowered the gun, directing its path toward the opening atop the box at the floor. In an instant the dark robe violently tore away from the figure, as if ripped by a tornado, and the unclothed thing was sucked with a vacuum force into an unknown, everlasting abyss."
The old man took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair.
"And it was done," he said.
He was quiet for a time, as if savoring the memory -- or perhaps in deference to his prey, as a hunter may pay silent respects after a great kill.
Finally, he spoke again. "One thing I've left out -- and this is something I've contemplated keeping to myself -- just the moment before the thing finally descended down into that unknowable darkness, and just the moment after it became unclothed by that traumatic force, I did catch a glimpse of the ghost in its exposed form. I suppose it's neither here nor there, but I feel it's worth mentioning: t'was not the skeletal phantasm so popularly depicted in the yuletide tales, but rather the ghost of Richard Nixon. How or why, I could not say, of course. But it was he." Reilly nodded his head solemnly.
"And so," he concluded in a sudden burst of joy, "the Ghost of Christmas Future is no more -- and with him, I should hope, all Christmases to come!"
And then, in a gesture of triumph, Archibald Reilly the Third lifted his cane high and shook it in defiance to the heavens.
"Humbug!" he cheered.