In a flash it was there, floating in front of him in the darkness of his bedroom just as the other spirits had done. It was slim, small, sleek, black-on-gray, a solid-state drive rather than a spinning disk like the other two spirits, and spoke not a word to him.
“Hi,” said Scrooge, nervously wringing his hands in the presence of the specter. “You’d be the Ghost of Hard Drives Yet to Come, then?”
The spirit nodded, then spun around and led Scrooge out the door as the second spirit had.
When Scrooge stepped out of his room, he found himself, with the spirit in front of him leading him on, standing in the middle of the street. It was snowing, but the kind of snow that doesn’t stick and melts away soon after it falls. It took a few seconds for Scrooge to recognize his surroundings: it was his street, the street his business had sat on for over twenty years. It had seemed so unfamiliar to him at first, though, because his office had vanished; the signage had been replaced.
“Have I relocated?” Scrooge asked the spirit, trying to sound hopeful.
The spirit led him along and the scenery changed again. It was a bright, sunny day, and the leaves on the trees were just starting to turn yellow. He looked around at all the happy people milling about and taking in the beautiful early-autumn weather but felt no warmth from the sun or chill from the breeze.
A sharply-dressed, familiar-looking man walked down the sidewalk with a spring in his step, gabbing on his smartphone. “I know the past six months have been hard, honey, but things are really turning around! The interview went great—they’re offering me fifty percent more per year than I was making under the old guy… and full benefits, too! Thank heavens those guys opened a new office here. I tell you, that guy going out of business was the best thing that ever happened to us. You bet—name the place and we’ll go out right after payday.”
“At least that fellow looks happy,” Scrooge remarked before he realized that the man had once been an employee of his. “So I haven’t relocated, then?”
The spirit shook its head.
“I suppose Cratchit’s enjoying himself too,” said Scrooge.
The spirit bade Scrooge step forward, and when he did, Scrooge found himself standing in a courtroom, observing the proceedings like a phantom as Bob Cratchit stood in front of a judge.
It seemed Scrooge had suffered debilitating data loss after a ransomware infection, scuttling his business and forcing him to shutter his doors, and he had laid the blame solely on Cratchit, seeking compensation.
“I wouldn’t do that to him,” Scrooge protested, but the spirit did not give even a single pithy retort, merely floating like an unearthly monolith in front of Scrooge. He felt just as much on trial as his former IT services provider. “Do I win?”
The spirit nodded.
“But what could I have done differently? The last spirit showed me the flaws with every backup I could have used.”
The scene changed yet again. Back to Cratchit’s house, where now the dining room table was empty. Dishes piled up in the sink, some a week old, and a half-empty bottle of cheap wine sat open on the counter next to an empty glass. It looked like the entire house had depression. Bob Cratchit and his wife were nowhere to be found.
The spirit motioned to a folded-up wheelchair that languished in the living room, propped up next to the sofa.
“So tiny Tim doesn’t need the wheelchair anymore?” Scrooge said, laughing in an attempt to inject some levity into the gloomy, empty home.
The spirit stayed silent.
The spirit turned around and pulled Scrooge away from the empty house.
“I suppose I must have made out like a bandit,” Scrooge said, though the words turned to ash in his mouth as the spirit brought him to his own house.
It, too, was empty, and quiet as a grave.
“I suppose,” said Scrooge, a chill running up his spine, “I didn’t ‘relocate’ from here either.”
The spirit moved on as if Scrooge hadn’t said anything, leading him into his bedroom, where a white sheet had been drawn over a lump on top of the bed, approximately Scrooge’s size, and approximately Scrooge’s shape. A single white hand, cold, hard, and tinged blue-white, poked out from the sheet and brushed against the floor.
The Ghost of Hard Drives Yet to Come hovered over to the bed and floated over the headboard, beckoning Scrooge on with an invisible hand.
“Before I come closer,” said Scrooge, “please tell me, spirit—is this vision of what will be, or merely what might be?”
The spirit said nothing.
Scrooge crept toward the bed with a growing sense of dread, reached out, and pulled the sheet away from the lump. What he saw was exactly what he had expected to see, but nothing could have prepared him for it. Scrooge saw his own face frozen in death.
“No!” Scrooge clutched at the bedsheets and stared up at the silent phantom with pleading eyes. “Spirit, this can’t be how it all ends! I wouldn’t do these things! I wouldn’t lose my business, or take Cratchit’s business from him, or poor, tiny, Tim! Please tell me I still have a chance to turn my life around!”
The spirit said nothing.
“I’ve changed,” Scrooge insisted. “What you spirits have shown me has changed me! Please tell me this future can be averted!”
The spirit said nothing, but slowly and deliberately nodded, and then the sleek black face of the solid-state drive faded away, as did the corpse lying on the bed, and Scrooge was left in his own bedroom, in his own time, amber morning sunbeams streaming into his bedroom through his window.
Next chapter: The Spirit of Backup