The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand
Holly Chase’s stepmother, Yvonne Worthington Chase, the famous fashion stylist married to famous movie director, Gideon Chase, died during run-of-the-mill plastic surgery seven months before Christmas. It was all over the news when it happened. Yvonne was sixteen-year-old Holly’s role model and helped her become the truly horrible person she currently is. Rather than mourn at the funeral, she took a selfie in the graveyard for her social media to show off the sunglasses she raided from her dead stepmother’s closet. If Holly couldn’t squeeze attention out of it, if it didn’t serve her, she didn’t bother with it. She mocked, she judged, and she didn’t care about anyone but herself. When she woke up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve to a ghostly visit from her dead stepmother wrapped up in a chain of pearls, naturally, she screamed her head off. What a great setup to a story, right? Just wait. It gets better.
Everyone knows the story of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, even spoiled Holly. Now, she is the Scrooge and is being visited by the ghosts, starting with her stepmother, and taught the same lessons, but she takes none of the warnings or spiritual visitations seriously and is just awful to all of them. Not even the scene where her best friend, Ro, broke up with her because she was a shallow bitch causes any real emotion. When it was over, it felt to Holly like she was dying but she dismisses it as a psycho dream and calls for her housekeeper, Elena, to hurry up with the pancakes for her breakfast, not at all regretting the fact that she forced Elena to work on Christmas Day and miss seeing her daughter. Six days later, Holly dies in a freak icy cold snap leading to a series of Final Destination style events and ending with her death as she stepped out of the yoga studio.
Holly “wakes up” in an office in New York. The middle-aged man who walks in introduces himself as Mr. Sikes but everyone calls him Boz and he manages the company which Havisham is now part of. (Havisham is Holly, by the way. Boz finds it amusing to name the employees after Dickens characters during their tenure with the company.) He explains that Holly/Havisham is dead as a doornail, but while she works for the company she will be flesh. Welcome to Project Scrooge!
FIVE YEARS LATER
It’s Christmas Eve and the people who work for Project Scrooge have just finished with their latest assignment. Bets are being placed on how this year's Scrooge will react and everyone is feeling relaxed and happy for a job well done. Holly, who is now the ghost of Christmas Past, aka the Lamp, is tired and finds it all a little twee. Before she can head home though, Boz calls Holly to his office to meet Dorrit, an overeager and perky sophomore from NYU who is the new intern. Which is odd because Project Scrooge doesn't use interns. Whatever. With a gift from Boz in hand, Holly heads for the subway.
One of the perks of the job is the Hoodie, to an outsider it looks like a normal black hoodie, but when it is zipped and the hood is pulled up, the wearer becomes completely invisible. It was only supposed to be used for sneaking around a Scrooge's house, but it’s comfortable and useful so… shrug. Holly’s apartment is tiny, she lives on $100 a month and is bored unless working or sneaking into the theater to see her dad's movies. Remembering the gift from Boz, Holly opens it to find a vintage pocket watch running three hours behind. Strange.
Flashing forward to April, when Project Scrooge starts operating again, Holly arrives at her office and finds Dorrit sitting at her desk being all happy and perky, but she brought coffee. She’s a morning person and the coffee is cold, uggggh. Trying her luck, Holly sends Dorrit, who is actually called Stephanie, to get her a nice, expensive, can't-charge-it-to-the-company large vanilla latte from down the street then heads off to a staff meeting. When Stephanie comes hurrying in, latte in hand, Holly introduces her to their coworkers on Team Lamp: Marty, Grant and Tox plus a few others and tells her there are two other teams: Christmas Present, aka the Clock, and Christmas Future, aka the Hood. After the meeting, Tox suggests that Stephanie would make a great Lamp which makes Holly think she’s being replaced despite Boz’s reassurances that Holly’s job is safe when she talks about it with him later.
Holly is distracted after her confrontation with Boz at which she also found out the pocket watch he gave her for Christmas was her dad’s. It’s the only thing from her former life she has. After sitting quietly in her office for a while, the latest Scrooge is announced in a big company wide meeting. Instead of the usual rich old white guy, Ethan Winters has been chosen and he is a total hottie! Later, Stephanie grills Holly about how the Scrooge operation works. Basically you know how this works if you’ve ever read or seen or have any small indication of A Christmas Carol. At present, their job is to identify key players in the new Scrooge's life who fit the role based on specific characters from the book: Marley, Fan, Fezziwig, Belle, Cratchit, Portlies, Fred and Tiny Tim. In the meantime, hidden cameras are being set up to monitor Ethan's life and then members of Project Scrooge will break inside Ethan’s head and start pulling his life apart. Figuratively speaking.
To get inside Ethan’s head, Holly needs to sneak into his bedroom in the middle of the night and use a machine to hook her brain to his while Ethan sleeps. This allows her to guide his dreams and memories. Holly finds out that Ethan’s dad died when he was young and this event is probably what set him on his course to Scroogedom. This means his father fulfills the Fan role. Holly can totally relate. After her own mom died, everything changed for her, and then Yvonne came, all confident and put together, and she felt like Yvonne saved her in the midst of her own mothers death from cancer. Ethan’s Marley is also easy to identify. It's his grandfather who is terrible and poisoned Ethan’s mind after his father died. Ethan also has an older sister, Jack, who never bought into their grandfather’s unpleasant ways.
Holly starts to want more and dreams how her dad tried to connect with her after her mother’s death but she rejected every attempt. When she wakes up, Holly steals her neighbor's newspaper and sees her father has a new movie out. In her black invisibility hoodie, Holly sneaks into the movie theater and watches her dad's movie three times. During the third screening, Holly spots Ro, her ex-best friend, on a first date. She follows her around and though Ro reminisces about Gideon, Holly's dad, she never once mentions Holly to her date.
After Holly leaves Ro, she doesn’t want to return to her apartment and so she finds herself at the New York Athletic Club where Ethan is a member. This is a terrible idea but Holly just wants to take a look at him... Oh boy, does she look! He’s swimming lengths in the pool and she’s sitting next to his towel. After shooting down two creepy older men who awkwardly hit on her, Holly asks Ethan to be her pretend boyfriend to keep the creeps away so they flirt and call each other pet names. Ethan is totally interested in Holly but she doesn’t give him any details and says she’ll find him again one weekend. She leaves the club feeling happy but dumb. So dumb. She literally just broke all the rules.
Holly is desperate to see Ethan again but it’s dangerous. At least she can relive their meeting through his dreams as she's doing her Ghost of Christmas Past research, but seriously, it's dangerous. How is she going to see him again without everyone at Project Scrooge finding out? Overeager and perky assistant Stephanie who somehow annoyingly has full security clearance! After a team meeting, Holly tells Stephanie that she wants to meet Ethan in real life and befriend him, assuring her that going the extra mile will help save him, her ghostly intuition tells her so. Stephanie is happy to help Holly get what she needs and masterminds a devious plan involving cupcakes.
By distracting everyone in the office with delicious cupcakes, Holly is able to slip into Dave’s office and get Ethan’s schedule and case information. Unexpectedly she also finds her own case file, but before she can read much of it, people start returning from their cupcake break and she has to leave. After learning Ethan's schedule, she sneaks into the Athletics Club and leaves a note for him to meet her at the New York Public Library. The date is cute but honestly, full of lies. They play Truth or Dare and Holly tells Ethan her name is Victoria or Tori (Lie!), Ethan says both of his parents are alive (Lie!) and he is an only child (Lie!). It's still a good night though.
Back at work, Holly wants to relive the date; however, Marty and Grant have developed new tech where they will also be able to see the memories Holly guides the Scrooge to. Damn you ingenuity! Now Holly has to do her job properly, so she goes looking for the Fezziwig and finds that Ethan’s mom fits the role, but while she is in the memory, a memory of her own takes over. She sees her own mother's last Christmas as she struggled with the changes the disease had wrought over her. Everyone in the monitoring room at Project Scrooge sees those memories too.
On a four am date on the Staten Island Ferry, Holly and Ethan have their first kiss. They ride the ferry back and forth and talk and talk and talk. Later at work while sifting through Ethan’s dreams, Holly finds he’s dreaming of her! Yay! But oh no! Holly yanks herself out of the dream before anyone in the monitor room realizes it’s her which wakes Ethan! Eeep! Thank goodness for the invisibility hoodie! Even though she was able to escape without being caught, Holly still gets in trouble with Boz. She needs to be more careful.
Time montages forward. During a team meeting, there is discussion on the Tiny Tim role. Holly thinks of her own Tiny Tim, the daughter of her housekeeper, Elena, who should have grown to become a world famous, life saving surgeon, but instead she died in a house fire because of Holly’s selfish demands of Elena. Also, Dave thinks he’s found Ethan’s Belle, a mysterious gorgeous girl. WHO IS SHE?!?! Holly must find out.
During a dream, Holly guides Ethan to a memory of a party and a boy called Dent, who Ethan is initiating into a fake club because remember, he's a Scrooge and a terrible person. Dent is a heavy nerdy kid and Ethan challenges him to kiss the hottest girl at the party. While Ethan warns said hottest girl of the prank and tells her to be awful to Dent, Dent directly asks her for a kiss in a lovely, no pressure, respectful manner and gains the kiss and everyone gains a little respect for Dent. Meanwhile, Ethan thinks about how he hates parties.
Holly and Stephanie have lunch together and head back to the office after. Tox finally has their Marley, Ethan’s grandfather, and it seems everyone at Project Scrooge is wrapping up most of their duties for the season. Except Holly. At the office, there is a hubbub that Ethan is going to a ball and they think they’ll be able to get the Belle. Oh no. Holly persuades Ethan not to go to the fancy ball but instead go to the botanical gardens where they have a magical evening and agree to be exclusive. They talk about their first kisses, and Ethan tells Holly about Isabelle, who at her seventh birthday party made him kiss her. They've been distant friends ever since but they never dated. This is Belle! When Holly sees her in another dream/memory, she calls it a night, much to the disgruntlement of Grant and Stephanie in the control room who were paying more attention to each other than the screens… which is useful as it allows Holly to erase the recording.
In the days following, Holly starts fantasizing about being with Ethan after Christmas, assuming Project Scrooge is a success; however Ethan seems less like a Scrooge and more like a regular guy and others are noticing it too. There is even a challenge about his selection during a team meeting. Rather than answering, Boz calls it a lively debate and moves the meeting on. But it doesn’t get much better as Blackpool, the Hood, sees that Ethan’s future has gone hazy and there are lots of different variables in play. Yikes. After the meeting, Boz apologizes to Holly for being snappish, he’s rather stressed looking for Dave’s replacement as the Clock because he will be moving on after this Christmas. She also finds out her own Lamp was a temp. Interesting.
It’s Thanksgiving and Holly has been invited to Stephanie’s gathering. Dave, Blackpool, Marty and Grant are there, too. Stephanie and Grant are an official “thing” and it’s vomit-inducingly cute. They’re going around the table saying what they are thankful for and when it’s Holly’s turn she reveals that she is thankful for Stephanie who she now considers a friend. On Thanksgiving night, Holly meets with Ethan and he invites her back to his place, and since Project Scrooge isn't monitoring tonight because of the holiday, she agrees. On the way she spots Ro walking toward her, arm in arm with a different man. As Ro starts to recognize her, Holly pulls Ethan into a kiss and through a door into a church. Holly makes some story up about Ro being a rival at school and hating her because she’s rich. In empathy, Ethan finally tells her the truth about his dad who couldn’t handle being rich and wanted to make his own way, which included riding the subway. One day at 9:07 in the morning on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 115th, he paused to listen to a homeless guy playing saxophone and was killed in a freak, Final Destination accident when a hammer fell on him. Holly also admits that her parents aren’t divorced, and that her mom died when she was fourteen. So they are both in the Dead Parents Club and both liars but forgive each other. After they decide to call it a night, Holly picks up her hoodie and goes to spy on Ro. Seeing Ro again hurts as Holly realizes how much she misses her friend.
On Monday, Holly doesn’t come to work claiming she’s sick, but she can’t get sick, she’s dead! Stephanie brings her turkey soup anyway. Apart from Boz generally stressing and Marty setting the fire alarm off making toast, Holly isn’t missing anything at work. Well, they did locate the Belle… Ethan was talking about her with his mom, she’s called Victoria. WHAT?! Aww, he told his mom about her, but holy macaroni she might get found out. They spend the afternoon watching movies and talking, then Stephanie accuses Holly of being Victoria, which Holly can’t lie about but also says she can't be the Belle because she doesn’t fit the archetype.
At the last team meeting before the big event, Holly explains that Victoria is not the Belle, she’s Ethan’s Ms. Right Now and Belle is Ms. Right He Blew It With. Instead Holly shows a recording of memories of his sister Jack, who is actually Ethan’s Belle. Though Boz tries to push for an investigation into Victoria, Blackpool comes to the rescue and points out he sees no future for Ethan involving Victoria. After the meeting, Holly and Stephanie go through their To Do list and paperwork when Holly spots her file in Stephanie’s pile. Holly reels, Stephanie knows everything and must have known for months, she sees this as a betrayal of their friendship, a game she was playing. When Stephanie leaves, Holly allows herself to cry. Her only friend betrayed her!
Three days before Christmas, Holly takes Ethan to the Angelika movie theater to see her dad’s movie, but of course she can’t tell him it’s her dad’s. As they talk, they both agree that Christmas sucks, and as the movie starts, Holly starts pointing out little bits and scenes and it’s obvious how much she loves the movie but Ethan just wants to sit in the back row and suck face and is getting really annoying. Eventually Holly storms out and Ethan chases her. They go into a different movie and make out there instead. It gets to be too much when Ethan calls her Tori again and again and again, so Holly gets upset and Ethan asks if it’s her time of the month. She slaps him, we cheer, and they have a fight which leads to Ethan walking away.
Now it's Christmas Eve and time for the big show. Holly gets into her Lamp costume which makes her look ageless and ethereal, like a ghostly wood nymph with an elaborate crown, a white fur robe and a headlamp similar to a miner's bobby pinned to her hair. In the corridor, Holly meets with Dave ready for his last time as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Dave’s costume is green velvet robes and laurel of green leaves, but as his time with the Scrooge goes on, his appearance goes from youthful to an old man. As Holly holds Dave’s hand she gets a flash of him hugging Stephanie in his dressing room and kissing the top of her head. Wait. Isn't Stephanie dating Grant and isn't Dave way too old? Not everything is what it seems. Holly then passes Ethan's grandfather's ghost as he heads to the Transport Room to get the show started, though he doesn’t believe Ethan will listen to him in death because he never did in life.
The evening goes the same way for Ethan as it did for Holly, without the hysterical screaming upon seeing the dead relative. As the bell tolls one, Holly as the Ghost of Christmas Past makes her appearance. She explains she is a friend and here to help him, all the while Grant is talking in her ear about her strange accent that really isn’t working and despite the lamp shining in his eyes, Ethan can make out that the spirit looks like Holly/Tori. Holly takes his hand and leads him into the past through the Time Tunnel (yes, they have a Time Tunnel!) and shows him memories of his mom, dad and sister from when he was eight and happy. Then she shows him the memory of a few years later with Jack telling Ethan she no longer recognizes him anymore and to call when he decides to grow a soul. Ethan is angry at the images and rejects the supposed help the spirits are trying to give. But now it’s time to deal with the present.
Instead of watching the rest of the night, Holly hides in her dressing room crying in the shower and returns as Dave is finishing up explaining how a homeless saxophone player only needs to be connected with his daughter for his life to be turned around. Ethan remains unmoved. That's the same homeless saxophone player that was responsible for his father's death, so why should he care about him?! They move to a scene at Ethan’s mom’s house where Ethan’s presence is obviously missed. Just before Blackpool begins the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come part, Stephanie asks to speak to Holly in her office, she brought Chinese food! Despondent because she is sure Ethan will fail and die, Holly agrees… plus, who can turn down egg rolls?
Stephanie agrees with Holly’s assessment, she doesn't know if Ethan will be saved but points out he’ll be the new Ghost of Christmas Present if he dies. Wait. What? Really?! Yeah! Dave told her! And Dave is also Stephanie's dad! Stephanie has been dying to tell her. And that’s not the only thing: she’s not a psych major, she's a theater major and she’s actually the Ghost of Christmas Past. She's Holly's Lamp. Dave was a Cratchit and when his Scrooge failed to change, he died. Boz brought him in as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Stephanie as Past as an interim spirit since, you know, she’s alive. She’s been with Project Scrooge since she was 11, but Boz couldn't let her become an orphan. With smiles for each other, Stephanie thanks Holly and leaves. Despite realizing she could have her happy ending with Ethan if he fails, Holly doesn’t want him to, she loves him too much for that.
Wearing her hoodie, Holly runs to the transportation room and through the Time Tunnel into the mortuary. Before Blackpool can reveal dead Ethan on the slab, Holly removes her hood and tells him the truth, all of it. When Holly is finished, she can tell Ethan believes her, but it’s up to him. Blackpool takes Ethan home and Holly goes back to Project Scrooge to face her fate.
Boz sits quietly behind his desk. Tox is standing nearby, red eyed and clutching tissues. Holly blurts out apologies, but Boz is speechless and sends her home, without the hoodie. On her way out, Holly runs into Dave who tells her he is proud of her, which makes her bawl all the harder in the privacy of her dressing room. Outside, it’s a white Christmas. Before Holly can get far, Stephanie comes running out the building calling her name. Turning and stepping off the sidewalk, Holly is hit Final Destination style by an oncoming taxicab. Snowflakes falling over her, Holly felt like she could float away.
Waking with a jolt, Holly finds herself in her bed back in California. Her phone on the bedside table says it’s 9:00 am on December 25, six years ago. She’s gone back, been given another chance! Distantly, Holly can hear Elena singing a Christmas song and starts screaming her name until she comes running. Holly throws her arms around her and sends her home to her daughter and apologizes for being a total jerk. Then her dad calls and asks Holly to fly to New York for a few days to hang out, which Holly readily agrees to. Before getting ready for her flight, Holly goes to Ro’s house. With too much to explain right now, Holly tells Ro she can’t stop being her friend, she understands, but it can’t happen any more. Holly explains she lost sight of what was important and changed for the worse and she’s trying to find the person she used to be again. Ro agrees saying they can grow together instead of apart.
That night Holly gets on a plane to see her dad. They hang out in the hotel room, watch It’s a Wonderful Life and eat cupcakes from room service. When Gideon has to return to the studio, Holly hangs around in New York. At the site of Project Scrooge, 195 Broadway, it looks completely different and there is no sign of Project Scrooge. So instead she visits the Angelika and watches one of her dad’s movies. Outside Boz is waiting for her. He tells Holly she never let him down and as far as he is concerned, everything went according to plan. Coming to your own conclusions was the most important part of her rehabilitation, and they never give up on a Scrooge. Stephanie is still the Ghost of Christmas Past, until she wants to try high school, and Ethan is a twelve year old boy, not yet a Scrooge.
On December 29th, at 9:00 am, Holly stands on the corner of Lexington and 116th Street listening to a homeless man play saxophone. At 9:03, Ethan Winter II appears and Holly asks for directions delaying him enough for the hammer to miss him. Holly then takes the homeless guy to the London NYC Hotel where his daughter works. So that’s the story of the Afterlife of Holly Chase, a recovered Scrooge. To send you off properly, God bless us, every one.