Boom, we start just like that with the narrator busting out the fact that Marley is 100% dead. Dead, dead, dead, dead.
His old business partner Scrooge is alive though, and still runs the same small company they used to run together. It's not really clear what this company actually does, but it doesn't really matter for the purposes of the story. Basically, it's some kind of middleman operation, where they don't make anything, and just sit around doing bookkeeping all day long. Or something. Dickens wasn't really up too much on the ins and outs of businesses.
Anyway, Scrooge turns out to be the grumpiest grumper that ever grumped. And also, he's pretty greedy. And worst of all? He is all head, no heart. This is a big no-no in Dickens's world, so we're guessing someone's about to learn a lesson about feelings.
On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is in his office, counting money and watching his clerk. Everything is as shoddy as possible, because Scrooge doesn't want to spend an extra cent even on heating the place if he doesn't have to.
His nephew bursts in and is all, La-la-la, Merry Christmas!
Scrooge throws out his famous catchphrase—say it with him now—"Bah! Humbug!" Okay, it's no "Leggo My Eggo," but still.
The nephew wants Scrooge to come over for Christmas dinner, but Scrooge isn't having any of it. Scrooge doesn't get what the big deal about Christmas is, and calls everyone else a jerk and an idiot for not being depressed by being in debt and not using that day to work more to try to pay it off.
The nephew is like, but what about the whole Jesus's birth thing? And the whole being nice to other people thing? Nice try, dude.
Scrooge makes him leave, but not before insulting his marriage because it's based on love. (Hey, you know whom Shmoop would love to have over for family dinner? That crazy old uncle who hates us and insults our spouse. You kind of have to wonder why this nephew is so dead set on having this horrible man come by. Shmoop's going to go all cynical here and say the nephew wants to bank that inheritance! Okay, fine, he's totally not. We just don't really get why he's so fixated on Scrooge coming.)
Right. Where were we?
Oh, yes. A couple of guys show up asking for any donations for the poor. Scrooge tells them to go stuff it, and argues that anyone who is poor can either go to jail, go to the workhouse (basically, jail for poor people where you have to work), or die. He successfully harshes their mellow and they take off.
Someone comes by to try to carol and Scrooge almost hits him in the face with a ruler.
Scrooge then turns on the clerk and grudgingly gives him Christmas Day off with half pay—or as he calls it, the one day a year when the clerk is allowed to rob him.
Finally, the day is done, and Scrooge goes home to his apartment. It's worth noting that he lives in a building that is otherwise all offices, so there's no one else around to hear him scream.
Just as he is about to go in the door, the doorknocker… turns into the face of his dead partner Marley! Eek!
But then it's okay, and Scrooge is only very mildly freaked out. He checks around the house, but everything seems hunky-dory.
He sits down to eat his sad little dinner (and honestly, we do have to point out that he is so consistent in treating everyone like dirt that he treats himself the same way as well). Just then, all the bells in the house start to ring.
Then, the door from the cellar bursts open and out of it comes… Marley's ghost! All wrapped up in chains that are a literal mockery of his business life, made out of keys and locks and money purses and cash-boxes.
Scrooge is pretty impressive here. He is clearly really freaking out, but still manages to smart-mouth this ghostly horror for a while.
Finally, the ghost gets a word in edge-wise, makes its jaw fall off its head to prove that stuff is about to get real, and reveals a couple of things:
Ghosts of terrible people have to endlessly work to make the world a better place.
Marley has gotten Scrooge a chance to reform himself.
Three ghosts are coming.
Then the ghost goes out the window and Scrooge sees it join a whole mishmash of miserable ghosts, all of whom are similarly chained with the physical manifestations of their misdeeds. Scrooge realizes that he knew a bunch of them when they were alive.
The fog sets in and the ghosts fade from view.
Scrooge tries to shake the whole experience off, finds that he can't, and instead just goes to sleep, 'cause, why not?