In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley, Scrooge's dead partner (gone for seven years) appears to him on Christmas Eve.
Practical about everything in life, Scrooge tries to argue with "the shade" as to whether it really exists. After a time, however, Marley's ghost becomes terribly agitated, wailing and ratting his chains—to Scrooge's horror and abject fear!
Scrooge asks the ghost why he has appeared to him. Marley explains that if one does not do what is expected of him in life, he will be forced to return after life to fulfill the task set before him while alive, yet left unfinished:
“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”
Marley tells Scrooge that the chains that bind him in death are those he forged in life. He never left seeing after business, and never showed kindness to anyone. Now he is to be punished by wandering endlessly. Marley also warns Scrooge that his chains are just as long as Marley's although he cannot see them.
Marley warns Scrooge...
...no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunities misused!
Scrooge points out to Jacob that he was a fine businessman, but Marley wants none of it:
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
Marley goes on to explain that his present existence is especially terrible at Christmas. He alludes to the birth of Christ as he mentions "the Wise Men" who traveled, following the "blessed Star...to a poor abode." He wonders could there not have been a way that in life he could have found some way to ease one person's suffering, to show compassion or kindness...for what a difference it would have made to the ghost that stands before Scrooge, now running out of time to speak.
Marley is not certain what power has made it possible for him to visit Scrooge, though he tells his old friend that part of his penance has been to sit at Scrooge's side for the last seven years, something Marley reveals has been extremely difficult for him. He then notes that he has come to warn Scrooge:
I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.
Scrooge is grateful until Marley announces the imminent visitation by Three Spirits. Scrooge wants nothing to do with such experiences, but Marley warns him that there is no other way for Scrooge to possibly avoid Marley's fate.
Marley tells Scrooge not to look for him again, for he must go. However, he cautions Scrooge to remember what has "passed between us" so that Scrooge's fate can be different than that which Marley must endure.