His fingers touching the silky lining, he felt the round
hardness of the hat’s inner crown. Shaking his head as if
coming out of a trance, his glazed eyes focused and…
knock—knock, he rapped his knuckles on the hard surface
of the hat and the bar beneath. Smiling, he looked up into
the magician’s face and his eyes. “Yeah! Ya b-b-be’s nothin’
b-b-but a ol’ f-f…”
The young man’s smile disappeared as suddenly the crown
of the hat and the bar beneath fell away, and his arm sunk to
Climbing Boy 15: lightning
December 24, 1843
The people in the pub gasped, for the distance from the
tip of Lewis’ fingers to the crook of his elbow was
approximately eighteen inches. The hat was no more then
seven inches high, and yet, even though he stretched and
wiggled his outstretched fingers, he was still unable to touch
bottom; a look of disbelief came to his face.
“Come, come, Lewis…”
The hollow voice seemingly coming from a long
“…It’s only a ‘t-t-t-trick.’”
Obediently, Lewis moved his arm downward, past his
elbow, until he was leaning over the bar, his armpit just
above the rim of the hat…
He touched something…
The tips of his stretching fingers felt… what?
Bewildered, it was…
Familiar. Smooth and rounded, and there was a fissure…
Lewis’ bewildered look was replaced by pleasure,
because… soft… what he was feeling was soft and warm
and his hand caressed it, familiarly.
“Silbie!” Lewis looked stupidly over his shoulder, at one
of the women at the table. “Silbie! Lord, if’in it ain’t your
arse!” This said without a hint of a stutter.
Laughter rippled throughout the pub.
But now, the smile slowly faded from his face, because…
The feel of smooth, warm flesh was replaced by…
Bewildered again, looking at Garibaldi, “What is it?”
Lewis asked softly, but…
Garibaldi said nothing.
“What is it?” His voice rising, questioning, “What is it?”
Lewis repeated, his fingers touching, he felt… he felt a
But no, what Lewis felt was not damp, it was dry.
It was smooth.
But no, it was not smooth, not really smooth.
His probing fingers touched a small aperture,
Moving his fingers a bit lower he felt a slight, dry tickle
on the web of flesh between thumb and forefinger.
Stretching… Stretching. Compelled, Lewis moved his
“No! Oh, Lord!”
Suddenly, his eyes opening wide, filled with terror, Lewis
looked at Garibaldi.
Smiling his sardonic smile, “A trick, Lewis?” Garibaldi
Jerking backwards, “Oh, Lord,” trying to pull his arm
from the hat.
“‘elp me!” Pleading, “‘elp me!” the young man looked
from Garibaldi to Flizzer to the barkeep. “‘elp me!”
Suddenly, moving in a wide circle, the magician’s hat
began to shake violently.
Lifting his glass of gin and bitters, with a quick flick of
his elbow, Garibaldi swallowed the contents.
“It’s got me! ‘elp me!” Begging, “It’s the snake!” Pleading,
he turned to his friends at the table, but, frozen in their
chairs, their mouths agape, his friends were powerless to
help, even if they had the nerve to help.
“Save me! Lord ‘elp me! It’s got me arm!”
Terrified, Lewis looked at Garibaldi. Pleading, wild with
fear. “Please, make it let go!” Straining against the thing
that was trying to pull him down, the thing that was trying
to pull him into the magician’s hat, Lewis’ complexion, that
only moments before had been ruddy red, was now chalk
“Pleeease, make it let go!”
Suddenly released, with both arms flailing the air, flying
backward, Lewis’ momentum flung him into the table
occupied by his friends.
Crashing into the man and two women, falling over the
chairs, all four fell onto the floor amidst bottles, glasses,
and chair legs. Within moments, when they were able to
detach themselves from each other, they sat on the floor
staring dumbly at the magician.
“Now, Lewis? Now do you believe in my magic?”
Wiping his face with his sleeve, “Aye,” Lewis said, numbly
nodding his head up and down.
As Garibaldi turned back to the bar, “For the show.
Thanks, Gov.” The barkeep sent a drink slithering down the
length of the bar. “On the house!”
Nimbly plucking it up and tossing it down, Garibaldi held
the empty glass towards the bartender. “Thank you, my
Looking straightforward, whispering through the corner
of his mouth, “Matt, think this be a good time for an exit?”
“Bravo!” Flizzer whispered back.
All eyes watched as, reaching into his pocket, removing
a bill, Garibaldi put it onto the bar, picked up the top hat,
placed it upon his head and, looking into the mirror behind
the bar, tapped it straight.
Turning from the bar, knowing all eyes were on him, the
magician attempted to maintain the dignity of a sober man
by trying to walk straight, but instead drunkenly wobbled
as he walked across the room to the coat rack alongside
Searching a moment, he found his coat under a dozen
others and, with an ostentatious flourish, twirled it cape like,
across his shoulders then pulled his long hair out from
beneath the collar. Reaching for the door handle, turning
around, he looked at Lewis and his friends, who, still sitting
on the floor, were still staring at the magician. Smugly
tapping the top of his hat once again, turning away, he
opened the door…
Outside, sleet and rain were falling. Lightening made
bright, iridescent flashes behind thick, moisture-laden clouds
and there was the low grumble of near-constant rolling
Stepping outside, the door to the pub was blown shut.
Buffeted by a strong gust of cold wind, Garibaldi hung
onto his hat with one hand while holding the coat closed
around his throat with the other. The velocity of the sleet
forcing him to turn his head from the wind, looking to the
side, he stepped into the road, as…
A great bolt of crackling lightning split the air directly
overhead and a loud clap of thunder simultaneously shook
the earth below, as…
Frightened by the combined sally of lightning and
thunder, struggling against the weight of an overloaded dray,
the terrified horse broke free from the driver’s clasp on
Stamping on the brake lever, “Whoa!” the driver
screamed at the wild-eyed beast. “Whoa!”
The noise of the runaway wagon muffled by the sounds
of the storm, bouncing wildly, sparks shooting from beneath
ironclad hoofs and wheels, the dray careened over the
The velocity of the sleet forcing him to turn his head from
the wind, looking to the side, Garibaldi sensed the runaway
wagon’s approach before he saw or heard it. Another bolt
of lightning illuminating the night, he lifted his head as,
transfixed, he tried to move but, the frenzied horse upon
him, shrieking, “Nooo!” the magician instinctively threw his
arms upward in a futile effort to protect his head. Blowing,
Garibaldi’s long, white hair streamed furiously outward for
the split second before being struck and dragged beneath
hoofs and wheels.
Following immediately behind Garibaldi, his mouth open
in a soundless scream, Matthew Flizzer stood frozen as,
powerless to help, he could only watch as his friend was
struck by the wild horse and drawn beneath the heavy
wagon. Turning back into the pub, “Help!” he screamed.
“Get a physician! Please, find a physician!”
Finally able to pull the runaway wagon to a halt several
yards down the road, jumping from the seat, the driver ran
back to see if he could give aid.
Hearing Flizzer’s screams, knots of people, mostly from
the pub, stood looking at the mangled body as two
magistrates elbowed their way through the gawking group.
Within minutes, most of the crowd, chilled by the sleet
and rain, dissipated.
Turning from his companion, one of the two young men
still standing over the body looked downward and,
searching, walked about in a widening circle till, “‘ere
n-nnow,” he said, “‘ere it is!” Stooping, lifting the black
object, Lewis returned to his friend. “I g-g-g-guess ‘is
m-m-m-magic ‘at wasn’t m-m-m-magic enough to make
that wagon d-ddisappear, eh?”
About to put the hat onto the chest of the body of Garibaldi,
changing his mind, turning from the body, walking back into
the Boar’s Tooth Pub, Lewis put the magician’s now bent
and dented top hat onto his head. “Aye, Silbie,” he said
without a trace of a stutter, “I found ‘is lordship’s ‘at!”
“An’ elegant it makes ya’ look, too, Lewis,” Silvia replied.
Johnson knew of a great number of pubs between Hobbins’
Funeral Parlor and the dirt road leading to the shack and,
licking his lips, imagining the free drinks he’d soon be
enjoying, he intended to visit each one.
Now that what he considered to be “his” share of the
work was finished, quickly packing the equipment into the
tool box, “Ey, boy,” pointing his finger, looking sternly at
Zachariah, “you finish ‘ere,” motioning with his thumb at
the fireplace and vaguely around the entire parlor, “an’ be
sure to get the pay from the…” looking towards the basement
stairway, “…ol’ bastard, an’ then ya get ya arse on ‘ome! Ya
`ear what I’m sayin’?”
On his hands and knees inside the firebox, turning his
body so he could see Johnson, “Aye, Sir.”
Posed as a statement rather than a question, “Ya knows
‘ow to get ‘ome from ‘ere!”
“Mind ya,” starting to cough, “finish the job good an’
proper like or ol’ ‘obbins, the bloody tightwad bastard ‘e is,
‘ll try to squeeze out’a payin’ ya!” Turning away, Johnson
turned back, “An’ don’t’ya be tellin’ ‘im where I’m off to!”
He looked at the boy for a second or two, then, grasping
the handle, lifting it with a grunt, swinging it, Johnson
hoisted the toolbox onto his right shoulder.
Having a somewhat disquieted sensation in the pit of his
stomach, Maybe I ought not be leavin’ the boy a second time
this day. Feeling vaguely guilty over leaving Zachariah once
again, Eh, tis nothin’! Rationalizing, ‘e’ll do what ‘e must
an’ find ‘is way ‘ome without me ‘elp. Mentally brushing the
sensation away, turning away, Johnson took a step toward
the doorway, stopped, considering a moment, then turned
back and, lifting it off the drop cloth, placed the bandoleer
of brushes around his shoulder. “That’ll leave ya just the
cloths, the scrapper an’ brush an’ the rope to be carryin’,”
he said magnanimously. “An’ if the ol’ bastard asks where
I’m at, tell ‘im I ‘ad a ‘nother ‘pointment.”