Expecting none other than this rebuke, “Aye, Sir,”
“One thing more…”
“None of your indigestible potatoes tonight, George!”
“Aye, Sir. As ya wish, Mister Scrooge.”
Outside, catching the door, a gust of wind slammed it shut.____________________________________________________
Climbing Boy 20: Phantoms
December 24, 1843
Walking again, the little black-skinned boy again became
part of the flowing crowd.
Stopping often to look through shop windows, when
spoken to he spoke back.
Forgetting the encounter with the man outside of the
tavern, Zachariah was with the joyous people once more
and, once again had a sense of well-being.
The streaky-black-skinned boy, looking almost like an
African, wearing a worn, dirty, undertaker’s long-coat and
a dented top hat, was oblivious to the reasons for the stares
of those he passed.
Zachariah smiled at them and they smiled back and he—
for the first time in his life—truly enjoyed the good luck
touches of the people.
The boy felt that, although they were touching him hoping
for good luck, they were in fact giving him much more than
they thought he’d given them. After all, what he was really
giving them was but an outlet for their superstition, while
their touches were making him a part of themselves, a part
of their humanity.
Maybe, were it yesterday or the day after tomorrow,
they’d feel differently. Now, though, on this night, Christmas
Eve, while walking by, the people who caught his eye were
rewarded with Zachariah’s heart-warming smile and
somehow, in passing, they felt warmer—somehow better
than they had just a moment earlier—and most thought,
God bless you, lad!… May the Lord bless you, boy.
“Almost there, Mousy!” Putting his finger into his pocket,
he touched his friend. “We’re almost there!
Barely visible in the distance, he saw it down the road:
the huge replica of a clay pipe that hung by chains above
the tobacconist’s shop, and Zachariah knew it was there,
just next door… The Confectioner’s Shop.
Of all the wondrous sights of this wondrous night… of
all he’d seen, and smelled, this…
This is what he’d hungered for, what he wanted the
most… The Confectioner’s Shop!
He had passed it hundreds of times in the past, but always
in the tow of Johnson, and as he passed The Confectioner’s
Shop Zachariah always looked longingly through the
window, then in passing over his shoulder till it was out
The moisture of sweet anticipation flooding the boy’s
mouth, “And now I’m here!” Tapping his pocket, “with money
Being held by his mother was his sleeping time dream.
Going into The Confectioner’s Shop—being able to have
what he wanted—this was his daytime dream.
But now that he was here, he was also on a direct route
to the shack that was no more than a half-mile away.
Almost home! He was almost home!
The realization coming to him: Home! Johnson! The boy
shook his head, clearing his mind, and suddenly, as though
coming through the fog of a dream, Zachariah remembered
Hobbins. He remembered the equipment left alongside the
fireplace and the undertaker’s refusal to pay.
“Oh, Lordy!” Thinking of Johnson, the euphoria fading,
“What’ll I tell him?”
Having reached his goal, the boy vacantly stared through
the steamy glass.
Taking the hat off, nervously rubbing his hand across the
stubble on his scalp, “What’ll I tell ‘im?”
The thought of Johnson—the thought of what awaited
him once back at the shack—caused a chill to run along his
spine, causing him to shudder.
Cold again, he put the hat onto his head.
The tip of his tongue circling his lips, his eyes opening
wide, Zachariah saw the shelves and trays through the fogcast
window, and all else was forgotten; his dread of Johnson
was overcome by his desire for the candy; thinking of what
he was about to have, the fear left as fast as it had come.
Entranced! Hardly believing he was truly here, that truly
he was going into this shop, opening the door, the boy
The shop was crowded, but the people, waiting their turn
to buy, as though afraid of being brushed against and soiled,
moved aside, allowing him clear passage as he made his
way to the counter.
In near reverence, open-mouthed, his head moving from
side to side, Zachariah looked at the trays of assorted
candies: chocolate, vanilla and cherry; fruits, nuts
So much! he thought. So many different kinds! What
should I buy?
He had a problem he never thought he would have: What
to pick? How much, he thought. What can I get for my copper?
Smelling the sweetness, Mousy poked his head through
the slit of the pocket and squealed. Hearing him, Zachariah
looked at the mouse, than glanced from side to side and
over his shoulder.
Instinctively, the boy knew a candy shop is not the place
for a mouse—even if the mouse is in the pocket of a
Facing the counter, his back was to most of the people,
so hopefully they hadn’t seen or heard the mouse. Pushing
Mousy back into the depth of the pocket, covering the slit
with his hand, Zachariah came back to the perplexing
problem of: What should I get?
On the counter there were jars filled with brightly colored
balls and long, thin things that look like black rope.
Standing before the L-shaped counter, looking from one
tray to another, his head turning from side to side as he
looked from tray to jar, from jar to tray, his desire for sweets
momentarily overcome by Which sweets? when suddenly…
A prickling sensation.
Zachariah felt something on his back… Something in his
back. He flexed his shoulders, but the sensation persisted.
Someone was staring at him.
Turning his head, forcing a smile, he looked at the people
in the shop.
Most of the people he looked at smiled back; some averted
their eyes, but no one in particular seemed to be staring at
him—certainly no one with enough intensity to cause this
eerie feeling. Flexing his shoulders once again, he turned
back to the problem of his selection, but still he felt the
prickling sensation of eyes boring into his back.
Turning from the counter, Zachariah looked to the
There! Outside, there were two wavy, distorted figures.
Their faces pressed against the moisture-streaked
window, the vapor of their breath making undulating circles
of blue fog upon the sweating glass, the tatters of their
clothing moved in a breeze that was all but nonexistent only
a few minutes ago, both wore little more than rags.
The larger of the two, a girl, stood with her hand on a
Inexplicably fearful, Zachariah tried to smile, but
couldn’t, and not understanding why he felt this fear, turned
away… But, immediately drawn back. Why’my so afraid?
he thought. They’re just a couple’a poor kids like me.
Oblivious of the people in the shop, the three stared at
each other: the boy and girl outside, in the cold, and
Zachariah inside, in the warmth, who was suddenly able to
see the two children with straightforward, crystal
Their long, stringy, muddy-blonde hair, deeply set,
black circled eyes, and thin, emaciated faces had a
very marked likeness, causing Zachariah to think,
They must be brother and sister.
Sitting upon and across the girl’s chest is a wooden tray
that was held upward by a piece of twine bound around her
neck and Zachariah could see an angry red line from where
the twine cut into her flesh and—even as he looked, unable
to discern if it was factual or his imagination—a thin line of
blood seeped from the deep, circular indentation.
Hanging over the edge of the wooden tray, its yellow pod
and hair-like pistils showing through the flower’s blackedged,
fully opened, drooping petals, its stem broken, was the
head of one wilted, red rose.
Closing his eyes, shaking his head, Zachariah hoped the
two children were a figment of his imagination and that
when he opened his eyes they would be gone…
He opened his eyes…