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Mark M Lichterman

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Books by Mark M Lichterman
Climbing Boy 22: Whipped
By Mark M Lichterman
Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Last edited: Thursday, August 16, 2012
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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Johnson stared into the fire. He yawned. He coughed. He closed his eyes… He opened his eyes and, lifting the bottle to his mouth, took a long gurgling swallow. Catching on his lips, the suction of the bottle popped when pulled from his mouth.

The Climbing Boy can now be purchased as a Kindle eBook @ $3.00


     Feeling the weight of his sacrifice within his mind, within

his heart, turning, Zachariah began to walk.

     Two paces… three paces. Turning back, “A good Chris…”


      The girl and boy were gone.


Climbing Boy 22: Whipped

London, England

December 24, 1843

“Why’d I do that?” Looking for what was there, lifting his

hand, Zachariah held it in front of his eyes. Turning his hand,

opening and closing his fist, unable to believe it was empty,

that he’d, “Why’d I give it away?”


The further he went from The Confection Shop, the closer

he came to the shack, and the closer he came to the shack,

with each ensuing step his emotions reversed.


As if blown out, the moon and stars were extinct and the

sky black as pitch.


Cutting through his meager, threadbare clothing, the

blowing wind hurtled wet, stinging snow onto his face.

Holding the top hat onto his head with one hand as, trying

to protect Mousy from the wind, he covered his pocket with

the other hand as, at the same time he attempted to keep

the two sides of the long-coat closed about his throat with

pressure from the underside of his forearm.


Squinting into the wind. Holding the hat. Holding the

coat. Protecting the mouse. “The sweets,” he shouted into

the night, “were mine!”


Hungry. So hungry! The food he’d eaten at the lady’s

house earlier in the day long forgotten. The one sustenance

needed—wanted, above all else—the candy. His candy!


Still unable to believe that he had given his treasure away,

letting go of the hat, the boy once again held his empty hand

before his face, but free of all restraint the forceful wind

tugged at the hat. Grabbing it, shoving it over his ears and

as low on his forehead as the bump would allow, shivering,

Zachariah tightened his hold on the collar of the coat.


The cobblestone street ended.


The boy was on the dirt road that would soon bring

him home.


“Why’d I do that?” he shouted into the wind. “It were

mine, not theirs! So they’re poor! Well I’m poor, too, an’ no

one’s ever given me candy afore!” Kicking a rock, stubbing

his toe, he hobbled a few steps. “An’ now I ain’t got nothin’!”


A stinging, snow-driving blast of frigid wind forced tears

from the corners of his eyes.


Tightening his grip on the hat, Zachariah pulled the collar

of his coat even tighter.


The illusion of well being completely gone, completely

forgotten, remembering, ‘obbins, ya ol’ skinflint, bastard!

The ‘quipment! the boy’s anger at himself for giving his

treasure away now replaced by cold fear.


Closer to the shack!


Closer to Johnson!




Almost home!


“Maybe,” Zachariah said to Mousy, “‘e’s not home yet.

Maybe ‘e’s drunk an’ passed out in a pub an’ tomorrow,

when ‘e gets home,” he hoped, “‘e won’t feel so bad an’ ‘e

won’t be so mad.”




There it is! The little boy saw its squat, dim outline in the



The shack.


His pace slowing, all else forgotten: candy, cold, anger

and hunger—all was forgotten.


Fear. All else was replaced with fear.


Approaching, his pace slowed even further.


He hesitated at the door.


His hand reached for the latch, came away,

reached again.


Slowly, quietly. As quietly as possible, Zachariah opened

the door an inch… another… a few inches.


Leaning his head through the narrow opening, he looked

inside, then, squeezing between the doorframe and the

door… his lips moving silently, “Lordy! Oh, Lordy!”


Johnson was home.


Sitting behind the table in front of the fireplace, sprawled

upon a straight-back chair, his neck bent to the rear, his

head hanging over the back of the chair, his mouth fully

open, Johnson was snoring. His legs spread from side to

side, one hand hung limply to the floor. In his other hand,

held on his lap, there was a half empty bottle of gin.


A poorly made fire smoldered in the fireplace.


Upon the mantel were two flickering candles and an

unopened bottle of gin.


On the table, with a knife sticking through the middle,

was a partially eaten loaf of bread, another candle and…




…Lying on its side, another gin bottle… an empty

gin bottle.


The boy took one step into the room… another… then,

with as little sound as possible, closing the door behind him,

holding the latch, hardly breathing, standing perfectly still,

hoping, Oh, Lordy! he prayed that Johnson would not

awaken, but…


The rumbling of his stomach, in his mind, echoed throughout

the shack and, afraid the sound might wake Johnson, covering

his middle, pressing his forearm  hard against his stomach, the

boy thought, If I can just get a piece’ a that bread an’ get into

bed afore ‘e wakes.


He took one small, tentative step toward the table, then,

thinking he’d rather be hungry then beaten, turned to the

far side of the room, to his pallet.


One step…


Two steps…


A sputter and crackle as an overhanging bit of log burned

through and fell off the grate.


Another step.


Snoring… snorting loudly, choking on a bit of spittle,

coughing, Johnson lifted his head, opened his eyes, closed

them, then, as though the effort of holding his head upright

was far too great, letting the back of his head drape over the

back of the chair once again, he returned to his

drunken slumber.


Zachariah waited one… two… three… four heartbeats

before taking another step…


A floorboard creaked loudly and, stopping in mid-step,

his right foot inches off the floor, the boy did not breathe.


Johnson stirred… His head lifted off the back of the chair,

held upright… then slumped onto his chest.


Waiting… Waiting, standing perfectly still the boy waited

until, hearing Johnson snore…


On tiptoes, he took one step, another and…


The rough-hewn wood floor creaked again, and…


Johnson lifted his head.


The boy stood still… not breathing… not moving, his left

foot poised above the floor.


Johnson stared into the fire. He yawned. He coughed.

He closed his eyes… He opened his eyes and, lifting the

bottle to his mouth, took a long gurgling swallow. Catching

on his lips, the suction of the bottle popped when pulled

from his mouth.


Still… Still…


Again standing perfectly still, Don’t turn! The boy prayed

silently. Lordy, please don’t let him turn!


Johnson turned…


Looking at the boy, trying to focus his vision, “Uh…” his

words slow and slurred, “I been waitin’ on ya!” He stared at

the boy a moment, then took another long, lip-popping swig

from the bottle.


Knowing the drunker he was, the worse it’s going to be,

the boy’s eyes followed the bottle’s trip from the man’s lap

to his mouth… and back to his lap.


“Where ya been?” Waiting a moment for an answer…

receiving none, awkwardly pulling himself off the chair,

swaying backwards, straightening, planting the base of the

bottle on the table, leaning into the table, supporting himself

by the knuckles of one fist and with the throat of the bottle

held tightly in the other, “Where-ya-been?” Johnson

repeated slowly.


“I, uh, lost me way.”


“Imbecile!” Stumbling around the table, attempting to

intimidate the boy—which he most certainly did—standing

directly in front and above him, “Me money!” Johnson

demanded, holding his hand forward.


The boy did not move.


“I says, ‘me money,’ if ya please!”


His mouth suddenly dry, Zachariah could not speak.


“Boy, I says to ya once more,” bending forward, speaking

directly into his face, bringing his open hand under

Zachariah’s nose, “Gi’me’ me money!”


The boy did not move.


Staring ominously at the boy, Johnson then looked to

the floor near the door. “An’ the ‘quipment?” Bringing his

face even closer to the boy’s face, causing him to step

backward. Bellowing, “Where’s the ‘ell’s me ‘quipment?”

he grabbed Zachariah by the lapels of his coat.


Finding his voice, “Please! I didn’t do nothin’!”


Holding him by the material in his clenched fist, lifting

him till only the tips of his toes touched the floor, “Wad’a’ya

mean ya didn’t do nothin’?” Johnson screamed in the boy’s

face. “What the ‘ell ‘appened? Everythin’ was well enough

when I left ya! I tol’ ya not to get the ol’ bastard mad!

What’j’ya do? An’,” pointing at the bent, dented top hat atop

Zachariah’s head, “what the ‘ell’s this?” He began to cough,

and doubling over, released Zachariah.


Backing away, “Master Johnson, Sir,” he stammered. “It

weren’t my fault! Ol’ ‘obbins, ‘e wouldn’t pay me! ‘e said we

got dirt on one’a his settees! But I didn’t do it! I weren’t

nowhere near it! An’ all’s it was anyways was a little

smudgin’a soot an’ I told ‘im I’d’a been able to clean it, but

‘e wouldn’t let me, an’ ‘e threw me outta the ‘ouse without

the ‘quipment, an’ I begged ‘im for the payment, an’ ‘e

slammed the door shut an’ wouldn’t even gi’me back the

‘quipment!” Stopping, taking a breath, the boy went on

quickly. “An’ then these two ladies an’ men came by an’ even

they tried to tell ‘obbins to gi’me me payment an’ ‘quipment,

but the ol’ bastard wouldn’t listen to ‘em, too, an’ ‘e tol’ ‘em

‘e’d call a copper if’n they didn’t go, an’ one’a the gentlemen

felt bad, it bein’ so cold an’ all, an’ gim’me this ‘ere ‘at.”


Catching his breath, Johnson knew—even through the

alcoholic fog in his brain—that it was not the fault of the

boy. Johnson knew if he’d stayed on the job and not gone off

drinking Hobbins would have paid him. But, once again,

having only this means of venting his anger and frustration,

and being drunk as he was, he again attacked the boy.


Repeating, “All was well ‘nough when I left ya!” Taking a

step forward, once again grabbing Zachariah by the lapels

of his coat, twisting the material in his fist, he viciously pulled

the boy’s face to his.


Smelling the foul odor, feeling the heat of Johnson’s

breath and the spray of his spittle, “Don’t ‘urt me!” the boy

begged. “‘obbins threw me out an’ ‘e slammed the door an’

it weren’t my fault!”


“I left ya to do the work an’ get me money!” Frenzied,

“An’ what did ya do?” His drunken fury having no bounds,

he shook Zachariah till the boy’s head whipped back and

forth, till the hat shook from his head, fell to the floor and

rolled between their feet. “Ya lost me money, that’s what ya

did! An’ ya also lost me me oldest customer! That’s what ya

did!” Consumed by anger, swinging him by the material of

his coat, Johnson made two full circles.


On the first rotation the boy’s feet left the floor and, with

a loud crack, his ankle connected with one of the straight

back chairs, knocking it onto its side. On the conclusion of

the second rotation Johnson let go of the coat and, his arms

flailing as he went through the air, his head thudding against

the frame, smashing into the door, Zachariah slumped to 

the floor.


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