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Mark M Lichterman

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The ClimbingBoy 23: Tears, Blood
By Mark M Lichterman
Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2012
Last edited: Thursday, August 16, 2012
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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Cowering on the floor, a large lump forming on the back of his head, blood flowing from his nostrils and mouth,
bringing both hands up, locking his fingers in a futile attempt to protect his face, crying from behind his hands, “Master,” the boy pleaded, “Please stop! Please stop!”

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


    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.  


Climbing Boy 23: Tears, Blood

London, England

December 24, 1843

Losing all semblance, and whatever thought of self control

he’d had, lurching to Zachariah, standing above him,

bringing his hand back, snapping the boy’s head to the left,

Johnson slapped him hard across one side of his face, then

backhanded it to the right.


Cowering on the floor, a large lump forming on the back

of his head, blood flowing from his nostrils and mouth,

bringing both hands up, locking his fingers in a futile attempt

to protect his face, crying from behind his hands, “Master,”

the boy pleaded, “Please stop! Please stop!”


But the cries of the boy seemingly only added fuel to the

fire of Johnson’s rage and, his face flushed with drink, his

teeth clenched in anger, forcibly prying the boy’s fingers

backward, exposing his face, balling his hand into a fist,

Johnson brought his arm back in what certainly could be a

killing blow, but…


His arm stopping in mid-swing, he began to cough.


Expecting to die, waiting for the pain—or the end of his

pain—Zachariah had closed his eyes. Now, reprieved—at

least for the moment—his eyes opened.


Loud. Hard. Rasping, Johnson’s face became bright red,

and thick, blue veins bulged on either side of his neck.

Standing over Zachariah coughing, gagging, the last bit of

air leaving his lungs, gasping, bending at the waist, Johnson

desperately attempted to breathe.


Slumped on the floor, the lump on the back of his head

throbbing, both eyes puffed and ringing with purple, his

back against the wall, Zachariah inched his way around the

room, and as far from Johnson’s reach as possible…


As the boy moved, the back of his head left a dull, red

smear on the raw wallboards.


The boy forgotten, his vision turned red…


Zachariah hoped the man would die, and yet was fearful

that he might.


Drool ran from his mouth. His eyes turned up in their

sockets and his vision turned from red to black. About to

pass out, his head slumped to his chest and, staggering, he

fell into the wall then onto the floor. The force of his body

hitting the wall forced a small trickle of air into his lungs

and greedily, with deep, sucking gasps, Johnson breathed

in and out… in and out. In what seemed to him to be a long

time, but in reality was no more than a few seconds, trying

to lift himself to his knees, finding he hadn’t the strength, he

fell back. Waiting a few moments, then slithering on his

stomach, Johnson reached for the fallen chair, righted it

and, grunting with the effort, pulled himself up. Sitting

heavily with his head held between his hands, he waited for

his breathing to return to normal.


Reaching his pallet, Zachariah lay down, but lying on

his back made his head throb, so pushing the burlap and

rag pillow upward against the wall, leaning his back against

it, the boy sat in dark shadows.


Rubbing his hand across his wet forehead, Johnson wiped

the sweat onto his pants leg. Stretching to the side, reaching

to the table, pulling the bottle of gin forward he brought it

to his mouth, drank deeply, stopped for a breath of air then,

draining the bottle in a swirling vortex, stood it back on the

table and, as the alcohol warmed his cold stomach, he closed

his eyes.


Mindful of the throbbing pain that came from his neck

and deeply within his head, watching Johnson drink, fearing

yet another beating, acutely aware that his heart was

pounding wildly, in a spontaneous movement he put his hand

over his chest and at the same time felt the lump and

remembered… “Mousy!” Stretching his fingers into the

pocket of the coat, “Mousy!” Zachariah brought the limp

body of the mouse out, its neck broken when Johnson had

grasped the boy by the front of his coat and swung him. His

throat constricting, “Mousy!” Tears coming to the boy’s eyes,

“Oh, Mousy!” he cried.


Bleary eyed, lifting his head, Johnson looked across the

room. “Eh, whatzat? A mouse? Ya found a mouse? Well, kill

it, can’t’j’ya? It can’t ‘urt ya!”


“Mousy,” the boy sobbed. “Oh, Lordy!”


Lifting himself from the chair, standing, tottering, holding

on to the back of the chair for support… gaining his balance,

he crossed the room.


Feeling the weight of his sorrow at the loss of his friend,

needing solace, though expecting none from Johnson—

especially while drunk—holding Mousy in the palm of his

hand, all else was forgotten as he showed it to his master.


And his master did look at it… for a moment.


“For Christ’s sake, ya twit, ya!” Reaching down, grabbing

the mouse from Zachariah’s hand, lurching back across the

room to the fireplace, “I told ya a mouse ain’t gonna ‘urt

ya!” Johnson giggled. “‘specially if ’n it’s a dead mouse!”


Zacariah watched in horror as Johnson threw Mousy into

the fireplace, where it landed in the midst of the burning

logs, smoldered a moment, then ignited into flame.




“Stop ya blubbering,” shaking his fist at him, “or I’ll give

ya what for again!”


Grabbing the unopened bottle of gin off the mantel,

Johnson pulled the cork with his teeth, was about to sit on

the chair in front of the fireplace when he noticed the top

hat lying on the floor. Using both hands, carefully standing

the bottle on the table, he swayed to the center of the room

where, trying to retain his balance, Johnson bent down,

picked the hat up, thought about keeping it for himself, then,

as though befuddled, he stared at the hat for a few moments

until, forcing himself out of his daze, “I tell ya, me boyo,” he

said, turning the hat over in his hands. “I was gonna get ya

that kitten from ol’ Archie,” he lied, “but now…” Afraid of

forcing another choking spell, he’d been speaking softly, his

voice low, but remembering that he’d lost the payment for

the undertaker’s job, his anger quickly beginning to stoke

again. “But now,” his voice rising, his eyes lifting from the

hat he looked across the room, at Zachariah, “‘stead’a the

cat, ‘ere’s your bloody Christmas gift!” Bringing his arm

back, Johnson flung the hat at the boy.


The hat sailed end over end; the dull light of the fireplace

and the pinpoint flames of the candles reflecting off its

dented, shiny crown.


Seeing the hat coming, Zachariah instinctively moved

his head to the side, but the hard brim caught him on the

cheek, causing a moment of sharp pain, before it fell onto

his lap.


“An’ a good Christmas to ya, ya bloody damn twit!”


Turning too quickly, his drunkenness causing him to

become dizzy, lurching, he lost his balance and with a thud

that shook the shack, fell to his knees. Lifting himself,

rubbing his knees, stumbling around the table to the chair,

he dropped onto the seat. Reaching to the bottle, scraping

it across the table, Johnson lifted it to his lips and drank.


His head and back resting on the burlap and rag pillow

that he’d propped against the wall, he heard the moaning,

blowing wind and felt a damp draft on the back of his head

and neck that came from between the loosely fitted



His head, throbbing with pain, hung dejectedly. He

wiggled a tooth loosened by Johnson’s blows and felt the

raw, cut corners of his mouth with his tongue while rubbing

away some of the blood from his cut lip.


The magician’s hat lay on his lap, in the valley made by

his legs. Absently rubbing the smooth, silky material of the

brim of the hat between his thumbs and forefingers, the

little boy closed his eyes.


So much has happened on this long—so very long—day.


Whatever good that had happened to him on this day

was greatly outweighed by the bad. Foremost in the boy’s

mind was the vision of the tormented, emaciated faces of

the two children outside of The Confection Shop, and the

sight of Johnson callously throwing the body of Mousy into

the fire.


Zachariah considered these as present and future specters

of his own wretched life.


Wincing at a sharp, shooting pain in his head, Oh, Lordy,

he thought, why’s the reason for all this badness? He thought

of the pretty lady holding her son Albert in her arms. Why’d

me mum ‘ave to die an’ leave me alone so’s I’d ‘ave to be with

‘im? The pain nearly unbearable, moving his head as little

as possible, Zachariah looked at Johnson from the corners

of his eyes. An’ why can’t I ‘ave a friend? Am I so bad that I

can’t even ‘ave a mouse for a friend? A mouse!


Grief for the loss of Mousy along with the sadness of his

life overwhelming Zachariah, a building lump in his throat

became an actual pain. Pressure built behind his eyes and…




Leaving shiny trails as they ran down his soot-darkened

cheeks, the little boy’s tears fell with a barely heard “tap”

onto the hard crown of the top hat.




The striking tears…




… caused a slow, soft, hardly discernible tattoo onto the

dented crown of the magician’s hat.


Slouched low on the chair, the bottle of gin held between

both hands, Johnson sullenly stared at the smoky fire.




Thinking, so tired, Zachariah breathed a deep, weary sigh.




His shoulders slumped.




His eyes closed and…




His head dropped onto his chest.




Mingling, the boy’s tears…




…and the blood of the boy meld on the hard crown of

the top hat.


Tap… tap


Once again, lifting the bottle to his mouth, the clear liquor

swirled down, through, and out the bottleneck.


Tap… tap


Johnson’s eyelids drooped, flickered open… and

closed again.


Tap… tap… tap


His arm dropped to his side; slipping from his fingers,

the bottle tottered, fell and rolled…


Clink… clink… clink.


Clinking melodically on the uneven floor till, its

progression halted by a table leg, stopping, the liquor flowed

from the opening until the fluid level reached the bottom

curvature of the neck of the bottle.


One last tear…




One last drop of blood…





Johnson stirred.


Knock... knock.


One eyelid opened.



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