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Mark M Lichterman

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Books by Mark M Lichterman
The Climbing Boy 25: Life or Death
By Mark M Lichterman
Posted: Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Last edited: Thursday, August 16, 2012
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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The stranger looked at Johnson for a long moment, then, almost sadly, as though disappointed in the other’s response, removing both gloves, reaching into the pockets of his coat
the stranger brought out two hands full of coins and, “Here!” His tone hardening again, he angrily slapped the coins onto the table.

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


The light of the fire again sparkling from the stranger’s

eyes, leaning across the table with a motion so fast it was no

more then a blur, the stranger slapped Johnson’s hand.


The knife sailed through the air… and stuck, quivering,

into the far wall.


His eyes following the knife’s flight, Johnson’s mouth

opened in amazement


Climbing Boy 25: Flesh  and Blood

London, England

December 24, 1843

                                                  Christmas Eve

“Flesh and Blood?” Poking his finger into Johnson’s chest,

shoving it in and out for emphasis, the man roared, “Like

your own flesh and blood?”


Johnson attempted to back away, but couldn’t, and

bumped into the chair, knocking it over, then, tripping on

it, he toppled over backward falling on his back with his

legs straddling the fallen chair.


Leaning over the table, the stranger pointed at Johnson.

Johnson tried to scuttle backwards, but there was no place

to go but the fireplace.


“The boy is not like your flesh and blood, is he?” Reaching

to him, entwining his hand in Johnson’s shirt, the stranger

dragged him upward. “Is he?”


Jerked to his feet, pulled over the table, his face scant

inches from the stranger’s, frightened when the stranger

was silent, now beyond terror, Johnson flinched with each

assertive word.


“You took the boy to be your slave for a pound!” Pulling

Johnson even closer. “For one pound owing on back rent

when his poor mother died.” His voice rising, “When his

mother died!” He shook Johnson. “No , the boy is not like

your own flesh and blood at all!”


“You’re the devil!” His uneven voice rising in hysteria, “I

knew it!” Pulling back, “Ain’t’j’ya?” Using whatever strength

he had, Johnson attempted to back out of the stranger’s

grasp, and away from the again faceless face. “‘ow’d ya know

that?” Pressing his hands against the edge of the table,

straining backwards. “‘ow’j’ya know ‘e sold him to me for a

quid?” Pulling, straining backwards, his shirt was yanked

from the stranger’s gloved hand and the reverse momentum

propelled him into the fireplace where a…? coincidental,

spurt of flame instantly goaded him forward again,

confirming Johnson’s fear that the stranger was, indeed,

the devil.


“No,” the stranger said softly. “I am not the devil.”


“Yeah, ya gotta be, ‘cause even if Archie or the lady or

Marcos did send ya, ‘ow’d they know I got ‘im for a quid?”


“When you drink, you talk.”


Yeah, Johnson thought a moment. That’s the truth. He

wanted to believe—at that moment more than anything—

that the dark figure standing in front of him was nothing

more then flesh and blood, and, yes, maybe he did say

something to someone at sometime about the bargain he’d

made for the boy.


Pulling the chair to the table, the stranger sat down.

Seeing this… this humanistic gesture, and also, being

able to somewhat see the stranger’s somewhat familiar face

again, breathing a sigh of relief, reaching backward, righting

his chair, Johnson sat also.


Sitting on opposite sides of the table, the stranger and

Johnson silently regarded each other.


Speaking softly, “Tell me, Johnson,” the stranger asked,

“how much longer will it be, do you think, until the boy is

too big to fit into a flue?”


Johnson shrugged his shoulders because this thought had

often occurred to him, too.


“How much longer, do you think, until the amendment

passes, making the likes of you, and what you force onto

children, unlawful?”


“More’the’likely,” Johnson answerd, “they’ll never do

such a thing ‘cause them’s in Parliament got chimneys, too,

an’ they know’s sometimes the only way to clean ‘em’s to

send the likes of ‘im…” jerking his thumb towards

Zachariah’s dark pallet, “into ‘em.”


“Yes, Johnson,” conceding the point, “that may very well

be true .” the stranger said sadly.


Johnson calmed because, admitting to be wrong, the

stranger did appear to be human after all, and sitting as

they were, across from each other as though in a bargaining

session, did, indeed, appear to be humanistic.


“How much longer will it be, do you think,” the stranger

asked bluntly, “till the lad has sooty wart?”


Swallowing loudly, Johnson looked down at his hands.


Sooty wart!


This above all else—sooty wart, cancer of the scrotum,

mankind’s first known cancer—was the predominant horror

among the chimney sweep trade, and was something often

thought of, but rarely spoken of.


“Well,” Johnson said softly, searching for an answer, “‘e

ain’t caught it yet, an’ I ain’t caught it yet. Not all’s get the

wart.” If he were religious he’d cross himself, and even

though he wasn’t religious he was tempted to do so.


Looking at him intently, as though able to see into the

working of Johnson’s body, “Yes,” the stranger gave in again,

“that is true .”


Relieved at changing the subject, and yet another

concession from the stranger, smiling smugly, Johnson

rocked back in the chair.


“Johnson, tell me: how long till the boy has consumption

and is dying?” Hesitating a moment, the stranger added

kindly, “…as you.”


Never admitting it to himself, now, his eyes widening,

swallowing again, Johnson stopped rocking. “Yeah, I caught

me the cough,” he said defensively, “an’ sometimes I lose

me breath, but I ain’t got the consumption!” Rarely needing

an excuse, rationalizing the pain, when his coughing become

bad he drank and the gin seemingly eased the cough and

the pain, but being told he was dying by this… To Johnson

the stranger might still be more than just a man, and as the

fact of his predestined death sank through his besotted brain,

as though on cue, he begin to cough. Hacking, his eyes

bulged, his face became red, his knuckles, griping the edge

of the table, turned white… He coughed until, with a

supreme effort, he willed himself to stop.


The stranger slid the bottle across the table.


Nodding thanks, Johnson brought it to his mouth.


“I will be taking him, you know.”


Lowering the bottle, putting it on the table, Johnson

looked at the stranger quizzically.


“Zachariah,” the stranger said, as though a foregone

conclusion, “will go with me!”


“No! ‘e’s mine! I paid for ‘im an’ I owns ‘im!” Adding

quietly, “I needs ‘im!”


“Oh, yes, I do know that you need him for your living,

but no man can own another,” the stranger said softly. “A

contract need not be more than the word of two people,

and I’ll not just be taking the boy; I’ll buy it out.”




“Yes.” Sitting back in the chair, the stranger watched

Johnson. “I will buy the boy’s contract.”


Yes! His forehead furled in thought, Parliament, damn

‘em, may well pass the damned amendment. Yes! The boy may

well get the wart, an’ maybe even… forcing his mind to the

thought of consumption, that he must now admit to… If I

‘ave, well, what ‘e says I ‘ave… glancing at the stranger…

maybe, I’ll get enough from ‘im, to keep me in booze till I, I,

uh… Dying is something that Johnson could not admit to,

yet… An’ the boy is gettin’ bigger, an’ it’s only a matter’a time

till ‘e’s useless—leastwise for working in a flue. Tis the truth;

soon ‘e’ll be of no good to me for doin’ the climbin’.


Deep down, though, thinking about loosing Zachariah,

Johnson hesitated.


Thinking about Zachariah there was…? There was an

unknown warmth, an obscure reflection, a strange nagging,

a pinpoint of thought for the boy—and it was other than

that of his apprentice, the one who did the work for him…


It was something else, but…


Waiting, the stranger watched Johnson closely.


But his shallow ego would not allow it and Johnson forced

the warmth, the reflection, and the thought down and, “You

plans on workin’ the boy, do ya?”


“Not in a way that you know.” Speaking in a kindly tone,

“Not in any way that the boy will know.”


Maybe, if he were sober, maybe even Johnson would

question this vague answer, but, “Pay me for the boy?” he

questioned. “‘ow much ya be willin’ to pay?”


The stranger looked at Johnson for a long moment, then,

almost sadly, as though disappointed in the other’s response,

removing both gloves, reaching into the pockets of his coat

the stranger brought out two hands full of coins and, “Here!”

His tone hardening again, he angrily slapped the coins onto

the table.


Having followed the movement of the man’s hands in

and out of his pockets, Johnson stared at the jumble of coins

in front of him. Never, in his entire life had he seen this

much at one time. Moving the coins about with one finger,

starting to count, he realized that this was more money then

he’d make in…? This was possibly more money than he’d

make in three years. Trying to contain himself, thinking,

Maybe’he’s got more. “Why,” he said, “even if I ‘ires me

another boy, it’ll cost me this much till I get’s ‘im trained,”

he lied. “No, Sir,” holding his hand forward, “tain’t enough!”


Once again the fire had withered and shrunken to a dull,

wavering glow that barely lit the two men sitting on opposite

sides of the table.


Putting his gloves onto his hands as a sign that there

would be no more money, once again the stranger’s face

was hidden in deep shadow, and, once again…


All within the shack was silent…




“Master Johnson.”


The words, though softly spoken, came from beyond the

sphere of gloomy light and so startled Johnson that he

flinched backwards.


Rising from his pallet, Zachariah walked silently across

the room and, standing alongside the stranger, his fist

clenched, the boy held one hand straightforward.

“‘ere, Sir.The lady in the ‘ouse give it to me, an’ I want’s

ya to ‘ave it.”

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Reviewed by Laura Fall 1/18/2012
Truly Excellent writing my friend as I sure have missed these great stories Laura
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 1/17/2012
Very well penned, Mark!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Texas, Karen Lynn. ;D

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