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Mark M Lichterman

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The ClimbingBoy 24: Death
By Mark M Lichterman
Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012
Last edited: Thursday, August 16, 2012
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.

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In shadow yet, vaguely considering that this, too, might be caused by the copious amount of gin he’d consumed on this day, still, Johnson saw no more than the reflection of firelight in the black hollow of the stranger’s face and now...

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


One last tear… 


One last drop of blood… 



Johnson stirred. 

Knock... knock! 

One eyelid opened.  


Climbing Boy 23:

London, England

December 24, 1843

                                                     Christmas Eve

Knock... Knock!


“Whaz’zat?” Johnson looked at the door. “Who the bloody

‘ell’s that?”


The door rattling with the force…


Knock! Knock! Knock!


Rousing himself from the chair and the warmth of the

fireplace, jarring the table he caused the empty gin bottle to

roll onto the bread. “I ‘ears ya! I ‘ears ya!” he yelled, then,

muttering under his breath, “It’s gotta be bloody Marcos or

that bastard Archie.” Trippingly making his way around the

table and the few feet to the door, “Ya, got’s ya…” pulling it

open, “bloody ner…” His voice trailed off as a gust of frigid

air blew through the shack.




The candle on the table flickered and went out.


Sputtering, the flames of the two candles on the mantle

extinguished and smoke flowed from beneath the mantle,

dulling even that futile light.


Standing within the doorframe, filling the doorway was the

silhouette of a tall, heavyset man wearing a bulky coat and

a sheepskin hat.


In the deep shadows, on the far side of the room,

Zachariah’s eyes opened slowly. Turning his head, he looked

at the dark figure in the doorway.


“Johnson!” the figure in the doorway repeated in a deep,

solemn voice. “You’re Johnson, the sweep!” This posed not

as a question but as a statement.


Startled, Johnson took a step backward.


Smoke stinging his eyes, rubbing them, he tried to

sharpen his vision.


The stranger stepped into the room, forcing Johnson to

retreat another two steps.


The close proximity of the stranger frightening him,

moving even further to the rear, Johnson backed into the

table, jarring it. “Yeah,” swallowing his fear, “I am Johnson!”

He squinted, trying to see the stranger’s face. “An’ who might

ya be?”


Coming further into the shack, “It’s no matter to you

who I am.”


Moving hastily to the far side of the table, Johnson used

it as a barrier between himself and the stranger.


Following him to the table, placing his gloved hands onto

the edge of the beaten wooden surface, saying nothing, the

stranger stared at Johnson.




There was the wind outside.

There was the creaking of the shack.

There was the crackling of the fireplace.

There was Johnson’s harsh, labored breathing, but…


There is silence…


Looking for a means to escape, although not sure why,

Johnson’s eyes darted from side to side, but knowing there

was no place to go, and wanting to see who this stranger

was that was frightening him, peering into the dark area

beneath the stranger’s sheepskin hat and bulky, upturned

collar, he saw only blackness, and in the place of eyes, the

reflected pinpoints of the sputtering fireplace light—and so

quickly looked away.




Zachariah watched the two men: the blanching figure of

Johnson, facing him, and the back of the black shadow of

the stranger.


The coat, made of fur, reached to the stranger’s ankles.

The oversized collar of the coat was turned up, covering his

lower head, while the upper portion of his head was hidden

within the sheepskin hat.




Shaking his head, his Adam’s apple moving up and down

in his throat, Johnson swallowed, and no longer able to stand

the silence, with an attempted show of bravado, curling his

thin upper lip into a sneer, he glanced briefly into the black

void of the stranger’s face, then again quickly averted

his eyes.


“Enough of this!” Though trying to be forceful, his voice

quivering, “Who are ya, an’ wha’d’ya want?”




His flesh crawling, his scalp tingling, Johnson felt the

stranger’s eyes probing into him.


“Who are ya?”


But yet…





Finally, the stranger’s voice sounding hollow, as though

coming from the inside of a drum: “I’ve come for the boy.”

Said as a simple, unemotional statement.


“The boy?” For a moment Johnson didn’t understand,

then, his eyes flickering to the shadowy figure against the

far wall, “The boy? Ya be the law?” His besotted voice

quivering, “I ain’t done nothin’ wrong!”


“What you’ve done wrong is between yourself and your

maker,” the stranger said in a harsh, accusing tone. “No,”

speaking in a softer tone of voice, he said, “I am not the law.”


Shaking his head as though trying to clear the cobwebs,

Johnson briskly rubbed his hand over his face in an effort to

remove at least some small part of his drunkenness, as at

the same time, needing a drink, he looked over his shoulder

at the mantel, but the one remaining bottle was not there.

Panicking, he couldn’t remember where he’d left it. “If ’n ya

ain’t the law, what’d’ya want?”


“Zachariah!” the voice of the stranger boomed, again

startling Johnson, causing him to jerk backwards. “I’ve told

you, I’ve come for the boy!”


Zachariah? Johnson thought. Who is this man, and ‘ow’s

‘e know of Zachariah?

Looking beneath the table, “Sir,” Johnson breathed a sigh

of relief because the bottle was there, but it was lying on its

side, half empty. Straightening, looking across the table

again, “If’n ya come for the services of a chimney sweep,

then you’ve come to the right ‘ouse.” Crouching on hands

and knees, his head bumping on its edge, he reached under

the table. “Just gi’me your address an’ me’n the boy…”

standing, holding the bottle in his hands, looking at the

stranger, he held it forward and, receiving no response,

shrugging his shoulders, lifting the bottle to his mouth he

drank deeply. “Ahh! Um, me’n the boy’ll be to your ‘ouse or

‘stablishment bright ‘n’ early tomorrow.”


Johnson would say anything, do anything to be rid of

the stranger.


“I did not come for you,” speaking with strong emphasis,

“or your service!”


Tiring of this, “I know! It’s that’s bastard Archie!

Archibald sent ya! Didn’t ‘e?”




“Or the lady! That do-gooder lady on Broad Street! She’s

the one what sent ya, huh?”


The wind. The creaking. The crackling…


The silence…


Knowing he’ll want it all, need it all, silently berating

himself for allowing the bottle to fall from his hand and

drain onto the floor, taking another drink, looking at the

stranger as he brought the bottle to his mouth, “Who are

ya?” he asked again.




Then conceding, “I am who I am.” The

stranger said.


Once again the stranger’s words came as though from

far away, and again, thinking the liquor had affected his

hearing, which it very well may have, Johnson shook his

head. “Ya are who ya is, eh?” Flustered, frightened… more

than frightened. “Well, I knows who ya are!” Hoisting the

bottle, trying to marshal his courage, Johnson took another

drink. “Archie sent ya, or that lady, or maybe even fish-smelly

Marcos! An’ one of ‘em tol’ ya ‘bout the lad bein’ a good

worker an’ such. Well, if’n it’s just the boy ya be wantin’,

then that’s all right, an’ I’ll be sure ‘e’s at your place nice an’

early tomorrow! Dawn’s all right?” he asked hopefully.


“Tomorrow is Christmas.”


Speaking sadly, softly, Johnson craned his neck forward

in order to hear the stranger.


“Would you work the boy on the day of the birth of

our Lord?”


“Oh! Oh no, no, no!” Putting the bottle on the table, he

held his hands forward, as though in supplication. “I forgot

what day’s tomorrow. No, never! I wouldn’t never be workin’

the lad on Christmas! What kind’a man you think I am?

Christmas! I forgot! What I’m meanin’ is, ‘e’ll be by at your

‘ome or ‘stablishment first light’a next day.” Swallowing

nervously, turning, squatting, he picked up a piece of cold

charcoal from the fireplace floor. Turning back to the table,

pulling the chair closer, sitting, Johnson brushed off a corner

of the rough-hewn table as though preparing to write on it,

then looked up. “Now, Mister…? Ehh, if you’ll just be givin’

me the address of the place ya want me to send the boy.”


In shadow yet, vaguely considering that this, too, might

be caused by the copious amount of gin he’d consumed on

this day, still, Johnson saw no more than the reflection of

firelight in the black hollow of the stranger’s face and now,

his thought process progressing, remembering, having

acquaintance with more than one person who’d gone mad

from drink, Johnson felt a quaking within his stomach that

he knew did not come from the liquor… or maybe it did.


Swallowing, ‘e’s got no face! ‘e ain’t got a face! His befuddled

mind reasoned, It’s the devil ‘imself what’s come callin’!


Looking away, lifting the bottle, Johnson took a long,

gurgling swig.


Long seconds passed, then, “His contract,” the stranger



Looking into the void again, “What?”


“The boy’s contract. I will buy Zachariah’s contract.”

Buy? The word clearing a portion of his dotty brain,

squinting, he again looked closely at the shadowy figure,

but still seeing nothing of his face, turning on the chair,

taking up the poker he stabbed at the fire, sending a fountain

of sparks up the flue and, in the process, lighting the room.

Turning back, looking again, he did see something of the

stranger’s face and, although he did not know from where,

the face did look somewhat familiar, and by having a face, a

somewhat familiar face, the stranger appeared to be human

and less foreboding.


“So ya wanna be buyin’ me ‘prentice’s contract do ya!”


Johnson certainly did like money, but he needed Zachariah,

and also he’d had more than enough of this man. Even as

drunk as he was, he felt foolish for allowing himself to be so

terrified, and now that he could see some portion of the

stranger’s face and knew that he was dealing with just a

man—in his own home yet—overcoming a small bit of his

fear, “Ya got’s ya nerve comin’ into me ‘ouse in the dead of

night scarin’ the bejesus outta me an’ the boy.” Looking

towards Zachariah, “Ya wanna be buyin’ me ‘prentice’s

contract, ya says to me. Well, I ain’t got no contract! An’

even if I did the boy belongs to me an’ will till I lets ‘im go,

or he dies… Why, the lad’s like me own flesh an’ blood,” he

said sarcastically. “I loves him, I do. Now, I want ya should

get out’a me ‘ouse!”


The stranger did not move.


“I says to ya I wants ya outta me ‘ouse… now!” Reaching

forward, grasping the handle, standing, pulling the knife

from the loaf of bread, Johnson held it menacingly in front

of himself, sharp edge up, his thumb on the haft. “No! We

won’t be speakin’a the boy’s contract!” Moving the tip of the

blade in a small circle, “We won’t be speakin’ at all! Out

with ya!” He motioned with the knife. “Get out’a me ‘ouse!”


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..

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Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 1/17/2012
Very well penned; bravo, Mark!

(((HUGS))) and mcuh love, your friend in Texas, Karen Lynn. :D

Books by
Mark M Lichterman

For Better or Worse

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The Climbing Boy

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