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Thread: Randy Scott - Chapter #2 - The Fire

  1. #1
    Registered User DRayVan's Avatar
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    Randy Scott - Chapter #2 - The Fire

    Winter’s thaw and March’s storms ushered in the first warm days of the new decade, 1860. Randy Scott was hopeful this new decade would usher in a better life for him as well. The ninth of July would be his fourteenth birthday, and most orphaned boys were on their own by then. Occasional glimpses of passing clouds through the window above his worktable stimulated thoughts of escaping from the orphanage and the Leather Works. He intended running away, but until an occasion presented itself, he dutifully labored fabricating leather horse bridles on the fourth floor of the Leather Works.

    Indentured labor from the Juvenile Orphanage for Boys, dyed, cut, and assembled leather goods for the Armstead and Sons Leather Works, a six-story building near The Five Points, Lower Manhattan, New York City. The Leather Works lavishly decorated their street-level showroom with brilliant fabrics, bright lanterns, and bold paints to entice customers while the boys assembled leather goods in dingy workrooms on the top four floors. Five street-side windows allowed some natural lighting into the workroom, but facing north, sunlight reflecting off buildings across the street only emphasized their wretched work-conditions.

    Taskmasters assigned each boy a work quota: the number of leather goods they were required to assemble each day. If a boy failed to achieve his quota, the taskmasters’ punishments were swift, severe, and proportional to their individual whims.

    Mr. Tinker was the worst of the taskmasters. An unkempt, stout, older man who took pleasure in his gin, he seemed to enjoy punishing the boys with little provocation. Randy watched him strike a small boy, named Joey, across his head with a stiff rod. After Joey fell to the floor, Mr. Tinker continued striking him until he lay unconscious in a pool of blood. Two older boys carried Joey into the street; he never returned.

    ~ ~ ~

    Two days after his birthday, while working at his table, Randy heard someone shout, “Fire! Building’s on fire!” He smelled burning wood, leather, and coal oil. Leaping into action, he ran to the exit and cautiously opened the door. Smoke billowed into the room. He slammed the door shut, hoping to keep the smoke out. But unabated, smoke seeped past and through the door.

    The fire spread to the elevator enclosure and flammables stored at its base. Flames soon blanketed the backside of the building, burning through the walls and into elevator shaft. Carried by the draft of the rising heat, fire swept from the ground to the topmost floors. Flames leaped into the workrooms from the open elevator shaft, igniting everything they touched. Retreating to the front of the room, the boys tried escaping the heat and fumes. But the fire advanced toward the boys cowering near the front windows; it seemed unstoppable and all-consuming. Soon, the fire blocked all escape routes.

    “We’re gonna die.” A small boy cried.

    “I can’t breathe, the smoke’s so thick,” said another boy, coughing so hard, he could barely speak.

    “Open the windows,” shouted a boy.

    “They’re stuck. They won’t open,” said a boy near the window.

    “Break the glass with our stools,” yelled a boy from behind.

    In unison, several older boys took their work stools and smashed the windowpanes. Leaping from the windows, three boys tried escaping the flames, but the fourth floor was too high. For them, the fall was a transitory ordeal.

    Maybe they are the lucky ones, thought Randy.

    Not willing to give up that easily, Randy shouted, “Tie the horse bridles into ropes. We can use them to lower ourselves to the ground. Keep low to the floor so you can breathe.”

    Following his lead, a small army of boys set to work weaving leather bridles into ropes. In short order, they managed to fashion several ropes.

    “Jimmy, tie your rope to a beam and throw it out the window,” yelled Randy above the roar of the fire. “Artie, Sammy, Danny do the same at the other windows. The rest of you, tie and throw two or three ropes out each window.”

    Within minutes, several ropes hung from each window, and boys began their escape to safety, the younger boys first, followed by the older boys. Shortly after the organized exodus began, Mr. Tinker burst into the room – coughing, sputtering, and staggering. He stood, watching the boys climb to the window ledge and descend to safety. Pushing his way to a window, he grabbed two ropes and struggled to reach the window opening.

    “Help me up, you worthless beggars.” Mr. Tinker shrieked above the din and confusion.

    Struggling, several boys managed to push his obese frame to the window’s ledge. Mr. Tinker knelt, weaving back and forth, and shouting obscenities while he lowered himself down the ropes. Then without warning, his foot slipped through a bridle-loop, and in one swift maneuver, he flipped and hung dangling, his left foot entangled in the bridles. He tried to right himself, but he was too fat, too heavy, and too drunk. His struggles only tightened the loop constricting his foot.

    “Help me, I can’t get loose,” he shouted. But Mr. Tinker’s cries for help went unheeded. “You good-for-nothing, little bastards, help me.”

    While the boys scampered to safety, they ignored Mr. Tinker’s pleas, except for one boy, Josh, who stopped, looked at him, and said, “Remember Joey? I do.”

    “No, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt Joey,” cried Mr. Tinker. “Please. Won’t you help me?”

    Josh turned away and resumed his escape.

    “You son of a whore,” yelled Mr. Tinker. “If I get my hands on you...”

    “No, no, come back, please,” he pleaded. “Oh, please come back.”

    Fifty-two boys managed to scurry down the ropes to safety, but Mr. Tinker, dangling from the ropes, continued to struggle, shriek, and plead. Flames erupted from the windows and eventually burned through the ropes holding him. Mr. Tinker fell, screaming to the end, and landed with a bone-crunching thud.

    Josh pushed his way through the bystanders and stood over Mr. Tinker’s crumpled body.

    “Be ye at rest, Joey,” he said. “Now, the score’s even.”

    Randy hid across the street and watched the flames consume the Leather Works from its first-floor showroom to the sixth-floor workroom despite the efforts of several fire brigades. As far as Randy was concerned, the Leather Works got its just deserts. Rumors circulated that forty-one died in the fire: thirty-six boys and five employees. Numbers did not matter to Randy for he knew that no one would mourn the boys’ deaths; no one would care of their passing.

    Randy had been waiting for an occasion such as this. So mingling with the crowd for a while, he slipped away, unnoticed, and sprinted toward his old neighborhood. No matter what happened; if this was the feeling of freedom, he was not going to surrender without a fight.

  2. #2
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    What a riveting story indeed.
    I enjoyed every single sentence... you are indeed a wonderful story teller.
    Can't wait for more.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

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