The Little Beggar Boy

That night, the streets were cold and dreary, with a white fog taking up the space where the soot and dust were usually in the air during the daytime. It had rained, once again, for most of the day, leaving the moisture behind on the hard stone steps and stoops, leaving a thin, murky water lurking at the edges of the streets, waiting for a carriage wheel to splash it onto the next unsuspecting pedestrian. The moon glinted on the wet cobblestones, highlighting the destitution in the corners and the desperation in the alleyways. All those with enough money to live comfortably were already inside their large houses, and those with enough money to live at all were at least tucked into a kitchen somewhere, huddled next to the stove. It was not a night to be caught outside, nor was it a night to wander the streets alone.

Tim was seven years old, and used to being out when he should not have been. Having lost his father to the Sooty Fever, he had no choice but to live on the streets with his mother, begging for change from the odd passerby, and hoping that he wouldn't get taken in for public disruption. He didn't understand why there were always so many men around his mother, but he did know that when they were nice, they were very nice, but when then were mean, they were very, very mean.

Frank had always been one of his favorites- the man had given him a pocket watch that didn't work anymore, but that he had treasured until the day his mother had sold it for money for food, complaining that it wasn't worth enough for a good meal, and calling Frank cheap. But Tim thought Frank was a good man who had maybe just fallen on hard times, like they had. That had been the last time he saw the man.

Jeremy was the one that Tim tried his hardest to avoid, as whenever he was underfoot, he was sure to get a beating from the big man, who thought his mother was some sort of dog, and thought that Tim was a puppy that should have been drowned when it was born. Jeremy was the one that took his mother away from him.

One day, his mother told him to stay put, and that she would come back for him at the end of the day. She was going somewhere with Jeremy, she had said, to which Tim had made a face. "I don't like that man, Mommy!" Tim had said, but she had simply ruffled his hair and patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, son," she had said, "He won't be around for much longer." Then she had gone off for the day, to do something with the man, and had never come back. He thought perhaps she had really gotten sick of him, and had gotten rid of him just like the man told her to, but he couldn't be positive. Either way, it left him cold and hungry on the streets with no-one to look after him.

His father had been a good man, according to his mother, and from what Tim could remember, this was true. They never had vast amounts of money, but they had enough to get by, and stay in from the cold nights. His father was a factory worker, like most of the people in Valte'ar who could afford to live on their own, and an honest man. He brought home the food for the family, and cared for his son a great deal. Tim wanted to be just like him when he grew up.

Unfortunately, that future was looking dimmer and dimmer each day that he stood on street corners, begging for food, and maybe even some money to buy something nice. He was rained on, spat on, splashed, and shoved aside day after day, and with each day that passed, the chill sank deeper into his bones. He developed a deep, rattling cough, which was actually fortunate for a while, because people looked at him with pity, and gave him more money as they passed. "Poor child," they would say, "He's got the Sooty Cough.. next thing he knows, he'll have the fever as well."

Tim knew what they were talking about; it was the Sooty Fever had been the fever that took his father, and changed his life forever. If he could make a little more money, he could get medicine for it- the fever was quite curable, but often it struck the low-income families who could not afford the expensive medicine, and it had been known to wipe out whole corners of Valte'ar.

As they days grew shorter, and the nights grew colder, Tim could feel himself getting hotter, and soon it was all he could do to sit up straight against the wall, and hope that someone would come help him soon.

That night, Tim gave up his fight, and succumbed to the horrible fever caused by the city's pollution, and died. The next morning, people walking past him in their fur-coats and heavy leather jackets shook their heads and sighed. "That poor child. Must have died sometime in the night," they said, and then continued on their way.

The next night, the city cleanup crew came by, and took his body to the morgue, where it would later be dumped in one of the many unmarked graves of the poor people of the city. And everyone else would just carry on, hardly noticing that another bright young hope had been lost.