As night began to lift around him, Jack Womble finally knew what had to be done. It wasn’t the first time he’d broken the law, but he hoped it would be his last.
Regardless of any consequences given birth by his actions on the crisp October morning, inaction would’ve brought far worse ramifications. Punishing guilt was what had dragged him back to this place.
Guilt was something he had lived with before, but this time it was different. He had returned more so for the family that still lay asleep inside the red brick ranch home — and one little boy.
The universe was out of key, and it fell upon him to set things right. After all, it was he who’d upset the balance in the first place, a little less than a week ago.
From his hiding place on the edge of the forest, Jack stood to stretch his legs. A spindly 5-feet-8-inches, sporting a disheveled crop of sandy brown hair, he was much like any other boy in the neighborhood. Except for one thing.
Jack Womble, the first-born son of happily married parents Martha and Tim, was secretly an accomplished thief, one who, up to now, hadn’t been caught. And one who, up to now, had never tried to return something he’d stolen.
His life of crime started two years earlier with a candy bar off a shelf of the local grocery story. If asked, his parents would have bought it; they bought him most anything he wanted. For Jack, it was a way of feeling accomplished and vying for attention more than anything else.
After removing the broken screen, he silently climbed through the little boy’s bedroom window. Just like he’d done a few days before.
Careful not to disturb the many moving boxes, or the other sleeping brother, he leaned over to gently replace one of the items he had stolen from the family.
Jack froze as the sheets ruffled and the child awoke, opened his eyes, and looked directly at the black shadow standing before him. Oddly, the little boy wasn’t afraid. He simply reached up and wrapped both arms around the newly purchased brown bear.
Jack touched the boy’s shoulder and said, “Everything’s going to be okay.”
A weak, “Thank you,” draped in a yawn, floated up to Jack’s ear, and he paused for a moment. Had he really heard it or had he simply wished it?
The little boy’s eyes flickered and grew heavy as he watched the black shadow move away from his bed; then he drifted back to sleep.
Jack climbed back through the window, carefully replacing the broken screen before quickly retreating to the street. A sliver of morning sun filtered through the pine trees illuminating a black ribbon tied around the mailbox of the home he’d just left.
Taking one last look around, he realized his mission had been successful just in time. The family would move that very morning.
Though he couldn’t return the other item stolen from them, he hoped the bear would bring comfort to the little boy, and help soften the great loss the family had just experienced.
Heading home, he turned his back on his life of crime, the family, and the mailbox, never to return again.
The mailbox located at 110 Flamingo Street.
Note for Readers: Was Jack Womble and the bear real? Or, along with the black shadow seen in his bedroom that night, were they just the invention of a little boy’s imagination as he tried to cope with an unimaginable loss?
This time, Dear Reader, I’ll let you decide. Sometimes people don’t want to know the end of a story.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]