Posted by: Phil Anderson | February 17, 2013

The Ring – A Cautionary Tale

This is a short story I wrote a while ago. It’s actually the first of four stories that play with the idea of a homonym (one word with multiple meanings). All four stories are titled “The Ring” and have certain subtle elements in common, but each is a completely different style and genre. They’re written for kids, so if you know a kid that likes to read please share with them.

The Ring

Billy and Scott ducked through the fence and looked around at the rows of tracks and boxcars in the train yard. Billy could hear men calling to each other as they loaded cargo, but the voices came from the other side of the yard. No one was in sight.

“C’mon, Scott,” Billy said, looking up at his friend. “This shortcut will get us home in half the time.”

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Scott answered. “You never know who will be hanging around the train yard. A lot of people are down on their luck and out of work these days and this is where they hide out when they want to move around the country. There’s no telling what a man will do when he’s hungry and desperate.”

“I’m hungry and desperate and I’m not gonna do anything scary,” scoffed Billy. “You worry too much.” He hopped onto some tracks and balanced along one rail like a tightrope walker.

Scott looked around nervously and changed the subject. “Hey, did you see the new shoes Molly Cook was wearing at school today?” he asked.

“Yeah, I saw them,” Billy replied, glancing at his worn, leather shoes. They’d been handed down from his older brother. “Molly’s parents are rich. She’s always got nice new things. I wish I could afford stuff like her.”

Scott poked his friend in the arm, making him step off the railroad track. “You want girl stuff?” he teased.

Billy punched his friend back. “Not girl stuff, you goof! Just nice clothes and things.”

Scott gave Billy another shove and soon the boys were engaged in a friendly tussle. Scott slipped on a patch of loose gravel and fell into a pile of scrap metal.

“Are you okay?” Billy knelt to help Scott. Then a sparkle caught his eye. On top of some nuts and bolts in a rusty tin can lay a gold diamond ring. Billy snatched it up while Scott brushed the dust from his clothes.

“Look at this,” Billy crowed. “I was just wishing to be rich, and now I am. I wonder how much a ring like this is worth. Probably a lot!”

Scott frowned. “You can’t keep that. It doesn’t belong to you.”

“I don’t see anybody else here looking for it,” said Billy defiantly. “I found it, so it’s mine. Whoever lost it should learn to be more careful.”

A shadow fell over them. Scott and Billy turned. A tall, dirty looking man with beady eyes stared at the ring in Billy’s hand. His long, ragged coat covered dirty pants and an old sweater. His hair was long and stringy, and he hadn’t shaved in days. At his elbow slouched a shorter, dark-haired man who looked just as dirty and ragged.

The tall man held out his hand. “C’mon boy, hand it over to your pal Freddie.”

Billy’s heart was suddenly beating very loudly, but he held the ring tightly in his fist. “No! It doesn’t belong to you.”

Freddie turned to his friend. “Take it from him, Timmer.”

Billy and Scott turned and bolted. The two men chased after them. Billy ducked between two boxcars parked on a side track and pulled Scott with him. They scrambled over the connector and ran out the other side toward another row of train cars. They could hear the men stumbling over each other as they tried to follow through the narrow space.

Billy climbed through the wide door of a boxcar and motioned frantically for Scott to follow. The train car was empty. The doors on both sides were open, letting in a little light. The boys sat down to catch their breath.

“We’ve got to go to the police,” Scott whispered. “Officer Peterson will protect us.”

“No,” Billy frowned. “If we go to the police, they’ll take my ring away and try to find its owner. We can outsmart these guys.”

Suddenly, Timmer’s face appeared in the doorway. “Hey, Freddie!” he shouted. “Here they are.”

Billy and Scott leapt up, jumped out the opposite door, and started running again. Freddie stepped out from around a corner. Billy crashed into him.

The man caught Billy’s arm. Scott avoided his grasp and ran off in a cloud of dust. Billy struggled to get away, but Freddie’s grip was too strong.

A few seconds later, Timmer came around the corner. “Where’s the other kid?” he asked.

Freddie laughed. “He ran off. Don’t worry about him.”

“But what if he goes for help?” asked Timmer.

“He’s so scared, he won’t stop running until next week,” Freddie joked. “Doesn’t matter, though. This is the one with my diamond ring.”

Billy tried to pull away. “It’s not yours, it’s mine. I found it.”

Freddie glared down at Billy. “Give me the ring, kid, or else!”

Billy, with no other option, slowly opened his fingers. Freddie snatched the ring from his hand. Then he pushed the boy away.

Freddie grinned. “You see, Timmer, lots of folks are real down on their luck nowadays. Most guys try to make it by working hard and doing what’s right. But the real way to make it is by taking advantage of other people’s luck. This kid’s got the right idea. Whatever you can take is yours.”

The men looked at the diamond sparkling in the sunlight. Then Freddie pocketed the ring.

“Let’s get out of here, Timmer.”

Billy got up and rushed toward Freddie, but the tall man held him off with one hand. “It’s over kid, and you’ve lost. Don’t bother going to the police. We’ll be gone long before they show up.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” a voice responded. Officer Peterson came around the corner of a boxcar. Three burly railroad workers followed him.

Scott was right behind them. He pointed at Freddie and Timmer. “There they are. Those are the men that chased us.”

Freddie and Timmer stared at the men in surprise. They turned and started to run, but were stopped by several more railroad men who had come up from behind.

Officer Peterson quickly handcuffed Timmer and Freddie. Then he came over to Billy, carrying the diamond ring.

“Scott told me they took this from you. Is it yours?”

Billy looked at the ring. He thought about how he had acted and about what Freddie had said. “It’s not mine, officer,” he admitted. “I hope the police can find its real owner.”


  1. Hello, I log on to your blog daily. Your humoristic style is awesome, keep doing what you’re doing!

  2. […] week I present another short story titled “The Ring”. The first was a cautionary tale set during the Great Depression; this one is a fairy tale. Although they are quite different in style, they also have much in […]

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