The High Price of getting something for free

The redemption coupon Jack found in the box of Crunchy Krank cereal promised a prize of great value – guaranteed to amaze. Jack stared at the object in the box.  Amazed – right! Amazed he had been so duped.

Amy, his four year old sister leaned over his shoulder. “Oh, that’s so pretty. Can I have it, Jack? Please, puleeezzz?”

“Yeah, here. All yours. Knock yourself out.” He pushed the box toward her.

She shook the sparkling red jewel out into her palm. “Is it real, Jack?”

“Sure, worth a million.” He said, Real, yeah, real plastic, he grumbled to himself. It didn’t even come set in a ring. It was just a piece of junk designed to lure the gullible into buying ten boxes of cereal, cereal that tasted like moldy straw.

A week later, Jack had forgotten the disappointing prize, so when the stranger appeared at their front door with a big toothy smile announcing that he was a ‘lucky boy’, Jack stared at the man, stunned speechless.

Seeing his confusion, the stranger’s smile expanded showing even more teeth, “My boy, you did mail in ten box tops from Crunchy Krank cereal and the redemption coupon, did you not?”

Still confused Jack nodded.

“And you did receive a box containing a red plastic jewel, making you eligible for the grand prize?”

Again Jack nodded. “Yes, I ah…ah thought that was the prize.”

“No my boy,” the stranger gave a short bark-like laugh, “not the prize, merely a token. I have here in my hand a certified bank check for one thousand dollars that I am authorized to present to the person in possession of that token. “

Jack’s eyes widened in shock.

The stranger’s eyes narrowed, he moved closer. His smile became faint, “You do have the jewel, do you not?”

Jack backed away, “No, ah I mean yes, but I’ll have to get it. It… It isn’t lost or anything but my sister has it and I’m not sure just where it is…”

“I see,” the stranger’s smile vanished. “Without the jewel, I cannot give you the check. You may have one day to find it. I will return tomorrow at this time but if you do not have the jewel… That is no jewel, no check.” The stranger turned, strode rapidly down the walk, climbed into a long black limousine and drove away.


Jack surveyed his sister’s room. Piles of stuffed animals covered the bed. Amy’s collection of Barbie dolls lined the shelves over her unmade bed, Barbie paraphernalia spilled out of the toy chest. A dilapidated doll house occupied a corner of the room. The closet bulged with clothes on hangers, clothes piled on the floor.  Finding the plastic jewel in this labyrinth seemed impossible but Jack had to do it and do it quickly. His sister would be home from her dance lesson within the hour.

He looked about, wondering where she had hidden her new treasure. With relief he spotted a small pink jewel box peaking out of the clutter atop her pink Barbie dressing table. He made his way across the room, stepping over the toys and clothes.  He opened the box.  The red gem sat atop a jumble of bracelets and hair clips. Glancing over his shoulder first, he quickly removed the jewel and slipped it into his pants pocket.

Not a moment too soon.  He heard the front door open.  Amy came in chattering away to their mother.  Jack tip-toed across the hall to his room closing the door quietly after him; he stashed the jewel in the top drawer of his dresser under his socks.

He had the jewel but he feared that Amy might miss it and create a fuss. With a thousand dollars he could buy her a whole chest full of plastic jewels but he knew too well how stubborn and unreasonable his sister could be. Somehow he had to keep her distracted.

So for the remainder of the afternoon, Jack became the ideal big brother, taking Amy out in their canoe for a ride around the lake that abutted their back yard, playing hop-scotch with her and watching her feed the ducks that swam in the lake. His mother smiled and complimented Jack on his newly found interest in his sister.

The next morning he took Amy to the park patiently pushed her on the swings and helped her climb the jungle gym. He heaved a sigh of relief when time for her dance lesson arrived.  With a smile, he watched as his mother and sister pulled out of the gravel driveway.  He ran up to his room, retrieved the plastic jewel from its hiding place; stationed himself by the front door waiting impatiently for the reappearance of the long black limo.

As the luxury vehicle pulled up, Jack dashed out to meet the man on the front porch.

“You have the jewel, yes?” the man asked eagerly.

“Yep, right here,” Jack pulled the plastic gem from his pocket and held it out in the palm of his hand. The small gem seemed to grow, to glow. It became warm then hot. Jack felt a wave of revulsion.  He flexed his palm offering it up to the man.

The man’s grin reappeared, big and toothy. He reached out to take the token.

At that moment, Jack’s mother returned with Amy. His mother hopped out of the car. She hustled into the house by the side door that led directly to the kitchen. Intent on dinner preparations she paid no attention to what was happening on the front porch.

Amy, however, immediately took in the scene. She jumped out of the rear door of the car and came running across the lawn. “That’s my jewel! Jack, what are you doing with my jewel?”

The man’s head swiveled between Jack and his sister. He glared at Jack, “You are not the owner of the token?”

“Ah…well I sorta gave it to my sister.” Jack stammered.

The man turned, ignoring Jack, giving his full attention to Amy, “My dear,” He cooed, “you are so fortunate, so lucky; in exchange for your jewel you will be made princess for a day.”

In a twinkling the man’s black attire transformed itself into red and gold livery. The black limo became a shiny silver coach drawn by six white horses. Instead of a check he held out a golden crown to Amy.

Entranced Amy reached out for the crown. For a moment Jack watched in stunned amazement. That amazement quickly turned to horror. Something was wrong, very wrong.  Clutching the gem, Jack backed away, leaped off the porch, and headed toward the back yard at a run.

Behind him he heard Amy wailing. He heard the pounding of her small feet as she pursued him.  “Jack, it’s mine! Give it back! I want to be the princess! It’s mine! Give it back!”

Jack raced down the sloping back yard lawn toward the lake. He had to prevent this strange man from getting the jewel.  Jack didn’t know how he knew it but he was certain that if this object fell into the hands of the man, terrible consequences would follow.

Jack ran out onto the boat dock with Amy hot on his heels.  Behind Amy, strode the mysterious man. His eyes had become black holes in his face. Gone the fancy clothes, gone all pretence of benevolence. He leered, “Come back. I must have that jewel. It holds the key to my magnificent evilness.  Come back.”

Jack glanced over his shoulder, looking for a way to escape.  There was nowhere to go. Amy pulled on his arm trying to get at the jewel. The man walked rapidly toward them closing off all chance of backtracking. They were trapped on the dock.  Jack took a deep breath, closed his eyes, pulled back his arm and with all his strength hurled the jewel far out into the lake.

The jewel hit the water with an explosion.  The surface of the placid lake turned fiery red and orange. A gigantic plume of water jumped up and seemed to touch the sky. From behind him, Jack heard a howl of anger and pain. He turned just in time to see the man who had been pursuing them vanish into a cloud of sparks and smoke.

Amy looked about in confusion, her small face contorted into a mask of loss, sorrow and shock. Tears filled her eyes.  “Why did you do that Jack? I was going to be a princess.”  She sobbed.

Jack knelt down on the dock and hugged his sister close. “It’s okay, Amy. You are a princess and if you let this whole thing be our secret, I’ll be your humble servant and do whatever you want for the rest of the day.”

Amy blinked the tears out of her eyes, “Play Barbies?”

Jack gulped, that was a high price for a ‘free’ prize but sometimes you’ve got to pay it.