The old man was dressed in rags and when the wind shifted she caught a most unsavoury smell emanating from him. She wanted to think he'd merely stepped in something, but somehow she doubted it. Pamela moved to one side to pass him, but he lurched unsteadily into her path.
"This is for you," he slurred, holding out an object in one grimy hand.
Pamela recoiled, putting out a hand to ward him off. Using his free hand to grab her wrist, he slapped the object into her palm. Reflex had her fingers closing over it.
"Whatever it is, I don't want it," she said, trying to hand it back to him.
"You're the mother of Adam Hamling, ain't you?"
"No! You're mistaken," she said, eyes wide in a suddenly pale face.
"Instructions is inside," he said, satisfied by her reaction that he had the right woman.
"Instructions for what?" she asked, glancing down at the small box in her hand. But there was no answer. When she looked up, the old man was gone.
Pamela looked down at the box again. If there had been a garbage receptacle nearby she might have just thrown it away, but there wasn't. Stuffing it in her pocket she pulled her coat tighter around her against a chill autumn wind and hurried home.
Once she reached her apartment, with it's security guards and locked doors, she forgot about the old man. Until she went to hang up her coat and the box fell out of the pocket. Picking it up, she carried it with her into the kitchen where she made herself a drink, and then on into the living room where she sat it on the coffee table in front of the sofa.
Curling up on the sofa, she stared at the box while she sipped her drink. The old man had called her Adam Hamling's mother. How had he known? Even she was sometimes startled at the change in her appearance. Being the mother of a serial killer will do that to a person. So will testifying to have him put away for life.
A parent should never be put in the position of testifying against their own child. It wasn't right! But then, it wasn't right that her sweet baby boy had killed twenty-seven women either. One for every year of his life.
Lifting her glass for another sip, she was surprised to see it empty. Pamela thought about getting another one, but instead put the glass down and picked up the box. Should she open it or shouldn't she? Who knew what might be inside.
"Oh, just get it over with," she said out loud. Pamela opened the box. Nothing leaped out at her, no poisonous gas escaped. Inside was an acorn made of some kind of black clay, and a piece of folded paper. Remembering the old man had said there'd be instructions, she unfolded the paper and read:
You have been gifted with a single wish. Hold the acorn in your hand and concentrate on your wish. When your mind is clear of everything but your wish, squeeze the acorn to dust. Use your gift wisely.
She gave a snort of laughter. "I had the crap scared out of me for this? Seriously?"
Tossing the paper on the table, she picked up the acorn and looked at it closely. It was beautifully made, very lifelike. She remembered when Adam was little and they used to go to the park and throw acorns from the bridge to make wishes.
Her cell phone rang and after glancing at the caller I.D. she answered breathlessly.
"Mrs. Hamling? I'm sorry to be calling you so late, but the police chief thought you should know. You're son escaped from prison earlier today. But you needn't worry, we'll have extra guards in your building and a patrol out front."
Numb, Pamela thanked the officer and hung up the phone.
He'd been such a sweet little boy. Where had she gone wrong? Had she been too lax with the discipline in high school? She'd been appalled to learn he took his first victim in his senior year. That lovely Miss Marivan, his English teacher. Everyone thought she'd eloped.
Or maybe she should have taken him to counselling when she found him with the dead cat, when he was twelve. He'd sworn it had been someone else that dismembered it, but then why was the blood on his clothing?
Little things, warning signs throughout the past, chased each other through her mind. The neighbour's yappy dog that disappeared when Adam was nine. One of his little friends accusing him of killing the class hamster in the second grade. Catching him using a magnifying glass to burn ants when he was only five. But boys will be boys, right?
Any one of those moments could have been the pivotal moment in time where a firm hand could have made a difference. Or maybe that moment was the night she took the short cut through the park instead of sticking to the sidewalk. She might never had ended up with a rapist's baby in her belly.
Pamela held her hand out flat with the acorn in the center. What if she'd been given a second chance? Closing her fingers tight around the acorn, she made her wish.