A furious gust of wind howled down the moonlit lane, sending a cascade of freshly fallen snowflakes tumbling from the treetops, up and over the rooftops, whirling around the lampposts, before finally slamming into the row of houses that lined either side of the street. The houses strained against the frigid blast, creaking and groaning, all the while steadfastly shielding the inhabitants lying dormant inside. The wind struggled for a moment, moaning with the sheer force of which it pushed against the walls of the houses, and then whistled away to continue on towards wherever its path lay. As the continuous drone of the wind slowly died away, the houses gave one final creak and shudder before relaxing back to their normal positions. In the muffled cover of heavy snow, all was silent once more.
It was this creak that awoke Tom on that cold, dark, winter’s morning. With a start, he turned his head towards the alarm clock that sat upon his bedside table. Three numbers winked in the darkness on the face of the digital clock: 6:34.
For a second, Tom just stared. Then, with a sigh, he sank back into his pillow and turned the other way towards the bedroom window. The shades had been pulled back the night before, and the soft clear moonlight filtering in through the glass stood in stark contrast to the harsh, cold world that lay outside. The soft blanket of snow that had fallen outside earlier that night had been frozen into a single untouched sheet of ice that sparkled and glittered in the starlight. The long, glistening icicles that dangled from the top of the window lay testimony to the frigid temperatures outside.
Even more telling of the conditions outside was the fact that there wasn’t a single newspaper boy outside delivering papers. Tom shut his eyes firmly and burrowed down under the warm covers of his bed. There was no way he’d be going outside to deliver newspapers today. For one thing, it was just completely frozen out there and Tom didn’t fancy becoming a human popsicle. Besides, he was already late anyway. Mr. Beason, the newspaper delivery manager, wanted them “on the spot, six o’clock, at the dot.” It was a bit too late for that. Tom imagined walking into the office more than a half hour later and announcing to him, “Here I am!” He scoffed. Chances were that the office would be completely abandoned and Mr. Beason himself was probably snug under the covers of his bed himself anyway.
However, Tom couldn’t quite help thinking about walking into the newspaper office on that first day and asking for the job. Pocket money was always a bit tight around the house, and when he had seen the ad in the newspaper, he had jumped at the chance. His interview with Mr. Beason had been short, but he could never quite forget it.
After a few niceties and introductions, Mr. Beason had fixed Tom with an unblinking stare and said, “I want to tell you straight off the bat. We’re looking for hard workers only here. The mornings delivering these papers won’t always be easy, and they won’t always be fun. But if you want to be a part of our team, you have to do your job no matter what.”
He had mumbled something like, “I won’t quit on you. I’m a hard worker.”
It was then that Mr. Beason smiled and clapped his shoulder. “I know that, son. I can see that you’re a hard worker. Have a good sleep tonight. You start tomorrow at six.”
Tom saw Mr. Beason’s face smile through his closed eyes. He could hear his voice saying, “I won’t quit on you.” And then Mr. Beason clapping his shoulder and telling him, “I can see that you’re a hard worker.” The words seem to echo in his ears.
Tom opened his eyes and looked up at the dark ceiling of his bedroom. Remember what Mr. Beason said about you, a voice told him. But Mr. Beason was wrong. He wasn’t a hard worker. Besides, Mr. Beason probably said the same thing to every kid who applied for the job. You said you wouldn’t quit on him. So perhaps he had been lying to Mr. Beason when he had said he was a hard worker. On the other hand, who cared what Mr. Beason thought? So what if he had lied? It was ultimately Mr. Beason who made the decision to give him the job. But in his heart, Tom already knew. You weren’t just lying to Mr. Beason, you were lying to yourself.
Groaning, Tom turned away from the ceiling and tried to bury his face in the pillow. “Go to sleep,” he told himself. “Go to sleep. Mr. Beason doesn’t care. I don’t care.”
However, sleep wouldn’t come and the voice in his head was inescapable. But you do care. And so do the others.
It hit him then. The people he delivered the newspapers to! Would they be so disappointed not to get them that day? In his head, he saw Fido, the Kentleys’ dog, leap onto him in joy at the sight of the rolled up bundle of newspaper. He saw the two Swanson twins running to meet him at the door when they saw him walking up towards their house. He saw old Mrs. Johnson, who always had a treat or two for him when he delivered her newspaper. Would they be so disappointed to not get their newspapers that day?
Tom shook his head, wearily trying to shake off this crazy, this insane idea. He couldn’t deliver the newspapers today. Just by glancing out the window, it must have been at least minus-forty degrees outside. For heaven’s sake, he thought, Icicles are hanging on my bedroom window. The streets are frozen and slippery. Delivering newspapers now is just completely stupid. That’s why none of the other newspaper boys went outside today. Nobody would even go outside to even get their newspapers.
The time was now 6:50 according to the clock, and Tom had by now given up all hope for sleep. Instead, he decided to distract himself by reading. He flicked on the lamp and winced in the sudden flash of light. Once Tom’s eyes had adjusted to the new lighting, he took a magazine from his bedside table, flipped open to a random page, and started reading.
The article was about a man named Andrew Carnegie. It told the story of the man’s journey from rags to riches. As a young boy, the article said, Andrew Carnegie immigrated with his family from Scotland to America. Though his family was poor and didn’t have the greatest living conditions, eventually, Andrew Carnegie would grow to become a multimillionaire and founder of one of the most powerful corporations in the world. When asked about his success, he would always attribute it to hard work. The article concluded with a quote from Andrew Carnegie that simply read: “Do your duty and a little more and the future will take care of itself.”
When he had finished reading, Tom sat silently for a few moments. Outside, light began to break out from the rising sun, bathing everything in a warm, golden glow. Then, Tom put on a warm winter coat, turned out the light, and left to go out on his newspaper route.