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Tent on the lawn | Source: Shutterstock
Tent on the lawn | Source: Shutterstock

Soldier Returns from Duty and Sees His Mom Living in Tent near Her House – Story of the Day

Caitlin Farley
Jun 20, 2023
12:10 P.M.

Craig returns home from duty to spend Christmas with his mom but instead finds her living in a tent. When Craig hears about the cruel scam that caused his mom’s downfall, he decides to do whatever it takes to bring the con artists to justice.

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Craig couldn't contain his smile when the taxi stopped outside his home. None of the Christmas lights were up yet, meaning he'd be able to keep up the tradition of decorating the house with Mom. He tipped the driver generously and hauled his duffel bag from the trunk.

He was excited about surprising Mom with a holiday visit after weeks of grueling Army Boot Camp training. Craig didn't notice the 'For Sale' sign on the lawn until he started up the frosty path.

"What the—" Craig let his heavy duffel bag fall from his shoulder. He stared up at the Victorian-style house he'd grown up in and noticed no curtains hung in the windows, and the Adirondack chairs were missing from the porch.

His shock at seeing his family home abandoned soon gave way to a creeping fear that closed around his heart like a fist. He pulled out his cell phone, scrolled to Mom's number, and pressed call.

Almost instantly, he heard the catchy 80s song Mom used as a ringtone from somewhere nearby. He followed the sound around the side of the house and stopped dead.

His old tent stood on the narrow patch of grass. Mom was sitting inside it, huddled in a blanket, staring at her phone with shock. She looked up as Craig approached and burst into tears.

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For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

"Oh my God, Craig! Thank heavens you're okay!" Mom got up and ran towards him.

"Of course, I'm okay." Craig stared down at Mom as she threw her arms around him and hugged him like she'd never let him go. "What's going on, Mom? Why is the house for sale?"

"I had to pay your ransom, honey." Mom wiped the tears from her eyes and leaned back a little, studying him.

"Did those kidnappers hurt you?"

"What kidnappers? I was at basic training, Mom, you know that."

Mom shook her head. "I got a call from a man who said he'd taken you hostage." Mom's voice trembled as she spoke. "He said they'd kill you if I reported the call to the military or civilian police, and the only way I'd get you back is if I paid them."

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A chill traveled down Craig's spine as he processed Mom's words. One thing was clear: some lowlife had taken advantage of the time when he was out of touch at basic training to scam Mom.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

"I tried to call you," Mom added, "but none of my calls or messages went through. I couldn't just leave you at the mercy of those horrible people, so I mortgaged the house."

Mom sniffed. "They foreclosed on the property when I told them I couldn't make the payments. Were you really just at basic training all this time?" Mom looked up at him. "Everything the kidnapper told me...was all of that deceit?"

"Oh, Mom." Craig hugged her tightly. "It really was a lie."

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"I can't believe it!" Mom pulled away and put her hands to her face. "Those...those con artists robbed me."

"Don't you worry, Mom. I'll try to find the scum who put you through this awful experience, and get our home back from the bank." Craig leaned over to look Mom in the eye. "I promise you they won't get away with this."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

Craig went to see his friend, James. They'd met during basic training and endured a lot together. Craig trusted him with his life and hoped James could help him.

"Hey, bro." James answered the door with a wide grin. "I didn't expect to see your ugly mug again until after Christmas."

"This is urgent," Craig replied.

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"I need your help."

James frowned and invited Craig inside. They sat down, and Craig told James everything that had happened since he arrived home. James's jaw clenched while he listened, and his hand tightened into a fist.

"You and your mom are welcome to stay here, bro, but I've got to tell you that your situation isn't unique. My mom got a call too," James said once Craig finished speaking. "Exactly the same deal as what happened to you."

"No way!" Craig stared at his friend in shock. "Is she okay? Did they rob her too?"

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

"She can't sell her house and give money to someone on her own, so, no, they didn't rob her but it wasn't for lack of trying." James hung his head. "Her health has deteriorated a lot lately, but she's too stubborn to admit she can't cope on her own and refuses to leave her precious Golden Street."

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"I also wouldn't want to leave Golden Street," Craig replied. “It sounds wonderful.”

James huffed. "It's not what you're thinking bro. Golden Street is a godforsaken neighborhood. The name is a sarcastic nickname the locals use."

"Oh...I'm sorry, man, but you realize what this means, don't you?"

James shrugged.

"It means this scammer is someone from our own ranks. They know when we're out of contact at training and use the information to target our families and get them to pay a ransom." Craig smacked his fist into his palm. "We have to find and expose them. They can't get away with this."

James tipped his head curiously. "What do you want to do about it?"

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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Craig returned to base and went to see the senior drill sergeant. After the man let him stand 'at ease', Craig explained what happened to his mother.

"I want to request access to personnel info, sir," Craig continued.

"I want to warn the families of other recruits that this might happen to them too."

"Denied," the sergeant replied. "We follow strict protocols regarding access to personnel info, recruit. I understand your concerns, but it's not your business and there's no reason for you to get involved in any investigation that may, or may not, be opened to look into your claim."

"But, sir—"

"Did I say you could speak, soldier?" The sergeant scowled at him.

"Sir, no, sir, but—"

"Get out of my office before I write you up." The sergeant pointed at the door.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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Craig clenched his fists as he walked away from the sergeant's office. He didn't understand how the man could be so callous! The other recruits' families had to be warned, and he didn't see why the Sarge would stop him from doing that.

Unless...Craig stopped in the middle of the corridor. What if his senior drill sergeant was in on this scheme? The man had access to all the personnel records and the power to impede any investigation, as he'd just proven.

Craig glanced back down the corridor. A part of him wanted to confront the sergeant right now, but that might not be helpful. What he needed to do now was report the scam to the company commander and tell him his suspicions about Sarge.

Craig marched back the way he'd come. The commander's office was at the end of this hallway, and he refused to leave this building until he'd done something to stop the scammers.

As he drew level with the senior drill sergeant's office, the door burst open.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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"What are you still doing here, recruit?" The sergeant stepped out into the hallway. "Don't you understand the meaning of the word ‘denied?’"

"Yes, sir, I do, sir!" Craig replied smartly.

"Then get going!" The sergeant passed Craig at a brisk pace.

Craig turned away but kept checking back over his shoulder. He swore under his breath when Sarge entered the commander's office. If he waited outside the commander's office, he'd get in trouble again with Sarge when he exited.

But Sarge would probably be with the commander for a while. Craig eyed the door to the sergeant's office.

This could be the perfect opportunity for him to get the contact information for the other recruits' families and search for info that might prove Sarge was working with the scammers.

Before he could second-guess his decision, Craig rushed back to the sergeant's office and let himself in.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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Craig scanned the office before sitting in Sarge's chair. The desktop on his computer was so minimalistic that Craig wasn't sure where to start looking for the information he needed. He clicked on several folders and was rebuffed with a password request.

"Darn it!" Craig glared at the screen. He wasn't sure what to try next until he noticed a tab on the taskbar showing a minimized application.

Craig clicked on it, and the screen filled with a list of names and phone numbers. This was precisely the information he was looking for! He set the list to print. While he watched the printer, Craig was struck by a sickening realization.

Sarge must have looked at this list immediately after he left, which meant he was already planning which relatives to scam next. Craig ground his teeth. He couldn't let the sergeant get away with this. He had to report him to the commander.

But first, he needed to warn the people on this list. Craig snatched the page from the printer and put it in his pocket. He minimized the application again and stepped away from the desk.

When he opened the door to leave, he walked straight into the senior drill sergeant.

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For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

"So, the nosy recruit returned to poke around my office." The sergeant glared at Craig. "Kiss your career goodbye, boy."

"You can't discharge me just for being in your office," Craig said.

"Matter of fact, I can." The sergeant made a beckoning gesture to someone Craig couldn't see.

"This definitely counts as a lapse in expected conduct, so I'll make it even better and give you an Other Than Honorable discharge."

Craig stared in horror at the sergeant. He'd wanted to join the army all his life and couldn't believe this was how his ambitions would end. A soldier appeared in the hallway and saluted the sergeant, who ordered him to take Craig away.

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"You can't do this!" Craig pulled his elbow free when the soldier took hold of him. "I know what you're up to, Sarge, and I will expose you!"

The sergeant shook his head and turned his back on Craig. The last he saw of the man was the subtle smile on his face as he shut his office door.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

Craig sat in a cheap diner drinking bad coffee while waiting for the bus that would take him home. He was still furious at the sergeant and regretted not going straight to the commander with his information on the scammers.

But he had all the information he needed to put his own plan into action. He set his coffee cup aside and phoned the next number on the list he'd printed from Sarge's computer.

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"Hello ma'am, my name is Craig and I'm calling you to warn you about a scam," Craig said when a woman answered.

He told the lady everything he knew and asked her to contact him if the scammers called her.

"I'm determined to catch them, but I need your cooperation to do it," he finished.

The woman agreed to let Craig know if anyone called her demanding ransom for her daughter. Craig crossed her name off his list and moved on to the next number.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

It took two days for Craig to contact everyone on the list. In the meanwhile, he and Mom were still staying at James's house. Craig got a job working for the uncle of a childhood friend, but he wouldn't be able to secure an apartment until he received his first paycheck.

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Almost a week passed before Craig got the call he'd been waiting for. He was on his way home from work.

"Craig? I just got the call you warned me about," a woman said in a shaky voice. "They said they have my boy. Are you sure he's really at training?"

"Very sure, ma'am. Now, they'll probably call you back shortly. Tell them you have the cash ready and ask where you need to leave it, okay? Once they tell you the location for the drop-off, call me back and I'll take care of the rest."

Craig rounded the corner and stopped in shock. A taxi was parked outside the house, and James was getting out.

"James? What are you doing here?"

"I got special leave." James's lips pulled into a straight line, and he looked away. "My mom...it's not looking good, bro."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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Craig patted James on the shoulder and walked inside with him. He was clearly upset but holding it together well.

"I'm probably not going to be around here much," James said. "I'm going straight to see Mom, and I might not be back today."

"The only thing that matters is that you can be here for your mom," Craig replied.

James left soon afterward to see his mom. Craig wished he could do more to help his friend, but there was little he could do. He needed to focus instead on catching those scammers.

An hour later, the same woman called and told Craig the scammer wanted the money delivered to a park on the other side of town. Craig outlined what they would have to do next, and the anxious mother agreed to his plan.

"Don't you worry about a thing, ma'am," Craig said, "and whatever happens next, remember that it's just a scam. Your son is not in any danger and never was."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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Craig arrived at the drop-off point early. He sat on a bench with a burger and soda and tried to act as naturally as possible. The lady he'd spoken to earlier placed a bag in a hollow at the base of a nearby tree and left. Now, Craig just had to wait for someone to pick it up.

It wasn't long before a slender man in a hoodie approached the tree. Craig casually crumpled his burger wrapper and headed for the trashcan nearby. The man in the hoodie turned his face away as Craig drew closer—he obviously didn't want to be seen.

Craig waited until the man reached for the bag before he pounced. He dashed from the trash can to the man, who was slinging the bag over his shoulder. He must've heard Craig or spotted him in his peripheral vision because he started to run.

"No, you don't!" Craig shouted. "Stop right there."

The man didn't listen, but with the heavy bag weighing him down, he didn't stand a chance against Craig, who was Army-fit. Craig caught hold of him, pushed him up against a tree, and gripped his hands behind his back.

"Now, let's see your face." Craig grabbed the back of the man's hood and tugged it off his head.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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"Hey man, you're making a mistake." The young man in the hoodie stared at Craig through one eye. "I'm just the pick-up guy."

Craig gritted his teeth. He’d been certain this would be the end of it all: he’d catch the crooked Sarge in the act, turn him in, and get Mom’s money back. Instead, he had to deal with this kid.

Craig tightened his grip on the unfamiliar man's wrists. "That means you're delivering this to someone whose identity and location you know, and I want that information, kid."

"All I do is check a box on a custom app to show I got the package." He frowned at Craig. "I don't know anyone's name or number. I don't even know where to take the stuff until I've checked my box. Only then do I get the address to make the delivery."

Craig loosened his grip on the guy. "Check the box. You're going to show me the address, and don't even think of trying to run."

"Whatever man." He pulled his phone from his pocket.

Craig watched over the guy's shoulder as he opened a very basic app and marked a checkbox.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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"It doesn't usually take this long," the guy said after a few minutes passed. "Most of the time, the address comes through immediately."

Craig's heart sank. He glanced around the park. There were still a few joggers and people walking their dogs on the brightly lit paths, but darkness had crept in beneath the trees and around the bushes.

The scammer might watch from a distance while his delivery guy made the pick-up, which meant he'd seen everything, and wouldn't send the delivery address.

Craig had miscalculated, and now he'd lost his chance to catch the sergeant red-handed.

"You know, you're a darn fool to get yourself caught up in such shady business," Craig told the guy. "Do you even know what's in this bag? You're too young to end up in prison for following blind orders from someone you've never even met."

The guy cackled. "What do you know, man? When you live on Golden Street, jobs like this are an honest day's work. All I'm trying to do is put food on the table without having to join a gang."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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"Golden Street? My buddy comes from that neighborhood." Craig removed his phone from his pocket and opened a picture of him and James. "Do you know this man?"

The guy looked at the picture on Craig's phone and snorted. "You think I don't know James? Man, his mom is my neighbor. My aunt goes round there every day to help the old lady."

Craig shook his head and tucked his phone away. The different parts of the mystery surrounding the scammer's identity were slowly coming together, but he still needed to catch the scumbag. He realized then what he needed to do.

"You're going to hit me on the nose now and run," Craig told the delivery guy.

"What?" The guy pulled a face at Craig.

"Just do it, or I'll report you to the police."

"You're weird man." The guy stepped away from Craig and raised his fist. "But since you're asking for it..."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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Craig returned to James's house and fetched a tissue to stuff into his broken nose. His eyes had stopped tearing now, but his face was swollen, and he'd definitely need to have his nose straightened out.

"What the heck happened to you?"

Craig noted James staring into the bathroom mirror over his shoulder. "I nearly caught the scammers tonight," Craig said.

"But the guy escaped with the money. I now owe one of the soldier's mothers a big chunk of cash and I'm no closer to catching the man behind all this."

"You should've told me what you were planning." James put a hand on Craig's shoulder. "I could've helped."

Craig shook his head. "You need to focus on your mom. How's she doing?"

James sighed. "Still stubbornly refusing to move to a care home. I'd feel a whole lot better if she had nurses on hand to help her until I can pay for her surgery. But enough of my problems." James gestured toward the door. "You need to take some painkillers and rest."

"Yeah, I think that's what I'll do," Craig replied.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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In the dead of night, a sash window at the front of a humble house slowly lifted. A shadow slipped through the gap and immediately crouched behind an armchair. All was silent in the room but for the faint rasp of the invader's breaths.

After a few moments, the shadowed man padded across to the old TV stand and started searching the cabinets at the base. He checked beneath the sofa and then entered the kitchen. He searched the cupboards and swore softly when he didn't find what he was looking for.

The intruder had one foot on the stairs leading up to the bedrooms when every light in the house came on. The intruder raised an arm to shield his eyes. He turned back the way he came, but a siren sounded from the front of the house, and blue lights flashed through the windows.

The intruder spun and raced toward the back of the house. He grabbed a skillet from the kitchen and raised it to smash a window, but a familiar voice caught him by surprise.

"I never thought the person I trusted so much could turn out to be such a traitor." Craig grabbed the intruder and pointed his gun at him. "How could you do this to your friends, James?"

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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"I did what I had to do!" James shouted. "How did you even figure out it was me?"

"Greed," Craig snarled.

"I had to test you when I found out you were connected to the scammer's delivery boy, and you just failed."

"You lied to me, didn't you?" James turned his head to look up at Craig. "The kid didn't get away with any money when you caught him in the park."

"Not a penny. That bag was filled with newspapers, but I knew you'd come looking for the money if you were the scammer. That was the whole point of hiring someone you knew, wasn't it? You'd know where to come looking if he decided to double-cross you."

"I needed the money." James breathed hard as he glared at Craig. "I thought it could wait until my sign-up bonus came through from the Army, but Mom isn’t going to hold on much longer if she doesn't get surgery."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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"Wouldn't you do anything to help your mom?" James jabbed his finger at Craig. "Didn't you start this whole freaking crusade because of your mom? I was just doing exactly the same thing you've done."

"It's not the same!" Craig shouted at his former friend. "You lied and stole. You targeted the families of your friends! I refuse to believe you couldn't have found a better way to get the money you need."

The police burst into the room then. For a moment, Craig thought James would try to fight the cops, but then he slowly raised his hand in the air.

Craig watched as the cops handcuffed James and took him away. He thought he'd feel relief when he finally caught the scammer, but his heart was heavy with the pain of his friend's betrayal and the weight of a new worry.

He glanced over at the dilapidated house next door, where James's mother lived. It occurred to him then that all James's efforts to raise the money his mom needed for surgery had just blown up in his face. Instead of saving his mom, James doomed her.

Craig couldn't leave the poor woman in need. He knew then that he had one last thing to do.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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A month later, Craig looked up as the door across from him in the small room clicked open. James shuffled in wearing an orange jumpsuit and accompanied by a surly guard.

"What are you doing here?" James asked as he shuffled toward the table in the center of the room.

"I came to tell you your mom's operation was successful."

Craig folded his hands together on the table. "She's being kept for observation but the doctor thinks she'll be able to discharge her this week."

"What?" James slumped into the chair across from Craig. "But she couldn't afford the surgery, neither could I, that's what got me into this mess."

"I returned to base and spoke to the commander. Everyone, even the families you robbed, got together to raise funds for your mom." Craig met James's gaze and held it. "You should've come to your friends and asked for help from the beginning instead of trying to rob us."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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What can we learn from this story?

  • Trust takes a long time to build but can be broken in seconds. Craig had a strong bond with James and never would've imagined his friend would betray him. If James had trusted his friends as deeply as they did him, he might've realized they would help him.
  • Everyone gets what they deserve. No matter how pure your goals are, there's never a good enough reason to justify causing harm and suffering to others as you strive toward an objective.

Share this story with your friends. It might brighten their day and inspire them.

If you enjoyed this story, you might like this one about a veteran who returns home and is warned not to enter his house.

This piece is inspired by stories from the everyday lives of our readers and written by a professional writer. Any resemblance to actual names or locations is purely coincidental. All images are for illustration purposes only. Share your story with us; maybe it will change someone’s life. If you would like to share your story, please send it to info@amomama.com.

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