Storytime – Flash Fiction

I wrote this short story based on a picture of a boy sitting by a chain link fence, knees pulled up, head resting on his arms on top of his knees like he was sad or tired. I saw the picture in an online writing contest. The contest parameters were to write a short story of 2000 words or less based on the picture, newly written for the contest and submitted on time (I would have had less than 1 day to write a story, if I would have been eligible to enter the contest).

Track and Field Day

By Kim Olgren

Toby loved track and field day. Spending the entire school day outside on the playground running, jumping, throwing balls, and basically fooling around was just about the best thing he could think of to do on a warm, sunny day like today. He could see the events set up around the playground and in the park next to it. He would be making his way around a big circle starting with the sprint race, relay race, sack race, and three-legged race. Then off to the softball throw, the rope climbing, and the obstacle course. There were water stations near each event and teachers everywhere fussing over this student or that. He was nervous, proud, and excited all that the same time because he knew his mom had taken off work to come see him compete today.

It was hard for mom to get time off from the place where she did other people’s laundry. She had missed his school play this year because she couldn’t get out of work. Mom did the best she could since dad was gone. Toby’s dad had been killed by a roadside bomb in some desert where he was fighting overseas and Toby really missed him at times like this. He wished he could be here so he could show him how fast and strong he was. He wondered if his dad would be proud of him.

Suddenly Toby’s grief overtook him; it had only been six months since his dad died. He sat down by the chain link fence, and put his head down on his arms, propped up by his bent knees and cried. No one came to fuss over Toby and Toby didn’t notice that he’d already missed his first event. All he could think about were the tears that stung his eyes and how much he wished his dad could be there, giving him one of his great big bear hugs and telling him how much he loved him.

Toby had been sitting there, quietly grieving for his father for quite some time when he noticed a pair of boots, military boots, standing in front of him. For a moment he thought maybe the stories were wrong. Maybe his dad was still alive and standing here in front of him right now. Maybe his mom didn’t even know yet. Toby’s heart was racing and he was having a hard time gathering the courage to look up at who might be the owner of the big black boots. If it was his dad would he be ashamed of him if he found him sitting here by the fence crying? His thoughts were interrupted by a deep voice that wasn’t his dad’s. Toby’s heart crashed and burned and his chest felt like someone was squeezing all the air out of his lungs.

“Are you okay, kid?” said the man in the boots.

Toby looked up for the first time at the man in the boots, blinking the tears out of his eyes. His mother had taught him never to talk to strangers, but this was a soldier. Wasn’t he supposed to be able to trust soldiers? His dad was a soldier.

“I’m fine.” Toby replied, sniffling and wiping the tears off of his face. He straightened out his legs and stood up straight looking the soldier square in the eye. He was embarrassed to be caught sitting by the fence crying, but his dad had taught him to stand up straight and look a person in the eye when he talked to them so that’s what he did.

The soldier regarded him for a moment, and he tilted his head as a thoughtful and solemn gaze came over his face. He knew that look on Toby’s face, he’d seen it before – in the eyes of any one of the kids in his group.

“I’m Sergeant Joseph Mortensen.”, said the soldier as he reached out to shake Toby’s hand.

Toby looked around the soldier at the nearest teacher, Mr. Finnagan, who waved at him from one of the water stands. Sergeant Mortensen waved at Mr. Finnagan too and Mr. Finnagan waved a second time. He looked back at Sergeant Mortensen.

“I’m Toby, Toby Jorgensen.” He said as he shook the Sergeant’s hand.

“Nice to meet you, Toby. Are your parents here today?” He knew one of them wasn’t by the look he had seen on Toby’s face.

“My mom is supposed to be here, but I haven’t seen her yet.” Toby said.

Joey Dempsey came running up to them grinning from ear to ear. “Hey Sarge!” Joey said. “I won the sprint! I mean, we don’t keep score or anything, but I won!” Joey beamed with pride.

“Great job!” Sergeant Mortensen said high-fiving Joey. “I’m proud of you!”

Joey scampered off to find his next event.

Toby quietly took the double blow. One, that he had missed his first event, one that he would have probably won if he’d been there, and the second not having anyone there to tell him he’d done a good job anyway. Toby focused on an ant pulling a seed across the gravel in front of his feet.

Sergeant Mortensen turned back to Toby, “Toby, I’m sure your mom’s around here somewhere, maybe she’s a little lost in all this chaos. Let’s see if we can go find her.”

Toby nodded and they set off across the playground. He didn’t think much about the fact that Joey and Sergeant Mortensen’s last names were different. That happened all the time, but he still wasn’t sure what their relationship was. They found Toby’s mom by the volleyball courts surveying the playground shading her eyes with her hand even though she was wearing sunglasses. Sergeant Mortensen’s steps quickened and Toby rushed to keep up.

“Mrs. Jorgensen, I presume.” Sergeant Mortensen said.

“Uh, yeah” was Toby’s mom’s curt reply as she eyed the stranger standing there with her son.

“I’m sorry ma’am, you probably don’t remember me. Your husband and I were stationed together a few years back at Fort Carson, Colorado. He brought this hungry new kid home for dinner without informing you first.” the Sergeant said, placing his palms on his chest. “I’m Sergeant Joshua Mortensen, I was only a private back then.”

Toby’s mom’s eyes grew wide with recognition.

“Josh! Oh my God, is it really you?” Toby’s mom said.

“Yes, Miss Karen, it’s me. Still haven’t learned how to cook.” Sergeant Mortensen joked.

The rest of the day was one of the best in Toby’s life. Sergeant Mortensen and Toby’s mom cheered him on in his remaining events and yes, although they didn’t keep score, Toby did very well. Toby’s mom invited Sergeant Mortensen over for dinner that night and he told Toby’s mom all about his program for boys who had lost their fathers in the line of duty. He helped them with the grieving process and gave them healthy outlets for the anger and frustration associated with losing their dads.

Toby joined Sergeant Mortensen’s group that week. He and Joey became best friends. Joey was not Sergeant Mortensen’s son, but one of “Sarge’s” group members. Toby learned that missing his dad was nothing to be ashamed of, even if it made him cry sometimes. He also learned camping and survival skills and went on field trips on the weekends.

Toby’s mom asked Sergeant Mortensen why he started the program. Sarge explained that he’d lost not just one, but two fathers in the line of duty. He thought losing his real father would have killed him, but then he lost his step father who was also a great man. Sergeant Mortensen just wanted to give back. After having two terrific dads who died for their country he felt that it was the least he could do.

Toby’s mom became Mrs. Sergeant Mortensen a year later and Toby couldn’t have been happier. He still really missed his dad and sometimes he felt bad about liking having Sergeant Mortensen around, like he was betraying his dad somehow. Sergeant Mortensen was quick to say that he could never replace Toby’s dad because Toby’s dad was the greatest and no one could replace him. That night, laying in bed waiting for sleep to come, Toby thought, maybe dad would be okay with Sergeant Mortensen helping out while he was gone. Yeah, he’d be okay with that. Toby drifted off to sleep with a soft smile.

What kind of stories do you like to read? What was your favorite story as a child?

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Quitting is Good!

No pretty pictures, no filler, just the straight up truth. Quitting is good!

When I was 17 I had a boyfriend that I thought was super cool and…he smoked. All his friends smoked too. Then came the drinking then came the pot. I couldn’t figure out what the big draw was and I really didn’t want to go in the direction we were going in, so I broke off our nearly two-year relationship (two years is a long time in 80s teenager time). Shortly thereafter he fell off a car urban surfing also known as car surfing and entered a coma that he would never wake from and eventually died years later. He was 17 at the time of the accident. I went a little nuts, I wanted to know what was so damn cool that he would have rather died partying than keep his girl and tone it down. So I did my fair share of partying over the next year. This was when I started smoking. I was 18 years old. Traumatized.

Fast forward about 22 years later. Like many smokers, I’ve been thinking of quitting for a long time and had tried and failed at least once. I also remember the day when I’d finally had enough. I vividly remember frantically racing to the ladies room and out for a smoke during a five-minute meeting break and thinking to myself how absurd it was that this little inanimate bunch of leaves wrapped in paper was running my life. Everybody who seriously and successfully quits has some kind of epiphany, followed by a motivational concept that is deep and true for them. For me with smoking, it wasn’t the obvious health issues, the smelly invisible fog that followed me everywhere and permeated every fiber of my car and my home, the cost that was swiftly rising toward outrageous or even the death of a family member or friend. Nope. For me it was the fact that I was sick and tired of letting that little butthead run my life. I don’t take kindly to people, or in this case things, that try to control me. I was tired of planning my whole world around my next cigarette. If you smoke and you don’t think you do this, you’re in serious denial. Epiphany! Duh! I had never looked at cigarettes as something that “controlled” me. This became my motivation. So I set out on a research campaign, determined to make a plan to quit. Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Find out why you want to quit…really and truly. Your reason for quitting has to be strong enough for you that you can hold onto it like the Rock of Gibraltar and it will not fail you. I was sick of cigarettes ruling my life. Another motivation for me was that I’d never have to make cigarettes again as we had started making our own because of the rising prices.
  2.  Figure out what your triggers are. What makes you want to smoke? When are your cravings at their worst? My triggers were waking up, eating, talking on the phone, waiting, work breaks, bars, clubs and casinos, and driving.
  3.  Figure out how you’re going to combat your cravings and triggers. For me the answer was an electronic cigarette. The one I got looked more like a pen than a cigarette, I bought it that way on purpose to clearly mark in my mind with a visual that I was not smoking cigarettes anymore. The e-cig took care of both my cravings for nicotine and my triggers and I stepped down the nicotine in the cartridges until there was none. I also used meditation. Now I use the e-cig on rare occasions where I know I will trigger (like Vegas or a bar). Truth be told, I don’t crave cigarettes when I encounter a trigger, I crave my e-cig. I can live with that. Other people use something to keep their hands busy, some take up chewing gum or toothpicks, some try on a healthy habit like getting more exercise or eating more veggies. Still others invoke prayer and meditation. You have to find the mix that truly works for you.
  4.  Gather your tools and your allies. Your tools are going to be the things you’ve discovered to help you overcome cravings and triggers. Your allies are your trusted friends and coworkers with whom you are going to share your goal of quitting with so that you can be accountable for your actions. Plus, you get your own private cheering section! Woohoo! Sis-boom-bah!
  5. Set a date or Realistic Goal. I set my date for the day my e-cig arrived. Once it did I put down my partial pack of cigarettes and never looked back, but it’s okay to stumble too. If you give in to temptation, figure out why and where your plan was weak and keep trying. One time I was at a bar with some friends and had forgotten my e-cig (obviously where my fine little plan fell apart) I finally caved and bummed a cigarette from one of my friends. Yuck! Nasty! Yep, I smoked the whole thing. I don’t forget my e-cig anymore. Hey, maybe rather than setting a date to quit you sign up for a walk or run for charity that is a few months out. The point is to set a realistic, attainable goal. Which brings me to…
  6. Try, try again and stop making it so big in your head. Eventually, if you really want it, you will succeed. Take those baby steps and work your plan. Some people told me that I made it look so easy even though I smoked over a pack a day for over 20 years. Some said they admired my extreme determination and willpower. To this I say “bull$#!%”! It’s not like I trained for and won my first decathlon or successfully climbed Mt. Everest. All I “did” was let something go. Something that was going to make my life better by not being there. I didn’t really have to “do” anything beyond a little research and self-exploration.

Come to think of it, you can apply these simple steps to a lot of things you might need to let go of or “quit”. Say, drinking, a bad relationship, the past, that weight that has been creeping up on you for a couple of years now, to stop road raging, getting healthy, or that job that makes you want to crash your car on the way to work so you don’t have to go there, to name a few.

These days I find myself surprised at how grateful and free I feel when my hubby has to stop for a cigarette or can’t have one when he needs one, and I realize I have no need for it, nor do I feel it’s draw. Freedom feels good. Give the negative things in your life the boot and see what shines through the opening you’ve created.

Hello? Is This Thing On?

At first, writing my first blog post made me as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I procrastinated for a week thinking of all the things I wanted to say, what should take priority, and what should I let go for another day. You’d think I was trying to write a Pulitzer Prize winning presidential address! Yes, I realize that’s not possible – that’s the point. Everything I read basically told me “don’t worry; your first blog post will suck. Everybody’s first blog post sucks.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this shouldn’t be that hard. After all, I’ve been writing stuff since I was a kid, poems, short stories, reports, journaling, etc. What makes writing my first blog post any different? I’ll tell you what…nothing except the possible millions of people who might read it or even worse, the resounding echo of crickets filling my page with their songs. Ouch.

So without further ado here we go. I’m going to use the K.I.S.S. method here (Keep it Simple Stupid).

I have three major general fascinations in life. One is people. People fascinate me because of the myriad of things that they do and why. Most people are fascinated by people but they just don’t know it. You need look no further than the last run of “People of Walmart” photos sitting in your email box or plastered all over Facebook to understand this. First we say “Oh my <insert favorite deity here> would you look at that!” Then we inevitably end up saying “What the hell was s/he thinking?” See what I mean? Everyone is fascinated by people. I love to write all kinds of things about people. Of course they’re fictitious people…mostly.

Then there’s food. I love good food! I like to eat it, I like to make it, of course I like to write about it, I even like to photograph it. So much happens with people around food. This is a photo of a dinner I had at the Marine Room in La Jolla, California while we were on vacation a few years ago. I just had to snap a shot because the presentation was so beautiful. My camera work doesn’t do it justice.Who could complain about this exqusite dinner served in front of floor to ceiling windows, at sunset, with the high tide coming right up to the windows? Best dinner ever!

I come by my love of food honestly, my mother and my granny are both great cooks and bakers. When you grow up eating the home made good stuff, things like macaroni and cheese out of a box are just unthinkable, especially when cooking can be so simple.

Last, but definitely not least, is my fascination with the arts. Particularly music and writing, I memorize most songs the first time I hear them and rarely forget them and I devour books like a bunch of piranhas feasting on an unsuspecting swimmer. Too graphic? Oh well. I’ve reached that point in life where chasing the almighty dollar just doesn’t do it for me. Sure, money is nice, but it don’t buy happiness…or love. I think Joseph Campbell really had something when he said when you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else. Life is too short to be worrying about who’s going to die with the most money or the most toys. I want to die knowing I lived my life doing something I love that enriches others in the process.

So to that end, I’d like to share with you my journey in hopes that it might inspire or help you along your own path. Right now my journey is going in a new direction – writing. The goal of this blog is to hone my skills as a writer, give me some material to show, and hopefully help some others along the way. This is my experiment in following my bliss. Feel free to join me ’round the bend.