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?