Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Park (10/25/12)
By Michael Throne
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The young man was sitting on a bench, his head bowed as if some great weight pressed upon him. He looked up. "I come here when I can."
"May I sit with you?"
He wasn't sure what to say next, so he said nothing.
"Are you from the area?" she tried.
He looked around. "No." He studied his hands.
It was a cool October day, and the leaves were turning from red to brown. A gentle breeze blew from time to time.
"Where are you from?" she asked.
He chuckled, almost bitterly. "Iowa," he said. "Originally."
"Do you live here now?"
He looked around again. "No. Not really."
"So you're visiting?"
"Yeah." He stood and walked a few steps to the fountain. He had a limp. He grabbed his leg, around his thigh.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"I think so." He put his weight on his good leg.
"How...how long will you stay?"
He smiled. "There's the question," he said. "When I was in the army, I promised myself I'd come here and live out my days."
"You were in battle?"
"Is that...is that how you hurt your leg?"
He looked down and frowned. "Yeah."
He walked back and sat next to her.
"My name's Jack."
"This place is peaceful."
"Yes, it is."
"Do you mind...?" he said courageously, "do you mind if I tell you you're really quite beautiful?"
"No, I don't mind. Thank you."
"I used to come to this park," he said, "years ago. When I was growing up, we'd stop here with my family when we visited my aunt. I'd play on those monkey bars right over there."
"And when...when I went into the service, I'd come here in my mind. When I was bored, or worried, or scared."
"It was my sanctuary. My home. My destination."
"I always promised myself that I'd come back here...afterward."
"And here you are."
"And here I am."
She looked around. An engine started up in the distance. She folded her hands on her lap.
"You're still a young man," she said.
She glanced at the sky. "You know, you have your whole life ahead of you."
He shrugged. "Yeah. I guess."
"It is nice here," she said. "Peaceful."
He looked around. "Yes, it is."
"I don't think you should stay here."
"No. Probably not."
A jet flew overhead.
"Do you...do you live here?" he asked.
"No. I'm visiting, too."
A branch snapped behind them. Jack looked back, but no one was there.
"Do you think you'll come back?"
She smiled. "One way or another."
Someone was shouting beyond the bushes. He couldn't make out what they were saying.
"I don't know. From time to time."
"Can I see you?"
A man burst through the tree line and then another.
"When?" he asked, mostly to himself. He picked up his gun.
"Soon," she replied.
The gun was heavy. He could barely hold it. He took aim and fired once, then again at the men coming at him. The closest one fell. He dropped his gun to catch his breath.
Someone scampered into his foxhole from behind. He stared at Jack's leg. "Oh, man! Are you alright?" He raised up and fired at the enemy.
Jack looked down in dismay. His pants were soaked with blood. He was too tired to answer.
"Medic!" the man called out. "Medic!" He fired four shots then ducked back down. "We've got to get you out of here." The man pulled at Jack as bullets flew around them. They'd barely cleared the foxhole when an explosion threw them forward, hard against the ground. Jack crawled blindly until he couldn't go on.
At the hospital, Jack woke up. He was tired, half-dead. He was through with war. He was done. He wanted to go home.
Later, during his months of recovery and painful rehabilitation, he dreamed of the park. As he worked to regain use of his leg, he thought of Angie and imagined long conversations with her. Other times, he sat alone in his park; it was all he had left. He did this in his mind, until finally, he did so in his life.
And so, day after day, he would sit alone, thinking, regretting, dreaming, letting the cool October breeze sooth his soul until, one day, a young woman walked up.
"I've seen you here before," she said.
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