We all have expectations. A good writer will break an expectation to set a tone or create something new. The idea of an empty playground goes against the expectation that children are free to play. It begs for a story.
This week writers met the challenge and offered a variety of stories to explain the empty playground. While it might seem like a haunting image, and was in some instances, it prompted stories that countered the emptiness.
The following are based on the August 24, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an empty playground.
Summer of Innocence by Paula Moyer
Summer weekends at Nana’s and Papa’s felt like country in the city to Jean and her cousin Lynn. Bird calls, big clouds. Adirondack chairs in the big back yard.
Today the seven-year-olds picked their way through the vacant lot to the school playground on the other side. Big swings, big teeter-totters. This summer, the girls could finally, just barely, propel themselves on their own power.
“I can go higher!”
Soon school would start. The kids that used the playground daily would return. Today, though, the girls claimed it.
“Teedi, teeda.” A chickadee called.
Golden moment. Golden time.
Returning To Chernobyl by Rowena Curtin
Elena knew the streets of Pripyat by heart.
In her dreams, she’d run along these streets until she reached the Ferris Wheel, climbing back into Papa’s lap. Afraid of heights, his strong arms held her tight.
Yet, nothing could save Papa.
Thirty years on, she’d returned, carrying the same small suitcase and clutching their front door key, as though it could unlock the past and bring it back.
Yet, no key unlocks thirty years of neglect.
Reclaimed by the forest, the Ferris Wheel loomed over the abandoned fun park like a ghostly giant.
Silent, all the children were gone.
Empty Playground by Sharmishtha Basu
A gust of wind made the swing moan, as if it was aching for those little kids that kept it busy all day! Where were they? The swing wondered. He could no longer hear their screams and shouts as they ran around him, chasing one another.
Not too far away, just outside the playground they were huddled inside a bunker, as their parents waited for the all clear siren from the military camp.
A crow flew from its nest and settled down on the swing, cawing raucously. With people gone the world was all his.
He basked in sunshine.
To and Fro (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee
Jane slows as she passes the park. It’s empty, quiet. She counts mentally and realizes school has started. Even the youngest are in pre-school. Kids don’t have simple childhoods anymore.
Her feet pull her to the swings; she wedges herself into one. Her foot shoves off. To and fro, to and fro.
How many years since she shrieked with delight, begging to be pushed higher still? She should have had her own to push, but she missed that. One choice, and your life pivots.
To and fro. She wonders what choices she doesn’t even remember that brought her here.
Abandoned Innocence by Kerry E.B. Black
Angel’s heels click-clacked like lonely heartbeats, footfalls echoing from abandoned playground equipment. She ran a hand over a rusting spring-horse, sending it rocking with metallic groans. Chipped paint snowed beneath it, adding to the litter.
Angel sat on a swing, contemplating a place once important to her. She’d conquered her fear of heights besting the monkey bars rusting in the corner. Her Double-Dutch team won an award here, and beneath the gazebo, she experienced her first kiss.
She pressed a finger into one of the bullet holes pocking the equipment and wondered if its maker took a young life.
Play Prohibited by Anne Goodwin
It greeted him when he opened the curtains each morning. Rusted chains. Splintered wood. Weeds thrusting through the cushioning layer of bark. When he was small, he’d asked what lurked behind the padlocked gate. “Danger,” said his mother, but now he knew the only danger lay in failing to tame his desires. His hours were regulated: six to seven for his paper round; seven to eight breakfast and the violin. Nineteen minutes to walk to school. Seventeen to return at the day’s end. But they couldn’t control his sleeping hours. He’d visit the playground in his dreams.
First School at Rock Creek by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
A rope swing dangled beneath a cottonwood branch where Cobb stood, puffing a pipe. Mary walked across the short-lived school-yard to stand next to him.
“No teacher, no school,” he said.
“I know it was important to you. Lizzie was excited to come west and teach.” Mary glanced at the freshly turned earth.
“We need another teacher. What will Da say?”
“He’ll be sad. He saw to her education at Normal School.”
“Bad enough our teacher died, but she took half the students with her.”
Diphtheria. Mary counted five graves and then counted her blessings. None were her children.
No Children at the Playground by Susan Zutautas
As I approached the playground I could hear the screams and laughter of children, yet I couldn’t see a single child. The swings were swinging mysteriously. An eerie feeling came over me. Sandcastles were being built but yet no children were in the sandbox. How was this possible? In the pool it looked as if splashing was happening, but still no children. I had to walk through the park to get to my home but my immediate inclination was to run in the opposite direction. Then I saw several cameras behind trees. Film crews were filming a movie scene.
Conscripts by Bill Engelson
Dobbs burrowed into the alley behind the bank.
With the Marshall a bag of bones bleaching in the desert, any hope of assistance in facing Caldwell was lost.
As it was too early for the bank to open, he made his way to the edge of town.
The school looked new.
A child was swinging on a rope.
Another pushed her.
A few other children loitered in the dirt.
A young woman, stern beyond her years, scowled at the dalliers. “IN,” she insisted.
Soon the schoolyard was empty.
A dozen horsemen rode by.
Their dust was swirling sudden death.
Dangling Rims and Faceless Backboards by Elliot Lyngreen
No doubt Lewis was branded—“kid wit-the-pill, he ‘Scribbles’,”; flung no-look bounces, sprung smooth in Trilby; only there, Lewis can, in indifference, in thee…absence, in the recordless allusion, crooked blue key and half 3-point line arched to wings, those stone-pocked edgings; embrace that erratic reintroducing of out of touch filtered differentiations in the fuzzy sunlight then rapt park shades slipped and smooshed impossible like writ in italicized slant. Wilson. Lewis, “oh we’ll win. Me. You. some goofy old guy.” Real fine leather flipped, gripped the orange peels, caught, spun palms, grazed, dropped just vanishing The Legion where it echoes..
Thinking Back by Ann Edall-Robson
Eyes closed. Listening to the creak of the lonely swings moving listlessly in the breeze. Legs straight out. Flying up and away. Curled back. Pumping up, into the sky once more. Brassy little boys waiting to the very last minute when the outstretched rope reaches it precipice before launching. Airborne body twisting out through the space to land on the grass and claim the title of farthest jump. Under ducks from the bigger kids creating squeals of laughter and fright. Tiny feet digging trenches with the tips of their toes in an attempt to slow down the ride. Reminiscing.
From Empty Playground by Norah Colvin
She stopped abruptly as her scattered thoughts aligned to focus on the playground gate. As if restrained by an invisible chain, she was motionless. Beyond the gate children called to each other; but never her. She was not welcome, never included. Their taunts stabbed at her emptiness, twisting as they penetrated deep into the chasm within. She’d wait until they’d gone.
Suddenly a child was there, eying her quizzically; then a mother, appraising her, uncertain.
“Miss. Miss. Are you all right?”
“Y-yes,” she said, straightening herself. “J-just reminiscing.” How could a life once empty, be now so full?
First Day by Diana Nagai
David stood anxiously alongside other parents. He looked upon the empty playground, wondering what stories it held. A breeze stirred the swings gently. Abandoned jackets hung along the back fence. David shifted his weight, eyes vigilant on the quiet building.
Finally, a bell broke the silence. The front doors opened. Elementary children burst into the yard, spreading energy as they found their guardians. David spotted his own daughter skipping down the front steps. When their eyes locked, David knew, the first day of Kindergarten was a success. Breathing with relief, he prepared for the first high-five of the afternoon.
Hope, Less by Jules Paige
Late summer at the campgrounds, Hope was alone, again.
The sun was setting – there wasn’t much to do for a young
tomboy on her own except go to the central empty play-
ground. Ten year old Hope, sat on one of the abandoned
swings scattering the dusty dirt with her worn sneakers.
The only thing she could think of to do was sing. And she
sang Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence”. A
young father and his daughter came close enough to listen,
when the girl invited them to hear – but the song is sad and
they soon left.
Playtime Isn’t Always Fun by Geoff Le Pard
Paul sipped the wine. ‘I was the only kid who hated break.’
Mary blinked. ‘What made you think of school?’
‘Jerry’s death. He couldn’t wait for break. Me, I always felt safe in class. No-one picked on me there.’
She rubbed his hand. ‘You were the kid on the outside?’
‘It was like I was the only kid.’ His eyes saw only the past. ‘Jerry led the games. He decided. I was desperate to be included.’ He laughed sourly. ‘Maybe he helped. Maybe that made me self-sufficient. Jerry always struggled afterwards if he wasn’t the one in charge. My turn on top.’
I Want to Fill the Playground by Drew Sheldon
I look out my window at the silent playground. It’s a bright sunny day, but there’s not a child in sight. Drugs are still making me groggy and numb, but watching the empty swings swaying in the breeze leaves me cold. Hardly anyone will talk to me now, and the ones who will seem to think this was easy and painless. I’ve never hurt so much, and I wish the pain was only physical. I love watching children play out there. I want to fill that playground with joyous, laughing children. I wonder if I’ll ever get the chance.
A Twist in a Routine by Ruchira Khanna
Kerri’s daily walks were around the school campus.
Today was something weird.
The playground wore a deserted look. The air was still and heavy. The leaves were motionless, and not a single bird in sight.
“Where is everybody” she muttered in distress.
Peeked into several classrooms. Some were dark while some showed signs of movement.
Curious she knocked on one door and waited patiently until a lady answered.
“Quick, get in here!” she motioned,”There is a gunman on loose, and we need to take shelter.”
That stunned Kerri; she froze but was pulled into the dark room.
Virtually Lost by Pete Fanning
Sabrya was wet to the shins as they trampled the weeds and came to the clearing. Jaro, out in front, pointed to the structures.
In a click he was through. Sabrya meandered along the fence, her fingers catching the woven chain. Jaro screamed out, sliding down a ribbon of metal. Natlia mounted a caterpillar. A rusty swing set awoke with a squeak.
“I can’t, my battery pack…”
Darkness. Sabrya tore off her Oculus. It always malfunctioned when they were exploring. She watched, stuck in class while her friends stared off in wonder, arms outstretched, enjoying life.
Where a Schoolhouse Once Stood by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
Danni rolled the clay marble in the palm of her hand. While Ike picked cherries, she scratched at the dirt. According to Forest Service Records, Spring Creek School stood across the narrow creek bed from Carter Station. Danni looked for evidence of foundations, but nothing remained. She studied the land and imagined where the school would have been. Though she didn’t know, she applied logic – proximity to water, flatness of the terrain, evidence of fruit trees. If her hunch was right, she’d be standing in the empty playground where children of homesteaders played. That’s where she found the marble.
Recess by Larry LaForge
Ed smiled as he surveyed the play area of his old school grounds. “Boy, that’s what I call an upgrade!”
Edna tested the spongy artificial turf. “Where’s the dirt?”
“What’s this contraption?” Ed asked as he examined the massive jungle gym with multiple levels of netting, ladders, ropes and slides.
Edna nodded approvingly. “It’s called progress.”
Suddenly a bell rang, and hordes of screaming kids poured onto the grounds, whooping and hollering as they raced toward the equipment.
Edna grabbed Ed’s hand and quickly led him out of harm’s way. “Some things haven’t changed!” she yelled as they ran.