The Tortoise on the Fence Post
“Heading out?” Karl’s mother asked him as he grabbed his ball cap and headed for the kitchen door.
“Yeah, I’m meeting up with Mike Potter and the guys at the ballpark this morning!” he called back. “See you later this afternoon!”
“OK, but just don’t be late for dinner! I’m fixing one of your favorites tonight!” she replied as he exited the kitchen.
“He’s trying so hard to make new friends!” she said as Karl’s step-father walked into the kitchen.
“I know,” he replied, as they both watched Karl through the kitchen window as he peddled his bike out of the driveway. “Sometimes it’s not easy to make new friends when you move to a new town. I was like that when I was his age. All I wanted was to just ‘fit in’… and sometimes, I did things that I wasn’t very proud of.” Reaching for his newspaper, he added, “I just hope he doesn’t make the same mistakes I made.”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine, Tom,” said Karl’s mother. Resting her hand on his shoulder, she added, “You’ve done a fine job in helping me raise my son! You’ve set a good example for him, and I’m proud of both of you!”
As he peddled his bike on towards the ballpark, Karl was already noticing what an unusually warm day it was, especially for early May. He had already checked the online weather forecast earlier in the morning, and while they were calling for a chance of rain later in the evening, the morning and afternoon would be near- perfect. He was thankful for this, especially after all the cold rain that had fallen in April.
Arriving at the ballpark, Karl could see Mike, Robbie, Dave and Sam on their racing bicycles, waiting impatiently.
“What’s up, guys?” Karl called out to them.
“About time you got here! We were about ready to leave you behind!” answered Mike. “We’re heading down to the lake today. Let’s go, guys!”
Karl had to struggle to keep up with them as they all rode on towards the lake. It was difficult for him to do so on his aging bike, even though he and his step-father had replaced both tires the previous weekend. To make matters more difficult, he was still trying to regain his strength and stamina after breaking his ankle late last winter. And he already knew they wouldn’t wait up for him …. especially not Mike.
As the five of them neared the lake, Karl saw a small squirrel run out into the middle of the road. He was surprised to see Mike steer his bicycle towards the small animal, missing it by only a few feet. He was even more surprised to see Dave do the same.
“Did they try to run over that squirrel?” Karl thought to himself…
Shortly after they arrived at the lake and parked their bikes near the concession stand, Mike noticed a small tortoise grazing near the lakeshore. Taking his empty plastic water bottle and casually throwing it into a nearby bush, he called out, “Hey guys, watch this!” as he picked up the tortoise and carried him over to a nearby fence post. ‘Here’s your new home!” Mike laughed as he placed the animal on top of the post.
“Mike, what are you doing?” Karl asked. “What does it look like, smart guy?” Mike replied. “I’m leaving him here!”
“You can’t leave him stranded like that! He’ll starve!” replied Karl.
“So? So what? It’s just a dumb animal! C’mon guys!” called out Mike as he walked towards the concession stand. Karl hesitated, then walked to catch up with the rest of them, pausing to look back at the tortoise.
“Hey, are you coming along, or not?” Mike yelled back at Karl. “Uh…yeah! Sure!” answered Karl.
As they stood in line at the concession stand to place their orders, Karl pulled Robbie aside and quietly said, “I can’t believe Mike would do something like that… leaving that tortoise stranded!”
Robbie briefly glanced back towards the tortoise, merely shrugging his shoulders and saying nothing about it.
After a couple of hours at the lake, Karl could clearly see that Mike was getting bored and restless. And by now, he wasn’t the least bit surprised to see Mike throw his empty soft drink bottle into the nearby bushes. Robbie and Dave soon did the same.
It didn’t take Karl much longer for him to realize that he wasn’t exactly welcome here with this group. “I feel like a fifth wheel here,” he thought to himself. Reluctantly, he decided that it was time for him to go home.
“Well, guys … I should be going on my way,” said Karl, glancing at his wristwatch. “I… uh… have things I need to get done at home.” Mounting his bike, Karl looked back and said, “I’ll see you guys later, OK?”
Robbie responded with a quick wave, otherwise none of them answered back. Peddling towards home, Karl glanced backwards one last time. He could see Mike standing near the fence post, laughing and now throwing pebbles at the still- stranded tortoise. “I just hope one of those other guys will do the right thing and set that tortoise free,” Karl thought to himself as he rode towards home. He hoped so, but at the same time, he knew it wouldn’t happen … and he also knew that if it did happen, Mike would simply place the animal back on the fence post… or do worse.
A short while later, Karl returned home, still thinking about the tortoise. “You’re home earlier than I thought you would be,” his mother said as he entered the kitchen. “How was your afternoon?”
“Uh… it was OK,” replied Karl.
“It doesn’t sound OK to me,” said his mother. “Something wrong?” “Nothing… not really,” he answered, as he headed quietly towards his room, inwardly shaming himself for not doing anything to help the tortoise earlier in the afternoon.
Later that afternoon, Karl’s step-father returned home from his weekend errands. Almost immediately, he couldn’t help but notice that Karl was troubled by something. As they sat down at the table for an early dinner, he asked, “What’s wrong, Karl? “to which Karl replied, “Umm… I’m alright. It’s nothing, really.”
The three of them proceeded to eat their dinner in near-total silence. Karl barely touched his meal, surprising both his parents; especially considering that lasagna with garlic bread was one of his favorite dishes. They were even more surprised when Karl, not even halfway through dinner, suddenly got up from the table and bolted towards the door.
“Karl, where are you going now?” asked his step-father. “It’ll be getting dark soon! And they’re calling for a chance of storms tonight!”
“It’s something I have to do!” replied Karl, as he ran out the door. “Trust me, I’ll explain it later! I’ll be back soon! I promise! I promise!”
Karl quickly hopped on his bike and peddled vigorously on towards the lake. Getting closer, he noticed that the sky was becoming cloudier. The wind was picking up, forcing him to peddle harder and faster.
When he finally arrived at the lake, he found the tortoise, still stranded helplessly on the fence post. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that Mike and the others were no longer at the lake. He also shook his head in disgust at all the empty soft drink bottles that littered the grass around the fence post. “I don’t need three guesses to know who’s responsible for all of this!” he said to himself.
“I can’t leave you here like this! I can’t do it! What Mike did was just wrong … and stupid, too!” Karl said as he carefully picked up the tortoise and carried it to a nearby bush. “You should be OK now,” he said as he gently laid the animal on the ground near the bush. “Just stay away from fence posts!” he added, chuckling. Turning towards his bike, he hesitated, and then quickly ran back to pick up the litter and place it into a nearby trash can.
As he returned to his bike, Karl looked over his shoulder to see a flash of lightning off in the distance. A few seconds later he heard the thunder. He could already smell the rain as he hopped on his bike and began peddling towards home. “Well, at least now I’ll have the wind at my back,” he thought to himself.
Karl was barely halfway home when he saw the first few raindrops land on the road in front of him. Another clap of thunder forced him to peddle harder and faster. As he dodged a pothole, a sudden wind shear struck him from behind, nearly knocking him off his bike. He was perhaps a hundred yards from his home when the rain shower suddenly turned into a downpour.
“What have I gotten myself into? Why didn’t I at least bring my jacket?” he thought to himself, peddling even harder and faster, barely able to see where he was going through the deluge. By the time he pulled into his parents’ driveway he was drenched and exhausted and yet heartened to see both his mother and step-father anxiously waiting for him on the back porch.
“Where have you been?” cried his mother as Karl staggered onto the porch, with the help of his step-father. “Look at you! You’re soaked to the skin!”
Slowly catching his breath, Karl explained to his parents what had happened earlier at the lake and what he had done to help the stranded tortoise.
“It’s something I had to do. Something I HAD to do!”
Placing his hand on Karl’s shoulder, his step-father said with a bright smile, “Well, I’m proud of you, Karl! What you did to help that tortoise was a good thing to do,” and as they heard another clap of thunder he added, “and brave, too! Maybe a little foolish, but brave!”
“I’m also proud of you,” added his mother with an even brighter smile. “And now you’d better get inside and get into some dry clothes, young man, while I reheat your dinner for you!”
The next morning, as Karl and his parents were returning home from Sunday services, his step-father asked, “So, I don’t suppose you’re going to meet up with Mike and those other guys any time soon, after what happened yesterday, are you?”
Karl shook his head and with a smile proudly replied, “No…. and NEVER AGAIN!”