The Last Story

The old writer sat up in bed, surrounded by his loved ones. They were trying not to cry, even as silent tears streamed down every cheek, but he was smiling calmly.

“Don’t be sad,” he said. “I am only going where everyone is headed, sooner or later. And I have had an extra lease on life, even.” He chuckled, and looked at the stack of books by the bedside table, stretching one pale hand to stroke the cover of the topmost book.

“These will outlive me,” he said.

“Yes,” his son choked. “But we wish we could have you instead.”

“We don’t always get what we wish, Son,” the old father said. “And sometimes that is a very good thing. When I was younger, I did not wish I could live to see this moment.”

The old man closed his eyes and thought back to that day, approximately fifty or so years ago, when he had walked alone at night to the lonely bridge. As he contemplated the black turgid waters below, he had a moment of hesitation. Then he shook his head, squared his shoulder, and lifted one leg over the railing.

“That is not a wise choice,” the voice came from nowhere, startling the man so that he fell back against the pavement.

There was a figure standing there where there had been none before, wearing something that was like a cloak–it was hard to tell in the darkness. Yet the strangers’ eyes burned like coal, even in the night.

The young man shuddered. “Who are you?”

“A well-meaning friend here to advise you that this is not a good idea.”

“Why not?” The young man said belligerently, “What do you know of me and my decisions anyway? What right do you have to tell me what to do?”

“I am not telling you what to do. I am simply reminding you of what you already know–this is not a good idea. What you do with the reminder is up to you. But I will say one more thing: If you do this thing, what will happen to your stories?”

And with that, the stranger disappeared, as if he (or she?) had never been.

The man felt a chill run through him. Stories? What stories did the stranger mean?

Whatever he meant, the mood had been ruined. Drained, the young man dragged himself home. He stared at the bare walls of his apartment, the single journal in the corner. For some reason, he sat down and picked up a pen. Then he started to write:

“It was half past midnight when the young man reached the bridge. He stared into the black and turgid waters, and hesitated…”

A year later, The Stranger on the Bridge was published to great critical acclaim. Thereafter, the young man (not so young now) continued to write, book after book, story after story. It was as if a plug in his soul had unplugged and the ideas poured forth, cleansing him, and bringing light to his readers.

Eventually, the young man moved out of his apartment. He got married, had a family, and kept writing as he raised his children. He was known as a beloved father, a wise teacher, a compassionate writer.

And now he was dying.

But fifty or so years after he had last planned to.

The old man looked fondly at the tearful faces surrounding him. “Thank you,” he said. “For giving my life so much meaning. The stories…” he gestured weakly at the stack of books.

“We’ll take good care of them, Daddy, don’t you worry. We’ll make sure your stories get to the biggest and best audiences,” his daughter said, sobbing as she clasped his hand.

He shook his head slightly. “They are not so important,” he looked at his daughter, then his son, then his other sons and daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, then smiled.

You are my last and greatest story.”