The Last Letter: A Short Story
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This week I started working on my novel! During next week’s blog post I’ll give you an update on how that’s going. For now, though, here is a short story I wrote for your enjoyment!
I shuffled clumsily to the kitchen. I had just rolled out of bed and needed that first cup of coffee. Complete silence rang in the air for yet another day. I missed the barks of the neighborhood dogs and the rushes of air you hear when a car passes by. My only relief now is when it rains and I can hear the drops patter on the windows. Every now and again, I also get an occasional bird chirp. Though, it seems most of the birds have taken up residence somewhere far off and even that is a rarity. Unfortunately, today was not one of those rainy days. Today I would face my 365th day of no other voice but
I wish I could say that you eventually get used to it; the silence. You don’t. Worse than that, though, is the fact I haven’t seen or communicated with another human being for a year now. More than another human voice, I craved just having another breathing thing in my space.Today I would face my 365th day of no other voice but mine ringing into the stillness. That's how long it's been since the blasts. This is an anniversary I never wanted. Click To Tweet
At this time one year ago, I believed my survival to be nothing short of miraculous. While the blasts themselves were catastrophic, the worst of it was what came immediately after; something in the air killed everyone and everything on the ground. It all happened immediately from what I could tell. Since the events of that day, I’ve been here in my childhood home in a little suburban neighborhood. I had been searching for my parents to see if they had somehow survived the event. Unfortunately, I found them hunkered lifeless in the basement clutching one another. I carefully buried them under the oak in their back yard with a makeshift headstone where I carved their names; Mac and Susan Westwood.
It made the most sense to stay here. It felt comforting despite all the loss around me. This past year, I’ve worked hard to properly and honorably dispose of all the dead bodies around town. Every corner I turned, I saw another lost life; even some I knew. I knew I couldn’t just leave them there where they had become cruel reminders that once I was not alone. I’ve systematically kept records of all their identities using whatever I could find on or around them and then burned their bodies right at the edge of town.
I’ve lived off of whatever I’ve been able to find around town. Since I’m the only one here, it seems my supply is endless of most things so I don’t have to worry about hoarding. It’s been important to pay attention to expiration dates these days, too. I started first going through anything that was perishable and tried to keep on the grocery shelves the things that would last. Every week, I would make a trip to the grocery store and fill a cart with things to bring back to the house. Doing this made me feel a bit normal.
I’ve always wondered how I survived it all especially since I was the only one. I had recently gotten my pilot’s license and I was out on a seemingly perfect Saturday flying around. I would normally go alone as it seemed the one way I could get rid of stress. Long story short, I saw the blasts from the air. Plumes of explosions rising into the sky for miles all around me. The blasts shook the plane and I found it quite difficult to keep control. Then just as quickly as it began, it all stopped. I saw no movement and heard no more explosions. I decided to fly around until I ran too low on fuel to be sure the blasts had finished before I put the plane down. Hours later, I landed.
I had no idea what to expect once I stepped off the plane. I was devastated. There was no movement at all in any of the hangers and no one ever landed at the airstrip after me. I’ve been afraid of what I would find if I ventured too far out of town, so I just haven’t. I also haven’t thought about that day for a while nor have I flown since. Though, last night I dreamed I heard a plane flying overhead in the distance. Considering I haven’t heard a plane engine for a year, dreaming of one seemed especially delightful. That brings me to now; making a cup of coffee.
Suddenly, I heard something
I walked quickly back to the house still looking around to see if I could spot anyone. I wasn’t sure it was possible, but after the jolt of the doorbell in my mind, the silence seemed more silent now. Whomever it was couldn’t have made it too far. I grabbed the keys to the SUV and decided to venture out to see if I could find anyone. I drove all around town
Just then, it felt as if my dream was rushing back to me. Only this time, I wasn’t dreaming at all. A plane engine roared in the distance. I jumped out of the SUV looking towards the blue sky. The sound got closer and closer until I saw something that had me completely paralyzed where I stood; a small plane flew right overhead. When I was finally able to move, I felt frenzied. I jumped into the SUV and headed to the highest point in town. It seemed to take forever to get there, even though it was less than a mile away from where I was. Once there, I jumped out again and looked into the direction the plane was flying. At that point, it was a tiny speck. I watched it until I couldn’t see it anymore and was still for what seemed like hours. I think I was trying to will it to come back because I had a million questions that only the pilot of that plane could answer. What was worse was that I only knew the direction the plane went. Trying to find it now would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack; a haystack the size of a whole country.
I finally decided to head back to the house. If the plane wasn’t coming back, no amount of time standing there was going to will it to do any different. I drove back slowly replaying the events of the morning in my mind. I thought it funny how I continued to stop at all the stop signs on drives like these this past year. At first, I did it because I believed I would find someone alive. Then I did it out of habit. Now, though, it almost seemed more important to stop.
Once I got back to the house, I walked up to the front porch to see something I hadn’t noticed during my frenzied chase. There sitting neatly on the front stoop was a stack of envelopes wrapped delicately with a piece of twine. I picked up the stack of envelopes. They were all addressed to William Branch at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. The return address was a post office box I didn’t recognize in town. I opened the top envelope to discover it was a love letter. I read slowly and deliberately through that first letter trying to see why someone might have left these on my porch. The only thing I gleaned was the writer missed William tremendously.
I started in right away putting them in chronological order by post date and spreading them across the dining room table. It was a puzzle that I intended to solve. The first letter was post dated almost 31 years ago. In total, I counted 105 letters. There were gaps in the dates, though. Some gaps spanned a few years at a time. I decided the best place to start was at the beginning and work my way to most current; which looked to be 3 years ago.
I poured over letter after letter until the early hours of the morning. I had no intention of sleeping until I made it through them all. They seemed to be an emotional roller coaster; first starting off with very loving sentiments and then turning tense suddenly. What I found was that this was obviously a married woman, but not married to William. It was clear they hadn’t actually seen each other over the 31 years but continued to write each other love letters. A love child was also mentioned and, since I was only reading one side of the conversation, I could only fill in the blanks with the following letters which seemed to be intense and resolved. William must’ve wanted to meet his child, but she was insistent that the child’s best interest would be for the opposite. Finally, with the rising sun, I made it to the last letter in the stack. This time I noticed something I hadn’t. The stationary of the last few letters looked very familiar. I walked to my mother’s roll-top desk. There, sitting neatly in the drawer, was stationary matching William’s letter exactly.
I couldn’t breathe. The room seemed to spin and I wasn’t sure if my body’s response was out of exhaustion or disbelief. I stumbled a few steps to the cellar door with tears in my eyes. I stepped into the musty cellar and made my way to a dark corner. There was a small firebox. I had seen my mother use it before. It was locked with a code. I used the only numbers I could think of; my birth date. The box clicked and I slowly opened it. Nestled under a few other keepsakes was a single letter addressed to William Branch along with another stack of envelopes tied together in a similar fashion to the ones I just spent the last several hours reading. They were addressed to my mother at the same post office box matching the return address on the letters to William.
I picked up the single letter. It had never been sent. I opened it gingerly and read it. “William, I know that you would’ve wanted to be here had things been different. They weren’t different, though. So I must say goodbye now. I can’t continue to keep this up knowing full well our lives have gone such separate directions over the years. You and I happened what seems like a million years ago. In that time and distance, I’ve come to not only appreciate my husband but love him immensely. He stepped in and became a father to a tiny baby he had no hand in creating. Over the years he has loved this child without hesitation knowing that he belonged to someone else. I wouldn’t have made it had it not been for him. He deserves all of me. I promise I won’t ever forget you or the gift you’ve given me in our child. Take care of yourself, William. Find your happiness. Love always, Susan.”
William and my mother had been in love and had a child. William was my father. I wasn’t sure what to feel at that moment. Do I feel pity for the man I called my father all these years? Did he feel like a consolation prize? Do I feel anger to the woman who raised me but kept me from the truth for so long? Do I feel excited knowing that maybe the person responsible for ringing my doorbell was actually my biological father?I spent 365 days utterly alone. Then on that last day with that last letter, the hopeless reality of my life changed in an instant. Click To Tweet
I needed to sleep and I did for about 3 days. I spent 365 days utterly alone. Then on that last day with that last letter, the hopeless reality of my life changed in an instant. Suddenly, I had a reason to have hope. I packed up everything I thought to be important for a trip like this one and I made my way out to the airstrip. In tow were also two sets of letters written over a span of 31 years. After fueling up, I climbed into the same, small plane I came off of a year ago. I fired it up and set my sights on my next destination; McConnell Air Force Base. I had no idea what I would find once I got there, but I had to find out. With that, I flew into the expanse of the horizon with a sense of purpose I hadn’t felt in quite some time.