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 mine ringing into the stillness. That’s how long it’s been since the blasts. This is an anniversary I never wanted.

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 brea through the silence. The cup of hot coffee I had just picked up went flying in the air, hit the ground and shattered leaving my coffee and pieces of ceramic littering the kitchen floor. A doorbell. It was louder than I had remembered it. Once I had fully realized what I had just heard, I sprinted to the door and flung it open with such force that it hit the wall and shattered the glass. I jumped off the porch and onto the front yard looking around frantically to find the person responsible and saw no one. Then, I ran to the end of the cul-de-sac to find the same. I was shaking wildly, but I couldn’t tell if it was out of fear or excitement. Maybe a bit of both.

Suddenly, I heard something break through the silence. The cup of hot coffee I had just picked up went flying in the air, hit the ground and shattered leaving my coffee and pieces of ceramic littering the kitchen floor. Click To Tweet

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 being sure to pass by places other survivors may want to rummage through. The local grocer looked the same as did the gas stations around town. If anything was out of place, I would know. I’ve been the only person inhabiting this town for the last year and I now know it as well as the back of my hand. I parked the car near the pharmacy and sat for a minute thinking if I’d missed a place to look.

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.

31 Comments

  • Nice short story ! I really wanted to know more about this small airplane and what would be the reason for that flight at low altitude, is this text part of your new novel?

    • Thanks so much for reading! This isn’t part of the novel, but doing the short stories are a way I can improve my writing skills. This one sort of took on a life of its own and I’m so interested in hearing what other questions people have throughout! What might you think the reason or reasons could be? This calls the reader to be just about as creative as the author! 🙂

  • I wish this was longer! So many questions. What did she find at McConnell Air Force base, did she find out more about her dad, who rang her doorbell!!!! Very good read. I was on the edge of my seat.

    • Thanks so much, Scott! This story seems to be so much more of an experiment that I thought it would be! I love the questions people are coming up with! One thing I find notable is that you read it as a female! 🙂 I so appreciate you taking the time to read it!

    • Do it! I’ve put it off for so many years now, I could’ve had a series written already! Ha!

  • Oh, please, give us more of this. Who was the mysterious person who left the letters? Was it her Dad? Did she get to meet him? I think you need to make this one a novel. Very good.

    • Aw! You have no idea how much this thrills me! It was so fun to write and really made me stretch out of my comfort zone! I may need to do a recap post on this because I’m getting so much good conversation on the components of the story. I’d really love to sit down with a reading group and discuss it because it leaves so much to chew on! Thank you so much for reading!!

    • Very engaging read! I’ve always been obsessed with apocolyptic/dystopian reads, especially with a great twist of a long lost biological father in the midst! You should elaborate on this one and make it into a short novella. You certainly have a wonderful story outline to get you started!

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read it! It was so fun to write and even more fun knowing others have enjoyed it!

    • So great to hear! That was my aim! I was hoping to keep people gripped from the get-go. I’m so tempted to do a live to discuss it and I’d love to hear how people fill in the gaps in their own minds!

    • It’s coming along so great! I’m on my second writing day and almost finished with my second chapter! 🙂

  • I don’t normally prefer short stories I find online, but this one was compelling. I couldn’t help but read it till the end. I want to know what happens after he takes off into the skys. Does he catch up with whoever left the love notes? How did the other pilot know he was there? Where are the others who were flying that day? Will there be a part 2?

    • It wasn’t my plan, but after this incredible response, I’m seriously considering a part 2! I really wasn’t sure what kind of response I would get, but knowing people are so into it gives me a drive to continue to providing more! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  • What a Short Story and I had to re-check alot that it was a work of fiction lol. It really gripped me and gave me so many feels! Amazing work, wish it was longer, so many questions!

    • Thank you! It makes me wish I could do a reading group and discuss it with everyone. Love adding lots of mystery and experiencing when people would creatively fill the gaps. Makes me want to know how other people see it progressing in their own minds. Thank you so much again!

    • Thank you so much for this! This debut short has done more for me this week than I ever thought it would. I’ve needed this extra push to continue to create and comments like your make the grueling process seem so much more worthwhile!

  • 😮This was so awesome!! I loved every single line! Congratulations on starting your book-if it’s anything like what you’ve done here, I really can’t wait to read it! This was such a great story that left me wanting more!

    • Thank you so much for that! The encouragement has been a tremendous fuel for me this week! I’m hoping to deliver more equally pleasing shorts in the weeks and months to come as I work on the novel. Your comment has pushed me today, so thank you!

  • I find this to be an engaging short story. While reading it, I was wondering how she had decided to fly on the day of the disaster. And if she had actually heard someone ring the bell.

  • You have a way with words! Such an amazing story and wish it’s longer. I think you were able to immerse me completely with the character and transport me to the setting. Can’t wait for your next story!

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