The Last Page

I’m still feeling swamped as of late, so the blog post that’s been swimming around in the back of my brain for a little while still has to wait. Nevertheless, I can’t leave you all alone out in the cold, so here’s my latest short story I wrote late last night. It’s the “explicit” version, so if you want to read the “clean” version that I’m entering into the Rough Writer’s competition, just go to this link. The version below is my official, or normal, version and the one I’m considering sending in to the Glimmer Train competition. The one I see as truest to the image in my head. If you want to argue about why or why not I should keep explicit content out of my stories, well, I’d prefer to argue about it another time.

Hope you guys enjoy, and feel free to comment! 🙂

The Last Page

Marlan Thorne waited until the funeral party left to begin digging. He didn’t know why they had waited until dark to bury the body, but at least it would provide him with valuable cover for his activities. The last of the mourners had been the most interesting to watch. A young man with heavy glasses and a limp. In this age of cheap surgery, the man must truly have been poor to still harbor such ailments. An elderly woman. Not the man’s wife, though; according to public record the wife had been dead for years. She had laid a single white rose across into the hole atop the coffin. The parson was the last to leave. He had stood for some time, weeping. Thorne could just hear his tears from here.

After the last mourner left the workers pushed in the dirt. Eighty years hadn’t changed the process much, though the bulldozers didn’t belch smoke the way they used to. The workers didn’t stick around long, tired of being up so late. The last of the cemetery’s lights went out, the last car door slammed, and the last engine faded into the distance. All was quiet.

Thorne stood from his hiding place behind the mausoleum, shovel in hand. An old technology in this new age, no doubt, but it didn’t make noise the way modern tools did. He strode to the grave sight and the freshly placed earth. He stood there for a moment, his lips twisting, moving as if to speak, turning down and twisting again.

Finally he leaned over with a grimace and said, “Remember me?”

He waited, as if to hear a response. “Oh, no. No, no. Of course you remember me. How could you forget, huh? How could you fucking forget!” He slammed the shovel against the ground hands stinging with the vibration. He breathed for a minute to regain his composure and continued in a restrained voice, “May 12, 2092, dammit. Remember? You were supposed to meet me outside the University gate. You promised to meet me there.”

The grave was silent.

“Oh, no. Don’t you hide away from me,” He put the point of the shovel to the dirt and thrust it in with his foot. He flung the first clod of dirt high over his shoulder. “We’re having some face to face time. A heart to heart. What made you forget, huh? Death? What’s that in this age? Come on, I read the papers. I know. You could have stopped this, you know. Don’t think I’m not aware.” The earth was smooth and soft and easy to move, or maybe that was the adrenaline.

“We had an agreement. You were supposed to teach me things. Things I need to know. Now what am I supposed to do, huh? Find somebody else? There’s only one of you. I mean where am I supposed to go from here? What was all that work for? You know I spent ten years at that University. You know. How many Fs in Physics? How many times did I have to bullshit the work to finally pass? What was all that for?”

The pile behind him grew as he worked and sweated under the warm summer night sky. It was a while before he took a break. As he leaned on the handle he spoke again, “I read on the web you got yourself a wife. Hell, looks like you had a kid too. Didn’t say what happened to them, though.” He was silent for a moment. Then, “Was she pretty?” He paused, “Did you love her?” Another pause, “You know I never thought you’d manage that. Marriage. It wasn’t in your vocabulary.”

He stared at the ground for a moment, unseeing, before snapping back to the present.“What about the job? What about the plan?” He asked, “You had a plan, man. We had a plan. What happened to it? Where did your life go.”

The clouds hung low in the sky. The weather service had scheduled rain for the evening. An inconvenience. He set back to work and the pile grew as he sank into the grave.

“There is so much I wanted to ask you, man. Did you ever get away from your family? I mean, really get away? What did you do during the war in ’69? I can’t believe that even happened. I mean, Germany? Again? What about the third recession? How’d you cope? I mean have you seen what the textbooks say about all that now? No, forget that; who’d you have sex with for your first time? Was it Karin? God, I hope it was Karin.”

He was silent for a long moment, “Why’d you die so early? Fifty-three? You only lived till you were fifty-three? What happened? The obituary said heart failure, but that was hardly a problem in the sixties. Hell, they were starting to figure that out a couple decades after the turn of the millennium!” He frowned for minute thinking, and then set back to work.

Several hours later the pile above the grave was longer than the casket and almost twice as high as the headstone. He’d held his breath a few times as autocars drove themselves past the cemetery, but the drivers never looked up from the screens in their hands. He didn’t know why they were still called drivers nowadays. Only the racing circuits used the old manual steering anymore.

He set back to work when they passed, “You know why I’m doing this, don’t you?” He flung another scoop of dirt above the lip of the hole. “Oh yeah, you know why. You’d better know why. Come on, you had to know. You knew this was going to happen. Didja leave me something? A key? A note? Man, I hope you kept a journal or something and had it buried with you. Journaling was never really your thing, though. You’d leave me something though, right? I mean you wouldn’t just leave me hanging here?”

He’d been working at it for hours when he heard the solid thunk of steel against the ecoplastics of the lid. With a grim smile of triumph he started the process of scraping the last of the dirt away.

“You’ve got a lot of answering to do. I mean, the things I read… What kind of idiot are you, anyway? You know how I found out you had a wife and kid? I found your names in a church registry. A god damned church registry. You said you’d never step foot through those door again, man. What the hell happened to you? You were smart. You went to college. Hell, you were a fucking science major, for christsakes. What happened to all that? Somebody brainwash you? God, I hope it was brainwashing.”

“You had made it, man. You were rich. I know that much. The o-bit doesn’t lie about that sort of thing.” Water was falling from the sky; a slow drizzle. The dirt was turning to mud, slowing him down. “What happened to that? How’d you lose it? I mean, sure not all of it, but… I mean, I stopped by your house, man. It’s practically a shack!”

The last of the mud was scooped out of the way at last. He reached down and undid the clasps. It was uncomfortably like opening a big kitchen plasticware container. The lid was heavy, but liftable, and when he dug his feet into the dirt wall for support he hefted it easily. He stared down into the darkness of the coffin for a moment before switching on the light at his wrist. A a middle-aged face with familiar features lay within above a modern suit modified in what was once a Japanese style. It was a pale, peaceful face, with a small smile for his visitor and the rain.

Thorne stared at it for a long while. The reality of the situation hitting him for the first time. Words tumbled through his mind. Cries of anger. Tears of sadness and betrayal. He couldn’t tell why, but he felt a smile crawl across his face once or twice. He slowly slumped down to sit on the muddy half of the coffin that was still covered. His eyes trailed over the face as he had seen it so many times before. It was the same as he remembered it, but so different. He saw that the water level had crept up to cup the man’s face before he finally realized how long he’d been sitting there, staring in the rain. Rain which was now pouring steadily. He’d always liked the rain. He didn’t know why, but it made him feel different now.

“Look at you,” he said, “Here you are.” The rain drummed a beat on his head, and was beginning to wash away the makeup on the body. “You’re in a coffin, at age fifty-three.”

He was quiet for a moment. “What has life gotten you?” He raised his arms and gestured at the dark walls around them, “What has it gotten you? What has it gotten me?”

He reached in and grabbed the man by the front of his burial robes, the mud from his fingers smearing across the cold chest. He lifted with all his strength and pulled the dead man up into a slumped seating position, “You were supposed to be here!” He screamed into the dead face, “We had an agreement! We had a life to live! We had planned it!” He stood, hunched over, and hauled back with his body weight, dragging the man from the coffin. He held him up, face to face. Water bounced off of the dead man’s cheeks and splattered onto Thorne’s, “What did you do to me!?”

The dead man only had a small smile to give.

Thorne threw the body down in disgust, and it slumped over into a strange position, its left arm sticking up at an awkward angle, the fist was shut closed with a cloth wrap. Thorne stared at it for a moment before his eyes lit up. He grabbed the hand and began unwrapping it.

“Come on, man. Just say you’ve left me something. Anything. Some knowledge that will help me.”

The last wrapping came off the fingers, and he pried them back. Inside was a wet piece of durosheet. Thorne grabbed it and began straightening it, thankful that it hadn’t been written on the paper he remembered as a child. The text was handwritten in a cursive he knew very well:

“Sometimes, you don’t understand a book until you’ve read it all the way through. Even when you skip ahead to read the last page first.”
– Marlan

Thorne’s lips peeled back in rage, “This is it!?” He yelled. “All that time, a life wasted, and all I have to show for it is this greeting-card crap!?” He tried to tear it in half before he remembered it was made of durosheet, so he crumpled it up and threw it back on top of the corpse.

“What’s that supposed to mean anyway? That I’ll become like you? That I’ll fucking like it? Fuck that!” He scrambled out of the hole, leaving it to fill with water.

At the top he threw his shovel aside and stormed over to his bags behind the mausoleum. He switched off his light, as the sun was coming up enough to see faintly through the slowly dying rain. He pulled his bags around in front of him and unzipped them, bringing out his equipment. He set up each post swiftly, three of them precisely three feet apart. He knew he should take more care with the placement, but he didn’t want to stay longer than he absolutely had to. Once in place he stood in their center and activated the pad in his pocket. The return date flashed across his screen: May 12, 2061. He pressed the button and felt a sharp prickle across his skin as the conduit formed.

The last thing he saw before he flashed out of sight was the name on the headstone above the desecrated grave:

Marlan E. Thorne
“Father, counselor, friend.
May His wings carry you home.”

2 thoughts on “The Last Page

  1. glenchen says:

    You do a very good job of keeping the surprise until the ending. Good job. I have some more technical comments, but I will save those for Thursday night.

  2. Edana Ulf says:

    You definitely did a good job of keeping the surprise until the end. I’ll be honest I was a little confused!

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