View Full Version : Last Words (working title) - Short Story, Unfinished, 2400 words (Language warning)

July 21st, 2014, 07:16 AM
The boy ran his fingers through his hair for the fifty-fifth time. It was a nervous tick. Speaking in front of a group, asking a girl on a date, or taking a test in school, William Thomas Viro never failed to frantically finger his follicles whenever the situation called for a special kind of nervousness. As he pacified his left hand with the top of his head, he rested his right on the table beside him and in between his index and middle finger a pencil bounced up and down, back and forth like an out-of-control mechanized seesaw. His legs were crossed but they were crossed tight, like a girl does when she wears a dress, not in the more loose foot-balanced-on-knee manner one assumes when one is relaxed and at ease. This situation was way too stressful for him to be at all calm.

“Alright so what should I start with?”

The other person in the room was only just visible from the light fixture on the ceiling above the pair. William could mostly make out almost all the features on the shadowy face. She was tired. The darkness below her eyeballs was not just shadow. It was the fatigue-bruised skin of a person who really did need to be getting back to bed. But, at the same time, she needed to stay up. This wouldn’t get done without her and she knew he wouldn’t let her to go bed until it was finished.

“For what?” she finally responded, still rather confused and barely awake.

“What should I lead off with?”

“For what?” She quoted herself.

“I’m there, right?” She didn’t know what he meant but she nodded as if she did. “Everyone is all around me -- everyone who’s gonna be there; I look up and I see all of them; I realize the end is near... and then what? What’s the first thing I say?” He explained the situation in a manner so matter of fact that an observer might’ve guessed that the two were now having the conversation for the tenth time. His tablemate raised one eyebrow in helpless confusion.

“Will, I’ve got no fucking clue what you’re talking about,” was the only thing she could manage.

“Yes you do. I told you about it when I woke you up just now. I just told you.”

“Well then I’ve forgotten.” She vaguely remembered something about a speech, but it had been quickly and hurriedly talked at her as she was forcibly drawn out from underneath her extremely comfortable covers and there was no way she was going to be able to specifically recall any of it.

“I need you to help me write my Last Words.” Deadpan as it was possible to be.

“Your what?”

“My Last Words. My finale. The last things I say on the face of the Earth. I need you to help me write them.”


“Why what?”

“Why in the shit do you need me to help you write your last words?” She didn’t usually curse this often.

“Because I want them to be memorable and you’re good at phrasing things.”

“But why do you need to know what they’re going to be right now?!” She got louder as she finished and the ending echoed a bit out the kitchen and into the hallway but not quite up the stairs to the bedroom where their parents were sleeping. “You’re seventeen, Will. You’ve got years to think of this shit.”

“I don’t know that and you don’t know that and I want them to be good and I don’t know when I’ll die so I want to figure it out right now.”

“Right now?”

“Right now.”

“Why right now? Why not tomorrow? During the day? When I’m not half-asleep and can contribute better to the writing process?”

“I don’t trust the fully conscious you with my Last Words. I want the unfiltered you. I want you without a conscience telling you not to say what you really feel.” He smiled. “You’re mad right now and you know I won’t let you go to sleep until we’re done here so you’ll say whatever you want to or need to me. That’s exactly what I need. I need this to be brutally honest and uncensored and unthreatened by the evils of your normal, everyday Jiminy Crickett sitting on your shoulder telling you not to say what you know should.”

She didn’t even know how to respond, but “Who the fuck even talks like that?”seemed a good place to start.

“Me,” he replied simply and moved on without skipping a beat. “Now, to business. What should I open with?”

She groaned and conceded. “Well what do you want to say?”

“That’s your job to figure out.”

“I can’t tell you what you need to say if I don’t know what you want to say.”

“I don’t get it.” He was genuinely confused.

“Well do you want to say something or do you just want to say... things?” she asked, but he just elevated his brow imploringly. “The way I see it,” she continued “you’ve got lots of different kinds of last words. You’ve got the short and sweet three-to-five words that encapsulates who you are as a person; you’ve got the long speech that passes on wisdom gained from a life well-lived to all those in the vicinity of your death bed; you’ve got funny one-liners; and you’ve got last words that are just actions. They say nothing because nothing needs to be said. Or, do you just want to say a nice, neat goodbye and not worry about any deep meaning? Do you want to say something or do you just want to say things?”

His eyelids widened as he understood the meaning of her apparent doublespeak. He scrunched his eyebrows together and put his fist with the pencil through it to his chin to support his head as he stared blankly at her face, feigning visual analysis while actually lost in thought on several dozen other things entirely. Then suddenly a deep breath and, “I think I definitely want to say something. You’ve got to say something or they’re not really Last Words. Y’know, capital ‘L’, capital ‘W’. Proper Last Words. Not words which just so happen to have been the last things you say, but Words which you’ve deliberately left for Last… if that makes sense.”

“It does.”

“Good. So I definitely want to say something. It’s got to be memorable.”

“Alright, what kind of thing do you want to say?”

He opened his mouth to answer immediately but thought better of it, as he had nothing to say. After a moment, he seemed to get an idea, held up his index finger to indicate that she should “hold on” and began writing in his notebook excitedly, trying to get all of his thoughts onto the paper before the effervescent things popped out of existence like so many bubbles on a windy day.

She assumed he would be doing as much for quite a while and decided to create a fluffy pillow of the faux-fur sleeves of her bathrobe so as to rest her sleepless eyes. She had barely had time to don the wildly pink shroud as she was dragged by the wrist out of her bedroom. Thank god she had, too. It was so damn cold in their kitchen. It was always so damn cold in here. She crossed her legs to allow them to warm one another. It felt so good to close her eyes. She began to feel more blankets placed on her. She imagined them being wrapped all around her. She was being cocooned. She was being wrapped in their warmth. Her body became motionless but for her rising and falling from her slow, heavy breaths, but her mind ran wild. It trotted around the kitchen table, ready to imagine up a show for its owner’s fancy and hopped, skipped, and jumped its way to dreamland, taking her with it. Dreaming was so lovely. The mind exercising itself, assuring constant sharpness even when the body was unable. Dreaming, to her, was what she lived for. She lived the days so she could have the nights and held onto the nights for only as long as the Sun would allow her so the next would be just as special. Dreaming made living worth living with, and the briefness of dreaming kept dreaming worth dreaming about. Why was Will making her do this? Why couldn’t she just lay here on the table and dream and be happy and worry about his strange obsession with his demise at another time? Why was he so obsessed with death? Death didn’t sound that great to her. What was death if not one big dream without the living to make the dream special? But one couldn’t even dream if one was dead! With dreams you get to the end of your living for the day and you lay down to watch a show. It was exciting! Death was a dream without the excitement, the proverbial ice cream without the sprinkles. Dreaming was the best way to live after living all day. Death was a shitty afterlife.

“Hey!” She was snatched from Paradise. Her hand massaged the top of her head where the notebook had just slapped her as she slowly sat up and woke up.

“I was sleeping!”

“Yeah. I know. That’s why I hit you. C’mon, you can sleep when you’re dead; there’s things to be done. Read what I wrote!” He handed her the notebook, of which he’d filled a whole page, front to back and bit sideways onto the margins at the end.

“How’re you going to read all of this as you’re dying?”

“You didn’t even read it!”

“I don’t have to. You won’t get past sentence four before you croak, Willy.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Well then, William: make it shorter. Two sentences, tops. Less than ten words would be best.”

“Ten fucking words?!”

“Didn’t you do any research on famous last words before you started this weird project? All the best ones are nice and short but full of meaning and depth and able to be analyzed. This thing you just gave me,” she brandished the notebook, flopping it around in the air like a dead fish, “is an essay, not Last Words. Last Words can’t mean anything or be memorable if there’s too many of them to remember, William.”

“How am I supposed to make it shorter? Honestly, ten words?”

A dry, wooden creak from the hallway announced the presence of their father. T-shirt he’d gotten in a fishing shop on vacation, red and green paid sweatpants, wireframe glasses resting on the edge of his nose, kept on by the enormity of his nostrils, whatever military espionage novel he was reading those days held in left hand, his right on the lamp chain he’d just pulled to better light-up the kitchen and its inhabitants.

“What in the Lord’s name are y’all doing up?” They’d never picked up their father’s Southern accent, though strangely their mom had begun to transition from her plain, Mid-Atlantic vanillaspeak to the sweet but bordering on comical southern accent she now sported.

“Ask Will”



“What’re you two doing up s’gosh darn late?”

“We’re working on my Last Words.” Their father’s eyebrows arched for a moment. Surely that wasn’t what he said.

“You’re working on your what, now?”

“My Last Words. The Last things I say before I die.”

That was what he’d said. The Devil gripped the old man’s throat and he couldn’t move it so hard as he struggled. Last words were things for old folk and soldiers in the army, not young little boys of seventeen-years-old who should be off thinking about girls and college and friends and video games. Last words were for people expecting to die. Last words weren’t things you put into your pocket as a daily ritual, expecting to meet your maker at every tick of your watch. That’d be absurd! Everyone’d constantly be triple-checking round every corner and double-checking down every hallway and lurching at any sudden movement in their periphery which looked even the least bit threatening. Men’d run away from fights and women’d skip town on account of a spider, fearing for their lives, waiting for the day they’d need to use the bit of paper in their back pocket on which they’d scrawled their terminal sentences. And, in the name of all that was Holy in Bethlehem, last words were certainly not a thing to be worried about at two o’clock in the morning.

But, despite all his objections, he calmly pleaded in his syrupy-smooth drawl, “Can’t that wait ‘til the morning? You can have me’n’your mother help y’out. She’s an English teacher for Pete’s sake, William. Surely she could write you a really super ‘So long!’ speech.”

“Don’t want Mom. She’ll make it too wordy. Don’t want you. You’ll make it too sentimental and just quote the Last Words of famous war heroes as if they’re at all relevant to the task at hand. All I need is her,” he pointed to his sister. “And I’ll be fine.” Their father looked insulted to the point of near anger, not for his disinclusion from the last words tribunal, but for his son’s shot he’d taken at his knowledge of war heroes. Not at all “relevant.” What’d this boy know about war heroes anyway? Nothing. He’d learn one day, though. He wouldn’t be there that moment if it weren’t for some war heroes and their acts which led them to their own last words.

“Fine. But listen. Just because it’s the summer doesn’t mean you can be up ‘til all hours of the night, y’hear? I want you two done with this last words nonsense in half an hour and then up to bed. Yeah? No more after that. You can work on it s’more another night.”

“But what if I die before another night?”

“Boy d’you wanna get smacked?”

“No, sir.”

“Thirty minutes.”

“...thirty minutes.” The boy nodded. The father’s chest swelled with victory, and he marched back up the stairs and back to bed.

July 22nd, 2014, 09:12 PM
Your title caught my attention so despite being a working title it's a good one for me. And the first paragraph kept my attention too but you might consider breaking it up into two or more paragraphs so the beginning isn't lost in so many words. Let the first sentence stand alone, for example, then begin the third sentence with "As he pacified..."

“I’m there, right?” She didn’t know what he meant...

I didn't either until I read it a few more times. My guess is he's imagining his death bed. My delayed awareness of what is going is my problem, not yours, but I think you should move her reply out of that line, like this:

“I’m there, right?”
She didn’t know what he meant...

I try not to jump into my editor mode until I've read something as a reader, not as an editor, so I should stop here and wait until you've got the next chapter ready. It's an intriguing story. No mention of impending death and I like the suspense of wondering why this boy is obsessed with his Last Words. Have you thought of inserting some foreshadowing in this chapter or the next?