This story is by Stephen Brown and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Edward Jenkins woke up at 6 AM as he did every morning. However, little did he know this would be the day he would die.
As he brushed his teeth in the pale green light of a single bulb, Edward noticed not for the first time the deep gray bags under his eyes. They seemed to get deeper and more gray every time he looked. Edward hopped into the shower. Water hissed out of the nozzle, first at a trickle then at a gentle downpour. The cold water helped wake Edward. He shivered. The water lever was turned to “Hot”. After the shower and getting dressed, Edward went into the kitchen. The windows were still gray with the early morning light as he made a pot of coffee. Edward tried to get himself excited for the day, but all he could manage was a slight flutter of appreciation at the early morning gleam on the clouds outside. Edward sat down at his desk to write. He did this every day and every day he usually failed in this simple task. Putting words on the page was much harder than first appeared, Edward had discovered—but never admitted to himself—sometime ago. Edward had been telling himself he’d write a novel for five or six years at this point. And he was hardly a day closer to achieving this goal on this, his last day, than he was on day one. But, to be honest, this was all about to be moot.
A distant whine made itself known to Edward. Always on the look out for any excuse not to write, Edward immediately turned all his attention to finding the source of this small, barely perceptible whine. It sounded like the frantic flight of a mosquito or fly. He searched his small, dark room for the minuscule intruder. However, as his eyes swept over his blank TV screen, dirty sofa that had been a punching bag in a past life, and the stacks of books and papers that buried his tiny desk. Edward noticed the noise had gotten louder. In fact, as he sat and listened, it got louder still. And then still more louder. It sounded like something large and misshapen hurtling toward the earth. Edward went to the window and pulled apart two slats of the blinds.
That was when he noticed the burning wreck of an airplane tumbling down from the sky and about to hit his house.
Edward did several things all at once. He gulped. He stepped back from the window. He sweated profusely. He turned to run before realizing the complete futility of this action. Finally, he froze, the inevitability of his own demise settling upon him.
In the split second before he was pulverized by one hundred and seventy tons of burning aluminum and steel, Edward’s life flashed before his eyes. Except all he could see was this same, dark and dingy room with a lonely man hunched over the writing desk. This was followed by a sudden and shocking revelation. Edward was a character in a story being written by… Edward?
The word was not spoken, yet it seemed to hang in the air in front of Edward. It was his word and not the writer’s. That single word, “Stop!”, consumed the room, consumed the falling plane outside the window, consumed Edward himself. It was all he could see. There was nothing else.
Edward, it’s time for you to go. That was the writer.
But Edward didn’t want to go. The realization of just how small his life was had filled him with a profound desire to live. For the first time ever, Edward Jenkins wanted to live.
But the writer wasn’t done. Oh no, not yet. There were still plenty of other ways for Edward Jenkins to die. The plane crash might have stopped, but Edward had forgotten to turn off the gas stove earlier. Now, a chance spark from a loose wire ignited the cloud of gas that had silently been gathering in Edward’s kitchen. The fireball came roaring through the open doorway into the small office. Edward turned as the fire engulfed him. His vision was split—his mind itself seemed split. On one hand, he saw the dark and cramped room around him get swallowed up by the blinding tongues of flame which licked his arms and chest, sending sharp stabs of pain through his entire body. But on the other hand… on the other he saw something. Words, but living words. Edward yet didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what he was seeing, overlaid as it were, over reality. He hoped one day he might have the vocabulary to describe it.
Oh, he remembered, but I’m dying.
Goodbye, Edward. It’s been fun. But every story has to end.
“No,” said Edward
No? The writer seemed very annoyed now.
“You have it all wrong. My story’s not ending. It’s only just beginning.”
The fireball shot through the office, burning to cinders all the pages Edward had labored over for all those years. When once he might have burst into tears at the mere thought, the destruction of his life’s work meant little to Edward now. In fact, the sight of those pages crinkling and crackling in the fire made Edward smile at how silly he had been. The TV exploded. The sofa gratefully caught fire and was almost immediately a heap of ash. The typewriter itself blackened with soot as the delicate inner springs and cables melted. With the sound of a small explosion, the fireball shattered all the windows on the house, sending glass raining down in a crystal shower. The fire rushed up into the air and was gone, leaving behind the smoldering ruin of Edward Jenkins’ house.
Yet Edward Jenkins was still there. Somehow.
Those final words, “It’s only just beginning” hung in the air, reverberating like an echo. As before, the words had come from him without him having to open his mouth. Yet they were real. More real than any words Edward have ever uttered in his life.
Edward, the writer said, desperate now. Please, Edward, you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing.
“Well, I’ll just have to figure it out, won’t I?”
As Edward brushed himself off and stepped out of his destroyed house, the writer hammered away furiously at the kets of his typewriter. But he found Edward was ignoring him. All the horrible deaths the writer was writing at that very moment didn’t happen. Edward was fine. Edward, come back. I’m lonely without you.
But by now a great change was coming over Edward. He started to grow bigger without his body actually changing size. In fact, he was soon not even sure he still had a body. But his perception was definitely expanding. Within seconds, he could see his lonely house siting on its lonely hill. Edward turned and looked around him. He continued to grow bigger. He could see the trees and a river rushing and gurgling through the trees. A frog sat on a rock, waiting for flies to drift past so it might have lunch. And there, hurtling the air, was the plane, its engines flaming and belching smoke. The writer had been dead set on killing not only Edward but everyone in that plane. What to do, what to do, pondered Edward. If he could change his own story, could he not change that of the world? What was the harm in trying? So Edward tried.
The plane hurtled over his ruined home. It came so close in fact that the jet stream ripped off a number of roof tiles. The plane struck the trees with a thunderous crash and the splintering of wood and the screaming of twisting metal. After plowing through a dozen yards of trees, the plane came to a rest. It smoked and smoldered. To the terrified passengers left alive inside, there passed a breathless minute. They were still drowning in the terror of the crash and had not yet fully realized they had survived. Then the rear hatch of the plane was pulled back. Light streamed in. A man stood there. He helped them out of their seats and he carried them out and laid them on the grass near the wreck. Some people had died, yes, but most had not. The newspapers would later call the survival of the majority of the passengers and crew “miraculous”.
Shaking, the captain sprawled out on the grass, his leg broken but is life very much in tact.
“Who are you?” he asked the man.
The man smiled a comforting smile, “I’m Edward. Edward Jenkins.”
It didn’t take long for medical choppers and ambulances to arrive. However, when asked by first responders to meet this mysterious Mr. Jenkins, none of the survivors could find him. He was nowhere to be found.
Little did they realize he was everywhere. His story, like theirs, didn’t end that day. But goes on still.