The Last Rung on the Ladder

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"The Last Rung on the Ladder"
Author Stephen King
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Tragedy short story
Published in Night Shift
Publisher Doubleday
Media type Print (Paperback)
Publication date 1978

"The Last Rung on the Ladder" is a short story by Stephen King, first published in King's 1978 collection Night Shift. It was filmed in 1987.

Plot summary[edit]

The protagonist (Larry) is burdened with deep guilt and regret after discovering that his estranged sister has committed suicide. He recounts one fateful day, long ago, when the two were children, playing in their family's barn. They had a game where they would take turns climbing to the top of a very tall ladder in their barn, and leap off into a huge haystack. On one of his sister's turns, the rickety old ladder broke, leaving her clinging to the ladder's last rung. He desperately piled hay below her, and when she couldn't hang on any longer, he told her to let go, and she did. The hay broke her fall and saved her life, but he was astonished when she told him that she hadn't looked down before letting go, and didn't know about the hay. She simply trusted him to save her.

Larry tells of how his sister grew up into a striking blonde beauty, who had a rise and fall with her looks. She won a beauty pageant and got some roles in B-movies and glamour modeling, but also went through multiple failed marriages, got involved in alcohol, and, as she aged, was parlaying the last of her looks by working as a call girl. Larry describes the years in her waning career were not kind to her, but he was too wrapped up in his own affairs to come to her aid. Part of the problem was refusing to acknowledge she had grown up; "To me, my sister was the 8-year old girl in the barn, still without breasts". Larry now reminds himself of his failure to realize the importance of family by preserving a newspaper article of his sister's suicide; "Call Girl Swan Dives to her Death", and his final letter he received from her two weeks before she died, which said "I've been thinking about it a lot lately... and what I've decided is that it would have been better for me if that last rung had broken before you could put the hay down". Larry states that the words would have been enough to make him realize how desperate she had become. Unfortunately, he had neglected to tell his sister he'd moved, and the letter was not forwarded in time.

Connections to other books[edit]

Larry relates that the farm where he and his sister grew up was in Hemingford Home, Nebraska. This is the town that Mother Abagail lives in in The Stand. It is also the town next door to Gatlin, the location of "Children of the Corn" and also part of Cell. "1922" from Full Dark, No Stars also takes place in Hemingford Home.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]