The Last Rung on the Ladder

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"The Last Rung on the Ladder"
AuthorStephen King
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Tragedy short story
Published inNight Shift
Media typePrint (Paperback)
Publication date1978

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

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. With their parents not home, they played a forbidden 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. The ladder was already old and unsafe but that was part of the thrill. On his last turn, Larry realised that the ladder was on the point of letting go. By the time he landed in the hay, Kitty was already climbing up again. The ladder broke and left her clinging to the last rung. Larry desperately piled hay below her. When Kitty couldn't hang on any longer, he told her to let go, and she did. The hay broke Kitty's fall and saved her life, leaving her with only a broken ankle. Larry was astonished when Kitty told him that she hadn't looked down before letting go, so she didn't know about the hay. She simply trusted him to save her.

Larry tells of how his sister grew up into a striking beauty. She was supposed to attend business college but, in the summer after graduation, she won a beauty pageant and ended up marrying one of the judges. After the marriage failed, Kitty moved to Los Angeles, landing some roles in B-movies and some glamour modeling shoots, and married again, only to have this marriage fail as well. As she aged, Kitty ended up working as a call girl. Larry 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 a girl with pigtails, 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 the final letter she sent to him 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 those words would have been enough to make him come running. 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 during The Stand. It is also the town next door to Gatlin, the location of "Children of the Corn" and also mentioned in Cell. "1922" from Full Dark, No Stars also takes place in Hemingford Home.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]