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The Last Rung on the Ladder

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"The Last Run on the Ladder" is a short story written by Stephen King, originally included in his 1978 collection Night Shift.

Plot Summary

Larry is burdened with deep guilt and regret after discovering that his estranged sister Katrina, b.k.a. Kitty, 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 dangling desperately 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 continues his story by saying that his sister matured into a striking blonde beauty. After graduating from high school she won a beauty contest and married one of the judges, but that marriage ended miserably and without children. Kitty wrote him a long letter asking for his help, but he declined, as he was in law school at the time and it was critical he attend every class. Kitty later landed some gigs glamour modeling and married a porn producer, and that marriage also ended in failure when her second husband cheated on her. Kitty wrote a shorter letter asking for Larry's help again. Although he graduated from law school, he found work with a firm that was ready to replace him at the drop of a hat, and he feared not being able to put food on his table and support his own courtship with a woman. Larry did get married, but several years before the setting of the story his own marriage ended in divorce. Larry's divorce ended more amicably than Kitty's, but he was reminded of his failure to help Kitty. As he looks back, he reflects on how he is one the most prominent corporate lawyers in the United States, but he has no wife, children, nor family with the exception of his aging father. Kitty made some money glamour modeling, but she soon got edged out by younger models. Like many aging glamour models, Kitty parlayed the last of her looks in high-end prostitution. Larry then sees a story in the Los Angeles Times telling of Kitty's suicide from the veranda of an insurance building, which reads "Call Girl Swan Dives to Her Death". Larry is unsure of how to break the news of Katrina's death to his father; having already suffered one heart attack Larry is sure this news may trigger a second.  

The story ends as he reads the final letter she had written to him a couple weeks before she jumped off a building to her death; one that would have made him realize how desperately she needed him to save her again. The letter had one sentence: "Dear Larry, I have been thinking a lot over my life, and maybe it would have been better if you had not been there ito save me in the hayloft".  

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