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The Co-op Student
The co-op student has somehow lost the final page of each story.
The co-op student has somehow lost the final page of each story. The editors are aghast. The magazine must be delivered to the printers tomorrow. The editors harangue the student. How do you make a mistake like that? It takes a special kind of idiot.
The student manages not to cry. He stands there while the editors debate the matter. Do we request new copies? But we won't get them all in time, and besides, it would destroy our reputation.
The student perspires. As his supervisor tosses the endingless stories into the air he scrunches his eyes and says to the universe: Oh universe! I would do anything to save the magazine! I would sell my soul! I would write the endings myself!
He opens his eyes and time has frozen. His editors are motionless mid-scream. The papers hang in the air like ornaments without a tree. The world is silent.
Could it be? He tries to close the horrid mouths of his editors but they do not move. He brushes against the floating papers and they do move.
His path is clear. He plucks the stories out of the air. He clears his little desk of scissors and glue and ruler until there are only the stories and clean blank pages and his pen. There are ten stories to finish and he is excited but afraid.
One problem is that he has never written a story before, certainly not an ending. He doesn't even read. He got the placement because he forgot to apply to any of the good ones.
First, at the bottom of each final page he writes "and they lived happily ever after". This energizes him. He has finished the most important part. Next, he reads all the stories in case this doesn't fit. In most of them it doesn't. He feels like he dodged a bullet. He uses the remaining space on the page to fill in how the characters achieve happy endings. In one of them a villain has to die. In most of them the hero must learn something about herself. In one of them he has her learn it in a dream, in another from her mother, and another by them freezing time and taking a spiritual journey. This one is inspired by his present situation.
While he is doing this he develops a profound sense of responsibility. He holds these lives in his hand. Thinking about it, he realizes a happy ending is not enough. The characters should also have enough money to get them through the hard times. He makes sure they all win the lottery or buy Bitcoin early or marry somebody who does either of these things. He also realizes that the one villain deserves happiness too. Just like the student begged the universe for a second chance, he writes it so the villain does too and gets to live out a redemptive life. And also wins the lottery.
There is one story he is avoiding where it isn't clear who the protagonist is. Thinking about it now, on his fingers he lists out Who, What, Where, Why, How, and admits he isn't sure of any of them. The story just seems kind of sad.
He puts the other stories on the corner of his desk. They are done. Staring at this one, he decides that even if he isn't sure who the hero is, he is still responsible for them.
It clicks. The story, which is the longest, must be a dream the hero is having. That is why it makes no sense and makes the student uncomfortable.
On the last page, he has the hero wake up. The hero turns to his wife and tells her about the scary dream. She noticed he was sweating in his sleep and gives him a big hug. She tells him not to worry, she bought a lottery ticket yesterday and is feeling very lucky.
He ends it there. He is very proud of himself. By having characters win the lottery in other stories, he is hinting that the hero is going to win the lottery in this one. The student has become a real writer. He says to the universe that he is ready.
Time unfreezes. He tells the editors he has found the last pages, here they are. The editors grab them and assemble them and zoom it all to the printers.
The magazine does not win any awards this year. In fact, it closes down after that issue. No editor quite understands what happened and while all have an inkling it is the fault of the co-op student, they are too embarrassed to do anything about it.
The co-op student doesn’t know about any of this. After his placement he goes back to not reading. He graduates and becomes an engineer and then later a mayor, a husband and then a father. He has ten children and makes up stories for them every night where people find a way to live happily ever after. It makes his children so happy, they spend all day wishing it was bedtime already.
He does not tell them about the time he saved the magazine. He never wins the lottery. But he does live happily ever after.