“Once upon a time, there was a story so short, it was only a single line.”
That’s what my father always said to me when he’d tuck me in at night. I always thought it was just his little joke. You know, the thing he’d say so he wouldn’t have to tell me a real bedtime story? As I grew older, though, he never once wavered. He swore to me that it was real, but it wasn’t the one he told me every night. He said it was the greatest and most powerful story ever told. It even had it’s own book, he claimed, but just one. He said he even read it. He said, if I ever read it, it would change my life forever. He said a lot of things about this story that was only a single line. I didn’t believe any of them.
A year ago, my father died. On his final day, he said he’d like to tell me a story. I leaned in close and he whispered that line, the line I’d heard so many times before. After that, he smiled weakly and told me, “You really should read it sometime.” Those were the last words he ever said to me. Kind of strange, isn’t it? Nothing profound, nothing moving or touching. Just “You really should read it sometime.” On the last day he would ever get to live, that’s what he chose to say.
It hit me really hard, his death. I fixated on his final words, and on the story, the one line that would change my life. Part of me still didn’t believe it existed, but the fact that he was still talking about it, even on his deathbed, made my need to see it absolute. I searched for months, never gaining any clues about this thing. Internet searches left me empty-handed, and there wasn’t a bookstore within a two-hundred mile radius of me that had ever heard of a story with only a single line. I got a lot of funny looks during those months. I didn’t care. It was my fathers dying wish, and I would honor it, if I could, so I kept searching.
It was completely by chance that I was far from home, on the other side of the country for a friend’s wedding. The day before the wedding I found a small, privately owned bookstore near the hotel I was staying at. The bookstore was nothing special, certainly not the type of place you would expect to find a legendary book that would forever change your life. There were no dusty shelves full of cryptic volumes of forgotten text, no unknowable brass gadgets hanging from the ceiling or anything that would mark the store as special. It was well-lit, with the young adult section front-and-center advertising the latest book that had been made into a movie. I approached the plump old man behind the counter and asked him if he’d ever heard of a story with only a single line. It was the same question I always asked, and I expected the same answer; a confused look and eventually a “no” while they silently judged me for my laziness, or my craziness, or both. That’s not what happened this time. The old mans face lit up and without a word he turned around and walked through the employees only door. He yelled from his storeroom that he had the only known copy. The door opened again and he emerged with a thick, plain looking book. It looked like it was nearly a thousand pages. I asked him if he was certain this was the book and he said it was. He handed me the tome and I turned it over in my hands. Like the store, there was nothing remarkable about this book. It was a dark blue hardcover, not leather bound, just missing a dust jacket. It had no title or author on the spine, the entire thing was blank. I opened the cover and, there, in the middle of the first page, black ink on white paper, was the story I’d been searching for. The rest of the pages were completely blank. The story of a single line read: “When death came for me, I was surprised.”
That story forever changed my life.