After Twenty Years by O. Henry, 1906
The magic trick:
Securing the reader’s complete attention with the sheer allure of the premise
Man, you know O. Henry is just trying to mess with your mind in his stories. You have to be ready for the twist from the start. But wouldn’t you know he gets you moving one way in “After Twenty Years” while he moves the plot in the other direction behind your back.
The scenario is so alluring. Two men meeting for an appointment set 20 years prior? I was sold immediately. So much so that I didn’t really notice the police officer’s odd appearance at the beginning and quick exit from the story. But that’s how this works. The old misdirection, and then – boom – the surprise ending. And that’s quite a trick on O. Henry’s part.
“Twenty years ago tonight,” said the man, “I had dinner here with Jimmy Wells. He was my best friend and the best fellow in the world. He and I grew up together here in New York, like two brothers. I was eighteen and Jimmy was twenty. The next morning I was to start for the West. I was going to find a job and make a great success. You couldn’t have pulled Jimmy out of New York. He thought it was the only place on earth.
“We agreed that night that we would meet here again in twenty years. We thought that in twenty years we would know what kind of men we were, and what future waited for us.”
“It sounds interesting,” said the cop.
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