I think I was listening to this as an audiobook about five years ago, possibly as a collection of short stories. Someone is driving through their town (in the United States, I think), and keeps seeing ads (I distinctly remember billboards, but it might have also been TV ads and the newspaper) with what looked like a retirement announcement, something along the lines of "Thank you, Gary, for 40 years of service. We hate to see you go" with the protagonist speculating as to who this person might be, who they worked for, and why the advertisements were so wide-spread. I think there was also a recurring mention of news reports of disasters, both natural and human, across the world. We cut over to a hospital bed where a man by that name is dying, and when he takes his final breath, the world collapses in escalating disaster, this man having been what was keeping it together the whole time.

I want to say that the man didn't realize this role, and worked as a very mundane businessman with wife and kids, maybe something in the banking industry. What makes me think this is part of a set of short stories (other than that the first bit seemed self-contained and the library seldom rents very short audiobooks outside of children's books) is that I vaguely remember another story, much more mundane, with that man in his younger years, where he and a woman he did not previously know suddenly start dancing to a street musician's music in a way that draws a huge crowd. I remember that he was wearing a suit when he started to dance, with mentions of how his suit was getting increasingly sweat-stained and at one point, he splits his pants while doing a more acrobatic dance move (the splits, perhaps?). Afterwards, there's an awkward scene where he and the woman have a sudden intense feeling of connection that almost leads to them rushing off to a hotel room before he starts to remember all of his other obligations, including his wife at home, and they both leave to their respective lives. I don't recall if the woman shows up in further stories.

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And, I found it due to a vague memory of it seeming like a Stephen King story. Which it is. "The Life of Chuck" is one of the stories in If It Bleeds by Stephen King.

The story is split into three acts in reverse order.

  • In Act 3: 'Thanks, Chuck', Marty drives home and sees a billboard showing an accountant sitting at a desk, underneath it says ’39 Great Years! Thanks, Chuck’ as the world appears to be slowly crumbling. That evening as Marty visits his ex-wife Felicia he notices Chuck's image appearing everywhere. In a hospital, Chuck is dying surrounded by his family. Marty and Felicia see the stars disappearing, then blackness.
  • In Act 2: 'Buskers', Chuck sees a drummer busking in the street and starts dancing. A young girl joins him, dancing with Chuck as a crowd surrounds them. Later that day Chucks suffers a bad headache.
  • In Act 1: 'I Contain Multitudes', Chuck was orphaned and was brought up by his paternal grandparents, where his love of dancing developed. His grandparents always kept their house's cupola locked, but eventually Chuck unlocked the room where he saw himself dying...

I vaguely recalled the cupola bit, actually, and was wondering if it was part of the same story, although I was remembering it as an attic, and I couldn't remember what it was he saw. Eventually found with "stephen king" billboard world ending dance

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