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I read this short story within the last year or two, almost certainly in a short story collection. It was relatively old, possibly from the '60s or '70s, but it could have been from the '50s or '80s too. I think the collection was by one of the bigger names like Frederik Pohl, Larry Niven, or Ray Bradbury, but I'm not 100% on that.

I don't remember how exactly it happens, but a man is in a phone booth and receives a call that isn't meant for him. The person on the other end says that the world is going to end (probably a nuclear thing, though I can't remember exactly). He then spends the rest of his day like there's no tomorrow, without telling anyone about the upcoming disaster.

I believe he passes the day with his girlfriend, but I can't remember if he tells her about the call or not. They might have watched the sunset on top of a roof, but that could be from a different story. I remember it being a very peaceful, touching story. It's a lot like "The Last Night Of The World" by Ray Bradbury. It's definitely realistic fiction; there are no fantastic elements. I don't think it's related to the 1988 movie MIRACLE MILE, Larry Niven's short story INCONSTANT MOON, or Robert Heinlein's THE YEAR OF THE JACKPOT, despite the similarities. Any help would be much appreciated!

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    The plot line sounds very similar to the film MIRACLE MILE (1988). To whit: a man answers a ringing phone in a phone booth outside a restaurant. It is a soldier from a military base who dialed the wrong number - meant to call his mom - and accidentally informs the man in the booth that nuclear war is imminent and unstoppable. He spends the rest of the film trying to find a girl he met and convince people it is really happening. (So that part is different.)
    – Cassfrank
    Nov 18, 2022 at 1:19
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    I noticed that when trying to find this on my own, and I thought maybe my story was the basis for the movie, but I couldn't find anything about that. As far as I know (which isn't very far), the two are unrelated.
    – supperfly
    Nov 18, 2022 at 3:17
  • This vaguely reminds me of a story I read in an old pulp magazine (possibly on archive.org) a while ago, but I can't remember the name of that one. In that one, I think, though I'm not sure, that they were the last people left in the world the day after the end of the world due to a clerical error at some kind of department of universes, and they walked through empty streets and danced in empty clubs and they thought they would die soon but they possibly got rescued. But that might be a different story.
    – A. B.
    Nov 23, 2022 at 3:12
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    No, this is realistic fiction. There's no fantastic elements like that.
    – supperfly
    Nov 26, 2022 at 0:48
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    @HighInBC Asimov's "The Hugo Winners, Vol. 3" does not appear to contain a story by that title: isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?41816 Can you be more specific? Link?
    – user14111
    Dec 25, 2022 at 3:14

1 Answer 1

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"The Year of the Jackpot" by Robert Heinlein

Mismatch: It does not start with a telephone call. A rapidly accelerating string of bizarre occurrences starts with a woman taking off her clothing downtown, and Potiphar Breen saves her from arrest, and charts the bizarre occurrences.

Match: Realistic fiction.

Match: Hard, nonfastical fiction.

Match: Written 1952

Match: SFWA and Hugo award winning author

Match: Even if not a full match or the sought story, the ending is very much

I think he spends the day with his girlfriend, but I can't remember if he tells her about the call or not. They might have watched the sunset on top of a roof, but that could be from a different story. I remember it being a very peaceful, touching story.

Potiphar and the woman, Meade, grow close, leave the city to escape the increasing madness and human-caused war and destruction of cities, find a cabin or place to be safe for the immediate moment. But they cannot, once it becomes obvious that the sun itself is failing its lifetime as a stable G-type star.

So there's some mismatch: He doesn't have to keep it to himself like there's no tomorrow, but together they find out there is no tomorrow.

The most memorable part of the horror story to me: They are together as they witness it.

She snuggled to him. "Keep me warm." "It will be warmer soon. I mean, I'll keep you warm." "Dear Potty." She looked up. "Potty, something funny is happening to the sunset." "No, darling. To the sun." "I'm frightened." "I'm here, dear."

A long time since I read it. Found it also here.

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    The overlap between this story and the one in the question is microscopic. The protagonist in the Heinlein story is literally the one who figures out the world is ending. Dec 26, 2022 at 3:15
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    I don't think this is it, but it does sound interesting!
    – supperfly
    Dec 26, 2022 at 23:48

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