Last Orders — a short story for English reading and listening

Last Orders main blog pic-min


Is there such a thing as the angel of death?

How does he collect souls?

If it is someone’s time to die, what choice do they have?

Last Orders

Rich rang the bell with a sharp tug.

“That’ll be it, gentlemen,” he called out to the last stragglers in the bar. “Last orders.”

It was coming up to midnight. The state law allowed patrons to drink until twelve, but there was always some leeway.

As long as the rules weren’t abused in any way, no cops would close a bar down just because a couple of guys were shooting the breeze and finishing their beers.

One guy in a dishevelled suit nodded to Rich, took one final gulp of his beer, stood, and left.

Some customers didn’t need to be told twice. Most just needed to be told to go home.

Talk to your wife for a change. Come back tomorrow, nothing ever changes in this place.

But then there was the guy two stools down.

He came in four, five nights a week, never spoke to anyone. His face told the world what he was.

A drunk.

On the rare nights he didn’t come to the bar, he was probably somewhere else, or at home, but still drinking. Burst blood vessels coursed through little avenues from his big bulbous nose and across his cheeks.

His eyelids sat like two heavy bags beneath his eyes. Eyes that were permanently bloodshot and could barely focus on the world.

In front of him, a warm glass of beer that he clutched between his hands as if praying to it. Beside that, the empty shot glass that he really drank from.

The cheapest house whisky.

“Ready, Jakey?”

The man raised his head, seeing Rich as if for the first time.

“I just —” he said. “Just, y’know —”

Rich eased the glass from his soft grip.

“First one’s on me tomorrow night, Jake,” he said.

The man’s eyes followed the glass as it left his hands and went to the sink.

He nodded, slowly got to his feet, rubbed the top of his head and staggered to the door. He disappeared into the night.

“He looks a bit worse for wear.”

Rich turned to the voice and saw a man sitting at the far end of the bar.

When had he come in?

He must have missed him before. Not even a busy night, but they all tend to blur into each other.

“Yeah, I kind of feel sorry for him,” said Rich. “But I can’t let them think they can stay here all night.”

The man smiled. A sympathetic smile.

He raised his own glass. It had a slice of lemon in it and the remnants of some ice.

“May I?” he said.

Rich took the man in. His appearance was clean. He looked respectable.

Rich took the glass. “Sure, what was it?”

“Gin and tonic. Easy on the tonic. No need to drown it.”

Rich poured the drink.

As he did, he scouted the rest of the room with his eyes. Everyone gone.

Just this one guy.

He had never seen him before.

And the accent. British? Or maybe some high-class European accent?

“You in for business?” said Rich. There was a large conference hall in the centre of town. Every couple of months, there would be a huge get-together for some industry or another.

One time there had been a big event for computer games. The whole town was taken over by computer geeks and weird kids dressed up as heroes or villains.

Like the circus had come to town for a week.

“Me? No.” The man shook his head. “Just visiting an old friend.”

Rich put the drink in front of him.

“Well, enjoy your time here,” he said. “Nothing goes on much around here.”

The man smiled, lifted his glass and drank. Rich watched as the man tilted the glass all the way back, drinking the gin down in one smooth flow.

He pulled the glass down and smiled back at Rich.

“How about another?”

Rich let out a small laugh and shook his head.

“Sorry, man. I can’t do that.”

The quiet filled the bar and Rich, his barman’s sense kicking in, felt a shift in the atmosphere. A small tension rising in the smoke-filled room.

He slowly turned back to face the man.

“Another,” he said. No smile this time.

Rich had seen people like this before. Tough guy wannabes. But you humour them once, and they are on their way.

“One more, buddy. Then you have to go.”

He poured the drink and placed it in front of the man.

The man’s eyes had a strange light in them. Like a blueish tint. Like a small fire in them.

He lifted the glass and drained it.

“Another.” He held the glass out.

Rich stared back at him. “No. That’s it. You gotta go.”

Rich held his ground. He was younger than this dude. And maybe stronger.

The man kept his hand out with the glass in it.

“I said: another.”

Rich shook his head.


The man clenched his grip on the glass and it cracked, then smashed into his closed fist. He squeezed hard on the chunks of broken glass and blood poured from his hand to the bar top.

“Get me another, Richard,” the man said.

Rich took a step back. He hadn’t seen anything like this before. And the man used his name? Had he told him?

“I think you better go,” said Rich. “Before I call the cops.”

“You’re not going to call anybody,” said the man. “And you are going to pour me another drink. While you’re at it, pour yourself one too. We have a long trip ahead of us.”

Rich didn’t like this one bit.

He reached for the phone and put the receiver near his ear. No tone. He tapped at the phone, but it was dead.

“Leave. Now.”

The man closed his eyes and shook his head.

“Get me a drink, Richard. Get yourself one. Then we have to go.”

“Go where? What are you talking about?”

A small flash of fire in the man’s eyes.

“We are going to hell,” said the man. “It’s time.”

Reading Comprehension Questions

Who is the main character in the story?

What is his job?

Where does the story take place? What time of day is it?

How many customers are in the bar at the beginning of the story?

Who is the first person that Rich talks to? Does he have a problem in his life? What is it?

What is this man drinking?

Who is the man who talks to Rich?

What is he drinking?

Describe the man’s appearance.

What accent does he have?

What large building is near the bar? What happens there?

Does the stranger in the bar ask for a second drink?

How does Rich feel about it?

Does he allow him to have a second drink?

Under what conditions?

Does the man ask for a third drink?

What does Rich say in response?

What does the stranger do to the glass?

Does Rich try to call for help? How does he do this?

Where does the stranger say they are going?

Essential Vocabulary

a sharp tug


state law



shooting the breeze




a drunk

blood vessels

to course







to clutch


to ease


to stagger

worse for wear





gin and tonic

to scout

conference hall










to clench






to tap


flash of fire



There may be a lot of new or unfamiliar vocabulary to you in the story. This is the perfect time to get to know these new and strange words and phrases.


Write down all the new words and phrases in your vocabulary notebook. Look up the meaning of the new vocabulary in a dictionary or online and write down the meaning next to the word or phrase.


It should look something like this:


A Sharp Tuga quick and often strong pull or yank against something.


Stragglera person separated from the group from moving too slowly – or reluctant to move at all.


Then write a sentence of your own that uses the new word or phrase correctly.


When we got to the park, my dog gave a sharp tug on his leash.


We went to leave, but then I saw Sam behind us, always the straggler.


If you do this correctly, it will help you learn many new words and phrases. This will build your English vocabulary and writing down all the words and phrases, making sentences of your own, will all help you to remember all of this new vocabulary.

Discussion Questions

In your own words, what is this story about?

Who — or what — is the stranger in the bar?

What does he want from Rich?

Is he going to take him somewhere? Where does he want to take him?

What kind of bar is the bar in the story? Try to describe it.

What kind of people go to this bar?

What is a dive bar?

Is the bar in this story a dive bar?

What kind of people go to a dive bar?

What is an Angel of Death?

What does this creature do?

Do you believe in the Angel of Death? If so, why? If not, why not?

Do you think the stranger in the bar is the Angel of Death?

How old is Rich? Is he a young man? Or old?

Why is it his time to go?

What do you think Rich’s next reaction could be?

What will he do next in the story?

If you were to encounter this situation, what would you do?

Do you think our time of death is already planned?

Or can we go at any time?

Are you ready for death?

Do you think about this at all?


This is a creative writing exercise.


Imagine you are in a similar situation to Rich in the story.

The Angel of Death appears and tells you your time has come. It is time to leave.

But you refuse.

And the Angel of Death doesn’t know what to do about this. Usually, people just comply and go with him.


Write your story.


And when you have finished, read it out loud in class in front of your classmates and teacher.

Ask everyone for feedback.


Or you can ask your teacher to give you a review of your writing.

You can download the full lesson plan by clicking the link below!

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