An Unexpected Twist

Pier - sunrise on Indian River, Suntree, Florida

By Judy Berman

How could I not see that coming? That’s often my reaction when I am shocked by how a movie ended. What did I miss?

I have that same reaction to a joke’s punch line that surprises me or to a story that finally reveals a hidden truth.

Most teachers will tell you that they went into teaching because they want to inspire their students. This week, a student turned the tables on me.

We’d been reading Eleanora E. Tates’s short story, “Big Things Come in Small Packages.”

Narrator LaShana Mae tells about her friend, Tucker Willis, who was teased unmercifully about being so short. She recounted his friendship with a man named Richard who said he worked with the U.S. Lifesaving Service.

As captain in the lifesaving service, Richard said he and his men “went into the ocean in the middle of hurricanes and no’easters’ to save passengers and crew members whose ships were sinking.”

Tucker was inspired, but lamented that he couldn’t do the job because of his size.

Richard told Tucker “it wasn’t the size of a person that got the job done. It was how bad the person wanted to do it.” He pointed out that tugboats pull in ships many times their size.

surfer - Huntington_Pier_Surfer

A few days later, Tucker was out surfing near the Atlantic Beach pier. As he rode a wave in, Richard was cheering him on and hollered: “Do it, Tugboat! Pull that ole wave in!”

Tucker remembered Richard’s story about tugboats, and waved back before he swam out to catch another wave.

Then he noticed a storm brewing, and that meant he better get out of the water. A huge wave crashed down on him. Tucker took the wipeout in stride and just got back on his board.

But a man who fell off his raft was thrashing about and “screaming that he couldn’t swim.”

Tucker, 12, swam over to help the man even though he was concerned for his own safety. In a panic, the man lunged at Tucker’s surfboard and they both were struggling.

That’s when Tucker saw Richard and Richard helped both Tucker and the man get safely to shore.

**SPOILER ALERT** (If you plan on reading this story, stop now because I’ll be giving away a key plot detail.)

News reporters crowded around, wanting to hear Tucker’s story. Tucker credited his friend, Richard, for the save. But when Tucker turned around, Richard was no where to be found.

Later, Tucker discovered who Richard was.

In the pier gift shop, Tucker bought a book about the coast guard. That’s when he saw an old photo of Richard and learned that Captain Richard Etheridge died about 70 years earlier in 1900.

Richard was a ghost.

One student, Brandon, amazed me with his insights into the story. He had unraveled the mystery before the author revealed this.

When Brandon told me the clues he’d spotted in the story, I was stunned. I’d missed some of the foreshadowing and the author’s hints.

This put me so much in mind of watching the movie, “Sixth Sense,” with my husband, Dave. Dave had figured out the ending long before it was revealed.

Me? I was clueless until nearly the end of the movie.

We went to see the movie again that same weekend. I wanted to see “Sixth Sense” thru “new eyes” to learn what clues I’d missed.

I did the same with this short story after Brandon shared what tipped him off. On my re-reading, I discovered subtle clues the author dropped throughout her story.

Diana Bedford Pittenger, a friend and teacher, said: “That is so much fun! I love when students can teach us.”

I’m still learning …

What plot twists in a movie or book took you by surprise?

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie Video: “The Pink Panther” Theme Song. Really, did you see those plot twists coming? 

Photo: Pier – Sunrise at Indian River, Suntree, Florida. Photographer – Dave Berman, Sept. 2014

Photo: Surfer – Huntington Pier – Author: Sameer Khan, Aug. 15, 2005


  1. I love it when students “get” it. Just this week I’ve had the pleasure of helping young Harvey with some poetry catch up. (He’d been absent and had missed some work). He’s eleven. His insight into the poetry we were doing was truly awesome. How can an eleven year old be so sensitive to language. I went home that day with a light heart.

  2. Oh, how I remember the stunner of an ending to “The Sixth Sense.” I LOVE when that happens! Do you remember “The Bad Seed?” That movie is the first I remember with abundant twists and turns. An oldie but goodie.

      1. Yes, Psycho!!! How could I forget that ending? Old Alfred was pretty good at those twist endings, wasn’t he?

        “The Bad Seed” was made in the fifties, an old black and white film. which explores the question of whether a kid can be born evil. I was a kid the first time I saw it and it scared me!

        comment from earthrider to Silver in the Barn:
        I love the Master of Suspense. Alfred Hitchcock really knew how to reel you in. “The Bad Seed” sounds like it would scare me, too. 😉

  3. wow! what a story and like you, i did not see the ‘sixth sense’ twist coming at all. another movie that really surprised me was ‘the usual suspects.’ no clue, as to the ending and the twist at the end. great post, judy –

    1. I loved “The Usual Suspects.” Like you, Beth, I was caught completely off guard by the ending. I didn’t catch on until the investigator was drinking coffee and reflecting on what he heard that day. Thank you. 😉

  4. I enjoyed this post, since I am a big movie buff! I am also happy when students are clever and read ‘between the lines,’ like Brandon did. I sometimes am able to detect clues shown in films or written in books, but most of the time I am not. I do appreciate ‘foreshadowing, since I get very infuriated at books or movies, that have ‘surprise’ endings that had no signs. “Sixth Sense,” was excellent. I liked a Meg Ryan movie, where there were angels in it, will have to look the name up, which I did not realize until later than my friend did. I like twists, but wish for hints, too!

    1. It can be unsettling when the endings come out of nowhere. I grew up reading Agatha Christie’s mysteries. I felt she often cheated by leaving something out until she was ready to reveal who-done-it. So, when I read her books, I always honed in on the one who was ‘least likely’ to have been the bad guy/gal. 😉

  5. “City of Angels,” although I knew about the angels, I did not realize who was going to die, under the physician’s (Meg Ryan) care, nor did I completely understand about Andre Braugher’s ‘guide’ role. It was very interesting, intriguing, as I do wish to believe in angels… I used to like the “Thin Man” movie series, where it had ghosts, unusual plot devices for that period of time.

      1. The movie, “A Beautiful Mind,” took me by surprise like Diana. It is a true story, written about the Nobel Peace Prize winner on war strategies (game playing), John Forbes Nash, Jr. You and your husband would really enjoy this movie, Judy!

  6. I love when this “spark” happens in the classroom – I agree with Kate that this student has a bright future (secret agent? teaching?) if he makes such astute observations. Most of all, I like that students and teacher “construct knowledge” together, which sounds so textbook-ish, but so true. Chalk up another great post, Judy.

  7. Great post, Judy. My husband and daughter are teachers, and I have some teaching experience. It’s always great when a student is inspired, and how great that your teacher was so appreciative and able to share what his insights with you.
    I was also surprised by “The Sixth Sense,” and later watched it again. I agree with comments above that Hitchcock did a nice job with surprise endings, too. My husband and I have been occasionally watching the old Twilight Zone series from the beginning on Netflix. Many of them have surprise endings, too.

    1. Merril … Thank you for your comments. Yes, the Twilight Zone did have many plot twists that I totally didn’t expect. I recall several of them still and found the series to be very enjoyable. 😉

  8. Judy, I don’t know if there are hints that I missed, in this movie, nor have I searched for them, having watched the movie many times.

    A beautiful Mind is one of my favourite movies ever. The first time I saw it, I was shaken and confused at the end to discover that John’s (played by Russell Crowe) best friend was not real. Thinking about it since then, I’ve realized that this movie and that storyline gave me a deeper understanding of mental illness, better than any text book on the subject, because it helped me feel it (firsthand) rather than know it.
    Diana xo

    1. I would be shaken as well by such a plot twist, Diana. I haven’t seen “A Beautiful Mind.” It does sound like a good one.

      Another movie that threw me for a loop was “Shutter Island” – based on Dennis Lehane’s book. While I had some things figured out, it still threw me a curve at the end. 😉

  9. Judy, could we possibly have the reincarnation of the same students?
    I taught for 30 years and during that time also taught the very same story. In 1993 I had a young man transferred into my English class, mainstreamed from a special ed class. He was very quiet, listening intently, enjoying others’ insights. But he was the only one who “got” the ghost early–very early–and this is what he did. He wrote his insight on a piece of paper, folded it and gave it to me to hold. He didn’t want to ruin it for the others. At the end of the story I read aloud his paper: it was touching, poignant and rich with feeling. At first the other students were stunned; then they broke into applause.
    It was a 5-star day, and I think of it with awe even now.

    1. Wow! Marilyn, that was an awesome day. I especially like that he was considerate and didn’t want to ruin it for the other students. Then, the others breaking into applause … I can see why that kind of day would stick with you.

      I really love this story. This was the first year I read it as our school district switched textbook companies. So, sometimes, I’m discovering things along with the students. 😉

  10. Hey Judy I am one of those people who see the ending coming so I get very excited if I cannot pick it. I think Sixth Sense pulled the wool over my eyes too, but not many do. At the moment I am doing an editing course and the lesson is what are you promising to your reader with your object and character placements on each page. I find myself noticing the subtle placements in movies and books…… setting up something for later in the story. Thanks for another great posts.

    1. Last week, for the first time, I noticed director Francis Ford Coppala’s subtle placement of an object in “The Godfather” – Only because the person who posted the video pointed it out. When James Caan (as Sonny) receives a package of fish, he asks Abe Vigoda (as Tessio) ‘what is this?’ Vigoda says “It’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”

      As he says this, the scene flips back to an earlier moment when men are going into a bar where Brasi is. The object? On the window of the bar is an etching of a fish. Now that’s subtle.

      Thank you for your comments. Have fun with your course. It sounds like fun. 😉

  11. I enjoyed “Sixth Sense”. You may enjoy poetry blog sixthsymph . Mila is a blog buddy. She’s Russian but lives in Nepal to do mountain climbing. Two years ago she did Everest. Her poetry is really superior stuff in my opinion.

  12. It seems some of your students are very sharp!! 😉 Fascinating story Judy, and not one I’ve heard before. Perhaps a few ghosts are needed to make us believe we are more capable than we believe we are. 😀 It would be nice to believe that was possible, maybe an ancestor coming back to visit just to help us along in a tough moment. My brain is a bit too logical these days to believe in ghosts, but I’m open to seeing something new, if it ever occurred!

    There have been times when I’ve worked out where a story is going, and other times when I haven’t. I wonder if it can have a lot to do with how you enjoy a book or film. Some probably read not only to read the story but to thoroughly enjoy the puzzle along the way (if there is one). And maybe others just relax more and let the story unfold. When I was younger I remember always trying to work out where a story was going, but today I just relax more and let it unfold.

    Have you ever seen the film ‘The Others’ with Nicole Kidman? I didn’t get to see it until it was shown on television. I thought it was thoroughly entertaining, and has a very unexpected outcome as to why anything is happening in the movie. I won’t even hint as to what it is just in case you haven’t seen it, it would totally ruin the story. Here’s a You Tube trailer if you haven’t seen it. It looks very scary in that trailer, but it’s not a terrifying movie at all, much more of a mystery than a horror.

    I love the Pink Panther animation and music, haven’t seen Mr Pink for years!! 😀

    1. I’d be all for a good guy/gal ghost rooting for me to have my reach exceed my grasp. Cheering me on. Yes, some of my students are very sharp. I think that sparks others to do their best, too.

      There are a few authors that I’m trying to figure out the story before they reveal it. To me, that’s part of the fun in reading mysteries. I might tend to be more relaxed watching a movie and go along for the ride.

      I haven’t seen “The Others.” I’m more interested in seeing it now that you say it’s a mystery rather than a horror story. I really go to very few of those.

      The Pink Panther appeals to my mischievous self. 😉

      1. I don’t really like horror at all, so if this had been, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. It’s definitely a guessing game from start to finish. Had me and my brother laughing at the end of how many of those obvious clues we’d missed. It’s one of those brilliant films you can only really watch one time, because once you know – you know! 🙂

  13. So interesting! Reminds me of the O’Henry short stories full of twists and irony. Your student who caught all the clues should be a writer! 🙂

    1. O’Henry’s short stories are fun. One of my favorites is “The Ransom of Red Chief.” My student could be a writer, a detective or a – as Marian Beaman suggested – a secret agent. 😉

      1. I even missed that it was a short story. I’m hopeless.

        comment from earthrider to Main Street Musings:
        Thank you, Lisa. I feel less alone after your comment. I’m guilty of this too often. 😉

  14. I mus have a learning disability; I’ve noticed that when anyone asks me what is the best… or the worst… or the most embarrassing experience… my mind goes blank. I’m no good at summing things up or categorizing them.

    Can you help me, teacher?

    1. I suspect, Ronnie, that this is ‘task avoidance.’ But, much as you try, you still have to do the homework. Sorry, tough love.

      Myself, I dodge the bullet so that I don’t have to reveal any of that stuff. 😉

  15. I did not see where to comment on New Orleans post. I was there with my English teacher girlfriend in 1985.She went to UNO college. Loved browsing the used books stores, hit every single bar and smoked some super pot, liked Court of 3 Sisters best and poboy subs too. Oysters so sweet and fresh. Loved the hub bud at St Charles. Rode on street car DESIRE and yelled Stella in front of that Brando site.

    1. Carl … If you want to add this comment to New Orleans, please do. Thank you, again, for alerting me to the ‘no comment’ box on that story. New Orleans is definitely a fun place. I went there the first time to cover the Republican Presidential Convention for WHEN-AM radio. The next time I went with my husband and we had a ball.

  16. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t picked up what I did in a book or a movie, Judy. I think it’s the curious reporter in me all these years. Thankfully, not always! I still like the surprises, too, my friend.

    1. I do try to figure out the ending and hope that I do before the author reveals it. But, I am absolutely appalled at people who read the last pages first. I’d rather be surprised, too. 😉

  17. Ghost stories– ya can’t beat ’em, especially when you’re all snuggled up by a cozy fire, in a double-padlocked room, surrounded by garlic, holy water, and a case of specter-repellent in the big 16-oz. can size… : )

    I’m always surprised, and feel quite chagrined when everybody else tells me: I saw that coming… Agatha Christie always stumped me, and I’ve read all her novels. The biggest surprise was finding out whodunnit at the end of And Then There Were None (also known as Ten Little Indians). No, no, I can say no more… : )

    Delightful post, my dear Judy!

    1. Well played, Mark. I read Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” as a teen, and again this past summer. Yeah! I missed the clues – TWICE!

      I think you might have the security issues covered. The garlic and holy water alone would turn off most died-in-the-wool ghosts. Happy Halloween to you and yours. 😉

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