Some of you may have read “The Lottery” at one point or another, whether it was of your own pleasure or rather a part of your schools curriculum. We don’t read The Lottery here in Edwardsville, we live it.
Maybe I could give you a bit of backstory, though I don’t know if you’d want to hear it. It’s hard to delve into all the details when you don’t fully understand the situation in which you’ve been casted. Soon enough, you and I both will find out together.
Once a year, on March 11th to be exact, our town hosts a sort of ‘game’. Eleven folks go into the game, and one will emerge. The one who makes it through the game, physically that is, will be guaranteed enough food and money to last a year or so. Physically they’ll be present, however most are stuck in a sort of comatose state afterward. Forever trapped in the memories of the horrors they had witnessed.
What could possibly be that horrific? I’m not so sure, but soon, soon, I will know. When the clock shows 10:00 P.M., when the last streetlight shuts off, and all the doors in town are locked up, leaving the unfortunate eleven to fend for themselves.
The younger participants were often the first to go, planting themselves at the door of their home, begging mom and dad to let them in. But mom and dad knew better. It was twenty-some years ago now, when Eddie Johnson opened the door for his boy who called out, pleaded, for him. Eddie and his boy were found the next morning, a heap of blood and guts where they had once stood.
Some tried to run, but that doesn’t work either. Lucy Anderson, the poor girl who was only sixteen at the time, ran for the town limits. She was so, so close. They found her body about a hundred feet short of the “Welcome to Edwardsville” sign. Unrecognizable.
Some tried to fight it, what a silly mistake. Not even the police were exempt from our towns little game. Sheriff Richards, the weathered, old man put up his best fight. The shots from his revolver echoed through the town, shaking the window panes in everyone’s house. He’d emptied all six shots into whatever it was he tried to kill. It didn’t work. Much like Eddie, his boy, and Lucy, he too went the way of the Good Lord.
As I said, no ones too sure what kills the people of Edwardsville, or why we participate in this ‘draft’ at all. The only person to even give so much as a hint, Joshua Raines, the oldest member of our town and one of the ‘fortunate’ few who lived to see the light of day, still struggled to speak of the events he had seen.
“Looked like one of us, til’ it didn’t.”, he’d told me and a few others at the bar one night. “It can be anyone and everything.” No one put much stock into what Ol’ Josh had to say anyways, he was shell shocked from the war before his name had been called for the lottery. That, and he was in his nineties at this point.
It’s the 11th today, of March, and I’m trying to enjoy what could be my last beer at Dustys Tap. My name had been called the previous night, drawn from the hat of Edwardsville mayor, who oddly never seemed to get picked himself. Oh well, that’s the least of my worries at this point.
There’s no feeling like it, hearing your name called for what might as well be guaranteed death. I remember how my mind had gone blank and my heart felt as though it dropped to the Earth, my breath torn away with it. “Evan Noss, you are lucky number 8”, the Mayor had said over the microphone. Lucky my ass.
I glanced out the window of the small, cozy establishment. The sun was almost entirely tucked behind the horizon, light giving way to the dark. The time for the game was nearly upon me.
“Hate to bother ya’ Ev but, uh…”, the bartender laid his hands on the table and leaned in close, “we’re gon’ have to kick you out here in about an hour.” I looked up at Mack, the owner of Dustys Tap, who had an unusually pained look on his face, his tired eyes filled with regret. I looked away from him and at the clock instead. Nine sharp.
“I understand, Mack. Fuckin’ sucks though.”, I replied, shrugging and bringing the bottle in for another swig.
Mack straightened up and folded his arms before clearing his throat, “Come in the back with me, will ya’?” he said, gesturing for me behind the bar.
I polished off the rest of my beer and stood up hesitantly, trying my best to remain sure footed. Maybe I’d had one too many. I shuffled over to Mack who then lead me to a door at the end of the bar, labeled ‘Employees Only’. The door creaked open to reveal the garage. A lone small, white car occupying the room.
“Here’s the deal, buddy.”, Mack said abruptly, “I’m gon’ leave the garage door open for ya, these are for you.”, he shoved a single, nondescript key into my hand and closed my fingers around it. I didn’t understand.
“What’s this all about?”, I said, genuinely confused.
Mack groaned and leaned up against the workbench which was cluttered with various tools and crumpled up paper. “You never was the sharpest tool in the shed, Ev.”, he said, fiddling with a pair of pliers he’d found, “when the bullshit starts, take that car and get the hell out of town. Don’t ever look back, you’ll get us both in trouble.”
I’m not usually one for affection, but being a man at the end of his rope coupled with the fact that I was more than a few beers down, I threw my arms around the portly bartender and squeezed him. “I appreciate it, Mack, I really do. If I make it out, I won’t never forget this.”
Darkness enveloped Edwardsville entirely, and like Johnny Cash once said, I got five more minutes to go. It was 9:55 now, and every house in town was almost assuredly locked up. Mack had escorted me out of the tap, and into the unknown which lurked outside. I’ll owe that man my life if this works.
I glanced around the main drag in town, all the businesses, the barber, the bars, and the autobody were locked up and lights out. Some of the windows were even boarded up. From the corner of my eyes I could make out the whispers of peoples shadows, the other folks who had been called to play the game. Their whimpers and cries fell on deaf ears, it’s every man for himself now. If I hadn’t gotten the car from Mack then I might have been pleading with them, who knows.
9:59, I began walking to the back of the bar. I wasn’t about to wait and see what was going to come after us. I crawled under the garage door, dipping, ducking, sliding and hiding behind anything that would conceal me on my short walk to the car.
It was evident that it had just turned ten, I didn’t need to look at my wristwatch. A screech, like a woman being violently murdered with an axe or something, echoed through the alleyways and into the garage, shaking me to my core. The night was off to an eventful start for somebody.
My hands trembled madly as I tried to shove the key into the doors lock, but finally I had managed to turn it and hear an audible click. Bingo. I flung the door open and threw myself inside, slamming it shut behind me. Even in the confines of the car, even after locking its doors, I couldn’t help but feel the sickening grasp of being watched begin to wash over me. Shit, shit, I don’t have time to waste.
I jammed the keys into the ignition and turned them over, the car sputtering on and on. When all hope seemed to be lost, when the feeling of complete dread began to seep in, the engine roared to life. The engine knocked violently and the headlights were dim even on the highest setting, but it was still my one way ticket to survival.
I pulled the stick down to reverse and threw my arm around the passenger seat, surveying my surroundings before backing out. My heart dropped, it dropped ten times fucking harder than the moment my name had been called for the game. A figure stood, no less than twenty feet away, at the entrance of the garage door which was now fully opened. It looked human, like you and I, but stood with far too much confidence to be one of the eleven who found themselves out here. I could feel its eyes burning into mine, I knew it was looking right at me.
It got down on all fours and… galloped away. With the grace of a dog, as though it was accustomed to traveling that way. As I watched it submerge into the shadows, conceal itself away, I can tell you with confidence that that creature was not one of us. It’s arms and legs were far longer than any person I know, stretching to seemingly impossible lengths. If that wasn’t a dead giveaway, then perhaps it was the second set of hands it had where it’s feet should’ve been.
I let the clutch free and hit the accelerator with everything I had. The car shuddered before jolting backward, leaving a whirlwind of dust in its path. I cranked the wheel, a flood of light illuminating the alleyway in which I found myself. The dust swirled and danced, little particles shuffling in and out of the shadows which crept up into the night sky.
I shoved the stick into gear and pounced on the accelerator once more, much to my cars dislike. It groaned and creaked but finally took off along the alleyway. If it wasn’t for the perpetual knock of the engine I’m sure I could hear the steady beat of my heart, which felt as though it could shoot from my chest at a moments notice.
The shadows also danced and swayed, housing dark, evil secrets too terrible for the human mind to comprehend. They seem to tell stories, stories of past games and the folks who had fallen victim to them.
I quickly found myself at the end of the alleyway and at the entrance of the road leading through the middle of town. It’s a straight shot from here. I let off the break and eased the car into second gear as I rounded the turn, glancing over to another alley across the street. I wish I hadn’t.
She had her hands up, she tried to fend for herself. Her back was pressed up against the house which sat at the corner of the street, the creature that I had seen earlier was looming over her, clutching part of her hair so aggressively that I swear I could see her scalp raising up off her skull. It dragged its face up and down her arms, around her shoulders and through her hair… it seemed to be sniffing her. Gauging her fear.
It raised a hand up, stiffening its arm. Then it plunged, driving its arm deep into her chest. The womans screams turned to moans, and then to silence. Her body relaxed, her fear and suffering was gone. For a moment I was envious. Then it pulled out her heart.
The creature yelped and screeched in, what I can best describe as, joy. It’s scream sounded eerily similar to the one I had heard when the game had begun. I wonder how many of the original eleven it had picked off by now. I wasn’t waiting here to join the club.
I gave that poor, old car everything she had. Drifting around corners and speeding down the straights, the ‘Welcome to Edwardsville’ sign was in my sights. So close. I peered into the rearview mirror, and it peered back at me. That thing, that creature, was following me closely. It galloped and hopped, it’s grotesque, long limbs pounding into the dirt which each step.
One mile, half a mile, a quarter mile, five hundred feet, and then one hundred feet. The engine knock seemed to pound with growing ferocity as I approached the town limits. Then, to my horror, it died. It rolled to a stop just a few steps short of the promised lands, I can still make it.
With a massive rush of adrenaline, I nearly tore the door handle off as I threw it open. I ran and ran, I’m not terribly fast but I’m sure I could’ve beat Usain Bolt in a race then and there.
I was so close. I was so, so god damn close. I could taste freedom, the fresh air on the other side. I stumbled, and then I face planted as it grabbed my ankle and yanked me backward.
Some tried to run, some tried to fight, and some tried to hide. But in the end, you cannot escape it.
Credit: SJ Yeltag
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