This is an old story.
By Ronald Cypress
Sarah Bryan was surprised when the man from the government arrived at her small apartment one day and informed her that she was the winner of the Special State Lottery. When she first opened the door and saw the man standing before her, dressed in a black suit, Sarah assumed that he was either a detective or a well-dressed sales person.
“Are you Mrs. Sarah Bryan?” the man asked her.
Sarah Bryan nodded. “I’m her.”
“Congratulations,” the man said. He smiled at her as he lifted up his hand to hand her a piece of paper. “You have won the Special State Lottery. May I come in and discuss the process with you?”
Sarah was shocked by the news. She had won the Special State Lottery. Like the millions of other people who lived in states with the special lottery, Sarah had assumed that winning it was something that could never happen to her. She had known about people who had won the lottery before; her own brother-in-law had fallen victim to the random selection.
“I can’t believe it,” Sarah told the man who had just given her the news. She assumed he was from the government and invited him to have a seat on the couch in the living room. “Is this real? How do I know this is real?”
Her guest smiled at her as he began to go through his pockets.
“It’s real ma’am,” he told her. “Misrepresentation of the Special State Lottery is a very serious offense.”
The guest set the paper he was holding down on Sarah’s coffee table. He took a pen out of his pocket and began to write on the paper.
“So.” Sarah was still standing up. She could feel herself starting to get jittery. The news was pretty big for her. It was something that was completely unexpected and unusual for her mundane life. “How does this all work? When does it happen?”
The man from the government looked up at her, and for the first time Sarah noticed the nametag he was wearing around his neck. There was a picture of him, and beside it was the name Stan. Sarah knew that her winning was certainly real once she saw the name. Her sister, Anna, had been visited by a man named Stan after the death of her husband. The Stan her sister described to her was elderly and looked nothing like the Stan that was sitting on her couch.
“I’m going to go over all the rules,” Stan said. He moved over towards the end of the couch. “Please, have a seat.”
Sarah slowly sat down on the couch. She was still surprised by the fact that she had won the Special State Lottery; however, the shock was starting to settle down, and Sarah was beginning to think about what she could do with the prize she had won.
“All right,” Stan said. “So I’m sure you’re aware of what the Special State Lottery is. I believe your name was chosen from a group of people who were entered into the pool by random selection. Or did you apply to be in the lottery?”
“I didn’t,” Sarah said, shaking her head. “I never really thought about doing so.”
“About ninety percent of the winners so far come from people who were just randomly selected to be in the pool. I will go ahead and ask you now, would you like to decline the prize from the Special State Lottery?”
Stan had a stern look on his face as he stared at Sarah.
“Decline it?” Sarah stopped to think about the prize.
“Yes, ma’am. We always allow our winners to decline their winnings. I would say that about ten to fifteen percent of winners have declined the prize. That number is starting to dwindle, though.”
Sarah tried to think about what she would actually do with the prize that was about to be given to her. Everyone knew what it was, and though she didn’t know much about it herself, many people were informed on how the whole process worked. Unless the prize was declined, someone always had to pay each time a person won the Special State Lottery. The final results could be so cruel, and that was what caused Sarah to question if she really wanted to accept the prize.
“I’ll take it,” Sarah said, assuming that she could always change her mind.
“Okay,” Stan said. The stern look left his face, and he smiled at her again. “You are always free to not go through with accepting your prize if you decide that you don’t really want to. About two to five percent of people do end up not going through with the prize.”
“Before we move on, I just need you to sign right here.”
Stan pointed to the paper that was sitting on Sarah’s coffee table. There was a red X and a line at the bottom of the page.
“Should I read over it first?” Sarah asked.
“You can. I’m going to give you the gist of all the important stuff that’s on there”
“Okay.” Sarah picked up the pen that Stan had placed on the coffee table and signed the paper.
Stan looked around the apartment. “This is a really nice little place you have here, Mrs. Bryan.”
After she was done signing the paper, Stan checked the signature before telling her more about the Special State Lottery.
“As you probably know, this has been around for twenty-five years. We’re closing in on our twenty-sixth year. Over those years, we’ve had nearly five thousand winners of the Special State Lottery. You are now part of that rare club.”
Sarah listened to Stan, feeling anxious as he went over some of the history of the Special State Lottery. She really just wanted him to talk about the prize, the rules pertaining to the prize and the expected final outcome. Stan went on about how the government came to form and allow the Special State Lottery. Sarah’s anxiety kept building up until he final began to talk about the prize.
“So as you know, Mrs. Bryan.” Stan said. “Because you have won our lottery you will be allowed to select one person for termination. I can sit here, a representative for the government, and promise that you will face no form of prosecution for the termination of the person you select. You will not be directly involved with the termination, and the person you choose and their loved ones will not be aware that they were chosen by you unless you choose to reveal your choice to them. It is not our policy to ever reveal our winners’ names. This is all confidential. It may not actually seem like it, but we do put in a really good effort to keep all of this private. I even chose this time and place because I knew you would be alone with no around to listen. If anyone finds out that you won our lottery, it will be because you have chosen to reveal it.”
Sarah began to look around her apartment, feeling slightly paranoid about what Stan from the government could have done in order to get information on her.
“Not everyone is eligible for the Special State Lottery.” Stan kept talking as Sarah looked at certain items around her apartment. “We do not allow convicted felons to participate. Even those with misdemeanors are starting to have a hard time getting into our lottery. Your record is completely clean, and that probably contributed to you winning. There are other things that will disqualify a person from being considered for the lottery, but obviously none of those applied to you. There are certain people who cannot be considered for the lottery, and there are certain people who cannot be considered for chosen termination. I’m sure those that can’t be chosen will be obvious. No high-ranking employees of the government. No currently enlisted military personnel. No congress members. All of law enforcement is off the table. We cannot terminate non-citizens. If the person is a prominent public figure, good or bad, we are very likely to decline that person.”
“I think I get it,” Sarah said. “I will have to chose a regular person and hope that they will qualify for termination.”
Stan smiled at her. “That is correct.”
Sarah continued to listen as Stan finished going over rest of the process. The last thing he discussed was the time limit.
“You have six months to chose someone,” he said. “Someone will be checking on you once a month until you choose. I don’t want you to feel rushed. You should really think about your choice. I’m going to leave a card with you, and there’s a number on that card that you can call whenever you do make or decision. Or you can just call if you have more questions. That’s not my direct line, so you won’t be speaking to me. In fact, this will be the last time we’ll talk or meet.”
Stan went into his the left pocket on his pants and pulled out a business card. He handed it to Sarah.
“Remember,” Stan said. “Take your time with the decision. Make sure that it’s the right one. I would say that about seventy percent of people who take our survey after the termination express regret over the person they chose.”
“Yes, we will ask you to take a very short survey after the termination. If no one is chosen in six months, we will give it to you then.”
It became clear that Sarah understood the whole Special State Lottery process, and Stan decided that it was time to move on. She walked him to the door and asked one more question before he left.
“Your name isn’t really Stan, is it?” Sarah stared at the nametag.
Stan smiled at her.
“My sister’s husband was killed by someone who won the lottery,” Sarah said. “A man named Stan visited her after he was killed to tell her that Carlos had been chosen and there was nothing that would be done about the murder. It was a different guy. I bet none of you are really named Stan, though.”
“Okay.” Stan kept smiling at her. “Time for me to be off. It was nice meeting with you, Mrs. Bryan. You have a very nice evening.”
Stan turned and began walking down the hallway. Sarah kept her eyes on him until he reached the end of the hall and turned right.
After the man from the government left, Sarah tried to eat dinner. She prepared a small meal and sat at her tiny dinner table to eat. The lottery was on her mind, and after a few bites of food Sarah realized that she wasn’t hungry. She got up from the table and began walking around her small apartment. Sarah went into her bedroom and paced around her bed, thinking about what she could do with her prize. She didn’t really want to terminate someone. Taking another person’s life was cruel, and it wasn’t in Sarah’s nature to be cruel.
Besides, she didn’t really have any enemies. There was no in her life that she couldn’t real stand or detested. It seemed like that would be the only reason to go through with selecting a person for termination. Sarah sat down and began to watch television. One of the shows that she watched daily was on. Sarah tried to enjoy it, but she the thought of the lottery kept bothering her. It was starting to seem more like a bother rather than something to rejoice about.
Sarah considered the possibility that having another person terminated wasn’t much of a prize. The main attraction seemed to be the fact that a Special State Lottery winner could have someone killed and never have to face punishment for the termination. Sarah remembered how she often heard people talking about how they hoped that they would one day win the Special State Lottery. Everyone always seemed to have a person in mind for the termination. Sarah knew that she once felt that way, but now that she had actually won the lottery she was no longer sure about those past thoughts. No matter what they had done, having someone terminated just seemed wrong.
A few weeks after receiving the news that she had won the Special State Lottery, a couple of Sarah’s coworkers began to discuss the lottery and what they would do if they ever won. One of the coworkers mentioned that she had a certain person from her past in mind if she ever got to terminate one person. The guy she was talking to admitted that he would probably select his ex-wife, a woman he claimed had cheated on him and took several things that were very valuable to him. Sarah sat at her desk and listened to the conversation. There was some suspicion that the coworkers knew about her winning the lottery. Sarah hadn’t told a single person, but she still worried about the news getting out.
The people discussing the Special State Lottery continued to talk about the people they would possibly kill and how they wouldn’t regret their decisions. It wasn’t until another coworker joined the conversation that the possibility of not wanting to take another person’s life came up. Sarah listened as the coworker talked about how they would never be able to go through with having someone terminated.
“I just couldn’t do it,” the coworker said. “I would just feel horrible actually selecting someone to be terminated. I knew someone who was killed by the lottery. A guy I used to work with was put to sleep by the government after someone chose him. His family doesn’t know for sure, but they think it was a neighbor of his, someone who had a problem with the guy because of where his car was parked at on the street.”
Sarah found that she was starting to lean towards not going through with actually choosing a person to be terminated. Not only did it seem somewhat horrible to her, but she also couldn’t think of a person that she really wanted to remove from the earth. The only person who came to mind was the ex-wife of her sister’s late husband, Carlos. Almost five years had passed since Anna’s husband had been taken from work and shot in the back of the head by the government.
“There’s nothing I can do about.” Anna had told Sarah. “They said that the murder was completely legal by federal and state standards. No one’s going to do anything.”
Shortly after Carlos was terminated, the sisters sat down and tried to think of who would want to kill Carlos. He was in his early forties and had worked as a bus driver for over a decade. No one seemed to have a problem with him, and the only suspect Anna could come up with was Carlos’s ex-wife.
“She’s the only person I can think of,” Anna said. “She’s the only one I know who would have a strong grudge against him.”
Months after Carlos’s death, Anna would call and tell Sarah that she had met with Carlos’s ex-wife.
“She seemed really heartbroken about his death,” Anna said. “She truly seemed sad that he was gone. I don’t really think it was her anymore. I’m not sure, but I have my doubts now.”
During the phone conversation, Anna also mentioned a strange encounter she had with a woman who showed up at her door one day.
“She gave me some flowers,” Anna said. “And she said something about being passenger on Carlos’s bus. She said she was really sorry about what happened to him. I guess she must have been a regular passenger on the bus. She didn’t say too much more, just that she was sorry and would pray for my family.”
Anna would continue to have her doubts about Carlos’s ex being responsible for his murder, but Sarah kept her as the number one suspect. Now that she had a chance to terminate someone she considered making Carlos’ ex her target. Sarah thought about going through with the selection, but she knew that the termination of Carlos’s ex-wife wouldn’t settle anything; it could even make Anna more upset.
Sarah would have to keep ruminating over whom she could choose.
Soon, a month went by and she received a visit from another man who worked for government. The first thing she noticed about the man was his attire. He dressed very much like the first man who had shown up to inform her that she had won the Special State Lottery. He was even wearing the same type of nametag, and on that nametag was the name Stanley. Sarah smiled when she saw the name.
This Stan was much younger than the first who visited her.
“It’s been one month, Mrs. Bryan,” Stanley said, sounding upbeat as he talked to her. “I’ve been assigned to just come here and check to see if you made a selection yet.”
“Okay. No one in mind? No one you’re seriously considering?”
“Okay. Are there any questions? Is there anything you’re possibly confused about?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Okay. Well, it’s only been month. There’s still plenty of time. We don’t want you to rush to a decision. Just take your time, and let us know when you decide. I’ll be back in a month to check again. Please don’t feel pressured. We all understand that these things can be very difficult.”
Stanley left her apartment, and once again Sarah was left to stress over what she could do with her lottery prize. Just before going to bed that night, Sarah sat at her kitchen table and tried to make a list of people she would consider for termination. Only two names were written down. There was:
That was the name of Carlos’s ex.
The other name was:
That was the name of her late husband’s supervisor. The man had completely lacked compassion when it came to her late husband’s terminal illness. The way he acted during Derek’s slow passing had only caused more stress on the couple. Sarah had never forgiven him for the way he had treated her husband as his health failed. The only thing that had mattered to Martin was work performance and profit. Sarah figured such a greedy and uncaring person belonged on a list to be terminated.
Sarah stared at the two names on the list. She was sure that Patricia had something to do with Carlos’s death, but she was one-hundred-percent certain. It would be a shame to have someone taken out because of an erroneous belief. Looking at Martin’s names, Sarah could still feel hostility over how he had acted. She still wasn’t sure that she would be satisfied or untroubled by having the man terminated.
The deadline for Sarah to choose whom she wanted to select for termination got closer and closer, time speeding up in her mind as she struggled to make a final selection. Around the third month she came close to telling Stanley that she would just go ahead and decline the opportunity to utilize the prize she had won. The two only talked briefly about that option, and in the end Stanley convinced her to keep thinking about the other possibilities.
“We all understand how you feel,” Stanley said. “You still have three more months. Please don’t feel rushed. Just take your time, really consider the people you may want to choose and make the right decision.
The fourth month came, and Sarah still didn’t have a person. She had made several lists; the longest one included almost twenty-five names. Sarah had decided to consider anyone who had ever crossed her or done her wrong. She had gone back as far as middle school, writing down the names of classmates who had bullied her. Having one of them terminated would be a way of retribution, and no one would ever know that she had been behind their deaths. Sarah considered the possibilities, but something kept holding her back from actually selecting a person and giving their name to the Special State Lottery.
“We get plenty of revenge kills,” Stanley told her during his fourth visit. “A lot of people do take this one-time opportunity to go ahead and kill someone who offended them in the past. You’ve mentioned you had a few lists. Maybe you could just narrow it down.”
Sarah shook her head. “I don’t think so. I just don’t feel like I could…”
She looked at Stanley’s smiling face. He was always smiling, and he made it seem so simple to just choose a person for termination. The choice wasn’t easy. All Sarah could think about was the regret she would feel after the termination was executed. She had doubts about actually selecting someone. It was very possible that she could choose the wrong person.
“This is the only chance we get, right?” Sarah asked Stanley before he left her apartment. “We can never get put in again?”
“That’s right. We only allow someone to win one time. Even if you decline, you won’t ever have this chance again.”
“If I choose, then I really have to get it right, don’t I?”
“Please, Mrs. Bryan, do not allow yourself to be stressed by this.”
Sarah couldn’t help but feel the pressure. She had become determined to make a selection and use her prize. The biggest thing she worried about was picking the right person. Sarah looked over her lists each day but was unable to pick a person with confidence; she couldn’t even decide which ones were her top picks. Patricia and Martin still looked like good candidates, but other names had made it onto her lists and they all seemed like they would be the right choices.
Sarah also considered that they could all be the wrong choices.
The fifth month arrived, and Stanley had his final talk with Sarah.
“We understand why you’re so hesitant,” he said. “I know how you feel. I’ve been working this job long enough. I just want to say that no one, none of us, will consider you to be a bad person after you make your selection. This is your prize. You’ve won it. Plenty of other people have gone through the same process, and most of them were good people. I know you’re worried about the termination, but tell yourself this…It is only one person. Just a single—probably insignificant person—who will be terminated. One person gone won’t devastate the world, and it’s very likely that very few people will even notice the person is gone. There’s not many days left. Please make your selection and let us know as soon as possible.”
Sarah thought about what Stanley said to her. She began to repeatedly remind herself that all she was doing was taking one live, a single life that would barely be missed. Sarah kept looking over her lists until a few weeks before the deadline. With two weeks left to decide, Sarah realized that she was making the process too difficult.
“Really, it’s simple,” Sarah told herself one night.
All she had to do was select one person she wanted terminated. A person suddenly cam to mind, and Sarah realized what she should have been focusing on months ago. She called the Special State Lottery the next day and informed them that she had made a decision. The person she spoke to on the phone informed her that Stanley would be by her apartment shortly with another paper for her to sign.
“I’m glad you’ve made a decision,” Stanley said as he took out the document that Sarah had to sign. “I understand you don’t know this guy’s name, but your description should be get us to the right person. We’ve already got someone investigating the situation right now. Once we have gone through with the termination, we’ll call and let you know.”
Stanley gave her the paper to sign. Sarah stared at it and considered if she was making the right choice. Someone was getting ready to lose their life because of her.
“This is it?” Sarah asked, staring down at the signature line.
“That’s right. I expect he’ll be gone it a few days.”
“He’s been so rude to me.” Sarah continued to stare down at the paper. “And he’s been rude to other customers. I really like the place. I get coffee from there almost every morning, and every time he’s behind the counter he seems to have a negative attitude. Maybe I should just call the manager. Maybe this doesn’t need to happen.”
Sarah looked up at Stanley. He remained silent and just smiled at her.
“But…” Sarah put the pen she was holding down onto the paper. “Maybe this is what does need to happen.”
Sarah signed her name.
The next morning, before Sarah left her apartment to go to work, she received a phone call from the Special State Lottery.
“Hello, Mrs. Bryan,” a man said. “I’m calling on behalf of the Special State Lottery department, and I am calling to let you know that the termination you selected has gone through.”
“Oh.” Sarah almost dropped the phone.
“If you have any inquiries about the termination, please feel free to call us. In seven to ten business days, you should receive a survey in the mail. We would greatly appreciate you feeling out this survey and mailing it to us. This survey will allow us to make better assessments and modifications for our program. On behalf of the Special State Lottery department, congratulations on your win and have a nice day.”
It was all over. Sarah felt relief and shame. There was nothing she could do to take back the choice she had made. Sarah left her apartment and headed towards the coffee shop she patronized. The boy she had selected wasn’t behind the counter; he would never be there again. Sarah waited behind three people in line and thought about what her choice really did for the world. It was just one less person around.
Sarah kept reflecting on what she had done. Her mind fixated on what she had chosen to happen.
Finally, a voice distracted her.
“Good morning, ma’am.” the girl behind the counter said. The girl was familiar to Sarah. She was one of the friendly people in the world. “What can I get for you this morning?”
Sarah looked up at the menu. With no one being rude or making her feel rushed, she felt free to take her time to order something that she hadn’t tried before. Sarah talked with the girl behind the cashier about the different drinks. There were so many different drinks to choose, and Sarah wanted to get it right. Whatever she chose, it would have to be a good selection.