The Blood Lottery

Yes, it’s been awhile. That’s okay. So, today I’ve got something from another one of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges. This time, he chose ten titles from the previous one and made us choose one to write the story to. The challenge can be found here. Clearly, I chose The Blood Lottery. It’s a bit of a return to form for me as I’ve been rather uncreative as of late. Hopefully, it passes muster.

“Rejoice, for it is a glorious occasion!” shouted the tall man from the stage upon which he stood. “The Blood Lottery is upon us again!” He wore a wicked smile, as all Proprietors of the Blood Lottery do, jagged teeth exposed by a parting of thin lips, more wound than expression. He was different than the last Proprietor, since there have always been a different Proprietor for any two years, but he still wore that same, wicked, smile. He surveyed the crowd from his vantage point. The whole town had shown up. It was known that although being chosen in the Lottery was worse than death, not showing up for it was worse still. His smile grew wider, exposing more jagged teeth and his eyes gleamed in the dull morning light. He made a sweeping gesture over the crowd. “Welcome all, to the lottery! Today, one of your lives changes forever!”

A murmur worked through the crowd. It always did after the announcement. Nobody knew what happened to the “winner”, but there were rumors. Some said it was a way to keep everyone in line. That they were simply killed out of town. The lottery was rigged and if you said anything bad about the king or his nobles, you’d be next. Others said they were turned into Proprietors. They say they’ve recognized the people they used to be in past Proprietors. These are said in hushed tones and never for very long as it was a terrifying thought; a loved one being turned into a monstrous Proprietor. Still others said the Proprietors were telling the truth. That they lived a life of luxury in fabulous wealth. Some of the braver ones suggested the Kings nobles were made up of past winners. These people were dismissed as being clearly deranged.

The Proprietor stepped forward and with a great flourish pulled a glass vial out of his jacket. It held a clear liquid and was capped with a cork. He stuck the cork into his gaping wound of a smile and pulled it out with a pop that could be heard by even the farthest members of the crowd. He placed it in a wooden platform beside him. He took a step away from the platform and faced the audience. He bowed low with one arm hanging limp and the other straight and stiff out to his side. Up on the stage, it almost looked as if someone was about to be hanged. He looked up at the audience, smile still gaping, and there was a glint in his eye, hard as steel.

“May the Blood Lottery begin!” He shouted. A few in the front row jumped back. He stood up straight and slid over to the stairs. “Come one! Come all! Be part of the wondrous Blood Lottery!” With that, people began filing onto the stairs, slowly, as nobody was as excited as the Proprietor. He stopped them at the stairs. “One at a time, ladies and gents! We have enough for everyone!”

He escorted the first person up, a big, burly man, scars running up and down his arms. His beard was unkempt and he had a twitch in his eye that made him look perpetually angry. The kind of man who started fights in bars for the fun of it. He trudged up to the small, wooden platform as the Proprietor slid in front. The man held out his hand, steady. This wasn’t his first Lottery. The Proprietor, quick as a snake, withdrew a knife from an unseen holster and, in a single motion, sliced the man’s finger, almost too quick to see. The man bled a few drops into the vial, where they diffused into nothing.

The Proprietor’s smile fell a fraction of an inch. “Sorry, you’re not the winner.” He sounded genuinely sad. “Better luck next year.”

The man’s shoulder slumped. His relief could be felt through the whole crowd as he exited the stage. He hadn’t been picked.

On this went, one by one, the Proprietor escorted them on stage, and, one by one, he cut their fingers. He announced they weren’t the winner and they left the stage to join the others who had been spared. One by one, they felt the guilty relief that they weren’t chosen. And then one was.

A boy, thirteen, was escorted on stage. It was his first Lottery. The crowd held their breath as he held his shaking finger above the vial. The Proprietor sliced his finger and the boy stifled a scream. The first drop missed the vial and splattered onto the stage. The crowd gasped. What would happen to this poor soul? The Proprietor grabbed the boy’s hand, not hard, and held it steady. The next drop went in as silence permeated the air. For a moment, there was nothing. Then, when it looked as if he would be spared, the vial changed. The clear liquid inside turned black.

The Proprietor swept the vial out of its place, re-corked it and placed it gently in his pocket. He then took the boy’s hand again and raised it high. “We have a winner!” he announced to the stunned crowd. “Congratulations!” To the boy, he added. “Now, if you could grab your things, we’ll be going.”

***

Some time later, after the boy had gathered his things and said his goodbyes, he was bundled into the black carriage the Proprietors always traveled in. The Proprietor was already there with someone else, hidden in shadow.

“What are you going to do to me?” the boy asked after the door was closed.

The Proprietor smiled his, wicked, gaping wound of a smile. “That’s not for me to explain.”

The carriage began to move, shifting the shadow momentarily. For just a second, the other man was revealed. He looked familiar to the boy somehow. He caught a glint of gold atop his head before the shadows retook him.

“I think you’ll like it at the palace, my boy,” the stranger said.

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