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“Roll up, roll up,” came the cry. “It’s a Lottery! Come and place your bets, it’s a Lottery!”

The barker’s cry was immediately answered by an excited hubbub of voices. Some echoed him, “It’s a Lottery, it’s a Lottery!” Others started talking straight away about odds and favourites.

The barker’s boys came out, four of them, and set up their desks to take the bets. They weren’t short of customers; they never were. A Lottery was the most exciting thing that ever happened in this town, and everybody wanted to be part of it.

Except me.

I had always hated the Lottery. There seemed something wrong about it, to me. Something disproportionate.

I mean, yes, they were all criminals, but you could get entered in the Lottery for as little as stealing a loaf of bread when your family were starving. You’d get people like that, desperate and scrawny, their ribs practically poking through their skin, against big brutes who’d probably murdered half a village somewhere. It wasn’t anywhere near fair.

But the Lottery was what it was, and I read the lists and joined the queue to place my bet alongside everyone else.

The barker’s boy smiled at me as I approached the head of the line.

“Your usual, is it?”

They all knew me. Even when we got a new barker family come through, one who’d never been here before, they knew me. I just nodded.

“Ten on the bread thief, then,” the barker boy said with a shake of his head. “You know you’re throwing your money away, right?”

I nodded. “I know. But I can think of worse places to throw it.”

Too little, too late, really, but that ten would buy five loaves of bread for the poor man’s family, would buy them a few more days before his son had to go out and steal food and risk winning a ticket for the lottery himself.

If only there was a way to feed them before then.

© Kari Fay

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