The Halloween Project 2023 - Story 5: Lottery Fever
The scratch-off lottery ticket burned in her hand. Marina stared at the cardboard rectangle as if it might speak to her. She felt like it actually could. She rubbed the scraped-off face of the ticket with her thumb removing the lingering edges of each letter. It was a simple five-dollar Cashword, a type of crossword bingo. You expose “your” letters and then scrape them off the puzzle above. She often thought she was becoming a senior citizen, playing these stupid lotteries. Mostly, they were “Not a winner”. But she won occasionally, any time you uncovered three words you win $5. More words, more wins. $10 here, $25 there, and once $100! A great day. A great play.
She just enjoyed the relaxing scratching of each letter. Almost a meditation. Scratch a box, release a letter, then scan the ticket and scratch accordingly. It was a mantra. With possible money.
But this was different.
She studied it twice, muttering. Her last letter exposed was an “E”. She needed a busload of “E’s” on this particular card and as she began to free up the “E’s” she noticed that she had one word complete, then another, two more and on and on. And there they were. Marina studied the card. She placed it face down on the kitchen counter and took a deep breath while looking out the window. Then she turned it over again. Nine words, open-faced, stared back at her. Nine. Words like “GREET” and “WHILE”, “EAGER” and “SKI” which seemed to always come up, and even “EDUCATION”. Imagine that, she thought. And then said aloud, “Nine.”
$5000 dollars, she said, then she screamed over and over “$5000! $5000! $5000!!”
Not long after her life went to hell.
The money went as all money does, quickly. A needed dishwasher, car repairs, some dinners out with friends, compliments of Marina, a few nicer outfits, a long weekend in Boston. It was all a little bit of wonderful, until she bought a few more Cashword scratch-offs.
The first one was definitely not a winner. The only word she uncovered was “WATCHING.” The next scratch off read “ALWAYS” and “NEAR”. She waited a few days and then bought three tickets. The two words that came up were: “SCARED” and “NOW”. Strange, but not impossible. Then came “YOU” and “SCREAM”. “WTF!” Marina said aloud. And finally, “PARKER” and “STREET”.
That was Marina’s street, 417 Parker.
“No way. No fucking way,“ Marina said, “This is not possible. Am I dreaming, what the hell is going on here?”
She went to the desk drawer in her small second bedroom that served as an office. Scrambling through the drawer, she located her earlier scratch-offs. Her hands shook and several dropped to the floor. All face up, screaming their scratched-off words to her downturned eyes. She gathered them quickly, grabbed her coat off the hook against the cool October night and fled to her car. In five minutes she was at the 24-hour convenience store where she always bought her Cashword.
“Sir, sir,” she began, then a bit louder, “Sir!” A man, perhaps the owner, in his fifties looked at Marina intently, smiled and replied, “Yes miss?”
“Sir, these lottery tickets. This kind. The Cashword? The five dollar Cashwords?” She gestured the cards toward him as if offering a prayer card.
“There’s something wrong with them! They’re um…um…” Marina faltered. She grasped for words, “They’re…defective! Yes! There’s something wrong with them!”
“Did you put them through the scanner? To see if they’re winners?” He asked, his tone slower, more measured.
“NO!” Marina gained strength, “They are not winners! The words on the cards. The words…” she slipped quieter.
“Yes, of course they have words. That is the Cashword game. It’s basically Bingo,” he tried to calm her as another patron entered.
“No, sir, please listen. These words say things. They are addressed to me. They are threatening me! Please! Help me here. Help me?!” Her hand still extended forward, tickets facing upward. The man looked down.
“You can call the state Lottery department. You can register a complaint,” the man offered.
“Please! Please! Can’t you help me. Just look at the tickets.”
Her fingers opened and the lottery tickets fell to the countertop. The man looked down and then scooped them quickly. He first ran three through the scanner, all returning: “not a winner.”
Turning back to Marina he said, “Show me.”
“O.K., good and thank you, thank you so much. See the one on top, the one with the red border? Please take a careful look.”
He lifted the ticket and scanned it slowly and carefully. Then he turned to Marina, “And?”
“See where the words say “YOU” and “SCREAM”? See them?"
He returned to the card, then looked directly at her, “It says “YEW” and “SCREEN”.
Marina stopped, the air left her lungs like a slamming door. She looked at the man and then at the wall behind him. Cigarettes, and more cigarettes, then the forever unfurling rolls of various
She looked down, then at the man, and reached for another ticket. She glanced at it, “What does this say? These two words? “SCARED” and “NOW”?
“No,” he replied flatly, “I am sorry, no. Those words are “SACRED” and “COW”.
She looked at the cards. She focused hard on the white vertical and horizontal lines that
made up the Cashword. And there they were. “YOU” and “SCREAM”.
“And these two?” Pointing at “PARKER” and “STREET.”
“MARKER” and “SWEETS.”
Marina staggered and righted herself again the far shelf, knocking over an assortment of
potato chips and various snacks.
“Miss,” the man called, “Are you alright? Can I call someone?”
Marina looked around the store still trying to make sense. She walked to the counter
and extended her hand. The owner promptly turned over the lottery tickets and watched her
Pulling into her driveway, she grabbed the tickets and clenched them as if to squeeze
their power or meaning from their nasty, lying words. “This isn’t happening. I am not seeing
things. These words are real.”
She unlocked the front door and went inside. As she shut the door behind her she stepped on something unfamiliar, not the rug. She looked down and in the foyer light it was an an envelope; white, simple, rectangular, unadorned. Marina lifted it to see that it was completely
unmarked, no address, no stamp.
For just the slightest moment, less than a blink or a whisper, she hesitated, then dropping her tightly held tickets to the floor she grasped the envelope with both hands. “You bastard!” She spit.
Tearing the envelope on one end she knew before seeing, before feeling, before intuition; exactly what was inside. A lottery ticket slipped into her hand. She turned it face up and lost another moment trying to understand what she was seeing. It was completed scratched off, jagged streaks like the markings of a broken coin. Three letter words everywhere: horizontal, vertical, connected. Over and over again, the same word repeated. Over and over again.
Then she noticed the running steps coming toward her from the back of the house.