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Jack walked up to the cash register, sliding a sixer of PBR across the counter while simultaneously removing his wallet from the back pocket of his Wrangler jeans. He would pay for the beers with his credit card, but he needed cash for the lottery tickets—the Kentucky lottery hadn’t yet learned how to accept card payment, apparently.

“How ya’ doin’ today, buddy?” said the tall, bristly bearded sales clerk. They recognized each other—Jack was in the liquor store damn near every day—but they weren’t on a first name basis, so the salesclerk always called him buddy. Jack fucking hated being called that shit. 

“Fifteen bucks on the one-dollar Holiday Lights tickets, and the rest on whatever that five-spot ticket is over there in the bottom left corner.”

“Oh, that one,” said the salesclerk, “We just got that one today. I don’t know much about it.”

“Hell yeah; sounds good,” responded Jack.

Opening the door and getting back into his car—a squeaky old, 2006 maroon Toyota Scion—Jack twisted away from its plastic, dolphin-killing encasement of a can of PBR and shoved it into his Kentucky Wildcats koozie. He twisted the key into the ignition and the withering vehicle sputtered and shook as it labored to start. It did start, eventually—it was a reliable old thing—but the loose, wobbly belts began squeaking and wailing, as usual. The car worked, but it always bitched about having to work, too. Jack respected that. He knew his small car hated the winter—he’d had it way too long to be unaware of that. 

He slid in the snow out of the liquor store parking lot and sped, swerving momentarily in the collected slush, southbound down Dixie Highway. He didn’t scratch off any of his tickets—not yet—he would wait until he got to the track to do that. 

*  *  *

Jack pulled into the shopping center parking lot, through the Target, where Christmas shoppers looked around cautiously before guiding their families to their pre-heated, idling vehicles. 

“Florence is a goddamn shitshow,” said Jack to no one, “A fucking disgrace of an excuse for a city.” 

He wasn’t wrong. There was good reason for mothers and fathers to be cautious guiding their children around the commercial hell known as Florence, KY. Anyone, in any place, is liable at any given moment to be struck by a pissed off driver. And a driver who has good reason to be pissed off, at that—due to the frustrating nature that is the Florence infrastructure. Anti-capitalists would do well to hold their conventions in Florence. They would simply need to point out the window of their conference building and it would immediately convince the masses.

Jack hated the damn place, but there was one locus of solitude—one place to escape the bullshit and feel like a real person—the track: Turfway Park. 

Kentucky is known for its horse racing. There’s Churchill Downs in Louisville, where they have the Derby. Keeneland in Lexington, the alleged fancy-schmanciest track in the world. And then there’s Turfway in Florence, near Cincinnati, where the dudes in blue jeans—the sad-eyed dudes wielding a pile of scratch offs and a sixer of PBR—go to sit in peace for an evening. Jack didn’t give a shit about Churchill or Keeneland; Jack liked Turfway best.

Jack despised Florence itself, though. Turfway was an oasis amidst an otherwise dystopian, commercialized wasteland. 

He pulled into his normal parking spot, yanked upward the clicking emergency brake—a force of habit—and stepped out into the flurrying snow. The sprawling lot was mostly vacant, as usual. Turfway rarely got busy, but they needed the huge lot for the seldom big events they did have, such as the Jeff Ruby ‘Steaks’. 

“What a stupid fucking name for a race,” Jack said to the darkening, cloudy evening sky. 

Jack walked up the frustratingly lengthy concrete staircase into the main building, where he took a seat at his usual table and set his sixer down atop it. Patrons of the track weren’t supposed to bring their own booze, they were supposed to buy it from the bar, but Jack never did that. He had yet to have any real trouble—they knew him there; they didn’t want to lose his very regular business. Jack grabbed the ashtray at the edge of the table and sparked alight an L&M Red. He kept telling himself he was going to quit smoking, but he never really had any such plan of doing so—the lie simply created the self-accepted illusion that he was making progress; that he was taking control of his health. 

Jack wanted to feel like he was in control of his health, he just didn’t want to actually be healthy. 

Cracking open his second beer—he had slammed the first in frustration at Florence traffic on the way over from the liquor store—Jack pulled the folded stack of scratch-offs from his jeans pocket. He took a drag from his cigarette and exhaled, the smoke blowing over the balcony railing of the open-air bar area and out onto the oval-shaped polytrack. The first race didn't start for another half-hour—Jack had plenty of time to see what he had won from the scratch-offs. 

The Holiday Lights tickets didn’t produce anything exciting; he only won five bucks back on the fifteen he had spent. 

“Fuck,” he said, aggressively ashing his cigarette into the tray, to no one. A father at a neighboring table, who had brought his young son to Turfway not for gambling purposes, simply to watch the races, gave a concerned, almost fearful look at Jack. Jack glared back at him before grabbing another cig from the pack and lighting it. 

“Fucker shouldn’t bring his kids to Turfway if he doesn’t want their precious little ears to hear anything bad,” he thought to himself as he lit the cigarette.

Looking back into his pack, he noticed he had accidentally grabbed his ‘lucky’ cigarette, an old Camel Light he had kept for years, placing it upside down into every new pack he bought—with the tobacco, not the filter, facing upward—in the hopes of smoking it when he won the jackpot he knew he was eventually due. 

“God dammit,” he said loudly. The father, again looking at him, decided to move away to a more distant table. 

The damage was done; Jack knew that. He couldn’t put the cig out; that ruined the whole point of having a lucky cig. He may as well smoke it. 

He choked it down; it tasted like shit. Jack didn’t even like Camel Lights anymore, and he especially didn’t like stale ass Camel Lights that were several years old. He chiefed it entirely, nonetheless—he owed that to his lucky cig. Ashing it, twisting it around into the dust of the plastic tray, he then pulled the last scratch off the ticket from his pocket. 

“The fuck is this thing, anyway?” he said aloud. He had never heard of this kind of scratch off—he had never seen anything like it. It was colored a dark green and featured an image of a scrawny purple goblin under an arching, cobblestone bridge, clutching lustfully around the bulbous circumference of a glittering pot of gold.

“Ain’t it supposed to be trolls under bridges?” he thought, “These fuckers don’t even got their fantasy creatures right.” 

He began scratching away nonetheless. Jack hadn’t remembered to bring his lucky quarter—he had left in the car—so he had been using his thumb to scratch away the dust. He hated doing that; it made him feel like such an asshole—like a true gambling addict—but it was at that moment his only option. 

His excitement grew as each new symbol was uncovered. If he managed to get three arrows—the icons of which were dripping red with some sort of venom—he would be the big winner.

“One arrow...” he said, “Two arrows… Well goddamn—holy shit!”

Holding the ticket at a distance so he could see it more clearly—Jack was a bit farsighted—he recognized it was correct.

“I’m the big winner!” He shouted, “The big fuckin’ kahuna!” Jack shook the ticket in the wind like a polaroid picture, slinging the scratched dust into the air. Some of it would probably fall onto the polytrack below, which Jack thought was about the same shit as it was made of, anyway. 

“Ten fuckin’ grand, goddammit!” he belted triumphantly.

Jack yanked another beer from his sixer—a celebratory beverage—and hit the road; he wouldn’t wait to see the races, not tonight; he had to get this son-of-a-bitch cashed out ASAP

*  *  *

“Peep this shit,” Jack said aggressively to the salesclerk back at the liquor store. He said it in a way one might smack-talk a buddy, as if he and the salesclerk were now old friends. The clerk, also farsighted, put on his glasses hanging around his neck and held the ticket skyward to see it more clearly. 

“Hell,” he said, “Ten grand, eh? Looks like those new tickets paid off for you, literally!” The salesclerk then began chuckling, as if he had made a super original, witty joke. 

God damn right!” said Jack, “Now go ahead and cash this fucker out, good sir!”

“Surely you know we can’t do that here,” said the salesclerk. Payout is way too big; you’ll have to take it over to the Kentucky Lottery Headquarters for that. You’ll have to wait until Monday morning, though, obviously. 

Dejected, Jack again looked down at his winning ticket. “There’s got to be another place to take it,” he said.

“Not usually,” said the salesclerk. “You can check the back of the ticket, occasionally you can find some information there.”

Without waiting, Jack flipped the ticket and squinting, scanning the small text on the backside.

For big winners, bring to 36 Warsaw Avenue, Dry Ridge, KY 41035.

“Dry Ridge?” shrieked Jack in vexation, “Why the hell are they paying out big tickets in that bumfuck blip on the interstate?”

“Dry Ridge? Really?” said the salesclerk, “Yeah, that’s an odd one. At least you don’t have to take it all the way to the lottery HQ though—that’s all the way over in Louisville.”

“True,” said Jack reluctantly. He then turned to leave the store. The bell over the door dinged as he walked back out into the snow. The fading voice of Jim Morrison echoed from the store radio into the night as People Are Strange played. 

*  *  *

Getting back into his Scion and twisting the key, Jack first cranked up the heat and then again looked at the back of the ticket. 

“Ain’t not posted hours of operation,” he said aloud, thumping his fist against the steering wheel in anger.  “Hell with it; I’m driving down there tonight.”

Jack knew they would probably be closed—it was already getting late into Friday evening—and he had already subconsciously planned on getting aggressively pissed off when he yanked at the locked door of the place. He couldn’t help it, though—he was too anxious to get his cash-money; he couldn’t wait. He wouldn’t be able to sleep, anyway; there was no use in trying.

Soft, drizzling sleet continuously spritzed the windshield as he trudged down Dixie Highway before making the connection onto I-75 South. Jack’s windshield wipers weren’t worth a single shit; they smudged the windshield, making visibility low even in light precipitation such as this. It would only take about twenty minutes to cruise down the road to Dry Ridge, though, and Jack didn’t mind a good night drive. He still had a couple beers in the sixer to keep him company, anyway. He flipped through the radio stations until he settled on the alternative-rock station. Morrissey’s sarcastic, demonic voice filled the car, spraying out with the heat as Jack turned up the volume to max. He loved The Smiths, and he especially loved Bigmouth Strikes Again. 

“Demons, singing about Joan of Arc,” he said, zoning out and briefly losing control of his small car as it hydroplaned across a thankfully unoccupied lane of the interstate. 

“Shit… Fuck!” he said, becoming suddenly overwhelmed with anxiety. It was as if he for a moment lost touch with reality. Life was so fragile; anyone could die at any old time.

“Shit… goddamn…” he whispered conclusively to himself as a frantic spittle covered the unkempt shadow of his bristly face. 

Jack eventually saw the Dry Ridge sign, which invited drivers to stop off the interstate at Cracker Barrel, or Skyline Chili, or one of several gas stations. The sign read “Dry Ridge Towne Center” and featured an image of several pointed red mountains.

“Ain’t no fuckin’ mountains in Dry Ridge,” said Jack, having noticed the sign for the first time in his life, “The hell was they thinkin’?” 

Now that he was in town, he typed the address from the back of the ticket into Google Maps. The place wasn’t very far off—Dry Ridge isn’t a big town at all, so it’s not like it would be difficult to find—it was just around the corner, sitting somehow hidden underneath a small interstate bridge which travelled over a narrow road. 

It was a small, shack-like house, painted white, though the old paint was cracked, revealing in many places water-damaged wood. A sign in front of the house read simply “Lottery Payouts”.

“The hell is this place?” said Jack, pulling into a gravel parking spot at the edge of the road. Interstate traffic roared by on the highway above him. He got out of his car. Horizontally flying rain, blown chaotically by the driving wind, buffeted his face.

Grabbing the black-painted metal railing lining the stone steps, Jack walked the upward-slanting path leading to the front-door. 

“Lights are on,” he said to himself, “Place must be open.” He knocked on the soft wooden door with three authoritative thumps.

Yeeeeesssssssss?” came an elated, slithering cry from within. “Who isssssss it?” the voice continued. 

“The fuck?” said Jack. Despite his fearful confusion, he waited for the door to open.

The door creaked ajar, though didn’t open fully. No one was there.

“The fuck?” said Jack again, as if repeating this phrase may yet clear up the confusion.

“Come insssssside!” said the voice, “Pleasssssse! Come in!”

Jack pushed inside. He was going to get his ten-grand, one way or another.

“Look,” he began, “I’m just here to collect my payout. I scratched a winner earlier—a big winner—and I need the money.”

“Oh, yessssss!” said the voice, “Yesssss, of course! Pleasssssse, come into the living room.”

Jack walked into the living room, his worn, holey loafers sopping wet from walking in the icy slush. He left tracks across the hardwood floor of the foyer. “Sorry about that,” he said, “My shoes ain’t worth a single shit; not no more. I reckon I might get a new pair once I collect this payout.”

“No worriesssss! No worriesss at all; it’s jussssst a floor!”

Jack stepped into the living room and saw sitting at an old rocking chair an elderly man. He was rocking back and forth, the sound of which was similar to that of the creaky front door opening. He was wearing khakis, a white button-up shirt, and loosely hanging suspenders. He sipped a cup of steaming tea and then set it down at the side-table next to his chair. In the corner crackled a fire—the only light in the room. Shadows from the rocking chair moved to-and-fro across the walls of the room like darting, invisible giants. 

“Cup of tea?” said the old man, smiling wide-eyed and toothy, “You look wet and cold; you could ussssse a cup of tea.”

“I’m good,” said Jack, “I’ve got a beverage back in the car; just need that payout.”

“Right!” said the old man, “Right you are!” He then lifted himself from the rocking chair and, grabbing his twisted cane—which looked as if cut from the slithering, rotting limbs of a tree branch growing along a chaotic riverbank—and checked Jack’s winning ticket. After confirming it as a winner, he then limped from the living area into an adjacent room. 

“Be right back!” he said. Several minutes later a drawstring pouch was tossed with a clattering thud from the other room into the living room. Jack looked down at it, his confusion furthering.

“The hell is this, man?” he said.

“Your prizzze!” said the old man, still not yet back in the room, “Check it out. It’s all there; I promise you that!"

Jack stepped timidly over to the bag and lifting it from the ground ripped open the drawstring. 

"Huh?” he said.

That’sssssss gold!” said the old man from the other room, “Gold! Much more reliable than simple cash.”

“Shit, I’d prefer simple cash,” said Jack, “I don’t even know where I’d get this exchanged.”

“Exchanged? Don’t do that! Keep it! Bury it; it’s gold—you never get rid of gold. Unless someone wins it fair and square, that is—such as you’ve done with your winning ticket.”

“Can I just have the damn cash?”

“No!” came a gargling, aggressive reply as the old man stepped back into the room. He had changed clothes. He was now wearing some sort of green goblin costume. Pointed ears poked upward from the costume’s hood, and a long, stuffed tail hung dangling at its back.

“The fuck are you doing, man?” said Jack.

HAHAHAHAHA!” the old man cackled uncontrollably before hacking a gelatin ball of phlegm onto the floor. His tongue hung out from his mouth, and Jack noticed it was strangely long, purple, and forked like that of a lizard or snake.

“The fuck?” said Jack, backing toward the front door in startled horror.

“You aren’t going anywhere!” said the old man, removing a miniature bow from behind his back. He then opened a drawer at a nearby table and removed three small, needle-thin arrows. Then, looking at Jack, he grinned nefariously. 

“I coat these precious points with my homemade poison,” he said, again hacking as more phlegm struggled to eject itself from his mouth. It came out his nose instead—putrid, milky snot now covering his face. The old man didn’t even seem to notice.

Jack turned and bolted toward the door, but he was too slow. The old man, yanking back the bowstring with startling rapidity, shot him three times in the back. Jack fell with a hard thud to the floor but continued crawling toward the front door. 

“You won’t make it,” said the old man, “The poison is too fast-acting.”

The old man was right. Reaching for the doorknob, drowsiness overcame Jack. He fell to the floor and passed out.

*  *  *

The old man dragged Jack by the legs from the foyer to the edge of the basement steps. Jack was heavy—the old man heaved, complaining as he unconsciously sprayed spittle across Jack’s back—but he finally managed to get him to the edge of the doorway. Without waiting any longer, he shoved Jack down the stairway. Jack’s body flailed around limply as his elbows, knees, and face struck each step on the descent. Several bones were broken, the old man was certain, but that didn’t matter much. A little internal bleeding added to the taste of the soup, he thought—it made the broth more flavorful. 

His cauldron already filled, the old man turned on the gas and began seasoning the pot, throwing in some salt, pepper, paprika, and several bay leaves. Fragrant smoke soon wafted up from the large pot and through the vent leading outside. 

The old man smiled, looking at a nearby table of unscratched lottery tickets. “I guess I’ll need to take those over to the liquor story tomorrow,” he thought, “They may be running low over there.”



Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Previously, he taught for four years in a combination of rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. He was most recently accepted for publication at Allegory Magazine, The Horror Tree, JAKE magazine, The Night Shift podcast, Libretto publications, White Cat Publications, Culture Cult, Savage Planet,, White-Enso, Tall Tale TV, The Corner Bar, A Thin Line of Anxiety, Schlock!, Black Petals, Inscape Literary Journal of Morehead State University, Yellow Mama, Apocalypse-Confidential, Mystery Tribune, Blood Moon Rising, and The Green Shoes Sanctuary. Jackpot is one of the stories he recently wrote. He lives in Kentucky with his wife, Mary, and his pet rabbit, Achilles. 


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