Timely Persuasion - Online Edition - Chapter 1



I was in a bit of a testy mood when I arrived at the bowling alley on league night for a variety of reasons, but mostly because the anniversary of my sister’s death was approaching.  Shortly after she passed I packed my life into my car and drove away from it all.  A distant voice told me it was time to go, so I did.  Made it clear across the country in four days.

    That was almost a year ago.  I hadn’t been back home since, but I did have a plane ticket that my parents bought me so I could attend the upcoming memorial mass.  At first I resisted.  I don’t fancy myself a religious sort and wanted to keep the memories cased away undisturbed.  Eventually I conceded to having a ticket sent to me, though I had yet to decide if I would use it.  For now I just wanted to drink, bowl, and forget about life for a while.

    None of the regulars had arrived yet.  I was here earlier than usual, a perk of my newly christened unemployed status.  Laid off from a mindless call center job a week earlier, the lack of work was actually a welcome change.  Severance pay and unemployment would keep me afloat while I plotted my next move.  What could it be?  Road trip?  Back to school?  Steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool?  The options, they were infinite.  It was essentially a paid vacation, albeit a semi-permanent one.  Thinking about it almost lightened my mood for a moment, until I saw that my spot at the bar was taken.

    An old man I had never seen before was sitting on my usual stool, tightly clutching his mug as he held it about an inch above the bar.  I gave him a dirty look for no good reason other than that and took an adjacent seat, making sure I was still in view of the Hot Spot lottery screen.  I knew that I was in no position to even consider playing the lottery since my disposable income had taken a hit, but I figured it was just funneling money right back into the system that was sponsoring me.  Was there really a better use for unemployment funds? 

    The cute French bartender started pouring my drink without asking.  I nodded a brief acknowledgement as I fished in my bowling bag for my lucky lottery form.  A beer was already in front of me by the time I found the orange Scantron paper.  I eagerly took a sip and watched the current drawing play out.

    Twelve.  Twenty-two.  Twenty-four.  Forty-seven.  Sixty-nine.  All five numbers shared the screen, making my mood just that much worse.  I looked at the filled out but not yet handed in betting slip in my hand, then back up to the numbers on the screen, then back down to the ticket.  They matched.  Every last number matched, beating the 1 in 1,551 odds.

    Every Tuesday for the last five months I played those same five numbers on five drawings at five dollars a game.  Throwing away twenty-five bucks a week for a chance at greatness, but I never got them all.  Often zero, occasionally three, rarely four, but never all five.  Why these numbers?  I’ve never really known for sure.  They just popped into my head.  This was the first time I had even seen all five of them on screen together.  But there they were, grinning down and mocking me.  And if this old fool hadn’t distracted me by sitting in my seat, I might have had time to get my ticket in for this draw. 

    There was still time to kill before it was time to bowl, but the thrill was gone.  Although I knew that any combination of numbers had the same odds of coming up in each and every drawing, I also knew that these five wouldn’t come up again anytime soon.  Some may call it the gambler’s fallacy, but the gambler was a pretty smart guy.  It was time to fold ‘em, time to walk away, and almost time to run.

    The way today was going the team would be better off taking my average minus ten, so I chugged down half of my beer in hopes of slipping away before my partner arrived.  Tilting my head to drink drew my gaze back towards the lottery screen, hoping to see different numbers but knowing better.  (Or knowing I wouldn’t see them but hoping better?)  Something in my head told me to look again, but something up there lied.  I crumpled the ticket and dropped it onto the bar.

    “Play ‘em,” a voice said.

    Out of the corner of my eye I saw the old man on my stool take a long sip of his drink.  I pretended not to hear him and did the same with my beer, keeping my gaze on the now inactive lottery screen while mimicking his action.

    “Your loss,” said the man.

    “Excuse me?” I’ve never been one for small talk, especially from a stranger butting in on a matter that didn’t concern him, even if the matter was something as trivial as a game of Hot Spot.

    “Your numbers.  This is your game.”

    “I think I’m done.  They’re not coming up twice.”  I paused before curtly adding “And how would you know what numbers I’d play?”

    The man took another long sip and smiled, keeping his glass in his hand the entire time.  “Twelve, twenty-two, twenty-four, forty-seven, sixty-nine.  They all come up this time.  When you’re feeling greedy you think about adding two, four, and seven.  Now would be a good time to follow through.  This time you got it.”

    He was right.  Those were my numbers.  And when I felt greedy I did always think about adding the related permutations of the same, and I always chickened out in the end.  But how could this man I’d never seen before know my lottery routine?  Maybe he saw me play the same ticket every week, but he couldn’t have guessed the extras.  A bit spooked, I tried to blow him off with a wiseguy retort.

    “If it’s such a sure thing, why don’t you play it?”

    “That’s not possible.  And it’s your lucky day, not mine.  My lucky day has come and gone.”

    “What do you mean it’s not possible?”

    “Too late now.  Here they come.”

    The man focused on the small screen.  I took another sip of my beer and also watched, trying for a look that was more casual than intrigued.  Not much suspense was needed, as the first five computer animated numbers to bounce onto the screen were mine.  At first I was excited, then angry.  I actually found myself rooting against my own numbers.  This guy couldn’t be right.  He was just some kook getting his kicks by mindfucking me.  But he had picked them all, even the final three extras.  I uncrumpled my lottery form to check the back for the odds, and nearly fell off of my stool when I saw the answer.  1 in 230,115.

    The numbers faded and were replaced by the official game clock advertising the next draw.  Noticing the time, I really had to get out of there before practice started and my teammate arrived.  I drank down my last swallow and headed for the door.  Three quarters of the way there I abruptly turned back as I realized what was going on.

    “It’s fixed, isn’t it?  You work for the lottery, and the game is fixed.”

    The man smiled as he suppressed a laugh.  “No, it’s not fixed.”

    “Then how?”

    “Easy,” he said, standing up and pausing to enjoy the last sip of his drink.  “I’m from the future.”

    That said, he put his beer glass in his pocket and walked past me to the exit while I stared after him in disbelief.  At first I told myself it was just a prank and following the man was what he wanted, so I decided to stay put.  But the whole thing still didn’t have a satisfactory explanation, so I had to follow.