The first time I read Shirley Jackson’s famous short story “The Lottery” I had known nothing of its reputation. As I read, the dread built in me slowly, the reveal astounded me, and the memory was blazed in me. I will never forget the power and audacity of that story. Here’s the original story, published in 1948 in the New Yorker.
“The Lottery” helped inspire my novel, THE CULLING. I was looking through the manuscript today, wondering what, if anything, to do with it. For today, I decided to post a tiny scene. In this scene, Maren Hart, the novel’s protagonist, is notified that she must report for the Lottery, a barbaric national practice of culling a percentage of the population on a regular basis. Maren believed she qualified for immunity — but there’s no fighting the system.
Did I mention the novel was dystopian? It was also inspired by “Blade Runner” and “Current Conditions and Leadership in our Country.”
Read the first chapter here. Below is a short excerpt:
To: Maren Beatrice Hart, Citizen #F2125-G79867 of the Republic of America
Re: Lottery Notification
In accordance with the constitutional requirements set forth in the Lottery Amendment, you have hereby been selected and bestowed the honor to serve your country as a Proffer in this month’s supplemental Lottery. You are required to report to your nearest center within 24 hours.
*This is an automated message. Do not respond.*
Inevitably there were additional callups each month beyond the weekly Lottery drawings, when adjustments in the numbers were needed to meet established quotas. To ensure fairness, the same birthdates were used that had already been drawn for that month. About ten percent of all Proffers were those selected in the monthly supplementals.
In Maren’s case there had been a glitch in the system—a frightening one that got her heart racing, yet correctable.
She immediately entered her immunity code.
A message returned: Invalid Code.
Maren steadied herself and entered her code again.
Again. This time she did enter an invalid code because her fingers were trembling and she made a mistake keying the screen.
A message returned she’d been locked out of the system after four invalid attempts. It was standard procedure due to hackers writing and selling bots that input all combinations of immunity codes in an attempt to beat the system.
Maren knew: This wasn’t one of those notorious system bugs you heard stories about, due to hackers or flawed code. This was a deliberate attempt to cull her. And she knew why.
She had of course many times imagined how she’d respond to a culling notice, and her imagination turned out to align well with reality: She experienced a brief period of pure and complete terror, soon replaced by a determination to survive and escape, followed by the realization that escape would be impossible for her, and finally the conclusion she must kill herself.
As soon as her thoughts plotted this scenario to its end, she pivoted from the idea of suicide. She didn’t have the courage. Some people could take their own lives—many did—but her internal wiring would not make the necessary connection to turn thought into action. If she lived to be old, she could see herself clinging to any semblance of life, despite the diseases and agonies of the aged. Too much a coward, she was, to take the ultimate last step.
Yet for someone with such a burning resolve to continue living, she no idea how to do so. She had endless stores of energy, loads of conviction, excess motivation—and nowhere to direct her resources. She had to think. She had to be smart. At the moment she was neither of these. A strange numbness invaded her, as if she’d taken a powerful sedative. Her legs weakened. The energy and conviction of just seconds ago had vanished. She made her way to a chair and sat down. She couldn’t clear her head. Her mind felt thick and cobwebby. She leaned back and breathed shallowly. Within minutes she descended into a paralyzed, catatonic shock, no longer aware of time passing or the danger she was in.