Rose had been born into a world unlike our own, despite the geographical similarities. Two hundred years before her birth, people walked the streets, unafraid. People drove cars and said hello to strangers, people they had never met before. People purchased food in bulk… But that was 200 years ago.
Rose was born into a world unfriendly and amorphous, undefined in morality and vulgar in attitude. She did not know it yet, but the world she was born into was once a friendly place, accepting of all and fearing of but a few.
A wise man once said, “World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” How off base that assumption had been. It was always guessed that humans would be their own undoing, but the extent of their cultural and economic suicide was unimaginable. The world’s greed collapsed under its own weight, bringing everyone into it and destroying all of them.
Few remained, the majority of them men. Too few to even number at ten percent of the past population. Over eighty percent, men, dragging their knuckles and scratching their heads, waiting for the voice to tell them to begin again, how to begin again.
And into this world, Rose was born.
It had been a rainy day outside of the shell where Rose was born to a half human, half wheelchair doctor. Her mother passed on, leaving her father to raise her. He tried to raise her right, but always felt that something had been lacking. A mother’s role was important, and with so few women and so few women role models, Regmen was left scratching his head.
Rose had found a friend in an older female, three years her senior. Everything Rose needed to know about, Tam went through first. Everything Rose had a question about, Tam had an answer ready, even if she didn’t know the truth.
They would sit on their stone stoop, eyes wide and peeled for the Lottery Squad, smoking flavored tobacco’s. Tam, wise, telling stories of the men she had met, the men she had led along, the men she had taken advantage of and led down the path of ill repute. Handsome men that she robbed. Rose didn’t like those stories so much. They didn’t seem honest, although, neither did the world.
“It’s easy, once you get the hang of it,” Tam would slyly smile. “You just have to learn to use what you have to get along in this unfair world. You have to contribute…”
“To the unfairness,” Rose would finish, smiling but unsatisfied. “How is it ever supposed to get better if all you do is rob the men-folk? My daddy, he’s a man-folk. Are you going to rob him?”
“Regmen? You have to be off your nut, girl! You have a lot to learn if you’re going to get along.”
“You’re only sixteen, Tam. You can’t know that much.”
“You learn what you’re forced to.” Rose didn’t like that either, but didn’t press the issue. She saw the fear, the weakness in Tam’s eyes, something that made Rose herself feel inadequate.
“Who you gonna play next, Tam?”
“I’m not sure. You got to play em’ as you see em’.”
A young boy walked down the block and winked at Tam. They both began to giggle furiously, before Tam stood, putting her hand on Rose’s shoulder, walking away.
The voice always came in the darkness. Rose felt the warmth of her mother’s words wrap around her like a soft downy quilt, even if Rose didn’t understand what she was saying. So rarely in dreams do you understand what is happening. It was best not to question the act of God, the reuniting of the mother and daughter, if only in dreams.
“Follow my lead, and all will be well,” the ethereal voice would call, detached but full of hope. It gave Rose strength to hear her mother urge her, to hear her mother comfort her.
“Regmen, momma talked to me in my dream again last night.”
How often these dreams occurred and how often Regmen seemed taken aback by it was of genuine interest to the thirteen year old mind as she pulled her chair out and took a seat.
“What did she say, Rose dear?”
“To follow her lead.”
Regmen smiled. “Your mother was always smart back before… Back when she was still with us.”
Rose scowled at her bowl of water. She was often reminded of the before time, when momma was alive, when momma was so smart, when momma was so beautiful. How quickly the quilt was replaced with the burden of insurmountable guilt.
“But you know, Rose,” Regmen hesitated. He could see the discomfort in her face. “Your mother is in a better place. Through no fault of your own so don’t you think like that. Don’t you ever think like that. No one could have… You can blame the people. I read articles in the archives on my break about how they used to have drugs that would take away the pain. Can you imagine?”
Rose frowned again.
“Well, I guess you can’t. But it was so much better before the incident. I can only hope your mother is in a place like that. Friendly faces, smiles. People you weren’t embarrassed to be around.”
“I’m not embarrassed to be around Tam, Regmen!”
“I didn’t say such.”
“Oh, what you said and what you didn’t say… I could fill my journal with it!”
The door, like on so many other occasions, slammed, rattling the thin glass in the windows leaving Regmen to scratch his head and wonder if he had, in fact, done right by momma.
It was an awkward and muggy day when Tam didn’t show up. The clouds were hazy in the sky, the sun filtering in through a strainer. Rose sat, inhaling the dangerous air, waiting for her friend, any second, expecting her to break through the haze… But it never happened.
“Maybe she’s off making money today,” Rose thought glumly to herself, hiding the cigarettes in her sleeve before walking back into her flat.
Tam didn’t show up that day and didn’t return.
“Regmen, Tam is gone. I don’t know where she went.”
“Well… Do you want to hear a story about the before time, Rose?”
She nodded, hoping the story would help ease her anxiety.
“A long time ago, when someone would go missing, especially someone Tam’s age- How old was Tam?”
“They would have a group that would go out and look for people that went missing, and bring them home again. Every time someone went missing, all you did was call these people on the telephone and they would march up and ask questions, and the next day, drop the missing person off at their house. Do you know what these people were called?”
Rose’s wide eyes answered the question for her.
“They were called Poh-leece. The Poh-leece would find people for you.”
“Were they magic, Regmen?”
“I think they must have been, Rose.”
“If I had magic could I find Tam?”
Regmen laughed. “Magic doesn’t exist anymore. Only in the before time.”
Rose readied another question when there was a loud knock on the door. Her hopes soared. Perhaps the Poh-leece would be on the other side of the door with Tam, and Tam would sit down at the table and Regmen would let them smoke because of the joyous occasion (but not before cracking a window).
“This is he,” he spoke through the door.
“Congratulations,” there was a shuffle of boots on the other side. “You’ve been awarded a prize in the lottery drawing.”
Regmen opened the door and stepped into the hall. “Rose, I have to go with the Lottery Squad. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Congratulations, daddy!” She called after the door as it slammed.
It was the only time she had ever called him “daddy.”
Regmen came back later that night, his eyes bloodshot.
“What did you win, Regmen? What did you win?”
“They… Gave me my prize there.”
“Can we use it to buy rations? We could trade it for rations, couldn’t we?”
“Not this time.”
“Well, did you buy another ticket, Regmen?”
“No. One prize is enough.”
Rose squinted, unable to grasp the idea of one prize ever being enough. “Will you buy a ticket for me, Regmen? Please?”
“I don’t think… No.”
Rose stormed off to her room, angrily drawing the curtain and crawling under the covers. Grown ups had all the fun.
In the blink of an eye, the next day she was sixteen. The three years since her father won the lottery but a mere memory. She awoke, rolling out of bed and pulling a journal out from under her mattress.
“I speak to you and only you.” The singular phrase jotted down on the last page, completing another anthology.
It was her birthday, although she doubted Regmen would remember. Somewhere in the three years before he had turned to making a mixture of turpentine and gravy, gulping it down. He was hardly lucid anymore. She had no one but her books and her mother to keep her company, making sleep but a dreamers dream.
“I’d like to speak to… Yes. Thank you.”
Rose edged her way down the hall, listening to her father. He sounded normal, straight.
“Rose is dead. Call them off. Please. They can’t possibly need her if she’s… No. That will… Thank you. Thank you. Deeply saddened.” The receiver clicked down as Rose stepped into the room.
“Regmen, what was that about?”
“It was nothing. Oh, God, I hope it was-“
“Are you going to kill me? Stop drinking that shit, Regmen. It’s making you crazy. You’re not-“
“It’s not that. Just…”
A shuffle of boots. A knock on the door.
“Rose, for the love of Christ, go to your room and get under your bed and do not come out until I tell you to,” he whispered fiercely at her. “Hold on a minute, fellas. I’m not decent!”
There was a solid kick to the door as Rose drew the curtain and slid under her bed. Regmen counted to three, grabbing the door handle as the combat boot flew against the wood again, pushing the door backwards and breaking Regmen’s hand. He cried out in agony, Rose shifting uncomfortably in her hiding place.
“We’re here for Rose Valdar. She’s to come with us and report for the lottery drawings.”
“Didn’t you get the… Didn’t you hear? Rose is dead.”
“We’re authorized to search your apartment, Mr. Valdar. The search will commence now…” The Lottery Officer stepped into the room, turning to Regmen. “You do know what the penalty for lying to an Officer is, don’t you? Especially on an urgent matter?”
“Death. Of course I know.”
“So long as you understand-“ the Officer pressed his fingers against his ears, listening intently. “I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Valdar.”
The Officer motioned to the hallway where six other Officers’s stood, beat-sticks drawn. They nodded in unison and stormed off down the hallway. Regmen slammed the door shut, sliding down, his back catching on the handle, crying out.
“Regmen? Is it safe to come out.”
“Yes.” He wasn’t sure if she heard him. It was a weak gasp.
Second later, she was at his side. Seconds after, she was gripping a slat from her bed, wrapping it around his arm with tape. “This should… I’m not sure if you should… Why were they after me?”
Regmen sighed. “I can’t say.”
“I have a right to know.”
“You don’t want to know. If you knew…”
“Why did they want me, Regmen?”
His last words before passing out were, “Can’t say.”
Rose quietly followed the Lottery Squad, stopping in alleyways and watching them go into buildings silently, walking out in formation less one. She stopped to observe where the lone Officer would emerge. He would emerge from the building ten minutes later with a woman with him.
And so the Squad continued, walking down and dropping people off. When it was one Officer left, he entered a non-descript warehouse building. The door swung closed, the sound of cries carried out on the wind. The windows were painted over, impossible to see into. Rose tried scratching the paint off, but it was done from the inside.
She stood in an alley across from the building as the sun went behind the hills slowly. The final Officer arrived, looking around nervously with a group of men behind him. They stepped inside the building. Rose ran, sliding a thin plank between the door and frame, looking inside.
Cages. Cages on the upper floor, cages on the lower floor. Rows upon rows of cages, each housing one girl, shackled to the cage wall completely naked. The men were led inside, looking at each of the cages and smiling to themselves. A voice came on over a loudspeaker system, booming over the poor lighting and shadows.
“Congratulations on the lottery drawing, gentlemen! The prizes are in the cages. You may have heard tell of what the prize was from your friends, but there are ground rules. They cannot be killed. And you must take at least five, or face punishment.”
Nothing like pressure to make a man feel up to snuff.
“You may take more than five. You may take them all, if you can last that long. All cages are open, now!”
A few men cheered, the others afraid. It became rapidly apparent to Rose that they did not know what they were getting themselves into.
Rose watched in horror as men entered the cage, eagerly and clumsily fiddling with their belts. She couldn’t watch the act, but she heard the screams. Screams from the fresh girls, the girls her age. The others just sat quietly, shedding bitter tears.
The reluctant men stood in the circle, waiting for the others to finish. There was one overeager gentleman who had told himself he would take the house, clean all the cages. Six in, he was falling asleep over himself, the adrenaline flowing out of his body.
They gathered in the center, under the lone chandelier. “The Voice thanks you for coming and hopes you all play the lottery again, soon!”
The men filed out and Rose ran down the street, shedding tears for the women inside that couldn’t. A block before her apartment, she realized Tam was inside. She ran down an alley and vomited, clutching her sides and screaming.
She had called him “daddy” because he had won a prize. A prize they gave you on the spot. You couldn’t trade it.
“Regmen, I know. I know what the Lottery is about.”
Regmen swallowed hard. “If I had known, if anyone had told me, I never would have played, Rose. Believe me when I say I would never have played if I had known.”
She nodded. “Did you… Did you hate it because you knew you would have to come home and face me or because… Because you saw Tam inside?”
He didn’t answer.
“What is ‘The Voice?’ They… The man in the factory said something about ‘The Voice.’”
“The Voice… I’m not supposed to… If they find out I told-“
“If who found out?”
Rose slumped back in her chair. “Men?”
“The Voice speaks to men. Only men. I don’t know why… But… It leads. It leads well. It gave ideas to the men on how to reform society. I know, because I hear it too. The ideas make sense. They really do. Some days, the voice doesn’t speak to you, though. It only speaks to certain people on certain days. Some days it speaks to everyone. Moral messages. Messages to help fix what we did. Do you know what the purpose of The Lottery is?”
Rose sat silently.
“To impregnate women without father’s. Wards of the world. To be raise, children running around… You won’t muddle genes willingly that way. A way to repopulate the world, Rose. Our island is all that is left and we have to fix it. I asked the night I went. That’s the only answer they could give me.”
“Where does the voice come from?”
“I can’t tell you anymore. I can tell you where to find it.”
That night, Rose fell into a dreamless sleep that was haunted by the singular phrase uttered by her mother. “My daughter is dead. Pray for her soul.”
Rose approached the hospital the next night, sleek in her clothing. She slipped in through the front door and made her way to the stairwell. Up thirteen flights and out the door into the hallway, dashing past the designated guard. The door to the patient room clicked shut behind her and she flicked the lock.
The chart at the foot of the bed read, “Rose Valdar.” She didn’t need to read it to know she was named after her mother. She stared at her comatose mother, shocked at their similarities. The same face, the same long, brown hair.
A pounding at the door.
Rose thought quietly to herself as she watched her mother sleep.
“Are you sending out orders right now? Are you rebuilding the world as you would like it? Do you even know you’re doing it, MOTHER?” Her voice ripped through the room. The body on the bed didn’t stir.
Rose grabbed a pillow from behind her mother’s head and pressed it fiercely over her face.
“I can’t breathe. Help me.”
Men all over the island looked to the hospital, running. They must help The Voice. It teaches them.
In the small apartment, Regmen was putting the finishing touches on his new cradle that would gently rock him into eternity.
“I’m slipping. Help me.”
Rose continued pressing down. Her mother did not struggle.
That was the last thought sent out.
The door behind Rose flew open. The body on the bed was motionless, dead.
“I wish you had died giving birth to me…”
The bat cracked over her skull.
Pretty, pretty lights. Reason. They all danced before her eyes.
“Can anyone hear me? Anyone at all?”
Deep in the recess of her own mind, she heard the uniform grunt of every male at their most primal.
“Someone kill me. Please. Don’t make me stay here.”
The grunt was heard again, this time, a grunt of denial.
Rose lay in the same hospital be her mother had occupied, in the same position. At her fingertips, she had the key to reconstructing the world. In her mind, she had the horrors she had seen.
“Guard responsible for feeding me, don’t. Don’t feed yourself. Go home.”
She had to think about the phrasing of this carefully.
“Everyone, listen. There is a way to restore the earth to the former glory. Go to sleep, don’t wake up. Remember it as it was, and when you awake, you will be there. There are… Special measures to take, however… So listen carefully.”
Her guard didn’t come to feed her.
And no one woke up the next day.