Plainview was a company town of several thousand people, and the company was a furniture maker named McMillan Furniture that had existed for more than seventy-five years. The town had a reputation for fine furniture and many of the townspeople had worked for the company for many years. Plainview had its share of other businesses as well; they had a grocery store which had been there for almost as long as the furniture factory, and a Mr. Jim Bachman was the grocer. Plainview also had a bookstore, Bill Shambaugh was the owner; and a print shop, with Nick Wilson as the printer. They even had their own newspaper, The Plainview Review. And no small town would be complete without farmers. Old Mr. Miller had been farming in Plainview for longer than anyone, more than forty years. He had long been a frequent customer at the local feed store.
Everyone in Plainview had something to do, every day. Mr. Miller, the farmer, always liked to keep busy. One would always see him working on one project or another. There was no unemployment in Plainview; how could there be? There was always something that needed to be done, and there was always someone to do it. No one, least of all Mr. Miller, had any reason to complain about it. It was fair to say that everyone in Plainview was happy, and nobody had any good reason to think that this would ever change.
And yet, it did change, and in the strangest way. It was on an ordinary Friday that the town of Plainview had uninvited visitors. They were no ordinary visitors; they seemed to come from way out of town. It was a group of well-dressed men with expensive-looking suits and wide-brimmed hats, and no one in Plainview had ever seen them before. They simply came strolling in as if they had owned the town. And, more mysteriously, they came with a secret cargo. This cargo was apparently heavy, for it required a special and expensive-looking vehicle to transport it. It was like an armored wagon, only bigger and sturdier than any wagon than anyone in Plainview had ever seen before.
This armored wagon made a slight roaring noise as its wheels moved it down Main Street in the town of Plainview. Curious townspeople began to gather in the street to see what was making the noise. The visitors and their secret cargo made their way to the Plainview town square, and there they stopped. People kept coming to see, and they too stopped right there in the town square. The visitors quickly set up a platform and a microphone, complete with speakers. It would appear that one of the visitors was about to make a speech. As people were still coming to the town square, one of the visitors stepped onto the platform and began to speak.
“People of Plainview, fear not! We come in peace!”
Several people in the crowd chuckled over that news. No one thought that these people were invaders from another planet. He continued, “We come from a neighboring town called Covington, certainly you’ve heard of us.” Yes indeed, everyone in Plainview was familiar with Covington, and some had even visited the town before.
“Well, we come to you today with a business proposal. I’m sure you’ve been wondering what mysterious cargo we have brought with us today. I’m about to show it to you now. Here it is: fifty bars of pure gold!”
Two of the other men with him removed a tarp from the top of the vehicle to reveal that the spokesman was telling the truth. Several huge, shimmering gold bars were instantly revealed! Several of the people gasped at the sight of it! Each one of those gold bars looked as though it might weigh a ton; if it were really gold, of course. But they certainly looked like gold. That would explain why they would need such a massive, sturdy vehicle to transport it. But our spokesman still hasn’t stated exactly what he intended to do with this golden cargo.
“Yes, that is real gold, I assure you. I invite you all to take a closer look.”
Fred Walters, the mayor of Plainview, was there in attendance. He was the first to take a closer look. He stepped right up to the vehicle and reached out, without fear, to touch one of the gold bars. He did this in plain view of the visitors, none of whom tried to stop him. “Allow me to introduce myself to you, fair visitors,” he said. “I am Fred Walters, the Mayor of Plainview. Now, this certainly feels like gold,” said the Mayor, as he stroked the topmost bar. “And it really looks like gold, too!”
Others went up to the vehicle to take a closer look as well. No one in Plainview had ever seen so much gold before. Then it seemed that everyone in town wanted to get a closer look. “No doubt that this is really gold,” someone said, as she too lovingly stroked the precious metal. “This is definitely the real thing,” said someone else. The people of Plainview all lined up to take a look at the golden cargo, and no one who saw it expressed any doubts as to what it really was. One by one, they stepped up to the vehicle, looked more closely at the gold bars, reached out a hand to touch one of them, and walked away, waiting for the spokesman to continue with his proposal. This went on for about forty-five minutes, and not once during that time did any one of the visitors try to stop anyone from touching the precious metal.
Finally, Mr. Norman Scott spoke up. Norman was a long-time employee of the McMillan Furniture Company. He was smart enough to ask a question that must have been on everyone’s mind. “You don’t seem concerned about having these gold bars on display out in the open like this. Aren’t you worried that someone might steal them?”
“Oh no, not at all,” came the reply. “Don’t you know how heavy these gold bars are?”
Norman hadn’t thought of that. He then wrapped both his hands around one of the bars, and attempted to pick it up. He considered himself a pretty strong man, but he had quite a hard time lifting even one of those bars. He looked around for a few seconds, and then he called out for his friend Steve. “Hey Steve, come on over here for a minute.” Steve worked his way through the crowd and took his place there next to his friend Norman. Steve was considered Plainview’s strongest man, a young man in his late twenties, and a great athlete in high school. “Hey Steve, see if you can lift one of these things,” he said, as if he already knew that Steve couldn’t do it.
Steve wasn’t afraid to try. He wrapped both his hands around that gold bar as if he had done it many times before. He brought his body close to that bar and summoned all of his might, and he did manage to move that gold bar up about an inch, for just a second, and then he softly set it back down again. “I can lift it, but I’m not going anywhere with it.” The rest of the crowd laughed at that remark. Still, the visitors didn’t act as though they were concerned with anyone touching, or even taking their golden treasure.
Finally, it seemed as though everyone had their fill of looking at the gold bars. Everyone in the crowd had the same look on their face, as if they were all thinking the same question: what next? Mayor Walters spoke up again and asked, “You said something about a business proposal, sir. What exactly did you have in mind?”
“Mr. Mayor, and people of Plainview, I did indeed promise that I had a business proposal for you. I wasn’t lying,” said the spokesman into the microphone. Now that statement got the attention of everyone in the crowd. Certainly, the people of Plainview were interested in a business proposal. The visitor continued: “We propose to award this gold to one of you... through a lottery!”
A hush swept over the crowd. What a wonderful idea! A lottery just might be just what Plainview needs the most. Who wouldn’t want to own that gold? Everyone in town who wanted to examine the gold had done so, and no one doubted that it really was gold in front of them. So all that gold would go to the winner of a lottery? Now that was an exciting proposition!
Mayor Walters spoke up again. “How exactly do you propose that we run this lottery?” One could tell from the look on the spokesman’s face that he expected that question.
“I was waiting for someone to ask me that question. We... that is, me and my colleagues... will sell the tickets. One dollar buys one five-digit number. All lottery numbers will be printed on this special material.” The spokesman then held up a sample ticket made of this special material for the crowd to see. It looked like paper, but it had a slight purple tint to it. Then he handed it to Mayor Walters. The Mayor took the ticket, examined it, and he even tried to tear it, but found that he couldn’t. “This is the toughest paper that I’ve ever seen,” he said. The material had the smooth texture of taffy, almost like plastic. A five-digit number was printed on it, and it seemed as though the ink bled through to the other side, to form a mirror image of that number. “You certainly must have a special way to print these lottery tickets,” said Mayor Walters.
“Indeed we do,” replied the visitor. “They are made of a brand new material that only we know how to make. That is so the tickets are impossible to counterfeit.”
Mayor Walters then handed the ticket to Norman for him to inspect. He took a good long look at it and he agreed. It was unlike any paper that he had ever seen before, either. He didn’t think there was any way to counterfeit such a ticket. He handed the strange ticket to Steve, who immediately tried to tear it also, but he found that he could not tear it either. Steve then handed it to someone else. Soon, everyone in the crowd who was interested had examined the mysterious ticket.
Mayor Walters said, “So, if we agreed to host this lottery here in Plainview, how would you draw the winning numbers, and how often?”
“Good question,” replied the spokesman. “We propose to draw a winning number once a week. Today is Friday, and we will draw the first winning number tomorrow evening, and a new winning number every subsequent Saturday after that. And here is the machine that we will use to generate the winning numbers.”
As if from nowhere, two of the other visitors produced a smaller wagon with a large wood and metal box. The two men carefully removed the mysterious box from the wagon and placed it upright on the platform. Then they produced a table and carefully picked up the box from the platform and placed it on the table. The box looked almost like a slot machine, and it had five playing-card sized windows on the front, and a red button on the side. All of the windows had a blank white background. One of the visitors pushed the red button, and the box made a sound similar to the rolling of a pair of dice. Black numerals flashed in each of the white windows for a few seconds and then, one by one, from left to right, a single number appeared in each of the windows. The mysterious box was actually a random number-generating machine.
“And there we have our first five-digit number,” the spokesman continued. “I hope that this little demonstration has convinced you all that we know what we are doing.”
“I’m impressed!” said the Mayor. “No one here has ever seen a machine like that one. But I do wonder, as I’m sure we all do, how do we know that this machine really generates truly random numbers?”
“Would you like another demonstration?” asked the spokesman.
“Sure,” the Mayor replied. “May I push the button this time?”
“Absolutely!” replied the spokesman. “I insist that you do!”
Mayor Walters reached out his hand and pushed the red button on the side of the mysterious machine, and it repeated its performance. Another five-digit number appeared in the windows.
“You may repeat that as many times as you like.”
“And I think I will!” said the Mayor. “That was fun!” He then pushed the button again, and everyone witnessed the same performance. And then again; another five-digit number resulted. And then again; and again; and again, with a different five-digit number displayed each time.
As Mayor Walters was demonstrating the machine to the crowd, James Henderson, a reporter from the Plainview Review, was watching, with his notebook in his hand, recording each of the numbers as they were generated and displayed in the windows. He considered it all part of the story he was planning to write about this strange event. James was taking detailed notes about the visitors and their proposal, and his recording of the numbers generated, he thought, was just part of his responsibility. He wrote down the first number: ‘91673,’ and then the second: ‘79442,’ then the third: ‘58783.’ “They certainly look random to me,” he thought.
The mayor just kept pushing that button! Another number to record! Another... another... another. Mayor Walters seemed to enjoy playing with that machine! “Will he ever tire of it?” James said to himself. ‘17816’... ‘29134’...‘67783’... ‘22431’... ‘62839’... “Boy, this is sure getting tedious,” thought James to himself. But, since this was obviously a major news event in Plainview, he thought that it was his duty to record every number as the machine generated and displayed it. Finally, after what seemed like at least fifteen minutes, the Mayor seemed to have had enough of the machine. James looked at his notebook, the last few pages of which were now covered with five-digit numbers, and said to himself, “I’m sure glad that’s over with.”
Mayor Walters took a step back, put a big smile on his face, and then turned to the crowd and announced, “Well, I’m convinced that this wondrous machine will generate a random five-digit number any time we need one!”
Someone else in the crowd shouted, “So, Mayor Walters, are we going to have a lottery in Plainview?”
“Good question!” someone else shouted. And then another shouted, “I think it’s a great idea!”
“So do I!” said another. Everyone in Plainview was eager to host a lottery in their town. Everyone in Plainview wanted those gold bars in their possession!
“Now wait a minute,” the Mayor interrupted. “The final decision rests with me, of course, but I think the issue should be put to an immediate vote. I can see that most of the town is here right now anyway, so why not use this opportunity to take a voice vote?”
One could see from the look on almost everyone’s face that most of the townsfolk were thinking the same thing. “Now that’s another great idea! Let’s do it!” someone shouted.
“Very well then,” said the Mayor. “All those in favor, say ‘aye.’” Then, it was as if everyone there, in unison, said ‘aye.’
“All opposed, say ‘nay.’” continued the Mayor. Then, it was as if Plainview had suddenly become a ghost town. Not a single dissenting voice was heard to say ‘nay.’
Mayor Walters smiled broadly as he announced, “People of Plainview, I am pleased to announce, we now have a lottery in our fair town!” A thunderous round of applause immediately arose from the crowd!
James added that detail to his notebook, then he asked, loudly enough for all to hear, “So, when may we all start to buy tickets?” Mayor Walters immediately added, “Yes, dear visitors, when may we buy tickets, and where may we buy them?”
“The spokesman replied, “We haven’t forgotten that little detail. I’m sure you remember us showing you that sample ticket on that special paper-thin material. We have another special machine that produces those, that we haven’t shown you yet. We’ll set up a booth, right here in the town square, with your permission of course, tomorrow. You may all start buying tickets then. Each five-digit number will cost only one small dollar. What do you think of that?”
“I love that idea!” shouted Mayor Walters. “Only one small dollar a ticket! I will be the first in line!”
“No, I will!” shouted someone else. And another shouted, “No, that person will be me!” Still another yelled, “I’ll beat all of you here!”
“I think I’ll spend the night here!” added yet another. Then, yet another was heard to say, “I think I will too!”
“Now, let’s not get too excited,” Mayor Walters cautioned. “Let’s remember that this is our first lottery here in Plainview, and we want our first ticket sales to go smoothly.”
Mayor Walters was always the kind who would always know the right thing to say in any situation; this situation was no different. “I propose that we all go home now, and get a good rest, but first, let us thank our visitors, and lottery creators, Plainview style!”
Not even a second after the Mayor said that, a cry of “Yeah!” arose from the crowd, along with another round of thunderous applause. And then, everyone in the crowd, which was nearly everyone in Plainview, started on their way home.
And that was the beginning of the biggest mistake the town of Plainview had ever made. No one publicly thought that a lottery was the last thing the town needed. Nobody seemed to care that there was nothing wrong with their local economy; poverty and unemployment did not exist in their town. Nobody publicly thought that they had just made a hasty decision, least of all, the Mayor. Everyone seemed to assume that anything that forces money to circulate is automatically good for any economy, no matter how well it is functioning in the first place. No one expected their lives to take a turn for the worse, and what was even more strange, no one even asked for the visitors’ names, or who, if anyone, invited them there. It was if all that gold had simply hypnotized them.
Mayor Walters could hardly sleep that night. The prospect of a lottery in Plainview was just so exciting to him, especially one with so much gold as the grand prize! Mayor Walters wondered for just the briefest of moments if he and the rest of the town had made the right decision. Had Plainview been too quick to welcome the visitors, and their proposal? Had they been too hasty in their decision to welcome the lottery? But on the other hand, wouldn’t it have been rude to reject the visitor’s offer, especially after they had shown them all that gold? The visitors were sincere after all, weren’t they?
Of course he and the townsfolk had made the right decision. A lottery is a legitimate business, everyone knows that. The lottery is bound to be a good thing for the economy, and besides, a lottery is a lot like a raffle, and everybody knows how much fun a raffle can be. And what about all that gold? Doesn’t everybody know how valuable that is? Who wouldn’t want to own it? The Mayor eventually put such thoughts out of his mind, deciding that it was more important to get some sleep. Still, he had difficulty drifting off to dreamland.
Also having trouble drifting off to sleep that night was James, the reporter. He looked through his notes as he sat on the edge of his bed, browsing through that long list of five-digit numbers. He could hardly believe that he had done such a tedious thing, as if there was something riding on his ability to record a long series of random numbers. But there they were, staring him in the face. He asked himself, “Are these numbers really random?” Of course they were. Anyone could tell that just by looking. That number-generating machine was definitely in working order; that much was beyond questioning. “But isn’t it important that the winning numbers be truly random?” he then asked himself. Yes it is, he reasoned; the same entity that is selling the tickets is also drawing the numbers. The winning numbers must be truly random to assure that there is no favoritism involved; that would be outright fraud. If there is no favoritism, then there can’t be fraud. “Oh, enough of such thoughts.” James was ready to lay down and go to sleep. He had a big day ahead of him tomorrow. Naturally, he wanted to be at the head of that line to buy his first lottery tickets in the morning.
The townsfolk all went home so quickly that no one noticed what the mysterious visitors did next. Just as mysteriously as they appeared, just as mysteriously as they had produced their gold and their lottery ticket of the strange, plastic-like material, and their random number-generating machine, they produced the materials to build the ticket sales booth, as they had promised. After all the townsfolk had left the town square, the visitors simply walked off into the distance, leaving their gold behind, until they disappeared over the horizon. As they were the last to leave, there was no one left in the town square at the time, so the visitors did not have to worry about their treasure being stolen. Besides, as Steve the strongman had proven already, It would take quite a special effort to steal something as heavy as those gold bars.
The visitors were gone for only a couple of hours, then they reappeared in the town square, this time with yet another cart. This cart was not loaded with gold, but rather the materials to build their ticket booth. It was after dark, but since it was a moonlit night, the visitors thought nothing of setting up the booth right then. They quickly went to work. The small building was broken down into four pre-fabricated walls, one with three windows, a floor, and a roof. They quietly went about their task, and since the people of Plainview were all at home in bed, no one witnessed the event. They set the booth right next to the gold bars, the table with the random number-generator and the platform with the microphone and speakers, then they installed the wondrous ticket machine, as well as three cash registers. Then, a couple of them quickly wheeled away the cart; where they stored it, only they knew. When the people of Plainview awakened the next morning, ready to buy tickets, the visitors and their ticket sales booth would be right there to greet them, ready to start selling them.
Some of the townspeople decided to make good on their promise to be the first in line. One by one they began to appear in the town square, right there in the middle of the night. This was to be an important event after all, and besides, who could sleep? The new Plainview lottery was just that exciting, and it seemed that everyone could feel it. Some carried a blanket and pillow with them, others a sleeping bag. All of them noticed the new booth set up next to the gold bars. Finally, someone spoke to one of the visitors, who were all just standing there next to their newly created building.
“Is this where you’re going to sell the lottery tickets from?”
“Yes, this is the ticket booth we promised you,” answered one of the visitors. “The sale starts after sunrise.”
“I can’t wait!” responded the resident. Then he took a good look at what was before him: the booth with the ticket machine, the cash registers, the random number-generator, and of course, the gold bars, still laying there in the open like they were the previous day. Other townspeople continued to drift into the town square, carrying their blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags. Some of them also took a good look at the new equipment that the visitors had set up. Someone said, “The line starts here!” Several people then spread their bedding on the ground, and promptly started their impromptu slumber party under the stars. No one seemed to mind waiting in line in this manner. Everyone there acted as though they had done such a thing before.
One more figure appeared in the town square that night. It was James, the newspaper reporter. He wanted to be near the beginning of the line, like all the others. He was having trouble sleeping anyway, also just like all the others. James also felt an obligation to be there, for he was to write an article about Plainview’s new lottery. Along with his sleeping bag, he brought along his notebook, the same one in which he wrote down the sample numbers that the random number-machine had seemingly magically produced. He laid down among all the other townspeople there, and at the same time, took his place in line. All the while, the mysterious visitors just stood there, watching all this happen, as if they had no need for sleep.
As James laid there on the ground, staring up at the stars, his thoughts turned to the article that he was to write. He thought an interview with the visitors would be appropriate. “We don’t even know their names!” he thought to himself. So, James just established the first question he would ask. Also, he wondered, as probably everyone in Plainview wondered also, why their visitors would be so kind as to bring a lottery to their town. Certainly, they were out to make a profit, and there was nothing wrong with that. But why in Plainview? The visitors seemed to know in advance the enthusiastic reception they would receive. “Now there is another good question to ask!” James thought. “Did you know that you would be so well received here? How did you know?” Then, he wondered, how does that random number-generating machine work? Would the visitors mind showing us the inner workings of it? There was no question that the numbers generated were truly random, but still, wouldn’t it be proper...?
Another good question to ask. James could finally feel his eyelids getting heavy. Sleep would come to him at last! But, as he was drifting off, another thought occurred to him: why not start the interview now? The visitors were still there in the town square, sitting, standing, or simply pacing around the booth, with no apparent need for sleep. “These guys are almost super-human!” he thought. “Don’t they sleep, or even get tired? They’ve got quite a task ahead of them in the morning.” That didn’t seem to matter to the visitors. James decided against the idea. The interview would have to wait until the next afternoon. Sleep was much more important at the moment.
Fortunately for the ones who decided to spend the night in the town square, the weather was pleasant the entire night. James slept soundly after all, and so did all the others. Finally, the morning came, and the sun rose on the town of Plainview once again. James awakened to the sight of a nearly clear and cloudless blue sky. He lifted his head and looked around him. There were many more present there now then he remembered seeing the night before. One by one, they each awakened, got up, folded their blankets or rolled up their sleeping bags, and took their place in the standing line at the brand new ticket booth. James did the same. The visitors, all five of them, were standing ready at the three windows in the booth, with two of them standing near the gold bars, and all of them wearing those same black suits and wide-brimmed hats. What promised to be one of the most exciting days in the recent memory of Plainview had officially begun!
One of the visitors stepped out of the booth and spoke. “Before we begin the sale, we think it would be proper to have the Mayor present.”
“That would be a good idea,” someone in line said. “Where is the Mayor?” someone else asked. Everyone there looked around and asked, “Where is Mayor Walters?”
Then James spoke up. “I think I see him over there,” he said, pointing to a figure in the near distance. It was indeed Mayor Walters. He could tell that the entire town was waiting for his arrival, so he started jogging. When he arrived at the town square, he said, “I’m not too late, am I?” with an embarrassed smile.
“Of course not!” came the immediate answer from several members of the crowd. “We can’t start without you!”
Then, the same visitor who was the spokesman the day before announced, “Mayor Walters, we would like to welcome you and everyone else to the official start of the new Plainview lottery!” The Mayor and the rest of the crowd applauded. “How would everyone like it if we let the Mayor buy the first ticket? Any objections to that?”
“Yes, any objections?” repeated the Mayor.
“No, absolutely none,” said someone in line. Many others simply said “no” or shook their heads. “Very well, then,” said the Mayor. “I’ll be happy to buy the first ticket. “So... um... how does this work?” he said, pointing to the ticket machine.
The spokesman handed him a pencil and a small slip of paper. “Just write the number that you would like to buy on this slip of paper. Just one numeral in on each of the five blanks.” Mayor Walters looked at the slip of paper, saw the blanks that he was talking about, then he stepped over to one of the windows and wrote down his choice of five-digit number. He put his right index finger on his chin, rolled his eyes upward for a second, and generated a random five-digit number in his mind. “‘19326’,” he said, as he wrote it down.
“Don’t anyone else pick that number!” The crowd laughed. “So this will cost me a dollar I suppose.” Then, he reached into his pocket, took out his wallet, reached into it and pulled out a single dollar bill. He then handed it to the clerk behind the counter, with a broad smile. “Oh, I almost forgot this!” exclaimed the Mayor, as he handed over the slip of paper with his lottery number on it.
The clerk then put the dollar in the cash register and the slip of paper through a slot in the ticket machine. In just two seconds, the machine spit out a ticket with a number printed on it, made out of that same mysterious material that everyone saw for the first time the previous day. The clerk handed the first official lottery ticket to Mayor Walters. The Mayor took the ticket and ran his fingers over the strange material, just like he did the day before. He inspected it closely again, too; yes, it appeared to be the same material, and the printing of the number bled through the same way. Mayor Walters turned to the crowd, smiled, and held his ticket high in the air so that everyone could see it, and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen of Plainview, I hold in my hand the first official lottery ticket of the new Plainview lottery!” There was much cheering and applause. Someone snapped a picture of the Mayor at that moment; it was Ray Morton, the photographer from The Plainview Review, a colleague of James Henderson.
Everyone could feel the excitement! This was what everyone was waiting for! Finally, after what seemed like the longest night in the town’s history, ticket sales for their first lottery had begun. “Step right up and get your ticket forms!” said another clerk behind the counter. There was almost a mad rush towards him. The clerk then started handing out forms and pencils as fast as he could. The townspeople were taking the forms and the pencils as fast as they could. They were writing down their choices on the forms and opening up their wallets and purses, reaching into them and taking out dollars, and handing both the forms and their money to the clerks behind the windows. Forms, dollars, and tickets were flowing across the counter in both directions. All semblance of an orderly line disappeared. People were walking away from the ticket booth with at least one ticket in their hands, and always, a smile on their face. Many took another close look at the gold bars, and some even reached out to touch a bar once again, before walking away. All dreamed of owning those gold bars.
Finally, James was able to take his turn. He eagerly grabbed his ticket form and a pencil, wrote the number “‘96438’” in the blanks, and handed his form, pencil, and dollar bill to the clerk. Almost instantly, his ticket was ready and in his hands. He inspected the ticket and verified that it was indeed genuine. It was that same special material that they had shown him the day before. He finally got to inspect a ticket more closely. The ink that the number was printed with, if it could truly be called ink, bled through to the opposite side, and it was indeed made from a strange material that was a little thicker than paper, but it did not feel like any paper that he had ever handled. He tried to tear it just like Steve and the Mayor tried to tear it, and he couldn’t do it either. Yes, this was a genuine ticket all right; there was no faking it. James didn’t know how to counterfeit this kind of lottery ticket, and he doubted that anyone else did either. This one had to be the real thing. His lottery ticket, just like all the others, was as good as the gold that would soon be given away to one lucky winner, or perhaps two or three.
James stepped away from the booth and watched for a while as people continued to exchange their dollars for lottery tickets. The visitors were certainly doing a brisk business. He watched in amazement as nearly every person in Plainview exchanged a hard-earned dollar for a chance to win a pile of gold. No one had ever seen such an event in Plainview before. It was almost as if a fever had gripped the townspeople.
“Can I buy another one?” Someone was heard to say. “Certainly,” came the reply from the clerk. “I’ll take another one, too!” someone else said. James watched in astonishment yet again. Now it appeared that people were buying multiple tickets.
A small crowd was gathered around the gold bars. The people of Plainview were still admiring it and still taking turns to reach out and touch it, to stroke it for just a moment, seemingly to verify that it really was gold. There was always at least two guards there near the gold, but they never stopped anyone from touching it, but no one tried to steal it, either. After all, it had already been demonstrated that the bars were just too heavy for one person to move. Norman stepped up for his chance to buy a ticket. He took a form and a pencil, wrote down his choice of number, and handed his form and a dollar bill to the clerk. Two seconds later, he had his ticket in his hand, which he accepted with a smile. “So... exactly what time are you going to draw the first winning number?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s a good question,” said James, with a chuckle. “It looks like we overlooked that little detail in our excitement to buy tickets!”
“It indeed looks like we forgot to make that announcement,” said the spokesman. “At least the specific time today. As we already mentioned, a winning number is to be generated every Saturday evening. Let’s make it... say... seven o’clock. That should give everyone enough time to buy at least one ticket, and still enjoy their Saturday afternoon. Anybody have any objections to that?”
“No!” shouted several people at once.
“Neither do I,” said someone else.
“Me neither,” said Norman, as he put his lottery ticket in his shirt pocket. “I’ll be here for the event.”
“Okay then, spread the word,” announced the spokesman. “First lottery drawing tonight at seven o’clock.” James made another note in his notebook.
The ticket-buying frenzy lasted well into the afternoon. Many people bought multiple tickets, and several more made more than one trip to the booth. But finally, in the early evening, the last few sales were made, and the people of Plainview appeared ready to settle down and enjoy the rest of their Saturday.
James was still there in the town square, observing all the activity the entire afternoon, making notes in his notebook. Now that there was finally a lull in the activity, he decided to take the opportunity to interview the visitors. He made another walk up to the ticket booth, ready to introduce himself to the one who had done all the speaking. But then another thought occurred to him: why not buy another ticket? At least one? Could he not afford that? Or, maybe more than one? James took out his wallet once again, and took a look inside of it. He had two ten-dollar bills left, and a few ones. He decided that he should spend another one of those tens; surely he could afford that. Besides, he wouldn’t be doing anything that nearly everyone else in town wasn’t doing. He grabbed a pencil and a pad of ticket forms, filled out ten of them with random five-digit numbers, and handed the forms and a ten-dollar bill to the clerk. The clerk, in an instant, fed the forms through the slot in the ticket machine, and within just seconds, ten lottery tickets, all printed on that same special, mysterious material, were handed back to James. James took them with a smile, and riffled through them like they were a small deck of cards, and put them in his shirt pocket to join the one ticket he bought earlier. Then, at last, he introduced himself to the visitor’s spokesman, who was still there behind the counter.
“Hello, my name is James Henderson, and I am a reporter for The Plainview Review. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Not at all,” the spokesman replied. “I’d be glad to.”
“First of all... well, I didn’t get any of your names.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” replied the spokesman, as he stepped out of the booth. “My name is Martin. In the booth we have John and Edward, and over there we have Victor and Floyd. Pleased to meet you, James.”
“Likewise,” said James. “If my memory serves me right, uh, you said yesterday that you came from Covington?”
“Yes, that’s right,” replied Martin. “You’ve heard of it, haven’t you?”
“Oh, definitely. I’ve been there before. So... what brings you to Plainview?”
“Well, that’s certainly a valid question. We started our first lottery in Covington a few years ago, and it was so popular there, that we decided that we should expand. Nearby Plainview was a natural choice for us.”
James continued questioning. “Our town was very excited, obviously, and we eagerly accepted your proposal. Did you know in advance that we would be so quick to welcome your lottery here?”
“Hmm... “ Martin moved his hat aside, scratched his head and said, “Well, I can’t say that we did. But naturally, we were hoping, and we’re sure glad that you did!”
“I see,” said James. “So, is the Covington lottery still going on?”
“Oh, no,” answered Martin. “They decided that they no longer needed a lottery, so we shut it down.”
“That’s what I thought,” said James. “I don’t remember there being a lottery there the last time I visited, but I could be wrong. So... um... there was nothing negative about the lottery there in Covington, was there?”
“Negative?” snapped Martin. “Of course not. What on earth could be negative about a lottery?”
“Well, I don’t know. But... you weren’t forced to leave Covington, were you?”
“Absolutely not. Like I said, they decided that they no longer needed a lottery, so we shut it down, and it was our own decision to leave.”
“Okay, then. So, you have plenty of experience running a lottery, then?”
“Yes, at least a year or so.”
“So you’re the experts, right?” asked James, with a worried look on his face.
“Yes, that’s right. I assure you, James, you have nothing to worry about.”
Then the worried look on his face disappeared as James asked a question that he was certain must have been on the minds of everyone in Plainview. “Could you let us in on the inner workings of that random number-generating machine? Or, how about that machine that prints the tickets on that special material?”
Martin just shook his head. “I’m afraid those are our ‘trade secrets,’ so to speak.”
“But how do we know that those numbers are truly random?”
“You were allowed to inspect the machine when we demonstrated it for you, remember? I thought that you were all satisfied that the machine really was generating random numbers.”
“Well, you’re right. I have no doubts about it. I was just wondering exactly how it worked, and I bet everyone else in town is wondering, too.”
Then James asked what was probably his most important question so far. “I do have at least one more question for you, Martin: are the tickets valid for all drawings, or just one?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, he got his answer: “Just one.”
“So... how are we going to know which drawing the tickets are valid for?”
“We’ve taken care of that,” replied Martin. “There’s an expiration date printed on each of them. If you take a look at a ticket, you’ll see it in the lower right corner.”
James took a ticket out of his shirt pocket and verified that statement for himself. “There it is, I see it.” He held it up to the sunlight, and he saw that the small printing also bled through, just like the five-digit number.
“And that’s today’s date, I see.”
“Yes it is,” replied Martin. “That means it’s good for today’s drawing.”
“So we have to buy new tickets for each drawing?”
“That is correct,” answered Martin.
“Okay then, I think that about covers it. Thank you for your time, Martin.”
“You’re very welcome,” said Martin, as he stepped back into the booth.
James had just one more request for Martin. “Do you mind if I take a pad of these forms home with me?” he asked.
“No, not at all. Actually, I would encourage all of you to do the same.”
“Well... he certainly seemed like a reasonable person who knows what he’s doing,” James thought. At least now he had enough to write his article. At this point, the Plainview lottery was known to probably everyone in town, so it wasn’t exactly news. But no one else was writing a newspaper article about it. James had to do it for history’s sake, and also to let everyone know the gentlemen’s names.
James wrote a few more notes in his notebook, and then closed it and put it back in his pocket, where it joined his lottery tickets. Then that urge to buy yet another ticket, just one more, overcame him again. “Why not do it?” he thought. He still had a few dollars in his wallet, and he was still there at the ticket booth, so why not? He reached into his pants pocket again, pulled out his wallet and grabbed one of the remaining one-dollar bills, once again stepped up to the booth, grabbed a pencil and a ticket form from the pad in his pocket, wrote the number ‘65234’ in the blanks, handed the form and his money to Martin, and just two seconds later, James was handed his twelfth ticket. “Glad to see you back, James!” said Martin with a smile.
James walked away from the booth again as he put his new ticket in his shirt pocket to join the other eleven. He was going over the conversation he had with Martin in his mind, when he suddenly thought of another question that he felt he should have asked Martin: “Did anyone win the Covington lottery?”
Right after he thought of that question, James thought to himself, “Now that is a strange question to ask. Of course someone won the Covington lottery. There had to be a winner. At least one. It may have taken them a few drawings, but there simply had to be a winner. On second thought, I don’t need to ask Martin that question.” Perhaps he really didn’t.
Afternoon turned to evening in Plainview. At long last, it was time for the big moment! Yes, finally the drawing of the first winning number of the first lottery in Plainview! The townspeople started to make their way back to the town square. Several were heard to mutter, “This is it!” and “This is exciting!” and “I think I’m going to win!” One man was heard to say “I bought one hundred and fifty-five tickets and I think that gold is mine!”
Then, at seven o’clock on the dot, Martin stepped out of the ticket booth and looked out upon the crowd gathering in the town square. “Greetings Plainview!” he shouted into the microphone. “This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for!”
John, Edward, Victor, and Floyd had just taken their places on the platform with Martin, after shutting the windows in the ticket booth, and they all stood there waiting for the rest of the townspeople to get to the town square. Just a few seconds later, someone shouted, “C’mon, what are you waiting for? I think we’re all here, and it’s seven o’clock, isn’t it? I think we’re ready for the first winning lottery number now, aren’t we?”
James was still there, and he took his place at the front of the crowd. He saw it as his duty to record the first winning number in his notebook; certainly that belonged in the article he was planning to write. Everyone there now had their tickets in their hands, waiting in anxious anticipation of the announcement of the first winning number, James included. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Martin stepped over to the random number-generating machine, put his index finger on the bright red button, and pushed it.
“And the first winning number is...”
Everyone in town stood transfixed as the mysterious machine went through its routine again, just like it had done during the demonstration the day before. Black numerals flashed in the five white windows as it once again made a sound like the rolling of dice. Then the numerals stopped flashing, and one by one, each of the five windows displayed a single digit of a random five-digit number. The first winning number of the first Plainview lottery was drawn! Martin finished his announcement: “’87063!’” he shouted into the microphone, as James wrote the number in his notebook. “‘87063’.”
After James wrote the number down, he looked at all of his tickets. One by one, he glanced at each ticket just long enough to verify that every one was indeed a loser. Everyone else in the crowd hurriedly, and excitedly, did the same thing. “‘87063’, ’87063!’” people were heard to keep repeating. “Aw, looks like I’m not a winner this time!” someone exclaimed. “Neither am I!” said someone else. “But all of our tickets are still good for the next drawing, right?” someone asked Martin.
Martin was quick to answer, “No, your tickets are good for this drawing only. You have to buy new tickets for the next drawing next Saturday.”
But then Martin heard this same person ask him, “So, how will you know these tickets are no good anymore?”
“That’s easy. Today’s date is printed in the lower right corner of each ticket, take a look for yourself.”
Then the person took a look at her ticket. “I see it. There it is. Very well,” she said, with disappointment in her voice.
Everyone else in the crowd continued to check their tickets, only to find that each and every one was a loser. “I’ll just have to keep buying tickets!” was uttered more than once by more than one person. The crowd gradually thinned out as the lottery players checked their tickets and realized that no one had won the gold bars this time. The last ones to leave the town square were the ones who had bought the most tickets.
While they were walking away, Martin spoke into the microphone once again and reminded Plainview, “Remember, we will have another drawing next Saturday, same time, same place. Remember also that you have to buy new tickets for the next drawing. The tickets you bought for today’s drawing are no good anymore, the expiration date is printed in the lower right. Whatever you do, folks, don’t stop buying tickets. You’ll never win if you do that. And better luck next time!”
Then, the last of the losers left the town square. The very last one to leave was James, who diligently made a note of the last things that Martin said. James took his losing tickets and dropped them on the ground as he was leaving, joining the hundreds of losing tickets that were already there. He walked off a town square that was littered with losing lottery tickets. That was the first time that the people of Plainview had treated their town square in that manner.