This story is by Julie Jensen and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ticket to Hell
April felt the heat of her fever as she bent down to kiss Holly goodnight. Holly’s medicine was almost out, and every night April prayed for a miracle. She cut corners everywhere. Despite Will working two jobs; they were behind on the mortgage and their checkbook was overdrawn. Leukemia nearly took their child and their marriage 6 months earlier.
“Are you crying?” Will met April in the hall outside Holly’s room.
“I cry more than you know Will. You are barely here. What are we going to do? The bank called again today.” April sobbed on his shoulder.
“I wish I could fix everything. I am trying. I will get another job if I need to.” Will encouraged.
“If it comes down to it, I can work from home. I’m exhausted. Let’s go to bed.” She said, leading Will by the hand.
“Good morning Holly. Would you like pancakes?” April asked.
“No thanks, Mommy. I don’t feel so good.” Holly whispered.
“You need your strength. I’ll bring you some toast and juice.”
“Okay mommy. Mommy?”
“Don’t ever leave me.” Holly pleaded.
“Holly. Of course, I won’t leave you. Why would you think such a thing?”
“I had a bad dream that you left and never came home.” She sobbed.
“Oh Holly. I’m sorry. You’re only eight. You don’t have to worry about that.” April said, cuddling her.
“Good morning!” Will exclaimed. “Why all the tears this morning?”
“Daddy, daddy.” Holly said as Will grabbed her in his famous bear hug. “I dreamt that mommy left and never came home.”
“Oh sweetie. That’s awful. It was just a dream. Your mommy and I love you. We are not going anywhere. Please eat some breakfast for me.” Will said tapping her nose.
“Okay daddy.” Holly sniffled. “Do you have to work today?”
“Yes. I do pumpkin. I will see both of my girls tonight.”
“Have a good day hon.” April kissed him and watched him leave. She wondered how long he could continue working 17-hour days. She prayed nightly the stress wouldn’t encourage him to drink again. It nearly broke them. After Holly’s diagnosis, he quit cold-turkey.
Half way down the walk Will hollered back. “I heard the lottery is $450 million. I know you hate it, but please pick up a ticket today.” He winked at her. “It’s my only vice.” Will said, wishing he hadn’t.
The lottery was Will’s passion. He thought it would solve all their financial woes. Mainly he wanted a better life for Holly. He hated seeing her so sick. He blamed himself in part for drinking and not being present. He would give anything to have her healthy. He barley saw her, and the lottery was his solution. Holly could get the experimental drug she needed that could lead to remission.
“Thanks for reminding me.” April said signaling with her thumb up. She knew his feelings. She thought it was a waste of time and money. Money, they didn’t have. However, it made him happy.
“Erin. Hi it’s April. Can you sit for Holly while I run some errands?” She called last minute hoping she’d be free.
“Hi April. Sure, I can. I’ll be over in 10 minutes.” Erin said. She was April’s lifesaver.
April got out a few times a week when a sitter was available. Since she quit her job to care for Holly, she cherished these little bits of freedom. Ironically, she left feeling guilty. Her heart couldn’t take much more. She would give anything to trade places with her.
After grocery shopping, April remembered the lotto ticket. She pulled into Harold’s, the town’s “lucky” gas station market. It had sold 6 winning lotto tickets in the last 5 years. Dreamers lined out the door when the jackpot reached over $100 million. No doubt thoughts of million-dollar mansions, sports cars and beachfront property danced in their heads.
Same numbers babe? April, bored with the line, sent Will a quick text.
Always my love. I got my ticket this morning. Will replied.
“Ma’am?” The clerk said interrupting April’s thoughts.
“Sorry. I’d like a $10 lotto ticket.”
“That’s it ma’am? You waited an hour for one chance?”
“Yes. Thank you and you shouldn’t judge.”
April took the ticket and left frustrated. As she was searching for her car, a strong wind grabbed the ticket from her hand. She chased it around the building where a hooded figure stood. When the shadow approached her with the ticket, she ran.
“What the fuck?” She yelled, her heart pounding in her ears. She reached for her cell.
“April.” The voice surrounded her. “Your phone can’t help you.”
Terrified, April stopped to find she was alone. An ominous, ethereal figure threatening behind. The hollow face approached her with sunken cheeks and empty sockets once holding eyes. April was transfixed, unable to move.
“What do you want? And how do you know my name?” She managed, as an unclean chill ran down her spine.
“I have your winning lotto ticket, but you have to agree to the contract.” The shadow spoke with a vibrato that seemed to go right through her.
“What do you mean, winning?” April quivered.
“This ticket has the winning numbers. You won’t have any more worries. Your dreams will be fulfilled.”
“Why should I believe you?” April asked desperate to run, but her legs like cement.
“I know your story. You would give anything for your daughter’s life.” The darkness echoed.
“What happens to me? What kind of contract?” April begged.
“Your life or Will’s. You have 24 hours to choose. If you tell anyone-the contract is void and your daughter dies.”
And with that the ticket floated to the ground. April picked it up, noticing the crowd returned. Chills, then heat came over her as she ran towards her car. She stopped only to puke. April jumped in her car and slammed the door.
“I never wanted this! April said pleading for forgiveness. “How am I supposed to choose between my daughter’s health and her being without a mother or a father?”
Tears streamed down April’s face. Convulsing, she threw open her door and rushed back behind the building. It was empty. She thought she was losing her mind.
“I will not sell either of our souls to the devil. Even if he is a drunk. My daughter needs a mother and a father. I don’t need 24 hours!” She screamed in front of a loitering crowd.
In shock, April raced out of the parking lot reaching for her ringing phone. As she pulled out, she looked down to see “unknown caller” on the screen. She was broadsided by oncoming traffic.
“I have a pulse. She’s alive. Ma’am? Can you hear me?” A first responder asked April.
“What happened? I can’t move.” April managed.
“You were in a car accident. I am going to get you out. Stay calm. Can I call someone?”
“My husband Will.” She managed before fainting.
“April you’re awake.” Will said relieved.
“April’s awake, but she has a concussion. She’s not out of the woods yet.” Dr. Smith interrupted.
“How are you feeling?” Will continued after the doctor left.
“My head is killing me. I’ve been having nightmares that I’m being chased by a demon. Please no more lottery tickets. It’s making me crazy.” April said confused.
“I won’t buy any more. I love you. Get some sleep. I’m going to go get some coffee.” Will left her side and went to the hospital chapel.
“Will fell on the first pew, his tears uncontrollable. What have I done?” He asked himself. “Please forgive me.” He pleaded.
Will enters April’s room with the doctor looking concerned.
“Doctor. Is everything alright?” Will asked worried.
“It’s not looking good Will. I’m so sorry.” Dr. Smith consoled.
“No. no. no.” Will collapsed. “It wasn’t supposed to be her.”
“Will? Is that you?” April whispered.
“I’m here April. “I’m so sorry.” Will said, crying.
“What are you talking about?” April asked confused.
“We won the lottery.” Will confessed.
“I’m confused. That dream I told you about wasn’t a dream.” April said, white as a sheet. “I said no. I said I wouldn’t agree to the contract.”
“You said no, but I didn’t.” He cried. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“What did you do? Will, how could you?” She asked broken-hearted.
“Please forgive me.” Will said.
Twelve hours later Will died of a heart attack.