One in forty-seven million. Those were the odds of winning. The thought never even crossed Sarah’s mind while buying the ticket. It was nothing but a piece of paper, good to be shoved in her pocket in the name of a vague daydream and discarded after the wrong numbers had been drawn. Yet, there she was, paralyzed in the middle of the living room, one of the winning combinations in her hand.
It was as though the walls were caving in, ready to crush her. She put on her coat and rushed out of the microscopic apartment into the snowstorm. Something about the bone-chilling cold eased her terror in the face of what she had gotten into. She read the back of the ticket again to make sure she understood the terms.
Winners of the Forever & Ever lottery will earn one of the coveted spots into the Preservation Initiative. Preserved humans will remain in a state of biological suspension inside a cryogenic capsule until a cure for their condition is found.
“Until a cure for their condition is found.” This could be years. Decades. Who knew when a cure would for Tryglein would be found? It was the most misunderstood of degenerative nerve diseases. Weeks ago, a nurse was doing rounds throughout the hospital in the terminal illnesses ward, trying to sell these to whoever would buy them. Sarah was receiving her first round of palliative treatment. Her mother tried to talk her out of it.
“Can you imagine?” she exclaimed, scandalized. “Preying on vulnerable people, the sick and the lonely. This woman isn’t worthy of being called a nurse!”
Sarah’s mother always had a sense for drama, but on some level her daughter agreed. Every patient in the ward had a single dream: to be healthy. Nothing else mattered. In the face of terminal illness, health is the single beacon of hope, the only exit strategy. For many, it was only a wish, a desire with no tangible hope of fulfillment.
Now, with the advent of Preservation Technology, the only flame keeping that wish alive was for one to be biologically suspended until a cure was found. Effectively, it was still hopeless. The resources for Preservation were only available to the billionaires of the world, or those who won the occasional lottery offering spots. The odds of winning were simply to small. At least that’s what she always thought.
Sally’s mother had a different opinion, however.
“If only you could win,” she would cry. “You deserve so much better. You have so much to live for.”
The young patient in a wheelchair next to her did have a lot to live for. The youngest lives being taken were the hardest to digest, especially for a parent. Dying at nine-years-old was simply unthinkable.
The following day, in the absence of her mother, she let herself be tempted and purchased one before leaving the ward to go back home, until her next round of treatment that is. What was she supposed to do now? She didn’t want to die, that’s for sure, but she was also petrified at the idea of being Preserved in a cryogenic device for God knows how long.
What would her mother say? Her father, her sister… She would have to leave them all behind and be brought back to consciousness in a foreign world she knew nothing of, with no friends, no family. There was also the horrendous possibility a cure would never be found.
Of course, it wouldn’t be all that different from the world she was living in now. After receiving her diagnosis, Sarah had cut out most of her social ties. No one wants a dying friend, she thought. Death is the ultimate downer at a party. There was no exciting gossip to be had about her future. She had no future. Only five months to live. Five dreary months, if luck was on her side.
Absent-mindedly, she turned a street corner and ended up in a Christmas market. Large tents shielded the families from the snow, and Sarah caught sight of an eight-year-old girl excitedly running towards her mother, a nutcracker in hand.
“Mom!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Can we buy it? Please say yes, please say yes!”
“Are you serious?” she replied, rolling her eyes. “What are you going to do with a nutcracker anyway. It’s not even a real toy.”
“But it’s so pretty!”
“These merchants sure know how to empty my pockets. Alright, we’ll buy it.”
It was like reliving a scene from her childhood, back when things were simpler. She missed the way her mother’s voice sounded before the disease. In her youth, her mother would reprimand her, speak to her sarcastically, as she would with any other human being. Now, each of her words was meant to comfort her, to shield her from any harm, and it was immensely annoying. At the end of the day, she only wanted to be a normal person again. Not a teacup made of fine china.
Another kid was sitting in Santa’s lap at the foot of a gigantic Christmas tree that grazed the top of the tent.
“What can Santa get you this year, young man?” asked Saint Nic through his beard.
“I really want the new 3DPlay console,” the child instantly answered, unequivocal.
Santa glanced at the boy’s father, who nodded disapprovingly.
“It might not be possible,” Santa diplomatically explained. “See, back at the North Pole, the elves have started to run low on the pieces they need to make the console. Maybe next year?”
“That’s alright,” said the boy, mildly disappointed. “Yeah, there’s always next year.”
There might not be next year, she wanted to yell. Her whole existence, she had stopped herself from living life to its full extent, because there was always tomorrow. There was no point in going out of her way to be happy in the moment, happiness was to be found in the future. The present was about productivity, and only when success had been achieved would she find herself deserving of happiness.
She finally settled on a bench at the far end of the tent, by a group of performers in red clothing singing carols. Their excess of glee was sickening, almost as sickening as her disease. The bench was right on the edge of the tent, midway between the storm and the warmth of the market. She felt the incessant snowfall against her back, but kept her eyes focused on the joyful faces of the children running here and there, the ticket still within her grasp.
That darn ticket! She had made peace with her condition before. She was ready to die. Her win was no blessing, it was a curse meant to plunge her into a deep existential crisis. Nothing good could come from a lottery for dying patients, mother was right. Only pain and dilemma. The promise of tomorrow… at the expense of today. As always.
All of a sudden, her remaining five months on this earth felt like they could be better spent. If only she had the certainty she could still make up for the lost time, and be treated like a real person. Her hand instinctively pulled her cellphone out of her pocket, and she dialed a number she barely dialed anymore.
“Mom?” she said, a tremor in her voice.
“Yes, dear?” her mother replied. “Are you alright? You sound shaken. Is it…”
“No, it has nothing to do with it. Listen, I just want you to tell me I’m stupid.”
“Tell me I’m stupid. Like you used to tell me whenever I did something stupid.”
“Sweetie, you’re not…”
“Please, say it. I’ve been stupid. I deserve it. It won’t break me. Quite the opposite.”
A long silence followed as she waited for her mother to find the strength to say it.
Sarah beamed. She hadn’t felt so normal in months.
“Thank you. I think I’ll come over now. I miss you.”
She hung up. In the line up for Santa, Sarah spotted a child in a wheelchair. She recognized the signs instantly. It was Sally. On her way out of the market, Sarah gave the ticket to Santa. Sally would have a lovely gift this Christmas.