The Luckiest Woman Alive

Submitted into Contest #180 in response to: Write about someone whose luck is running out.... view prompt

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Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

Trigger warning: kidnapping, firearm, threat of violence, foul language

They call me “The Luckiest Woman Alive.” 

I would say that’s a pretty accurate description – that is, if you buy into the more traditional meaning of “luck” –, as I’ve won pretty much every lottery, sweepstake and contest I’ve ever entered, the prizes ranging from all-expenses-paid trips and dream houses to cars, boats and cold hard cash. 

Of course, another term of endearment given to me – one that’s particularly popular amongst the masses – is “Rich Bitch.” I hate to use the “poor little rich girl” card here but it turns out that having money doesn’t exactly make you well-loved. I know, shocking right? I often have a good cry about it on my yacht, on my way to the bank (#sorrynotsorry).

To be fair, though, the title of “The Luckiest Woman Alive” feels rather ironic right now as I find myself sitting tied to this sweaty rickety plastic chair, inside what I can only gather is some kind of a shipping container with a dimmed light bulb right above my head, flickering like a poor man’s disco ball. 

On my left-hand side, next to the wavy, rusty wall, stands a man. He’s about 5’9, slightly chubby with a mustache and red overalls that make him look like Dennis the Menace on steroids. 

I gather that this is the man who’s kidnapped me. 

Granted, I never actually saw my kidnapper on my way here but that’s because I had a nosebleed seat (read: in the trunk of my own car with a black bag pulled over my head and my nose literally bleeding after having an unfortunate encounter with someone’s elbow), but there’s something about the way this man has trained the barrel of his gun on me that doesn’t exactly scream “knight in shining armor!”

However, despite the gun pointed at me, my bloody and throbbing nose, the duct tape digging into my wrists behind my back, I decide that I feel pretty okay. In a strange way, it’s almost a relief that this has finally happened, that after all these years I’ve finally been kidnapped, something that was bound to happen eventually anyway. And maybe it’s this very relief, my sudden clarity of mind, or the duct tape around my wrists, stopping the blood flow to that part of my brain that deals with reason, but I suddenly feel an overwhelming urge to say something to my kidnapper, like I could talk myself out of this, negotiate.

And so I clear my throat and open my mouth. 

“Excuse me...um…” 

I don’t know my kidnapper’s name, but since a) I know how important it is to establish rapport early on in any negotiation (torture included, I’d imagine), b) I personally hate when someone calls me “ma’am,” or “hey you,” and c) he’s a Caucasian male in the US, I decide to play the odds. “...John?” I venture.

Unfortunately, this does not have the desired effect as my kidnapper, whose name is clearly not John, turns to me swiftly, an irritated look plastered on his face. “Did you call me John?” he says, his husky voice bouncing off the walls. 

My eyes dart from left to right, as if looking for the nearest exit, and manage a little nod.

“That’s not my name!” he barks. “Why would you call me that? Is that some rich person thing where you just call everybody John and they never correct you because they don’t want to upset you or overwork your precious little brain?”

Whoa! I hadn’t even considered someone could draw that kind of a conclusion. Also, he’s clearly making some very stereotypical assumptions about rich people here, but what with my life hanging in the balance and all, I think it best not to point that out. 

“You just look like a John,” I offer calmly.

There’s a small pause, then his mouth stretches into a crooked smile. “What? Like, John Wayne or something?”

More like “Here’s Johnny!”

“Hmm, I was thinking of another John, but yeah, I mean, sure.”

He steps closer to me now. So close, in fact, that I can smell him. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t smell what I would expect a Dexter-type serial killer to smell like (soap and bleach) but more like a mixture of cologne and sweat. “Well, you’ve got my attention now,” he hisses. “What do you want to say?”

I gulp, the sound more audible than I would have hoped. “I was just wondering,” I start, “what is a girl like me doing in a place like this?”

Not-John stares at me. Above me, the light bulb is flickering frantically, making a static sound. 

“Glad you asked,” he says at last, then extends his arms to his sides. “This,” he says, “is a kidnapping.”

Duh.

I shift my weight uncomfortably. “Well, that much I figured. I mean, the bag over my head was kind of a tip-off, wasn’t it?”

He blanks at me. I guess he was expecting me to gasp or faint or have more of a reaction than I did because he goes on to say, “No. I mean, this is a real kidnapping.”

“Is there any other kind?”

“What I mean is this isn’t some rich socialite’s ‘Extreme Kidnapping Experience’ or something like that. Or some Skull and Bones’ or Sticks and Stones’ or some other secret society’s initiation ritual.”

“Thank God for that!” I let out. “Personally, I’ve always abhorred secret societies.”

He grabs the collar of my blood-stained Mulberry silk blouse, pulling the fabric so hard that it tears, and I swear that somewhere I hear millions of silk worms screaming, “Nooooooooooooo!”

“Do you think this is a joke, lady?” he says, his breath hot on my face. Without waiting for an answer, he lifts up his gun and dangles it in front of my face. “Do you know what this is? This is a gun. A Glock! A .22 caliber.”

The thing is I don’t take this as a joke at all. I guess you never really know how you’ll react in a crisis until it actually happens, and now I know. I’m calm, I’m focused, I’m not thinking about what could happen, I’m fully in the moment. Which is probably why, instead of begging him not to shoot me, the next thing out of my mouth is, “It’s…um…very shiny.”

I can see the color drain from his face, and he lets his arms drop to his sides. “Shiny?” he echoes, incredulous. “Shiny?”

“I know,” I say with an apologetic sigh. “Gun small-talk is not my forte, but I’m really not a firearm person, so what can you do? Anyway, there must be a reason why you haven’t shot me yet. So, what is it? What do you want from me?”

He stares at me from one eye to the other and that crooked smile appears on his lips again. “Information,” he says and, then, without further ado, turns around on his heels and walks away, his shoes making a funny, almost non-threatening, Charlie Chaplinesque squeaking sound against the floor. 

He stops next to the door of the container, bends over to pick up a brown bag of goodies from the floor and pulls out…

…a pair of big, hefty pliers. The type he will probably use to go “this piggy went to the market” on my toes, or fingers, or teeth. 

Awesome.

He holds the pliers up, glances at me, gives me an evil grin, and in just two leaps is back to standing next to me, brandishing the object in the air a couple of inches from my face.

“Care to guess what these babies are for?” he asks.

“Mmm, some kind of home improvement?” I offer.

“They are for ripping off your tongue.”

“Ah.”

Aw, barf.

“And what exactly,” I manage, “would prompt you to rip off my tongue?”

“If you don’t tell me what I want to know.”

I think about that for a moment. “But if I don’t have a tongue, then I really can’t tell you what you want to know.”

“Then you better start talking,” he says.

I want to challenge him on that logic, but then just give up and nod. “Fine. How can I help you?” 

I already know what he wants to know, of course. It’s what everybody wants to know. It’s what I want to know. Not-John leans closer to me, showing off his dental hygiene (or the lack thereof). “How the Hell did you win seventeen lotteries? The odds of winning even one are infinitesimal. So. What’s your trick?” 

It’s actually way more than seventeen lotteries, but when you have a gun against your head, it’s probably best not to brag.

“And don’t even think about lying,” he says before I can open my mouth. “I can always tell when someone is not being sincere. Professional hazard. Lying will earn you a bullet in the head!”

“Bullet in the head. Got it.”

“So, tell me the truth.”

I let out a sigh. “Fine, but I feel like you’re going to be disappointed with my answer.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

I draw a deep breath, bracing myself - and him - for what’s to come. “I got lucky,” I say at last.

Not-John chuckles, then his face turns serious as he realizes that I’m not joking. 

“Lucky,” he echoes.

“Lucky,” I say. “That’s it. Sheer, pure, good old-fashioned dumb luck.”

He gawks at me, examining my face, then finally scoffs and shakes his head. “What a fucking waste!” he groans. He walks away from me, paces the floor, his hands folded behind his neck, cursing. Then he seems to snap out of it, strides back to me, grabs his gun, and presses it against my forehead. “I guess I’ll kill you now, then.”

Whoaaaaa! That escalated fast.

“No, now wait a minute, I told you the truth!” I protest. “You said lying would earn me a bullet in the head and I didn’t lie!”

“I know you didn’t lie,” he says. “That’s why I’m killing you.”

“Wow,” I say, flabbergasted. “I hate to break it to you, my friend, but you don’t have the slightest clue how this whole carrot-and-stick thing is supposed to work.”

“It’s just no use,” he whines. “If you’re telling me the truth - and I know you are -, that means that there’s no trick, that it’s really just been dumb luck. So, now there’s no use keeping you alive because you’ve seen my face and you’ll just go running to the cops, making things difficult for me.”

“B-but I could give you money,” I sputter. “I don’t know if you’ve heard but I’m kind of loaded.”

He rolls his eyes. “And why would someone like you give money to someone like me?”

I shrug as much as the duct tape around my wrists allows. “Well, that gun against my temple is pretty convincing.”

He seems to be thinking about that, then smacks his lips. “No,” he says. “If it was money I wanted, I would have pulled a bank job. I wanted to know your trick. But now that I know that you don’t have one-”

“I’m lucky!” I interrupt him, my voice shrill.

“Yeah, yeah, we’ve established that,” he says dismissively. 

“You pull that trigger,” I say with emphasis, “and the bullet is going to ricochet. It’s going to be your brain on the floor instead of mine.”

He stares at me, then bursts out laughing. “Now why would it do that?”

“I told you,” I say, staring him dead in the eye. “I. Am. Lucky.”

He scoffs. “Just because you won seventeen lotteries…”

“Thirty-six,” I interrupt him. “It was thirty-six lotteries.”

He narrows his eyes at me, suspicious. He must see that I’m not lying. “I’ve heard of seventeen,” he says.

“If I’d had my way, you would only have heard of the first one, the time when I thought people would actually want to celebrate my victory with me. I know, I know, I was young and naive. The second time, I tried to hide it, but in California you can’t remain anonymous when claiming lottery winnings. By the time number three came along, I had moved to another state, but it leaked to the press, as did numbers four to seventeen. I’ve gotten wiser since then, of course. Now everybody who works with me or for me has to sign an iron-clad NDA, and I have a very small circle of people around me.”

Not-John blanks at me. He suddenly looks like he’s having trouble breathing. “So, you’re not just a multi-millionaire,” he manages, “you’re a…”

“...billionaire,” I say with a nod. “Many times over.”

He shakes his head disapprovingly. “That’s way more money than anybody should ever have!”

“Agreed,” I say. “But in my defense, I give most of my money to charities, research, startups, plays, my family and friends, and yes, sometimes strangers like you. The only reason that I still keep playing and entering contests is to see how long it’ll take until my luck runs out.”

He gives a grave nod. “And now it seems like it has.”

“Or has it?” I say hurriedly. “I don’t know that yet. And neither do you.”

It’s a small movement, but I can see his hand that’s holding the gun starting to shake.

“But your bad luck has already started,” he points out. “I mean, you were kidnapped, for Pete’s sake!”

“I don’t see that so much as bad luck.”

“No?”

“No. It’s been… interesting so far. Granted, I wasn’t crazy about getting ‘bag hair’ on my way here, and that elbow to the nose was really unnecessary. But it’s definitely been a day with a lot of firsts. For example, I saw my own car from a whole new perspective.”

“The trunk?”

“Yep. Gave me a whole new appreciation for the car. And a reminder of how much I prefer the backseat.”

He laughs, despite himself. 

“Also, never been to a shipping container before. So, that’s new.”

He offers a small nod. “This is a car carrier, actually.”

“Really?” I say. “Well, I find it quaint. Do you come here often?”

A ghost of a smile dances on his lips. “Why? You hitting on me?”

“Hmm, well, I can’t say that Stockholm syndrome has fully kicked in yet but maybe, sans the kidnapping and the elbow to the nose and the whole gun-against-my-head thing, I would definitely probably maybe perhaps not completely swipe left on you.”

The smile on his lips disappears and his eyes clear with realization. “You’re stalling,” he says.

“Maybe,” I admit. “Or maybe it’s you who’s stalling. Maybe you’re thinking, ‘Do I really want to test my luck against her? The Luckiest Woman Alive?’”

And that’s all I need, that seed of doubt, that hesitation, buying me just a couple of extra seconds.

He forces a laugh and presses the barrel of the gun tighter against my head. “Pathetic,” he murmurs and then there’s a loud bang and my eyes squeeze shut in anticipation of the pain.

But the pain never comes. 

When I open my eyes, I see Not-John still facing me, but now his hands are up in the air and there’s loud yelling bouncing off the rusty walls. Behind Not-John, I see a sea of blue uniforms and the kicked-in door of the car carrier.

Just like in slow-motion, I watch the uniforms run towards Not-John, cuff him in front of me and read him his Miranda. Another blue uniform runs to me and unties me. She says something, but suddenly it seems I have forgotten how to speak and understand words.

She says it again. This time, I understand her. “Are you okay?” 

I manage a small nod and then, for a reason unbeknownst to me, I double over, bury my head in my hands and burst into tears. 

“Ma’am,” the cop tells me gently. “You’re having a panic attack. Can you breathe?”

But it’s not that. 

I lift my head up and smile at her. “I’m fine,” I manage to choke out. 

“Are you sure? There’s a doctor right outside who will check you.”

I shake my head. “That’s okay.”

“I must insist.”

“Can it wait?” I ask. “I’d like to get some air first.”

The cop hesitates, then nods. She pulls out a blue baseball cap. “Better wear this,” she says. “The press is already here.”

The press…

I guess the one good thing about having paparazzi sleep outside my gate is that it’s difficult to kidnap me without them noticing. One of them must have called the cops.

I slip out the door into the cold evening air, hiding behind a wall of blue uniforms, and draw in a deep, slow inhale. I can see the flashing lights ahead, people screaming my name, the helicopters hovering above me, but it’s like I’m witnessing it all from outside my body. 

It’s late and the entire sky looks like one big storm cloud, casting a dark shadow on my surroundings, painting them black and white, and yet, I see everything in technicolor. And it’s at this very moment that I realize that I’ve never felt luckier than I do right here and right now. Lucky to be alive, lucky to draw another breath, lucky to have another day in this beautiful world. 

My gaze sweeps over the flashing lights. My kidnapper appears to be long gone, so I turn around and cast my words to the wind that carries them away, never to be heard by anyone.

“Thank you, Not-John,” I say under my breath.

Seriously. 

Thank you.

January 14, 2023 03:21

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