Andre M. Zucker
He looked deep into Stanley Brooks and said, “Get in the car.” He stood perfectly symmetrical with a long stretch of smooth blacktop highway behind him. Dressed all in white; white suit, white Panama Hat, white cigarette burning red at the tip with the cleanest black boots one could imagine. “America’s waiting for you… Stanley… only you can deliver the message.”
His hands placed on the hood of the car which it ignited with a roar. The red car started to vibrate and hum waiting for Stanly to get in the passenger side. The sunset reflected off the car and the endless blacktop behind it made the car’s contrast even greater. The diner parking lot they stood in was suddenly vacant of all its customers and pedestrians. Stanley was sure people were inside the diner eating, but no one would come out until this episode was done. It was like a painting; alive but frozen. The road was clear waiting for him and Brooks to ride west deeper into America.
Stanley first came across him in the parking lot of a shopping center just over the state line. A beautiful blue sky hung over them and the distant woodlands could be squinted at beyond the interstate and off-ramps. There was light pedestrian traffic in the parking lot and the sounds of cars racing across the interstate somehow were muffled by planted trees and purely aesthetic bushes.
Stanley stood with a microphone to his lips on top of an old wooden soap box with a small PA system at his feet. Twenty five feet away from Stanley stood his friend Luc Allen. Luc was behind a video camera and tripod recording Stanley. Luc being an amateur cinematographer with a semi-expensive camera, nice looking tripod, and a professional editing set up on his home computer, was the official cinematographer of this event. The shot was level, the white balance was correct and the lighting was nice and bright, now Stanley had to deliver his performance.
“He that hastens to be rich hath an evil eye, and considers not that poverty shall come upon him. And that’s what it is to gamble and that’s what it is to play the lottery.” Stanley’s voice spilled out of the PA system. The parking lot was a slat plain with a few metallic colored cars. Some people looked over on their way to the mall, but no one cared. Stanley continued his speech claiming that the State Lottery was an affront to the religious order of the county. People looked away, But Stanley kept speaking with all of his force and heart.
Stanley was a satirist, blogger and amateur comedy writer. In his days doing this he experienced absolutely no success. Even his mother would occasionally fail to read his online entries. He focused on political humor mainly making light of other people’s interest in moral values. Values that he thought consumed people and blinded them from rational thought. He would often find himself rebelling against the overwhelming moral brigades out there, however being against them would consume him and block him from getting on with his life.
Most people thought Stanley was stagnant he had not managed to move forward in life. No real income, no love interests, no success or ambition to have any. He was thoroughly satisfied with his own thoughts and sense of humor. Stanley was either ignorant or unconcerned with what other people thought of him and believed that the best of him was yet to come. His friends were getting married, having children, taking vacations and obsessing over their monetary worth. Stanley was happy not to participate.
Once a week Stanley and his friend Luc would meet at their local coffee shop. Both engaged in conversation that would occasionally end up on Stanley’s blog. At this same coffee shop Stanley and his friend Luc conceived a plan to draw more attention to their work. The plan they would carry out two weeks later in the parking lot of a mini-mall just on the other side of the state line. Luc would film it and Stanley would give a performance to an unsuspecting public.
It was simple satire. The two would impersonate religious fundamentalists and attack the state lottery. A loose reading of the Bible provided Stanley with quotes and his forceful deep loud voice would carry through a PA system. The hope was that Stanley would play the part and the people around him would react. The reactions would be caught by Luc on video, posted on the internet and laughed at by people who share similar political/moral beliefs. Stanley would get the credit for making these people look crazy, evil, blind or whatever other people would think. He had ambition of going further with his satire, writing for television directing a film and being a general spokesperson for people who disliked the same things he did.
On that clear blue afternoon Stanley and Luc did not get any of the reactions they hoped or planned for. Stanley’s voice failed to stop anyone in in the parking lot and then a clean pair of boots walked towards the soap box Stanley stood on. Stanley noticed his first listener and kept speaking. He quoted bible verses, made accusations and tried his best to draw more people in. Then Stanley ran out of things to say, he stood in silence while the man in the clean boots looked at him. Then he spoke, “Halleluiah! Halleluiah! Halleluiah.”
“Finally” Stanley thought “A reaction.”
Luc got it all on tape and later that day after a quick editing job he posted it. The video received a few hits and no comments as the week went on. But this did not detour Stanley and Luc. Without thinking about it they prepared to do the same thing again. Both felt they could do bigger and better. They picked another shopping center three hours deeper into the adjoining state. Stanley wrote a longer speech and Luc made minor lighting and sound adjustments.
The choice to spoof the state lottery was not exactly arbitrary. Luc was an avid lottery player hoping for early retirement, extreme fortune or just enough money to not need a day job. Every day at 2pm on the dot Luc would play the exact same numbers and one day before an impassioned discussion at a coffee shop Stanley waited on line with him to purchase his daily ticket. Needless to say it all came to Stanley in that moment.
The man in the clean boots did not speak to Stanley or Luc after his boisterous reaction in the parking lot, but rather disappeared into the sunshine and blacktop. Neither saw him get into a car or enter the mall. It was as if he disappeared into the hazy atmosphere. Stanley scanned the black and yellow parking lot as they packed up their equipment but to no avail. Stanley thought the appearance of the man in the clean boots might have been a fluke, some crazy man or a onetime appearance. He hoped that in another section of this rural state there would be other people as passionate, animated and willing to express themselves as the man in the clean boots was. They needed another reaction to further justify their satire. If no one reacted Stanley would come off as a fool. So he gambled that somewhere else in the state other would feel a rage that hopefully he could direct at the lottery.
Just after Luc and Stanley unpacked their equipment and Luc set up their camera the man in the clean boots approached. Stanley saw him while Luc was consumed with adjusting the camera. They made direct eye contact and a rush a fear ran through Stanley’s body. Then he looked away and opened his mouth. “You again!” Stanley said.
The man smiled and walked away into the towards the picnic area of the road stop parking lot. Stanley almost stepped away to follow him but people started to move towards him to see what he was saying. Stanley hadn’t started speaking yet but quickly hopped onto his soap box. He started speaking with the passion that he imagined people wanted to see.
Stanley began his speech with the words “It’s a sin.” People smiled as he spoke. Periodically Stanley would see the man with the clean boots meandering through the parking lot. He never interrupted himself even though he wanted to. More and more people gathered as he spoke and he saw that the more he spoke, the more people were agreeing with him.
Stanley was overwhelmed by his success. The crowd didn’t yield large or boisterous reactions rather nods of agreement and the occasional vocalization. Stanley’s speech ran its course and then someone came out of the crowd and started speaking on top of Stanley’s soap box. Stanley’s ego never considered this option. Luc kept recording and Stanley looked over his shoulder for the man in the clean boots, again finding nothing. Stanley leaned over to Luc, “This is hilarious.” Luc put his finger to his lips and Stanley remained quiet.
“Did you see the same man from the last time?” Stanley asked Luc in the car ride back.
“Um… what… who?”
“Who is he?” Stanley asked not expecting an answer.
“Let’s pull over.”
Luc stopped the car at the first gas station back over their state line. “What’s up?” Stanley asked.
“You’re going to laugh, but I need to pick up my lotto ticket before the drawing.” They both chuckled as the bell of the gas station chimed their entrance. Luc entered the convenience store while Stanley went around back to use the bathroom. Once he was out of Luc’s sightline a pair of clean boots approached him.
Stanley spoke startled “You?”
“Your message is so clean, so pure. The lottery is the enemy and you have opened many eyes.” He said this and walked away. Stanley turned the corner after him.
“Who are you?”
The man didn’t respond and just kept walking as if he became deaf to Stanley’s words. “Hey!” Stanley yelled. The man entered his red car and seamlessly drove it away like the engine was on waiting for him. Stanley stood confused and Luc exited the shop with his ticket.
“What’s up?” Luc asked.
“Did you see… I thought I saw someone who was at the protest.”
Luc laughed, “Was he buying a lotto ticket?”
“He was the same guy the first time.”
Luc didn’t respond. They drove back and didn’t bring up the subject again. Stanley prepared his next speech for a protest scheduled earlier. His mind kept drifting to the man in the clean boots. Endless questions about the circumstances or coincidences that led to his arrival just gave Stanley a headache. He ignored these nagging questions as Luc posted the video on the internet.
Back at home Stanley was preparing for a third outing. The satire was getting away from Stanley, but he had not realized this yet. As he wrote he had the national news playing behind him. Three days had past since the last rally and the state lottery had made its way onto the national news. It wasn’t the boycott that the protesters had proposed but rather three murders of Lottery winners in that state.
The murders happened two days ago but only now had law enforcement connected the three victims with being past lottery winners. The murders were spread across the state but seemed to have happened simultaneously; suggesting the involvement of multiple perpetrators. The connection was obvious if only Stanley could admit it to himself. But the protest was so new, so unorganized. All they were was a flimsy boycott, an unseen internet video posting and the man with clean boots.
Stanley lost sleep but didn’t share his fear with anyone. He had another week before a planned rally at yet another min-mall over the state line. As the days passed Stanley couldn’t put together if the murders were connected and his fault or some random coincidence. This continued to eat away at him. Stanley could only find comfort in writing his speech although he knew it might be feeding some monster out there. It made him feel like there was some purpose to his work.
The satire was slipping away. It was supposed to make people laugh and so far no comedy came of any of this, nobody cared, nobody was out there laughing with Stanley at the rest of the world. Stanley Brooks was nothing more than a voice in the darkness.
Around 9 pm of the night before the upcoming rally Stanley called Luc to no answer. These factors were adding up in Stanley’s head. He walked out the door of his house and walked ten minutes through his town’s mildly lit clean streets until he reached Luc’s. He knocked on the door to no answer. The lights were on and a faint sound of a television was present. It didn’t take much for events to unfold in Stanley’s mind. The door was unlocked and Stanley walked in the door and immediately stepped into blood.
Luc’s body was propped up in a chair facing the door with his throat slashed. Nothing around Luc was disturbed or out of place. It seemed as if Luc was killed without disruption or inconvenience. Without thinking or reacting Stanley started walking out of Luc’s house backwards. He closed the door in front of him and froze at Luc’s doorway. He remembered Luc’s lotto ticket, the murders in another state and of course the man in the clean boots.
Stanley had no idea how far or how long he walked but the sun started to rise behind a diner off the side of some local highway. He sat in the dirt outside of the diner, hours passed by with Stanley having incoherent thoughts. All he could think of were samples of reality but nothing that could be made finite. The sunrise turned to sunset within an instant in Stanley’s eyes. The dusk illuminated the sky as a red car slowly stopped in front of Stanley. The door opened and a pair of clean boots was the first thing to step out.
“Stanley, Stanley, Stanley Brooks.” Stanley lifted his head from his seat in the parking lot dirt. “This satire… was hilarious… I mean for me. Humanity to me seemed so distant, so disconnected unable to have large singular movements… but this internet… wow… what a chance. Anger, politics, satire, panic we can spread it all with small wires. Humanity is amazing.”
“Who are you?” Stanley mumbled.
“I don’t matter… you matter. Stanley Brooks born April 20th 1984, attended school and college to no great enthusiasm, graduated as a career B+ student sent out into the world where no one wanted anything from you. So you thought of satire, internet postings… you wanted disciples of your options. That is ego… Stanley… ego. But you found your calling… my calling… the lottery.”
“It was a joke!” Stanley screamed. “I just wanted to… to.”
“To what, Stanley Brooks”
“To show… how… to show how smart I am! Why won’t anyone listen to me!”
“I’m listening, the victims they listened and Luc died with a winning three million dollar ticket in his hand. Because you are right Stanley, the Lottery in this state and all others are evil, the lotteries around the world are evil and I plan to execute as much evil as possible.”
“Leave me alone.” Stanley weakly exhaled.
He looked deep into Stanley Brooks and said “Get in the car.” He stood perfectly symmetrical with a long stretch of smooth blacktop highway behind him. He was dressed in all white. White suit, white Panama hat, white cigarette burning red at the tip with the cleanest black boots one could imagine. “America’s waiting for you… Stanley… only you can deliver the message.”
“Your message, about the lottery.”
“It was a joke! I just wanted attention.”
“You are a charlatan, a snake oil salesman, a cheat. I’m going to take you across America. Until your death…June 26th 2035. You will rise higher than you can possibly imagine.”
“I want to go home.”
“No, I can do things to you to make you get in the car but I’d rather watch you do it yourself. Every man is endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, life, liberty and all the rest of it.”
Silence. It seemed as if the sun stopped setting and stood in place. Stanley stood up and opened the passenger side. He sat down and felt heat radiating off the asphalt. He started to cry in silence. He wept for Luc, for his ego and for all his unfulfilled dreams. The boots entered the car and pressed the gas pedal. The man smiled and threw his cigarette out the window. The car turned into the west on the black top and drove towards the American darkness.
Andre M. Zucker was born in the Bronx, NY. He has lived in Burgos, Spain, Kharkov, Ukraine and Casablanca Morocco. He is currently completing his first novel "Generation" which is an adventure that takes place during the Ukrainian economic collapse. Andre now lives in Antwerp, Belgium where he works as an ESL teacher.