The gods decided to have a bit of fun at Randy’s expense.

On TV, Persephone was about to give the golden arrow to either Hector, the jock, or Arnie, the geek, when darkness swallowed the room and the flat screen television. Randy peered through the blinds of his basement apartment and saw all the surrounding units were still lit, which meant the power company had followed through with its ultimatum. It also meant he was going to miss the end of Goddesses and Mortals, his favorite reality tv show.

His dinner of dry Ramen noodles stuck in his teeth and stabbed a canker sore inside his cheek. A cold shower before work left him shivering and naked in front of the bathroom mirror, the soft glow of candlelight casting unflattering shadows over his lumpy mid-section and flabby turkey neck.

Randy dried off quickly and squeezed into his polyester uniform with its plastic badge of authority. Pulling out a lottery ticket lodged in his pocket, his hypothermic fingers shook as he compared the numbers against a phone app.

“Oh my god.”

Randy held the $3 billion winning lottery ticket closer to the candle to double-check the numbers. A tiny flicker reached tentatively for the paper and spawned an obese line of flames that jogged laboriously toward his fingers as if completing a half-marathon. The more he blew on the inferno, the hungrier it became.

Moments later, hope drifted to the floor with the ashes.

####

The gods restored Randy’s winning ticket.

The following day, after binge-watching Goddesses and Mortals on his phone, Randy’s stomach rumbled. A quick glance in the dead fridge revealed nothing more than lukewarm milk and several containers of Chinese food sporting a five o’clock shadow of mold. Hungry, he returned to the convenience mart where he bought the $3 billion-winning ticket earlier in the week.

The cashier blinked at him from under layers of neon-green eyeshadow. “Oh my gawd. You were here. Yesterday. That winning ticket. You bought it.”

A dozen hungry eyes turned Randy’s direction, as truckers, college students, and a single-mother with a half-gallon of milk approached. They reached for him, clawing at his shirt and jeans, moaning for deliverance from gambling debts, medical costs, and high-interest loans. They cornered him against a case of vanilla long johns. They tore his polyester shirt, trying to dislodge the coveted ticket.

Scared and unwilling to share his winnings, Randy ate the ticket to keep it from their greedy fingers. It tasted like stale doughnuts.

####

The gods decided it was not good for Randy to be alone. They split reality, restored his ticket, and gave him a girlfriend, Marlene, who found the golden paper on the nightstand.

“Oh my god. Do you know what this means?” An elementary teacher by day, she had adapted her you’re-a-special-snowflake voice. “We can do whatever we want.”

Turns out, she wanted to do someone else. Marlene stole the ticket and married a man who looked like the Norse god of thunder. Every Christmas they sent him a card with a picture of the entire family, a brood of blond-haired godlings who smiled mockingly at him from their white-sand beach on a privately-owned island in the Caribbean.

For comfort, he submitted another audition tape to Goddesses and Mortals. The producers threatened a restraining order if he kept harassing them.

####

The gods reset the timeline, minus the greedy girlfriend, and let Randy sleep in.

He stared at the winning ticket and daydreamed about the possibilities.

If the producers of Goddesses and Mortals wouldn’t accept his audition tape, he’d buy the show outright. He imagined Aphrodite’s smoldering gaze setting his cheeks ablaze with desire. He’d get that golden arrow for sure.

A strong scent of rotten eggs permeated the apartment. Vaguely, he thought of his stove and tried to remember if it was gas or electric.

While donning his polyester uniform, Randy suffered the ultimate wardrobe malfunction when his belt buckle smacked against his retractable key chain and sparked.

The world disintegrated with a whump that leveled the building and all its occupants from the cantankerous Ms. Ricketts and her squadron of suicide demon cats to that lovely toddler on the third floor who frequently removed his diapers and chucked his little shit biscuits at passing neighbors.

“Oh my god,” the survivors said afterward.

####

One reset (and resurrection) later, Randy was riding the bus to the lottery commission. The winning ticket felt like $3 billion in quarters in his back pocket, dragging down his pants and exposing his butt crack.

He gave up his seat to a pregnant woman who reminded him of a teacher-girlfriend he dreamt about. A pair of screaming twins wrestled each other on her lap, smacking her in the face, thrusting their sticky fingers into her hair and tugging. Despite this injustice, she mouthed an apology to Randy.

He vowed to share his winnings with her if only he could cash the ticket.

This amused the gods.

The bus skidded across a patch of black ice, flipped on its side, slid down a treacherous incline, broke through a chain-link fence, and cracked through a frozen retention pond.

As the water filled the bus, each splash like an arrow wound, Randy faced his impending mortality with dignity, screaming, “Oh my god! Stop torturing me with this damn ticket!”

The gods listened.

####

It’s Thursday evening, the night of the lottery drawing. Randy wrestles with his uniform’s clip-on tie in front of the bathroom mirror.

When he pulls the $3 billion winning ticket from his pocket, Randy briefly daydreams of quitting his job, meeting a beautiful woman with the face of a goddess or possibly a teacher, and buying an extravagant house on an island in the Caribbean.

“Goddammit.”

Not a single digit matches the winning numbers. 

He crumples the useless scrap of paper and chucks it into the waste basket. Then he fishes out a couple more dollars to buy another ticket on his way to work.

The gods smile. Tomorrow they will convince network executives to cancel Goddesses and Mortals.

This flash fiction never found a home. I wanted to write a story using the temporal loop trope, something that really explored the futility of our actions, and I found the perfect metaphor: the lottery ticket.