Even in the coldest days of December, death entered the nose of everyone who ever visited the town of Gaul, Kentucky.
For those that worked at the meat processing plant (and indeed, that was most of the town), the smell never went away. It had seeped into the walls and and into the floor and into the clothes of the employees. No one was safe, not even the secretary who worked in the plants office away from the killing floor.
That smell was the first thing on most people’s mind until the week before Thanksgiving, when the Chamber of Commerce distributed signs on every stoplight and in every shop that wasn’t the Walmart or the other Walmart. It read:
FOR EVERY FIFTY DOLLARS YOU SPEND AT LOCAL STORES, YOU’LL BE ENTERED INTO A DRAWING FOR $15,000 CASH.
With an average annual income in Gaul of about $12,000, the prize money from the Chamber’s Holiday Raffle would be an unexpected windfall for those that were still lucky enough to work at the meat plant. For those—and there were more than a few—who had been victim to any number of cutbacks and were therefore bringing down that average, the money would be absolutely life changing.
Samson Charcuterie Gaul V—but please, Sam to his friends, who was everyone—had owned the meat plant since Big Sam died in the 70s. He had also spent enough around town to amass over 900 tickets. The prize was as good as his, statistically speaking. If anyone else had thrown around such unseemly amounts of coin, he might have been thought of as a bad sport. But Sam was everybody’s pal. There were no hard feelings. There couldn’t be; Sam could—and had—hired and fired most of the town over forty years.
Even with the conclusion already settled, most of the town showed up to the Gaul High School Field House on December 22nd for the drawing. The mayor—Sam’s cousin, naturally—gave the ticket drum a number of good turns before pulling one ticket from the teeming horde of little red slips.
The mayor limped over to the PA system—his gout being particularly bad that winter—and rasped out the numbers on the winning ticket. “One-Zero…”
Every ticket started with “10.” The whole town was still in the hunt, but nothing had really changed. Sam was still going to win it all, and was damn well going to spend it the way he wanted. Without him, the people of Gaul wouldn’t have any aspirational figures at all.
“Twenty-Nine,” the mayor continued.
Most of the Field House now knew they would not be the beneficiary of the Christmas Raffle, and commenced looking for their coats in an attempt to beat the traffic that was soon to come. And yet, for several minutes, no one came forward to claim the prize. The relative silence in the Field House became comprehensive enough that everyone could hear the shallow, tunneled breathing of The Fighting Oinker, the High School mascot. Just as the Mayor moved to churn the drum in search of another Winner, a solitary figure ambled out of the crowd and toward the stage.
No citizen of Gaul knew the name of the Winner that day, just as they refuse to remember it now.
The Winner had worked on the killing floor of the meat packing plant for a few months, and was summarily dismissed for working too slowly, poor attendance, ultimately not fitting in, or some mixture thereof. With no money to their name, and few prospects to repair their station in life, the Winner remained in town, no more welcome than when they arrived. They tried to survive on the kindness and charity of the town, and at this point you can imagine how well that worked out for them.
The stories surrounding the Winner were plentiful, even if basic information was scarce. They also didn’t like pork. Suspicious. Highly suspicious.
Everyone left the Field House ill at ease, while the Chamber cut the Winner their rightful check. Sam had yet to lose anything in his life, and was only more put out by the realization that with the amount he regularly donated to the Chamber, the money had technically been his all along. The rest of the people might have been secretly amused that one of their own had won the prize, but this Winner… this outsider made it all the more infuriating. Even the Winner had a vague look of dread as they took their money. How the Winner had the nerve to look glum, when this would completely change their life… Well, it was just rude, if you ask me.
Thankfully, we fine people of Gaul did not have to put up with such a lack of gratitude for long. The winner left town almost immediately. They didn’t even return the key to their hovel of an apartment before fleeing. Then again, they didn’t have too much to leave behind. The town, too, moved on with their lives in fine form. Sam even did his part, and made sure all of the employees at the plant got a fine Christmas bonus. It wasn’t fifteen grand by any stretch of the imagination, but the plate of some of the freshest summer sausage in recent memory given to every employee was a decent distraction from the disappointment. When asked where the gourmet meat had come from, Sam merely grinned and told his people that he had to keep some secrets to himself. That was enough for them.
We never heard from the Winner again.