Receiving packages always felt like Christmas Day to me, but not today. Last night I was too hung over from the night before that to stay up through the entirety of the public lottery. All I could remember was the opening ceremony where they explained the implications of the lottery, and fell asleep before they announced this quarter’s first yellow jacket.
There was a noise. A knock at my door. I stirred, and wiped away a tendril of drool connecting me to the puddle on my couch. Scooby Doo was on the television eating Shaggy’s record breaking submarine sandwich before the poor slob could get a single bite.
I slammed my face against the peephole. It was seven o’clock on a goddam Saturday morning. True, I didn’t have a job. But I still enjoyed my Saturday mornings.
Nobody was beyond the peephole, and nobody was in the hall when I unchained, unlatched, and threw open the door.
Only the bundle at my feet. A round package wrapped in shiny brown paper, tied together with yellow twine.
No return address.
No shipping address.
Only my name, and a skeletal drawing of an insect. The yellow jacket.
I had to feel my pants to make sure I didn’t shit myself. A chill lanced through my body and refused to leave. The muscles in my neck tightened to the point I thought my neck was going to splinter like rotted wood.
Did they announce my name last night? Why would they pick a loser like me?
Trembling, I shut the door.
What might have been five minutes on the couch might have been five hours. The implications of the yellow jacket package was insane. Never in my life had I ever been selected for this ‘civic duty’ as they called it.
“Jimbo! It’s Eddy, man. Let me in!”
Eddy’s knock was like thunder in my ears. I shouted at him that the door was open. It caught on the chain. Damnit. Today was getting better and better.
“Dude!” Eddy’s lips were through the crack in the open door. “Did you see this package out here?”
Last year a guy I knew at work won the lottery. Shy and timid Ken Thursby. He wasn’t a bad kid at all. He took the brunt of many a joke, all in good fun. But when his name was announced on the lottery everyone called in sick. Everyone but me.
I liked Ken, though we didn’t talk much. That morning I was sitting in my cubicle with a cup of French Vanilla instant coffee from the machine. It tasted like motor oil.
As I scraped the chemical aftertaste from my tongue I remember looking up to see Ken standing before me in the telltale yellow trench coat. The barrel of a government issued semi-automatic pistol pointed straight between my eyes. He was shaking.
“Hi Ken,” I swallowed hard, thinking I picked a hell of a day not to call in sick. Tears were rolling down his cheeks.
“I didn’t want to find you here, Jim,” the kid said. “But somebody has to die for my pain.”
Eddy finally gave me enough berth to close the door, and unlatch the chain.
“Did you see the package?” Eddy was overly excited.
“Eddy, do you have any sense of self-preservation?” I chided him, ignoring the package in the hall. “Nobody talks to a yellow jacket. Not even his friends or family talk to him after winning the lottery.”
He was busy scratching at a red zit on the end of his nose. Eddy’s shirt was two sizes too small giving me a front row view of his sagging stomach and the abyss that was his bellybutton.
“You just going to leave it in the hall?”
I found the remote control hidden below a weeks-old pizza box, and changed the channel to not-Scooby-Doo.
“Remember Ken Thursby?”
“Thurby?” he asked, laughing at the clever nickname he taunted the kid with years ago. The taunting never stopped with a name. One time Eddy had begun repeating everything the kid said in a robot fashion, like he was a Furby. Another time the kid came to his desk and found Eddy had pinned his picture on a Furby, with a penis drawn on it. The name ‘Thurby’ tattooed across it.
“He held a gun on me two years ago, when he won the lottery. Had the yellow jacket and everything. You know what he did?”
“Yea,” Eddy smirked, then broke into chuckle. “The kid was a joke, Jimbo.”
“The kid blew his own brains out in front of me rather than kill me! Jesus, Eddy. If you were there he might have shot you instead.”
“Open the package before somebody takes it. I want to see what’s inside, man!”
“Nobody’s going to take it. It’s illegal for anyone other than me to take the package and that’s all there is to it. They can’t force me to kill anyone.” I sat back on the couch, kicking my feet up on the coffee table. “Today I sit in place watching cartoons. I’ll sit here all week until my civic duty is over.”
The package flew through the air, landing on my stomach. Damn thing almost knocked the wind out of me.
“Jesus! It’s illegal for you to touch it!”
Eddy was sitting in the recliner, elbows on his knees like a child eagerly waiting for a birthday present.
“They aren’t forcing you to kill anybody,” he said to me, excited. “The Yellow Jacket Lottery is simply a way to enforce the golden rule.”
I eyed him suspiciously.
“I don’t recall the Golden Rule being ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or you’ll get shot.'”
Reluctantly, I tore the brown paper package open. There was the yellow jacket, my armor and my privilege, a trench coat that made it illegal for anyone to attack me or defend themselves from my wrath if I chose this day to be their last. This yellow jacket put the fear in those that had wronged me, and made me one of the most feared people in the city for the next week.
Wrapped inside of the jacket was the familiar pistol that had nearly ended my life two years earlier.
“That’s so cool!” I wished I had Eddy’s excitement. God forbid he ever win this barbaric lottery. “Who you going to bump off?”
“Jesus!” I cursed aloud. “Eddy I’m not killing anyone. I don’t dislike anyone.”
“No one at all?”
“Not enough to kill them. What makes this right, anyhow?”
He held a finger up in my face, cell phone quickly in his ear. “Hello?” For a moment he listened intently, then retreated to my kitchen to finish the call.
Was there anyone I thought the world was better off without? There was the guy at the convenience store that gave me hell for not having exact change when buying my morning coffee. Not a reason to kill him.
Three months ago my ex cheated on me for a big shot stockbroker. Sure, I could shoot him and according to law I could not be arrested. But was she even worth it? No, not at all. I might even have said I’d wanted to hurt her, but kill her? That wasn’t me.
“You really don’t know anybody the world would be better off without?” Eddy asked from the kitchen, as he hugged his cell phone on his chest.
“No,” I shrugged. “Nobody I’d want dead.”
“What if you came across a man that beat his wife?”
That was a strange statement coming from Eddy. He was serious at this moment, and no longer as obnoxious as when he’d first come in my door.
“I don’t know. I’d call the police?”
“Police aren’t always effective, Jimbo.”
I laid back on the couch, hand on my forehead. If he kept this up I was going to get a migraine. Then he showed me the picture.
A woman old enough to be my mother was lying in a hospital bed. He mouth was forced shut by the neck brace, and kept shut by wire. Her eyes were swollen to the point that she couldn’t see.
“Jimbo, He ain’t helping her. Only you can help her.”
It scared me when he was so serious. This was the first time I’d ever seen tears in his eyes.
“Her husband did this?”
Eddy bit his lip, “My uncle.”
“You never told me.”
“I—” he scratched at the zit on his nose once more. “Family secrets and all, Jimbo. Police never did nothing to help her out. That was the hospital calling.”
“Bullshit!” I said. “You’re pulling my leg.”
“I’m serious! Swear on my mother’s grave this is true. This is her sister, and her husband gets drunk almost every night and beats the living shit out of her.”
I wrapped the yellow jacket up in the brown paper as best as I could. It was a sloppy job, but it worked enough to toss it back in the corner of the room.
I tore the cell phone out of his hand and flashed him the picture. “Anyone can have a picture. Prove it to me.”
Eddy nodded, “Bring your jacket. She’s at Saint Elizabeth’s.”
I dislike hospitals. Everyone’s either sick or dying in them. I hugged the sloppily rewrapped parcel to my chest as a nurse directed us down a long white antiseptic corridor. Large red letters were painted above a door, “Intensive Care Unit.”
Another nurse escorted us to the room with the woman from the picture. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. She really could have been my mother. The hiss of oxygen filled the room between pings of the heart monitor.
Eddy placed a hand on my shoulder.
“I know,” he said. “Jesus.”
And he immediately sat beside her, stroking her hand in his. Her eyelids fluttered, but never opened.
“When I was a kid,” Eddy began, “I remember my cousin’s birthday party at their place in Green Hills. She was seven years old with a black eye. My parents told me to hug her, and I remember her screaming out in pain. Her ribs, you see? She said she fell down the basement stairs. Even my aunt here kept to the story. But you know what I knew?”
I shook my head.
“The basement door was always locked tight. They had a latch at the top that was always thrown, back when they childproofed it. She had bruises on her neck,” he said. “Now she’s bruised all over ain’t she?”
We sat silently, taking in the whirr, buzz, and beep of the machines keeping her alive. The package wasn’t feeling so heavy in my arms anymore. What kind of monster does this to his family?
“Where is your cousin now?” I asked.
“Eddy?” an old man entered the room carrying a cup of hospital coffee.
“Jesus, Jimbo that’s him!”
I can’t remember what happened next. Not exactly anyway. I held the gun in my hand, and I remember the cup of coffee hitting the tile floor before he did.
Hospital staff ran in, and stopped when they saw the yellow jacket in my hands. I was beyond reproach. I could not be held responsible for my actions. What I did was justice in the eyes of the law.
“That’s for what you did to your wife,” I rubbed the tears out of my eyes with the heel of my hand.
A nurse looked up at me, shaking her head, “She was in an automobile accident on her way to see him.”
“She visits her husband in the cancer ward every single day.”
Eddy’s laugh filled the room.
“Holy shit! You actually did it!” he laughed more, hand over his mouth, his eyes shining. I turned the gun on him.
“What did you make me do?!”
“Ain’t a bullet a lot better than dying of cancer? You did that asshole a favor.”
Ken Thursby. Two years ago he came into my office with the worst intentions but he was his own man. He had a conscience.
Ken Thursby. That innocent kid had it right all along.
Today was Eddy’s last day. And it was my last day as well.