The Prize – Max Luskin

Golden tickets are seldom won with ease, and this one was no different. Even when they fall into your lap, they seem to grin gleefully at the first opportunity to be picked up by an errant gust of fortuitous wind until they drift down into the unknowing hands of the next person looking for the opportunity of a lifetime. Moreover, they’re seldom cashed in for the agreed upon value. Everything becomes cheaper with time, and that applies to big and small guarantees from friends and family alike, to say nothing of the supposed generosity of strangers. Gold will oxidize, just like everything else. The man in the car was starting to realize this grim fact, the why of which we’ll arrive at shortly.

He chose to enter the vehicle, which wasn’t his, but he hadn’t intended to crash it. He was nervous, so he drove fast. He’d had an appointment he couldn’t miss. Intentions notwithstanding, the rusted out Ford Bronco was wrapped around a telephone pole, which seemed to be strategically placed to punish drivers who failed to respect this little known California hairpin. The Bronco was made before airbags and crumple zones became essential features, but at least he’d had enough sense to wear the seatbelt this time. His chest ached and he sat in the cab while the engine bled hot steam into the blazing afternoon air until there was none left. Coolant poured from the underside of the big block V8, and the dark puddle spread outward.

This isn’t the end of the story. His cargo, tightly wrapped kilogram bails of god-knows-what, would never reach its destination. At best, he wasn’t going to get paid. That much was a given. His friend (he got a feeling that might be the wrong word to describe the acquaintance who promised him such an easy pay day, especially in light of the obvious circumstances) would no doubt be feeling a good deal less amicable toward him when he inevitably learned the news.

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