Ticket to Hell (Part I of IV)
by Martina Bexte

"... hey friends and neighbors, this is Uncle Rob Jobs, KJYLM's Midnight Radio God, welcoming you to the show where it's all talk, rock, and howling good unadulterated schlock until the sun comes up! And what a show we've got for you loyal listeners tonight!!

Yessir-eeeeeeeeeeeee, in a very short time we'll be making the draw for our much-anticipated Halloween Grand Prize. For all you night owls who've been entering again and again like the greedy, greedy ghouls that you are, let me wish you all good luck, especially if you're aiming to curl your hungry claws around our mysterious grand prize that I guarantee you is BIG, BAD and totally BODACIOUS!!"

"Could that guy be any more obnoxious?" Merlin Jones muttered to herself as she shoved her janitor's cart along the basement level of the Netherwood Research Facility.

She glanced back, wishing her partner for the evening would keep up. Wally Witherspoon, however, was still at the far end of the long hallway fiddling with the dials of her ancient boom box and sporting that glassy-eyed look that told Merlin she was totally hung up on every word coming out of Uncle Rob's mouth.

Merlin shook her head. It seemed that the whole city had gone into a feeding frenzy over KJYLM's radio contest. It was downright creepy the way everybody was talking about the mysterious grand prize draw. Thank God the winner would be announced tonight; the speculation and mounting hysteria were getting on Merlin's nerves.

"What did you say, honey?" Wally all but yelled to make herself heard over her radio. "I was listening to Uncle Rob. I just love him to death, don't you?"

Merlin rolled her eyes and felt like screaming. She wished a rogue asteroid would vaporize Wally's beloved Uncle Rob. The woman was obviously as brainwashed as everyone else. Or maybe the mysterious sponsor had put something in the water.

Thank God she hadn't fallen victim. Wasting her hard-earned money on games of chance? Not an option. Over the past few years her priorities had been paying off her mother's horrendous medical expenses and putting herself through college. Whatever small change was left at the end of the month, Merlin wasn't about to throw away on questionable games of chance - especially on an ambiguous radio contest overseen by its even more dubious - and yes – creepy radio host. No one had even heard of the guy before he hit the airwaves at KJYLM.

Wally finally caught up. As she huffed to a stop she started belaboring Merlin's staunch refusal to buy a ticket all over again. "You know, dear, I'm sure you're the only one in the city who hasn't bought a ticket. You'll kick yourself if you find out you could have won."

Merlin cast her partner a quizzical look, wondering if the woman's thought processes were scrambled. "That doesn't make any sense, Wally."

"One ticket, dear, just one ticket is all it takes!"

Merlin shook her head. It's as if Wally hadn't heard.

Eager to have this increasingly annoying night end, she swiped them into Lab #13666 and waited for the locks to disengage, a ritual she'd performed hundreds of times over the last three years. She had to admit that the place had creeped her out from the moment she first walked through the facility's front doors. On those odd nights when she'd worked on her own Merlin could have sworn she'd seen shadows move. But when she took a closer look there was nothing there and she'd written it off as her overactive imagination or lack of sleep. Nor had she seen even one of the scientists who supposedly worked here. Other than a few security personal and janitors, the place was always empty by the time Merlin reported for her shift.

How weird was that?

And what kind of research did they do around here anyway? Not even Wally knew and she'd been here since the place opened.

As far as Merlin was concerned, the whole set-up was surreal.

She should have quit long ago, but no other part time job paid as well. The point was moot now anyway, Merlin decided. Another couple of weeks and she'd have her degree. Quitting Netherwood would be her first priority. No more long hours working the graveyard shift, no more sleep deprivation, no more penny pinching - and best of all, no more listening to Rob Jobs the Midnight Radio God!

"Don't lie to me, boys and girls; I know you're all secretly wishing you'll be the one to win KJYLM's Secret Mega Grand Prize. What's the Secret Mega Grand Prize, you ask? Sorry, but you know I can't say. It's part of the rules set down by management and our anonymous sponsors. And since Uncle Rob loves his job, he knows better than to piss those guys off! So stay tuned and stay sharp! If you hear YOUR name announced over the next hour or so, BAD LUCK, BABY! You're disqualified from KJYLM's Secret Mega Grand Prize!! So let's start the countdown …"

On the other side of town Detective Jake Smith whipped through an intersection and shot his partner a dark scowl. Why the hell did Tony insist on listening to KJYLM's resident crackpot? Jake had no idea. As for Tony, he was his usual twitchy self, pretending the dashboard was an imaginary set of drums, all the while listening intently to every word oozing out of Rob Jobs' mouth.

Jake snorted in disgust. He'd had about enough and reached out to switch channels only to have his hand swatted aside.

"What are you doing, man? Uncle Rob is about to announce the Mega prize."

Jake clenched his teeth and accelerated. He was grumpy and exhausted and just wanted to crawl into his comfortable king sized bed, even if Angie wasn't around any longer to have it all warmed up for him. He wasn't surprised she'd packed up and left. It was no secret that Jake was a workaholic.

But lately even he had gotten tired of the increasingly unreasonable demands of his Captain, and Tony's endlessly ridiculous and sometimes eerie notions about Lady Luck, fate, special numeric combinations and the shitload of other superstitious nonsense that he kept tucked away inside his head.

"Jesus, Tony, don't tell me you were stupid enough to drop a month's pay for tickets. If you did, don't expect me to run interference with Lena."

Tony's features paled and Jake knew he was mentally replaying the fiasco that ensued when Lena had discovered how Tony's latest attempt to snare the Golden Fleece had seriously backfired. Lena might be all of ninety-eight pounds soaking wet but she had a notorious temper.

Tony shot Jake a sheepish look and muttered, "Yeah, yeah, she made me see the error of my ways. That woman just doesn't get it."

"Oh, she gets it just fine. You have mortgage payments and two kids on their way to college. And more important, you're a cop. You should know better than to fall for what stinks of a scam."

"Come on, partner, where's your sense of adventure, eh? Oh wait, that's right, you're Mr. Straight-and-Narrow-Work-All-the-Time-Never-Have-Any-Fun-Kinda-Guy! You've been even more of a pain in the ass since Angie left."

Tony punctuated his observation with a pitying glance and went on to point out, "She would have made you buy a ticket. And you know what else I think?"

Jake's fingers tightened around the steering wheel as he flew through another intersection on an amber light. Why bother interjecting? His partner would fill him in regardless.

"You need a nice long vacation. Maybe that's what the Mega Grand prize is, eh? A vacation to some exotic locale, bubbling over with wine, women and pearly white beaches. Wouldn't that be great?"

Jake snorted and rolled his eyes. What a cliché. His partner had absolutely no imagination when it came to the perfect vacation.

Generally he rode the wave of Tony's wide-eyed enthusiasm about life and Lady Luck. But tonight for some reason, Jake's patience had about run out. Thank God it was only another couple of blocks to Tony's tidy little duplex on Elm Crescent.

Jake was well aware that he needed a holiday. His city had turned weird lately. It's like the whole town had gone crazy. Sure, October generally brought out the nut jobs, but as the month drew to a close, a particularly abundant crop had come crawling out of the shadows. KJYLM's damned Mystery Draw only made matters worse. It's as if the entire city had been brainwashed.

As if! Jake was certain the whole thing was nothing more than a money grabbing publicity stunt.

The minute October 31st officially clocked itself out for another year, Jake was putting in for vacation time to work on that fixer-upper he'd put a down payment on two springs ago. It was a ramshackle bungalow out by the lake that had definitely seen better days - and would likely take years to turn into his idea of the perfect dream home, and just as likely suck up every penny and spare moment he had.

But Jake didn't care, was in fact looking forward to getting out of the city and losing himself in good old-fashioned hard work. As his old man had taught him, games of chance were for fools, and Jake liked to believe he was nobody's fool.


Read more: Act II   Act III   Act IV

Note: The author, Martina Bexte, retains all rights to this story.