The common room in the barracks was rambunctious. Loud ramblings about impossibly unrealistic futures that lie just on the other side of the coming hour created a cacophony of nonsense. “Yo. I’m telling you bruh… If I fucking win I will walk straight to CQ and slap the shit out of a Sergeant.” “Nah. Nah. Don’t be saying ‘if’ motherfucker. When. When.” “No Bruh. I wouldn’t say shit. I’d just pretend that I didn’t win and then go back to my fucking room like ain’t SHIT happen…In the morning I would get in my fucking car and go straight to the lottery office. I wouldn’t even show up to formation or nothing. Sergeant Thomas’ll call me and be like ‘Where are you Airman 1st Class Richards? You missed formation and accountability this morning’. I’m gonna be like ‘Tech Sergeant Thomas. I got that Powerball money. I won’t be coming back Sir. Dissssmissed.’” The group of young men and women all in their civees (civilian clothes) waited together going back and forth about their plans for the billion dollars they theoretically stood to gain. Outrageous plans of buying cars, travelling the world, donating to charities, buying people, buying countries. Plans of living a YOLO life, carefree and void of consequence. Plans of paying back student loans, shutting down strip clubs by using a snow blower to create an actual storm of money. Plans of retribution against people who had wronged them even in the slightest and rewarding those who had been kind to them. Plans of living lavish nights in Las Vegas, making high priced bets at the whimsy with gorgeous women hanging off their arms and fat stogies resting in their lips. The plans were outrageous by any standard but all standard. And the most consistent plan was so simple; seemingly an afterthought to their grand imaginings. Yet it was so consistent in utterance that it seemed obligatory. “I would quit.” There were various levels and innumerable forms that the idea took but in the end it was all the same. Consistently, everyone eventually said they would quit. Some said they would quit in tyrannical fashion behaving wildly and bringing general upheaval to the base just for the hell of it. Some planned to slap this sergeant; to curse this captain. Refuse an order. A few imagined they would discreetly and quietly bow out bringing little attention to themselves as they left the Air Force. Yet, the end result was the same. They wouldn’t stay. In fact by law they would be separated. They wouldn’t even be allowed to stay if they wanted. There was actually a provision that would allow leadership to give people the boot written in the regulations for just this type of situation. With that much money they would have no incentive to follow orders thus their wealth would be seen as a threat to the good order and discipline of the United States Armed Forces. They wouldn’t actually have to do any of the things they swore they would do if they won. They would be separated from the military regardless. And to that point the provision was quite poignant as leaving the military was the first thing on all of their minds. It was the most consistently imagined thing to do in the case anyone of them were to actually win.
A young man in his early twenties with hair just barely, if even, in Air Force regulations grabbed his laptop. He closed out of the music he was playing and typed in the address of Powerball’s official website. He clicked. And waited. The website was slow. Probably due to the high traffic volume it was experiencing. The little status bar at the top of the web browser spun and spun. The little blue circle turning around on itself over and over until anxiously he reloaded the page. And there were the numbers. He yelled for everyone in the room to be quiet as he read them aloud with excitement. The cacophony of ‘what ifs’ and ‘I would’s’ grew quieter. The room itself was giddy, an excitement hung in the air. Everyone in the room was grinning, smiling, on the edge of explosion. The young man called out the numbers aloud. Everyone looked at their tickets as he recited them. Tickets were scrutinized. They traded hands and eyes squinted to see them. They squinted for certainty. Certainty that sure win was not a mistaken loss or perhaps just the other way around. One young man sitting on the edge of the couch jumped up and grabbed the computer. He reviewed his ticket. He pulled the screen ever closer to his face. Then he did the same with the ticket. He showed the ticket and the screen to the boy from whom he had jerked away the computer in his excitement. Lozano stared over the ticket and the computer screen. He scrutinized but did not touch the thin square piece of paper. “Yo. Yo. Yo. That shits right. Those are the fucking numbers. You won. You fucking won. Yo. He fucking won. OMG. Hurley won!!!” Lozano yelled as he stood pointing at Hurley who stood next to him holding the winning lottery ticket and the laptop. Hurley’s thin, frail, unmilitary like frame looked to be pulled by wires. His body seemed to elevate on itself weighing less and less as the realization that he had won hit him. He dropped the computer. The ticket he clenched in hands like eagle’s talons. He jumped around the room. He jumped. Air and strings carrying his little frame, he jumped and jumped with hands clenched and aimed at the ceiling. He was awkward in all his movements as most of his fellow airmen had already noticed during squad PT (Physical Training). Suddenly he stopped. In a split second he understood. Simultaneously, his mind went blank. Unable to process any of his situation he froze in place. He seemed lost in nothing for a moment. He screeched awkwardly and began to cry. He cried profusely. His eyes bled tears of joy that poured down like a crystal river onto his crimson face. His fellow airman ran to him. They surrounded him and shouted for him. Smiles shown on their faces. They grinned. They yelled his name as if he had just won the war for them all. A non-existent war, with a non-existent victory but a very extant hero. The hero had won the most complete victory. They cheered and he bathed in it until the thought occurred. The most thought for anyone who has ever been in possession of anything precious. So he calmed himself becoming acutely aware. He gripped the ticket tightly totally conscious of everywhere his hand touched the paper. And when the cheers calmed for just a second he made his escape. He went back to his room locking himself inside. He placed the ticket in his wardrobe just under his luggage at the bottom left side and locked the padlock on it. Although it was regulation to keep the wardrobe locked he rarely ever did it at night. However tonight he locked it. He didn’t even have a roommate but he locked it. Usually he left the windows open but tonight they were closed. He usually took a shower before sleeping but tonight he didn’t. He went directly to sleep. The excitement had overwhelmed him and he slept right away. The only thing he did before sleeping was check the numbers on the official Powerball site again and there they were again so beautifully arranged in his numbers. 4, 8, 19, 27, 34 and that sweet magic number 10. He looked at the numbers until they started to blur. He reviewed the date. He looked at it over and over. He believed it. He knew it. He felt different. And in the morning he would be different. The sun would shine on him differently. The ground would accept his steps differently. The air would be more polite to his lungs. And the future would bend to his will. It would bend to the will of a billion fucking dollars.
The next morning he was at formation and everyone in his squadron smiled at him. The women in the squad appeared to him to be bright eyed and flirty as their grins and chuckles met him ever increasingly confident eyes. He nodded at them as instant man about the base. When he lined up in formation he stood gallantly in stiff gallantry. His salute was sharp and crisp as if he had suddenly been stricken with the gung ho disease so present in generations of yesteryear. When Tech Sergeant Thomas called his name for accountability he proudly yelled “Here Sir”. It tickled the rest of his squad. They glanced about in formation trying to look at him without breaking their military bearing and discipline. Quiet chuckles wafted in the formation of airmen. When formation was released they all went to breakfast at the DFAC (Dining Facility). He sat down with a hearty breakfast. The others in his squad stood around him asking him questions. They said what they would do with the money. They advised him what he should do. They contemplated what he could do. He gave them steadfast answers. He enjoyed the attention. He absorbed all of the adoration. He kept his hand in the cargo pocket of his ABU (Airman Battle Uniform) bottoms pressing always against the ticket.
After breakfast he got up and instead of walking out to the school house where they all did technical training, he walked straight into the squadron office. They watched as he did. When he entered the building they broke out into laugher. They laughed painfully bending to absorb the stress that such deep laughter placed on the body. They cracked wise about his change in demeanor. They laughed at how he suddenly spoke so flirtatiously with the female airmen. They howled at how deeply he had fallen into their prank. They would have to explain this joke in a second. In a second someone would run in to tell him it had all been a huge ruse. They would see his face after finding out that it was all a lie. The lottery ticket that they had forged was not perfect in its forgery. But for an 18 year old who had never played before it was convincing enough to drive to this point. They never dreamed that they would win so much amusement from the lottery as this. They hit the jackpot. And now they were reaping the rewards. Billions of laughs in the future and millions of remembrances to last a lifetime. Thousands of times to tell such an anecdote over a couple of beers.
Laughing until viscerally exhausted from humor the squad nudged Lozano to go and put an end to the prank. Lozano was the same person who came up with the ruse and the very same wise guy who read the numbers aloud assuring Hurley that he had won. Lozano trotted off laughing. When he got up to the foot of the brink steps leading the squadron office he turned and gave a goofy bow. Everyone giggled, enduring through the steep pain of laughter. As Lozano headed up the steps he was halted by the appearance of two captains. He immediately moved to the side of the stairs coming to attention and throwing up a quick salute. As they passed he noticed Hurley behind them being escorted forcefully out of the building with two sergeants holding on to him at either arm. As they pulled him he held a crimson, happy insanity all over his face. The smile left Lozano’s face and hollow in his stomach overcame the sharp laughing past in his chest and stomach from just before.