Author: David Henson
When I was a kid, a couple buddies stomped on ant hills and bet baseball cards on who could sizzle the most bugs with their magnifying glasses. I didn’t play. Oh, I wanted to. But I didn’t have a magnifying glass. Sometimes you do the right thing for the wrong reason.
I’m reminded of the smoking ants as I spin the giant wheel. Sparks fly like comets as the pins scrape the pointer. The audience is silent but for a few whimpers. “Ninety-seven,” I call out. Everyone checks the number glowing on their neighbor’s forehead.
“It’s her,” a man says, pointing to the woman sitting next to him.
“No,” the woman says. “He’s number ninety-seven. Not me.”
They usually try something like that. It never works. The aliens are monitoring the game from … wherever they are.
A disembodied voice claims the winning number 97. The aliens speak our language with an accent that makes each word impossible to understand. Yet when they stop talking, you know what they’ve said.
I don’t know what the alien holding number 97 wins, but I know what the woman loses. She begins to sweat. Smoke wisps from her, then billows. Finally she bursts into fire, screaming and contorting. The flaming dance. The dancing flames. How can we know the one from the other? I’m so numb from all I’ve seen, I don’t even look away.
A voice tells me to spin again. A man’s number is up. A little girl, who looks to be about my son’s age, clings to the man till a woman pulls her away just in time. The man doesn’t even scream. I think he’s trying to not upset the girl. It doesn’t work. This time I turn my head.
Sometimes the aliens give everyone the same number. I spin and spin till a voice says “Jackpot!” I’m allowed to take cover backstage. The aliens don’t intend for me to die by fire. Then a new audience is marched in by armed humans. As with me, their families are being held hostage.
Occasionally the payout is massive. My spins are beamed to screens in packed arenas around the world. Thousands, maybe millions, are sent to their deaths, and an alien becomes rich beyond their wildest dreams. Kind of like our super lottos before the invasion.
Why was I chosen to spin the wheel? Because a number I didn’t even know I had came up when a different wheel was spun. Why not spin the wheel themselves or use a random number generator? And why bother explaining things to me when I’m little more than an ant to them? It’s all part of their game. They want me to understand the full horror of what I’m doing. They even told me why they burn people whose numbers I spin. So the aliens can bet on the decibels and milliseconds — as in how loud the humans scream and how long it takes for the first flame to erupt.
I’m instructed to spin again. As I reach for the wheel I feel my arm rub against the holstered handgun the aliens gave me. They’re wagering on how long I last before I use it on myself. None of them will be winning that bet anytime soon because if I kill myself what use will my wife and son be to them? So I keep spinning and people keep burning. Sometimes you do the wrong thing for the right reason.