Every now and then I run across a bit of news that cries out for use in fiction. The latest came last week while I was perusing the less prominent, more interesting parts of the Washington Post. Powerball mystery: Someone in this tiny town won $731 million. Now everyone wants a piece of it:
LONACONING, MD. — There haven’t been a lot of big wins in this little town tucked between gentle green mountains in Maryland’s far western reaches. Coal brought work, then took it away. The railroad meant prosperity, then stopped running. They made glass here, and then they didn’t.
These days, the line of cars at the First Assembly of God food giveaway is so long that the volunteers split each box into two smaller portions to feed more families.
But over the past few weeks, Lonaconing — the locals call it “Coney” — has acquired a new shine, a glint of gold in iron country. Sometime in late January, someone bought a Powerball lottery ticket at the Coney Market, and that ticket’s six numbers won the big one — $731 million, the biggest jackpot ever in Maryland and the fifth-richest payout in U.S. history.
That someone lives in Lonaconing, according to the owner of the market. But because Maryland is one of seven states that allow lottery winners to remain anonymous, and because the winner is no fool, the identity of that someone isn’t public.
The fact that someone in this town of 1,200 people (just 400 families, actually, down by half over the past 50 years) is suddenly Midas-rich has caused some strange things to happen.
(Apparently lottery winners can’t be anonymous in most states–why is that? Is it an anti-corruption thing?)
People from around the country are writing to, and even visiting, the store owner, begging him to forward requests for money to the winners. People are making the winding drive into town just to buy tickets with the winning numbers. Townies are impatient for the winner to donate money to help the struggling town. Its businesses are struggling; its seniors have insufficient fixed incomes; “mine water” sometimes befouls its sinks.
And the question remains on everybody’s minds: who won? Anonymous letters are circulating naming various people. Things are perhaps getting a little tense.
There’s a joke that you can improve any story by adding a five-word sentence in after the first one, and that’s exactly where my fiction-addled mind went. That sentence? And then the murders began. Obviously I don’t want this to actually happen, but you know what? I’d watch that show.
Open thread! Let’s try to keep it respiteful.