The Lottery of Birth


The souls were lined up at the lottery board, which stretched the length of what humans would call approximately 100 feet.  The souls had no concept of length—or time for that matter.  They were just shapeless souls after all, beings of simple emotion ready to be sent to whatever physical body on Earth the lottery board decided.

For a human, this process would have been incredibly stressful, but humans have the unfortunate tendency to believe in free will—that their future is home to an endless array of possibilities.  The souls know better, but this does tend to make their existence, however short it may be—to a human—rather boring.  The only thing they didn’t know was what the lottery board would determine their future on Earth to be.

To a passerby, Sally was your average soul, just like any other.  Inside her shapeless form, however, were the budding seeds of human emotion—she actually felt things about being a soul, the lottery board, and everything in between.  Due to this, she was considered extremely dangerous by the old souls and extremely weird by the young souls—who knew what a young soul like Sally would think up, what with all of those random emotions flittering through her head?

Sally’s number was destined to be called soon, and she hung around the board, waiting.  The board clicked off number after number, each with a name, country, city and race.  Sally watched them click by, feeling uneasy—to a human, the emotion Sally felt could be described as akin to watching a public execution.

Who would Sally get to be on Earth?  With so many possibilities—not all of them appealing—the question spurred a flurry of emotions and thoughts in hers young mind.  What if she ended up completely forgotten by history, or the daughter of an abusive father, or the victim of a horrific disease—or worst of all, poor?

As she thought of these things, her friend Rick floated over to her, beaming with happiness—or as happy as a soul can look.  Mostly they just look like shadows, or silly putty all mashed up.

“You hear the news?”

She hadn’t.

“I’m gonna be a banker’s son in America.  No big deal, I just can’t wait till I’m old enough to really enjoy it, but they say you gotta wait like 20 or 25 years, whatever those are….”  He talked as if he could go on forever about himself, which he did.  After he was done, he asked, “You get your fate yet?”

“Not yet.”

“You know, I don’t know why all the retired souls keep trying to change this—the lottery board and all.  It works pretty well if you ask me…”

“Yeah….” Sally said.

“I mean, how else would we do it?  Oh geez, here comes one of those old souls now, I’m gonna bolt!”

He floated off, leaving Sally alone with the old soul.

“Hello Sally.  Not going to go with your friend there?”

“No, still waiting for my number to be called.”

“All in due time, all in due time.”  This statement confounded Sally—all of the old souls, the ones who’d come back from Earth, all spoke of time.  They referred to it as if it were some kind of lottery board, always there, always counting down to something, but to what, Sally didn’t know.

Mr. Larkin was silent, content to just float around instead, as old souls are oft to do.  So Sally seized the moment to ask him something candidly—something that concerned all of those emotions floating around in the shadowy head of her soul.

“Say, Mr. Larkin, why don’t all us souls change things once we get down to Earth?  You know, make the whole Lottery of Birth more fair?”

“You don’t think it’s fair?”

“Well gee, how could I?  Where I’m born just decides everything!  It decides whether I die young or old, or have to kill or be killed in some war, or even if I have enough food to eat!  That doesn’t sound too fair to me—all of that decided by a simply lottery.”

“Well, it’s awfully complicated once you get down there. And things have been the way they are for quite some time.”

“But that’s no excuse for the way things are.”

“No, no I suppose it’s not.  Have you seen how souls act when the lottery gives them good news?”

“Sure,” Sally thought of Rick.

“Well, do you think you could get a soul like that to change the lottery of birth?”

“Oh, well….I guess it’d be pretty difficult, but you could do it.”

The old soul beamed at Sally’s youthful optimism.  Then he said, “Well, if that’d be difficult, imagine how hard it be once you got down to Earth, and that person had all they ever wanted—all sorts of money and power—and you had nothing, not even a means to contact them.”

“What’s money and power?” Sally asked.

“Ideas of survival that blossom into prisons through time,” Mr. Larkin said, “How would you organize it if you could?  If it was all up to you, young Sally?”

“Gee, I guess I’d give everyone an equal chance. I mean, if it’s just as likely that I’ll end up as a kid in Zaire as it is a kid in Japan, I want both kids to have an equal chance at a good, safe life—so that I have an equal chance at a good, safe life.”


The lottery board called Sally’s number.

“Oh, that’s me Mr. Larkin.  I’ll catch you later!”

Sally floated over to the board and stared at her fate for quite some time.  It wasn’t until Rick interrupted her thoughts that she finally recognized her surroundings again.

“What’d you get Sally?”

“A black boy in Sudan.”

“Oh…in a village, or…?”


“Man, I’m sorry Sally.”

“Oh well, what are you going to do?  That’s the Lottery of Birth.”

Donovan James is a writer, musician, and cat enthusiast. He is still an idealist, despite a ravaging cynicism. He believes that the money and effort allocated to war and fear should be used to feed, shelter, and educate the poor, no human being excluded. He’s also the author of the poetry collection “Saudade.”