1024 Words

White Horse Winner

Thomas Sennett

He arrived in New York City at John F. Kennedy airport. He was a very old man, but fit, and having come a long way--from eighty miles outside of White Horse, Canada. He made his home in as desolate a place as exists anywhere in the world, but he had left it for good reason: to collect his prize. A few days earlier he had received in the mail a colorful document which stated:

Mr. Peter Finch
Rural Delivery, 33Y
White Horse, Canada

You, Mr. Finch, have won
$1,000,000 US dollars
from The American Magazine Company.

A more skeptical recipient would have read the fine print, but Finch was not a skeptic, and besides his eyesight was fading. Junk mail was, for Mr. Finch, not junk at all, but something to be savored. No marketing guru concerned with upscale demographics ever wanted to single out White Horse, let alone a ten person "suburb" of that metropolis of desolation. And since he had no relatives, and all the friends that knew had either died or left the suburb of White Horse without any burning desire to write once they had escaped, junk mail was as close to a warm personal greeting that he ever received.

Before undertaking his journey, Mr. Finch had shown his prize document to his associates, and those that could read were as impressed as those who couldn't.

He took a cab from the airport to The American Magazine Company headquarters in midtown Manhattan.

"I won the big prize," Finch said as he approached the guard in the front of the building. The guard pointed to the lobby where a polite, well-dressed young receptionist greeted him, relieved him of the great burden of carrying his award junk mail (Finch held as if it were a sacramental document), and offered him a cup of tea.

"We have another one," the polite receptionist said into the telephone out of earshot of Mr. Finch.

Minutes later the Director of Sweepstakes stepped into the lobby, greeting Mr. Finch more warmly than he had been greeted in years. Her name was Betsy Anderson and she treated Finch as if he were the grandfather she never knew.

Since they had already identified all of the genuine winners there was no doubt at all that Mr. Finch was a loser. But one had to go through the act and pretend to carefully inspect the document, and Betsy Anderson could never be faulted for not creating the right impression. After dutifully inspecting the sweepstakes form, she turned to him.

"I'm afraid you didn't win, Mr. Finch. I've checked the numbers," Betsy Anderson said, Director of the Sweepstakes. "I'm very sorry. Very sorry."

"But it says that I have won," Mr. Finch replied. "It says so. We can read up in White Horse you know."

It was obvious to Ms. Anderson that this would be a difficult case.

"It's in the fine print. It says that you may have been a winner," Ms. Anderson said. "Some people get confused by it though."

Idiots mostly. Idiots got confused. By Finch did not seem so much like an idiot as merely gullible. Perhaps he was just lonely and starved for affection.

Peter Finch renewed his plea. He explained that he had come all the way from White Horse. He explained again, and again. And he refused to leave.

Mr. Finch described how he had read The American Magazine for over 50 years, and how he had grown to depend upon it during the almost everlasting winters in White Horse. It helped keep him alive during the long Januarys and Februarys when the sun did not even shine at all. He told about how he had used the magazine to start fires sometimes when the kindling had been exhausted. He told of how he had used it's paper for making crude bandages for his dogs when there was nothing else. He told of a thousand uses of The American Magazine which Ms. Betsy Anderson had never contemplated.

And then Betsy Anderson took up the phone and called Alfred Williams, Chairman of the Board, and asked him to come down. A few moments later Mr. Williams was introduced and took a chair and listened to an impassioned speech from Mr. Finch about how knew he must have won, and how he had depended upon The American Magazine through so many very bad times over more than fifty years. The American Magazine just couldn't cheat him, he knew that.

After more than two hours of tea and discussion, Mr. Williams took the airline ticket from Mr. Finch and said that The American Magazine would be happy to reimburse him. Indeed, The Chairman of the Board thought it would be a good idea to do a story on Mr. Finch's dependence on The American Magazine and would even pay him royalties for the privilege.

When Mr. Finch left he could say with truthfulness that he had been a winner.

When he returned to the suburb of White Horse with a photographer and a writer he became famous--perhaps a redundant term in an enclave of only ten people, but famous was the only way to describe it. The nine other people in his group treated him like a celebrity, and speculated who would acquire his legacy after his death.

When the story was published they acquired one hundred magazine copies even though they did not know nearly that many people to share it with. Of course he never exhibited any signs of great wealth. Still, following his trip he seemed much happier for having visited New York after living his life in such an abject wilderness. He also often liked to describe to his friends the huge granite headquarters of the famous magazine, and the friendly manners of its executives.

When he died, he would always be remembered as the lucky man who had won millions from an American publishing company. None of his friends would ever figure out to whom he left his money, but speculation on the matter filled many dark winters for the remaining inhabitants of a suburb of White Horse.

Copyright ©1998 Thomas Sennett. All Rights Reserved.

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August, 1998
Issue #28

1024 Words