Cast of Wonders 119: Pictures in Crayon

Pictures in Crayon

by Elizabeth Shack

At recess the Arks dot the sky like unwinking stars. Ally and her friends aren’t supposed to talk about it, eyes wide above the breathing masks that muffle their voices, but they do. Where they’ll go, what they’ll bring. Every kid Ally knows has a suitcase packed, just in case they win. Hers has photos from the zoo and a birthday card her little brother Rafe drew in red crayon. He called the scribble Mars.

The only time they don’t talk is after the monthly drawing, when no one can bear it. Some kids, somewhere, were chosen, but it’s not anyone they know. At recess no one looks up. Those nights, Rafe crawls into her bed. He doesn’t understand–at four he’s barely old enough to enter the lottery–but he knows something’s wrong. Their parents are crying, and Ally will keep him safe.

Ally lies awake with her arms around her little brother. In the morning she repacks his suitcase for next month and tells him stories about Mars.

Some of the Arks vanish, headed to Mars, the asteroids, maybe other stars. No one’s sure how much is rumor, how much is hope. Ally wants to see different stars, find a new Earth that’s still green.

Karen Williams from down the street wins a seat. Her parents throw an awkward party; Karen excited and terrified, her parents weeping, her sister–too old for the lottery–locked in her room. Ally manages to congratulate Karen before the words clog her throat. Her vision of new stars starts to fade.

A year later, most of the Arks have left. The Williams family moved away, no one knows where, and no one else from their town has won. Rafe understands now. He still shares Ally’s bed, but he cries instead of sleeps. Recess is canceled because the air is too dangerous and no one wants to see the near-empty sky, or talk about what they’ve packed, or the fun they’ll have on the asteroids or Europa. The teachers let them watch videos all day. There’s no point to learning when they won’t grow up. Ally finds Rafe’s new sketches of Mars and throws them away.

The quiet before the lottery smothers her. Rafe cowers on her lap in their living room, face pressed against her shoulder, his ticket already crumpled in his fist. He’s too young to be so hopeless. Ally holds her ticket as delicately as a butterfly.

The announcer gave up his cheerful banter long ago. He recites the winning numbers like a liturgy.


Ally’s breath catches. But she’s had the first number before. One number doesn’t mean anything.


Her fingers tighten on the ticket, but she doesn’t dare hope.


Three numbers. Please, she prays, though she expects no answer.


Her heart races. One more number, and she’ll get to be twelve next year. Just one more number.


Ally hears the strangled sound that comes from her throat. Her vision goes black for a moment. She blinks once, twice, checks the numbers on the television screen and the numbers on her ticket.

“Ally? Are you all right?” Her mother never asks, Did you win? Will you live?

She nods. Rafe isn’t looking. Doesn’t know Ally won. Doesn’t know she’ll head to the stars, find a new Earth.

Doesn’t know she’ll leave him behind.

Ally clutches her ticket, seeing new planets in its black ink. Gropes blindly on the table for a pen to sign her name. Picks up a red crayon.

The lump in her throat threatens to choke her. She prints in big block letters:


About the Author

Elizabeth Shack

Elizabeth Shack - author photo

Elizabeth grew up near the science-fictional setting of Johnson Space Center and earned a master’s in physics, so of course most of her novels and short stories are fantasies set in secondary worlds. She also likes near-future SF and has played with the odd contemporary setting as well. Her nonfiction career includes marketing and technical writing, scientific copyediting, and journalism.

She’s read submissions for Flash Fiction Online. In 2012 she attended the Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel Writers Workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. She’s a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

When not writing, she plays tennis and enjoys volunteering and sketching in central Illinois parks.


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Elizabeth Shack - author photo

About the Narrator

Tina Connolly

Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin and Seriously Wicked series, and the collection On the Eyeball Floor. She has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Norton, and World Fantasy awards.

She co-hosts Escape Pod, narrates for Beneath Ceaseless Skies and all four Escape Artists podcasts, and runs Toasted Cake.

Find her at

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About the Artist

Barry J. Northern

Barry is a game developer based in Bournemouth, England making freemium games for clients such LEGO and the BBC. His latest game is breaking all records on iOS, not surprising with a title like L”. It’s for younger kids, but if you fancy blasting alien brains check out LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack.

All this game developing has meant that Barry hasn’t been as active in the podcasting and fiction world as he used to be. He still does the occasional narration for other shows, such as The Drabblecast, and appears on Cast of Wonders from time to time.

Find more by Barry J. Northern