Two years ago, my only worry in life was that my wife was dying. Now…I was the one trying to stay alive. The initial freedom from violence was washed away as soon as the value of money started falling again. At first, the market prices simply rose, but before long, it became too hard to produce enough money for what we needed it for.
No one could get paid, no one needed money. It has simply become like a child’s game of store, where everyone swapped around pieces of paper that used to be valuable. When money became useless, people stopped caring about peace, stopped being driven by the fact that they could have whatever they wanted.
Russia was the first to bring some sort of government back. When it was seen that they created a new border to isolate themselves, others followed suit. In America, the border was a fraction of what it was before. What was once the United States was divided into four sections now, with Canada and Mexico portioned into each of them. Pretty soon, international news was extinct. Satellites had been neglected, and power outages were so common, it felt like a part of life now. Still, we somehow managed to retrieve local news channels. These channels would cover our entire region. My wife and I lived in the Western Zone, which included Hawaii.
Most days, we spent huddled in the living room, watching the news. Other regions kept themselves secret, so we only knew what was going on in our region. There wasn’t much of a government here, but everyone seemed to fend for themselves. Power was purely mental and physical now. With no money to use to take control. On more than one occasion, our house had been approached by scavengers looking for food, water, and clothing. My wife had given them some, but I told her we couldn’t trust anyone, and we couldn’t give away all of our resources.
As hard as my wife tried to donate only to the charities that were doing good for the world, that money ended up spreading when she started giving cash out and helping out businesses. When they received money, they started a new industry. This industry paired with people caring about nothing since there was no prison and no pay, lead to the pollution of water everywhere. Thousands had died from waterborne illnesses as chemicals, sewage, and other deadly substances leaked into our drinking water. Only those with purifiers and well water were safe. But that was slowly becoming a thing of the past too. I’d heard the other day of people dehydrating instead of chancing water poisoning.
So, clean water had become more valuable than almost anything. As did fresh food as there weren’t many farms left in the world. Personal gardens were more precious than the finest jewels, which were hardly valuable. No one seemed to care about vanity anymore. I’d heard weapons had become valuable as well, but that thought made me shudder so I tried not to think about it. The same thing with drugs, even over the counter drugs were a top dollar item now.
At first, people tried all sorts of things like gold, metal, and even bottle caps, which made no sense to me. But none of these universal currencies stuck, so people continued to trade various items. Because now, people actually wanted what they needed, what could help them live a better life.
But the diseases were what really struck me as odd. When money became non-existent, research ceased in most places. They had cured many diseases, but much of the vaccines and other cures had been stolen, scavenged, and destroyed for reasons I’m unsure of. It seems there was a group of people known as the Anti-bodies that were trying to speed of the process of the world ending. They would do anything in their power to end it as quickly…and as brutally as possible. They were one of the reasons I kept our doors locked tight.
Thankfully, there were also groups of people fighting against them. They were the new law enforcement. Many of them were ex-cops or ex-military. They fought to protect the civilians who were targeted. Another group tried to provide food to everyone they could. They owned a well that had been kept clean and tried to regularly distribute water. My wife wanted to join them, but I blatantly refused.
“I caused this mess and you know it. The least I could do is care for those whose lives I ruined.” She would argue.
“No, I caused this. I was selfish to think only of my fear of losing you and not the havoc that could be wreaked on the world. I had a wish…I used it for myself…in my heart, that’s what I did, even though my intentions sounded pure…they were not.”
The only good thing that came out of the money-induced apocalypse was that my relationship with my wife had finally been restored. As sad as we were over the depression that had clouded the world, we were closer than ever. We talked of things we never had before. Such as the distance that had been created between our children and us. The children that were lost to us yet again. We hadn’t seen them since “the fall”. They were likely locked up in the Eastern Zone.
But mostly, me and my wife talked about “the fall” itself. We talked about what had brought it on, how at first, the money she had given away brought peace, love, and happiness. But, then it became too common. People expected donations, people started turning to us. People became greedy rather than appreciative. But still, she gave and so crime rates dropped to an all-time low. People didn’t needs to steal, kill, or anything else. All of their needs were met with money. Or so they thought…
Then, after the rise and fall of the market, money became useless. People resorted to crime to fit their needs. They became angry that they could no longer provide, were no longer worth anything. So, currencies changed. After trying different forms, such as the mentioned bottle caps and jewels, people realized what was really valuable…the necessities. Water…food…shelter…clothing…necessary medication like insulin for diabetics. Surprisingly, many people actually bartered for these things. They had their own trade and treated it like a way of life. But others…did anything they had to in order to get what they wanted. Any means.
These people were the reason that I didn’t let my wife leave the house. But someone had to. So…it had to be me. All of our employees quit after we became middle class again.
So, I’d don my hood, sneak out the back so the “Anti-bodies” wouldn’t see me. They lurked near the less humble houses around…and ours was one of them. After I successfully escaped our backyard through the overgrown weeds and loose board on the fence, I made my way to the market district. There were a few stands that offered valuables…but I knew…most of these were contaminated. The food, the water, the items.
So I would carefully sneak away to the underground district. Here…what would once be considered a black market, was where the former upper-class members would travel. There were food stands and weapon smiths, but they were higher class, and offered more expensive items. Why? Because they were overseen by what the Zone knew as “Sundowners”. These people harshly punished anyone who tried to scam or cheat the vendors or the customers. They were forced underground because methods like these would be exiled if found by the “Anti-bodies”.
It didn’t take me long to trade my fresh water, thanks to our still-working purifier, for a couple of bushels of veggies and fresh fish. Something I’d never buy on the surface.
At that moment, this food was the most precious thing on earth. I told myself to hurry home before someone unsavory sniffed it out. But at the manhole entrance to the underground market, my heart skipped a beat. My wife was standing there, blood dripping from her shoulder. Running to her, I nearly dropped my package.
It didn’t take long to realize, she had a minor injury. What really worried me was that she was out. She quickly explained in a panic, “There was a girl…outside…there were men harassing her. I thought…I took the pistol from the bedroom but they stole it.” She looked behind her and I knew she was being chased. Not that I hadn’t a clue, because before I knew it they were upon us. In seconds, we were surrounded by five men on the street.
They looked dark, angry…and clean. A deadly combination. At least two of them held weapons, one of them I recognized as my pistol, though the others most likely concealed theirs. I’d been in this situation before…there were dozens of people around but no one with enough guts to help. In fact, I’d seen people in this situation and I never lifted a finger…what could one man do?
I didn’t know what to do, so I did the only thing I could, “Leave us, and I’ll offer you what I have.”
One of them took a step closer and pointed to a faint scratch on his cheek, “Ha…why not…end this lady for leaving be a not so beauty mark and take your stuff anyway? Or better yet…leave her a few marks…and then let you go.”
“No!” I yelled on instinct. “Please, just go! I didn’t ask for any of this!”
He looked puzzled, before recollecting himself and aiming his sights toward my wife.
“No!” I pleaded, but my efforts were futile. He already had her by the hair and when I moved, another grabbed my neck. To my left, feet from my wife, I saw a flash of red.
“Let her go.” The calm, demanding voice said. I didn’t recognize it, but obviously my wife did.
“Elias?” She smiled through her tears, eyes pulled back by the man holding her hair.
“And who is going to make me? The black hero in the red hood?” The man laughed.
In an instant a flash of red appeared to my right just as I was let free from the man’s grasp. I turned to see what looked like a doppelganger to Elias. That’s when I noticed a woman standing on a building a block away. She motioned for me to follow her to the alley below. I took the chance as Elias went into hand-to-hand combat with the man holding my wife. I took her hand as he dropped her and ran away. She hesitated, looking back at the hooded figures with new tears.
As we reached the alley, I turned to my wife. “I’m sorry, dear, that was much too close.”
“Who were those people?”
“You don’t know?” She furrowed her brow as the woman in the red hood jumped from the building onto a dumpster.
“Hello,” She nodded. “I can’t stay. I need to help the others. I was assigned to make sure you were safe.”
“But…” My wife grabbed her arm. “There’s only three of you though…”
The woman smirked, “Is there, now?”
“Thank you, Beva. ” My wife called after her before collapsing into my arms. “I’m so weak…”
After a few moments of composing herself, she told me who Elias, Beva, and the others were. “You really don’t remember Elias? The homeless man from back home? Or Beva? The flight attendant who made the headlines for the tip I gave her?”
It struck me then…these were people my wife had helped. Some were people she’d fed, taken care of, and nursed in recent weeks after “the fall”. That is, before I stopped her form leaving the house. Day after day, people were attacked by these groups and no one batted an eye. Then, my wife was harassed one time…and someone was there. Perhaps nothing she had done had been futile. She may have caused this mess, along with me, but with intentions so pure, there had to be something good offered along with it.
The world was ending, and everything that my wife had ever done was being repaid. She caused havoc, but nothing could touch her. As if she was shrouded by something unseen. Perhaps…she had been on to something all along. If everyone had her heart, her plan would have brought world peace. But no…everyone had hearts like mine…full of greed and self-preservation.
That’s when the thought came to me, as I looked into the eyes of my wife who was worried about the red hooded figures and that she had hurt them. “If only I could change my wish…”
My wife nodded, immediately understanding. “But it was I who abused it.”
“No, it was the world…the world in my likeness. You know what I would have wished?”
“What?” She sniffed.
“That everyone in the world could have a heart as beautiful as yours. That everyone had such good intentions.” I sighed, touching her cheek, enjoying her blush.
“Excuse me, sir.” A voice coughed beside me. The boy must have been there by the dumpster the entire time.
“Oh, dear. Are you alright?” It was as if my wife was speaking through my own mouth. “Here,” I grabbed the veggies I was still holding. “Take this.”
As I decided how he could cook the fish, deciding to take him home with us, he turned and looked at me and his eyes brought on a flood of emotions. It wasn’t a he…it was a she. The she that had given me the first wish. Only this time, her haunted eyes, void of emotion, were lighter, fuller of a resemblance of joy.
I couldn’t speak, only stared.
“You did it.” She smiled.
“Did what?” I stood confused. Then I realized I had just made a wish. “Oh…you mean everyone will now have a heart like my wife’s? A heart full of love?”
She shook her head. “That’s impossible! But…for now…your heart is full of love, correct?”
I nodded. She was right. It was so foreign to me, I could taste metal in my mouth.
“I didn’t to that…you did. Only you can make that choice. I can’t…just as I can’t for anyone else. But…in reality, you have more power than I do to change them…” She cocked her head to the side. “This love is contagious, but only if you let it show.”
“So…what now?” I shook my head. “I can’t end this! The world is over! There’s nothing I can do! No amount of generosity can change that!”
She shook her head. “No. But now that your own little world is brighter…and isn’t ending, it will be easier to see…that…what you saw…was only a reflection. It’s always just a reflection.”
In the oddest moment, it started raining. I stared at the ground and noticed a puddle. There, I could see myself. Only…I wasn’t the same…I was clean, well-dressed. I was…
Taking a look around me I saw that I was back at the hospital. It was before the fall…before the wish. But how long before? The girl wasn’t nearby. Running up to my wife’s room, I was surprised that I remembered the room number. But even more surprised when I saw her there…sick again…but looking better than she had in years!
“Oh! It’s nice to see you too!” She laughed weakly. I was happy…but then, realizing she was sick again, I started crying. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re sick.” I sniffed, unable to speak due to everything that had happened…or didn’t happen.
“Honey,” She laughed. “I’ll be fine. It’s just the flu. I know, we should have come sooner. This case is a little out of hand, but-“
I interrupted her with a hug, unable to understand this paradox. My wife didn’t have cancer?
A throat cleared behind me and I let her go.
The nurse didn’t look at me but talked to my wife. “You’ll be out of here later today, ma’am. And you listen to your husband. You had it bad. You know, you could have died!”
My wife laughed and the nurse turned around, shocking me. It was the girl. “Now if your wife gets sick again, bring her in, please. Look after her. Oh,” she whispered to me. “I’m not really supposed to get involved, but, you two really got to me. What’s one little tweak and exception, anyway?”
“What’s that?” My wife asked.
“Oh,” the nurse smiled. “I got you an extra chocolate chip cookie for lunch.”
“Well, isn’t that sweet?” my wife smiled at me.
I nodded. “Yes…yes, it is.”
“Ahh!” My wife’s scream scared me. “It’s your birthday!”
With a sigh of relief, I chuckled.
“What do you want to do?”
“Hmm…” I bit my lip, and took her hand. “Let’s change the world.”