A Life, All the Same
Change, real change, was always slow. Slow enough that one day the world wakes up wondering, "What the hell happened?" It was an idle thought that occasionally drifted through her mind as she went about her day. If she thought about it, it was clear what had happened, but she didn't think. Thinking changed nothing. And a mind numbed with hunger didn't waste energy thinking about what couldn't be changed. She pushed the empty feeling away, she had long ago learned to live with a constant ache of hunger, long before the world had given up sustaining it's inhabitants.
Her days were numbingly predictable. Wake, wash face, drink of water, maybe a nibble of food, off to work. Later, she'd return home to the tiny apartment, reverse the above and go back to sleep. There was little variation, little color, and little to look forward to. Her days were slow, grinding out a small life, the sameness all at once soul-crushing and comforting.
Outside, the world had lost it's vibrancy: the sky was constantly a dull gray, the ground a dusty brown, buildings bland in shades of steel and stone. People moved slowly, if at all. Most had no destination and no hope, so they picked a spot and stayed, watching the world die a slow, predictable death.
She was lucky. Years ago, when life was more than the endless sameness, she hadn't known the factory job that was her only option would be such a godsend. She hadn't gone to college. She hadn't really expected to, she wasn't smart enough, or motivated enough, nor did she care enough. Her friends drifted away quickly the summer after graduation, like sparkling lights on ocean waves. After few calls and emails, they gradually disappeared into the distance. The rest of the brightness and color in the world followed them, though no one noticed right away.
The factory was dull, her uniform was dull, her coworkers were dull, and every day was hours of mindless repetition. At first, she'd balked at the uniform and the blandness of the canning floor, but though she was not particularly bright, she knew her options were limited and so, persisted and eventually accepted her place. She'd been a good drone, and earned a steady paycheck, eventually moving into a small apartment by herself. At first it had been vibrantly decorated and full of joy, her gift to herself for succeeding where so many had told her she would fail. But slowly, over the years, color had leached away inside as well as out.
At first, the people on her line had once chatted during work, yelling over the constant hum of machines. She'd listened idly, never contributing. She'd never been one to voice an opinion. People were everywhere, life was blooming all over the planet. Technology made the world a very small place. Even a factory worker could call a friend they'd never met in a country six time zones away on a phone that was smaller than a dime and fit in your ear. But technology couldn't keep up with a world growing smaller and a population growing exponentially. As time went on, and the bloom started to fade, the conversations grew more subdued, increasingly hopeless.
The more dire theorists had predicted an apocalypse of biblical proportions, millions dying in a blaze of famine and warfare. Though eventually, the outcome was the same, the reality was far less spectacular. The world died slowly, like an old man reaching the natural end of his life. Too many people, not enough supplies. With the whole world glaringly aware of what was available, it was inevitable. Resources became more scarce, but though fighting increased, it was only in places where it had been going on for centuries, and it changed little for the average person. Instead of a sudden rush for stockpiles, things just became harder to come by. Luxuries disappeared and basics took their place. One day she realized the grocery store no longer carried scented soap and she switched to the only brand left out of necessity. Year after year, more and more disappeared from the shelves. Fresh food became impossible to find, which was why she still had a job.
Jobs were almost as precious as supplies for the simple reason a job was often the only way to get them. With the population spilling onto the streets, money eventually became useless. What good was paper when you were starving and the guy next to you would rather have a can of food than a million little pictures of a dead president? Barter took over, it wasn't sudden and it wasn't government, it was just inevitable. Those who managed to keep their jobs began to demand food instead of money. Clean water as a bonus. Eventually, jobs simply paid in supplies.
Of course there were those who tried to capitalize on the situation, hoarding things to build power over others, but the stockpilers rose and fell quickly. With resources so scarce and the population slowed and dulled by the constant ache of hunger, resistance was poor. It was hard to hoard something that no longer existed. It was hard to desire what you knew couldn't be had. The world fell into a sad acceptance of a slow, inescapable death. What Hollywood had never realized was millions of starving people were not generally violent: it took too much energy. They were despondent. Hopeless. Those with no jobs, no homes, and no supplies often sat in one place, waiting until they died. There was no other option. The population was decreasing, famine and disease far outweighed surviving births, but the likelihood of humanity surviving was low.
Still, she went to her job every day watching can after can of slowly dwindling food supply go by. She never thought of stealing any. She had a steady supply and a lifetime of dullness left her with no greater aspiration than what she had already achieved. It never occure to her, but the years she'd spent in high school, before the decline, had prepared her well for a life of meaningless, shallow drudgery. Her opinions were just as un-thought and unvoiced, her friendships just as shallow. The only difference was the distinct lack of color. The world, dying it's slow inescapable death, would pass her by, as it always had. She would live her small, inconsequential life until it was done.
Tiffany had never really expected anything more.