Two strangers sat outside on cold concrete steps, taking drags from their cigarettes. They shivered in the cold. The alley they sat in was barely lit by the orange street lamp across the road, and the lights that were supposed to be working above the doors they sat in front of were smashed, despite being surrounded by a metal cage. They sniffed, yawned, and even spat occasionally, but neither looked at one another. They remained hunched, with one hand out to let them smoke and the other buried deep into their jackets.
“Do you want to hear something strange?” One said, still looking down at the ground.
The other person had a thousand-yard stare but still managed to reply after a short pause.
“No idea, tell me.”
“When I was younger, I always saw every success, no matter how big, as the smallest accomplishment, things barely worth mentioning. Even doing things like hikes across my country before leaving school, publishing a book, making a hit single, selling a patent for an item that is nearly used every day by every person on this planet. All things I have done, and all before the age of thirty. But looking back at how I saw it, I don’t think I ever thought any of that was impressive or even worth talking about.”
There was a long pause, each one of them taking several puffs before the other replied.
“Your right. That is strange.”
The two of them still stared at the wet ground, occasionally licking a lip or biting a fingernail.
“Did you have big idols growing up?”
“Titans, the biggest of their industries.”
“Then not that strange that you never appreciated and probably still don’t appreciate your accomplishments because unless you are the best at what you do, you will never measure up to your heroes. But even then, if you were to surpass your idols, you would probably find a way to discredit your own success.”
“Shit, that is some hard thing to hear.”
There was another long pause, and the second person spoke up.
“Do YOU want to hear something strange?”
“Despite disagreeing ethically with pretty much every practice the larger companies do, I still buy from them and fuel the machine. I hate them, though; not an ounce of my heart wants to support them or anything that they do, but day after day, I consume whatever it is that they are selling. I complain about wealth distribution, yet I feel it.”
“Na, that is not strange. It sounds strange in theory, but we are given the very little option to fight against the mega-corporations because they own so much at this point. You decide to stop supporting one of the entertainment ones, and you cut out a good chunk of movies, books, games, both digital and physical, and even some facilities around the city. Even worse, if you decide not to support a food company, you essentially reduce buyable products to a sliver of the already narrow variety that is supplied to supermarkets. You have to pick and choose your fights; I don’t think you can do all or nothing without killing yourself or completely crushing the economy.”
The second person hissed as they inhaled heavily through his broken teeth.
“I don’t eat animals, but that is less of an ethical thing and more of a financial thing at this point, which just feels strange that my morals are second place to how much I value money.”
The first person laughed sharply and loudly.
“That is not strange in the least. Money is the be-all, end-all of society. It is akin to life itself; without money in hand, you will have no food in your mouth or shelter overhead. There was a time in history when stopping our way of living was possible, but this planet is more machine than planet now, and there is no way to be self-sufficient anymore. It is strange, but despite farming being so hard, we historically forced other humans to do it under slave law; it honestly sounds like a holiday to me right now. Getting out of this rat race, back to our roots.”
“I think the real strange thing is the fact that farming has become a luxury activity in our society, not that people crave it. Humans want to do what connects us to the planet, and I think we have industrialized so much that we have forgotten how to just be in nature. The only way we can seek value through it is through function or financial return.”
“I hear on the luxury space stations there are whole floors dedicated to grass fields and forests, and since there are so few up there, they have meters of space between each other where they can just lay down, fall asleep under the filtered rays of the sun as it passes through their UV glass that removes the cancerous effects, and the abilities for the light to burn.”
“What is your name?” the first person asked.
“Carol. And you?”
“It is nice to meet you, Tiffany.”
The two of them slowly finished their cigarettes and flicked the remainder of them to the ground.
“So, did you really do all those things that you said you did?” Carol asked Tiffany.
“Yeah, all of them, and more, but that’s all, whatever.”
“You got cash then?”
“I do; I have more than I know what to do with.”
Tiffany stuck their hand in their coat and slowly pulled out a wallet, seeing her hand move in such a way Carol had rested one of her hands on the small pistol she had on her hip. Tiffany pulled out an enormous stack of cash and handed it to Carol. Carol looked at the money but hesitated to take it.
“Now, the strangest thing is the fact I am handing you more than what you make in a month, and you don’t want to take it. What are you afraid of?”
“Nothing is free; life is not that easy.”
“Well, sometimes it is; just take it; this shit is heavy; my arm won’t stay out forever.”
Carol reluctantly took the money and stowed it in her jacket.
“You can relax; I am not one of those crazy rich people; I am more on the suicidal depressive end of the rich weirdo scale; never been into that desire to be immortal nonsense; seems like too much effort.”
“Isn’t that what all the rich want to do, obtain eternal life to hoard more wealth and try to be the one with the biggest stash?”
“Yeah, mostly, but there are a few of us that just want to lay down and sleep. Forever.”
“Then why don’t you?”
“Well, the strange thing there is I have access to a dozen ways of ending my life with no pain, but I am scared. My life is bad because I have excess, not because I don’t have enough, so the idea of having nothing, or even needing nothing, is terrifying to me, and as a dead person, I would be both of those things.” Tiffany said as she pulled another cigarette from the pack. “But then again, this is like the slow killer; she’ll get me someday.
Carol laughed quietly. The air coming from her mouth was as visible as the smoke from her cigarette.
“What are you laughing at? Was it the slow killer remark?”
Carol shook her head.
“No… Well, at first, it was, but the real reason I kept on laughing was this situation. I am broke as shit and want to die; you are rich as shit and want to die. So, why the fuck do we continue with this system of finances? It clearly isn’t benefiting anyone.”
Tiffany joined in laughing, licking her lip. She bit some loose skin from it.
“Fuck.” She said, looking down at her watch. “I am really sorry you have to see this; here, take this.”
Tiffany handed over an envelope filled with cash. Carol’s eyes lit up as she flicked through the notes.
“Because you are about to witness my death… Sometime in the next five minutes, I am going to be shot to death, so don’t worry about it. Actually, take this other envelope; if you can pass this second one on to the person who kills me, I would appreciate it. I was going to use that money as a bonus for the killer, but you can have half; it only seems fair.”
“You hired your own hitman?”
“Yeah, pretty strange ae?”
“I mean, honestly. If I had the money for it, I might. It ensures you are going to die, but you are not the one responsible; that is actually really nice sounding.”
“Yeah, I am a little nervous, though, not that it matters; the cogs are in motion.”
Tiffany started to cry, her lip shaking as her knee bounced. Carol leaned over and held her hand.
“You don’t need to want for anything because nothing will be enough. Soon you will be free.”
Carol said as a round went straight through Tiffany’s head, killing her instantly, the assassin went to walk away when Carol called out.
“Hey, she wanted you to have this.” Carol said, raising the envelope above her head.
The assassin walked over and took the envelope cautiously. They looked inside, then back to Carol, who was staring at Tiffany’s still body.
“You know you could have just walked? She never mentioned a payout.”
“But then, how would I offer you this?”
Carol raised the other envelope above her head while she was still staring at Tiffany.
“She looks so peaceful; her facial muscles are actually relaxed. I said she was going to be set free to calm her nerves, but I think I believe it; I want to be free; I want to be that relaxed.”
The assassin took the money and aimed their gun at Carol.
“Are you sure?”
“Do you want to hear something strange?” Carol asked, turning to the assassin.
The assassin nearly flinched as they saw Carol’s face.
“I can’t stop smiling.”
There was a short pause, then the assassin pulled the trigger. There was little sound, and then the assassin was gone, and the two women were left wanting nothing.