The fluorescent lights flickered overhead, casting a sickly yellow glow across the sparsely stocked shelves of the grocery store. A lone shopper wandered down the aisles, her footsteps echoing on the scuffed linoleum floor. Brenna Salem peered into the barren freezers and scanned the nearly empty shelves, searching for something, anything, to fill the makeshift basket she lugged with her on her journey.
But there was little to be found. The world had changed since the Great Collapse, and the grocery store was just one more casualty of the chaos that had ensued. The Great Collapse couldn’t be pinpointed as a single causation in the fall of the comforts of society. Banking crisis after banking crisis, government spending and programs lead to untamed inflation, the energy grab the emerging superpowers did last decade or overpopulation with not enough resources. Regardless who or what was at fault for the Great Collapse, this was a great opportunity for the government to take control of the financial, education, and energy sectors of the world for sustainability and peace. Brenna couldn’t care less about who was to blame or why it happened as she was now stuck living in a time that was far removed from only a generation ago. She glanced down and checked her government-issued mobile tablet to see how much she could spend and on what items.
In this new dystopian future, resources were scarce and the government-controlled mostly everything in some aspect. Everything from shipments of goods to produce was scarce due to not having enough resources to keep the supply lines moving. The lack of fossil fuels used for fertilizers, which caused what the government called a “food shortage crisis the modern world has never known”, created starvation that would start in third-world countries and slowly spread to the “first world” countries. Shipments and supply chains also slowed to a halt as new sources of energy were introduced unable to move the historic loads, and other reliable ones were deemed “archaic” and socially unacceptable, however, the "future of energy" sources would not scale as the scientists said they would, claiming more investments are needed, only leaving the population to suffer.
To help the suffering, a homestead allowance was distributed monthly, the amount would change on the number of people who reside in the home, ages, home climate improvements, average carbon footprint (actual and deferred through payments to programs), and whole other list of requisites for the allocation of the Digital International Currency, called the Global Currency by governments, or “DICs” by most people. The DICs were then divided into segments or categories so homes could purchase certain allocated amounts of goods. If homes were well off and paid a substantial amount to the “Green Carbon Tax” then more DICs would be allocated to leisure things such as higher quality meat, or the freshest produce, on the other hand the lower the amount homes could pay into the Green Carbon Tax, the less variety one would have in their lives. Brenna's monthly government subsidies were allocated in simple groups: rent, food, and fuel. Rent was straightforward forward to where and how the funds could be utilized. Fuel was a grey area as if one didn’t plan to travel during the month then fuel funds could be diverted into the food fund. Food on the other hand was not as straightforward.
Since the collapse, food and the varieties of food that were enjoyed by her grandmothers' generation became scarce. The shelves were almost entirely empty, and the few items that remained were exorbitantly priced. As governments had to worry about population unrest it needed to ensure that the populations under their control had the basics: eggs, powdered milk, beans, rice, salt, and sugar. As these were essential products in today’s world, the majority of her spending had to go to those products deemed by the government until she hit her required monthly quota on necessities. It was only after, and if she had the funds, she could splurge and purchase something special. Something special these days were carbon-heavy intense food items such as beef, fresh fruit, vegetables, or a frozen cake. These items were extremely pricey due to the luxury carbon offset taxes that were associated with them, leaving Brenna with a diet mainly of eggs, powdered milk, beans, rice, salt, and sugar.
Today was a special day though, as it was her son's 8th birthday, nothing was planned as they couldn’t afford much, but it was tradition to have a special treat for the day, a meager attempt to bring light and joy in this desolate and heavy world. Her mind was on an ice cream cake she saw when she entered the store. Brenna looked at her mobile device again and did some quick math in her head. It was coming to the end of the month and she had some fuel allocated funds she put aside at the beginning of the month. Fuel was always something Brenna would overestimate as getting to and from her work was her family's life's blood. The last place they wanted to be was in the spot of millions and millions of others as government dependencies. The job was her life support to these allocated extra funds and her ability to afford these special treats. With the extra money in her fuel account and with her car holding a 37% charge, she could cut a trip or two and have enough to purchase one of the frozen ice cream cakes for her son. It would be tight, but after all, tradition was tradition.
With a quick 8 taps on the device, she transferred the remaining fuel funds to the food fund that she would present to be docked at checkout. She walked over to the frozen aisle and walked past the bare shelves with “out of stock” and the reason why it was out of stock. “Out of stock” was usually followed with something to give the consumers reassurance, but Brenna believed it was to give the grocery store employees a break from the never-ending questions about when items would be available. Out of stock - supply chain. Out of stock - OBB (Out Of Business). Out of Stock - Climate Crimes. Out of Stock - Coming soon. Coming soon was always her favorite as nobody could really be sure if or if not the product was coming soon, but it definitely left a glimmer of hope for a return to the past of plenty.
As Brenna loaded the ice cream cake into her basket, she smiled as it looked out of place and anticipated what it would cost her, but she knew the smile and joy it would bring to her son's face was much needed, for him and her. Her shopping was complete with the standard haul of the essentials with a special ice cream cake. In a zombie-like fashion, the clerk checked Brenna out, only peeking her eyes up when she saw the cake. Brenna transferred the remaining monthly funds to the store, gave a smile that wouldn’t be returned, and headed to her car imagining her son's face when he would see the treat. For a moment, she allowed herself to imagine what life must have been like before the Collapse. A time when food was plentiful, and the grocery store was a place of abundance and choice. But those days were gone now, replaced by a world where staying afloat was the only goal.
As Brenna crossed the parking lot she began to come back to reality, away from the future with her son smiling and eating his ice cream cake, to the reality of the world she lived in. On her car was the remittance of "burnt wire", a system used to hijack the remaining power for parked vehicles, usually by teenagers or huge assholes. Brenna quickened her pace to the car as her heart sank and tears began to form in her eyes. As she sat in her car and pushed the power button her reality was met with her worst outcome, no power. She wouldn’t have the funds to bring the ice cream cake home in time and knew she would have to allocate next month's fuel funds to pay the grocery store to get her car out of long-term parking, already foreshadowing next month's struggles of scarcity.
Brenna put her head back and wept, a victim of the circumstances she didn’t choose, a tradition ruined, her livelihood reduced by burnt wire, and now a melting ice cream birthday cake.