Mrs. McGillicuddy from down the street exploded this morning. Dahlia Mason from Unit 119 won a flash drive with the key to access a crypto wallet containing ten million dollars worth of Bitcoin. Jack Devries in the basement apartment got a box that contained nothing but a blank flash drive.
But… Mrs. McGillicuddy exploded.
And now the same fate may await us all who live in the 1700 block of Southwest Row.
Confused? So was I. So was everyone.
The drones first started delivering the little brown packages nearly one week ago. No one suspected anything at first but then the press got wind of several people on the same street receiving anonymous packages containing flash drive tickets to millions of dollars while their neighbors received blanks. Everyone thought it was some kind of weird hoax or crypto publicity stunt but no one had any idea who or what was behind it. So, it was just an exciting hour of morning news and speculation…until someone opened a box that exploded and killed them instantly.
After the explosion, everyone who hadn’t opened their box yet decided to sit tight for a minute and find out more about what was going on. At midnight on the dot, all of the remaining unopened boxes also exploded, destroying their contents completely, albeit in a much more controlled and self-destructive rather than murderous manner.
The first neighborhood to “get boxed” was very similar to Southwest Row…run down, depressed, and poor... and occupied by people who are run down, depressed, and poor.
So was the chosen neighborhood on day 2. Unfortunately, the very first person to open their box in that neighborhood exploded. After that sad start to things, everyone thought, "well, that was that!" and the rest of the boxes must be either big money or blanks. An opening frenzy ensued. Six people won enough money to be comfortable for the rest of their lives. Everyone else got nothing. Well, except for the three people who were completely disintegrated when they opened their boxes.
Day 3 saw a more affluent neighborhood get boxed and that was when we learned a bit more about the mysterious brown packages. The people in this particular neighborhood weren’t so rich that they'd pass on a chance for ten million dollars but they also weren’t poor enough that they couldn’t buy their way out of this. Someone came up with the idea to hire someone desperate to open their box for them in exchange for a cut of the money. And so, a few of the more risk-averse members of that affluent neighborhood quickly recruited three brave souls who the media immediately christened "The BOMs" (or, Box Opening Mercenaries). What happened then, you ask?
Every. BOM. Exploded.
That was, understandably, pretty much the end of willing BOMs. No one, no matter how brave, is going to bet on something with a 100% chance of instant death.
What the what??? A new wrinkle to this mystery. How did the boxes know who was opening them? Were they DNA coded somehow? Fortunately, boxes had only been addressed to adults thus far and no kids had died opening boxes (yet). But if the boxes were DNA coded then that would mean that this wasn’t random at all and that someone was targeting certain people. And so began the deeper investigations.
The press was going wild over this whole story. The newsfeeds were inundated with constant interviews with statisticians and private investigators and crypto bros and sports betting experts (and all sorts of minor celebrities too, of course) all offering their own advice on whether to open the box or not, if your neighborhood happened to be the next to get boxed.
All the crypto billionaires were denying involvement and no one had been able to trace the delivery drones as it was discovered that they also self-destructed after delivering their packages and flying some distance away. The boxes, the labels, and the flash drives were, as of yet, completely untraceable as well. Everyone was completely in the dark.
Someone quickly got the idea to try measuring and weighing the boxes before anyone opened theirs to see if there was any difference between the three options. No such luck. Every box was identical in every way.
A few people in the fourth neighborhood to get boxed volunteered to give up their boxes to be examined by a military bomb squad but the boxes exploded as soon as they attempted to x-ray them. Forensic examination of the remnants revealed nothing.
The government pivoted yesterday from ignoring the strange happenings completely to actually calling the boxings a terrorist attack. The governor was on the news pleading with the people of the day 5 boxing to leave the boxes where they were delivered. He instructed anyone with a box to call the police to have it removed at once to a secure location but...desperate people sometimes do desperate things. The added pressure of the police coming to take away your chance at life-changing money is apparently enough to tilt the scales toward opening for many people. Especially in places like my neighborhood where there don't seem to be many options for changing our lives. And early this morning, on day 6, we got boxed.
Honestly, I'm not completely sure what I'll do yet with mine.
I have until midnight to decide whether to open the box before it self-destructs and my chance at a better life turns to smoke. More distressing than that lost chance though is the fear of never knowing what was in my box. If I choose to leave it unopened will I always be haunted by what might have been? Or will I always treasure life a little more because I know how close I might have been to death?
You might be thinking, "There is NO amount of money that would make me risk death like that."
Or, maybe you are thinking, "There is NO way I wouldn't open that box."
Maybe your mother is dying from something that could be fixed if only you had that ten million dollars.
Maybe you are that mother and since you know you'll die soon anyway you figure you might as well try to win that money and save yourself.
Truth is, for some of us, it's just not going to be an easy decision. I've always been a "calculate the odds" kind of person but in this situation it just doesn't work. There haven't been enough boxes opened to really know what the odds truly are and if the boxes are assigned to people like we now think, then odds don't really matter. So far it's been a little skewed towards males blowing up than females but is that just because males generally tend to take more risks? Maybe just as many females had gotten boxes would have killed them but they decided not to risk opening theirs?
What we really need to know is who is baiting people into opening these boxes and why...and there is not much chance that someone figures that out before midnight.
I watch the newsfeeds all day. I brought my box inside my apartment the second I saw it out there this morning...just in case the police came around to confiscate them. There isn't anyone else in my life so it's just me and my box sitting at the tiny plastic folding table in my kitchen.
6pm- I'm going to open it. I have to. The life I have right now isn't worth living. Stuck in this disgusting apartment that I can't even afford with no friends and no family? Why wouldn't I risk it?
7pm- Yes. I'm going to do it. Right now. I just need to work up the nerve. Should I say a prayer or something? I don't know what to do. I guess I should finish the last glass of wine in that bottle first though...wouldn't want to waste it!
8pm- Was that an explosion down the street??? My windows were shaking a minute ago but maybe it was just a passing truck? WHAT was I thinking??? Why would I risk my entire LIFE for mere money? I'm only twenty-two years old for Pete's sake! Thank GOD I didn't open that damn box earlier!
9pm- But...what if there is a flash drive in there with the key to access enough money to ensure an amazing future for me? Maybe I'd build an awesome life for myself somewhere far away and make friends and maybe even fall in love someday?
10pm- The odds have updated again... According to channel 5, I currently have a pretty darn good chance that it's either money or nothing. I'm going to open it. But...I'm going to wait til the last possible minute so that I can abort the plan if the odds update again and aren't so much in my favor.
11pm- Jeeeez, I haven't stayed up this late in a LONG time. The odds have updated again and it's still in my favor but not quite so strongly now. I guess more people are opening their boxes as the deadline approaches.
11:30pm- I am sweating.
11:45pm- Ok, I'm straight up flipping out right now! I should have saved that glass of wine.
11:50pm- No more changes to the odds. It kinda seems like everyone who was going to open their box has done so by now.
11:55pm- OMG there was an anonymous call to Channel 5. According to the "credible caller", there will be NO MORE BOXES DELIVERED.
11:57pm- Does that mean I have a better chance? Or, maybe a worse chance? I didn't know humans could sweat this much...
11:58pm- I think I should...maybe....should I?
"Congratulations! Welcome to the Afterlife! With that last arrival our happy group is complete!"
I want to throw my hands over my ears. Why is this man yelling at me? I blink my eyes slowly. I'm so disoriented. I can't move...am I tied to a chair?
I remember the loud boom and the bright light as I opened my box.
Damn. I guess I chose wrong.
Is this heaven? But then why did this guy say "last arrival"?
Wait, does he mean ME? As in, I'm the last arrival to the afterlife?
I shake my head to clear the dizziness. It doesn't work but I do finally see the large screen in front of me with an image of the famous and famously insane tech billionaire, Vernon Rusk.
He stretches his arms out to the side as if welcoming us and continues in a booming, Broadway stage voice...
"All of you now gathered here have been deemed compatible with life on Mars as well as confirmed as being in possession of a suitable genome to ensure the future of the human race. When you decided that you were willing to risk your life and open your box for a chance at fame and fortune that told all of us here at the Afterlife Institute that you possess the innate spirit of adventure necessary for this massive undertaking.
"I know you must all be simply bursting with curiosity so I'll tell you how I did it...when you tore open your box, a microscopic needle pricked you and an instant blood test was performed to determine your genetic suitability.
"When you passed those instant blood tests, you were teleported here in the 'explosion' that was assumed to have killed you. Those that were not deemed suitable were just randomly rewarded for their bravery with either one of my Financial Freedom Flash Drives or a blank one that didn't 'blow them up.'
"It's a big win for everyone! I'm sure you and your new friends and future mates have much to discuss so I'll leave you to it. The science team of the Afterlife will arrive shortly to begin processing you."
We all stare in uncomprehending shock at the proudly smiling madman on the screen in front of us.
Then the screen goes blank and the echoes of his monologue die away, leaving silence to creep over the group like a blanket of enchanted fog.
My mind is running in frantic circles...my brain cannot comprehend what my ears have heard.
Future of the human race?
No one actually died?
We TELEPORTED? That's really a thing now???
What does "processing" us mean?
I crane my neck to look behind me and catch sight of Mrs. McGillicuddy, my "dead" neighbor, sitting a few rows behind me in the crowd. Oh God, she IS strapped to a chair. I look down at my own body. So am I. My eyes flick back up to meet Mrs. McGillicuddy's and we share a look of incredulity and terror.
She raises her chin and looks pointedly to my left. With a sinking feeling of dread holding me to the chair along with the straps, I turn my head and follow her gaze.
Through the portal and far, far below us, I see the Earth floating gently in a sea of darkness.
I guess I'm on my way to Mars.