The fire crackles and smolders in the rusty metal barrel. Smoke drifts towards the night sky. He slides his hand into his pocket and grasps the only thing he has left besides the clothes on his back. Its smooth surface and rounded edges reminds him. It reminds him of how he came to be here, huddled among the four other homeless people trying to get warm on this bitter winter night.
The bitter cold matches how he feels inside. A lump of disgust rises in his throat. This only possession he managed to keep seems to freeze him to the bone. No longer able to stand the weight of this small disc, he brings it out of his pocket intent on thrusting it into the fire.
“Well, what have you got there?” The husky voice slipped like honey out of the woman’s mouth. He looked furtively at her from the corner of his eye, briefly thinking she may have been beautiful once.
“Mind your own,” he grumbled. “It’s none of your concern.”
She glimpsed the white disc he was about to toss into the flame, and brought out its twin from her own pocket. “It looks a lot like mine, wouldn’t you say?”
He turned a paler shade than white and slumped to his knees. “My God,” he croaked, “how many of us has he ruined?”
“Looks like five that we know of, including you, that is,” came the reply from a smallish man that to Devin largely resembled a weasel.
Five… five… five… the number echoed through his mind. Should he feel relieved, knowing that this has happened to others? Or saddened, knowing his was not the only life ruined. At this moment, he could only feel a sort of numbness sweep through his body. Maybe I’ve been in the cold too long.
He stood once again, shaking. Shaking from the cold, shaking from this knowledge gained. His head bowed, he spoke, “So, every one of us here tonight has one? We all have the Debtor’s Chip?”
A man that looked to be in his sixties spoke up. “Share your story, then we will tell you our tales of misery.”
Devin looked at the four others who shared this space around the fire barrel. “I guess it starts with this,” he held the chip up for the others to see. They all nodded their heads knowingly and waited for the tale to unfold.