Nobody knew what was happening when the words first appeared.
I can’t even imagine what had gone through the heads of the first parents to witness the phenomenon. Every newborn child had words encircling their left wrist.
It was the weirdest thing.
Not only words - entire conversational phrases, paragraphs even. It was occurring on every newborn, all over the world. Even languages that weren’t meant to be written down appeared - nobody was sure of the characters, but there they were. They just seemed to make sense.
The evangelicals took it as a sign of the second coming of Christ, the Ayatollah said it was a symbol of doom for the non-believers, and a group of minor tribes from South America were touting the words as proof that the end of all things drew near.
The funny thing, of course, is that it was the tribes who ended up being the most correct.
Nobody knew what the words meant or what they symbolized. Proud parents delighted in them as some sort of good-luck charm, and the babies with the strangest phrases on their wrists were brought on national TV. Mostly just low-end cable, mind - although a couple of really absurd ones did make the mainstream media.
The years passed by, and we stopped caring. Every once in awhile a weird or controversial mark would make the papers, but it was largely left alone (I still remember one odd one - “leave me alone you dirty fag” - how ironic that is today)
At some point, though, someone noticed something. It first appeared, strangely enough, in the tabloids. There was a couple - some D-list celebrities, I don’t remember who - that claimed that the first words they ever spoke to each other were the words written on their wrists.
This “cutesy”, “lovable” story never really made it out of the society pages.
That is, until it happened again. And again. And again.
It became apparent that almost every successful marriage to come out of the youngest generation was initially formed with the exchanges of the words on the beloved’s wrists.
I don’t know who first uttered the word “soulmates”, but it became a thing overnight.
People so deeply in love that the first words they ever said to each other were imprinted on their wrists.
That was about the time the first editorials started coming out, too.
You see, there’s a problem with soulmates - one that most of us didn’t realize at first. Everything that you do in turn causes you to do some other thing, and that in turn leads you to where you are today. It’s the butterfly effect - if you hadn’t done that one thing when you were three, you might be a completely different person now.
And this is where the trouble starts.
If some mystical power knew, knew with absolute certainty when you were going to meet your soulmate and what you would say to them - why, they knew everything that would lead up to that point too. Which meant that everything you did in life was always going to happen, no matter what. You would be there to say those words to your soulmate, just as they would be there to say the words to you. It didn’t matter what you wanted out of life - whether you spontaneously decided to move to Serbia or Montenegro - everything you did would lead you to that place and time.
This meant that you had no true choice in what you did, you see. Everything, everything was planned out. How could you have free will if everything that ever happened to you led up to a specific point? And it wasn’t just to that point, either - every interaction you had after that point was part of someone else’s path, someone else’s journey to their point. Which means that you had to do the right thing, say the right thing for them to meet their own soulmate.
I don’t know what those deities were thinking when they started making the words appear, if it was even a conscious decision on some being’s part in the first place.
Knowing with absolute certainty that you have no control over anything changes people. Most of us just gave up on hopes and dreams, relegating themselves to mere survival - after all, does any of it matter if they aren’t truly real people with real consciousness? Some gave up entirely - they leapt off bridges and highway overpasses to end their existence. A few, though, they cracked completely.
Even though people now knew they had no free will, it didn’t change the hardwiring of brains - the perversions, the cruelty. And now, any theory as to why people shouldn’t give into these perversions was out the window - it wasn’t like they were hurting actual people, after all, just shells that did everything the greater gods told them.
Between those who’d given up on working and those who’d completely given up on life, no one was left to stop the insane. Bioweapon depositories, chemical weapons compounds left over from far off civil wars, nuclear silos - the number of psychopaths was never truly known beforehand. We certainly know now, though - it was hard to miss.
Did you know that I ended up meeting my soul mate? We said our words to each other barely a week before the destruction of New York. It’s hard to say that she doesn’t make me happy - and society doesn't care about the whole lesbian/transgender thing much now that the snow is radioactive - but it’s hard to appreciate happiness when you’re living in a decrepit Cold War bomb shelter.
She has her own theory as to what happened, and it’s about as good as any of the others that I’ve heard. She thinks that someone way up at the great computer board where they control all of us got bored on the night shift and wanted to add some excitement. I don’t think she really believes it, but then again it hardly matters. It wasn’t even her theory in the end - just like this isn’t really my story. Our futures were planned out for us, decided from day one. I didn’t choose to write this just like I didn’t choose to love her - it was the words that did. Those damn soul mate marks. Whoever sent them. Whatever caused them. Our futures, our lives, our paths; nothing but an intricately woven fiction to let us pretend we could choose. And now that has led us here, to a cold cave a kilometer beneath the surface, slowly running out of food while endless chaos rains down above.
So we survive, for now, here at the end of all things.