IN SHORT SUPPLY • by Michael P. Boettcher Jr.

John Templeton was enjoying the smell of his brewing coffee. That aroma, as well as that of baking cookies reminded him of his grandmother’s house. He had spent portions of his childhood living with his grandmother. She would finish half a pot of Folgers before John had even woken. Unlike the delicious cookies she baked for him on occasion, coffee wasn’t completely pleasurable. The taste nauseated him. For John it was one of life’s great mysteries. How could anything that smelled that delicious taste so bad. Every few years the smell would so intoxicate him that he would have to give it another try. He was always disappointed.

At dawn John was busying about cleaning his already immaculate kitchen. He had a pot of a dark roasted Colombian blend percolating on the counter while he sipped a cup of instant hot cocoa. There were many things, like cocoa and the smell of coffee, that made life pleasant. Of those things, he made certain to never run out. The town of Rambling Brook may have settled away from the rest of civilization but John Templeton had settled away from it. Running out of things was always a real danger, especially in winter.

His reputation as the crotchety old recluse kept his visitors to a minimum, which was just fine with him. John hadn’t entertained a visitor in more than two years. That had been when First Selectman Hunter had come around on his yearly rounds begging for extra patronage to keep his shabby little ramshackle of a town in the green. John had turned him down as usual.

Let the townies take care of the town.

He liked Hunter after a fashion though, and on that day the man had not looked well. Selectman Hunter must have known that John was likely to turn him down once again but he had braved the wet and cold and driven his ATV out to John’s secluded clearing anyhow. John invited the man in and offered him some of the coffee. Hunter had agreed but stayed only long enough to catch his breath and gulp down a few swallows. He was dead of pneumonia in less than a month. The new first selectman had no time for an old codger like John and so he had been left unmolested until a month ago.

That was when David Liscera and Madeline Stormer, two of the more self-righteous townies in John’s estimation, had come begging. They offered to pay for his supplies but winter had arrived early and charity was what it amounted to. He sent them away disappointed just like he had Hunter two years earlier. Stormer seemed to take his refusal in stride but John thought Liscera seemed peeved. Once deep winter set in, John was certain, he’d be left alone until spring.

John was wrong. Looking out his kitchen window that morning he saw a neat row of footprints marring the fresh crystalline sheet of snow. The tracks made straight for his cabin from the far end of the clearing. He dashed to the hall closet and grabbed his coat and shotgun. Once outside and looking at the tracks John determined that they were made by a single man and they led away from his house. This was troubling. Whoever had been there must have been there a while and only left recently, or else there would have been tracks coming as well as going. He worried what the intruder might have stolen.

He raced after the scoundrel with his shotgun held out in a sloppy port arms. The tracks weren’t hard to follow but eventually he reached a point where something strange happened. Apparently, his quarry had turned and begun running backwards. John was baffled. It didn’t make any sense. Why would someone making a getaway suddenly start running backwards? He studied the tracks more closely. The thief hadn’t turned and started running backwards. Whoever had made the tracks walked forward before turning and continuing toward his cabin walking backwards.

Oh, God. It’s a trick.

In his rush he had left the place unlocked. Usually very paranoid about such things, only the thought that he had already been robbed could have made him forget to lock up. He sprinted back towards the cabin. He ran so hard that he never saw the trip wire that took him down. He slid face first for twenty feet and his shotgun slid ten more.

“We tried to reason with you, John. But, unfortunately for all of us, you are not a reasonable man,” said David Liscera.

John wiped the snow from his face. He knew all of these men who had lured him out into the snow and were now holding him at gunpoint.

“You have more than enough for the whole town. And you know damn well there is no chance of getting any shipments until the spring thaw,” said David.

“It’s not my problem. I thought ahead. I prepared. You have no right to take what’s mine,” John yelled back.

“We just want some of the coffee. You don’t even like it and we’ve offered you more than double what you paid for it,” said David.

“It’s not fair. You all should have planned ahead,” John said.

“Fair? Well, my friend, fair price is exactly what we’re leaving you. You had your chance to make a profit. And don’t worry, we’ve left you enough for your… purposes.”

As they ushered him back to his cabin, he could see that most of the town had arrived and was helping to raid his stores. How could he hope to fight the whole town? When they all finally left, John counted the payment they had thought fair and poured himself a cup of coffee from the stove. He felt it was a good time to give the stuff another try. There had to be something to it. Why else would a whole town go crazy when they ran out?

Michael P. Boettcher Jr. is a Navy pilot who writes wherever he moves.

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 average 3.1 stars • 31 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    A well written piece. The whole concept behind the story seemed nonsensical, but not in a way that I felt really suited satire.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    My feeling is that froth is fragile and needs a very light hand. John’s sensibilities reminded me of Francie in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” who also savored what she didn’t actually want to drink.

    The word “nauseated” certainly punctured a few bubbles; I thought the story didn’t need to keep hammering at its central motif. And I thought the town’s desperation was an artifice too far, with them being a town rather than, say, a hamlet, and with that ATV. We’re in modern times, then?

    I think this might have better expressed and sustained the intended mood with just two protagonists perennially attempting to outfox each other. I gave this two stars.

    • S Conroy

      Good point with the ATV. An earlier time-frame would work better I think.

  • This was a pretty simple story in plot and characters. Reminded me of episodes of The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie. Those two TV shows had a lot of fans who loved the innocence of the stories. Tension was light and no one really got hurt. And when violence appeared (speaking for me) there was a “Nudge-nudge. Wink-wink” factor to it. There will likely be many readers who enjoy this story for the same reasons.

    What I found lacking in this writing was a defining voice to the writing style and any character development that went beyond the superficial.

  • S Conroy

    I thought the old recluse was characterised very well. I was taken aback – in a good way – by the conclusion to the story. It seems he has a sense of humour after all. I enjoyed the backward walking device, but did wonder why there weren’t more footprints if the whole town was raiding his supplies. ****

  • Teacher

    Very well written, I loved the first paragraph especially. However, the plot became a little contrived to the extent that it took away from an excellent start. Also, in the scene where John flips face forward, he looks up to see a bunch of people, but from my understanding there was only one track. A nit-pick, but it did make me pause to go back and read. *** this time.

  • Z.L. Porter

    I enjoyed this more on the second read. And as someone with a pretty hefty coffee addiction, I can understand the lengths to which the townspeople went! But then again, I’d have bought in bulk long before the start of winter. How did they know he hated coffee? He didn’t talk to anyone! Unless he mentioned it to Liscera and Stormer before he turned them away? Ok, I’m rambling now. Three stars.

  • There was a point in this, where John got into harms way, that created excitement. I was already tired of the coffee thing but thought, you know, okay, at least something is happening, right? Well as it turned out, nothing happened for me. The scene of the town’s people whipping him out of his stash did not go good. All that said, there is a talent here behind this pen that should consider another idea for a story:)

  • I read the story twice in order to understand the footprint conflict. Clever. I found the main theme of the story to be humorous, but had some questions about the execution of the story, which was actually (as Paul inferred) exaggerated nonsense. To take a simple idea and expand it to unplanned limits is one of the pleasures of writing. That was well done in this story.

    Busing means transporting children in a bus. (I looked it up, and that’s the only meaning I found.) Did you perhaps mean busying?

    Either the writer has not found that elusive thing called ‘voice’ or I am not able to hear it. I found too many flat statements and a relatively weak execution or evidence of editing. For instance, the third paragraph could be easily revised into a sentence or two. Other parts could also be revised with the same goal. It’s the old showing and not telling again. For these reasons I gave it a three, but I’d like to read more from this writer.

    By the way, I agree with John about coffee. How indeed can anything smell so good and taste so bad? Solution is sugar, lots of sugar.

    • Michael Boettcher

      Thanks for the feedback. Good catch on the busying. Typo that made it through all the edits. This was originally a somewhat longer story. A lot of what was cut probably would have provided some of the depth you felt was lacking. I felt that the heart of the story came through well enough in the shorter form to submit for consideration here. I do have another story published here called “Long and Graceful” if you are interested. Be warned though, it is a much different kind of story and much like coffee will not be to everyone’s taste.

      • Camille Gooderham Campbell

        Typo corrected; sorry I didn’t spot that one, Michael. And the heart of the story comes through nicely.