Hoppy Endings: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
A short story inspired by the craft beer name and label for Foreign Exchange Brewing Co.'s triple IPA, "What Could Possibly Go Wrong?"
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Paul loved to eat but despised how much effort went into a quality home-cooked meal. Food was meant to be a source of fuel and delight, with a heavy emphasis on the latter. He believed preparation was an unnecessary hurdle that ultimately dulled an otherwise magical experience.
Moving to The Middle of Nowhere (this was actually written on the town’s welcome sign) didn’t make matters any better, either. Of course, it hadn’t been his decision to pack their bags and move to a place of complete isolation. His wife, Margaret, decided this was best for them, “a chance to live freely and without fear,” she said.
The world went to shit about twenty years ago when Paul and Margaret were just tikes, unaware of every institution known to man crumbling into a million pieces. They were kept safe and raised by an underground community led only by a homeless man known as Mr. Fred. It wasn’t much, but they owed their lives to that place for without it they would have been dead in a ditch inside of a week.
Most were clueless as to what caused the apocalypse. Mr. Fred made it his goal to keep it that way, spreading rumors amongst the community so as to plant doubt in their minds of what truly happened. He said, “Fear of the unknown is the most powerful fear of all.”
Fitting a community of children in such tight quarters didn’t sit well with many as they grew older—taller and wider—prompting most to venture out over the years into what was left of the world. Paul and Margaret were the last to live in the community, keeping Mr. Fred company for nearly twenty years until he had a fatal fall nearly two weeks ago. Rest his wise, smelly soul.
With nothing else to hold onto, the two set out for The Middle of Nowhere, long referenced by their caretaker as a safe haven should any of the children lose their way back to the community. It was a chance to start over, to live their lives with the intention of rebuilding the world along with the other community members who had relocated there.
This is when the food situation got hairy. Having lived in what remained of a metropolis, Paul was accustomed to scrounging around abandoned apartments (dressed head-to-toe in a hazmat suit per Mr. Fred’s rules) for anything edible. He mainly came up with Twinkies, SPAM and boxes of pasta, but it was food. And it was quick food at that. Paul didn’t have this luxury in The Middle of Nowhere. Instead, he had to hunt for his and Margaret’s food while she handled pretty much every other task inside their quaint cabin.
Mr. Fred taught the community how to hunt, a skill that came in handy as food grew scarce. But Paul hated it. And it seemed even more impossible in the wilderness, a strange setting for a former city dweller. He caught a rabbit one day, a deer nearly a week later; however, he hadn’t had any luck in nearly four days. Four damn days of living off nothing but berries. Not only did this take all delight out of eating, it made his stomach feel like it was at war with itself. Factor in their lack of toilet paper and Paul was up to here with it all.
On the fifth day of their berry diet, Paul had a brilliant idea. He realized Mr. Fred had only trained the community to hunt certain animals. In addition to rabbit and deer, cow and wild turkey were also on the man’s hunt list. But that was just it: it was his hunt list, his preferred food. There was a world of wildlife out there, ready to be killed and eaten.
Paul began to set traps early in the morning. He put them out in the open, in hard-to-reach crevices and all the way up in trees. He was optimistic, filled with joy at the thought of coming home to Margaret with a meal that didn’t consist entirely of berries. By the late afternoon, he had set up over thirty traps. The bait inside? The berries Margaret was expecting to eat for the fifth night in a row.
Amidst a much-needed nap against a tree trunk, Paul was awakened by a rattling from above. He wiped his eyes, stood up and studied the source of the sound: the trap. It had not even been a day and his plan was paying off. He climbed the tree, already imagining the taste of whatever heavenly soon-to-be food was inside.
Upon returning to the ground with the trap, he set off for the cabin with a pep in his step, choosing not to look inside the covered box so as to share the surprise with Margaret. He would be a hero in her eyes. All it took was a little detour from Mr. Fred’s rulebook.
Paul burst through the front door fifteen minutes later, the same smile he put on from hearing the creature in the trap for the first time still on his face. Margaret looked confused and approached him, lifting an eyebrow at the sound continuing to come from the covered trap. Paul lifted the trap and put his other hand to the sheet covering it as if he were a magician preparing for the big finale. In one swift motion, he stripped the sheet away.
The couple—two survivors of what was otherwise the end of the world—stared at what was inside. Margaret lifted her eyebrow again and looked at her husband, saying, “This is what’s for dinner? A bat?”
“Sure,” Paul said through his smile. “What could possibly go wrong?”