The Coffee Apocalypse

The past couple of weeks have been an utter shitshow. I’ll spare you the details, but thankfully the situation seems to be resolved, thanks to communication. And coffee, of course. I shudder to think what I would do without my beloved bitter nectar. What indeed, would any of us do if coffee were to become extinct? That thought inspired the following story, which remains one of my favorites, and its sequel, both of which were published in WPaD’s Goin’ Extinct anthologies and my DysFictional series. I give you:

BATTLE OF THE BEAN

By Mandy White

It was the end of the world as we knew it, and nobody felt fine. Remember that song? It’s been stuck inside my head since this whole thing began.

Anarchy reigned; society was in chaos. People rioted in the streets. Yadda-yadda apocalypse…

All because of one little thing. A tiny thing, really. Not quite miniscule, perhaps the size of a pea, but a tiny thing nonetheless.

The all-powerful coffee bean.

We were warned of the impending extinction of our precious bean, but like so many warnings before it, we chose to ignore it until forced to confront the ugly truth.

It began early in the century, when farmers in Colombia noticed a troublesome blight affecting the Arabica plants. The blight, known as “coffee rust”, was a type of fungus that spread rapidly, despite all efforts to eradicate it.

Some blamed pollution, others blamed global warming, but regardless of whom or what was to blame, Arabica crops in Latin America were wiped out by 2027, and from there it spread to crops in Africa.

Still, the public pooh-poohed. As long as Starbucks kept pouring eight-dollar lattes, there was no cause for alarm. The problem was far away from their sheltered yuppie environment. Cultivation was the farmers’ problem, not theirs. Even when the Arabica crops were gone and the price of that particular variety skyrocketed, people simply switched blends.

It wasn’t until every coffee plant on the planet was dead that we were willing to acknowledge that we had a problem. The problem escalated to catastrophic levels when the governments took control of the world’s remaining supply of coffee.

Coffee disappeared from supermarket shelves. Starbucks went out of business. Coffee shops with boarded-up windows littered the urban landscape.

At more than ten times the price per kilo, coffee replaced cocaine as Colombia’s most lucrative illegal export. Coffee cartels waged war on each other in hopes of controlling the world’s dwindling supplies of the precious brown bean. Penalties for smuggling coffee ranged from several years to life in prison or even death by firing squad, depending on which country one was arrested in, but that didn’t stop an intrepid few from trying their luck.

Street value of an ounce of ground coffee climbed higher than that of gold. Users traded automatic weapons, priceless family heirlooms and even the deeds to their homes for a cup of espresso, just to get one more fix of that aromatic black nectar.

We tried consuming tea, colas and caffeine pills, but it didn’t take us long to learn that caffeine wasn’t what gave coffee its addictive nature. It turned out there was another ingredient we had overlooked. A mystery ingredient that latched onto the brain much like cocaine did. Suffice it to say, lack of this ingredient made some people very unhappy indeed. Scientists analyzed it, tried to isolate it and tried to synthesize it but to no avail.

The increase in violent crimes due to coffee withdrawal led to the global legalization of marijuana. Pounds of Purple Kush, Amsterdam Indica and BC Big Bud now occupied the shelf space that had once displayed pounds of French Roast, Breakfast Blend and Decaf. A society of anxious, stressed-out bean-hounds became laid-back and complacent, sleepily smiling as they crammed their mouths full of snacks.

Of course, there were still the hardcore addicts, for whom nothing else but the bitter ambrosia would do. White-collar professionals became organized crime bosses, dealing the world’s most valuable substance to street addicts, some of them former colleagues. When the coffee finally ran out, one country accused the next of hoarding it, even though nobody had any coffee anymore.

With everyone at each other’s throats, the UN dissolved. Their final meeting ended in a massive brawl; a Battle Royal between nearly 200 delegates that resolved nothing. The situation deteriorated to the point of war, with everyone pointing warheads at everyone else.

With a bunch of coffee-starved world leaders holding their jittery fingers over the red button, I did what any sensible man would, and went to ground.

I found the bomb shelter in my neighbor’s back yard after investigating the sound of a gunshot. I found him at his kitchen table, where he had been trying to snort lines of instant coffee before giving up and swallowing the barrel of his .357. Poor bastard – everyone knows there’s no real coffee in that instant stuff, but looks like he died trying.

I found a shovel and thought I’d do the neighborly thing and give him a decent burial, but damn, the ground was hard! I tried a few different spots but kept hitting rocks, then at one point I hit something metal. Curious, I dug it up, and damned if I didn’t find a bomb shelter! Probably built during World War II and long forgotten under layers of landscaping. My neighbor probably bought the house without even knowing it existed.

So, when the threat of nuclear war became imminent, I packed some supplies and retreated into the shelter with plans to stay put for a few weeks or months until the coast was clear. I brought food, plenty of water, books to read, flashlights and batteries, but I needn’t have bothered to pack so much because when I got down there I discovered the shelves well-stocked. Sure, eighty-year-old canned goods might not be ideal, but they were better than nothing if it came down to it. I scanned my flashlight over the shelves and lo and behold! What did I see? Coffee! Cans and cans of magnificent, marvelous coffee!

I had packed a butane camp stove and several cases of fuel, so I was all set to prepare hot meals. Now hot coffee would accompany those meals! This dark, dusty hole in the ground had suddenly become paradise.

I’m writing this down, partly to keep myself busy so I don’t think about coffee. I also thought it would be a good idea to record what became of our world just in case nobody else is alive to do it.

As close as I can figure, it’s been about six months since I felt the first of the bombs hit. My food supply is dwindling, even the really old stuff. If I have to eat another can of cold lima beans I’m going to scream. Who the hell puts lima beans in a bomb shelter? I guess I could leave the shelter, but as long as I have coffee in my possession, I run the risk of getting robbed, maybe even killed for it. Lord only knows what’s happening up on the surface.

I’m down to my last can of coffee, but I’ve been putting off opening it because once it’s gone, then I truly will be out of coffee. After that, I will leave the shelter and see what awaits me up above.

I’ll wait one more day to open it. I can go without coffee for just one more day. I’ve been saving one last can of butane to make it nice and hot. Cold food I can handle, but cold water won’t brew coffee.

See? One day wasn’t so tough. Why not make it two? If I have a cup of coffee every two days, it will last twice as long. If I wait one more day before opening the last can, that’s one more day before I run out for good.

I made it a whole week. Wow. That’s one more week before I run out. As long as I have that can of coffee, I’m the richest man on earth. I might also be the only man on earth, but… mere details.

Two weeks, and that damn can of coffee sits there unopened, mocking me, daring me to open it. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Nice try, coffee can. I’m smarter than you. After all, you’re just a stupid can of coffee. I’m over you. I don’t love you anymore. I could quit you cold turkey if I wanted to.

Aw, fuck it. Since I know I can quit anytime I want, I might as well drink it and enjoy the last coffee on earth.

I’m doing it. This is it. I’m opening the can.

Tomorrow.

I’ve been out of food for weeks now, and starvation is weakening me more each day. The can of coffee still sits unopened, though. I have decided to save it until the very end. If the last thing I do before I leave this world is drink the last cup of coffee in that can, I will die a happy man. I’ll have to do it soon, though. I’m on my last two gallons of bottled water.

Maybe it’s time I left the shelter. There is probably clean water on the surface. Hell, I don’t even care if it’s contaminated, just as long as it will make a decent cuppa Joe. But… what if it’s total chaos up there? I’d be killed for my can of coffee for sure. I guess I could leave it in the shelter. Nobody knows it’s here. But what if I was followed on the way back, or worse, what if someone found this place – and my coffee – while I was away? Without my coffee, I have nothing. No, the only way it will be safe is if I stay and guard it.

When I finish the water I have open, I will open the last jug of water along with the can of coffee and brew a nice steaming cup of Heaven. When the coffee is gone, I will leave the shelter. If the world is destroyed, I’ll use the revolver I took from my neighbor’s hand and exit in likewise fashion.

NO! NO!!!! I went to open the last water jug and found it empty! DRY! All this time I thought it was full but I didn’t actually pick it up and shake it. The jug must have had a leak at the bottom because the water is long gone. No! No! No! I can’t live without water, because without water I can’t make coffee. A world without coffee is not one I want to face.

Goodbye world, whatever’s left of you.

* * *

The steel door groaned open. Two faces peered into the hole, closing their inner eyelids to shield their eyes from the rising dust.

“What is this?”

“I’m not sure. Looks like some kind of ancient ruins. There’s a cave or something down there. Let’s go down and check it out.”

They scuttled down the shaft into the cavern below.

“Look, there! Bones! What kind of creature is that?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not one of us. Look, only four appendages, and it doesn’t even have a tail! Must be some kind of weird old fossil.”

“What’s that object beside it?”

A webbed, green-scaled hand reached for the metal can.

“Is it some kind of weapon?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe it’s food or something. Look, I can open it.”

Sniff. Sniff.

“What is that?”

“I don’t know, but it smells delicious! Should we taste it?”

“No, it might be poison. Let’s go and ask Mom first.”

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

The sequel is next! Read on:

VACATION

“Are we there yet?”

“No.”

“How much farther?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m bored. Can’t we stop somewhere?”

“Will you stop harassing me? We will get there when we get there.”

“Don’t yell at the children, Dax. They’re just restless. They’ve been cooped up in this vehicle for ages. Can’t we find a place to stop so they can get some exercise?” Sky said.

“Where would you suggest?”

“I’m sure there’s someplace suitable around here. How about that place?”

“What if it’s no good?”

“There’s only one way to find out. Scan it.”

Dax entered the coordinates into the computer and read the results.

“Sounds ok, but might be some kind of tourist trap.”

“Well, we’re tourists, so it sounds perfect.”

Dax sighed. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to stop and stretch our legs for a while. Maybe we will find a nice place to camp.”

“That’s the spirit. We’re on vacation. Let’s relax and enjoy ourselves.”

* * *

The place looked promising. Clean air, trees, plenty of water. The children scrambled out of the vehicle and rushed toward the beach. Within moments they were splashing happily in the water.

Sky nuzzled her mate. “See? That was all they needed. Why don’t you relax while I find us something to eat?”

Dax was feeling more relaxed already. The place was pretty nice, he had to admit. Maybe they could stay a while. It seemed like a great place to spend a holiday.

Sky wandered away, taking in the sights while Dax basked in the sun, lying on a large flat rock near the water. Some time later, Sky returned, her arms filled with tasty looking food.

“What are those?” Dax asked.

“I don’t know, but they taste good. Here, try one.” She handed a wriggling, furry creature to Dax.

“Children! Come and get something to eat!”

“But I wanna swim!” Chi whined.

“You can go back and swim after you eat something and warm up for a little while. You don’t want to get a chill,” Sky ordered.

Pouting, Chi and Dik left the water and joined their parents on the beach. Their reluctance quickly turned to enthusiasm when they saw the delicious treats their mother had brought.

“This is nice, don’t you think, Honey?” Sky said, gazing up at the brilliant yellow sun on its backdrop of blue.

“It sure is,” Dax agreed, “Why don’t we stay here for a while and camp? Looks like we have the whole place to ourselves.”

“Yes! Let’s do it.” Sky said.

“Yay!” the children shouted in unison.

* * *

The next day, the children did some exploring while their parents napped in the sun. They happened upon a strange object.

“Wonder what this is?” Chi said, examining the rounded metal thing.

“I think it’s some kind of lid. Help me open it.”

The steel door groaned open. They peered into the hole, closing their inner eyelids against the rising dust.

“What is this?”

“I’m not sure. Looks like some kind of ancient ruins. There’s a cave or something down there. Let’s go down and check it out.”

They scuttled down the shaft into the cavern below.

“Look there! Bones! What kind of creature is that?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not one of us. Look, only four appendages and it doesn’t even have a tail! Must be some kind of weird old fossil.”

“What’s that object beside it?”

Dik’s webbed, green-scaled hand reached for the metal object.

“Is it some kind of weapon?” Chi asked.

“I don’t think so. Maybe it’s food or something. Look, I can open it.”

Sniff. Sniff.

“What is that?”

“I don’t know, but it smells delicious! Should we taste it?”

“No, it might be poison. Let’s go and ask Mom first.”

“What’s this other thing?”

“I don’t know, but it looks like it was as important to this creature as that container. It died holding both of them.”

* * *

They ran back to their parents carrying the metal container and the other strange object they had found clutched in the arms of the fossilized remains.

“Mom! Dad! Look what we found!”

Dax and Sky examined the objects their children had found. The container was filled with dry, dark brown granules that had an intoxicating aroma. The other object appeared to be a collection of ancient writings, inscribed on thin sheets of a brittle, delicate material.

“I’ll scan this with the ship’s computer. Maybe we can decode it,” Dax said.

He scanned the documents and then left the computer to analyze the alien language. Meanwhile, the family went out to explore, starting with the cave the children had found.

It appeared to be some sort of underground home, accessed by a metal tube. The remains of a lone life form lay below. Nearby, they found some ancient ruins, above ground. Inside, they found the remains of another life form, and its death appeared to have been caused by a large hole in its head.

“What happened to these creatures?” Sky wondered aloud. “Do you think any of them are left?”

“I don’t know,” Dax said. Maybe those ancient writings will have a clue.”

“Let’s look around some more. These things are fascinating if nothing else.”

Some distance away, they found more ancient ruins that appeared to be untouched since the demise of the civilization that had built them. It was an archaeological marvel, this crumbling city, destroyed by some sort of war or disaster. They found more remains, lying where they had fallen. Whatever had happened, not everyone had seen it coming.

They explored until dusk, and then returned to camp. Dax checked on the ship’s computer to see if it had made any progress decoding the ancient language. It had. The results were amazing.

“Sky! Children! Come here! You have to see this!”

They crowded around the screen as Dax read what the computer had translated.

“According to what the being in the cave inscribed, this planet was once a thriving civilization, but it was destroyed by war. That cave was not a home, but a shelter, built to withstand the blast. It seems that poor fellow went down there to escape the war and ended up starving to death, even though he could have come back to the surface.”

“What made him stay down there?”

“He was protecting a substance more valuable than anything on the planet; the very cause of the war. It seemed this civilization worshiped the substance, until one day the plant that provided it became extinct. When the supply ran out, war broke out. They bombed themselves out of existence with their own weapons. That guy found a treasure trove of the valuable substance down in the shelter, so he went to ground and locked himself in. He had one container left when he ran out of water. He died down there, probably of starvation, locked in with his treasure.”

“The container! That must be the treasure!” Chi exchanged an excited look with her brother. “We just found the most valuable thing on the planet!”

“So, what exactly is this treasure?” Sky asked. “What makes it so valuable?”

Dax leaned over the screen again.

“It says here that it’s some sort of drink. They called it COF-FEE.”

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

These stories and more can be found in:

WPaD’s Goin’ Extinct and Goin’ Extinct Too,

and also in:

DysFictional 2 and DysFictional 3.

Available worldwide in ebook and paperback.

Advertisement

One thought on “The Coffee Apocalypse

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s