Out of Fuel

Short Story

A blustery winter evening swirled past the windows of Matt Moon’s cozy little log house. Inside, Matt was stoking the fire in the wood furnace. He threw another log in and warmed his hands. If the snowy weather continued until tomorrow, he’d have to brave the cold to bring in a few more armfuls from the pile beside the garage. The prospect didn’t much appeal to him. He went through more batteries that way…

That was just part of the season Matt was going to have to get used to, though. It had been his choice to move north. He’d known to expect lower temperatures, and he’d known that would mean a higher battery budget. The only thing he could do about it was dress in layers and stay close to the furnace.

Even doing that, Matt had found over the past couple of weeks that he’d been burning through batteries much more quickly than he’d anticipated. That familiar twinge was starting to rise in his temples. Did he really have to change them again? He’d put in a fresh set three or four hours ago!

Shuffling into the impossibly tidy kitchen, which he only used for the occasional guest, Matt pulled open a drawer.

Uh oh.

He held up some cardboard and plastic packaging and looked at the two remaining AA batteries it held. This couldn’t be all he had left. No way. There had to be more somewhere. He started tearing through drawers and cupboards. Nothing.

Hurrying into his bedroom, Matt checked his bedside table. Nothing. The bathroom hold only empty packaging. Likewise for the little shelf beside the front door.

Matt returned to the kitchen and held his last two batteries in his hand. He had to use them. The twinge had spread to his stomach, in an imitation of what he imagined hunger must feel like for normal people. But unlike a normal person’s reliance on food, Matt couldn’t go days or weeks without satisfying his body’s demands. He couldn’t rely on fat reserves to keep him going; he’d simply shut down.

So, solve the first problem first, and the second problem second. Matt placed a finger in his left ear and pressed inwards gently. With a soft click, two batteries slid free. Matt pocketed them and replaced them with the two batteries he’d taken from the drawer. Instantly he felt a little livelier, and the twinge faded away.

Now on to the bigger issue. Maybe he’d left some extras in the glove compartment of his truck.

Matt pulled his boots on and stomped into the garage. It was colder in here, less insulated, and Matt shivered. He jumped into the cab of his truck and pulled the glove compartment open. Nothing. Fantastic.

He’d have to go into town, and he’d have to go right away. It was an hour-long drive, longer in this weather, and he’d need to be quick if he wanted to make it there on half a set of batteries.

Matt turned the ignition, and the truck roared into life. Good thing he’d installed that new cold-weather battery. What a predicament he’d be in if his truck hadn’t started! He cranked up the heat to max, backed out onto the driveway, and headed towards town.

The drive was slow, monotonously white, and incredibly boring. Matt had been too hurried to remember to grab some CDs, and he could only pick up two radio stations out here, CBC and a staticky 24-hour weather report. He could already see what the weather was doing, and CBC was playing a Vinyl Cafe special. Matt had nothing against Stuart McLean, but he could only listen to the guy’s voice for so long… After 45 minutes, he shut the radio off and drove in silence. He’d have to invest in a smartphone or an iPod or something, one of these months.

Ten minutes later, the truck sputtered to a halt.

Matt tapped the gas gauge. The needle shook a little, then sunk from where it had gotten stuck at one-third of a tank and landed down below the E. Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Did he have an extra jerry can of gas in the back? No, he hadn’t filled it up yet. He’d intended to do that on his next trip to town. Could he call for help? He scrambled for his old cell phone and flipped it open. His heart sank as he saw the words NO SIGNAL flashing across the top of the screen. Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Someone might come by, and he could catch a ride, right? There must be other people travelling around out here. At 7:30 PM. In the middle of a snow storm.

Matt’s mind frantically raced through his options as the heat seeped out of the truck into the chilly winter air. No cell signal, out of gas, little hope of anyone else coming by… How far from town was he? Could he make it there on foot? Not when he was already almost out of juice.

The twinge was rising again in his stomach, but this time it was mixed with a growing knot of panic. Matt forced himself to stay calm. Fishing the two nearly-dead batteries out of his pocket, he popped the completely-dead AAs out of his right ear and replaced them. It wouldn’t help much, but it was better than nothing.

Holding the dead batteries in his hand, Matt was suddenly struck by a crazy idea. Would it work? It could be really dangerous. What would happen? He shivered from cold and uncertainty. He had to try. It was his only shot. It was either this, or freezing to death.

Matt turned around and fished under the seat for a set of jumper cables. Then he popped the hood.

Steeling himself for the wintry air, he shoved open his door and stamped around to the front of the truck. He lifted the hood up, propped it open, and unravelled the jumper cables.

Matt paused for a moment. This was either suicide, or a stroke of genius. He took a deep breath, and icicles shot down into his lungs. He grabbed the jumper cables and clamped onto the terminals of the car battery. Then he took the other ends of the cables, held them up on either side of his head, and affixed them to his ears.

The cold, pointed metal jaws of the clamps bit into his ears, and he grimaced. Then warmth and energy flooded into him, and he opened his eyes wide and laughed aloud. It was a sensation he’d never felt before, an invigorating, stimulating, energizing rush.

Matt pulled the battery out of the truck and practically danced the rest of the way into town.

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