Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Short Fiction: A Familiar Face at Phantom Coffee

A Familiar Face at Phantom Coffee
by Void Munashii

   There were not a lot of options at half past one in the morning for a man on foot trying to escape the pouring rain in downtown Shoreside City. The Burger Bro was drive-thru only at that hour, and the Apollo Coffee that was open was full of hipsters and people on their laptops trying to write in public.

    Chris Paynter was not looking to be surrounded by people. All he wanted right then was to be someplace out of the rain. He had been having a rough evening.

    When he saw a brightly lit shop on the corner about a block down, he brightened. The sign over the window, a deep, apparently intended to be spooky, purple identified the place as “Phantom Coffee”. The bright red sign neon sign in the window identified the place as “OPEN”.

   He clutched his satchel to his chest and ran, feeling the water in his sodden socks squish between his toes with every step. He practically crashed into the door when he got to it.

    The door was fashioned from metal at least meant to look like forged iron. It made the door look like it would be more at home in a  dungeon than on a coffee shop. It swung open easily with the jingling of a bell suspended from the inside of the glass. Chris slowed long enough to stomp some of the water off of his feet on the mat.

   The inside of the coffee shop looked more like an old fashioned diner than a coffee shop. There was a long counter with stools running along its length running down one side of the customer area, and booths lining the walls along the window.

    The shop appeared to be empty aside from Chris, a man at the service counter wearing a rather smart looking charcoal suit, and the man in the deep purple apron standing behind the same counter. The badge on the man’s chest identified him as “Joe”. All of the glossy purple boothes he could see were empty, as were the counter’s glossy purple stools. There were a set of stantions with deep purple velvet ropes strung between them blocking off one end of the coffee shop; as sign on the middle stantion read, “This Section Closed,” and below that, “Thank You!”

    “Alright, De’Von, one Phantom Special’ll be forty-nine ninety-nine.

    The man in the suit, presumably De’Von, slotted his card into the reader, waiting until it buzzed to remove it and place it back into his wallet.

   “Fifty bucks?” Chris said in his head, “What the Hell is a Phantom Special?”

  “Alright, just take a seat and I’ll brew that up for you,” Joe said to De’Von, and then to Chris, “It’ll just be a couple of minutes sir; I’ll be right with you.”

    Chris looked up at the menu and saw all of the normal coffee shop items: mochas, lattes, cold brew, iced drinks, pastries, bagels. There it was: “Phantom Special Brew $49.99”. This distracted him momentarily from his bad night: first his car had broken down, and then the girl he’d been after had done something… unexpected, and he had missed his opportunity with her.  He had decided to just give up, walk home, and retrieve his car later, but when he got home he found that he had left his keys in the car and could not get into his apartment. On the walk back to his car it started to rain heavily, which led him to find shelter at a coffee shop that charged fifty dollars for… something.

    “What could be worth fifty bucks?” Chris asked in his mind.

    He watched with curiosity as the coffee jockey went to a cabinet behind the counter that was secured with a keypad. Joe blocked the keypad with his body as he entered the code.

    Joe quickly removed something from the cabinet and closed it again. When he turned, Chris could see that it appeared to be a metal cone, a pour over brewer; it seemed to glow faintly.

    Chris watched in slight astonishment as Joe went about putting a brown paper filter into the grinding what appeared to be normal coffee beans, filling the metal cone with the coffee, and placing it on a holder. The barista then proceeded to begin to pour hot water over the coffee.

    Turning to ask the man in the suit, De’Von, what is so special about the coffee, some movement caught his eye. There are people sitting in the closed section of the coffee shop; one of the booths has a man sitting on either side of it with a woman sitting between one of the men and the window.

    “How did I not see them when I came in,” he thought to himself.

    The woman looked familiar to him; the guys didn’t, but she did.  She was twirling a wrapped straw between her fingers, and gazing into the coffee cup sitting in front of her while the two guys appeared top be talking quietly. He couldn’t place her, but he knew he knew her.

    Then she looked up.

    Chris’ eyes widened with recognition. Her eyes widened as well, and a grin bloomed on her face.

    “Move, move,” the woman said excitedly, shoving the man next to her so hard that he almost fell to the floor trying to get out of the booth, “That’s the guy! Joe, that’s the guy!”

    Joe looked from where he was gently stirring the brewing coffee with a small whisk to the woman. He arched an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. The pour over brewer he was tending to was starting to looked tarnished, corroded, not that Chris had time to notice something like that.

    The woman moved quickly across the shop towards Chris. She moved past the velvet ropes without disturbing them.

    No, Chris realized, not past the ropes, through them.

    “It’s really you!” the woman said to Chris, “Oh my God, I never thought I would get to see you again.”

    “No, no,” Chris stammered, taking a step back and clutching his satchel tight to his chest, “you can’t be.”

    The woman grabbed Chris’s left arm in her right hand; it was cold, and it made his arm tingle like he was receiving a gentle electrical shock. He tried to pull free, but her grip was absolute; strong as metal.

    “This,” she said, grinning, “is the man who murdered me.”

    “Here you go, De’Von,” Joe said, placing the now finished cup of coffee down in front of the man in the suit, If Chris were not so occupied with other events, he would have observed that it looked like a perfectly normal cup of coffee, “Drink it while it’s hot, sorry about… this,” he motioned to Chris, the woman, and the two men who had moved from their table to flank Chris.

    “You keep serving these, and I’ll put up with pretty much anything,” De’Von replied, sipping his steaming, black coffee, “Good stuff, Joe. I can feel it already.”

    Joe nodded, and moved to the cash register, “Okay, Rebekka, are you sure this is the guy?”

    Rebekka grabbed the satchel in Chris’ arms with her left hand, and yanked it free, tossing it onto the counter in front of Joe, “Check the bag, you’ll see.”

    Joe picked up the satchel.

    “You can’t do that, that’s my personal property! I have rights, you kn- Aaah!” Chris yelled as Rebekka squeezed his arm.

    “Sir, your rights are the least of your worries if this bag confirms what she says.”

    Joe opened the satchel, and dumped it out onto the counter. Aside from loose change, pens, a phone charger, and a pack of gum, out fell a rolled cloth bundle. Joe dropped the emptied satchel back ont he counter and undid the ties holding the bundle together and unrolled it on the counter.

    In the roll were a series of knives, scalpels, forceps, scissors, and probes. There were also a series seven of plastic tubes secured in elastic loops. One contained cable ties, while four of them had locks of hair in them: the last one matched Rebekka’s.

    “Well this does not look very good for you, does it?” Joe asked, walking around the end of the counter. He walked over to the door and locked it with a clock that sounded deafening to Chris, and then flipped a couple of switches next to the door. One turned off the bright, red “OPEN” sign, the other caused metal shutters on all the windows to slowly lower.

    “What is this?” Chris asked.

    “This,” Joe motioned to the shop around him, “is my coffee shop, and I serve a wide variety of customers. I bet you didn’t know that ghosts like coffee just as much as the living do; it’s apparently one of the few things they can actually taste. They like it almost as much as revenge..”

    “So can we?” Rebekka asked, still grinning broadly.

    “Okay,” Joe sighs, “but don’t make a mess.”

Author's Note:
This is the product of another Clever Fiction Writing Challenge. This time it was for a premise instead of just a word prompt. The premise was this:

While waiting in line for coffee, a man sees a woman across the shop he once
knew - or thinks he knew. She's sitting between two men fidgeting with a straw.
​When she looks up to the man, her eyes widen. She almost smiles.
Then he remembers who she is.

     I had a couple of different ideas for this one, including a story set in the Xader Dax reality featuring Emily Adams (if you do not know who those characters are, check out "Dax Plays Faire" over at The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine, as well as "Dancing in the Gym", "Dax and the Hydria Manes", and "Dax Vs. The Brimstone Crippler" over at Clever Fiction, ). I decided to go with this story because the idea for Phantom Coffee has been floating around for a couple of months now since I wrote the name as a typo while talking about one thing and typing an email about something else.

     As always: if you enjoyed this story (or even if you didn't), head over to the Clever Fiction Writing Challenge page and see what the other creatives who took the challenge made out of it. You're bound to find something you enjoy.

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