Flash Fiction—Coffee Stop

It’s only a cup of coffee. People get coffee every day. I can do this.

First, open the door. I pulled, then read push. Correcting my error, I stepped inside, scoped out a deserted corner, and eyed the display board. Nobody saw my mistake. Probably.

I loosened my scarf, then decided on my order. Tall Americano, with a pump of chocolate, in a grande cup. Easy. Straightening my grey shirt, I checked to make sure my black pants were still clean. They matched my black scarf, and my black shoes. If I stayed still I might blend into the shadows.

Come on, I could do this. The nervous energy coursing through me made my hands shake. I stepped up to the line, mentally rehearsing my order, and kept exactly two feet of distance between myself and the man in front of me. Someone entered the queue too close behind me.  I evened out my personal bubble, and then angled to see both patrons.

“Seriously lady? It’s not that hard to get an order right.” The man behind me nodded at the barista while speaking to me. The woman was training and her manager was correcting a blunder. I tried to ignore him, but people latched on to me like a cat does a visitor who hates cats.

“It’s not like any of us have important things to do, right?” His white teeth were the same shade as his crisp dress shirt. I smiled reluctantly, then dug through my purse and pulled out my credit card, spinning it to the optimal position for the new employee to use.

My turn at the front. I took a deep breath and said, “Tallamericanowithchocolateinagrandecupplease.”

The woman blinked. I blushed. She asked me again and I slowed down until she got it. The credit card fumbled in my shaking hand and dropped through her fingers. We battled apologies until she handed me the card and my receipt. The man behind me seemed to breathe down my neck. I retreated to the safety of the corner and waited for my order. 

He followed me, all predatory grace and cunning smiles. “Mind if I join you?”

“Um…” I hesitated, which he took as an acquiescence. 

“Thanks. I haven’t seen you here before, do you live in the area?”

“Yeah, but uh, where do you work?” My deflection worked. He launched into a tedious explanation about managing a retail center. I bounced on my toes. This was a terrible idea. Why did I come here? Why did people always think I wanted to talk?

“Liza?” a barista called.

I jerked like I’d been struck. “That’s me. Gotta run.”

“Wait, would you like to sit with me?” His words were rushed, but I’d already moved out of reach and conveniently choose not to hear him.

I snagged my coffee, added cream up to the brim, and bolted—pulling the door correctly this time. As I glanced back my inadvertent line buddy waved. He was far less alarming from a distance. Had I made a monster from a mouse? I returned his wave, but retreated to safety, just in case.

The sweet victory in my hand was worth the conversation with a stranger and looking foolish. I took a sip, the swirling creamy coffee and chocolate making my cheeks tingle with glee. 

Maybe I’ll go back once my nerves calm down…  in a month or two. 

 

Flash Fiction—Haunting Hell

Hell wasn’t what I expected. No fire, no brimstone, no torture; well, no torture in the traditional sense. Waiting on entitled customers marked high on my personal meter of Hell-on-Earth, but I never thought it would literally be the case.

In the endless halls I passed rooms of obscure retail shops: the ones you only notice when you go on vacation and then never find again. Punished souls inhabited bodies like they’d put on suits for work. This was only the first level of Hell—I didn’t want to wander too deep into the maze.

Oops. One of the demons spotted me darting through the shops. The thing is, demons are not red-eyed evil monsters with a burning hunger for human flesh. They’re more like hall monitors on a power trip. He jabbed a finger against my sternum and noticed my marks. He was cute, so I didn’t mind.

“Oh, you’re one of them. Follow the rules. Don’t get in the way.”

“OK. What’s your name?”

“Why?”

“Because you’re the first person to help me.”

“No, I didn’t. It’s Glen.”

“Thanks, Glen. I’m Bea. You’ve been here for a while to make demon status, how much longer until you move up?”

“We don’t talk about it. Now get out of here before I change my mind and assign you a spot.”

For once my feet moved before my mouth did. Still, I couldn’t find her. I’d lost track of time. There was no day or night here, and as a soul I couldn’t judge by my heartbeats or breaths. I hadn’t had time to adjust to my new state, let alone the new surroundings. My family up top had been so disappointed, but I had to follow my heart, even when it led me to Hell.

Another store flashed by on my left, but there were no souls tending it. The emptiness called to me. Had the punished soul slipped through the wards? I tiptoed inside. It was an antique shop, but children’s toys had been scattered, ruining a display. By habit I nudged them into a basket.

“What are you doing?” A ninety-year-old woman grabbed my arm, or the soul inside her did. I panicked, forgot the wards, forgot I was a soul, forgot the rules of Hell and broke her hold to burst through the front door. It wasn’t until I was halfway down the street that I realized I was a free ghost now. I’d found a way out of Hell! More importantly, I’d also found her!

I returned to the shop as fast as my see-through legs could carry me.

“You aren’t supposed to be here.”

Now that I knew what to look for I could see Annabelle’s face shine through the guise of the elderly woman’s skin suit.

“We promised we’d see each other in Hell. It’s not my fault you died ten years before I did.”

“That’s not what I mean. You don’t belong in Hell. You should be up there.” Luckily the store was empty, so it didn’t look strange for her to be conversing with air or gesturing wildly.

“No, we made a promise.”

“We also promised we’d tie up Captain America and keep him in our basement. Somethings we said for fun.”

“I’m not leaving my best friend to rot in Hell alone!” I balled my hands into fists. “I never thought you’d really end up here.”

“Are you kidding? You know what I did. Who I did.”

“But you aren’t a bad person.”

“Bea. Stop. You can’t be here. Go back up.”

“No. There are special circumstances for souls like me.” I held up my arms, allowing them to shine. The imprinted filigree looked like white tattoos scrolled all over my skin, marking my choice to follow her into the darkness.

Annabelle brushed the marks, tears forming in her human suit’s eyes. She couldn’t touch me, but her soul did behind the borrowed flesh. “Why?”

“We promised. I don’t mind being here”

“You idiot! This is Hell. You can’t…you can’t—”

I hugged through the suit to Annabelle’s soul. “Besides, I can leave when I want. And I don’t actually have to work. I can sit around and laugh at you. Does that help?”

She snorted and cleared her throat. “Never mind, now I don’t want you around.”

“Also it’s not really eternity. Just some reconditioning. A little community service for past indiscretions.”

“Out. I’m done with you.”

“I’ll go find some hot spirit guys to lounge with while you’re tortured. Add to the humiliation.”

“You’re the worst.”

“Best friends for life.”

“And death apparently.”

I grinned. “I’ll have to get Glen in on this. You’ll like Glen.”

“Who’s he?”

“Demon friend.”

Annabelle palmed her face. “You haven’t changed.” The door chimed as a customer entered.

“Nope. Now get back to work.” I turned to the customer, who couldn’t see me or hear me as I didn’t have a suit. “Welcome to Hell!”

Haunting was going to be fun.