Midmorning Coffee With Rain on 3rd Street

It was at the coffee shop—the one over on 3rd Street. My shoulder leaned against the window to my right; my fingers woven in and around the ceramic loop; my knuckles pressed up against the steady warmth of the cup. Music playing just loud enough for me to know I recognized it and just quiet enough for me not to remember from where. My fingers grew tense as I strained to catch a word or phrase in the lyrics. I didn’t and the song ended and I let go of the cup and I leaned back and the leading tone still hanged in the air.

The electric lights shown down not quite white and not quite yellow. The door swung open with a soggy gust of wind and a girl. She couldn’t have been older than seventeen.  Grabbing a muffin, she moved to the counter and placed her order. The barista kept his head down as he reached over to hand the girl her change. He always kept his head down, which made his bifocal glasses slump down to the end of his nose. His hands looked soft, and his skin was a burnt umber. Turning away from the register with no less grace than a figure skater, he danced behind the counter, pulling levers and twisting knobs and blending and twirling. In that moment it felt I had never seen anything more beautiful. He drew a rippling leaf with the milk and handed it to the girl on a small dish. She thanked him and sat herself at the table in front of me, with her back turned away.

She didn’t drink her coffee, but she pushed it forward a few inches, then pulled it back one. Her hair looked stringy and unwashed, lapping in soft curls below her shoulders. It looked like she was waiting, and it’s true—she was. Her phone rang, and she answered it immediately; she was already holding it.

She said “hey, Mom.” She stuck her finger into the near-boiling coffee in front of her.

She said “are you doing alright?”

She said “I’m sorry.”

She said “yes.”

She said “no.”

She said “no.”

She said “we don’t have enough money.”

She said “I know.”

She said “no, you can’t come home yet.”

She said “I know.”

She said “I’m sorry.”

She said “I love you.”

She said “bye.”

She pulled her finger out of the coffee. It glowed bright red with steam billowing off of it. She held it in front of her face and stared at it for a moment, blistered and scarred from all the days before that she had done the same. She stuck it in her mouth and sucked off the last drops of coffee, before she stood and quickly left, leaving her muffin and the rest of the coffee untouched. I waved toward her absentmindedly as she pushed her way through the door. She was looking away and didn’t see me or anyone else.

The barista was preparing another order and performing his routine. It was just as beautiful.

The steam from my own cup rose and made foggy stains on the glass. The door swung open with a brush of bogged leaves and a woman. She couldn’t have been older. As she stepped herself inside, she sprung open her umbrella, spraying rain all over the shop and its faces and held it above her head. The barista took her order, now with a big drop of water rolling down the front of his glasses. The woman checked her wrist, which was wrapped in a watch. Her skin wrinkled around the strap. She must not have taken it off in years. The leather was faded and frayed and weathered. It was her mother’s watch. It had lived with them through a century. Its face saw the Great Depression and two world wars and a dozen and a half presidencies and the birth of a little girl and then another in turn who would soon throw the watch against the wall out of rage at the belief that some stupid watch could compensate for her grandmother and it would shatter like rain. She looked a bit like death, with her umbrella raised above her head like a scythe. She took her coffee, closed her umbrella, and went.

I followed her through the window as she walked away, down the street. She was made blurry in the glass. The people shuffled around expressionless. Their feet were fountains dragging lines on cement. I pressed my finger against the steamed glass and traced a smiling face.

Then, through its eyes I saw him. He was across the street, head up, walking intentioned. He was under no hood or sail. He looked happy—and not just a “yes, I’m good” kind of happy; he looked genuinely happy. Startled for a moment, he fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out his phone. He spoke for a moment then shoved it back. He looked straight at me. There was no mistaking it—he looked straight at me. He didn’t see me, though. He never sees me. There is no coffee shop on 3rd Street.

Neptune

I always hated the water. When I was young, I would run along the beach, stepping as close as I could to the breaking waves without letting them catch my toes. Something about the fear, I found enticing, exciting. When the sea-foam got so close, it almost felt like a hand would reach out and grab you. Snatch you into the blue, letting the rip currents do the rest.

When I was ten years old, we moved away from the sea, inland, where the waves would never touch me, nor I the waves. We lived in a rural area, mostly farmland, aside from the small town over the railroads, where the schoolhouse was. I would walk to school (it was only twenty minutes or so, and I enjoyed the privacy). I enjoyed running my fingers along the edges of the corn fields, letting the stalks brush by, shaking off the dust that had settled on them. Each year, when the harvest came, the plants would all seem so naked, and I too felt exposed. It was as if, without the walls of crop, my thoughts were open for anyone to see.

The nakedness would leave me feeling restless and despondent, and, in those days, I would wait by the train tracks after school until a train came, and I would run alongside it as fast as I could, trying to pull ahead. Unlike the waves though, the trains always won, and it would leave me feeling still restless, but now too tired to do anything about that restlessness.

By the time I was twelve, I had made a few close friends, who joined me by the tracks when the season came. Some days, we would just sit and let the wind of the trains buffet against us like it did the bare fields. Other days though, the eerie hum of the galloping train over the tracks inspired in us some mischief. We would conspire against one of our friends to all jump across the tracks at the last moment, leaving the other alone on the other side of the train. On the days when it was my turn to be left, I would be reminded of the waves, stealing the shells that would wash up, leaving me dancing around its skirted edges.

One day, like so many others, we poked along the rails in the mid-November chill. We were going to trick the little brother of one of my friends, who had come with us that day. Hearing the familiar hum of the tracks, we looked at one another, making sure we were all ready. Then, when we sensed the train coming near, we darted across to the other side.

The train was passing now, and we laughed, thinking how confused he must be, on the other side. After the few minutes it took for the train to pass, we stood looking at a vacant field. His older brother, suddenly worried, shouted his name to no response. Instructing us to split up and search for him, I headed further down the tracks. It wasn’t long before I found his size-two, mangled, left sneaker. Looking up from the shoe, silent, I saw that fated pile of cloth and body, torn and strangled, two-hundred feet further down the tracks.

He did not know the rails like we did, and he had tried to follow us. Stepping across, his foot caught in the old, splintered wood, and he fell. By the time we had turned around, the train was passing, and he was passed. The train had carried him several hundred feet down the tracks, before spitting him out.

That was ten years ago. Now, I’m sitting in the sand, by my old home. The water runs through my toes.

The Bonnie Earl O’ Moray

It was Tuesday morning when gravity stopped working. Not for any reason in particular; it just seemed to work out that way. School kids were at school. Workers were working. Parents were parenting. Teachers were teaching. People first noticed that something had changed about three feet above the floor. Albeit, there were a few whose experiences were a bit more queer: Grandma Josie, for example, awoke from her morning nap on the ceiling and to the sight of her living room furniture scattered across three dimensions. Some were not quite so fortunate as Grandma Josie. Poor Reggie Willard happened to be at the gym, and in that very moment he was squatted with a bar over his back; as gravity was switched off, his muscles tensed, but were met with surprisingly little resistance. Reggie launched from the floor, the bar rocketing above him, and died instantly upon the high-speed impact of his cranium with the metal beam.

Sandy Mills was walking her dog when she found the both of them drifting upwards — rather, away from the earth — along with the atmosphere. People watched from the windows of buildings, as she drifted up, slowly gaining speed. It seemed she hardly noticed. Cars, shopping carts, and Susan’s missing cat rose away from the earth, no longer tethered to the soil.

Little Amanda, on the other hand, was having the time of her life. At home in her bedroom, toy rockets were bouncing off of walls; the pillow monster was weakening; soft, white blood streamed from its fatal wounds creating great, swirling clouds of former fowl.

Oceans, rather quickly, were turned to immense fields of aquatic orbs gently moving away from the earth, along with the sky. Animals reliant on such substances for

breathing, unfortunately, met their fate rather abruptly. Coffee, prepared for a Tuesday, rose slowly out of the mug, burning Keith’s unsuspecting hand before dispersing in a similar fashion to Jonny’s asteroid field of marbles when he swam through it.

At the news station, anchors frantically launched themselves in various trajectories through the paper that littered the air, in search for their scripts. John Wayne moved only his eyes as they followed the syringe fluttering around the execution chair to which he was strapped.

The Richards family held on desperately, with their feet above their heads, to the lap bars on the roller coaster as it followed the track downwards.

In the academy, lab-coated people swung through clouds of gaseous caffeine like double rods. Numbers punched into computers just trying to sleep. They insisted, despite the absurdist fantasy of their current predicament, that the numbers loved them.

Meanwhile, at the temple, friends rejoiced in this deific revelation, and welcomed will into their love.

Nothing changed. Ultimately. People did what they were supposed to. Some people cried. The people who were supposed to. Others died. The others who were supposed to. Maybe.

The air moved into space. The planets went their own way. Atoms no longer felt compelled to love their neighbors. They turned their backs and moved away. There was no structure anymore, supposedly. It was just space. Everyone looked the same now. It was all real now. It was nice. The most beautiful spectacle to ever occur. No one cared to appreciate it. But it still happened. It kept going. It was not ashamed. It was not embarrassed. It kept going. It happened. It did. Big puddles of space where light had

amassed went out with a blink and a bump. There were no more fevers. There were no more mirrors. There were no more fishes. There were no more conversations and no more font types and no more erasers and no more blinks and no more statues and no more bruises and no more memories and no more lines and no more traffic and no more love and no more hate and no more songs and no more cancer and no more hope and no more death and no more life and no more mothers and no more freedom and no more gods and no more voices and no more advertisements and no more tally-marks and no more words and no more drawings taped to refrigerators and no more nervous dates at movie theatres not paying attention to the film while trying to muster the confidence to put their arm around their date and no more dreams about fathers who had left when she was only two years old and no more ghosts. It happened. It did. I promise.

A Most Beautiful Cacophony

Elliot Walker is a criminal, or at least, that is what the state decided. He was caught with double rations and has since been sentenced to exile. He will walk tomorrow.

Nearly eighty percent of our world is shaded beneath the immeasurably tall and dense thickets of wood. Our civilizations are dispersed throughout the increasingly rare, flat patches of land where crepuscular rays are able to shine through. The wood has crept closer to our villages over the years. The leaders tried to fight back by starting fires and cutting them down, but no matter, the trees would continue to encroach. No one has explored further than a mile into the wood and been seen again; it becomes so incredibly dense that it is impossible for one to find their way.

Elliot was woken while it was still dark. A bag was thrown over his head and he was marched to the edge of the wood. The bag was removed from his head, and the guard beside him placed in it some supplies: three days worth of rations, a flask of water, a large blade for moving through thicket, and a smaller blade for… personal use. With that, Elliot was thrown through a curtain of greenery and never seen again.

But this is Elliot’s story, not ours.

Once thrown into the woods, Elliot wondered whether he would be able to dupe his way back to his home. Then he wondered whether he would want to. After a moment of pondering, he continued further into the woods.

Movement was slow. Thick shrubbery covered every inch of earth; it became increasingly easy to fall. Even fifty feet in, every remaining decibel of society was smothered to silence, leaving only the echoing hymns of the trees. Elliot continued. He hacked his way through brush and vine and exhausted himself in the process. After marching for an hour or so, he laid to rest. The sonorous melodies of the forest, however, implored him to continue forward, towards whatever being may have created those sounds.

He saw little signs of animal life along his trek other than a common insect every now and then. The brush further thickened and the canopy blocked out nearly every lost photon of the sun. It seemed the forest itself would bombinate, resonating with reverberant recollections of travelers passed.

The sounds were akin to that of a Siren, enticing his further exploration. After only a short while, it came to a point at which Elliot was unable to direct his cognition towards any other thought. He released his grip on his blade, and it fell to his side. He moved faster, using his overgrown fingernails to claw through the thicket. Vines, thorns, and branches swatted his face and arms; thin cuts decorated his skin. He shed the bag over his shoulder and began to run. He tripped, stumbled, and fell, yet autonomously returned to his crazed sprint. Any sense of time that once existed had perished. There would be no light. He would never see light again.

Then he saw light. Bursting through a wall of ivy, Elliot fell to his knees. He looked down at his hands. He saw his hands. Looking up, the cool, bioluminescent light was blinding to his still dilated pupils. Soon, what he did not believe to be reality faded into view. There was a clearing, no more than ten feet across. Immense, glowing leaves surrounded him. They emitted brilliant hues of pinks, greens, purples, and blues which refuted any previous understanding of the world he believed he knew.

He realized it was silent. He could hear the blood rushing through his ears; he could hear his heart sending wave after pulsating wave of freshly oxygenated blood to his limp appendages. Elliot stood and moved towards a leaf even larger than himself. He felt compelled to touch the leaf, and so he extended his arm and gently laid his quivering index finger upon the glowing mass. An enormously prepossessing sound radiated from his touch. He reached towards it again and the same glowing note emanated through his skull. He moved to another leaf and brushed it against the back of his bleeding hand. A different — yet equally beautiful — tone was released. Elliot began to move from leaf to leaf, touching each and allowing the overwhelming ecstasy to swallow him. He moved faster, running around the clearing and touching every great, gilded leaf in sight. He was laughing. He laughed and laughed as he ran faster and faster. The sounds would harmonize and build, forming chords and melody which seemed to transcend any former understanding of his senses. He heard a most beautiful cacophony.

Then the forest ate him.