The Coffee Shop. Short Story.

Hope everyone’s weekend went well. Mine was pretty relaxing. I have been cat sitting for my sister for the past three weeks. She’s was being kept in my room as the two dogs are not fans of cats. It was pretty ok for the first two and a half weeks. Then she decided it was ok to wake me up at night for attention. How do you wake a sleeping human? Oh, plenty of ways. You can walk on the pillow, or their head. You can meow lots, perch on their shoulders, poke at their face with your paw. The only thing stopping you is your imagination!

Yeah.

Despite that she is a pretty nice cat. She’s friendly and gentle. I was scratched once the entire time, and that was trying to get her into her carrier when she was leaving. Even then it was less a “fuck you” scratch and more of a “oh god, oh god no!” trying to get a grip on something scratch.

Despite her being nice and the room seeming quiet and empty, I’m fairly happy I was able to get a good nights sleep last night that was pretty much uninterrupted.
It was also nice to have a quiet weekend.

_____________________________________________________________

Jane sat against the wall, hands wrapped around her coffee cup. She brought it to her lips and took a sip, as she did so she glanced around the coffee shop, then she placed the mug down and looked at her book. Occasionally she would turn a page, but she wasn’t reading it, it was a cover. She was sitting in her usual spot, on the bench that ran along the wall, and scanning the people who entered. She knew them all, by sight if not personally. Those who actually knew her wouldn’t bother her, everyone knew she took the time for herself, a little break. They wouldn’t interrupt that, not with all the stresses she had at home. This was her third day of observation and she was starting to feel more confident. They wouldn’t notice that she wasn’t actually reading, why would they? She needed to be subtle, discrete. Something was wrong and Jane had to figure out what it was.

She noticed it a week before, some of the people she saw and talked to were slightly off. It wasn’t extremely noticeable, an extra beat before answering, a faraway look they had. It had been going on for a few days but she had assumed that people were just having an off day. But the off day continued. Slowly more and more people began to exhibit the same quirks, the same pauses. They looked normal, like their every day selves, but something was different, something was wrong. Once she had noticed it properly, she began to feel it, these weren’t the people she knew, they weren’t the people she had come to recognise in the street. No these people were different, at the very least imposters, if not something more sinister. Once she had realised that it didn’t take her long to notice the patterns. There was Pink Housecoat, bringing her dog for a walk, sure, nothing unusual about that, except that it happened every day at 1.07 P.M. on the dot, they would pass the tree and wave at someone across the street. Now, that wouldn’t be all that odd if it happened once or twice, but it happened every day for the last week. Every day at exactly 1.07. Before Pink Housecoat would be walking sure, but some days she would be running a little late or a little early and others Jane wouldn’t see her at all. Jane didn’t know what she did during the day, but she always looked a little dishevelled, hair messy, a quick swipe of make up across the cheeks. The outfits changed, sweatpants or jeans, plain, bright t-shirts, but she always wore that pink housecoat. She still looked dishevelled, she still had the fly away hairs and changing outfits, the same pink housecoat, but something was wrong. She was too exact. The person Pink Housecoat waved at was Leather Briefcase. Jane thought that perhaps he was some kind of lawyer. He certainly had the look, perfect suits, shined, leather shoes and that black leather briefcase. Every day for the past week he would be leaving the bakery at exactly 1.07, the door opening with a faint ding as he stepped out with a coffee cup and a bag of pastries clutched in one hand. The hand he always raised in return greeting. Before it wouldn’t have been unusual for Jane to see him every second or third day, but now it was every day at the same time for a full week.

And they weren’t the only ones, Homeless Bob, Half-Naked Jogger, Poodle Skirt, they all seemed to be following the same routine, every single day like clockwork. And there was no way that was possible unless something about them was different. Changed. Maybe they were working together for something, though that was unlikely, she had seen them about the place for months, if not years in some cases. All these people who occupied her neighbourhood, who she didn’t really know. It wasn’t just them either, the people she knew were doing the same thing. Johnny, Clara, Sammy, the baristas at the coffee shop and, as each day passed, it seemed more and more of them were changing. Acting oddly. So far she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, why would she? They would think she was insane, hell, even she wondered if everything was ok up there for the first few days. But now she knew, she knew that something wasn’t right, that everyone was changing. She didn’t know how or why, but she knew she had to keep a careful watch to make sure it didn’t happen to her. So, she continued with her little ritual, every day. She left the house at around one and she walked to the coffee shop, book tucked into her small bag. She would enter the coffee shop, order her coffee and tea, then sit in her usual spot and take the book out and begin to read. Then, once she had enjoyed her coffee and following cup of tea, she would leave the coffee shop, wishing the staff a good day and having left her money and a few coins for a tip on the table.

She took another sip of coffee and glanced at her watch casually. There was Owl Man, taking a bite of his muffin, at exactly the same time as yesterday. She frowned at the page slightly, he had been normal until the day before yesterday. Something had happened to him. He was switched out or changed seemingly over night. The sound of a cackle cut through the dull murmurs, Jane didn’t wince, she had been expecting that laugh. Lipstick always laughed like that. Jane looked up slightly, and there it was, Lipstick gently placing her hand on the arm of Larry, one of the baristas. He smiled back at her, then moved slightly to get her drink started. Lipstick turned and weaved through the tables, it was even the same path! Then she plopped down onto a seat, took out a mirror and checked her make up. Jane looked away, already knowing that she was going to dig through her bag for three seconds, no more, no less, and retrieve a tube of bright red lipstick, then she would carefully apply it to her mouth. Just as she finished, Larry would place her drink onto the table and smile at her, then he would say something annnddd…Right on cue, that cackle again.

The first few times it happened Jane questioned her sanity, then she questioned time itself, perhaps she was just in a kind of loop that they sometimes have in TV shows or movies, but the day kept changing, Monday moved into Tuesday as it should, yet still she saw the same things happening again and again. She had dismissed her theory that they were spies, spying on someone, maybe even her, because their movements were so repetitive that if someone like her noticed, surely a spy would see straight away that something wasn’t right.

Jane finished her coffee, then placed the empty cup down, she looked back at her book and started the countdown, when she reached one Karen picked up the coffee cup and placed down a mug of herbal tea. Jane looked up from her book and smiled, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, do you want anything else?”
“No, thank you, the tea is plenty.”
Then Karen would turn and clear off the table to her right.

Jane picked up the tea and took a sip. As she placed it down a sudden thought struck her. What if it was through the food and drink? What if they put something in it. She looked at her tea, it looked normal. Could she trust it? Sure, she had been fine, but what if what ever they put in it had a cumulative effect, taking a few days to happen?

She glanced around quickly, no one was watching her, no one was making sure she drank her tea. She left it where it was.

As Jane was packing up to leave, Karen came over again to pick up the empty tea cup, but it wasn’t empty. Karen frowned slightly, “Was the tea ok? If there was something wrong I would have made you another cup.”
“No, it was lovely, I just wasn’t in the mood for it today.”

Karen shrugged, then glanced around, “Ok, then it’s on the house for today.” she winked.

“No, that’s really not necessary.”
“I insist. You come in here every day, really, it’s the least we can do.”
“If you’re sure then.”
“Definitely”

Karen took the cup and walked away. Jane placed her money onto the table and left, leaving enough to cover the coffee, tea and her usual scattering of coins for a tip. As Jane walked home, she didn’t pay too much attention to what was happening around her. It had been different today, she had caused a change in the behaviour of someone. She had never set out to try and disrupt anyone before, but now that it happened it lead to some questions. Karen didn’t seem to mind that Jane didn’t drink the tea, so it was probably safe enough to drink. Unless it was the coffee. The interaction struck her as vaguely important, though she couldn’t pinpoint exactly why she thought that.

Jane let herself into the house, “I’m home!” There was no response, though there never was. She felt better here, safer. There was no danger, no risks of being changed like the others. She had been feeling the stress build up the last few days. The coffee shop was supposed to be her time to relax and unwind, but now that was gone. She leaned against the closed door and took a deep breath. It was fine, tonight she’d take a bubble bath and relax a little then.

As she approached the back room, she could hear the machines beeping. She found it reassuring. She opened the door and entered, the machines kept up their steady rhythm. Jane walked to her husbands bedside and kissed him gently on the forehead, “I hope I wasn’t gone too long.” She didn’t know if he could understand her, but she still said it every time. She moved around the bed, checking that everything was still in order. Francine, the nurse entered the bedroom, “I just checked, everything is fine.”
“I know, I just wanted to sit with him for a little bit.”
Francine hadn’t changed. Yet.
“I’m just making myself some tea, do you want anything?”
“Yes, I’d love a cup, thank you.”
It was always the same. The nurse would sit with her for a little while, they’d chat, talk about concerns, then Francine would be off to her next patient and Jane would be left alone with her husband. The thought of it still worried her, despite being prepared in case something should happen.

She sat, holding his hand until the Francine popped her head in again, “The tea is ready.”
Jane squeezed his hand and left the room. As she walked to the kitchen, Jane wondered if she should tell Francine about what was happening. Surely it would be good to tell someone other than her husband of it. Particularly if something happened to her. But she held back. What if Francine thought she was crazy and had her committed? Then who would look after Mark? He’d be left in some hospital, alone all day. She wouldn’t let that happen to him. Besides, she wanted to be there if something happened, if he changed. The doctors had told her it was unlikely, that there was too much damage but still, Jane knew he would get better if she just waited long enough. She just had to have faith.

Jane sat down at the kitchen table, hands wrapped around the hot cup, not drinking any of it. They talked for a while, mindless chit chat. Towards the end, Francine reached out for Jane’s hand and squeezed it slightly. “You’d tell me if you weren’t doing ok, right? It’s a lot of pressure and stress on you, looking after him as you do.”
Jane opened her mouth to speak, to say something, anything, then the moment passed, she smiled, “Of course I would. I’m fine. Really.”
Francine gave her hand another light squeeze. “If you have any worries or concerns, you have my number. I know I say it all the time but really, do ring me if you need to, about anything at all.”

“Thank you, I will.”

 

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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