Short Stories

 

(Written in collaboration with Joseph L. Silver)

 

The hardest part is staring at a blank screen and trying to put down the first word you’re going to write. You’ve got to do it. Just make a decision. How are you going to start your kick-ass book?

Well, that’s where I was, Wanda Malcolm, sitting at Rob’s coffee shop as I did every morning with my laptop and hoping for inspiration. And hoping. And hoping. I don’t know why I kept doing it; it wasn’t like anything new or exciting happened in this Starbucks-clone of a place, and nothing tremendously new or exciting ever came off my screen. But I knew great writers went to coffee shops, and even though I was a tea drinker, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

The door opened frequently at the 8:00 hour, as people rushed through on their way to work and school. There were a lot of regulars. I didn’t know any of their names, but I knew how they’d order, most of them the exact same thing every time. There was the high school teacher who would always get a Café Americano, with a double shot of espresso; I guess she needed all that caffeine to keep up with the students in her classes. There were the business types – suit, tie, and slick shoes – who’d go for the dark roast, and always buy the largest size in which it would come. There were even the ‘tweens (though most came after school) who’d come in with their eyes glued to their phones and go for the sweet drinks, the caramel macchiato or the mocha, counting out the crumpled bills and spare change, all the while staring at their screens or laughing at texts. I sighed like I did every morning – lots of people, not a lot of new, good ideas.

Then came the new guy. At least I think I saw him come in, it was kind of hard to tell. I blinked a lot as he came in the door, backed up through it (yeah, through the door, not the opening), and came inside through it again. It was like he was there one minute and another place the next – it was hard to focus on him. I shook my head and blinked again. I was trying the coffee today; it must not agree with me. Okay, he was definitely inside. Weird.

Like most people these days, he was also looking down at a screen, his hands scrolling through pages. No, that wasn’t right. His hand was scrolling through the screen, his eyes pulsating forward and backward as he stared at the display. Forward and backward. Forward and backward. What the hell did they put in the coffee? No one else had ever mentioned this side effect. The man joined the queue without glancing up.

I can’t say he was remarkable in any way, except he was, in some ill-defined sense. Aloha shirt and trousers, laced-up Nikes, brown, shoulder-length hair. But the air around him seemed to shimmer and buckle, distorting his appearance as it went from concave to convex and then stayed still. His hand still kept scrolling through the screen. Didn’t anyone beside me notice? Yeah, they must have. Nobody was looking at him, but there was a large gap between him and the person in front and the person behind, as if he were exerting some force on the space around him. I abandoned any pretense at working, now staring at him, definitely intrigued.

When he reached the head of the queue, though, he seemed like just an ordinary guy getting ready to order. What was I tripping on?

“What can I get for you?” the young barista with the pink ponytail asked him.

He hesitated and quickly looked up from his screen.

“Umm, yes, I’ll have a Mocha Latte Frappuccino with extra foam,” he giggled. “And can I have it with whipped cream?” The accent sounded odd being on the second word. His voice was soft and almost child-like in its intensity.

“Uh, huh,” the barista answered. “What size?”

“Oh, the largest you have,” he gushed.

“Anything else?”

“Yes. Do you have any of those delightful lemon muffin?” His eyes pulsated rapidly, and he licked his lips as he stared at the young woman. She was in full work mode; she didn’t stir from her routine.

“One muffin or two?”

“Oh, two muffin, please. I do so love them.”

“Two muffins it is,” the barista corrected him, not altogether kindly. You think she’d know better in such a culturally diverse city as this, but, hey, that was her problem, not mine. The customer didn’t seem to notice, he was now fixated on the display case.

“That’ll be $9.58.”

“Oh, yes, money,” he giggled again. He reached into his pocket and his hand did its odd dance again, moving in and out of the fabric as if it weren’t there. Then, without moving an inch, it was somehow resting on the counter, a crisp $20 bill in his long fingers.

The barista took it and rang it up without looking, but before she could hand him back the balance, he said, “No, um, how do you say it? Keep the changer?”

“Seriously?” Now the woman looked up, incredulous.

“Yes, it’s a bit tippy. Have I told you how much I like coming to your place?”

“Uh, no. I’ve never seen you before.”

“Don’t worry, you will,” he replied cryptically.

While he was waiting for his order to be prepared, he looked out over the tables scattered around the shop then stared directly at me. I quickly looked down, but it was too late. He bent and buckled his way over to my table.

“May I sit with you?” he asked.

I had to make eye contact. “Um, sure.”

I moved my stuff closer toward me so he could have his half of the table, and he sat down, an eager look crossing his face.

“I’m so glad to see you,” he said eagerly.

“Excuse me?” I radiated incredulity.

“I’ve been waiting to meet you for so long, not much time at all. You’re the writer who was, will be, famous. I’ve read, will read all your books.”

I tried to keep a straight face. “Uh, yeah. Look, you’re new around here. I think you have me confused with someone else.”

“You was, are Wanda Malcolm, are you not?” He looked a bit panicked.

“How did you …”

“Ah.” He smiled broadly, his eyes beginning to do their pulsating dance again. “I am in the right place.”

“Excuse me …”

“I just loved your first book, ‘The Man from Dimensions Unlimited.’ Let me introduce myself.”

And he thrust out his hand, which buckled and shimmered all the way until it met mine.

(c) 2017 Miriam Ruff All Rights Reserved