“Be careful.” David’s body hunches over the table. The muscles in his face strain and push against each other as my mom fights for her last words. “Now that you know, he’ll find you.”
David’s eyes roll up as he collapses face first into his notes. She’s gone.
I don’t have time to feel sad. I sprint back behind the counter before the real David comes back. Maybe he’ll think it was a dream, if he remembers anything at all.
A middle-aged woman in a black pencil skirt comes up to me and orders a chai latte. I smile at her politely, but my eyes keep skirting around her back to the corner. David hasn’t moved.
“Extra cream, please,” says the woman. “And a dash of nutmeg.”
“Of course.” The corner stays silent.
“He’ll be back soon, you know,” she whispers.
“What? I wasn’t—”
“Don’t be coy, Alan. I know what you’ve done.”
I pull myself away from David and try to place where I’ve seen this woman. Her eyes are the color of coal and her hair as dark as the cocoa beans in the grinder. Her features are sharp, smart, and unearthly beautiful but in a way you wouldn’t notice unless you took the time to study her.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
She smirks, the corner of her mouth twitching just slightly amused. “We’ve never actually met. My name is Amon. I’m surprised your mother never mentioned me.”
The ceramic cup in my hand falls to the counter and shatters. All eyes in The Bean Queen focus in on me and this woman, who I’m pretty sure isn’t a woman.
“Jesus, Alan!” Kris comes running in from the back. “What is wrong with you?”
“I’ll get the broom. Try not to break anything else.”
“Kris, wait! I…I gotta go.” I toss my apron onto the counter behind me and sprint past David’s corner toward the front door. The screams from my dream echo inside my head. I can’t be that person. I can’t be a demon.
I push into the door and it pushes back. It’s locked.
He’ll find you, Mom said. Not much of a forewarning.
“Why the rush, Alan?” The woman in the skirt asks.
“Yeah, Alan.” The douche with the triple espresso. His eyes turn as black as hers, and his smile is just as tight and unnatural. Everyone in the café has those same coal black eyes, except for David Stokes who still lies slumped over his notes.
I back myself up against the wall. “Kris?”
Kris comes from the back and steps up to the counter holding a broom. “I’m tired of cleaning up your messes, Alan.” Her eyes. Her smile. All the same.
He’ll find you.
The woman, Amon, takes a step toward me. “We won’t hurt you Alan. You’re far too important.”
“I’m not what you think.” I feel the lie, a cold spark that my mind tries to extinguish. The truth burns inside my chest, growing and coiling around itself until I feel the fire all the way to my finger tips. “I’m not who you think,” I say between gritted teeth.
“We’ve been watching you. We can help you, Alan,” Amon says. “We can prepare you.”
“I don’t want it.” My voice comes out like a question.
“It isn’t about earthly desires, Alan. It’s your birthright.”
“No.” I try the door again. I can see out through the glass, but it’s like nobody out there can see me. Nobody even blinks when I pound my fist against the door and scream. I throw my weight against it, trying to break it. Nothing. They just walk by like sheep to the slaughter. It makes the fire grow hotter.
“Alan.” Amon lays a cold hand against my shoulder and I sink down to the floor. She crouches down in front of me. I don’t see any part of myself in her/his face, not like I did with Mom on David’s. I don’t know him. I don’t owe him anything. I am not his son.
I shove the hand off my shoulder and her whole arm goes up in flames. They reflect in her dark eyes like the sun over placid water.
“I said, I’m not who you think.” I wave a hand at Kris and she bursts into flames. Triple espresso, I smile at him first. “I don’t have a problem with you guys, but this is a place of business. Keep your soul snatching on your own time.”
Their screams fill my ears, just like in my dreams. Only this time the power is real, raw, and amazing. They’re evil and they deserve this. I back over toward the corner where I’ve left David, hoping he’ll wake up. I don’t know if I can drag him out myself and I can’t leave him here.
“Alan!” Amon screams, her voice is raspy. Her sharp features have begun to melt. “Stop!”
She reaches for me and with barely a thought, the flames grow hotter, higher, until I can’t tell her apart from any of the others.
“He won’t get me, Mom.” I turn around to find David awake and staring at the inferno in front of him.
“David, c’mon. We have to get out.” I grab hold of his red shirt, the fabric looks like blood in my hands. David doesn’t move. “David!”
“Let me get my notes.” He starts to gather his chem notes.
“Are you serious?” Sweat pours down my face and stings my eyes. Smoke fills most of the café making it hard to breathe. “C’mon!”
David’s fingers wrap over mine. “I thought we had an understanding Alan,” he says all at once and as calm as if he were ordering his coffee. His eyes are no different than they’ve always been. Nothing about him is any different. David Stokes is definitely in there, but I think maybe a small piece of sanity was lost in limbo.
“I come in every day, you make my coffee just the way I like it. You don’t cause trouble. You’re a good boy, Alan. And then you use me to talk to her?”
“I—” Is he really doing this now?
David sighs. “It’s fine, really. I understand. After all, had you not spoken to her, I would never be able to speak directly to you. And then there’s this.” He gestures to the carnage folding in around us. David smiles at me, his skin stretched too thin over his bony face. I’ve never seen him smile, never seen anything so personal come from him, but his expression is somehow familiar, like looking into a mirror.
“I always knew you’d take after me, son.”
Monday, we'll have a brand new short started by Valerie!
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