September 30th: Humour!
The Coffeeshop of Vice and Iniquity
, by Sam Westreich

I fumed silently at the back of the unmoving line, shooting daggers at the back of the tall bearded man currently arguing with the barista. Clad against the angry stares of the other patron in his tattered sport jacket, knit cap, beard, and black plastic glasses (without lenses, of course), he continued to argue over whether Guatemala was considered “fair trade organic.”

Most of the other people in line had resigned themselves to being late to work, men in suits slumped over their briefcases as they waited for the daily dose of caffeine to get their joints moving again. I, on the other hand, had a meeting with my thesis advisor in twenty minutes, and was cursing every unkempt hair in the hipster’s beard. Unfortunately, my curses seemed to be having no effect. “I’d sell my soul for this line to hurry up,” I muttered in frustration.

“Would you now? That’s quite an interesting offer,” spoke up a cultured voice behind me.

Confused, I turned around to find myself gazing down at a short but sharply dressed man. My first impression was that a shark had mated with a Republican, and the resulting offspring had managed to dress itself in a black silk suit with a red tie. The man looked as though he was already working out how to swindle me out of my social security. “Excuse me?” I said, not sure if I was being addressed.

“Trading your soul for a faster line,” he repeated with an innocuous smile. “I’ll need to jot it down and get your signature, of course, but it sounds fairly binding to me.” He withdrew a small pad of yellow legal paper from an inside jacket pocket and began scrawling something.

“I’m sorry,” I broke in. “Who are you?”

Now the man’s grin seemed ever so slightly tinged with annoyance. “I’m a devil, of course,” he said in a snide tone. He pushed back his black hair, and I saw two small, almost dainty horns emerging from his forehead.

I blinked a few times, but the horns didn’t revert back into hair. “I didn’t realize the devil actually existed.”

“Devils,” the man corrected. “I mean, the Big Guy himself wouldn’t show up for a soul like you, no offense intended.” I felt slightly hurt, but waited for him to continue. “Name’s Mephisto, and I’m an upper executive in Hell’s legion.” He paused in his scrawling and patted his pockets. “I’m sure I have a card somewhere. I always lose the damn things,” he complained.

I glanced at the other corporate suits standing behind me, wondering if anyone else had noticed the horned man, but they didn’t seem to be listening to our conversation. “I’ll believe you. But come on, I’m not going to give away my soul just for this one coffee line to go away.” The hipster ahead of us had finally finished placing his insanely complicated drink order (I caught “half-caf, no foam, two soy creamers and I’ll know if it’s milk”) and the line had begun inching forward. “See? We’re moving already.”

Mephisto shook his head at me. “I’m offering you an opportunity, here,” he insisted. “It’s not what you get for the soul that matters. I mean, come on. Your soul’s barely worth that guy’s order. I’m not exactly going to hand you the keys to my Corvette.”

“Figures that a devil drives a Vette.” I groaned aloud. “Red, I’m sure.” But I had to admit that I was slightly intrigued. “Okay, why should I hand over my immortal soul, then?”

Mephisto gestured around at the other people inside the coffee shop. “Look, let’s be honest here, alright? Every single person here is ending up in Hell.” He swung his finger around as he spoke. “Premarital sex. Masturbated once to gay porn – that’s right, it only takes once. Mixed fabrics. That guy over there ate eel, that’s a no-no.” He shrugged. “Now, when they all get down to the fiery gates, they’re starting off at the entry level. Basic torture, fire and brimstone, all that stuff you know and love.” He turned the finger back to me. “But you sell me your soul now, and assuming you don’t get run over today, you’ll have a chance to pick up some scores before you even set foot in the lobby. You’ll be looking at a middle management position right away, easy.” He gave me a salacious wink. “A few short eons and you might even have a shot at an executive gig!”

We had reached the front of the line, and, although distracted, I ordered my usual mocha. Mephisto smirked at me, muttered “sissy” under his breath, and asked for a large black dark roast with the grounds dumped into the cup. The perky barista’s eyes seemed to glaze over as he ordered, but she nodded, pausing only to snatch the five dollar bill from my hand, and scurried off to prepare our drinks.

“So what sort of things do I need to do for these points?” I asked as we waited at the pick-up window. “I’m not going to have to kill little children, am I?”

This provoked a snort from the demon as he held in his laughter. “Oh, you humans are so dramatic!” he groaned. “Nah, nothing so outright. Just keep on being your usual self. You all spread corruption naturally, so as long as you don’t make any drastic leaps to Jesus or anything stupid like that, you’ll be fine. Think of it like a bank loan, where you’re giving us your soul up front, for us to invest, instead of forcing us to wait until the payment’s due. When you’re dead,” he clarified.

I was torn. On one hand, twelve years of Catholic school was telling me to start reciting the Lord’s prayer and begin building crosses out of any nearby pieces of wood. On the other hand, this deal actually sounded fairly enticing. I had long since harbored doubts about whether I was actually a good person, and this seemed to confirm my suspicions. “How long do I have to think this over?” I asked.

Our drinks arrived at the window, and Mephisto took a long drag from his steaming cup. I could smell the burnt coffee grounds from three feet away. “Eh, I’ll give you till the end of the week,” he said. “Generous, I know. I’m here every morning, right around this time. Just wave me over when you’re ready to sign the paperwork.”

I nodded towards his cup. “Did you pay for that?”

Mephisto lowered his cup long enough to stare at me incredulously. “I’m a god-damned devil,” he said. “You think I have to pay for overpriced, addicting beverages? I mean, if anything, I ought to be getting a cut of the profits.” He shook his head, snapped his fingers, and vanished in a cloud of vile-smelling smoke.

I glanced around as the puff cleared, but no one else seemed to have noticed the devil’s disappearance. I lifted my own coffee mug to my mouth, but I could smell the sulfur even before the liquid met my lips. I sighed and tossed the full mug in the garbage. I was already starting to consider ideas to offer Mephisto for increasing corruption; had the Devil had ever considered a Ponzi scheme? I would have to run to make it to my advisor’s meeting, but I felt less worried than before. What’s the worst he would do, tell me to go to hell?

* * * * *

On the other side of the coffee shop, Azrael growled angrily as he watched the accursed demon vanish back to its foul dimension. The mortal with which it had been conversing was still standing there, seemingly lost in thought, no doubt corrupted by the demon’s twisted mutterings.

Azrael gulped down the last of his organic latte. Despite his explicit instructions, repeating the directions three times, the barista had still let some of the foam slip through, and there wasn’t enough creamer. Azrael dabbed at his beard with one hand as he stood up, forcefully tugging his scarf around his neck with the other, as the demon-touched mortal headed towards the door. This mortal really should know better – had his Catholic upbringing been for naught?

Azrael closed the lid of his MacBook Pro and scooped it up off the table, tucking it into his genuine imitation leather shoulder bag. He really hadn’t been making any progress on his novel anyway. People always thought that angels had a unique perspective, offering spiritual insight into the lives of the mortals below them, but divine advice was surprisingly hard to write. Azrael was half considering turning the whole thing into a free-range organic cookbook.

Reaching into one pocket of his coat, Azrael pulled out his halo, brushing off the gluten-free muffin crumbs before wedging it squarely above his head. Divine accoutrement in place, he stormed after the mortal. His wings were all up in a dander, and he was going to have words.

*

Sam Westreich has been reading speculative fiction ever since he was given his first library card as a child.  He is currently pursuing his PhD in genetic research, and spends his  little free time between experiments writing short fiction.  Westreich’s work has been published at EveryDay Fiction, the Flash-Forward Festival, and Separate Worlds.


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