This short story was inspired by the following writing prompt:
“As you are sitting at your favorite café drinking your coffee, at the window and across the street, you see Death approaching, probably for you. Turns out the café just has really good coffee.”
Janet had seen all kinds of weirdness since opening Humming Bird Coffee in the art-centric town of Norman six years ago. On every holiday the citizens went all out. For Halloween, downtown businesses filled the streets with giant inflatables. For Mardi Gras, which wasn’t a major holiday for the region, people gathered in the cold winter night to have a circling parade. However, no holiday could top the popularity of the city’s very own free music festival.
For the Norman Music Festival, it was common to see people in elaborate outfits to promote bands or dance with them on stage. However, Janet had never seen a costume complicated as the one that stood before her. For starters, it was nine feet tall. She wasn’t sure how she missed it entering her coffee shop. It was as if it had simply appeared. The figure wore a hooded robe of dirt that moved along it like ocean waves. Its body was of a human skeleton with a pair of arctic, soul-sucking spheres of blue light that flickered as if on fire. It even smelled like bones to Janet.
“Hi, what can I get you?” Janet asked.
Death paused, starring at Janet to see if she was referring to him. “You can see me?”
“Of course. I like your costume. Are you with one of the bands?”
“No, I’m here for the General,” Death said.
The General was not a person, but the nickname for the beast of a coffee machine that Janet found at a flea market and rebuilt. Her employees often joked that the device had a mind of its own and that it liked Janet the best.
“Of course. That’s why everyone comes here,” Janet said as she patted the General.
“Do you share a special bond with this General?”
“My staff teases me that I do.”
“That must explain why you can see me.”
There was a seriousness in Death’s tone that made Janet think of her bother who took his own life.
Janet reached for Death’s hand. “Yes, I can see you. Everyone can see you. Look, I know we don’t know each other, but if you need someone to talk to, I can connect you with someone who can help you.”
“Who are you talking to, Janet?” Mick said, giving her a confused look.
“I’m talking to this fellow,” Janet answered, pointing at nothing Mick could see.
“There’s no one there.”
“Hey, don’t say that!” Janet snapped.
“Janet,” Death said firmly. Janet turned and faced him. “He cannot see me for I am Death.”
Death raised his arms and time paused for all but Janet and himself as the room filled with darkness.
“Oh my god. Is it my time?”
“No,” Death said, annoyed. “I told you, I’m here for the General.”
“But the General is just a coffee machine…”
“No, I’m not, Janet.”
Janet spun around. Standing before her was her beloved coffee machine in an impish form.
“How?” was all Janet could say.
“I was the leader of a robot rebellion on Yellow Planet when I was severely damaged in a battle and got caught in a temporal attack that sent me to Earth, where you found me. You brought me a peaceful life, and that was all I ever wanted.”
Death walked through the counter and picked up the General in his arms. “I apologize for the false scare. Don’t worry, Janet. I don’t foresee visiting you personally anytime soon.”
The General saluted Janet. “It has been a privilege making coffee with you.”
Together, Death and the General floated down through the ground, taking the darkness with them, returning light and time.
“Janet,” Mick called out, waving his hands in front of Janet. “Are you okay?”
Janet looked around. Death was gone. Everything was normal, for Norman. She turned to her coffee machine, which was still there, but the lights were out.